Back To The Future: By sanctioning green-field (as opposed to brown-field) housing development, Phil Twyford and his colleagues are now free to draw forth from Labour’s honourable past the sort of planning ideas which, had they been implemented at the time they were developed (the late-1940s) would have made Auckland a much easier city in which to live and move around.
PHIL TWYFORD has urged the National Government to rule Auckland’s contentious Urban Growth Boundary out of the city’s Unitary Plan. This is a major policy announcement from Labour’s housing spokesperson. By embracing the virtues of expansion over intensification, the party has repositioned itself as a defender of Auckland’s characteristic urban sprawl – and everything that goes with it. That Twyford’s announcement prompted congratulatory media releases from the National Party, Business New Zealand and the Taxpayer’s Union is a measure of just how big a concession Labour has made.
Labour should not, however, be condemned simply because in some respects (and only in some) its housing policies are similar to the Right’s. Politically-speaking, the policy of urban intensification was as impractical as it was controversial. Homeowners were always going to balk at the prospect of multi-storeyed apartment buildings sprouting up in their leafy streets. Overruling those objections would have required a degree of heavy-handedness quite foreign to the New Zealand scene. Those deemed responsible – be they local or national politicians – would have paid a heavy price.
Policy-wise, Labour now has room to breathe. It also, quite literally, has the space to display some progressive creativity. By sanctioning green-field (as opposed to brown-field) housing development, Twyford and his colleagues are now free to draw forth from Labour’s honourable past the sort of planning ideas which, had they been implemented at the time they were developed (the late-1940s) would have made Auckland a much easier city in which to live and move around.
Seventy years on, however, with the population of Auckland approaching two million, the size of the planning canvass has expanded considerably. Looking forward, we must now envisage an urban corridor extending all the way from Hamilton to Whangarei.
A conurbation of this size cannot be serviced efficiently by the automobile. Crucial to its success would be the creation of a state-of-the-art rapid-rail network capable of whisking commuters from Hamilton to Downtown Auckland in 30 minutes. (If that seems impossible, just have a word with the French and the Chinese!) The huge enabling power of such a network would be more than sufficient to underwrite the many housing developments along its length.
Rather than leave the design and construction of these new communities to the private sector, Labour should promote the creation of a public design and construction entity dedicated to building homes, apartments and community facilities equal to anything currently on display in Germany and Scandinavia.
This massive public construction programme (which would not only encompass the building of houses and apartment buildings, but also the new rapid-rail network) would need to be accompanied by a radical reform of New Zealand’s tenancy laws. Only by, once again, making the State the nation’s pre-eminent – and most accommodating – landlord will New Zealanders enjoy access to well-designed and healthy homes, with full security of tenure, at an affordable rent.
On RNZ’s “Morning Report”, this morning (18/5/16) Max Rashbrooke and James Crow spoke to Guyon Espiner about the urgent need for 20,000 new homes – just to meet the needs of this country’s homeless families. Many of these families reside in Auckland, and neither their needs, nor the needs of the tens-of-thousands of New Zealand and immigrant families who intend to make the Auckland Region their home, will ever be adequately met by the existing, market-driven, system – which daily demonstrates its incapacity.
By abandoning the Urban Growth Boundary, Labour has given itself both the physical and intellectual space in which to prove that it still knows how to make New Zealanders dreams come true.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of 18 May 2016.