Hard News by Russell Brown


The Unitary Plan and grown-up conversations

News media and interest groups have, of course, been immersed in the contents of the Independent Hearings Panel recommendations on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan since their publication yesterday. But perhaps we should also take a moment to consider the meaning of the panel's report. Because it really does change things.

Right up until yesterday, it has been possible to characterise the desire to plan for intensification and provide for growth, as the work of fools, knaves, loons, vandals, nameless planners and Len Brown. Opponents of the Unitary Plan will doubtless continue to wilfully misrepresent the implications of the Unitary Plan, but their job is harder now. The kind of insult salad aspirant Auckland councillor Bill Ralston dished up in March doesn't really work any more.

The imprimateur of a quasi-judicial body has shifted debate on the plan to a different place, not least because the IHP has gone further  than the council itself. Effectively, some grown-ups have looked at it all and come to a conclusion. As flawed as it was in some ways, the government's 2010 super-city legislation laid the ground for that by requiring the oversight of an independent panel rather than council-appointed commissioners.

That doesn't mean the debate is over. The IHP's removal of mana whenua protections will be controversial (it's remarkable how some councillors and commentators seem to believe heritage protections are something only middle-class wote folks get) and there are many other points of contention. But I honestly think the coversation must be more sensible now, whether that suits some people or not.

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