A letter from government ministers to public housing organisation Kāinga Ora directing it to assess suburbs along Auckland’s planned light rail corridor for new houses has raised the ire of local government.
In a letter sent on Monday, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson and Minister of Housing Megan Woods urged Kāinga Ora chair Vui Mark Gosche to explore development options along the corridor, which runs roughly from the central city to Māngere.
The direction asks Kāinga Ora to investigate how their developments could contribute to the 66,000 homes set out in Auckland Light Rail’s indicative business case.
But despite there being a meeting of light rail sponsors on Monday including councillor Chris Darby and Mayor Wayne Brown, councillors only found out about the directive later in the week.
Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa ward councillor Christine Fletcher, who represents an area largely within the environs of the light rail plan, only found out about the letter on Wednesday after a member of the public brought her attention to it.
Fletcher raised it at the council’s meeting of its governing body yesterday, wanting councillors to support the mayor in contacting the Government to demand a seat at the decision table.
She said a directive like this without council or public consultation was a “betrayal of trust” and “displays extraordinary arrogance by the Government”.
For once, mostly everybody around the council table agreed.
Councillors voted for Brown to represent them in contacting ministers and presumably giving them an earful.
“This is not how you deal with the biggest city in New Zealand,” said Brown. “This is not a partnership, this is a bombing run.”
It wasn’t the last of the bombing metaphors, as councillors reached for language they could find to express a feeling of shock and perhaps being a little singed.
Fletcher said it was the equivalent of dropping a “bloody nuclear bomb” on Auckland, and compared the policy to French testing in Mururoa.
North Shore councillor Chris Darby took umbrage at the comparison, saying with the current situation in Ukraine and the severity of actual bombings in history, it was not appropriate.
“I’m probably the only person in the room that’s been within 30m of a bomb going off and I can tell you it’s not a bomb going off today, it’s not.”
Fletcher withdrew the comparison but said she had been only metres from an exploding bomb outside London’s Green Park Station in 1975.
“If that offends you I withdraw it, but as far as I am concerned the behaviour of the Government on dropping this on us is completely unacceptable.”
The mayor was quick to direct the meeting away from councillors comparing their proximities to explosions.
“We won’t turn this into a competition of being near a bomb,” he said. “I’m going to put it to a vote.”
The vote was carried with no opposition, giving Brown the job of telling the Government his council is “not entirely happy with this”.
Some councillors took the opportunity to underline the fact that while they were against the council not being involved in the decision, they supported Kāinga Ora housing and didn’t want this to become a political tool used against urban development or public housing.
Waitākere councillor Shane Henderson said he’d support the motion “with a bit of a heavy heart, as I don’t want my vote today to be construed as anti-housing or anti-urban development”.
He said the light rail corridor was exactly the kind of place where development should be looked at, where proximity to transport links could allow people to have liveable access to jobs and study opportunities.
“I want council to be part of the solution not the problem, but we need to be at the table for that to happen,” he said.
The proposed project area in the letter includes most of the 24km city centre to Māngere route identified in the light rail indicative business case.
The project would hope to scout out sites for 66,000 houses, enabling 97,000 new jobs by 2051. Eighty-one thousand of those jobs are already anticipated whether or not the core transport work is completed.
Housing Minister Megan Woods said the directive was just the beginning of a process through which the Government would work alongside Auckland Council.
“I have asked housing officials to work with their counterparts at Auckland Council to once again explain the process,” she said.
“This direction does not change anything already underway for the council or Auckland Light Rail Ltd. Ministers still expect Auckland Council to continue the work it is doing to deliver a comprehensive variation to its unitary plan to enable intensification … in the proposed ALR corridor, as ALR Ltd’s work on the urban business case needs to continue.”
John Burns, chair of the Balmoral Residents Association, said his group was concerned to learn the proposal had been put forward without consultation with council or people living in his area.
“Parts of Balmoral have been badly affected by the January and February floods, with a number of houses red and yellow stickered,” he said.
“Residents have told me that they still don’t know what is to happen to them and their properties, and they now have this creating even more uncertainty. We think Auckland Council should be left to carry out the work it is already doing to deal with our stormwater and flooding issues, without interference from Wellington.”
This story has been amended to make clear the directive is intended to provide for all potential housing, not just public housing along the route. Kainga Ora has been asked to do this work under its urban development, rather than public housing, responsibility.