By Jenée Tibshraeny
Auckland mayoral candidate Vic Crone is empathising with NIMBYs, anxious as the Auckland Council decides whether or not to approve a bold regional blueprint that champions both urban densification and sprawl.
Having waded through thousands of public submissions, a government-appointed Independent Hearings Panel on Wednesday presented Auckland Council with its version of how the Unitary Plan should look.
It’s called for enough capacity to be created for 422,000 dwellings to be built within the next 25 years.
This would require a 43% reduction in central Auckland areas zoned for single housing, a 60% expansion in areas zoned as mixed housing urban zones (four houses up to three storeys per section), and a 21% expansion of areas zoned for apartments and terraced housing.
Speaking to Interest.co.nz in a Double Shot Interview, Crone acknowledges it is inevitable Auckland needs to grow both up and out.
Yet she’s stopped short of praising the Panel for increasing the capacity for densification in Auckland’s leafy central suburbs, instead echoing the stance of her rival, Phil Goff, by saying:
“The first thing we have to do is to increase densification around the transport nodes. And then we can have a look at what’s left. I suspect there will be some intensification required around the suburbs.
“Where we go up, we absolutely need to make sure as much of that can be around the main transport nodes as possible. And when you look at the Plan, for me, there’s actually not enough.”
As for the Panel’s proposal to remove some protections for homes built before 1944, Crone says: “It is important to keep the heritage of Auckland, so I can understand people’s concerns...”
Asked whether she believes NIMBYs need to get over it and let Auckland grow, Crone says:
“People haven’t really been told what it [the Panel’s proposed Unitary Plan] would look like. If you haven’t been involved in the process - and this is a big change - then of course you’re going to get really anxious around it.
“So I think the Council could’ve done a much better job, particularly with the out of scope submissions, to work with Auckland suburbs and say, ‘Look here’s what we’re doing, here’s why we have to do it, and actually here’s what your suburb could look like’.”
Transport needs to be included in the housing picture
Crone says the anxiety stems from concerns beyond housing.
“The transport isn’t good enough today, let alone with another 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 people coming in. The schools are overflowing, the community services are bursting at the seam. It’s not just about the house, it’s about how the whole community works together and I think that’s the picture Council must paint for communities.”
When considering densification, Crone says we need to think about “minimising our required investment in extending the transport network”.
All in all she maintains we have to think about where Auckland has come from when considering what may appear to be a brazen proposed Plan, and realise “we’ve been growing like this for quite a long time now”.
“We need to help Aucklanders understand that actually, densification doesn’t look like 10-20 storey, ugly apartment buildings that we built in the 70s, 80s, 90s.”
Commenting on the tensions between local and central government that the Unitary Plan has brought into light, Crone says:
“I would love to see the government and council working much more in partnership around solving the housing supply chain for Auckland. Because when you look at the issues, actually they fall across government and council. It’s not one or the other, it’s both.
“It’s likely that the Unitary Plan will have to be passed because we are in such a serious situation in terms of shortage of houses.”
More PPPs and park and rides needed
Crone is eager to push public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a more prominent source of funding for Council projects.
She recognises Auckland is among the cities around the world struggling to fund infrastructure growth, so: “We do need to look at more sources. We can’t expect ratepayers and taxpayers to pick up everything.”
She points to Melbourne’s twin rail tunnel as an example.
“That’s absolutely what I want to bring to the table. Auckland Council is not strong in doing this. I’ve done it in my business career and I’d like to bring some of that leadership and stability in seeing PPPs develop and thrive. They are complex and really hard, so it is important that we have a governor and governing body of the city that understands how to develop that.
“There are a range of businesses out there who have already offered to Council to partner in a number of areas. Like partnering building car parking buildings for park and rides.
“We do need to look at park and rides. We’ve got 5,500 carparks for our entire population in Auckland and that’s simply not enough. There are definitely private investors who are willing to help us in that space.”
Crone is confident there’s a pipeline of private sector interest that could be ready to go if given the opportunity. For example, she’s committed to bring forward Penlink and Mill Road as toll roads under PPPs.
Strong links to National, but no funding
Crone admits to having strong links to National, but denies being funded by the party or shoulder-tapped by its former president, Michelle Boag, to run for mayor.
“That’s not quite true. I did have some conversations with Michelle around it. The initial idea actually came from some colleagues of mine who I work with in the business sector and in the social enterprise sector.
“I have a strong relationship with National. I have worked with them over the past five, seven years in my various roles across Xero, Chorus and Spark.
“But also I have a good working relationship with Labour and of course I worked with them on the Future of Work policy they developed.
“I am standing as an independent. I do have strong relationships with both - particularly with the National Party.”
Politics needs more diversity, not career politicians
Crone also reiterates she isn’t eyeing getting into central government, but has a very nationalistic view of local politics.
“I’m looking at the importance of Auckland to Aucklanders and New Zealand, and within the context of the world stage. I see how fast the world is moving and Auckland isn’t keeping up with that.
“I’m very passionate about making a difference to Aucklanders’ lives, but to New Zealand. That’s why I put my hand up. Council needs a shake-up and I’ve got a range of skills to bring to that.
“Many people have asked me, ‘Are you going to be a politician for life?’ And I don’t look at it like that… We’re going to be changing careers a lot more. This idea of ‘job for life’ is not the world that we are heading into.
“And I think politics needs a dose of that too, where you’ve got people coming in and out with different backgrounds and different experiences. Rather than being in politics for 30, 35 years.
“We need more diversity. That’s what you see in business, that’s what you see in social enterprise, and I think we’re going to see that in politics as well.”
'It’s better to reinvent yourself than for someone to do that for you'
Addressing a group of business women a few weeks ago, Crone said: “It’s better to reinvent yourself than for someone to do that for you”.
Asked to explain this motto in the context of her career, she says:
“The world is changing fast and the speed of change is getting faster and faster. We’re seeing that in our businesses, we’re having to change more frequently to keep up. And if you don’t, then your business just gets completely marginalised.”
Crone makes reference to Uber, Airbnb and Netflix as examples of these change-makers. Yet personalising the concept, she says:
“The best person to disrupt yourself, is yourself, because you then have more control over the rules of the game.
“I always work really hard to keep changing and developing myself - to keep up - knowing that if I don’t, I’m going to become obsolete in the way that I think.
“It’s easier to constantly change a little bit, than every five or 10 years… learn a whole new way and change.”
Asked how much she would have to “reinvent” herself to become Mayor, Crone says:
“I don’t know yet. All I know is that I have the capability to do it. I recognise when it needs to happen and I know how to get there.”