Chlöe Swarbrick: Auckland Central MP

This past month we lost a stalwart of our community in John Elliott - friend, former MP, regular advisor to many a politically-minded local.

I first properly met John back in 2017 when he made no bones about wanting to understand my intentions in seeking selection for the Greens in Auckland Central.

In the lounge of his and Cait’s Herne Bay villa, he interrogated my background, skillset and thoughts on everything and anything. Their support would help get me within striking distance of selection, but not quite close enough. It helped lay the foundation of the pathway that took us to making history in 2020’s election (regardless of many a robust and important chat about differences in views). All of my love to Cait and the whānau - we will recognise John in Parliament this month.

To pass any law or budget in Parliament, you need at least 61 out of 120 votes; a simple majority. In this term, Labour hold 65 and the Greens 10. While we use our power to outsized ends for the best outcomes we can muster for people and planet, the numbers belie that we cannot currently undertake the systemic transformation we fight every day for.

That means that while we’ve made some inroads, the government continues with policies that entrench and grow inequality, a pattern repeated by many successive governments. This is nowhere more evident than in the realm of housing.

More people rent in Auckland Central - over half of the population - than in any other electorate in the country. More people also live in more transient housing - that is, in their property for less than a year - than in anywhere else in the country.

This picture is definitely complicated by the many different communities, neighbourhoods and geographies (the electorate includes the 9,000 strong Waiheke island, the 1,100 people on Aotea Great Barrier, the 45,000 in our city centre, along with the surrounding suburbs of Grafton and Newton and of course, Ponsonby and the Bays). This, however, makes Auckland Central an incredible microcosm of Auckland and the country’s housing woes.

Last year, the Labour Government and National opposition collaborated on drafting the Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters Bill, an Amendment to the Resource Management Act, which was supported (albeit with a number of attempts to improve it) in the House by the Greens and Te Pāti Māori. This law, in a nutshell, seeks to remove restrictions on planning rules to enable more medium density homes to be built.

It’s definitely not perfect. The Greens sought through Select Committee, then several amendments (called Supplementary Order Papers) under the name of Hon. Eugenie Sage to legislate the need for green spaces, tree canopies, and enable the popping-up of community services like doctors, dairies and schools whilst also reducing waste created by construction. Labour and National voted these changes down on the implicit rationale that they didn’t want to risk their fragile coalition on the issue, regardless of a thorough parliamentary process to scrutinise our proposals.

As we’ve landed, Auckland Council now has until the 20th of August to publicly notify the new rules and policies that will enable medium density and intensification in their district plans. In the case that the council’s plan is considered to not be compliant with the law by an independent panel, the council will have until 31 March 2024 with the findings, and should they reject them, then the Minister for the Environment (currently David Parker) will intervene and decide from there.

I’ve been having constructive conversations with the Freemans Bay Residents Association and many constituents about this process. Despite what may be largely reported, I think we all actually agree on the basics. We all, I hope, want affordable housing and thriving communities.

The increasingly unproductive debate on ‘special character’ and the density bogeyman has sucked up so much oxygen that we’ve lost the bigger picture: how to build high-quality, energy-efficient homes, protect and grow greenery and use space and design as best as possible. Ponsonby and the Bays have evolved immensely in the last few decades and they will continue to. As such, we can and should be a model of density done well.

While council contemplates its final plan changes, I will continue to advocate for improvements that focus on achieving these constructive, forward-looking and completely achievable goals - our goals, for the city we all deserve - for our generations and the ones that follow. (Chlöe Swarbrick)

Chlöe Swarbrick, T: 09 378 4810, E:

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