Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

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Submission by Tony Watkins

Karaka Bay, Glendowie, Auckland 1071


I live in the Orakei Local Board area and my feedback relates to the whole plan.

If this was a student piece of work (which it certainly seems to be) I am afraid I would need to give it a D. It shows no understanding of any of the issues Auckland will face over the next 30 years. Beyond that it shows a complete ignorance of the global context which will impact on Auckland over that period. For people in positions of power making decisions about the lives of other people this is unforgivable.
The lack of understanding of architecture, power, how growth occurs, history, landscape, and just about everything else, has only been compounded by the dishonesty with which the Plan has been foisted on the public. The concept that “you can trust us” leaves me emphatically saying “I don’t”. Who needs to live in a Kafka nightmare?
The Unitary Plan is nothing more that a blueprint for developers to make money. The ratepayers will then need to pick up the costs. If an ordinary citizen wants to put up a chook-house, or even build a house for themselves, the Council will prevent them from doing so. In contrast if a developer wants to repeat yet again the abysmal built nightmares to be found on Hobson Street the Council will welcome them with open arms. We are about to launch into something bigger than the leaky building scandal, with all the same people in control. Only this last week an Environment Court judge approved a development in Auckland because the design was so bad that he said it must, as a consequence, be cheap, and Auckland needed affordable housing. Developers are interested in profit, not design. Planners need to live in the real world.
Design begins with right relationships. All of them. Before some panel of uninformed middle-class experts starts pontificating about what a building should looks like there are bigger issues to be concerned about. For example Lunn Avenue or the Mount Wellington highway are already saturated with traffic. Simply putting 18 storey buildings at Sylvia Park without making any other changes will only result in gridlock. Another economic disaster. The economy needs to keep moving. I thought that planning was a process which avoided disasters before they occurred. We have been through all this before when Mt Eden was filled with sausage flats in the seventies. The drains could not cope with the extra load. More of the same is not the way to go.
It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the planners who have prepared the plan are either naïve or corrupt. With a total lack of transparency in the process it is impossible to know what has been going on, so I am willing to give Council the benefit of the doubt, and presume the planners are just naïve.
They are certainly very naïve about the legal process. A 1600 page document is the perfect basis for 30 years of litigation without anyone coming to any conclusion. Hearings will go on for years rather than days, with the wealthy always winning because everyone else has better things to do. The Unitary Plan signifies the end of democracy.
The Plan is even totally confused about the market. The first presumption seems to be that the market is totally out of control and the consequence of this will be a doubling of Auckland’s population. If the Indian monsoons fail as a result of climate change the market will provide a few million more environmental refugees for Auckland to deal with, but the Plan does not mention that. Then the presumption seems to be that the Plan will control the market by stopping people building a house for themselves while backing Fletchers. The intellectual inconsistency of the Plan is beyond belief.
When I set the height limits for Kohimaramara and St Heliers, for example, back in the seventies, there was a clear logic in the process and very clear reasons. It was not related to the latest fashionable planning idea. It is dangerous to assume history has nothing to teach us. Even the “garden city” idea, realised in Auckland, was a direct result of the invention of planning as a profession, to avoid the worst excesses of the industrial revolution. Heritage and landscape are givens, not intellectual ideas. When I co-authored the first Maritime Plan in New Zealand there was a clear reason for every action taken. I could explain, but the Unitary Plan makes it clear that no one is interested.
When no one is listening making detailed submissions on the Unitary Plan is a complete waste of time. The only thing councillors really understand is the ballot box.
I was one of the people involved in organising the Velvet Revolution which ended the Cold War in November 1989. Many people do not realise that this revolution was organised by poets, authors, musicians, architects and artists. The nerve centre which co-ordinated the revolution was an art gallery. A real art gallery, not like the one we have. Vaclav Havel was a playwright. In a few weeks we threw out the government.
The Unitary Plan makes it clear that economists and business people cannot deliver the kind of city we want to live in. My suggestion is that we let creative minds take over the job. They could hardly do worse.
The entire plan should be thrown out and replaced with the single word “Respect”. Respect for environment, respect for nature, respect for heritage, respect for stories, respect for communities, respect for people, and respect for the built environment. The legal carry-on would then be mercifully short. Judges would have only one question to address. “Does the proposal show respect or not?” A debate worth having.
To achieve this I am proposing a new party to challenge the local body election and throw out all the councillors along with all the planners. Poets, authors, musicians, architects and other creative people would then have the opportunity to move our thinking beyond the lowest common denominator of economics.
The universal anger at the ludicrous Unitary Plan should be enough to swing the vote.
These are challenging times and we need challenging visions. We need to act before sea-level rise puts the Wynyard Quarter under water without the Chinese having had time to finish building their hotel. Perhaps a tsunami or earthquake will do the job.
Is there nothing good to say about the Unitary Plan? Some cheerful note to end on? I have scoured the documents and can say that I am delighted that my property has been declared to be a Special Environmental Area. Good move. My tuis are singing and celebrating. Their numbers have more than doubled in the last 30 years, and all they asked for was a few puriri and kahikatea. I was happy to oblige. Council did not get involved. As Winston Churchill said “We do not need plans, but we do need planning”.
Tony Watkins
I am 75+
A mix of Maori, Scottish, and Irish, with a touch of English.
I will be disabled by the Unitary Plan.
I would be delighted for my feedback to be available in public documents.
The more you can get the message out before the election the better.
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