There has been lot of media interest in the past few days about the upcoming release of the Auckland Unitary Plan’s discussion document – which will go out for public consultation on March 15th. There’s the usual scaremongering from the Herald about how the Plan will enable intensification and that will inevitably lead to slums:
The Auckland Council yesterday approved the draft unitary plan that sets out to change residents’ behaviour and expectations when it comes to their love affair with housing.
Councillors heard that apartments and intensification would not only give Aucklanders greater housing choices, but meet the desire of communities to jazz up town centres.
The proposals have not gone down well with some councillors, who fear it will lead to slums and multi-storey “walls” along popular beachfronts such as Orewa and Browns Bay.
Deputy mayor Penny Hulse, who is leading work on the unitary plan, said it tackled many sometimes difficult issues. “We want as many Aucklanders as possible to have their say to ensure we get a plan for all Aucklanders.”
Under the plan, the greatest intensification will occur in 10 “metropolitan” centres, where apartments of 18 storeys will be allowed. This is followed by 37 town centres, where four to eight storeys will be permitted.
Moving out of these centres into residential areas, the council has created a 250m zone for terraced housing and apartments of between four and six storeys.
The remaining residential areas will have a mixed-housing zone, allowing for one house per 300sq m with no density limits when developers landbank more than 1200sq m to build five or more houses.
The terraced house and apartment zone and mixed-housing zone account for 56 per cent of residential land, leaving 44 per cent for a single-house zone and a large-lot zone.
The single-house zone permits one house per 500sq m and includes the heritage suburbs, while the large-lot zone covers large single-house lots, typically on the urban edge.
There’s a lot of really interesting information in here to digest. But to start with I must say I find the “framing” of the debate exceedingly annoying – that the Plan is trying to ‘force’ people into changing their behaviours and all the references to slums. As we’ve been arguing on this blog for a very long time, there’s quite a lot of evidence that people really do want to live in a wider variety of housing if it means that they’re able to live closer to amenities, employment and so forth. By loosening the controls on development the Unitary Plan is simply enabling what people want to do.
There will be a lot of discussion about height limits, but at first glance it seems that the Unitary Plan is taking a reasonably balanced approach by linking height limits quite clearly with a ‘hierarchy of centres': much higher limits in metropolitan centres then stepping down to medium-rise for town centres. Whether this leads to “walls” or “slums” comes down to detailed design qualities in my mind, rather than the height limit itself.
Moving away from the centres, it seems like a fairly generous apartments and terraced housing zone is proposed. I just hope that there’s also some alignment of the zone to places with really good public transport and the 250 metre limit isn’t applied too arbitrarily – often in some situations I think it could probably extent much further (for example in areas around more major centres like New Lynn) while elsewhere it might not make much sense at all (say in a place like Howick which is pretty isolated).
The mixed housing zone sounds like the most widespread zone across the entire city, so getting it right will be critical. It’s very disappointing to hear that the zone will still have density limits – as these lead to incredibly stupid outcomes and militate against the provision of affordable housing – unless someone’s able to amalgamate over 1200 square metres to do a larger-scale development. I would suggest that small-scale intensification should be promoted to a greater extent in this zone, with questions over a proposal’s acceptability or not being more related to urban design controls, bulk and height – rather than how many units a particular building/buildings are broken up into.
Of course it will be the balance of enabling growth while trying to make that growth a higher quality than what’s often occurred in the past which will be the real challenge. Achieving this balance is really really tricky if a Plan is also trying to provide some level of certainty over what someone can and cannot do with a site. I think in many ways there simply isn’t a way to balance all three competing interests so it’ll be interesting to see what loses out.
The article mentions nothing about a changed approach to parking minimums (hopefully their complete removal) which will be something to look at in great detail when the draft is publicly released for comment in the middle of March.