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2013: A year in review – Part 3

For part 3 of my 2013 year in review I’m going to look at some of the non-transport issues that we’ve covered.

Unitary Plan

By far the biggest non-transport issue this year has been the Unitary Plan – in fact we ended up writing more posts about the Unitary Plan than any other individual topic in 2013. The plan is a critical document in the development of Auckland as it will replace the existing district plans held by the previous councils and create a single set of rules throughout the region. It is the document which sets things like height limes, density limits and parking requirements so is crucial that we get right. The draft version was released in March with feedback open until the end of May.

While the plan was far from perfect there were a lot of good things in it however the biggest problem ended up being the absolutely hopeless communication about it from the council. Talk of height limits and increased density frightened the horses generally older residents in some of the wealthier areas of the city including the Eastern Suburbs of the Isthmus, the East Coast of the North Shore and the CBD fringe suburbs like Mt Eden. A lot of the problem seems to have stemmed from a lack of clear information about what was allowed already under existing plans. This saw groups like Auckland 2040 form to fight the plan by combining a bit of ignorance with a healthy dose of exaggeration as to what the Unitary Plan actually allowed. The hottest topic for them was height limits and it seemed to become a race to the bottom with the definition of how tall something was be before being called high-rise. By the end of the draft period I think I had even seen two storey dwellings claimed as high rise developments by some people which is absolutely absurd.

All of this wasn’t helped by the herald with reporter Bernard Orsman seemingly on a crusade to discredit the plan in every article he wrote. To this date I’m not sure if he has actually written an article where had interviewed people who supported the plan. By the time the council finally started getting their act together and improving their communication it was too late and many people had already closed their minds to what was being said.

All up a massive 22,700 pieces of feedback were received by the council and were used to make changes to the plan. At the end of September, just days before the end of the first term the council made their final decisions on the changes and the plan was publicly notified opening it up to formal submissions. Submissions will be open till the end of February before there are formal hearings by commissioners.

The end result of the feedback saw the residential zoning across much of the city was downgraded significantly, particularly across in the old Auckland City boundaries and North Shore. The only major exception to this was in West Auckland where the complete opposite happened and much more intensification was allowed for, something that is bound to have an impact on the likes of future transport investment. There were some positives to come out of the plan however, for example minimum parking requirements were removed or significantly reduced and in some places maximums added too. We also saw the Mixed Housing Zone split in two with the urban version of it making it much easier to build three storey terraced houses which are a typology that has a lot of potential in allowing for intensification in Auckland. Of course the downside is that it’s only really prevalent in West Auckland.

Notified UP - Central

In 2014 we will continue to hear about the Unitary Plan although not likely to the same extent that we did this year.

Housing Accord

The issue of housing affordability really started raising its head in 2012 and that carried through to and increased in 2013. It is something politicians are desperate to be seen trying to do something to solve. As the Unitary Plan sets out what can be developed and where (including releasing more rural land) it should help do that but most parts of it won’t become operative until it has been through the hearings process. That is too long in a three year political cycle and so the government were keen to act.

At the start of the year (and Unitary Plan discussion period) Housing Minister Nick Smith kicked things off by vowing to smash the urban limits and open up vast tracts of land for development. Over the following months his stance seemed to moderate slightly and in May he signed a Housing Accord which allowed for a fast tracked consenting process for qualifying developments and in those areas the rules in the Unitary Plan would apply.

The first two tranches of approve Special Housing Areas have now been announced. The first tranche saw a huge amount of development occurring on greenfield land outside of the existing urban limits which raised fears the process was just being used for sprawl however the second tranche has seen a lot more urban redevelopment SHA’s emerge. We are will definitely see more SHA’s announced over the coming year.

Apartment Developments

A big feature, particularly in the second half of the year, has been a huge increase in the number of new apartment or terraced house type developments being proposed. It seems that developers are finally shaking off the effects of the GFC and starting to want to build again. What’s more from what we hear the dwellings are being snapped up quite quickly so many are likely to see construction happening over the coming years. It definitely puts to bed one of the annoying arguments that popped up a few times during the Unitary Plan debates along the lines of “people don’t want to live in apartments”. I estimate that there has been around ~3,500 dwellings have been proposed recently or are already under construction and we have started a development tracker to keep an eye on them.

Council Elections

With the first term of the council ending it was always going to through up some interesting changes and some of the fear surrounding the Unitary Plan was being whipped up by those seeking to profit politically from the unrest. The mayoral election ended up being quite a dull affair due in part to the government having earlier in the year agreed with some of the councils key policies like the City Rail Link. I suspect a combination of factors went into it but in my opinion there was never an seriously credible opponent for Len Brown.

As for councillors, most that stood again were re-elected although there were a few changes (some due to retirement). There are six new faces at the council table and they are Bill Cashmore Chris Darby, Denise Krum, John Watson, Linda Cooper and Ross Clow.

Of course since the elections things have changed quite a bit following the revelations that Len Brown had been having an affair and has now been censured for failing to declare free hotel rooms and upgrades. The big question will be whether the momentum seen in the first three years of the super city can be carried on as issues like finding funding for the CRL are going to be critical in the coming years.

Census

After being delayed in 2011 due to the Christchurch earthquakes the first census since 2006 was held this year. We have started to see some early information emerge but it won’t be until next year that we really start to get some detailed results. One of the surprising stats that emerged from the data released so far is that there has been incredibly strong growth in the central city which grew faster than predicted. We also saw that the strongest population growth was occurring not in greenfield areas but in existing urban areas which helps to highlight that intensification isn’t new and has been happening for some time.

Population Density 2006-2013

10 comments to 2013: A year in review – Part 3

  • Sanctuary

    Someone linked to the Te Ara bio of Dove-Meyer Robinson and reading that it and other stuff on Auckland’s civic history it became clear to me that the C&R right in Auckland (Quax, Brewer, Banks, & their mouthpiece Whaleoil etc) did not not just suddenly appear from a contextless vacuum. The local right in Auckland has since at least the fifties always been a particularly ferral, obtusely reactionary and downright willfully ignorant group. The thing is they used to be the only show in town before the Super City, and they are used to getting their own way. However flawed (and it is VERY flawed) the Super City is, it has succeeded in breaking the vice like grip of Balkanised petty reaction and short termist self-interest on local government in Auckland. Perhaps that is the lens through which the future will see the virulence of the right wing smear job on the current mayor – unable to regain power through the ballot box, the self-appointed ruling elite instead sought it through a guerilla campaign of destructive destablisation that started literally the day after the current mayor was returned. Anyway, I can’t imagine going back to the old model as 2013 has shown us how much can be achieved in a short time when the city collectively acts in enlightened self-interest. I have to say am particularly excited about the Skypath, it seizes the imagination in a way more perhaps more worthy cycle paths along muddy foreshores do not. From a purely self-interested POV will allow me to at the same time take my exercise and visit all my friends who have retired from civilisation and retreated to the North Shore to breed, and generally it will open up Takapuna and Devonport to a nice bike riding day out for a city side boy like me.

  • James B

    I’m quite keen to know whether the LVR restriction exemption that applies to new residential building will apply to new apartment building. If it does then it could provide a huge boom in apartment building throughout the city as people finding themselves unable to buy a house in an established area due to the restriction might find buying into a new apartment building a lot more attractive.

    • Greg N

      I think the issue with that will not be whether they come under the LVR exemption for new homes or not.

      But more whether the banks will lend you ANY money to buy such an apartment.

      As the past comments all indicate that banks do not treat apartment lending the same as other lending, so there is no level playing field with apartments.

    • Steve D

      AFAIK the LVR exemptions apply when you’re financing the construction of a building, not buying the completed article. They should apply to apartments from what I can see, but unless you’re looking for a multi-million dollar loan to build an entire apartment block, I don’t think you qualify.

      In any case, banks were pretty shy about lending on apartments even before the restrictions, requiring 20% deposits or more anyway, so I don’t think that’ll have changed now.

  • Nice to see Grey Lynn jumping in density between those two maps, it’s fantastic, the amenity in my neighbourhood has improved so much as the apartments and terrace houses moved in: we have a frantically busy new Farro Fresh in particular 40secs away from us (by bike) so sorry Nosh Ponsonby Rd for my sudden absence from your deli counter….

    Of course this increase in intensity and new commercial ventures is only possible because Grey Lynn is old enough to predate stoopid zoning regs that continue to outlaw the mixing of commercial, even light industrial, with residential land use. The apartments and terraces have sprung up on old commercial sites. The only regret is that we still have dumb minimum parking regs that push these new or adapted new buildings into the middle of their sites to accommodate at grade parking… Oh and that local hand wringers and change-o-phobes got into the DUP to stop further improvements in density.

    Still there is more commercial land, especially the car yards of Great North Rd, to make me confident that my neighbourhood’s walkability, street vitality, value, sociability, viability etc etc, is just going to keep improving. Those residential only areas that fought intensity are going to only get more boring and will not accrue value at the same pace. Also the options for downsizing to a high quality apartment eventually and not leaving my hood just keep increasing…. When the flat mates leave home….

  • Chris O

    Another item to add to the Development Tracker: Nexus Apartments, the second apartment project being marketed on the Vinegar Lane site.

  • David O

    Any chance we could get a map that shows the increases in population between the censuses a bit more effectively? Patrick mentions Grey Lynn’s increase in density. Unfortunately, because of the way the maps have been designed, it’s practically the only place where the increase is perceivable! Seems like we could use more than two categories in the 2000-6000 per sq km range, and maybe fewer than five in the 0-1000 range. Or maybe there hasn’t been much increase in intensification at all?

    • Greg N

      David, I’m not sure if the Mesh block level figures from the census are released yet.

      I’ve got some numbers from the Tableau Public download that the NZ Stats released earlier this year the following for Grey Lynn East and West:
      [The link to the Tableau Public download with workbook data used is here: http://public.tableausoftware.com/download/workbooks/NewZealandCensus2013Population?format=html ]

      Area Year Change per SqKm Total
      —————————————————————–
      Grey Lynn East 2001 0% 3,993.79 3,135
      Grey Lynn East 2006 2% 4,081.68 3,204
      Grey Lynn East 2013 1% 4,139.01 3,249

      Grey Lynn West 2001 0% 3,967.76 3,300
      Grey Lynn West 2006 0% 3,960.55 3,294
      Grey Lynn West 2013 5% 4,151.72 3,453

      The columns are (in case the table gets screwed by the post):Census Area, Census Year, % change since previous census, Population per Km2, Total population.

      So from this you can see that Grey Lynn East had 1% change in density since 2006, going from 4,081 people per km2 to 4,139 per km2, and a total population change of 45
      Grey Lynn West shows a bigger increase of 5% going from 3,960 to 4,151 per km2, and a total population change of 159.

      So, all in all, not a lot of change (yet).

      You may be able get more detailed data, but this is what I have to hand from earlier in the year.

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