The best plan - keep it simple

Wednesday 3 August 2011, 3:04PM
By Auckland Chamber of Commerce


Planning is important. But the complexities and overlaps in the 100 or so plans - and still counting - that the Auckland Council is preparing are threatening an early derail to one of the key objectives in establishing a single Auckland council - to reduce duplication, simplify decision-making on big issues and enable effective policy integration and efficient project implementation.

At last count the Auckland Council website features about 60 high-level plans required by legislation. They include the 30-year Auckland (spatial) plan, the draft of which will shortly be available for formal consultation, a detailed land use regulatory plan known as the unitary plan, a 10-year activity and budget long-term plan, an annual plan, 21 local board plans and, separately, 21 local board agreements setting out what the council will actually do for the local area for the coming year.

Confused as to how these various plans inter-relate, inform each other, and are expected to reduce duplication and achieve greater efficiency in Auckland's local government performance? Wait, there's more. Much more.

Other plans the council is required by legislation to develop include a financial strategy, a local boards funding policy, a raft of asset management plans and plans related to council's statutory functions.

These include a waste assessment plan, a (separate) waste management and minimisation plan and plans related to alcohol control and regulation of the adult entertainment industry in Auckland.

As well as statutory plans, there are at least another 40 plans and strategies under development or proposed by the council's divisions and council-controlled organisations (CCOs).

They include a plan each for economic development, business improvement districts, transport, cultural, sport and recreation, children and young people, housing, major events, energy and climate change, urban design, infrastructure, heritage, and master plans for the waterfront, city centre and the East Tamaki business precinct.

Other proposed plans and policies cover parks and reserves; air, land, water and coastal policy; and various policies and plans to support community facilities.

Planning is important, but results are what count. Also, the cost in money and time that committed Aucklanders are required to invest to make submissions on this maze of plans is unfair and unwieldy. Instead of council staff focusing on fixing the big issues facing Auckland, they are at risk of becoming bogged down by seeing their duty as simply to fulfil the legislative requirement to produce plans for consultation.

The focus of action is around the planning development process when it should be on delivery of projects.

It is impossible to gauge at this stage where and how each of these plans fit together, how they will be resourced, and how interested the council really is in listening and effecting the changes sought by the thousands of submissions that have already poured in on some of these plans - with many more expected as further plans become available for consultation in the next few months.

What is very clear, however, is that Auckland still badly needs a single, easy-to-digest plan that sets out a universally agreed pipeline of projects we can all sign off, fund and be confident will be implemented in a set time frame. The Auckland Plan could fulfil that role.

The overarching 30-year Auckland Plan is expected to be adopted by the council this year in time to inform the preparation of the long-term plan, a 10-year activity and budget plan to be adopted by June next year.

Logically, these two plans should help inform the council's annual plan, in effect a detailed annual budget, and inform the unitary plan, a detailed land use regulatory plan.

The point to note is that these four plans are required by legislation.

Given this planning complexity and duplication, it would seem logical that a review of the Auckland Council after its first birthday, November 1, should include a look at the usefulness of the central Government's legislation requirements for Auckland.

The truth is that consolidation of some of the central Government's legislative planning requirements might actually make sense.

The main idea I am proposing is to apply some common sense, even if simplistic: reducing the number of plans that Auckland Council is required to produce should allow council to cut costs by reducing duplication of planning services and help encourage a shift of focus by council and its stakeholders to identifying the actions needed to make Auckland a better place - the best it can be.