new auckland

Beware open-slather deregulation in housing

Former Auckland councillor Mike Lee takes issue with how he was characterised in a Newsroom report about 'lefties' getting in the way of cities allowing for more housing

For some reason, even though I have been out of Auckland politics for just on a year and have never been involved in Wellington local politics, in an article about Wellington’s Spatial Plan I find I am the target of a quite gratuitous attack in Newsroom ’s ‘the Lefties who want less housing’.

While the reporter is free to stereotype me as a ‘Lefty’ and refer to me as “progressive” (the inverted commas signalling sarcasm), he is wrong and out of order in suggesting that I “want" or I have ever wanted, “less housing”. And as for being “strongly against the Unitary Plan” I don’t know where Newsroom was when Auckland Council signed off its Unitary Plan in August 2016, but a more careful report would have checked the minutes (readily available on line) of the extended three-day meeting in which that massive, complex document, amalgamating and updating numerous legacy regional and district plans, was signed off, clause-by-clause - for how I voted in the many divisions that took place.

Instead the story used a source who evidently bears some sort of personal animus. Most importantly given the subject of his article is housing, had Newsroom bothered to inquire, the reporter would have discovered I argued and voted, with the former Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, and other centre-left councillors, for a mandatory quota for developers to provide affordable housing. Unfortunately this provision, part of the council’s draft Unitary Plan was strongly opposed by the NZ Property Council and was removed by the government-appointed ‘Independent Panel’. Our attempt to restore it unfortunately narrowly failed, but interestingly without a murmur of protest from the pro-development cheer squad which barracked for every deregulatory measure.

Concurrently. with the finalisation of the Unitary Plan, Auckland Council also dealt with multiple intensive housing development proposals under Nick Smith’s fast-track HASHA legislation. Of the dozens of Special Housing Areas (SHAs) that were pushed through I recall voting against only three of them. This was on the grounds that the proposed SHA would mean the destruction of heritage buildings, or because of their negative environmental and cultural impacts. One was Fletcher’s Special Housing Area at Ihumatao. Interestingly, opposition to this particular SHA has now become a national cause célèbre. As well as a plethora of SHAs I also voted funds for building more accommodation for the homeless at the James Liston Centre and at the City Mission and I campaigned for a night shelter.

I didn’t ask to be involved in the Wellington Spatial Plan debate but now that I have been, I will point out that while the property industry can be expected to oppose any regulatory restraint on its activities, its allied political echo chamber appears to be framing this important debate just as in Auckland, by attempting to belittle and marginalise anyone raising concerns relating to sustainability and carrying capacity. As it happens, I was born and grew up in inner city Wellington, Hopper Street, something that was not especially common in the 1950s and 60s. I am sure there is room for more intensive residential development in Wellington but those raising questions about the wisdom of open-slather high-rise in an area prone to earthquakes and without fit-for-purpose sewage disposal infrastructure should be listened to, as should those trying to safeguard what’s left of Wellington's historic buildings, (which Newsroom's report refers to as ‘heritage’ - in disdainful inverted commas), without being the target of woke-ish sneers.

In this historic 'hinge year',  2020, in which the global Covid-19 pandemic has raised fundamental questions about globalism, policies of high population growth, urban overcrowding and consequent ongoing infrastructure deficits, housing shortages and social inequality, those raising reasonable concerns in such an important debate should not be shouted down, personally attacked or have their motives unfairly mischaracterised in the unthinking rush for yet more deregulation for private profit. Especially by the news media.

Mike Lee is a former chairman Auckland Regional Council and, former Auckland Councillor

Newsroom accepts Mike Lee voted in favour of much of the Auckland Unitary Plan's provisions, albeit with the highest recorded dissents over the AUP among the Auckland councillors of that time. We apologise for the implication that he, personally, favoured 'less housing' and should have made clear his previous defence, for example, of "single house townscapes (along with most of Grey Lynn) from intensification in the first version of the Unitary Plan" was for the reasons he outlines above.

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