One of the toughest challenges facing the Auckland Spatial Plan is ensuring that the city builds enough housing – most particularly ensuring that it builds enough housing through intensification. The plan’s goals in this respect are pretty bold:
The Development Strategy contains policies to maintain our rural and urban distinction. It promotes urban intensification and carefully managed peripheral growth. A high growth scenario of an extra 1 million people living in Auckland in 30 years, means an extra 400,000 dwellings. Of these, 300,000 dwellings can be accommodated within the 2010 Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) through intensification. This equates to a 75:25 split between growth in existing urban areas and growth in new greenfield land (currently classified as rural land) and rural satellite towns. Existing greenfield areas are already identified (“in the pipeline”) or under development within the 2010 MUL. This will provide capacity for around 30,000 new dwellings. These areas will generally be developed before new greenfields are released.
300,000 new dwellings within the MUL over 30 years represents a level of construction that we just haven’t got close to meeting over the past few years, particularly in terms of the amount of intensification that has been happening. So where are all these extra houses going to go, and perhaps more importantly, how can we actually ensure intensification happens?
This is an important issue to resolve because the drums are already starting to beat about how having a fairly fixed “rural urban boundary” is going to drive up house prices. This may be true, if we don’t built enough houses inside the urban limits. Having an urban boundary will undoubtedly drive up land prices, but if we also see an increase in density that should offset the issue as we make more efficient use of our land. Logically, the higher land values get, the more financially viable it becomes to undertake intensification – to make the best use of your valuable dirt. The problem comes when we both chop development outward and development upward, something that I would argue has clearly happened in Auckland over the past decade.
The red areas in the map below highlight where Auckland Council envisages most intensification occurring over the next 30 years, although obviously a lot will also happen in the city centre, city fringe and the various centres around Auckland: The corridors are also proposed as areas of intensification, but generally at a later stage of the plan’s implementation.
An interesting map to compare the one above with is outlined below (although it doesn’t go as far south as would be ideal). My fellow blogger Stu Donovan put this map together, and it quite interestingly shows the average value of land in various parts of Auckland:In general this map tells us the parts of Auckland where intensification is most likely to make sense. These are the city centre and its immediate surrounding suburbs, the central isthmus and coastal areas to the north and east of the city centre.
Suitability for intensification also relates to other issues, such as heritage constraints and the location of transport (and other) infrastructure. The map above clearly highlights that proximity to the city centre is a key factor in determining land values. This means that intensification is most likely to be attractive to the market the closer to the city centre the particular site is. Combining these matters leads to the following locations being obvious priority areas for intensification:
- The City Centre
- Takapuna (already proposed as a metropolitan centre)
- The City fringe area, particularly in areas with less heritage/character constraints such as along Great North Road, New North Road, around Newmarket and the inner parts of Dominion and Mt Eden Roads.
- Onehunga (proposed as a town centre)
Significant infrastructure projects outlined in the Draft Auckland Plan are likely to change the map above once completed. For example the City Rail Link will bring sections of western isthmus within a much shorter train trip of the city centre, likely resulting in a boost to land values and thereby an increase in the market viability of intensification.
Development to higher densities may become viable in places further out from the city centre in the longer term, probably first to the north and east and later to the west and south, as land values increase to the point where it makes sense. But one would certainly think that if we really want intensification to happen, we need to be more mindful than has happened in the past about where it will work for the market, and where it won’t. Where market-attractive areas coincide with other factors, like good transport infrastructure and less heritage/character constraints, then I think we really need to take these “low-hanging fruit” opportunities and ensure there are minimal constraints to this development happening, obviously as long as it happens in a high-quality way.
It is essential that intensification actually happens in Auckland if housing affordability is to be improved, therefore it is necessary for a greater level of alignment between where the Auckland Plan envisages intensification and where there is a market demand for intensification. Simply put, if there is no market for intensification in an area, then it will not happen, housing supply will not be increased and house prices will continue to go up (and thereby the pressure for urban sprawl will increase).