Len Brown Vs Nick Smith – battle of the losers



Auckland City’s unitary plan was released on Friday. It brings together 14 district and regional plans into an overall plan for the development of Auckland in coming decades. Its big picture focus is to grow Auckland within the city’s current footprint – packing in another million people in high rise apartments and terrace housing.

The government engaged in a slanging match with Auckland Mayor Len Brown over this proposal several months ago and has redoubled pressure in the last two weeks via new Housing Minister Nick Smith.

Instead of housing intensification the government wants the council to open up more residential land at Auckland’s outskirts. This is a key part of the government’s strategy to produce more affordable housing. It argues that more sections for sale will reduce market prices and give more families the chance to buy.

But we need neither the Council’s plans nor the government response. Both assume we need growth and that somehow this will make Auckland a more liveable city.

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It won’t. We have a liveability crisis for low and middle income families right now and growth will do nothing to ease their struggle.

Instead of growth we need sustainable community renewal as Auckland’s top priority. This would mean Auckland Council focusing on strengthening and empowering local communities, providing the stimulus for jobs, providing more affordable housing and reducing the rates burden on low and middle income families who currently pay a far higher proportion of their income on rates and council charges than do higher-income families.

So what needs to be done?

To make housing more affordable we need a tough capital gains tax to drive “property investors” – almost 50% of current house sales – out of the housing market and leave it for first-home buyers.

To make the city more liveable for low and middle income families the council should abolish all flat charges for such things as wastewater and rubbish and incorporate them within a rates system based on property values.

These are the kind of popular progressive policies which will improve the lives of the big majority of Aucklanders who for many decades have subsidised the lifestyles of the wealthy.

But don’t expect these ideas to come from Len or Nick – they are still fighting over dud policies.


  1. 100% agree. A CGT on the same basis as the progressive tax system, then the top tax rate needs to increase. The increased tax revenue can be used to implemented the recommendations of the children’s commissioner to reduce child poverty in New Zealand.

    Many opponents of CGT talk about how it doesn’t work in Australia, that is because the CGT is reduced by 50%. It also needs to apply to the family home. Make it tough, then it will work.

  2. Auckland is a huuuuuuuuuuuuuge city in terms of the land it covers, so there should be plenty of capacity to build upwards – if it’s done smartly.

    One of the reasons I think a lot of Aucklanders are against denser apartment-style blocks is that the previous council also let a lot of scumbag developers put up apartment blocks full of unliveable shoeboxes, convinced (by racist stereotyping) that a magical wave of Asian students/migrants would pay top dollar for crummy hovels.

    Apartment living isn’t for everyone, sure, but we need to draw a clear line between “nobody ever wants to live in any apartment/apartments don’t work for families” and “nobody wants to live in a 45sqm cubicle, especially if they have a family”.

    • Apartment living isn’t for everyone,

      No, apartment living isn’t for everyone but I think a lot of people who presently scorn apartment living would actually find that it suits them quite well. It just needs to be of high quality and have access to green space.

    • +1 – my wife and I live in a 37sqm in central Tokyo and it suits us fine. We frequently have guests through on the sofa bed. Time for kiwis to reassess the quarter acre, I think.

  3. John, I’m not sure why you’re dismissive of the need to plan for growth. And it’s not about “assum[ing] we need growth”, it’s about acknowledging that it’s there whether you like it or not.

    Auckland is growing, primarily because people want to have kids. Two-thirds of Auckland’s population growth will come from “natural increase”, births minus deaths, and one third from immigration. There’ll be a lot more people, and they’ve got to go somewhere. And that’s one of the major focuses of the new Unitary Plan.

    • The population of Auckland will stop growing because there won’t be food available to feed the population. Then the population will crash because the entire industrial agricultural system is dependent on rapidly depleting resources, in particular, high quality crude oil, which peak in extraction several years ago.

      Also, there is the matter of the requirement of a stable climate to produce food. One might have thought that the current drought was a clear enough warning that continued assault on the Earth’s chemical balance will result in utter disaster. But, as we know, most people ignore warnings. It’s the “I want and I want it now” generation. And governments ignore warnings as a matter of policy, planning for a future that is beyond the capacity of the Earth to deliver: absolutely bonkers, of course.

      By the way, global population overshoot is around 10x, i.e. there are currently ten times as many people as the Earth can sustainably support. And even more interestingly, NZers have a Thermodynamic Footprint of around 40, which means they use energy and resources at 40 times the natural rate, so the population equivalent of greater Auckland is around 50 million. No wonder the place is such a toxic mess.

      • And Labour are so concerned about peak energy and climate change they have placed it in their top 10 … oh wait a minute, no not even in their top 20 – with the last shuffle.
        A vote for Labour is a vote for the statuesque, in fact a vote for any of the clowns is a vote against your children.
        But they did give us Kiwi Saver, along with their environment loving mates the Greeds.

      • Hi there.

        Please give us your plan for reducing the population of the planet to levels you find agreeable.

        • Hi Arthur
          I don’t have a ‘plan’, but we are well and truly heading in the right direction.
          My vote is for zero humans and the way we are going that number (or lack of) will be achieved inside of 50 years.
          My ‘thing’ is not reducing the population to ‘save the planet’ (utter bullshit) All I keep going on about is that every child born today will be facing a far different and way more hostile world than we did, and that will be a combination of all the atrocities humans have committed over the past several thousand years multiplied by 10.
          Pol Pot (6 m) Stalin (20 m?) Hitler (20m?) Chairman Mao (60m?) will have nothing on what is coming in these next few decades …. if not years.
          We are heading for the biggest shit storm imaginable, and humans are going to act like all bacteria does we will fight and kill to survive.
          If a breeder truly loved their children then they would not dump them into this developing hell hole.
          At one child per coupling the population could be down to 1 billion within 100 years, the fact that we don’t have 100 years is a shame.
          The only way to reduce the population fast is start killing people, and as we are adding 80 million per year even if we had a Pol Pot et al it wouldn’t make the slightest dent on our (the kids) problem.
          As a pacifist vegetarian I’m not volunteering to pull any triggers.
          As a very lucky non breeder, at least I don’t have to worry about any children.

        • I suggest you watch Albert Bartlett’s brilliant lecture ‘Arithmetic, Population and Energy’ (available online). Nature is about to deal with the plague of humans that have overrun the planet in the ways Bartlett outlines in the lecture.

    • What’s the maximum carrying capacity of the country?

      Just because people want to have children doesn’t mean that we can afford for them to have children. That is, of course, something that the politicians don’t want to address (and the right will start going on about personal choice if these limits are mentioned) but the simple fact is that we can’t grow indefinitely within a finite space.

  4. ‘There is not one aspect of our present predicament that is in any way improved by having more people.” – Emeritus professor Albert Bartlett, famous for his brilliant lecture ‘Arithmetic, Population and Energy, which debunks the whole notion of perpetual growth [on a finite planet].

    Needless to say, all our bought-and-paid-for politicians are interested in is keeping the banksters’ Ponzi scheme going a bit longer and providing opportunities for speculation (plus lining their own pockets, of course).

    The collision with reality is underway. Will it be resource depletion or abrupt climate change or unravelling of the fiat currency system that will demolish current economic/political arrangements? It really doesn’t matter too much. By all measures Auckland is utterly screwed long term (along with all large cities, of course).

    In the meantime the slogan of the day is: ‘better living through denial’.

  5. I disagree with this post. I agree with the need for a CGT – but that is not up to Council, that is a central government taxation policy.
    I agree Nick Smith is a loser, he has visions for sprawl and auto dependent living, that will do nothing but increase the cost of living.
    Len Brown and the Council’s Unitary Plan, on the other hand, will plan for a intesnified, compact city with better Public Transport and walking and cycling. To prevent a CGT having an overly large impact on rents we must build more dwellings. We need apartments, tenements and other forms of condensed housing which can be sold cheaply and affordably. Council’s Unitary Plan (although it possibly doesn’t go far enough) will help by zoning for higher density, and trimming back regulations such as minimum parking requirements which take up land and increase cost, it will make a huge difference.

    This could be added onto by Labour’s KiwiBuild policy which will see additional houses being built. Supply of land limited factor influencing housing price, but not to the extent that Smith tries to say. Other factors including financial ones (i.e lack of a CGT) also have an effect, but intensification will help. “Both assume we need growth and that somehow this will make Auckland a more liveable city.” It’s not about “needing” growth as such, it’s about that growth is going to occur and we are going to see even more low income earners priced out of the market if we do not take action. I disagree with your views on population growth – more people creates a better market things like public transport, which means that people are less likely to need a car, and for low income earners that is potentially a very large financial saving.

    I think this piece is not very well thought out, housing policy requires a range of things, not just one and this post does not understand that.

    FYI – I wrote a post about Nick Smith and housing on my blog not long ago. http://louisoutlook.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/national-auckland-housing/

  6. One thing which is missed in the debate and also is not mentioned by John Minto is housing for people who are so poor that they can not pay mortgage, insurance and rates so they would rather rent. New Zealand’s tenant population is booming and there is an urgent need for developing progressive tenancy policies.

  7. I certainly agree with the need for much more state rental housing – it’s the single most important part of making housing affordable for families on low incomes. The unfortunate thing about Labour’s plan for 100,000 new houses is that these would be for people able to pay a mortgage – albeit a smaller one than at present.

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