Waiheke will never be the same if Auckland Council goes ahead to extend its isthmus Unitary Planning regime to include Waiheke, veteran Auckland councillor Mike Lee told the Waiheke Local Board at its recent monthly meeting.
It will become a suburb of Auckland and islanders will have a battle on their hands, not just globally but also for the way of life of a distinctive island in the Hauraki Gulf, said Cr Lee who had heard submissions to the board from Robyn Bailey and Joanna Hayes of Waiheke’s recently formed Extinction Rebellion group which is championing action on the global climate crisis.
He said he would work hard to make sure that concerns on climate change, both local and global, are taken seriously but warned that the council and current councillors had little appetite for action on the issue.
“This council is very much of the growth ideology; that it is always good and there is no downside,” he said. “Even when we all know there are downsides and that continual growth offends, intellectually and legally.”
This left the island with the prospect of non-sustainable growth and lip service to climate change just so much hot air. “We have to make it genuine; make sure the council acts on that,” he said, adding that the planning process towards homogenising our district plan with Auckland’s was probably an even more urgent threat.
The first in a two-step process of integrating the legacy Hauraki Islands District Plan into the Auckland Unitary Plan is Waiheke’s “30-year Area Plan” which is due to be finalised in September.
Cr Lee slammed the isthmus Unitary Plan when it was implemented in 2016, describing it as a “deregulatory hurricane” and a final and critical element of the Super City amalgamation project that had, like the Super City itself, been imposed on Auckland with no public scrutiny.
The plan, he said, was a key part of the then government’s housing policy from which instruments of the Resource Management Act and sustainable management of natural and physical resources had been shorn.
Always about profits for the big developer, it was intended to double the 212,000 houses foreseen in the original council plan in 2013 when Auckland’s household average was 3.1 people. Instead, planning officials postulated 2.4 persons per household in the Auckland of the future and wanted deregulation to “incentivise” the private sector to build the extra numbers.
RMA phraseology like “people and communities”, “life supporting capacity of ecosystems”, “amenity values”, “aesthetic coherence” and indeed the notion of environmental sustainability had been notably absent from the Unitary Plan which was actually a radical 1980s-style deregulation of Auckland’s planning rules, he said then.
At the time, officials chose to leave Waiheke’s District Plan in place, although eventual implementation of city-wide rules was always signalled.
However, it should not be forgotten that in 2016, council planning bureaucrats tried to jump-start the process in the Hauraki Gulf by proclaiming Waiheke’s rural-urban boundaries abolished, Cr Lee said after the meeting. “Out of the blue as it was, it was nonsense of course, as the appeal to the Environment Court led by Paul Walden confirmed.”
It would have gutted the island’s defining planning narrative of separate villages and rural landscapes and was presumably worth a try as the establishment of a fait accompli would have been extremely useful to the council hegemony in blocking residents’ opposition during later planning processes.
While touting a “compact city”, the isthmus Unitary Plan was to expand the city’s rural urban boundary (RUB) by 30 percent and enable unprecedented urban sprawl, including over prime horticultural soils. The pre-1944 building demolition control overlay was removed, leaving hundreds of 19th and 20th century houses across the isthmus incentivised for demolition and quality design standards for new intensified developments were thrown out.
With all this on the cards, Waiheke’s immediate concern may not be Auckland Council’s hypocritical response to the climate emergency, said the councillor.
He warned against the obviously determined effort by Auckland Council to use the Area Plan to reticulate Waiheke with a city-style sewerage system in order to promote high rise tourist hotels at Oneroa, initially, and then Onetangi, as well as the ominous use of “housing choice” – Auckland Council-speak for shoe-box apartments with the sort of shoddy building that bits fall off, he says.
“With Waiheke ratepayers forced to pay for it all.” • Liz Waters