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