Breathing new life into Aotea

Some good news last week with the announcement that the Council’s former Civic Administration Building – which was given Category A heritage status under the Unitary Plan – will be restored. To make things better, it will be joined by a number of new buildings filling in what is currently a dead zone surrounding it.

civic-administration-building-redevelopment

The iconic Civic Administration Building in Aotea Square will be restored and the surrounding area developed under a private sector proposal that will breathe life into a key part of our city centre.

The city’s urban development agency Panuku Development Auckland has selected Tawera Group to restore the Category A heritage building after an international tender process.

Tawera’s Civic Quarter proposal features residential apartments in the upper floors with food and beverage facilities on the ground floor of the existing building. There will also be a new apartment building on the Mayoral Drive corner, a new boutique hotel on Mayoral Drive and a building featuring a Whare Tapere performance space fronting Aotea Square.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says Civic Quarter shows what is possible if we make the most of the opportunities we have with heritage buildings.

“With the population in the central city expected to double in the next 30 years, it’s essential we develop new accommodation options to make this a liveable city. This scheme is a fantastic way to achieve this. It’s all about making the most of the land and opportunities we have in a growing city.”

The mayor says Civic Quarter will bring a new edge to Aotea Square, with the hotel as well as the food and beverage offerings in the development adding vitality to this corner of Auckland’s arts precinct.

“And for Aucklanders the best news is that this partnership with a well-respected private sector developer will come at no cost to ratepayers.”

Panuku Project Director Clive Fuhr says after an extensive tender process it’s pleasing to announce the plans for a building that has remained largely empty since being vacated by the council.

“It was important to provide a viable commercial opportunity that would enable the restoration of a heritage building, the provision of more housing and the revitalisation of this precinct.”

Fuhr says Tawera was the lead tenderer from an Expressions of Interest and Request for Proposals process that attracted global interest and some impressive detailed submissions.

The Tawera proposal was selected with guidance from a panel of urban design experts and heritage advisors. Mana whenua were also part of the selection process, ensuring the Te Aranga Maori Design principles were incorporated.

“It was important we found the right partner to ensure both the heritage features of the building are protected and that it tells a strong Maori story. We were very impressed with Tawera who recently won the Property Council award for their Hopetoun Residences,” says Fuhr.

“Their scheme certainly gives effect to the objectives in the recently adopted Aotea Quarter Framework Plan.”

Tawera principal John Love says his team is excited to be part of this important development for Auckland.

“Civic Quarter is the kind of regeneration project that has won Tawera Group awards in the past.  It will blend an iconic Auckland landmark with cutting edge design ensuring that the Aotea Quarter becomes a must visit destination for all.”

Auckland Council Heritage Manager Noel Reardon, whose team was involved in the selection process, says the Civic was the city’s tallest building when it was completed in 1966 and it went on to become an icon of local government.

“It’s great news to see such an iconic building being restored. The council’s heritage team will work closely with the developers to ensure the heritage features are retained and restored.”

The next steps in the development will be for Tawera to work through the resource and building consents, particularly in terms of the refurbishment works.  Building is expected to start in mid-2017 and take three years.

This shows the expected layout of the buildings that are planned

civic-administration-building-redevelopment-plan

As a comparison, most of this space is currently carparks and largely unused dead space

civic-administration-building-redevelopment-plan-current

Here’s a video of what’s proposed, some of what’s proposed looks a little awkward but hopefully that can improve as the design evolves. I also hope a lot of care is taken with the design of those shared lanes. I do like that this part of Mayoral Dr will finally have some activation but that will also mean we need to ensure Mayoral Dr isn’t just left as a racetrack.

One thing that also struck me was how in some ways the Whare Tapere is a modern take on Tibor Donner’s original design for the area which included annexes on either side of the Civic Admin Building, as can be seen here. You can also see that image doesn’t include Mayoral Dr which was bulldozed through the area.

Generation Zero’s Election Scorecards

Voting papers have now started going out for local body elections. While the Mayoral contest understandably gets the most coverage, there is considerably less the further down the chain the position is and so the harder it becomes. In some cases at a Councillor level but almost certainly by the time you get to the local board level you’re likely to be voting on people you’ve never seen or even heard of before based on nothing more than a picture and a vague blurb – and it’s amazing how crappy they can be. And candidates for DHB and if you have one, a licencing trust take this to another level.

To try and help inform the public, our friends at Generation Zero have put in a huge effort to interview and score candidates for mayor, council and local board. Here’s what they say:

We asked every council candidate the same 14 questions on Transport, Housing and the Environment. We gave them points based on how well they answered and how well they matched Generation Zero’s vision for a liveable low-carbon Auckland.

One thing I really like is how much detail they’ve provided this time. They’ve explicitly list the questions they’ve asked and their marking criteria so that it’s clear everyone is marked by looking through the same lens. The 14 questions are grouped into the three categories mentioned above – with over half focused on transport – a fourth category is scores a candidate’s competency and is based on a number of different factors.

At a glance readers are able to see the overall score and the score for each category. By drilling down on a candidate you can to see how many points were scored for each question along with the markers thoughts on the candidate.

As an example, here are the five highest scores for mayor. John Palino scored the lowest of probably any candidate with a E overall.

gen-zero-2016-scorecard-mayor

Given Goff is the front runner in all polls so far I’ve used his result to show the synopsis and break down in his scores for the transport section.

gen-zero-2016-scorecard-phil-goff

What is interesting about looking through the various council wards is some have lots of candidates that have scored well to pick from – such as in Manukau

gen-zero-2016-scorecard-manukau

While in other areas people will to choose from candidates who have scored fairly low, one such ward is Maungakiekie-Tāmaki where the best score was incumbent Denise Krum with a C+.

gen-zero-2016-scorecard-maungakiekie-tamaki

As well as getting an A+ score, Manukau candidate Efeso Collins is also probably the first Auckland candidate in to have his own song. Perhaps it should become a requirement of candidates from now on?

Unfortunately, not all mayoral or council candidates have a ranking as it relied on Generation Zero being able to contact them and them being willing to be interviewed for this. Overall it’s a fantastic resource so thank you to Generation Zero for putting so much effort in for it.

In addition to the work above, if you’re looking for more information candidates the council’s official website has information too. And lastly, Vote Local has a quiz you can do which then compares your answers to mayoral candidates.

Happy voting

City Rail Link and ATAP imminent

This week is shaping up to be an important one for the future of transport in Auckland with updates expected on both the government’s funding of the City Rail Link and the final Auckland Transport Alignment Project report due to be publicly released. Both issues are understood to have been discussed in the government’s Cabinet meeting yesterday. Tomorrow the council will hold a special meeting of the governing body behind closed doors to get updates on the decisions made so a public response can be made when the information is released, expected to be Thursday.

This meeting has been called to consider progress with central government on the City Rail Link and the Auckland Transport Alignment Project.

The above reports were not available at the time of going to print as the content is contingent on cabinet consideration that has yet to take place. The reason for urgency is to enable the council to respond quickly following that cabinet consideration.

While we wait for the Thursday, here are a few questions and thoughts I’ve had and will be keeping an eye on when the announcement happens.

City Rail Link

  • Will the government fund 50% of the project?
  • As we know the council are already funding ~$250 million for the early works on the project which will see cut and cover tunnels dug from Britomart to south of Wyndham St. This was needed in part so developments like Commercial Bay on the old Downtown mall site could proceed. Will any government funding commitment cover the entire project including a share of the early works or will it only apply to the rest of the project?
  • If a formal funding announcement isn’t made, does that leave it up to the next council to agree on the outcome. Does that create a risk that if enough incoming Councillors are hostile to the project we could see delays?
  • Will any funding be announced for other improvements to the rail network to enable the CRL to operate better, for example for more trains, more cross-overs, signalling enhancements, the much needed third main or a number of other potential upgrades.

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Auckland Transport Alignment Project

The Foundation and Interim reports have given us a good idea of the kinds of things ATAP is looking at so I’m not expecting anything too radical to appear but you never fully know.

  • Focus on the first decade – ATAP breaks future projects down by the approximate decade they will be needed. Given how rapidly things can change, the modelling gets more inaccurate the longer in the future something is so any project more than a decade out might as well be ignored. An exercise like ATAP is probably needed ever 5-10 years to ensure we’re on the right track and those projects can be reviewed and re-prioritised then.
  • Road Pricing – Prior to ATAP, discussions around road pricing have existed solely as a way to try and raise additional revenue. Yet it can also be used to encourage people not to drive at certain times which can in turn have a big impact on congestion. The results in the interim report were very positive and as a result we saw the first signs the government were softening on the issue – Newshub reports this softening has continued. I don’t expect we will see specific details about any road pricing scheme but an indication of when one may be needed is likely. I also expect this will be the area most focused on by the media.
  • Future Technology – whether it be the likes of Uber or autonomous vehicles, almost daily there is talk of role technology could have in changing transport in the future. ATAP has been looking at the potential impacts and the Interim Report noted there are potentially quite positive impacts, but the big uncertainty will be how much and when those impacts might be seen. I don’t expect this report to answer that question and again why this exercise is probably needed on a set basis.
  • Government Funding the plan – Funding the CRL is one thing but with both the council and government finally expected to be on the same page around Auckland’s transport priorities, attention is going to have to turn to how we fund it. ATAP should give a better indication of both the quantum and timing of the funding needed. I hope we’ll see an initial response from the government at the same time as the report is released.
  • Mayoral candidate response – The Mayoral hopefuls are out promising projects to voters. How will Vic Crone respond if ATAP says an additional harbour crossing isn’t anywhere near a priority or what about Phil Goff if light rail is in the same boat? Whoever is elected mayor is likely going to need to come up with additional funding to help pay for the projects needed. How will this sit with candidates promising to cap or cut rates?

What are the things you’ll be looking for with both the CRL and ATAP are made public?

Five Years

Exactly five years ago last month, August 30th 2011, my first ever blog post ran on Transportblog. While I am astonished it’s already been five years, what’s really astonishing is what we, my colleagues here, you the readers, and the growing force of friends and allies elsewhere [shoutout to Generation Zero and Bike Auckland especially], and of course the many good people official roles, have helped achieve in Auckland in this time. We have certainly raised the discourse on urban issues and influenced some real outcomes, for the better. Exactly what we set out to do, and what we continue to strive for.

But there is one thing that has still remains unfixed and that is the subject of my first post, which is reproduced in full below.

Why Are There Cars on Queen St?

This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds and was originally published in Metro magazine

Queen St, from the water to Mayoral Drive, has an unusual and unexpected feature for a city street in Auckland. It’s easy to miss but it’s true: There is not one vehicle entrance to a building from Queen St. Not one car parking building, not one loading bay, not one ramp to an executive garage under a tower block. The only way to enter a building from Queen St is on foot. There are a few very short term road side parks among the bus stops and loading bays, but really every car in Queen St is on its way to and from somewhere else. And so slowly.

People often talk about traffic with words like ‘flow’ as if it is best understood as a liquid, when really what it is actually like is a gas. Traffic expands like a gas to fill any space available to it [which is why it is futile to try to road build your out of congestion]. There are cars in Queen St simply because we let them be there, like an old habit we’ve never really thought about. l think it’s time we did.

No traffic moves well on Queen St, certainly not the buses, it is usually quicker to walk from the Ferry Building to the Town Hall than to catch any Queen St bus. Emergency vehicles get stuck, deliveries battle their way through. It is clear why there is traffic on the four east-west cross streets of Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. These are essential through routes to and from motorways and parking buildings. But they too get held up by all the turning in and out of the intersections with Queen St. Because as it is now the lights have long and complicated phases to handle every possible car movement and the growing volume of pedestrians.

It seems likely that simply by removing the private car from the three blocks from Mayoral Drive down to Customs St the city will function so much better. The intersections of Customs, Victoria and Wellesley, will be able to have much better phasing for both pedestrians and the cross town traffic, as well speeding the buses as they would effectively be on bus lanes all the way up Queen St. Air quality in the Queen St gully would improve immensely. The bottom of Shortland and the newly refurbished Fort streets will become the sunny plazas they should be. Inner city retailers should see the benefits of the Queen St becoming a more appealing place to be in and the cross town traffic flowing better will make car use more viable.

And there will the space to convert the smoky diesel bus routes into modern electric trams to really make the most of this improvement and speed even more shoppers and workers to and from the rest of the city.

If we’re brave enough to take this all the way up to Mayoral Drive we get the real chance to link the new Art Gallery, the Library, and St James area across the Queen St divide to Aotea Square, the Town Hall and the new Q Theatre. A chance to really build a cultural heart at this end of town.

Furthermore it could all be done with a few cones, signs, traffic light changes and a media campaign. At least to start.

END

And I still believe that AT/AC are not addressing this issue as well as they should. Waiting for Light Rail to improve our city’s main street lacks leadership and strategic focus, and may well even turn out to be risky to the approval that project. It will, I believe, help the argument for Light Rail here to show that Queen St isn’t a necessary or desirable place for general traffic, and that its continuing reduction is far from negative for commercial performance in the City Centre, by actively encouraging its departure. We know that the last restrictions had way better results than anticipated, halving the amount of vehicle traffic and boosting the much more valuable pedestrian numbers and economic activity, see here.

Queen St volumes - Total

Since my post above AT have recently added partial bus lanes to the two lower blocks, which is good, but not much in five years. I would like to see these lanes continue through to Mayoral Drive. I really think this valley needs to be addressed strategically, and not just reactively, which after all has been well studied by AT, e.g. The City East West Study, CEWT.

Adding north/south of Queen St to this mix we get a hierarchy like this:

  1. Pedestrians in all directions
  2. Transit north/south on Queen and east/west on Wellesley and Customs
  3. Deliveries
  4. General traffic east/west on Mayoral, Victoria, and Customs

And above all of this is the plan to remove all general traffic from Wakefield St north to be worked towards; to continue the current trend.

So improving the Queen St intersections by removing right hand turn options matches this hierarchy perfectly, in particular at Victoria St. This is now a more difficult idea since the Link bus turns from Queen here, but the turn could be made bus only. Victoria St is currently narrowed by CRL works, and will be permanently reduced in width by the Aotea CRL station entrance which will be in what is current road space. So getting drivers used to both the narrowed Victoria St and out of the habit of turning here is surely a strong plan.

Now of course AT are getting pressure from angry motorists over the CRL works, and seem to have responded to this by dropping the double pedestrian cycle from the big Barnes Dances on Queen. This is clearly counter productive to the strategic aims. Instead if they removed right hand turning at Victoria this would improve the adjacent Victoria St intersections for all users and enable either concurrent crossing on Queen or allow the double Barnes Dance phases to be restored. Then there is the festering sore that is lower Shortland St, which clearly has just been shoved into the too hard basket.

Oh and now I discover I have written about this in 2013 too: Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse…

In short there are ways that AC/AT could be advancing their strategic aims in the centre city before Light Rail is begun, but they don’t seem to be doing this. I think they should.

Will I be banging on about still in another five years, or can the city grow up already?

‘…Five Years, what a surprise’

How Councillors voted on the Unitary Plan

At 5pm on Friday the Unitary Plan was officially notified with this notice appearing in the NZ Herald.

NZ Herald Notification notice

The documents that were made available at 5pm included the final version of the plan the Council finished agreeing to earlier in the week. Also available from then were the minutes from that council meeting and so while we wait to see if there are any appeals, I trawled through the minutes to see which way the Mayor and Councillors voted on key issues and tried to put that information into a table. This includes both votes where a division was called and the Mayor and Councillors individually stated their position and votes where the resolution was passed but someone wanted their dissent noted.

A couple on notes about the tables.

  • While most of it was fairly straight forward to follow, it can get a bit confusing when some votes are delayed or especially in the case of item 6.14.1 (which covers the zoning maps) it can be hard to follow who was at the table, who wasn’t and who couldn’t participate due to conflicts of interest.
  • I don’t intend on posting all of the results as some of them are fairly boring technical matters where everyone agreed so I’ll just focus on a few key areas. You can click on the images for a bigger version.
  • The outcomes as to whether a vote was good or bad is based on my judgment call based on what we’ve discussed in the past or the result that will make it easier to deliver more housing. On some votes you may disagree with how I’ve scored it.
  • Green = Good, Red = Bad, C = Conflict of Interest and blank means they weren’t at the table.
  • I’ve only included a small explanation of the items voted on but have also included the page number the vote appeared on in the minutes should you wish to scroll through to see more information.

First up a number of hot topics including heritage and viewshafts

Final UP - Voting Table 1

Here are some of the items related to the City Centre and business zones. We were supporters of deleting the minimum dwelling sizes so most Councillors get marked down for voting to keep them.

Final UP - Voting Table 2

And here are some of the residential zones. One odd observation is that Cameron Brewer supported keeping minimum dwelling sizes in the City Centre but opposed keeping them in the general residential zones.

Final UP - Voting Table 3

There are obviously a lot more votes and as mentioned, many are fairly boring.

One of the reasons for pulling the data together was also to see which Councillors were the most or least supportive. The graph below counts the total number of red boxes from the tables above and the rest of the results. As you can see there was clearly one Councillor whose name came up more than others. To be fair not all votes are necessarily equal, especially some of the dissents which can be for fairly minor things but I think it is interesting none the less.

Final UP - Votes Against

What do you think of the results?

Unitary Plan Passed

So they did it, the council actually passed a reasonably good Unitary Plan, a feat that just six months ago seemed so unlikely. This represents a fairly historic moment for Auckland as for the first time, the region will have a single set of planning rules that enable the city to grow and are also aligned with the policies and goals of the region.

Plan Passed

The Unitary Plan would easily be the largest planning exercise in New Zealand’s history, representing around four years of work for the council, the public and the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP). While planning matters can often seem fairly dull, documents like the Unitary Plan have such far reaching implications that getting a decent plan as a base to build off was important and it appears that the council has largely done that. It also means any future work can focus on smoothing out some of the remaining rough edges rather than having to make wholesale fixes.

One quite notable feature at this end of debate on the Unitary Plan has been the lack of opposition to it from groups like Auckland 2040 who have fought the plan all the way along. It now appears that their opposition to the plan peaked in February. Perhaps it was the optics of fighting against enabling housing in the middle of a housing crisis, perhaps it was because their leader – Richard Burton – was overseas or perhaps it was just they realised was pretty good.

 

Councillors started debating the recommendations from the IHP and the council officer’s responses to those recommendations on Wednesday and positively they seemed to do it in decent humour, something that can’t be said for all council debates. The meeting had budgeted to take till this coming Thursday but in a fairly surprising move the Councillors were able to move through the agenda relatively well and most of the thorny issues were wrapped up by Friday leaving the last few issues till today. 

Over the last four years, some Councillors have been fantastic and perhaps none deserves larger praise than Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse who has guided the process all the way along. A number of other Councillors have also been strong supporters all the way through.

Interestingly during this most recent debate another surprise hero emerged and it was none other than Dick Quax who had many wondering if they had woken up in an alternate universe. He argued and voted positively on many of the topics up for discussion and I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering why its taken so long to see this side of him. Conversely the single worst performer was Mike Lee who opposed almost all measures to provide more housing, voting against them time after time.

A week ago we highlighted some of the key issues the council officers did/didn’t agree with the IHP and recommended the council change or reject them. I had hoped to break down and analyse the various votes but unfortunately the minutes containing the voting records aren’t available yet (and I didn’t have the time to trawl through the hours upon hours of video from the meeting). At a high level they:

  • Deleted the Sites and Places of Value to the Mana Whenua overlay
  • Deleted the blanket pre-1944 heritage overlay, the special character and overlay still exists though.
  • Rejected the watering down of language around ensuring land-use transport integration.
  • Agreed to shift the Rural Urban Boundary to the District Plan, enabling it to be changed via private plan changes.
  • Agreed to remove the requirement for a minimum number of “affordable” dwellings in a development.
  • Lowered the number of dwellings that can be built on a site as of right, above which requires a resource consent, from four to two.
  • Feared the shoebox and voted to keep minimum dwelling sizes.
  • Doubled the height limit in Newmarket to 72.5m
  • Agreed with the recommended zoning, with a few exceptions, this includes at some last minute hot spots at Okura and Crater Hill
  • Didn’t agree with the IHP or the officers and removed the minimum parking requirements for retail from centres. This was a surprise and fantastic outcome

 

The final Unitary Plan will be formally notified on Friday and there will be a window of 20 working days for limited appeals. I suspect one of the most likely appeals will be from the large retailers to try and reinstate the IHPs position of keeping minimum parking requirements in centres for retail businesses – something the retailers argued for at the hearings panel but which is primarily about making it harder for small businesses to compete with them.

Thank you to everyone, who has helped advocate alongside us for a good Unitary Plan, especially our friends at Generation Zero who have put in a huge amount of hard work in support of a better city.

Thank you also to the all of the council staff who have worked so hard to make this plan a reality. They deserve a celebration for effort they’ve put in but of course if they do there’ll be the usual negative voices complaining about spending ratepayers money.

Lastly, well done and thank you to the Mayor and Councillors for finally passing the plan. With better rules in place it also means the focus for improving housing also now shifts back to the government.

Auckland 2016 Election Lists

The deadline for the 2016 local body elections was yesterday and last night the Auckland Council released the list of confirmed candidates. The council say 447 candidates have put their hands up for the 170 positions available for Mayor, Councillor and Local Board member. This is down on previous years with there being 470 in 2013 and 545 in 2010. Below are the 17 candidates for Mayor

Auckland 2016 Mayoral Candidates 2

In past years we’ve had some colourful candidates for mayor such as David Willmott under the ticket of Roads First and who could forget Emmett Hussey, especially his campaign vehicle. I wonder if there is anyone this time that can fill that role.

On to the Councillors, with three steeping we’re guaranteed to see some change at the council table and obviously there’s the potential for more depending on how the elections go. I won’t list all of the names but here are a couple of quick observations in no particular order

  • Franklin Councillor Bill Cashmore has been re-elected un-opposed. Bill has been one of the better councillors so it will be good to see him back around the council table.
  • At the last election, Cameron Brewer in Orakei plus Dick Quax and Sharon Stewart in Howick were all elected unopposed. This time Brewer is stepping down (but he’s standing for the Rodney Local Board) and there are four candidates in Orakei. Further east in Howick there are ten candidates standing including both Quax and Stewart.
  • The North Shore has the most candidates with 12 putting their names forward. Chris Darby is standing again but George Wood is not but instead is standing for the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board with five other candidates under a ticket called Team George Wood.
  • Candidates in the Manukau ward have a 50% chance of getting elected with just four people putting their hands up for the job including current councillor Alf Filipaina. The other Manukau councillor, Arthur Anae is stepping down.
  • Further south in the Manurewa-Papakura ward the candidates have an even better chance of being elected with just three people putting their hands up including current councillors Calum Penrose and John Walker.
  • We already knew the Waitemata Ward would be an interesting seat with Mike Lee and Bill Ralston duking it out and they will be joined by just one other in the form of local board member Rob Thomas.

I put together this quick graph of the number of candidates in each ward compared to the number of seats.

Auckland 2016 Council Candidates & Seats

I’m not going to both looking the numerous local boards so you’ll have to have a look at the list if you want to see who’s standing in your area.

I’m sure it’s bound to be an interesting election. Voting opens on September 16 and goes through to October 8.

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…

Unitary Plan Recommendations Revealed

Yesterday the council released the recommendations from the Independent Hearing Panel (IHP) for the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) and as expected when there are over 1000 pages of recommendations there’s a lot to talk about, way too much for one post. As we also expected there is a mix of outcomes, some are good and others not so good. An overview of the changes is provided in this 123 page report which is what I’ll mainly focus on for this post.

First up the council had a couple of big wins with the IHP agreeing with many of their high level objectives for managing growth, such as:

  1. Affirming the Auckland Plan’s development strategy of a quality compact urban form focussed on a hierarchy of business centres plus main transport nodes and corridors.
  2. Concentrating residential intensification and employment opportunities in and around existing centres, transport nodes and corridors so as to encourage consolidation of them while:
    • a. allowing for some future growth outside existing centres along transport corridors where demand is not well served by existing centres; and
    • b. enabling the establishment of new centres in greenfield areas after structure planning.
  3. Retaining the Rural Urban Boundary (together with a substantial area of land zoned Future Urban Zone inside it) as a means of managing large-scale growth and infrastructure planning (this last point has a bit of a catch though which I’ll cover off later.)

That means the IHP didn’t just throw everything out and start from scratch but have made changes that address many of the shortcomings from the notified plan and the biggest of these is that the notified plan simply didn’t allow for enough growth. In this regard the IHPs recommendations are said to lie somewhere between what the council originally notified and what submitters like Housing NZ were after which was much more widespread upzoning across the region.

One of the areas they haven’t changed are the residential zones themselves. There are still the main urban zones of Single House (SH), Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS), Mixed Housing Urban (MHU) and Terraced Housing and Apartment Building (THAB) and many of the rules for the zones, such as height limits, remain the same. One big change is the removal of density provisions on the MHS so it matches the MHU and THAB zones – although there are various development standards and levels at which resource consents apply. Importantly where each zone is applied has also changed, one example being that the council walkable catchments for higher density zones of 200-400m while the IHP have recommended it be doubled to 400-800m. It is those and other amendments which are behind the changes in development capacity.

The level of development capacity has been a crucial issue for the IHP. They have agreed with the high side predictions of need to provide around 400,000 dwellings over the next 30 years and that for planning purposes it’s better to err on that high side. In short better to allow too many dwellings to be built than not enough. To this end they also say:

It became apparent early in the hearings that in the development of the proposed Unitary Plan the Council had relied on the theoretical capacity enabled by the Unitary Plan, rather than on a measure of capacity that takes into account physical and commercial feasibility, which the Panel refers to as ‘feasible enabled capacity. Feasible enabled residential capacity means the total quantum of development that appears commercially feasible to supply, given the opportunities enabled by the recommended Unitary Plan, current costs to undertake development, and current prices for dwellings. The modelling of this capacity at this stage is not capable of identifying the likely timing of supply.

When you look at the PAUP in this regard there becomes a huge issue with it estimated to only be able to provide 213k dwellings, well short of the 400k needed. Through the changes they’ve made they estimate that the feasible enabled residential capacity has almost doubled, going from 213k to 422k. As you can also see, the biggest two changes have come from within existing residential areas and within centres and mixed use areas.

Recomended UP - Change in Feasible Capacity

The impact of the changes can be seen on the two maps below showing what was feasible under the PAUP on the left and what is feasible under these recommendations. As you can clearly see there is a lot more development that has been enabled – although it seems more still could have been done on the isthmus.

Recomended UP - PAUP vs Recomended Feasible Capacity

You may recall the Auckland Plan development strategy had a 70:40 split, up to 60-70% of development occurring within the existing urban area and 30-40% occurring on greenfield land. Yet thanks to council getting scared of the noisy groups opposing housing, the PAUP as effectively flipped those numbers around. While the IHP have recommended that spatial distribution be deleted, the changes above have helped to return the Unitary Plan to that level. This is shown below.

Recomended UP - Distribution of Capacity

The table below is based on some early analysis by council on the recommendations showing how much land was included in PAUP vs what is in the recommendation. As you can see there are some quite significant differences.

Recomended UP - Zoning ha Changes

As mentioned earlier, the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) stays but it has been changed significantly, both in scale and how it will work in future. One key change is the IHP say the exact location of it should be decided at the district plan level. That means it could be changed in the future through private plan changes. That makes it a soft boundary and as I mentioned yesterday, could make it more difficult to plan big infrastructure projects.

Lastly just to quickly touch on one of the points I raised yesterday that I haven’t already covered, parking rules. The IHP have retained parking maximums in the City Centre Zone while the other Centre zones, the Business, Mixed Use and THAB zones and the Centre Fringe Office Control area have neither minimums or maximums with the main exception being for retail and commercial services activities where a minimum of 1 space per 30m² has been recommended. This is a big win for the major retailers who wanted minimums for anti-competitive reasons, making it harder for small businesses particularly in town centres to afford to compete. Outside of the zones mentioned previously, all other areas will have minimums applied.

In another post I’ll look at comparing the maps of the proposed plan and what has now been recommended.

The council are due to start formally debating the plan on August 10 and have that wrapped up on August 18 so the plan can be formalised. If they don’t agree with an IHP recommendation they can’t just reject it and instead have to provide an alternative solution and produce a cost benefit ratio for it. Overall the recommendations represent a vast improvement to the Unitary Plan and while not everything is what we hoped for, there was always going to need to be some compromises. After dragging on for about four years now, the finish line is in sight and it seems to me that councillors should just be encouraged to pass the plan as it is.

Unitary Plan: what to look out for

So today’s the big day that the independent hearings panel’s recommendations on the Unitary Plan get unveiled. It’s not exaggerating to say that this is a hugely important document as the rules and controls included in the plan determine what is allowed to be built and where.

The Unitary Plan is a monumentally huge plan, running over 9000 pages apparently and with very complicated overlapping controls relating to zones, overlays, precincts, development controls, urban boundaries and so on. However, 95% of the plan is probably of little interest to most people and won’t be what the big debates over the next few weeks will centre on. So let’s run through what I think are the big issues and what you should look out for when the plan is released at 1:30 this afternoon. In a rough order of importance:

  • Zoning in the central isthmus and around major public transport corridors
  • The location and nature of the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB)
  • Height limits in centres
  • Parking rules
  • Residential development controls

Let’s go through each in turn.

Zoning in the central isthmus

The biggest disappointment with the Proposed Unitary Plan was how little upzoning occurred in the parts of Auckland that have the best transport options and are market attractive to higher density development – namely the central isthmus. This was a direct contradiction from the Auckland Plan’s development strategy, which highlighted the isthmus as a key location for growth:

ap-paup

Since the Unitary Plan was notified in 2013 the importance of upzoning this area has increased further, with Auckland Transport announcing plans to build light-rail along some of the key arterial roads to ease bus congestion in the city. Ensuring the planning rules in this part of Auckland enable a lot of redevelopment into terraced houses, townhouses and apartments is crucial to the question of whether light-rail should go ahead or not.

The ATAP interim report highlighted a shortfall of 50,000 dwellings on the isthmus in the Unitary Plan compared to the Auckland Plan so we’re not talking about a little tinkering here and there with the upzoning. We’re talking significant change from what was in the proposed plan.

My best guess is that the IHP will recommend more upzoning in the isthmus, but probably not enough to close the 50,000 dwelling shortfall. It will then be really interesting to see how the politicians respond and whether the councillors representing this part of Auckland actually want to do something bold to improve housing affordability or not.

The Rural Urban Boundary

A lot of discussion about how the Unitary Plan can help bring down houses prices has focused on the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) and the supply of greenfield land. As I explained back in May, much of this talk misunderstands what the RUB is – which is a long-term line that separates land likely to be urbanised at some point over the next 30 years compared to land intended to stay rural in the long-term. Changing the location of the RUB isn’t the main way to make more greenfield development happen: there’s already an area of about two Hamilton’s of greenfield land inside the RUB and the key is being able to service it with (expensive) infrastructure. But the chatter continues and it will be interesting to see both where the IHP recommends the RUB goes, as well as whether it’s a “hard RUB” (only able to be changed by the Council, giving greater certainty to infrastructure providers about where development might happen and allowing them to invest with confidence) or a “soft RUB” (able to be changed by anyone through a private plan change, removing certainty for infrastructure providers and making their investments much more risky).

I’m not very optimistic about this one, as it seems likely the IHP will recommend a soft RUB, which could actually delay greenfield development by making infrastructure investment far more difficult to plan and a much riskier proposition.

Height Limits in Centres

The Unitary Plan has a pretty sophisticated hierarchy of centres, from the City Centre right down to the tiniest little neighbourhood centre. Generally these areas are the focus for a lot of future growth and a real mix of uses: allowing retail, offices and apartments to be built. The real test will be in relation to the height limits of these centres and whether they allow enough redevelopment potential for it to be viable and for a good chunk of Auckland’s future growth to be located in areas where people can do many of their daily tasks without having to travel far at all.

I think there might be some improvements in the IHP’s recommendations but this will be strongly linked to where the panel land on the volcanic viewshafts as it is these view protection restrictions that limit heights in many of the most important centres for redevelopment (Newton, Newmarket, Mt Eden etc.)

Parking Rules

We’ve been going on about the evils of minimum parking requirements for years and the Unitary Plan takes some good steps towards eliminating or lowering these stupid rules. The council’s closing statement to the hearing on parking suggested the main area of contention was whether minimums should apply in major centres, with some major retailers arguing for them for anti-competitive reasons because they were worried that people visiting the area would park in their carparks. Importantly, the council’s position on residential parking minimums shifted from the proposed plan so that nowhere will more than a single space be required per dwelling (and in a lot of zones, no parking at all will be required).

I’m pretty confident of a good outcome here and a major step forward in reducing the evils of parking minimums. There’s always a chance the IHP might have read Donald Shoup and get rid of parking controls altogether.

Residential Development Controls

Before the Unitary Plan was notified in 2013 this is where most of the controversy was focused: on the detailed rules and regulations that governed height limits, density controls, setback requirements and many other restrictions in the residential zones. However, in the hearings this became less of an issue as most of the major submitters came to an agreement with the council to relax density controls and instead focus on controls that affect the building envelope (height, site coverage etc.) In general this is a step in the right direction, as it is density controls (how many square metres of land per unit) which really undermine the provision of affordable housing as they force larger house sizes to maximise profitability.

Without reading through the screeds of detail it looks like a reasonably good outcome is likely here. However, this section really just lays out the rules relating to each zone: how the zones are distributed is a whole different question and will inevitably be the focus of so much discussion going forward.