Len Brown’s lifestyle estate ‘outrageous hypocrisy’
"Any city needs planning with staged development, not a grand slam approach that will provide an unacceptable mix of development for the next 20 years."Featured comment
Under-fire Auckland mayor Len Brown has been accused of hypocrisy for living on a spacious lifestyle block outside the urban limit while pushing for a “quality compact city” full of small high-rise apartments.
The mayor lives on a bush-covered 6970 sq m (0.688ha/1.7 acre) property at Tiffany Close on the outskirts of Manukau, just outside the current Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL).
His house is a spacious 406sq m and he has a pool in his backyard, for which resource consent was granted in October 2002.
The property was a bare section when Mr Brown bought it with his wife Shan Inglis in 1995 for $180,000.
It now has a rateable value of $1.2 million, including land value of $495,000 and improvements of $705,000.
Critics say the mayor’s housing choice shows he is not practicing what he preaches when it comes to high-density living.
One of those is former Reserve Bank governor and one-time National Party leader Don Brash, who describes the intensification regime being pushed by Mr Brown as a “disaster” for Auckland, both economically and socially.
“It smacks of hypocrisy, ” Dr Brash says. “I gather it’s one of the areas not being targeted for intensification, and if that’s the case that is outrageous.”
Dr Brash, who ironically lives in a 67sq m apartment in a six-storey building, says he is not opposed to intensification because he does not like apartments.
His concern, he says, is that trying to force higher density by restricting development on the urban fringe is making housing increasingly unaffordable for Aucklanders.
For instance, he recently saw a 500sq m section in the new Manukau suburb of Flat Bush advertised for $400,000, equating to $8 million/ha. Top-quality dairy farming land outside the urban limit is worth about $50,000/ha, he says.
“What the hell are we paying that kind of price for in a country that’s one of the most sparsely populated in the world?”
Dick Quax, a councillor for the Howick ward where Tiffany Close is located, says residents fighting intensification plans around Auckland will be galled to hear how the mayor lives.
“Len Brown lives on a country estate in a McMansion and wants the rest of us to live in rabbit hutches,” he says.
“I think it’s the ultimate hypocrisy that someone who advocates people live in small apartments around railway stations, which can have floor areas as little as 30sq m, lives on an acre and a half of land.”
NBR ONLINE wanted to know what the mayor thought of the criticism, whether he planned to move into an apartment and whether his property will be inside the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) that will replace the MUL.
Mayor Brown refused to talk to NBR, or answer our questions, issuing only a pro-plan propaganda statement through his chief spin doctor, Glyn Jones.
“The most important thing is that Aucklanders continue to have a range of choices about where they live as our city grows, whether it’s a larger place further out or an apartment closer to the city," his statement read.
Mr Jones says it will not be known whether the mayor’s house is inside the RUB until the boundary is decided in August.
Doubtful virtues of Vancouver
Fresh from spending ratepayers’ money promoting a private 10-storey apartment block in New Lynn, Mr Brown is trumpeting a ratepayer-funded report extolling the virtues of high-density housing in Vancouver, Canada.
“I would encourage any Aucklanders who are concerned about the impact of greater urban density to check out this report,” he says in yet another PR promotion.
Mr Brown claims the Vancouver example shows it is possible to build a more intensified city that is more liveable and affordable, and that residents are allegedly proud of.
He claims Vancouver has many similarities to Auckland, including a central isthmus and low-rise suburbs spreading out from the central city.
But according to the annual Demographia Housing Affordability Survey, Vancouver’s housing is the second most expensive of cities surveyed – after Hong Kong – at 9.5 times median incomes, compared to Auckland, where housing is 6.7 times median incomes.
The survey considers a median multiple greater than three unaffordable.