With the Auckland Plan now completed, it seems as though Auckland Council’s focus has shifted onto a critical document in actually achieving the land-use changes outlined in the Plan through, unsurprisingly, yet another plan – this time one called the “Unitary Plan”. While it may seem like an endless process of creating extremely pretty doorstops, the Unitary Plan is a really really important document because of its legal weight. It becomes the core document which gives effect to the Resource Management Act, and the RMA is the key piece of legislation that guides the way in which Auckland will develop over time – regulating the way land is used.
The Unitary Plan will replace the existing District Plans of all the previous Councils, as well as the Regional Policy Statement and other Regional Plans that were administered by the former ARC. As Auckland City Council alone had three District Plans and I’m not even sure how many regional plans there were, this is a huge number of documents to roll together into one. A report going to one of the Council’s committees this week gives a useful update on what progress has been made on the Unitary Plan in recent months, as well as giving some hints over the thinking around a few key issues. The key issues looked at in the report are listed below:Of most interest, in terms of this blog, are issues around integration with the Draft Auckland Plan (hopefully now they’re looking at the final version!) density, the Rural Urban Boundary and new settlements. These all potentially have a pretty massive impact on transport as they influence where growth is likely to happen, to what extent and with what timing – all of which have transport implications.
Looking first at implications of the Auckland Plan, there are a few interesting matters highlighted – although once again I hope that the thinking has shifted onto the final Auckland Plan as there are some pretty dramatic differences in terms of where growth is likely to happen. Here’s what the report says:
Of particular interest is the reference to car parking standards. The Auckland Plan (both the draft and final versions) sends out a pretty strong message that a completely new approach needs to be taken to parking standards – particularly in relation to the removal of unnecessary regulation which inhibits intensification, obviously being those nefarious minimum parking requirements. Here’s what is said in the Urban Chapter of the Auckland Plan:
Inappropriate regulations and inflexible standards can impact negatively on good design. They impede the development of more intensive housing and mixed developments. For example, at times traditional parking standards (minimum numbers of car parking spaces) are imposed in areas where alternative options (parking buildings or investment in public transportation) imply that such minimums are counterproductive to delivering the goal of intensification, mixed use and affordability. The Auckland Council intends to review its approach to parking, as part of the development of the Unitary Plan
There’s also a specific Directive on the issue:
Parking standards and innovative parking mechanisms should take account of multiple objectives, including the need to:
- facilitate intensive and mixed-use developments within strategic locations
- improve housing affordability
- reduce development costs
- encourage use of public transportation
- optimise investments in public parking facilities, civic amenities and centre developments
- foster safe, convenient and attractive walkable neighbourhoods.
As minimum parking requirements undermine every single one of these mechanisms, it seems as though there’s a good chance the Unitary Plan could do away with them altogether, which would be simply fantastic.
This seems to pick up on an argument strongly made by this blog’s former admin, that density controls have weirdly perverse outcomes like allowing a house with 400 square metres of floorspace (utterly huge), but not allowing that same floorspace to be split into two or three dwelling units. Once again the new approach seems to be pretty promising, if it can get through the process and become a reality.
Setting of the Rural Urban Boundary seems like something the Council will take its time over, which seems pretty sensible as it’s important to get right. There were some pretty big red boxes in the Auckland Plan’s development strategy – scarily large in many cases and I’m sure there are parts of those boxes where development just isn’t feasible or desirable for one reason or another:Finally, one particularly interesting thing mentioned in the report is around the way in which the Unitary Plan will be published. It seems as though it won’t really be a document to be generally looked at in hard copy – but rather much more of an interactive online tool. Given the possible physical size of the document, this seems like a sensible approach:
Ultimately, it seems to me that there are a few key things the Unitary Plan must do in order to contribute to a more balanced transport future in Auckland. These are:
- Get rid of minimum parking requirements. Everywhere.
- Allow for significantly higher intensity developments at key points along the rail corridor – to support the investment in the rail network.
- Make it easier to get resource consent for a well designed higher density development than to get consent for more ubiquitous urban sprawl
- Incentivise good things, like providing less parking, making some units “affordable housing”, setting aside land for open space or locating next to a train station, by offering up more floor space than would otherwise be allowed.
It seems like thing are heading in the right direction though, which is promising.