Last night I attended a conversation on population growth trends with Mayor of Auckland Len Brown, Auckland Council Chief Planning Officer Dr Roger Blakeley and Chief Executive (acting) Families Commission Len Cook.
Len Cook was Government Statistician from 1992 to 2000, then National Statistician of the United Kingdom. He was the chair of the last population policy review in 1990, a member of the Royal Commission on Social Policy, and recently President of the Institute of Public Administration.
Len Brown opened the floor full of his usual enthusiasm and passion. Statistics filled the visual displays and I won’t bore you with those but in a nutshell Auckland is growing at a faster pace (2.2%) than what NZ stats predicted (1.8%). Of course this isn’t set in stone but no matter how you look at it Auckland is growing.
Len Brown welcomed Dr Roger Blakely and he showered us with more facts and figures, the following is of interest:
- Contrary to popular belief, the largest form of growth is from natural increase (60%).
- The medium growth projection is 700 000 people over a 30 year period
- The high growth projection is a million more people in 30 years.
- The Auckland Council has chosen to plan for the higher growth projection which I fully agree with.
- Infrastructure planning on the other hand will be planned for at the medium growth rate (an explanation is forthcoming)
- 60% – 70% of growth will be in the existing footprint (known as brown-fields) and,
- 30% – 40% of growth will be green-fields.
- The Unitary Plan allows for an adequate supply of housing, the freedom of choice and affordable housing.
- 7% will be dedicated to terrace housing and apartment zones,
- 49% mixed housing zones,
- 35% for single house zones,
- 9% large lot zoning and,
- the rest for rural and coastal settlement zoning.
- What seems to crop up time and time again is the word quality and I for one will hold them to it.
- 75% Of the World’s population will live in cities by 2050 (I think that it will be higher) so Auckland will be no different to the rest of the World and will need to deal with mass urbanisation .
- We will need more and smaller dwellings for both old and young (there will be more single occupied dwellings).
- We need to generate economic growth in order to create social vitality.
- There is no question that green-field developments cost twice as much as brown-field developments.
- Top cities have compact city strategies eg. Copenhagen and Melbourne. I have been to both and they are fine examples of intensification.
And then there was Len Cook, a man who knows his facts and figures with a wicked sense of humour. I enjoyed listening to him and found him to be very entertaining, just a shame that he is returning to the UK. Mr Cook brought the following matters to my attention:
- Population policy affects the whole Country and not just Auckland.
- Projections differ to predictions and are quite a science.
- NZ is producing approx. 60 000 babies per year which is one of the highest rates in the Industrialised World.
- Deaths will match births in the next 20 years.
- We will live longer and work longer but retiring baby-boomers will leave a large gap in the work force.
- The rest of NZ is ageing much faster than Auckland which will have a detrimental effect on smaller towns.
- In 20 years time the bulk of the work force will be aged between 37 and 43 years.
- Young people are having children at a much older age, there will also be more childless couples in Auckland than ever before.
- A time will come when the Government is going to have to transfer funds and resources to Auckland from smaller towns and regions due to the growth in Auckland and the regression of smaller towns.
- Two thirds of immigrants choose Auckland and that number could increase.
- Auckland attracts people between 15 and 30 years of age. People younger and older are migrating out of Auckland. I would have thought that it would be the other way around.
- 10% Of the population is over 65 (enforces the fact that it is the minority trying to control this city).
- If Auckland doesn’t attract and retain younger generations the city will run out of steam and regress. Pretty logical in my books.
Now for the funny part of the evening – questions and answers. I haven’t laughed so much in ages. Where do these people come from and who votes for them ? The questions ranged from the totally absurd to the downright ridiculous but nonetheless it was very entertaining. Here are some of the highlights:
I missed the name of the person asking the question about controlling population growth around NZ (a population strategy) but it was quickly established that you can’t force people to live where they don’t want to live. Auckland is always going to be the big attraction – the only show in town !
The guy from Civic Trust suggested that we should allow for 70% of green-fields to be developed and only 30% in the existing footprint. God help us. What is so sustainable and economical about his proposal ?
Richard Burton from Auckland 2040 was the clown of the show. He mumbled through facts that were all wrong and insists that statisticians have the wrong projections. I couldn’t help thinking that he has something against immigrants – for him growth is analysed by race. He was laughed at and justly so. The panel reminded him that even if population growth is understated it doesn’t cost anything to plan and we will at least be prepared for the next 35 years. Prevention is better than cure Mr Burton.
The spokesperson for Titirangi Ratepayers caught me off guard – they actually agree that intensification around transport hubs and town centres is the right move. They also feel that green-fields should be left as such. Len Brown told her that Auckland needs a balance between the two so that people may have the choice to own a stand alone house with the garden blah blah blah.
The Devonport / Takapuna spokesperson (does anybody know her name ? I would love to send her a rabies vaccine) was extremely bitter and twisted. Another one who questions population projections but she was quickly put in her place. The panel told her that estimates are better than doing nothing at all – there you have it girlfriend now take your Prozac ! Her solution to a vibrant Auckland would probably be do nothing and spend nothing.
In conclusion it was agreed that we should follow Norway’s example and look at Universal Design. We can all agree that urban sprawl is failing Auckland – just look at the public transport system. We need to smarten up and think about Auckland as a whole – not little enclaves of tribes who are only interested in protecting their patch of turf.
All in all I left there feeling upbeat and reassured that the majority supported the Unitary Plan and in agreement that planning needs to change no matter if there is an increase of 400 000, 700 000 or 1 million people. “Onwards and upwards, less talk and more action” should be our motto – bring it on !