Two weeks ago Housing Minister Nick Smith accused Len Brown of killing the dreams of Aucklanders, and said the city’s planning rules had a stranglehold on the city. The potshots have continued for the past fortnight. Then today on Q&A, the day before he flies to Auckland to meet Len Brown and Penny Hulse, Smith comes over all olive branches and white doves: there is a lot of agreement, the Auckland Plan is now “balanced” and he and Len are “in the same paddock”.
So what gives? The Member for Nelson is a lion in Parliament but a mouse when he comes to Auckland. What has changed?
My theory: all the sound and fury from the Government is just political play acting designed to hide the fact that the Government has done nothing about housing affordability over the last four years. Nick Smith’s main job as Housing Minister is to run interference – blaming Auckland Council and framing the issue as being about the availability of greenfields land when even the Productivity Commission questions whether opening up large quantities of new land on the fringes will result in more affordable homes.
This is familiar stuff from Nick Smith. Remember the manufactured ACC crisis? Remember the bogus numbers on Council borrowing he used to justify his local government reform bill that had to be taken down from the Internal Affairs website?
But the risk here is that he is picking a fight with the country’s biggest city, as Mai Chen argued in the Herald. Aucklanders don’t take kindly to another South Island MP trying to run Auckland from his office in Wellington. Having Gerry set our transport priorities is bad enough.
Nick Smith flies to Auckland to meet with Len Brown and Penny Hulse tomorrow. I welcome his visit. He might learn something. But if he wants to play at being an Aucklander by having a say on our plan then he should at least walk the talk. I challenge him to skip the limo tomorrow and drive himself from the airport to the Town Hall in morning rush hour. Let’s see how he gets on.