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OPINIONPoliticsMay 25, 2023

Another urban planning fail, and Auckland’s outer suburbs get shafted

a stylised image of a row of red townhouses mirrored horizontally by a row of blue townhouses
Ratepayers get to vote in multiple local elections Image: Tina Tiller

With National pulling the pin on the cross-party housing accord, the glimmer of hope that Auckland would be forced, finally, to share density fairly across the isthmus is extinguished – and Ben Gracewood is livid.

Turns out I’m a gullible idiot. Through decades of planning change I remained optimistic that Auckland would eventually be able to implement sensible urban planning laws that would unlock housing supply in all the right places. 

First the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) introduced the “terraced housing and apartment buildings” zone, giving me visions of a European-style neighbourhood with rows of gorgeous flower-covered front stoops and dozens of corner bars. You know, the sort of vibe that should be absolutely standard in any modern inner-city suburb.

But while this zone was applied heavily to our suburb out west, with one road in and out, Auckland’s well-connected inner suburbs were left out, for all the reasons you’d predict. Fool me once.

Still, I held on to hope, and cheered as sites were cleared around the local shops to build terraced houses. The sort of houses my kids might be able to afford one day.

I hoped the density dick moves in the AUP would be corrected by weaponised acronyms deployed by central government: the NPS-UD and MDRS arrived with unprecedented support from Labour and National. Together these resource management changes commanded local government to allow unfettered density basically everywhere.

We sure got unfettered density in our suburb. But density was predictably fettered as fuck in more affluent suburbs with better transport links and leafier streets. Fool me twice.

The combined impact of the AUP, NPS-UD and MDRS is visceral out here in West Auckland. This is a graph of consents on our constricted peninsula, but as those consents have turned into actual builds, it could equally be a graph of truck movements or excavator rumbles: 


It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that on an average weekday, building trade vehicles outnumber residents’ vehicles on most streets in Te Atatū Peninsula. Three lots are being developed concurrently in our cul-de-sac, one adding 13 terraced houses where two 60s weatherboard dwellings previously stood.

Te Atatū, density central (Photo: Ben Gracewood)

The single road in and out of our suburb is a shitshow in the morning. And in the afternoon. And on weekend mornings. Yep, we have traffic jams trying to leave our suburb at 10am on a Saturday. The tacit agreement we made when accepting density out west was that it would come with improvements to public transport and infrastructure; or at the very least that dense inner suburbs would reduce the load on our outer transport links. The best we’ve seen is a half-assed bus lane and ridiculous bar leaners instead of seats in bus stops.

A suburban bus stop featuring leaners instead of seats
Photo: Auckland Transport

Yet still, I held out hope that Auckland’s milquetoast response to the intent of the NPS-UD would eventually get the requisite smackdown. I was waiting for the combined forces of Labour and National to send a “come on bro, really?” response to Auckland’s “special character” carve-outs, finally forcing Auckland to at least share density fairly across the isthmus.

So it’d be mild to say that I’m fucking livid at Christopher Luxon’s indication that “I think we’ve got the MDRS wrong” and that he favours “greenfields development”. A climb-down on this cross-party accord comes at the worst possible time.

Once again the outer suburbs get absolutely shafted. We’ve done all the right things and materially contributed to housing supply (and driving down house prices) at the cost of our own convenience and amenity. We’ve taken one for the team and are crammed here in our dormitory suburbs while the other half of the team sip lattes and Lime around like nothing has changed.

More greenfields development will only make this worse. Watering down the MDRS now will lock this doughnut city in stone for another decade.

Fool me thrice. Shame on me for having any faith in the ability of national or local government to be able to competently plan the development of our largest city.

Keep going!