Auckland Council backs down after pressure over "upzoning" plans
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has bowed to public pressure and will hold an extraordinary meeting on controversial "upzoning" plans allowing greater housing density in the city.
Residents' groups have been aghast at the proposed changes which would provide for significantly more development of townhouses and apartments in suburbs which have traditionally had one dwelling per section.
The plans were a surprise, and came without consultation under rules allowing the council to make "out of scope" submissions to the independent panel considering the city's incoming Unitary Plan.
Opposition to the proposals also came from some local boards and councillors, who have called for Auckland Council to change its stance.
Mayor Len Brown said after meeting with a delegation of five councillors he had agreed to hold an extraordinary meeting of the council on the issue next Wednesday.
The discussion would be based on matters raised during a briefing to councillors on Thursday afternoon about how the Unitary Plan is progressing, Brown said.
The council's Unitary Plan committee had been well within its rights to propose the upzoning changes, he said.
However council also recognised the need to address the concerns of the community, and "sometimes you have to be a little bit flexible in this space", Brown said.
The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) will replace the legacy regional plans of the old Auckland councils. The current Auckland Council makes submissions on the plan like any other submitter.
The Independent Hearings Panel will make its recommendations in July, and the council will get to vote on the final decisions later this year.
Residents' lobby group Auckland 2040 says it will be happy with no less than a complete withdrawal of the council's out of scope submissions.
"I think the mayor has seen the light," spokesman Richard Burton said.
"We're talking about a thoroughly undemocratic process, one that denies tens of thousands of Aucklanders the ability to participate in a process that affects their most valuable asset, their house."
Consultation on the PAUP as a whole had been thorough, he said.
"Then the council of its own volition, completely out of left field, goes and zones 20,000 properties - just on the isthmus - to a different zoning, and not only doesn't bother to tell anybody but deliberately tries to hide it."
A legal challenge to the proposals would be a last resort as there wasn't much time before the hearings panel was due to make its recommendations, Burton said.
Auckland 2040 hoped the panel would see the extent of the zoning changes and the paucity of evidence supporting them and would throw them out, he said.
However property developers' industry group The Property Council blasted the politicians opposing the upzoning changes for boosting their re-election chances at the expense of young homebuyers.
Soaring Auckland house prices were creating systemic social injustice, inequity and major economic risk, and upzoning was needed to allow for more homes, branch president Phil Eaton said.
"Now, baby boomers have essentially locked an entire generation out of their own homes. Young people and families will never be able to work and live in Auckland, and 'Generation Rent' is the legacy these councillors will leave behind," Eaton said.
At the first Auckland mayoral debate of the 2016 election campaign on Monday, right wing candidate Stephen Berry said groups such as Auckland 2040 were "neighbourhood busybodies... artificially inflating the cost of property".