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Future of Auckland unveiled: Unitary Plan to go up and out

NZ Herald, 27 July 2016
More urban sprawl and greater intensification have been recommended in a new rulebook for Auckland released today. The city’s urban boundary will be expanded to free up 30 per cent more land for housing and many homeowners, particularly in the central isthmus, will find their homes rezoned for intensification.

These are among the big changes recommended by an independent hearings panel, for the new rulebook, formally known as the Unitary Plan. Auckland council’s new rulebook telling people what can be built, where and what height buildings can go has been three years in the making.

The panel has come up with a proposal to provide 422,000 new dwellings over the next 30 years, 270,000 within the existing urban boundary and 152,000 in rural areas and around towns like Warkworth, Pukekohe and Kumeu.

The panel has recommended that 22% of single homes on traditional sections be rezoned for intensification, including 42.6in the central isthmus.

Housing zones identified for more intensification have been increased in area by more than 50 per cent and a terraced housing and apartment zone, allowing for five storeys, and in some case six or seven storeys, will increase in area by 25.3 per cent.

Density controls will go in residential zones, under the recommendation
Most of the extra intensification will occur along transport routes and close to town centres.

Auckland councillors will meet on August 10 for several days to consider the recommendations.

Decisions will be notified on August 19 and there are limited appeal rights until September 16.

Mayor Len Brown said the release of the plan was a major milestone.

“We’ve had four years of debate and everyone has had ample opportunity to have their say. The process from here is that we as a council need to consider the panel’s recommendations and make final decisions,” he said.

Deputy Mayor and Auckland Development Committee Chair Penny Hulse said the panel’s recommendations must now be accepted in part or in full or rejected with clear reasons.

“There is now a very clear legal process for councillors to follow. This is a crucial time for Auckland as we consider the recommendations of the panel.”

Reaction to Unitary Plan recommendations

    Mayoral candidate Mark Thomas – ‘Gangbusters approach’

Aucklanders will be alarmed at a “gangbusters approach” to new housing in the latest version of the city’s unitary plan, says mayoral candidate Mark Thomas.

Thomas says the independent hearings panel’s proposal, released today, would expand the rural-urban boundary by 30 per cent, permitting 37,000 new homes in areas now zoned for rural use.

The proposal would also reduce the zone for low-density single housing by 22 per cent, allowing much more intensive development within the current urban boundaries.

“The Panel’s recommendations represent a ‘gangbusters’ approach to new housing conceding that a future over supply is preferable to what we have today,” he said.

“The Panel has added rocket fuel to the original Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. Very significant changes have been made including adopting most of the earlier residential out-of-scope proposals that Council rejected in February and abandoning the pre-1944 character protection overlay with no replacement provision.

“Based on my initial assessment, I don’t believe the panel has established the balance needed for growth in Auckland and I suspect many Aucklanders will be alarmed at what they see.”

    Property Council – ‘8 out of 10’

Delighted developers and investors have given the revised Auckland unitary plan “a good eight out of 10” pass mark.

Property Council police and advocacy manager Alex Voutratis, whose group represents the city’s big property investors, said that at a quick look the new plan gave developers what they were looking for, but he had not had time yet to read the detailed height limits.

“I’d give it a good eight out of 10 so far,” he said.

“Overall we would like to support the changes. We are encouraged by the upzoning in the ability to have the density around town centres and transport corridors like the rail network and the possible light rail network along the isthmus.

“We are also pretty encouraged by the ability of the Rural-Urban Boundary to be changed by a plan change because it means that the boundaries of Auckland, which have been static for more than 20 years which has contributed to the housing unaffordability crisis, are much more flexible.

“This is a really good positive step, and it’s up to Auckland Council to not think about today but think about the future and the future needs of Aucklanders. This is a really good starting point to have that conversation.”

    Harcourts real estate – ‘Looks like what Auckland needs’

Harcourts chief executive Chris Kennedy said the proposed plan looked like, at first glance, exactly what Auckland needed to reach its potential.

“Increased migration has enabled our economy to thrive. However, it has also left our biggest city unable to house everyone who wants to live here. We are not going to stop immigration. Realistically, we are not going to be able to stop people buying investment properties.

“We need more houses. Intensification is necessary, and is nothing to be feared as long as it’s done well. All the major cities of the world have large chunks of mid-density and high density housing.”

In June the average Auckland house sold for $909,733 – 10 per cent up on the previous year. Total new listings, by comparison, dropped by five per cent, Kennedy said.

Loan to value ratio restrictions were among band aids that had not halted prices rises.
An expanded urban boundary and more intensification was good news.

“Change can be scary. But we have to accept the fact that Auckland is changing. We can either be prepared for it, or continue to flounder. And while the full consequences have yet to become apparent, this is a bold move that looks just like what Auckland needs.

“We must hope that Auckland Council is bold in its approach to these proposed plans and we can start working towards a more successful city.”

    Salvation Army – ‘Plan gives Auckland a chance’

The Salvation Army has also welcomed the new unitary plan and urged people not to be “Nimbys” saying “yes but not in my backyard”.

“Auckland must support the recommendations of the hearings panel on the Auckland City Unitary Plan if the poor housing conditions of low-income Aucklanders are going to be eliminated,” said the army’s social policy unit director Lieut-Colonel Ian Hutson.

“Inadequate affordable quality housing is the biggest social and economic threat Auckland faces. This plan gives Auckland a chance of eliminating this threat by ensuring the possibility of an adequate supply of quality affordable housing.”

He said the tendency on hearing news like this was for people to become self-interested and say, “Yes, but not in my back yard.”

“However, the creation of an Auckland that provides secure housing for all requires us to take an approach that considers the total city and all citizens regardless of income,” he said.

“This is a plan that in our view gives the chance of providing housing for those struggling in the current housing market, while also keeping in balance the character and environment of Auckland.”

    Economist Shamubeel Eaqub – ‘This is the thing that has been missing’

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub says the latest version of the unitary plan will make housing in Auckland affordable – “in time”.

“I loved it,” he said after attending a briefing on the plan today.

“It actually plans for ambitious growth for Auckland. This is the thing that has been missing.

“I could quibble about details. We would have liked more density in places like Herne Bay. But the plan overall is bold and ambitious.”

He said the plan would make housing more affordable in time.

“It’s not going to happen fast. The plan has to become final, then houses have to be built,” he said.

“It’s not going to solve all the other issues – there are all the tax issues, the lending issues. But this is a central and important part in terms of where the future of Auckland goes in terms of supply.”

    Employers and Manufacturers Association – ‘It seems short-sighted’

The Employers and Manufacturers Association said the plan did not provide enough new land for commercial use in west and south Auckland, where the most population growth was forecast.

Its advocacy manager Mark Champion said the “disconnect” would intensify transport congestion as workers would have to cross the city to get from home to work.

“We see some general business land being made available in the north and in the central area, but from the work that ATAP [Auckland Transport Alignment Project] has done in recent times, they tell us that the population growth is going to be in the south and west,” he said.

Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan has allowed for growth of general commercial development in key areas of the city, but does not seem to have fully aligned this with new residential development, says the EMA.

While the plan outlines residential growth across the city, looking at intensification around transport corridors and town centres in particular to match employment opportunities, there are still unanswered questions around how this matches up with commercial growth.

“Primarily, new commercial land is zoned for general business use and most of this in the north and central areas, with a modest increase in Rodney. Yet, the highest areas of residential intensification are outlined for west and south Auckland, and there appears to be a disconnect between population growth and commercial development,” said Kim Campbell, CEO of EMA.

“Its vital infrastructure leads development for commercial and residential needs. It’s also vital there is alignment between the areas allocated for these respective areas.”

One of EMA’s most significant concerns is around having transport links in place to enable residents to get to and from work.

“We are certainly for intensification where there is supporting infrastructure and services. However, it seems short-sighted to allow one to happen without the other. Why triple density in some suburbs if all that does is add to already congested arterial roads and there is no solution in sight?

“We firmly believe that serious consideration needs to be given to progressing public private partnerships as a way of funding Auckland’s much needed infrastructure development to help resolve some the issues raised from today’s announcement,” Campbell said.

    Generation Zero – ‘Council need to get on with it and pass the plan’

Generation Zero has welcomed proposed changes to Auckland’s housing footprint.

The group, which advocates cutting carbon pollution through “smarter transport, liveable cities and independence from fossil fuels”, has previously campaigned for intensification of housing in our biggest city.

Generation Zero Auckland director Leroy Beckett said the city finally had a plan for housing that would meet demand.

“The Unitary Plan isn’t designed to give anyone everything they want, it’s the result of years of public submissions and expert testimony. The time for political grandstanding is over, the council need to get on with it and pass the plan.”

The plan would allow more homes to be built close to where Aucklanders are working and studying, Beckett said.

“By significantly increasing the supply and mixture of housing in areas where people already want to live all housing across the city will become more affordable. The current rules have meant the median income to median house price rate exceeds 1:9. A ratio that is considered affordable is closer to 1:3.”

It would also prevent young people being pushed into unnecessarily large homes on the urban fringe, he said.

A study released last year on housing choices in Auckland found half wanted detached dwellings as their final housing choice, and a quarter wanted an attached dwelling, such as a terraced house. Fifteen per cent wanted to live in a low-rise apartment and eight per cent favoured a high-rise apartment.

“The Unitary Plan will not solve the housing crisis on its own, but it is an urgent first step.”

    Council for Infrastructure Development – ‘Congestion an even more serious problem’

Congestion could be worsened if plans to intensify and expand Auckland’s housing footprint go ahead, the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development have warned.

The infrastructure development council’s chief executive Stephen Selwood said the plan would seriously exacerbate congestion in Auckland if development occurred in areas not well supported by public transport.

“The plan permits urban in-fill across almost all of the current urban area, as well as significant apartment living adjacent to key transport corridors. Density beside rail and busway corridors makes sense, especially for those that work in the city. But, increasing household density without corresponding and viable public transport alternatives will result in increased car density and cause much worse congestion.

“Modelling undertaken as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project shows that on current plans congestion in Auckland will be much worse in 2026 than it is today. The Panel’s recommendations allow a marked increase in density in areas that do not have viable public transport alternatives. This will make congestion an even more serious problem than has been anticipated by ATAP.”

Motorways and arterial roads were of particular concern, and increased motorway capacity, widening of arterial roads and more public transport would be essential, Selwood said.

“Funding that level of investment will require new ways to raise revenue and manage demand. If future urban areas were developed in a way that enabled high density living close to work, this would be a much more effective way of providing for growth than allowing in-fill in areas not well supported by transport capacity.

“The Hearings Panel has done a fantastic job in providing capacity to meet urgent housing needs. The opportunity for the incoming council is to provide much more targeted growth around public transport corridors and make provision for integrated residential and employment development in future urban areas.”

    Property Institute – ‘Acts of cultural vandalism’

Property valuers have slammed the new Unitary Plan for “acts of cultural vandalism” against heritage areas and Maori ancestral sites.

Ashley Church of the Property Institute, which represents valuers, attacked provisions in the plan to delete building demolition controls for pre-1944 houses and the schedule of sites of value to mana whenua as “unnecessary acts of cultural vandalism”.

“These recommendations add nothing to the proposed document and any perception that they might somehow speed up the development process is naïve and misplaced. Yet their application would progressively rip the soul out of the city on the altar of expediency,” he said.

“The recommendation that sites of value to mana whenua should be disregarded until the ‘evidential basis of their value has been assembled’ is particularly offensive and appears to pander to a small but vocal element rather than the wider interests of the city”.

Church welcomed increased intensification and the extension of the urban limits in the new plan, but said it was “so obsessed with the development of new dwellings that it is prepared to forgo the things which have made Auckland into the world’s third most liveable city”.

    Community of Refuge Trust – ‘No guarantee density delivers affordability’

Peter Jeffries of the Community of Refuge Trust said community housing providers also welcomed the increased areas for intensive housing, which he said would permit more affordable housing, but deplored the hearings panel’s failure to require a share of all new developments to be reserved for social and affordable housing.

“Requirements for retained affordable housing were included in the Special Housing Areas. They have negated them,” he said.

“The fact is that they have dropped those, and it is their firm belief that density is going to deliver affordability. But there is no actual guarantee that density delivers affordability.”

Homeless support agencies back new plan
Homeless support agencies Lifewise and the Airedale Trust are urging Aucklanders to back the higher housing density allowed in the latest unitary plan.

Airedale Trust chief executive Bruce Stone, who is developing social housing on two sites in Mangere, said developing higher-density housing was a key aspect to ending homelessness in Auckland long-term.

“Affordable, available housing stock is integral to the success of the Housing First model in Auckland,” he said.

“With more homes being built under the Unitary Plan, Airedale Property Trust and Lifewise hope to be able to successfully home many more Aucklanders who are struggling.”

He said more intensive housing in the Central Auckland area was also supported by the soon-to-launch Coalition for More Homes, headed by Generation Zero and Greater Auckland and “open to all businesses, organisations, housing advocates and individuals who want to see the Unitary Plan passed”.