Analysis: Unitary Plan: Inevitable NIMBY backlash begins

With a residents association representing existing property owners in a leafy suburb threatening legal action, and wealthy residents in the coveted Paritai Drive expressing outrage, the battle lines for the Unitary Plan are drawn.

The fact is that the Unitary Plan is absolutely essential to meet the projected demand for housing in Auckland. In the process of providing denser housing the existing (already wealthy) landowners will benefit enormously and, if they don’t like the new arrangements, this compensation will be enough for them to move anywhere they choose. The plan is already a compromise, and cannot be compromised any further.

Auckland must change. The NIMBYs need to get over it.

The Unitary Plan provides the supply needed 
The previous plans submitted by Auckland Council completely failed to provide enough housing to meet Auckland’s population growth estimates. By that measure, the current plan is a success – allowing for 422,000 new dwellings against a projected demand of 400,000 by 2041. Previous council attempts didn’t come close to that figure.

More importantly, the bulk of this growth will come from increased density – with around 64% of the growth coming in existing urban areas. This is crucial to prevent young people having to spend thousands of dollars and hours each year commuting from Kaipara Harbour or Pokeno to work in the city while retired baby boomers sip lattes in the leafy inner-city suburbs.

Landowners will be generously compensated
What the NIMBYs don’t acknowledge is that the Unitary Plan will generously compensate them for any inconvenience associated with increased density. By being able to build more dwellings on the land they own, with less land needed per house, their land values will increase even more than they already have. This means that under the Unitary Plan we are likely to see lower house prices AND higher land values in central Auckland.

All that adds up to even more untaxed capital gain for already wealthy landowners in central Auckland. They have no need to whinge. If they don’t like the increased density in Auckland, they can afford to move anywhere they like.

The plan is already a compromise
The Unitary Plan is far from perfect. It has removed rules governing energy efficiency, cultural sites and affordable housing. These admirable goals have been sacrificed at the altar of providing more housing as cheaply as possible. We have to ensure the increased building that comes out of the plan doesn’t cause another version of leaky buildings or the disaster that happened when apartments were thrown up in central Auckland in the 1990s. We have to make medium-density housing attractive so that young people will want to live there.

Hopefully, affordable housing will come as a natural result of the sheer extra supply of houses that will be built, ideally bringing prices down. Regardless, the Plan can’t afford to cut any more corners than it already has. It mustn’t be compromised further.

Auckland has to change
People tend to dislike change so the NIMBY reaction is understandable but still dismaying. This selfishness is destroying the dreams of home ownership or even affordable rental for a generation. In lieu of quality inner-city living, people are being forced to spend their lives commuting long distances to work. The baby boomer NIMBYs may hold the power at the ballot box currently but they need to be wary of the growing backlash; termed ‘rental rage’ by cartoonist Toby Morris.

Auckland is our only world-class city, and to compete with other cities it has to change. Wealthy property owners may not want that to happen in their back yard but their alternative is to watch even more of their grandkids move overseas. Or if by some miracle their grandkids do manage to stay in Auckland, they probably won’t have anyone to teach them.

Geoff Simmons is an economist working for the Morgan Foundation. This post first appeared on Gareth's World.

Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson on Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.

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