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Changing housing trends starting to be noticed

On Monday there were a series of interesting articles in the Herald on housing that have a lot in common with many of the things we say.

A general statement about the current urban trends

Although apartment living has been available to Aucklanders for many decades it is only relatively recently that it has become desirable.

Similar large cities around the world have long recognised the benefits large resident populations in high-rise apartments bring in rejuvenating previously run-down, and often abandoned, central suburbs.

While Auckland may struggle to recreate the cosmopolitan atmosphere of major cities such as New York, Paris and London, it is already moving in that direction. Developments such as the Wynyard Quarter, with its wide pedestrian boulevards and range of restaurants and entertainment areas, are helping to entice potential apartment dwellers downtown.

Pedestrians are being given more priority in the central city, and public transport facilities are improving, making the prospect of going without a car less scary than it would have been even a decade ago.

The vast majority of Aucklanders will continue to sprawl across the length and breadth of suburbia, but even in the outer suburbs population pressures will see the city growing not only outwards but also up.

I think that last point is quite important. Even with massive development in apartments or other types of intensified living the majority of people will still be in typical suburban homes. Intensification won’t change that but it will give those that want it more options.

On first home buyers

For first home buyers, the LVR and a heated property market have made the search for an affordable suburb difficult. But they shouldn’t despair. We’ve found the next generation of Ponsonbys and Grey Lynns. And guess what? Transport’s the key.

Ponsonby and Grey Lynn are beyond the reach of many first home buyers but there are plenty of affordable suburbs further afield. What’s made these outer suburbs – previously dismissed as either too far from the central city or too suburban to consider – more attractive propositions are improved bus, rail and motorway links.

Not everyone needs to travel into the CBD. In some cases new motorways will make it easier to live in, say, Swanson and work in South Auckland. The bus-only lanes on the Northern Motorway have made living somewhere such as Albany or Silverdale a realistic choice. Buses take less than half an hour to reach downtown, stopping infrequently and dropping passengers at the bottom of Queen St.

The upgrade of suburban rail and bus hubs such as Panmure, and the imminent introduction of new electric trains, further raises the appeal of nearby suburbs. And Queen St is no longer the preserve of a decent cup of coffee – hundreds of cafes have opened in the suburbs, helping to rejuvenate many suburban shopping centres.

I think that the current suite of transport projects – both road and rail – are going to have a massive impact on how we get around. Waterview is obviously the completion of the motorway network while on the PT side of things the transformation is probably even larger as we have the big three of electrification, new bus network and integrated ticketing/fares underway along with a lot of other, smaller stuff like a focus on improving the customer experience.

Of course from the same article clearly not everyone gets it with it quoting economist Rodney Dickens saying that instead of intensification we should be focusing on housing on the fringes so they can live and work locally.

“People living and working locally makes economic sense,” he says, although this is already happening to some degree in areas such as Silverdale in the North, and Takanini and Weymouth in the south.

That’s all very nice in theory but it misses a few key points. First is that there are actually very few jobs out on the fringes. In fact 49% of all jobs in the Auckland region are with the boundaries of  the old Auckland City Council area. Even if we put a lot of effort into growth of employment in the fringes there still wouldn’t be anywhere near as many jobs as there are residents in those areas so people commuting is not going to disappear. Going further it’s also important to think not just about the number of jobs in an area but the kind of jobs they are.

CBDs by their very name are central and therefore generally have a much wider catchment to choose staff from.  Businesses on the fringes limited to local employment – especially those that require specifically skilled staff will simply not have as many potential employees to choose from which can limit their businesses. That means the types of employment found on the fringes is likely to end up being quite a different to that found more centrally. As an example, I wonder how many jobs Rodney would be able to find as an economist in Silverdale, Takanini or Weymouth. This is issue is also exaggerated by the fact that even if one person manages to find a job locally, their partner may not be able to and therefore have to travel.

On Apartments and intensification

As Auckland’s population increases so the range of apartments spreads, and already there are large apartment projects in suburban areas such as Manukau, Ellerslie, New Lynn, Mt Wellington and parts of the North Shore.

Higher density living is provided for in the Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan, which provides for zones where terraced housing and apartments can be built. Controversial though these planning changes have been, it is difficult to escape the need for Auckland to start moving skywards instead of continuing to sprawl. Some of this future development has already taken place around railway and bus transport hubs. Once the apartments sprout up, along with them come retail and food outlets and amenities, creating new communities.

“Predictions a year ago that demand for central city apartments was increasing to the point where developers would have confidence to start building new projects, have proven correct, and several major new complexes are under construction.”

Property experts warn against making sweeping judgements about what, in fact, are a series of complex markets, each with their own dynamic. They are encouraged by the developments providing more up-market apartments in the city and its fringes. There could be as many as 3000 new apartments available on the market during the next 18 months, bringing the total number of apartments in the city and inner suburbs to more than 20,000. Of course the price of the new apartments will be much higher, with apartments in the new developments starting around $450,000.

Of course we’ve been tracking apartment developments in our Development Tracker for a while now and started doing so after seeing so many new proposals popping up all over the place. We have also seen developments starting much less than $450k although there has definitely been a noticeable amount of higher end apartments. It really seems that we’re missing decent middle of the range options. My guess is that over the next economic growth cycle we will see a huge amount of apartment (and more moderate intensification) developments occur.

And lastly on Affordability

The head of, Stephen Hart, said people will still want to live close to town and consider apartment living but satellite suburbs were also being considered.

“The transport systems are likely to improve to these outlying suburbs and they can get a house and section we only dreamed about – we can’t even do that in Mt Wellington or Panmure now.”

He still thought places like Papakura and Whangaparaoa were too far for most city workers to consider. “Some people are doing it but it’s not a trend, in my opinion.”

The report’s writer, Tony Verdon, says the newly developed areas will not appeal to all younger buyers, many of whom would prefer to live closer to Auckland’s centre.

“But increased pressure on Auckland prices will force many to these newer developments on Auckland’s expanding urban fringe.”

So people are really wanting to be more central but are only really choosing to live further out because that’s the only options for them.

Of course this year could see a lot change. Interest rates are starting to rise and the impact being felt sooner due to more people having floating mortgages than in the past. Dwellings with good PT, walking and cycling options that allow people to reduce their transport costs are likely to do quite well compared to those for which the only option is to drive.

Housing Affordability and Transport costs

More apartments added to our Development Tracker

Some new additions to our development tracker.

City: Nicolas St Apartments – 60 Apartments

Another addition to the Hobson/Nelson cluster of apartments. This one seems to be on a site that has entrances from both Hobson St and Nicolas St. The development has two towers in it.

Nicolas St Apatments

While it’s called Nicolas St, this image is of the development from Hobson St.

City: Summit on Symonds – 45 apartments

What appears to be a conversion and extension of the existing building on the corner of K Rd and Symonds St. Like The Xanadu, this one appears to be targeting baby boomers. In the image below it also suggests that a separate building (the green one) will be built) as part of this.

Summit on Symonds

Mt Eden: Mt Eden Fiore – 120 apartments

This appears to be proposed for the large empty site currently used as a carpark on the Northern side of Enfield St next to the Horse & Trap

Fiore Mt Eden

Parnell: 28 York St – 12 Apartments

12 very expensive but also very large apartments in Parnell.

28 York St

Appetite for development growing

It seems there’s been a flurry of news about intensification and development over the last week or so. We’ve had Len Brown trying to kick start progress on the CRL at the same time as Precinct Properties redevelop the Downtown Shopping Centre, we’ve had the news that resource consent has been issued for a massive tower to go up on the long empty site that bounds Elliot St, Victoria St and Albert St and that will be right next to the proposed Aotea Station.

Now we’ve had news that the long fought over plans to build apartments on top of the Milford Shopping Centre. The Herald reports:

Milford Shopping Centre’s development boss has welcomed an Environment Court decision allowing apartment towers to rise around the property on Auckland’s North Shore up to 12 levels high.

Campbell Barbour, New Zealand Retail Property Group general manager, said he was still reviewing the decision but said he was satisfied with it. “It signals there’s an understanding that the site is appropriate for the buildings and for intensification so it’s a long way from where this all started – that it was not appropriate,” he said.

“It creates an opportunity for the development of apartment living on the Milford site which can reflect the superb locational attributes,” he said, adding that it also supported the view that good, taller buildings would help resolve the city’s housing supply crisis.

Auckland Council officials said the company had not got as much height as it had wanted but a good compromise had been reached.

The decision on the scheme allows the towers on land now used for carparking at the shopping hub.

I’ve always liked the general idea behind the proposed Milford development as it not only makes better use of the large area the mall covers but putting more people in to the area is bound to help other local amenities more viable and the area more liveable for others. The reduction in height from what the developers were initially wanting from ~17 storeys to 12 storeys doesn’t seem too bad and it sounds like the developer is ok with it so it is likely to go ahead. From memory the plan was only for the buildings in the middle to be high with others closer to the edge of the site lower.

This is one of the images the developers were showing on the website from before this announcement so the height obviously will need to come down by a few levels.

Milford Stage 3

Also in the Herald yesterday was this article about how the councils caving to a few very vocal scaremongers is going to have some potentially big impacts on the ability to build more affordable housing.

Community housing providers say the latest draft planning rules would make affordable housing impossible in 85 per cent of Auckland.

Auckland Community Housing Network chairman Peter Jeffries says Auckland councillors dealt “a disastrous blow” to young couples seeking their first house by caving in to an intense campaign by existing homeowners against high-density housing in almost all suburban areas.

The current proposed Unitary Plan, approved a month before last October’s council elections, imposes a minimum of at least 200sq m of land per dwelling in all except 15 per cent of the Auckland urban area – the 5 per cent zoned for terraced housing and apartments, and 10 per cent in a three-storey “mixed housing urban” zone around suburban centres and main transport routes.

Mr Jeffries said that at current Auckland land values of around $1000 a sq m, home-buyers anywhere else would face land costs of at least $200,000 plus building costs of up to $160,000 for a one-bedroom unit or $200,000 for two bedrooms.

“Affordability is thrown out the window,” he said.

Mr Jeffries’ Community of Refuge Trust recently built eight one-bedroom flats in two new two-storey houses on a 1000sq m site next to the commercial area in Otahuhu.

That worked out at 125sq m of land per dwelling including pocket gardens and a shared barbecue area. It cost only $240,000 a dwelling including the land, enabling the units to rent at only $250 a week.

The example used shows quite well the impact on house prices that intensification can have. Sure it isn’t the mythical quarter acre section but then not everyone wants that and what’s more not everyone has the time or money to be able to maintain a section that size. Further not everyone wants to have to spend huge amounts of money on transport from far flung suburbs.

This is one of the key reasons it’s so important to put a submission in for the Unitary Plan and the deadline being next Friday (I need to get on to mine).

Lastly there also been news that Precinct Properties are also the front runner to build the Innovation Precinct at Wynyard Quarter.

Listed landlord Precinct Properties has just announced a big lift in bottom-line profit and that it is in exclusive negotiations to develop an exclusive part of Auckland’s waterfront.

Precinct has just announced that it made $39.5 million net profit after tax in the six months to December 31, up 67 per cent on the previous $23.6 million.

But Scott Pritchard, Precinct chief executive, also said the company was now in talks to work on one of the country’s largest urban regeneration projects on 1.1ha of land where about 46,000 sq m of floors space could be developed.

Precinct’s involvement in the Wynyard Quarter had not previously been disclosed but Pritchard said the company was working with Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development (ATEED) which has plans for a multi-building “innovation precinct”.

Precinct could become the development partner for the commercial offices within the quarter’s Innovation Precinct, he said.

The innovation precinct is just one part of a massive redevelopment Waterfront Auckland are currently working on with a neighbouring section also under negotiation that will include a number of apartments. They’re also working on a new hotel for the area.

Wynard Innovation Precinct map

Here’s some images of what the development could end up looking like (and if it does it would be a very very neat place).

Wynyard Central

Wynyard Central 2

Wynyard Central 3

Wynyard Central 4

Small can be good

Something strange seems to be happening at the Herald. Recently we have started to see an increasing number of stories that talk about the positives of apartments and higher density living which is completely opposite to the scaremongering we saw during the draft Unitary Plan debate last year. This one was in the herald yesterday – yes it’s the Herald on Sunday which is technically a different publication but we have seen it in the normal herald recently too.

Welcome to your new home. Step inside the flexible living space, which converts into an extra bedroom for guests and a home office during the week.

The two bedrooms also morph into multi-use spaces as needed – an office, a TV room, a studio or workroom. The walls are double insulated against the sound of the high-speed trains passing nearby, and the big, north-facing windows provide passive solar heating.

There’s no garage but you can hire a car just down the street and park your bike in the lock-up.

That aroma? Your neighbours are firing up a welcome barbecue down in the communal courtyard. Grab a lettuce from the rooftop garden for a salad and tuck in.

That’s one vision for how we could be living in 20 years. As demand grows for scarce city land, the population grows and property prices soar, it could well be a reality.

It’s not just a vision of our children’s future, either. It’s already the urban way of life in some parts of the world and has been for generations.

For some the idea of this won’t be appealing but for many others – like many in our younger generations – it’s an idea that doesn’t concern them and for many may even be desirable. in 2012 Patrick put together this wonderful post highlighting people who choose to live in an apartment.

Not everyone wants to live in apartments – and not everyone wants them next door, either. Submissions are open on Auckland Council’s proposed Unitary Plan, the planning document that replaces the region’s 13 existing district and regional plans. Much of the public reaction has been opposition to medium and high-density residential developments in the suburbs.

Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation focused on climate change, found itself aligned with the Property Council and developers in their support for more intensive housing. “The current housing stock doesn’t reflect the changing attitudes of young people in terms of what housing they want,” says spokesman Carlos Chambers.

“There’s certainly a willingness to take hits on things like having your own private garden or section.”

He says new housing models have benefits like healthier lifestyles, less traffic congestion, people walking more and feeling more connected to their communities.

One of the comments we frequently make when discussing density is that it is important not just to put lots of dwellings in but that access to amenities is key; otherwise it’s just amplifying the really negative aspects of the lower density development that is so common in the suburbs – especially those built after 1950. It’s a point picked up well in the next section.

Ingrained ideas may not be easy to shift. Auckland University professor of urban design Errol Haarhoff and lecturer in urban planning Lee Beattie studied developments in New Lynn, Onehunga and Albany. Residents felt they were a good place to live and raise children but half still aimed to one day live in a stand-alone house on a full section.

Haarhoff is sceptical of this aspiration, which he says would be unrealistic for many. “If you then went on to explain that if you had a house in Botany Downs or Orewa or one of those urban fringe subdivisions, your kids would no longer be able to walk to school, there would be no amenities, there wouldn’t even be a dairy within 5km, I imagine the response would be more considered.”

He says the key to creating quality apartment developments is thinking outside the home as much as in it: Where are the shops, parks, schools and cafes? Can you walk there?

“You’ve got to design viable neighbourhoods and communities,” he says. “You can go out there and build 3000 houses but you have to deliver the schools, shops, cafes and connections.”

Good examples of medium density housing exist, often in inner-city suburbs like Freemans Bay, Kingsland, Ponsonby and Mt Eden. The amenities in those neighbourhoods – cafes, shops and parks – help negate the need for more space at home. “The cafe downstairs in the apartment block is the extension of the living room,” he says.

“You go to my local park (in Grey Lynn) and it’s full of mums and dads playing with their kids, meeting each other. Those spaces are there to be used to create a sense of community instead of coming inside and closing the drawbridge. We’re going to reach a point where those big 200sq m houses on the edge of the city are going to start not finding a market.”

One part that did catch my attention was about the change in the size of dwellings over time.

Why, then, are Kiwis still so firmly attached to living big?

If you’re building a new house today, it is probably at least 50 per cent bigger than what your grandparents would have built.

On an international scale, New Zealand’s houses are huge, and keep getting bigger. The average floor area for a new build last year was 197sqm -in crowded Auckland it was 203sq m. Nationally, that’s up from 135sq min 1990 – equivalent to a couple of extra bedrooms.

The size of new-builds was steadily climbing until 2010, when a stutter in the property market saw a drop. In Auckland, it peaked at 217sq min 2010, then dipped to 209sqmin 2011 and to 203sqm last year.

That’s perhaps because the number of apartments built in the region took a steep upturn last year-from 616 in 2012 to 1059 in the year to November.

But even the apartments are roomy – the average size last year was 113sq m. Compare that to the 45sqm average dwelling size in Hong Kong, 76sqmin the UK, or 95sqmin Japan.

Bigger dwellings have been a trend in not just NZ but other countries too. Seeing how much I like charts, I thought I would show just how much the average dwelling size has changed the result is below.

Average Dwelling Size

The big dip in 02-08 period ties in with when larger numbers of apartments were being built. The graph below shows the size of Auckland houses and apartments compared to the rest of New Zealand. Due to some apartments averaging well above 100m² I assume the figures must be including the likes of terraced houses.

Average House Sizes

What I find most interesting is the average house size in Auckland was roughly identical compared to the rest of NZ from about 1999 through to mid-2004 before getting substantially larger just before the GFC. I’m guessing there are multiple reasons behind the trend and that one of those is due to a desire to get more out of the land which is generally more valuable in Auckland than other parts of New Zealand.

The data also includes information about subsections of Auckland based on the old council boundaries providing some very interesting information at a sub-regional level. The next graph shows the average dwelling size consented for the different areas of Auckland (I’m not sure why the North Shore is so spiky at times).

Auckland Dwelling Size

As would be expected, Auckland City saw the lowest sizes for some time which was primarily due to it being where the majority of apartments were built. As apartment construction dried up, the average size of houses increased.

The next graph shows the average house size. What I find interesting is how house sizes in the old Waitakere City Council area have been consistently lower than in the rest of Auckland while in the last 5 or so years the area with the largest homes being built has been on the North Shore.

Auckland House Size

Unfortunately while the data is available, it isn’t really possible to show apartments at this granularity clearly and the graph just looks like an even bigger mess of colours

It will be interesting to see where average house sizes go in the future.

A Short History of the Highrise

A really neat series of videos from the New York Times on the history of high rise apartments. It also includes some neat interactive features to explore some of the segments in more detail. Click through to watch it.

Histroy of High Rise

Building consents continue to rise

Some good news with numbers from Stats NZ showing that building consents continue to rise and even more so that there is a noticeable increase in apartment numbers. Here is the press release from Stats NZ

A boost in new apartment consents led to an 11 percent rise (seasonally adjusted) for new dwellings consented in November 2013, Statistics New Zealand said today.

Excluding apartments, the seasonally adjusted number of new houses fell 0.5 percent.

In unadjusted terms, 1,775 new houses and 492 apartments were consented in November 2013.

“November saw the highest number of apartments consented in a month since April 2008; however, apartment numbers usually fluctuate from month to month,” industry and labour statistics manager Blair Cardno said.

Auckland accounted for 34 percent of the consented houses and apartments in November, and Canterbury accounted for 24 percent.

“The trend for new houses has been increasing since early 2011, and is at its highest level since early 2008,” Mr Cardno said.

And here are the total numbers for Auckland dating back 1994 showing that consent numbers are recovering but still are a long way below their peak in mid-2004.

Auckland Consents Issued - 2

What’s also noticeable in the data is that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of consents issued in apartments with the annual number being approved over 3 times what they were just a few years ago – but that’s still only 20% of what they were at the end of 2004. Unsurprisingly most apartments that have been consented in the old Auckland City Council area with it accounting for 48% of those consented over the last year, 54% over the last 5 years and 71% over the last 10 years.

You may also remember the council has said there needs to be an average of an extra 10,000 dwellings a year to support the population growth expected in Auckland. We’re still a way off that yet but at least things are going in the right direction.

I almost fell out of my seat when I read this article from the herald this morning on the numbers with them including a number of positive comments on apartments including these ones.

Apartments could be the answer for financially strapped Aucklanders trying to get into the property market as the number of apartment building projects soars.


Real Estate Institute chief executive Helen O’Sullivan said she had seen a surge in apartments on the market in Auckland and expected the trend to continue.

“There is plenty of demand in Auckland for property and most people are looking for properties in locations which are relatively central.

“The reality is, given how little space there is left in those areas, to build on any scale they need to be in apartment-style developments.”

Apartments were no longer “horrible, ugly boxes” like many previous developments but were often comfortable, attractive places to live which were generally cheaper than stand-alone houses.

That’s a far cry from the anti apartment hysteria they ran during the Unitary Plan debate and I agree with Helen that the quality has improved quite a bit in recent times. This is noticeable on many of the apartments we have seen pop up recently and we’ve created a development tracker to keep an eye on them. There are over 3,500 dwellings that are under construction or have been proposed.

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.


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

Next batch of SHAs to be confirmed

A few months ago the first Special Housing Areas (SHAs) were announced. The SHA’s are the result of the Housing Accord between the government and the council where for specially selected areas the Unitary Plan rules come in to effect straight away and which the council will have a fast tracked consenting process. The first batch of SHAs was notable due to being almost all Greenfield developments, some of which were outside of the existing urban limits (which gets replaced with the more flexible Rural Urban Boundary in the Unitary Plan). In particular two of the biggest SHAs were at Huapai where land for 2,000 dwellings had been included and at Wesley College north of Pukekohe where 1,000 dwellings are to go in.

Later today the second batch of SHAs will be announced however we have the details already. The makeup of them is quite different to that of the first batch with many of them well within the existing urban area while the Greenfield developments are ones that have generally been signalled for a long time so not particularly a surprise or concern. I don’t know just yet how many dwellings are planned for each site but I will update that once they have been announced.

Belmont, Pukekohe, 720+ homes – 90 hectares

This is a pretty big development at around 19 hectares larger than what is proposed at Huapai so potentially could hold many thousands of dwellings. The land is a mix of Mixed Housing Suburban and Future Urban

Belmont SHA

Clinker Place and Thom Street, New Lynn, 780+ homes – 13.7 hectares

This is quite a decent sized brownfields redevelopment and should hopefully be quite popular being within easy walking distance of New Lynn. The land is zoned a mix of Metropolitan Centre and Terraced Housing and Apartment Buildings so we could quite a few apartments here – although the SHA legalisation only applies if the developer buildings with a maximum height of 6 storeys so we won’t be seeing towers like the nearby Merchant Quarter. The one thing that did surprise me about this one is the land to the south of Margan Ave that has been included, is that Housing NZ land?

Clinker Place and Thom Street SHA

George Terrace, Onehunga, 50+ homes – 2.4 hectares

Another brownfields SHA with the land this time being used for commercial purposes. The zoning here is Mixed Use which is the same as all of the commercial land to the west of Onehunga Mall. I imagine this development will be the first of many in the area to be redeveloped.

George Terrace, Onehunga SHA

Hingaia, 2500+ homes – 478 hectares

This is by far the biggest SHA to date (Wesley College is 277.7 hectares) so is likely to end up home to thousands and thousands of dwellings. The land is zoned Future Urban however I believe this development has been talked about for some time.

Hingara SHA

Khyber Pass, Newmarket, 50+ homes – 0.4 hectares

This SHA is perhaps one of the most interesting due to its proximity to both the central city and neighbours to a train station. Of course just a few hundred metres down the road from here will also be Auckland University’s new Newmarket campus. The zoning here is partially Mixed use and partially THAB.

Khyber Pass SHA

Lake Pupuke Drive, Takapuna, 70+ homes – 0.7 hectares

Another redevelopment site, the zoning here is all THAB.

Lake Pupuke Drive SHA

Northern Tamaki, 1800+ homes – 204 hectares

This massive SHA will almost certainly be to allow Housing NZ to speed up their plans to redevelop much of their land in the area. There is a mix of zoning in this SHA.

Northern Tamaki SHA

Royal Road, Massey, 108+ homes – 10.3 hectares

This SHA is next to the McWhirter Block SHA which was approved in the first round and which covers the rest of the green land to the south of Westgate. This area is zoned Mixed Housing Urban.

Royal Rd SHA

Scott Point, Sunderland Precinct, Hobsonville and surrounds, 2592+ Homes – 283 hectares

Another SHA that isn’t a surprise. It is Greenfield development however if the quality of the dwellings holds up to that of the existing dwellings (and I see no reason why it wouldn’t) then this will be quite a good development for the city.

Scott Point, Sunderland Precinct SHA

Silverdale, 876 homes – 91.0 hectares

Another development that has been a long time in planning so no surprises here.

Silverdale SHA

Trent Street, Avondale, 29 homes – 0.9 hectares

I’ve always been surprised by the size of this site. It is zoned for THAB

Trent St SHA

p.s. Auckland Council, might pay to updated your GIS viewer as the Avondale station symbol  is in the wrong place

All up this batch of SHAs seems a lot better than the original ones with a much more balanced mix of brownfield and Greenfield developments – even if the Greenfield SHAs take up most of the area. Hopefully in the next batch all of the SHAs will be more urban ones.

Note: I’ll update this post later once more information is available.

Update: Have updated the post as per the press release from Housing Minister Nick Smith.

Another development announced and launching our Development Tracker

As the saying goes “when it rains it pours” and that seems to be the case with developments at the moment as developers try to make up lost ground following on from the global financial crisis. We have seen heaps of apartment building proposals pop up in the last two months it has been hard keeping up and now another new one has appeared.

Called Park Residences it is located on the corner of Albert and Swanson St in the CBD and backs on to St Patricks Square. It will have 225 apartments, although I’m not sure how big they are. From what I can tell it is about 30 storeys high.

Park Residences

And here it is from the intersection of Albert St and Swanson St.

Park Residences from Albert St

And here is what it is meant to look like from St Patricks Square.

Park Residences from St Patricks Square

There are some details which look like they could be done better, like the look of the podium floors and how the building interacts with the square however in general it seems like a nice building.

With so many developments appearing once again, and probably a lot more to come in the future I thought I would set up a page on the blog to keep track of them all. You can see it at the top of the page and the first cut of the list is below however let us know if anything is missing or needs to change. There are a couple of developments that I couldn’t find the numbers for but there are there are 3,500 -4,000 dwellings on the list and I suspect there will be a few more to come yet.


City: 132 Vincent St - 62 Apartments – Tawera Group – A conversion of and old office building to apartments

Under Construction

City: Sugartree Stage 1 – 148 apartments – Lily Nelson Ltd - A series of apartment buildings being developed around Cook and Nelson St. Completion late 2014

Grafton: 8 Nugent St - 56 apartments – Neil Properties Ltd – Part of a mixed development including office and retail space.

Parnell: 28 Balfour Rd - 30 apartments – Not a lot of details but appears to be aimed at high end of the market.

Grey Lynn: The Isaac - 55 apartments – Ockham Investments – A lower rise development (four stories) that is already well under construction.

Herne Bay - Vert Apartments - 14 apartments – Location Group – Low rise apartments in Herne Bay

New Lynn: Merchant Quarter Condominiums - 109 apartments – Tasman Cook – 10 levels of apartments above a new car parking building and medical clinic development right next to the train station.

Manukau: M Central - unknown – The conversion of an existing office building (ex IRD) to apartments and retail.


City: Sugartree Stage 2 & 3 – 220 & 195 apartments – Lily Nelson Ltd - A series of apartment buildings being developed around Cook and Nelson St. Proposed completion late 2015 & 2016

City: Queens Residences - 272 apartments – Conrad Properties – A couple of towers on Airdale St.

City: Park Residences - 225 apartments - Conrad Properties – 30 storey tower on the corner of Albert and Swanson St

City: Club Life Victoria - unknown – Fresh Reality – An apartment development on the western edge of the CBD aimed solely at baby boomers.

City: Soto - 80 apartments – 18 Storey apartment building in Liverpool St.

City Fringe: Urba Residences - 143 apartments - Conrad Properties - Apartment building replacing an old low rise office building

City Fringe: Hopetown Residences - 79 apartments - Tawera Group - A conversion of and old office building to apartments

City Fringe: The Saint - 20 apartments – Fresh Reality - A great looking low rise development in Newton.

Ponsonby: Shoji - 12 apartments – Fresh Reality – Apartments as part of the Vinegar Lane development

Newmarket: 88 Broadway - 165 apartments – Equinox Group – An apartment development above the Newmarket railway junction.

Grey Lynn - The Square - 83 apartments – On the Gt North Rd ridgeline, not many details available at this stage.

Hobsonville Point: Brickworks - 60 apartments – Tasman Cook – Low rise apartments with retail on the ground floor.

Browns Bay: Norfolk Apartments - 42 apartments – Tasman Cook - Low rise apartments with retail on the ground floor.

Orakei: Orakei Village - 300 apartments and 100 town houses – Equinox Group – A series of apartments, town houses and retail on Orakei point above the rail station.

Takapuna: Merge - 90 apartments – Location Group – Mixed use development with a ton of carparking that the council will operate.

Rosedale: Apollo Square - 154 apartments – Mixed development on the North Shore

Albany: Tenor - 41 apartments – Mixed use development, not a lot of details

Orewa: Ocean Point - 28 apartments- Low rise apartments.

Whangaparaoa: The Link - 44 apartments - Mixed use development but not a huge amount of details.

Bayswater: Marina Development - 125 town houses – Housing being developed on “wasted land” at the Bayswater marina. Currently used for car parking.

Greenlane: Alexandra Park - 150 apartments – Trotting club to develop some of its land into low rise apartment buildings.

Mt Wellington: Springpark - 420 apartments/townhouses – Brownfield development turning old plant nursery into low rise town houses and apartments

Herald says people want sprawl …. ummm

The Unitary Plan is definitely far from perfect but is a start in setting out how the city will develop in the future. I say a start as we will likely to need to be revisit the plan in a few years time to allow for more development as in the current version much of the city suffered the fate of elected representatives getting nervous and trying to appease the NIMBYs as the local body elections loomed (with the exception of the West Auckland local boards who thankfully went the opposite way). This was a point also made by Patrick Fontein at an event I attended a month ago at Construkt.

One of the biggest issues facing the plan is that it contains lots of technical details that most of the general public are simply not going to be interested enough to read about it. So for most the only experience of the plan has been the largely boiled down sound bites from the likes of Bernard Orsman which amounted to scaremongering that massive apartment buildings were about to sprout out of the ground like grass on berms after a few weeks of uncut spring growth.

So yesterday it was interesting to see Herald have run a poll about the unitary plan however in typical herald fashion they have completely misrepresented the results.

A sizeable section of Aucklanders appear to prefer more urban sprawl to higher buildings, despite Mayor Len Brown’s goal of a compact city.

A Herald-DigiPoll survey of 500 people has found more of them deeming the proposed Unitary Plan rule-book unnecessary than those prepared to give unqualified support to more multi-storey buildings and smaller average section sizes.

Only 18.3 per cent believe the plan is the best way to deal with population growth, and will make Auckland a better place to live.

That compares with 28 per cent who said the plan was unnecessary, and that the Auckland Council should let the city grow outwards instead of allowing more high-rises.

But 23.4 per cent supported the plan in principle while believing some proposed changes were going too far.

And 28.6 per cent were undecided, saying they didn’t know enough to comment

So what this is really telling us is that only 28% of people actually favour sprawl. The rest either support the plan as is, support the ideas behind the plan or are unsure. Also note that the figures given don’t add up to 100%, who knows where the missing 1.7% is. The issue of how the numbers are interpreted is picked up on David Gibbs from Construkt.

Urban designer David Gibbs, director of Auckland architecture and master-planning firm Construkt, said the combination of strong and conditional support for the plan, totalling 41.7 per cent, was “not too bad over a very complex issue” but called on the council to do a better job of explaining what was at stake.

“What people are struggling to understand is we are going through quite a societal shift in which almost 50 per cent of our households are one or two-person households,” he told the Weekend Herald.

“So we’ve got a need for 50 per cent of our housing to be for other than nuclear families.”

Mr Gibbs said the type of accommodation suitable for small households, either apartments or terraced housing, were unlikely to be built on city outskirts, where an Australian study calculated the environmental and economic costs of providing new infrastructure and transport links were two to eight times higher than building inside urban limits.

“I think the people of Auckland aren’t getting their minds out of their own suburban situation by thinking: where are our children going to live, or where in fact am I going to live if I become widowed or when the children move out.”

I think David makes some extremely good points. The plan is about setting Auckland up for the future and the big growth that is happening is in one or two person households and many of those may not want the mythical ¼ acre section and big house. Something Dick Quax seems to think we all want.

But councillor Dick Quax, who opposes the Unitary Plan, said the poll provided more evidence that Mr Brown’s claim that Aucklanders loved the idea of the compact city was “a great exaggeration”.

“As it becomes more clear to people what the compact city actually means, they are deciding that really, they don’t want that.”

I guess someone should tell the developers of all of the apartments and terraced houses coming onto the market that they are going to be building things that people don’t want, despite many apparently selling quite well.

It’s also interesting to compare the discussions about the unitary plan and the extremely restrictive zoning with what is happening in San Francisco as pointed out in this article by The Atlantic Cities.

My friends keep moving to Oakland. Gone from San Francisco for greener pastures and cheaper rents, because it’s just gotten too hard, by which I really mean too expensive. Their move signals that something has gone terribly wrong in this most progressive of American cities.

In some ways, we came by the problem innocently. San Francisco had the good fortune to be one of the very few 19th century industrial cities to successfully make the transition to a new, post-industrial economic base. It wasn’t just bohemians who set up shop here—all kinds of entrepreneurs and creative business people decided to call San Francisco home. As wave after wave of older industrial jobs moved out of town, new types of work were created to replace them.

At the same time, San Francisco was a great place to live. Partly from historical inheritance and partly from the work of activists who chose to make the city the focus of their activism, the city remained a walkable, urban paradise compared to most of America.

A great quality of life and a lot of high-paying professional jobs meant that a lot of people wanted to live here. And they still do.

But the city did not allow its housing supply to keep up with demand. San Francisco was down-zoned (that is, the density of housing or permitted expansion of construction was reduced) to protect the “character” that people loved. It created the most byzantine planning process of any major city in the country. Many outspoken citizens did—and continue to do—everything possible to fight new high-density development or, as they saw it, protecting the city from undesirable change.

Unfortunately, it worked: the city was largely “protected” from change. But in so doing, we put out fire with gasoline. Over the past two decades, San Francisco has produced an average of 1,500 new housing units per year. Compare this with Seattle (another 19th century industrial city that now has a tech economy), which has produced about 3,000 units per year over the same time period (and remember it’s starting from a smaller overall population base). While Seattle decided to embrace infill development as a way to save open space at the edge of its region and put more people in neighborhoods where they could walk, San Francisco decided to push regional population growth somewhere else.

Whatever the merits of this strategy might be in terms of preserving the historic fabric of the city, it very clearly accelerated the rise in housing prices. As more people move to the Bay Area, the demand for housing continues to increase far faster than supply.

This all sounds eerily similar to what is happening, particularly in the city fringe suburbs.