16 Aug 2016

Can Auckland build the Unitary Plan dream?

10:23 am on 16 August 2016

Analysis - If completing Auckland's Unitary Plan was a marathon, delivering it may become an ultra-distance event without end.

14072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Hobsonville is booming. Around 20% of the homes being built here will be affordable homes.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Like it or not, the plan to re-shape Auckland into a more densely-populated urban area has been one of the major achievements during the first two terms of the city's amalgamated council.

The often-heated debates in packed community halls about higher density housing challenged Aucklanders and their politicians like no other.

What has emerged though is still just a plan. To flip the old saying on its head: They've come - can Auckland build it?

Nearly 60 percent of Auckland's residential area is now zoned for two- or three-storeyed multi-unit developments. Developers will build those. Aucklanders and their council will have to build the rest.

The Unitary Plan enables an Auckland where more of its expected 2.5 million residents in 2040 will be able to walk and cycle to where they need to go, or jump on handy and efficient public transport.

Those who surrendered the dream of a quarter acre for a balcony or a barbecue area will want somewhere nearby to relax, sit on a park bench, walk a dog, or let a child play.

That won't be cheap or easy. How that will happen should command as much focus and attention as election campaign rhetoric such as how little Aucklanders should pay in rates.

Communities may need to keep a closer eye, and have a louder voice, on whether the evolution of their suburbs includes the public amenities needed to deliver the vision

"We've made some big changes into the way you can plan and develop Auckland, take up the challenge and make it happen and above all else build affordable houses," was the post sign-off message from the plan's shepherd, deputy mayor Penny Hulse, to Auckland's developers and communities.

The challenge remains also firmly with the city's politicians. Especially the affordable housing.

The Unitary Plan enables the development of a greater mix of housing styles.

The traditional cookie-cutter, four-townhouse development may now become eight homes, a one-bedroom flat without a carspace, adjoining a two-bedroom with a garage and other sizes.

But truly affordable homes for those who can't become buyers without help, or can't ever become buyers, will demand new answers from both local and government politicians.

Auckland's 40,000 home shortage continues to worsen.

Forecasts in the government-released Construction Pipeline report, show the required annual build of 13,000 homes in Auckland will be reached only for a handful of years, before dipping again.

Creating the first edition of the Unitary Plan may be over - the bigger job of realising it still lies ahead.

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