What the hell just happened at the Unitary Plan hearings?

A shock hero has risen up at the Unitary Plan hearings. Hayden Donnell spent the day watching the drama unfold.



Today’s Unitary Plan hearing was held in a parallel universe.

Up was down. Right was left. A group of elderly people were wearing warpaint – though it turned out they were environmental campaigners, not furious Boomers defending their land.

It started weird and got weirder. No sooner had Mayor Len Brown kicked off proceedings than Spinoff arch-nemesis Dick Quax rose to reveal he had undergone a complete brain transplant.

Here was the person who wrote this article:


Who seemed to want to put up a huge wall of pikes around Howick to hold outsiders at bay.

What would he say? That warships should be deployed to ward away immigrants to Auckland? That all future apartments should be moved to a satellite city in the seventh level of hell?

No. He moved that the council accept the Recommended Unitary Plan (RUP) in full. Everyone slapped themselves in the face to see whether they were dreaming. Quax was asking his fellow councillors to agree to add 422,000 new houses to Auckland with little debate. “The Independent Hearings Panel have come out with an outstanding plan,” said Bizarro Quax.

His motion was supported by Bizarro compact city campaigners Cameron Brewer, George Wood, and Sharon Stewart.

It came down to the usual pro-density campaigners to oppose him. Spinoff arch-friend Penny Hulse argued the RUP still contained some “cataclysmic” errors that needed to be corrected.

Her argument was accepted by most councillors. They didn’t want to take a vote and go home. They opted instead to grind their way through six hours of punishing debate, eking out agreements on every minor plan variation.

It was rough. There were low moments. During one particularly lengthy Mike Lee speech, Bill Cashmore appeared to be silently begging for death.


They shouldn’t have tortured themselves.

In the end, the councillors didn’t really change anything. They voted to keep every contentious policy change put forward by the Independent Hearings Panel. Taking away protections on 2213 sites of value to mana whenua? Councillors voted 12-6 to back the policy. Removing blanket protections on pre-1944 buildings? They accepted that too, 15-5.

A lot of the most hotly disputed policies will be debated tomorrow. But it was striking to see vote after vote going the same way, with councillors bowing before their IHP overlords.

It’s possible some of them didn’t mean to. Many of the day’s recommendations were couched in the form of ancient riddles. Councillors were asked whether they wanted to do things like “reject the IHP’s rejection of protections on mana whenua sites”. Just reading that double-negative made most of my brain leak out my ears. Quax may have been feeling the same way when he morphed into a modernistshunned his right-wing peers, and voted to protect the civic administration building by Aotea Square. The motion passed 11-9. His vote made all the difference.

It was just another shining moment in the life of our new hero. Our moustachio’d comrade in arms.

Who was there when we wanted great architecture?

Quax: the progressive champion.

Who came along to fight for a compact city?

Quax: defender of the first-home buyer and desperate renter alike.

It was redemption writ large; Quax as John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.

Tune in for the hearings tomorrow though. Battlefield Earth is probably already in the works.

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