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Next Steps for the Unitary Plan

It’s nearly two weeks since the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) recommendations on the Unitary Plan were revealed. Tomorrow the council start a week and a half of likely quite tedious deliberations and formal decisions on those recommendations. A quick reminder about the implication of the Council’s different decisions:

  • If the Council approves an IHP recommendation (and as long as that recommendation was not out of scope) then it becomes part of the Unitary Plan and can only be appealed on points of law to the High Court.
  • If the Council rejects an IHP recommendation, it must suggest an alternative which becomes part of the Unitary Plan. However, any relevant submitter can appeal the Council’s decision to the Environment Court.

So there’s quite a big incentive for the Council to accept the IHP’s recommendations as this is the fastest and easiest way to make the Unitary Plan operative.

Therefore, it is a bit surprising to read in the upcoming (massive 618 page) agenda item for the Council’s decision on the Unitary Plan, quite a number of the IHP recommendations are proposed to be rejected by Council staff. Here’s a summary, although you have to read through the whole massive agenda to see what the exact issues where rejection is proposed:

up-summary

Some of the major IHP recommendations Council staff propose rejecting are:

  • Removal of schedule of Maori heritage items
  • Loosening of rural subdivision controls
  • Loosening the language around ensuring land-use transport integration
  • Removing reference to the Auckland Plan’s “70/40” growth split between brownfield and greenfield growth
  • Loosening of where commercial growth can occur
  • Removing a precinct plan from locations like Wynyard Quarter and Takapuna that would have reduced the amount of development allowed there
  • Removing minimum dwelling sizes
  • Imposing a height in relation to boundary to the Mixed Use zone
  • Removing a mandatory consenting requirement for fewer than five dwellings (up from three in the notified plan)
  • Zoning Crater Hill (near the Airport) for development
  • A lack of more detailed transport requirements linked to live-zoning Redhills near Westgate and Wainui near Silverdale
  • A graduated approach to parking maximums in the city centre

There are also a whole pile of more detailed “technical” issues where the Council proposes rejecting some or all of the IHP recommendation to fix up minor issues, errors or to provide greater clarification.

It’s also interesting to see what the staff recommend accepting:

  • Removing the Pre-1944 Building Demolition Control
  • Shifting the Rural Urban Boundary to the District Plan – the “soft RUB” that can be changed through private plan changes
  • The stupid IHP recommendation of applying parking minimums in centres for retail and other business activities
  • Removing a requirement to provide a proportion of affordable housing as part of a new development
  • Removing a number of urban design controls and requirements
  • The zoning maps (aside from a few very minor changes in rural areas)

All together, if the councillors agree with all the areas where rejection is proposed there’s a pretty large number of provisions that could end up being appealed to the environment court – making it difficult for the Unitary Plan to become properly operative. That’s not to suggest the council staff don’t have a point – in a number of situations they do.

Probably the two most disappointing suggested rejections are related to minimum dwelling sizes and mandatory consenting requirements for fewer than five dwellings. Both of these rejections seem based more on illogical fears of intensification, rather than actual evidence and could make it much more difficult to provide the variety of new housing that Auckland needs. My guess is that with council officers making these particular recommendations, that councillors will jump on the opportunity to wind some aspects like these back.

The Council meeting starts on tomorrow and could go for some time…

41 comments to Next Steps for the Unitary Plan

  • Brendan

    Do the council staff say how many dwellings can be built if all their recommendations are followed?

  • Matt P

    Looking at the minimum apartment sizes, it’s not as bad as I thought it might be.
    Studios a minimum of 30 sq m in CBD, 40 sqm elsewhere. I would be more concerned if there were stupid minimums for 2 bedroom apartments like 70 or 80 sq m like I’ve seen in quite a few plans over the years (can do 60 sq m comfortably with efficient design).

    • Sailor Boy

      What does it achieve though?

    • Stuart Donovan

      if minimum apartment standards are required to ensure the health of the occupants, why would the minimum for the city centre (30 sqm) vary from that imposed elsewhere (40 sqm)?

      Do people who live in the city centre require less physical space than people elsewhere. Are these regulations intended to force little people to live in the city centre? And/or large people to live in the suburbs?

      It seems like these rules are designed to create ghettos based on people’s physical size.

    • 30sqm is way too small IMO. It’s effectively garage size, which allows for a bed, a toilet, and a bench kitchen. It assumes that people living in these spaces will just use them as places of rest, and ‘eat & play’ elsewhere. I have no doubt that some people will live like that, and enjoy their minimalist utopia. But I also believe that given our current market many of these tiny spaces will also be used by groups of people double bunking and trying to study or work from home. For me the only way these tiny apartments might be tenable is if maximum occupancies are also imposed – but given we already have whole families living in garages I doubt this can be enforced.
      I do not believe that Auckland has run out of space to the point that we need to allow such tiny minimum spaces for apartments. I believe in high density, and I’m confident that once we see more 6 storey apartment buildings in Auckland central coming on stream we’ll greatly alleviate the housing problem. The Auckland CBD is not Hong Kong or Tokyo, we haven’t reached peak capacity yet.

      • Nick

        “I have no doubt that some people will live like that, and enjoy their minimalist utopia”. But not you. So they should be banned.

        • Read what I said again – I did not suggest banning, I suggested we impose a maximum occupancy on tiny apartments. But yes, I’m a pessimist ie sceptical that these will/can be enforced.
          To flip your optimistic thinking around then maybe we should nix any minimum size and let the market build and sell what they want.
          Who wants a 30sqm apartment when all they need is a 9sqm pod to sleep in?

          • When I was studying a 9 m² room in a building with a shared bathroom and kitchen is exactly what a lot of students had. That’s not because the city ran out of room, but because most students (and their parents) don’t have a lot of spare income to afford anything more.

            If the minimum standard for accommodation would be a 30 m² studio, that wouldn’t mean students can all of a sudden afford those. It would mean students would have to either commute from home to their courses (which means a lot of wasted time and a significantly lower chance of success), or give up studying altogether. Be careful what you wish for.

          • Overcrowding and people having no option but to live in a small apartment as a broader housing supply issue, which should be solved through improving broader housing supply, not arbitrary rules that stop those who want to live somewhere smaller from being able to do so.

      • Nick R

        I lived in, and subsequently rented out, an 33m2 one bedroom apartment. Yes it was small, but well designed. It had a 3m x 3m bedroom on the back, with a 1x3m ensuite bathroom, a large wardrobe, and a 3m x 7m living-dining-kitchen.

        The front room had a nice functional kitchen with space for a dining table opposite, I also had a desk, a sofa, armchair and a TV-bookshelf unit.

        I have lived there as a single and as a couple, and have rented it to plenty of couples and even one young family of a couple with a baby. They were perfectly happy there, and the proximity to work and the park meant they spent more time as a family and less time commuting and driving around.

        Don’t see any reason why we should impose limits on who can chose to live where and how they like. If a young family want to save themselves money and time by having a smaller home then that is their choice, nothing stopping them renting a house in manurewa or glen eden instead.

        • Frank McRae

          I’ve never heard of a person living in a small apartment complain about the need for minimum size rules. But plenty of people who would never live in an apartment and think it is an “inappropriate” lifestyle think the rules are necessary. Alan Davies put it well – is there any evidence that
          (a) existing buyers and tenants are unhappy with the trade-off they’re making between price/rent and amenity; and that
          (b) they’d be happy with being compelled to pay more for the greater amenity?

          • Exactly.

            Additionally it does absolutely nothing for overcrowding of larger dwellings. And by mandating larger dwellings we are forcing people to share where many may prefer to have sole occupancy of a smaller space.

            Let people decide for themselves.

          • Matt P

            Nick R and Frank – great points.
            There are plenty of ‘nannies’ out there who would love us to have a nanny state.
            Rules,rules, rules – hurrah, what joy!!!!
            It’s like being back in prep school.

          • > I’ve never heard of a person living in a small apartment complain about the need for minimum size rules.

            Before I first moved to Auckland I’d only lived in detached houses, aside from a few months in a vast, baffling 3-bedroom apartment in Wellington’s Dixon Street that was converted from an office building and must have been about 120 sqm over two levels.

            So when we were looking for an affordable place in Auckland for the (then) two of us, but wanting somewhere central, we looked at a whole series of apartments. Not really knowing what apartment living would be like we were despairing at finding anything that wasn’t tiny, was close to town, and cost less than $350/wk (this was in the heady days of 2011 when that was a realistic goal). We finally ended up getting a 61sqm single-aspect one bedroom apartment near Britomart for $360.

            And the thing is… it was way, way, way too large for a couple like us. Even with both of us working from home at times. More than half of the lounge space we simply didn’t use. Before we’d lived in flats, and I hadn’t quite clicked that actually, you can live in a fraction of the space if you’ve only got a fraction of the people.

            I don’t think people who haven’t lived in apartments quite understand what the pros and cons and issues really are. Planners and Councillors and New Zealand Herald columnists who haven’t tried it really aren’t in a position to judge what makes an apartment work or not. The same goes for understanding the central city, or life without cars. What makes it weirder is that planners are taught that this also goes for every other unique life situation – sex, ethnicity, disabilities, family status, age, education, and the like. But no recognition that you simply don’t understand what 30sqm really is until you’ve tried to live in it.

            If I ever tried to live in apartment in a couple again, I’d be happy with 30sqm or even less. The balcony I’d keep. More light and more aspects would be better than more space. And I’d know things like on-site managers, gyms, pools, communal spaces, fancy lobbies and the like are just pointless money pits.

            And I was making OK money by then. I know if I were poorer again, even if smaller meant shittier, I’d rather live somewhere shittier and make ends meet than not. Poverty and homelessness are way, way worse than being a little cramped but having a bit of spare cash.

          • Matt P

            Stephen – good points. Yes,I do wonder how many of the ‘authorities’ on apartment sizes have actually lived in them! In my experience, most of the people who push for them have never lived in an apartment.
            I lived in a fair few from the early/ mid 90s through to the late 90s, in Auckland, Japan and Germany.
            They were all good for my life at the time, but all of them probably didn’t meet planning standards in terms of lacking balconies or being big enough.
            I find minimum balcony requirements the oddest thing – having lived in apartments in Auckland, Tokyo and Berlin without them, I can safely say that not having a balcony does not automatically mean a substandard life!
            Rules,rules, rules ……… our planners and urban designers sure do love em!!!!

      • Sailor Boy

        Maximum occupancy may be a good idea. Social engineering to prevent the construction of homes for people who “will just use them as places of rest, and ‘eat & play’ elsewhere” is not good.

        If you don’t like that lifestyle then choose another one. I don’t like the big suburban house on big suburban section lifestyle, I don’t try to stop others living it.

      • Matt P

        I find it spurious that people equate small apartments with overcrowding and squalor.
        I’ve known of many 4-5 bedroom houses, in Queenstown, Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland which were overcrowded!

    • After living in a 38 m² 2-bedroom apartment for a while, I’m pretty sure you can do a reasonably comfortable 2-bedroom apartment in 38 m² as well, if some thought goes in the design.

    • Some interesting comments in opposition to my view.
      I would presume then that you guys don’t think *any* minimum size is required? Because if 30sqm is considered big enough then 25sqm isn’t much smaller, etc., so why not truly let the market decide? Some would be happy with 20sqm presumably? 15 sqm?
      As an aside (because I genuinely don’t know) is natural daylight a regulated requirement for apartments? Because surely there would be some people (shiftworkers or the poor) who would welcome the prospect of cheaper accommodation in return for giving up direct sunlight.

      • Sailor Boy

        Personally I support the removal of minima. There are daylight requirements for living rooms and bedrooms, there are actual documented negative social effects of not allowing daylight, so no, I do not consider that those regulations can be removes.

      • I’m not sure if we need a minimum, but 30 m² is definitely too large for a minimum. By comparison, in Belgium the minimum is 18 m².

      • Nick R

        On high street there are some 15m2 apartments with a sleeping loft above a cleverly designed bathroom and kitchen. They are great things, and the almost double height space with big windows gives a much nicer, more spacious feeling apartment than many poorly designed ones of two or three times the size.

  • Graeme Easte,

    To clarify – provided that Council does not reject things which are fundamental to the UP (and that is extremely unlikely) the UP will become operative later this month. For any aspect of the report which is rejected (effectively referred to the Environment Court to rule on) the IHP policy/rule is replaced by the relevant rule/policy from the notified version of the plan in the interim. One of the main problems with the IHP recommendations is too much reliance on developers/market forces to deliver good design – which the staff and a significant number of councillors have correctly identified as misplaced optimism/naiivete so there will be moves to re-instate some of the development controls that the IHP struck down. On the question of the minimum size of dwellings there is a way to maintain standards but still allow micro dwellings – have a set of minimums but allow units of smaller size where the developer can demonstrate that the resulting homes will be liveable. This approach has been used elsewhere – fully compliant buildings get an easy tick but those who want to work outside the rules have to do a whole lot of extra work to show that their design still meets the policies and objectives.

    • “One of the main problems with the IHP recommendations is too much reliance on developers/market forces to deliver good design – which the staff and a significant number of councillors have correctly identified as misplaced optimism/naivete”

      I’m so pleased to hear that Graeme, since it matches my thinking!

      I believe in letting markets move freely – but with checks and balances ie regulation. Pure capitalism if unbridled will do what it can to make as much money as it can, as fast as it can. I don’t disagree that Okham are building great apartments in Auckland Central, but for them to suggest that just because they’re doing it right the council should sit back and trust that all developers will do the same is hogwash. History has shown us that many developers will maximise their profits by taking any available shortcuts; calm in the knowledge that by the time any ‘issues’ are discovered they will be long gone.

      • That sounds more like something that should be covered by central government building regulations, not council planning rules.

        • Ak-Sam

          The problem with that is that standards to be applied in Invercargill will differ greatly from those we want in Auckland. Not because Invercargill is a bad place, but because Auckland has to deal with the effects of a busy, growing and resource-constrained city.

          • I agree that Auckland will have a lot more apartments than Invercargill, but the building standards for an adjoined building should be the same across the whole country.

  • Jeremy

    Didn’t the unitary plan have a control for the percentage of studio apartments allowed in one development? I thought I read this in the first draft. The reason given for it was studios are temporary/transient accommodation and did not foster a community.

    • Anthony

      I’d rather the council didn’t set minimum areas but if the did have to, perhaps a minimum average area and deviation. I’d see that providing a mixture of 1-2-3-4 bed apartments within a complex would be better from a community point of view

  • Adrian

    As one commentator has already alluded to, I would like to see the costings of the Council’s modifications (rejections/additions) to the plan. There are a couple of things I can see in the list that will restrict supply and, therefore, the costs of buildings (dwellings/commercial) will increase. Be good to see some dollar values so the public can see that it will cost X amount if we require minimum apartment sizes or parking or other restrictions on property rights.

  • Nicholas O'Kane

    How hard or easy will it be to amend the unitary plan once passed?

    • Easier than it is now. Council will be able to do public plan changes under the normal RMA process. Council comes up with whatever they like (along with a s32 report and so on), the Governing Body votes on it, the whole thing possibly goes off to Environment Court, done. There’s no independent panel and hopefully no multi-year submissions period.

  • Graeme Easte,

    The Unitary Plan is just like any other District Plan in the sense that it can always be amended through the Plan Change process. Once the dust settles, Council already has a list of items it would like to have dealt with through the PAUP process but for which there was not enough time. Private Plan Changes can also occur although these tend to be site specific rather than changes to the rules themselves. In general Private Plan Changes are not good news as they are done to benefit the few at the expense of the interests of the majority. One nasty example I recall was when the petrol distribution companies ganged up on Auckland City Council 20 years ago and had the District Plan rules limiting vehicle access to properties within 20 metres of an intersection struck down with the consequence that a lot of busy intersections are now graced by petrol stations with all their garish signage and disruption to traffic and pedestrians.

  • Ak-Sam

    The Urban Design Statements were too lengthy for smaller applications, but at least they ensured one thing: that an urban designer would be involved in the process (hopefully pro-actively). The fundamental building blocks of a development (e.g. the locations of entrances, open space aspect and configuration of dwelling types) are easy to get wrong and nearly impossible to fix later.

    A few things stick out as being just crazy, like allowing a 2.5m high fence on the front boundary. Welcome back to the 1970s.

  • mfwic

    This is the really weird part of this process. It would have been better to make the Council lodge an appeal to change anything they didn’t like rather than just let them swap it out. That would have focused them on things that really matter that they can support with evidence.

  • kelvin

    One other rule that concerns me is they want to retain restrictions for front fence height and coverage.

    This removes the ability to for people living near main road to add noise barrier.

  • Why does the council want to retain minimum house sizes? Have they not observed the popularity of the tiny house movement? At present you have to put these small homes on wheels and call them a vehicle, because of minimum house size requirements, which is just bizzare.

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