Why Steven Joyce is wrong about housing choice, transport…you name it…

Last weekend, Don Brash launched a tirade against planning regulations. Paul Holmes lambasted the draft Auckland Plan as “megalomanic” for being too “anti-car”. Perhaps feeling left out, Minister of Trucks Transport Steven Joyce has joined in the attack on all things urban with some interesting responses during this week’s Question Time. 

Labour’s Phil Twyford was providing the fodder, first questioning the Minister’s position on housing intensification and public transport investment:

Twyford: Does he (Joyce) accept that the alternative to a compact city supported by a modern public transport system is an Auckland that sprawls endlessly and a traffic jam from the harbour bridge to Whangarei?

Joyce: I do not know that I would want to make too many comments on the Auckland plan at this point, but I would say that we on this side of the House believe strongly in people having the right to determine where they live and the way in which they want to live. We think it is an important principle, provided, of course, that they meet the cost of those decisions. I think that is an important point to make. I understand that Mr Twyford might have a strong view that everybody should live on top of each other, but others might disagree.

Joyce’s response is so contradictory and ignorant that it deserves a full dissection.

He starts off okay. Of course people should have the right to determine where they live and the way in which they want to live. Of course freedom of housing choice is a good thing. But isn’t if funny how two sentences later he sarcastically berates the idea that people might want to live “on top of each other” in apartments? It seems Mr Joyce is very selective about his definition of housing choice. By housing “choice” he means the traditional Kiwi quarter-acre suburban paradise. So, not really a choice at all – just a misinformed ideal of what everybody apparently wants.

Mr Joyce is labouring under the delusion that everybody wants to live in suburbia. Nonsense. With increasing numbers of migrants, students, young singles and couples and shrinking family sizes, suburbia is increasingly irrelevant to the wants and needs of an increasing portion of Auckland’s growing population. Mr Joyce also mistakenly assumes that Auckland’s sprawling suburbia is a natural outcome reached by people’s free and active choices. The reality is rather different. Auckland’s existing planning regulations make suburban sprawl a foregone conclusion more so than any active choice made by individuals.

Thus, the assumptions underpinning Mr Joyce’s housing “choice” argument are flawed. While he might berate the Auckland Council for promoting urban intensification at the expense of more quarter-acre suburban paradises, the reality is that despite what Mr Joyce might think of apartment dwellers, the Council are aiming to plan for what is a very real housing need for a increasing proportion of Auckland’s population.

Mr Joyce’s scaremongering about high density housing appearing in Council plans is amusing for other reasons. He suggests that Mr Twyford believes that “everybody should live on top of each other”. This phrase immediately brings to mind the idea of every man and his dog cramped into horrible shoebox apartments. Joyce’s comment is typical of right-wing scaremongering over high density housing – it removes freedom of choice, it’s not what most people want, blah blah.

But the fact is that in spite of Auckland Council’s intensification strategies, the region’s 500,000+ detached houses aren’t going anywhere. Even under the most radical intensification plans, Auckland will remain an overwhelmingly suburban city. Even the old ARC’s much-maligned Regional Growth Strategy forecasted that 70% of Aucklanders would still live in detached houses by 2050, down from 88% in the late 1990s. The fact that just 12% of Aucklanders lived in multi-unit dwellings back then shows just what a lack of housing choice there was back then. So the bottom line is: don’t listen to the rubbish about the evil Council forcing everyone into shoe-box apartments – it simply isn’t true. They’re just aiming to plan for housing that an increasingly large minority want. 


There was one more nugget of gold from the Minister in this particular set of questions. Twyford was again providing the fodder, questioning the assumptions behind the Ministry of Trucks Transport’s review of the CBD rail link business case.

Twyford: In relation to the Ministry of Transport’s review of the city rail links business case, which has led to the number that the Minister just quoted, does he know that that review relies on Fanshawe Street, Albert Street, and Symonds Street coping with more than 1,000 buses per hour by 2040, and are such huge numbers of diesel buses in the city centre consistent with this Government’s vision for Auckland?

Joyce: I think the member will find he has been reading too many left-wing transport blogs.

Bill English: How many are there?

Joyce: Oh, there are two or three. The reality is that the Government’s review of the business case does not require any such thing. The reality is, and it is very important, that we assess all the options for transport into the central business district in Auckland, going forwards, and I think it is important we do that without rushing straight to one solution. That is what the Government is seeking and that is what the business case review recommends.

Boy oh boy. Not only does he fail to answer a very valid question about bus volumes in the Auckland CBD (volumes were projected by a Ministry of Transport study, not simply made up by a blogger), but he condemns all public transport blogs as ‘left wing’. Now I can’t speak for any other bloggers, but in my experience politics has very little to do with most people’s interest in improving public transport. People just want an efficient, functioning transport system that offers choice – there’s nothing partisan, nothing left or right about it at all. Unless of course you think public transport and cities are for communists. In which case, I suggest you piss off back to your lifestyle block and stay there. Just don’t complain when you’re out of a job.

Still waiting on an answer for the 1,000 buses per hour in town question Steven, just saying…

On a happier and altogether more exciting note, enjoy the RWC everybody!


About Liam W

Urbanist, transport nerd, general curmudgeon.

Posted on September 8, 2011, in New Zealand Politics. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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