By David Hargreaves
The Auckland Council's questioning a number of aspects of the Government's proposed new urban development authorities (UDAs) and wants to make sure it can have absolute power of veto over specific development proposals.
The council says it has "significant concerns" regarding aspects of the Government's overall proposals including the composition and powers of Urban Development Authorities (UDAs), the processes outlined for the development of UDA, and "about the nature of new urban development that could arise if these are not sufficiently cognisant of, and responsive to, the legislative, planning, environmental and infrastructure context in which they would sit".
At the moment the Government's looking toward having legislation in Parliament by the middle of next year to establish UDAs.
As outlined by the MBIE discussion document, the powers potentially available for an urban development project would relate to:
►Land – powers to assemble parcels of land, including existing compulsory acquisition powers under the Public Works Act 1981.
►Planning and resource consenting – powers to override existing and proposed district plans and regional plans, and streamlined consenting processes.
►Infrastructure – powers to plan and build infrastructure such as roads, water pipes and reserves.
►Funding – powers to buy, sell and lease land and buildings; powers to borrow to fund infrastructure; and powers to levy charges to cover infrastructure costs. An urban development authority would not have building consenting powers.
The MBIE discussion document says that to succeed, urban development projects need central and territorial authorities to work together.
Power of veto
"The Government therefore proposes that no development project will be established without the agreement of every territorial authority whose area falls within the proposed project boundaries. This effectively gives territorial authorities a veto over the application of the proposed legislation."
However, while under the proposal, regional councils will be consulted as part of both the establishment and development plan stages, it is proposed there "will be no need to obtain the prior agreement of the relevant regional council to the development project and they will not have a veto right".
As a "unitary council", Auckland Council is both a regional council and a territorial authority.
The council submission says as local authorities, "regional councils should be involved in the process of developing a UDA".
"...The council strongly supports territorial authority veto rights (proposal 50). In particular, the veto right is essential to ensure the strategic objectives of an UDA are appropriate and do not undermine the council’s responsibilities under Part 2 of the Resource Management Act (RMA). Any legislation needs to be clear that if a territorial authority vetoes a UDA proposal, the process ends."
Having made this point forcefully, the council then goes on to question whether the MBIE discussion document actually properly tackles the perceived development problems.
'Problem insufficiently defined'
"The problem which the discussion document seeks to solve is insufficiently defined," the council says.
"A more specific problem definition would be helpful in providing useful feedback and suggested improvements. In addition, the discussion document does not address the considerable resources that would be required to establish and operationalise a UDA.
"...The council does not believe that, as proposed, the tools, processes, and interventions in the discussion document will address the underlying constraints that presently hold urban development back. In addition, many of the suggested tools intended for UDAs’ use are already available to local authorities.
"The council is unconvinced that, as stated in the diagram of proposed processes (page 15), the benefits of the proposals will lead to better integration between land use planning and transport systems, as well as increased planning certainty for developers. Collectively, the proposals are likely to reduce planning integration and will reduce certainty for local government and other actors such as key infrastructure providers."
The submission goes on to say that the council does not support proposals that would allow the strategic objectives of a UDA in a project area to override a territorial authority’s strategic decision making at the city and regional level. For Auckland, this includes proposals that would conflict with the urban growth strategy contained in the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) and the Auckland Plan.
Govt: veto important; Councils already have tools, but spread over too many Acts
Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith told Interest.co.nz in Parliament on Thursday afternoon that he had not read the Auckland submission but was looking forward to doing so.
The government considered urban development authorities as a powerful and new tool for redevelopment, Smith said. “We’ve seen them very successfully used in cities like London, Singapore, Toronto, Melbourne and Sydney. It’s an extra tool in the tool box for enabling our cities to be able to progress,” he said.
Smith noted that the initial proposals by the government made plain that it could not proceed with an urban development authority without the approval of a council, effectively providing local authorities with veto rights of a UDA within their area.
“This is quite complex and major legislation. I’m looking forward to seeing the detail of the submission so we can get all of those nuances right,” Smith said.
Asked whether there could be tweaks to this, such as giving parties the ability to appeal a council veto, Smith said: “The current proposal for the urban development authority is for it only being able to go ahead with the support of the council. So, the proposal that we have consulted on effectively provides for a veto.”
He added: “There is no question that this type of urban development authority legislation will make it a lot easier for both councils and governments to be able to redevelop areas.”
Smith noted Auckland’s Viaduct Basin, prepared for the hosting of the America’s Cup, as a good example of a UDA in practice. “It was very specific legislation that was developed because it was simply too cumbersome to get all the other Acts to get to work in a co-ordinated way to get the sort of quality urban development that was needed there,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the Auckland Council’s suggestion that it already had many of the available tools at hand, Smith said: “The truth is, that there are some of those powers available, but they’re scattered in different Acts and are not that accessible and that’s why other jurisdictions in Australia and Canada, and the UK, has found that special leg of the form of an urban development authority’s required.”