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A small cabal of ancient NIMBYs seems to be holding Auckland to ransom – mostly by accident

Wait, stop the party – the Unitary Plan isn’t actually in the clear yet. Hayden Donnell reports on how a cluster of anti-change campaigners is holding the whole thing up.

It was meant to be over. The Unitary Plan was through. After five years of deliberation, the council had concluded that the people who live in Auckland should be allowed to have houses.

The city rejoiced.

Then the plan was appealed 106 times.

THE KIND OF THING AUCKLAND IS MISSING OUT ON. PHOTO: REBECCA ZEPHYR THOMAS

THE KIND OF THING AUCKLAND IS MISSING OUT ON. PHOTO: REBECCA ZEPHYR THOMAS

Yesterday the Council released its assessment of the impact of those appeals. It concluded most of them were site-specific and limited in scope. Todd Property wanted to remove barriers to development in Okura. Friends of Churchill Park wanted to protect Churchill Park. And in the greatest feat of Kiwi endurance since Buck Shelford continued playing in a rugby game with his testicles barely connected to his body, an appellant known as “K Vernon” dredged up the stamina to appeal 13 different parts of the Plan to the Environment Court, including its policy on notable trees.

None of those appeals were enough to stop large parts of the Plan becoming operable.

That task was left to a tiny group of property owners from Takapuna and the leafy suburbs.

A joint High Court appeal by heritage group the Character Coalition and anti-change gremlin group Auckland 2040 is affecting zoning rules across Auckland. According to the Auckland Council, that will hamper attempts to intensify the city from rural Rodney to the farms of Franklin.

According to a high-ranking source within The War For Auckland called Hayden, that “fucks up” pretty much “everything”. According to a high-ranking Labour housing spokesperson called Phil Twyford, it’s “incredibly frustrating”. If we don’t deliver the reforms set out in the Unitary Plan, he told Morning Report, “we’re never ever going to fix this housing crisis and our kids will never own their own homes in this city again. I just hope that what we’re seeing is the last gasp of NIMBYism that has really held back the city’s growth. It’s got to change.”

THE KIND OF THING AUCKLAND IS MISSING OUT ON. PHOTO: REBECCA ZEPHYR THOMAS

THE KIND OF THING AUCKLAND IS MISSING OUT ON. PHOTO: REBECCA ZEPHYR THOMAS

Meanwhile, council planning manager Penny Pirrit said the sheer scope of the appeal means she doesn’t expect it to be resolved at the High Court until next year. While we’re all waiting for it to be processed, the old zoning rules and the new Unitary Plan rules are both active simultaneously, meaning resource consent officers have to enter a machine allowing them to exist in two conflicting realities at the same time before processing development applications.

“Any development activity that was going to enable more houses to be built than what the legacy plan allows now needs to go through a more complicated process,” Pirrit said.

She seemed disappointed.

“We were hoping that the result was ‘let’s get this plan in place so we can start making a difference’… We were hoping we wouldn’t get an appeal like this.”

The weird thing is at least one of the appellants seems to have done this by accident.

On my first call to Character Coalition convenor Sally Hughes, she was surprised to hear Council believes her appeal is ruining everything.

She only intended to appeal on behalf of 29,000 properties in heritage areas where the Independent Hearings Panel had made “out of scope” changes to the old planning rules.

“We had no intention of holding up the whole Plan,” she said “I would be quite distraught if that was the case. The point of our appeal was never to be vexatious or get in the way of the process because we totally understand the imperative of building new homes in Auckland.”

THE KIND OF THING AUCKLAND IS MISSING OUT ON. PHOTO: REBECCA ZEPHYR THOMAS

THE KIND OF THING AUCKLAND IS MISSING OUT ON. PHOTO: REBECCA ZEPHYR THOMAS

Hughes said she’d go away and talk to her barrister.

She called back half an hour later saying she’d received official legal advice that her team wasn’t holding Auckland to ransom.

“We are of the opinion that we are not holding up the whole Unitary Plan,” she said. “I would really love to refute that here and now.”

The problem is, her appeal is holding up the whole Unitary Plan.

Council won’t go ahead with consenting under the new zoning rules, because its planning team believes the Character Coalition and Auckland 2040 are appealing them – even though a key leader from one of those groups believes she definitely isn’t doing that. The Unitary Plan is on hold until Hughes agrees to change or withdraw her organisation’s appeal, and she’s reluctant to change or withdraw the appeal because she doesn’t believe it’s stopping the Unitary Plan.

It’s a conundrum. A real pickle. A standoff in a planning saloon.

Meanwhile, people are still sleeping in cars.

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