Auckland Council staff have been working through the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan that an independent hearings panel delivered to them last month, and they've recommended some changes (there's a good summary in the Herald). Councillors will start their deliberations tomorrow: the agenda document is here if you fancy taking on the 618 page brute (and without a proper table of contents, either).
Everyone will have their own hot topic - 'shoebox' apartments are up there for some, housing in volcanic craters for others, plus there's the perennial Long Bay development controversy - but what caught my eye was the staff's view on protection of rural land (it's item 6.4 starting on p35).
The original draft plan that the independent panel considered had included "an objective seeking to achieve food security for the region". That was self-evidently bonkers. "Food security" makes little or no sense for countries in general, where it's usually a protectionist device to protect local farmers. It makes spectacularly little sense for a huge food producer like New Zealand. And it has no logic at all at a sub-national level for any economy with roads and trucks.
The independent panel correctly gave "food security" the flick, and the Council staff concur: they're recommended to councillors to go with the flow and junk it. So far so good.
Unfortunately both the panel and the Council staff have left in a planning objective of "making a significant contribution to the food supply" for Auckland and New Zealand. And that has fed into the staff's recommendation not to accept the panel's proposals to make it easier to do rural sub-divisions, because it would result in "loss of rural production".
There may be other reasons for opposing urban spread into rural areas - the Council staff mention some, including their ideology of a "compact city" which is one of the reasons we've got the problems we have - but let's be clear. Loss of farm production shouldn't be one of them. It's barking mad as a criterion.
If Auckland in the morning were to swallow up 10,000 hectares of prime farming land, we wouldn't notice the slightest difference. It would be less than 0.1% of the total agricultural land in the country*. It's nonsense to think you're making a "substantial" contribution to food production by restricting Auckland's spread.
And even if you were, which is the bigger problem: making a microscopically tiny difference to a country already awash in agricultural capability, or making quite a big difference to the huge shortfall of land available for housing, the consequent stratospheric housing prices, and the serious social issues they are causing?
*The data in the 2012 Agricultural Census land use tables show total agricultural land of 14.4 million hectares, from which I've subtracted the two categories of bush and the 'other' category, which makes the core supply of agricultural land as 12.9 million hectares (the biggest component is the 7.9 million hectares of grassland). 10,000 hectares deducted for Auckland housing would be 0.077% of the total. You could make it 100,000 hectares for housing and it would still be less than 1% of the total farmland.