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.

Unitary Plan Day 3

We are now onto Day 3 on the Unitary Plan process.

On now is the last major topic which is zoning. This includes Rural Urban Boundary changes, including contentious areas like Okura. There are also ‘catch-all’ votes to accept the panel zoning in the South, West, North, Rodney and Central.  After that there is just technical amendments and votes on designations to be done.

This morning so far:

  • Residential rules have passed. Officer proposals to shift land use consent requirements from 5 to 3 dwellings were passed without debate.
  • The zoning for the South, West and Rodney has already passed, though a few exceptions where office changes voted on.
  • The council rejected the panel’s zoning for Crater Hill 10 – 9. This opens this up for Environment Court appeal.
  • The Council accepted the zoning for a Clevedon Waterways Development that the staff reccomended to be turned down.

Unitary Plan updates – Day 2

We are now onto day 2 of the marathon Auckland Council Governing Body meeting that is voting on the recommendations of the Independent Hearings Panel on the Unitary Plan.

The meeting is currently on a lunch break and will resume at 1.10pm. Check back at various points this afternoon, as I am planning to update this post after key votes occur.

For a rundown of yesterdays proceedings see yesterdays post, as well as reports in The Spinoff and Radio New Zealand.

Key issues this morning including the Rural Urban boundary, mangroves and various Regional Policy Statement issues.

Major  decisions made this today so far include:

  • Accepting the panels recommendation to shift the Rural Urban boundary from the Regional Level to the District Level, which makes it possible for private developers to propose changes. See coverage from the herald here. Council officers claimed that protections in the policies will help ensure growth is well managed.
  • A more restrictive approach for removing mangroves
  •  Recommendations on Ports of Auckland rules accepted
  • Fascinating debate over minimum apartment sizes. Council officers suggested reinstating a minimum size of 35m2 in the city centre zone. Cathy Casey & Linda Cooper called for minimum sizes, & made arguments that everyone should have the room for a pet. Dick Quax, Arthur Anae and Penny Webster made good arguments in favour of not having minimum sizes. They noted that people could make their own decisions, and some would want to live in micro apartments of 20 -30 m2, noting that the city centre allows for a range of different lifestyle choices. In the end the motion to reinstate minimum apartment sizes was passed 17 – 3, with Dick Quax, APenny Webster & George Wood as dissenting voices. However the officers did note that applicants could apply for a Resource Consent to go lower and show the apartment was designed well.

Issues for discussion this afternoon include residential rules (minimum apartment sizes outside the CBD & resource consent thresholds), design standards & assessments and potentially residential zoning if time permits.

 

 

 

 

Repost: Why I’m optimistic New Zealand can solve its housing troubles

This is a repost of an article I wrote last December explaining why I’m optimistic about housing affordability in Auckland – and New Zealand’s ability to solve problems in general. I think my optimism has held up reasonably well. Since then, New Zealand’s conversation on housing affordability and urban planning has matured in some important ways – crystallising in the response to the Independent Hearings Panel’s recommendations on the Auckland Unitary Plan.

As Toby Manhire observed, “the most remarkable thing is the response… on the whole it’s been incredibly positive”. Reasonable people could have reservations about aspects of the IHP’s recommendations, but most of the views I’ve seen recognise that the finished plan is a good step forward to solving the housing challenges the city faces.

Meanwhile, the UK has voted to Brexit the EU and a large share of Americans – possibly even a majority if we’re unlucky – are planning on voting for Trump. So New Zealand seems to be ahead of the curve on pragmatic problem-solving. Yay!

What’s the problem?

Housing is expensive in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, where median house prices have increased fivefold since the early 1990s (in nominal terms). Roughly half of this increase has occurred in the last four years, which is causing quite a bit of concern:

Interest.co.nz Aucklan stratified house price index 1992-2015

Housing markets are complex – prices are influenced by both demand-side and supply-side variables. As a result, it can be difficult to tell a single, simple story about why prices have gone up or down in any given year. Take the recent rise in Auckland house prices. Some people argue that it’s a financial bubble (a demand-side explanation); others blame high migration (demand) or distortionary tax policies (demand); and others cite inflexible planning rules (a supply-side explanation) or low construction productivity (supply).

Although short-term dynamics can be mysterious, elasticity of housing supply is the main long-term driver of housing market outcomes in a growing city. The easier it is to build new dwellings in the right places in response to increased demand, the less upward pressure there will be on prices.

The empirical evidence suggests that housing supply in Auckland is slightly inelastic – somewhere in the range of 0.7 to 0.9. This isn’t horrible, but nor is it sufficient to get housing supply in balance with demand.

Severe geographic constraints – Auckland’s harbours and steep hillsides – appear to be an underlying driver of the city’s inelastic housing supply. In this context, settling for average urban planning policies means getting a limited supply of housing and high prices. Consequently, we have to make it much easier to use scarce land efficiently. That means reforming our approach to planning regulations. In the past, we adopted land-hungry policies like minimum parking requirements or severe building height limits without thinking through their ill effects. That has costs, and we need to do better.

Auckland is not the only city coping with high housing prices and a lack of supply – you see similar problems in places like London, New York, San Francisco, and Sydney. However, I would bet that New Zealand will do a better job sorting out its housing affordability issues than other places. In fact, I am betting on it! I’m renting in Auckland, which means that I bear all of the downside and none of the upside of spiraling housing prices.

There are three reasons for my optimism:

1. Our proven track record of policy reform

Let’s start with a pat on the back. Having lived in New Zealand, the United States, and Nigeria, I’d say that Kiwis are, by and large, pretty reasonable when it comes to public policy. We’re not very corrupt, which removes one major source of inefficiency. We generally recognise that as a small, distant trade-exposed country we can’t afford to do things inefficiently. And, due to New Zealand’s small size, there’s usually no need to over-complicate things.

Policymaking anywhere will always be subject to cognitive and professional biases – people screw things up, and sometimes it takes a while to sort it out – but New Zealanders don’t seem want totally irrational or insane policies. Unlike the US, say:

Possibly as a consequence, New Zealand has a record of reforming policies that aren’t working, either incrementally or in one go. The classic example of this is in trade policy. From the 1930s to the 1980s, the New Zealand government oversaw an extensive set of import controls. Te Ara describes this policy:

Faced with declining export returns and a foreign exchange crisis, a Labour-led government introduced foreign exchange controls and import licensing regulations in 1938. The regulations prohibited the import of any goods except under licence or where exempted.

Importers had to apply to government for both an import licence and the foreign exchange needed for purchases. The quota – the amount that could be imported with a licence – was set on the basis of imports the previous year.

Just as restrictions on the efficient use of land produce windfall gains for landowners while foisting large costs on renters and new home-buyers, import licensing created fortunes for some manufacturers while making most consumers worse off. As a consequence, after experimenting with some liberalisation of trade policy in the 1970s and 1980s, the remaining import controls were swept away in the late 1980s.

Recent changes in transport policy also demonstrate our ability to reform bad policies. Over the last decade, there have been some important, although undoubtedly incremental, moves to reform our inefficient monomodal urban transport system.

For example, last year I reviewed a 2010 research research report on deficiencies in NZ’s public transport planning and operations – and was surprised to find that almost all of its recommendations are being implemented in Auckland, Christchurch, and other places. Since 2010, Auckland has:

  • Established a public agency (AT) that can plan and deliver a PT network and supporting infrastructure
  • Developed and begun implementing a frequent, connected network that satisfies best practice network design principles
  • Reformed bus contract models
  • Implemented integrated ticketing (and soon, integrated fares)
  • Started to build bus interchanges and bus lanes.

New Network Model

This is a big deal, but it’s hardly the only story in town. How about the fact that central and local governments are now coming to the party on urban cycleways? For the first time ever, significant investments are going towards one of New Zealand’s “missing modes”.

We now have an opportunity to take the same approach to urban planning – reform what isn’t working and get better outcomes.

2. The structure of our governments

The current structure of New Zealand’s governments makes it easier to implement reforms and make them stick. We have two key advantages in this area that offer a smoother path to policy reform.

First, New Zealand’s government has a unitary structure rather than a federal one. This means that most powers are concentrated in central government rather than distributed among multiple layers of government. Political centralisation certainly isn’t all good – in the past it’s often led to a perverse situation in which urban transport policy is being designed by rural politicians.

But in this case, it makes policy changes much easier. If central government were to, say, issue a National Policy Statement on urban development or rewrite sections of the Resource Management Act (which governs the development and implementation of urban planning rules), it would lead to changes in the way that local governments regulate. That option isn’t usually available in federal systems.

Because any proposal to liberalise planning rules inevitably creates controversy at local body election time, central government involvement can potentially assist in getting important changes over the line.

Second, the creation of the unified Auckland Council ensures that all growth tradeoffs – and the negative consequences of preventing growth – are internalised within a single council. Gone are the days when councils could simply refuse to zone for growth and assume that it would become someone else’s problem instead. Now a single council is responsible for sorting the region’s problems out.

You can see the results in the Unitary Plan – a document that’s not perfect (no plan is!) but which takes some important steps forward. For example, it removes MPRs from the centre zones, which are intended to accommodate a mix of business and residential uses, cuts back minimum lot sizes throughout much of the city, and creates some midrise residential zones.

Amalgamation does come at a potential cost to Tiebout competition, in which adjacent councils compete for growth. But I suspect that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. As the San Francisco Bay Area shows, local government fragmentation doesn’t necessarily result in more housing supply – the Bay Area has 93 local governments but building permits have still been falling since the 1970s.

New Zealand’s unitary government structure and the creation of a consolidated Auckland Council create the potential for “virtuous cycles” in which local and central government egg each other on to improve urban planning regulations and processes. To date, this has led to things like the Special Housing Areas, which aims to ease consenting in selected areas, and the Unitary Plan hearings process, which is intended to review the plan and allow it to be implemented faster.

The hearings process, in particular, has encouraged Auckland Council to think carefully about its proposed zoning rules. For example, following instructions from the hearings panel, the council is considering rezoning some areas to enable more housing. This is an important step towards recovering from the ill effects of past down-zoning.

FrameWORK_Housing_ZoningCapacity

Down-zoning in Los Angeles (Source: Re:Code LA)

3. The political agenda

Lastly, housing affordability has hit the political radar at a national level. There is an increasing consensus that reforms to urban planning rules are a key part of the solution. The latest Productivity Commission report on using land for housing outlined some key policy changes, and politicians from several major parties have subsequently endorsed a number of these recommendations. For example:

In other words, there is likely to be cross-party support for sensible reforms to urban planning that build on the good work that’s already been done by central and local government.

Globally speaking, it’s somewhat unique – and fortuitous – to have so much attention placed on urban planning issues at both a local and central government level. For example, in the US, a few economists in the Obama administration are starting to talk about the drawbacks of overly restrictive planning regulations. But President Obama has very little ability to influence zoning in San Francisco or New York.

New Zealand is different. We are generally willing to reform policies that aren’t working for us, we’ve got government structures that can facilitate that reform, and our elected representatives are paying attention to the problems and potential solutions. Those seem like good reasons for optimism!

Unitary Plan debate live updates – end of Day 1

The Auckland Council starts debating the recommendations of the Independent Hearings Panel on the Notified Unitary Plan this morning. This will be a standing blog post that collates the latest updates on the process. As this stage the debate is set down for 3 days, and the Auckland Council has a statutory deadline of the end of next week to notify their recommendations. However this deadline can be extended for 20 working days if requested by the Minister of the Environment.

Thursday’s agenda:

A number of key debates should come up on Thursday. This includes:

  • Design Assessments
  • Shifting the Rural-Urban boundary from the Regional Plan to District Plan (allows private companies to apply to make changes)
  • City Centre rules (including the port)
  • Residential Zone rules (including minimum dwelling size)

 

Wednesday in brief:

The first order of business was to shift consideration of the details of the Unitary Plan from the Auckland Development Committee to the Governing Body. This was after Independent Maori Statutory Board members agreed that this was the best way forward.

The Governing Body meeting started on an interesting note with Dick Quax suggesting the council adopt the whole of the IHP’s recommendations without debate. However councilors like Penny Hulse & Chris Darby noted their were some technical mistakes that needed to be fixed, and also a need to have debate in the open. The Quax motion lost 13 to 7.

The first set of recommendations to accept all areas of the plan where the officers had noted there were no major shifts from the council’s position passed without any trouble. The council moved onto recommendations where the panel proposed some changes. Their were some small debates early in the afternoon, notably the fate of Civic Administration building (confirmed as Category A). Later in the afternoon several key debates came up. The first was the IHP’s proposed rejection of places of significance to Mana Whenua. The IHP recommendations were confirmed 12 to 6. The last major debate of the day was over the proposed removal of the 1944 heritage overlay that required consent for the removal of any building built before 1944. After a bit of back and forth this also passed 15 to 5.

For an alternative (and much more interesting take) have a look at this Spinoff article that sums up the day, and a most unlikely champion for the Unitary Plan

What the hell just happened at the Unitary Plan hearings?

 

More details of Wednesdays’s proceedings:

Continue reading Unitary Plan debate live updates – end of Day 1

Unitary Plan mythbusting

Since the release of the Independent Hearing Panel’s recommendations on the Unitary Plan there has been a huge amount of information circulating about what the changes are. Some of this is understandable given the complexity of the process and the legalistic nature of planning, while some of this seems to be deliberate misinformation spread by those with an agenda to push.

Therefore, I thought it is useful to dive into the process and rules of the Unitary Plan and clarify a few issues that keep coming up.

Myth 1: The Unitary Plan process is undemocratic!

Fact: The Unitary Plan has undergone an extremely intensive public process, with many opportunities for public input in submissions. Firstly of course the Unitary Plan follows the lead of the Auckland Plan which was consulted upon heavily 4 to 5 years ago.

Since then we have had:

  • Public consultation on the Draft Unitary Plan in from March to May 2013
  • Submissions on the Notified Unitary Plan from September 2013
  • Further submissions in mid 2014, allowing people to respond to any other parties submissions
  • Independent Hearings Panel hearings from September 2014 to May 2016. This included pre-hearings meetings, expert conferencing, submission of evidence, responses to others evidence as well as presentations to the panel.

This public process resulted in:

  • 249 public meetings in making the draft unitary plan
  • 21,210 pieces of written feedback on the draft plan
  • 9443 public submissions and 3951 further submissions on the Proposed Unitary Plan
  • 249 days of hearings in front of the Independent Hearings Panel
  • 10,500 pieces of evidence received by the Independent Hearings Panel.

Myth 2: All heritage and character rules are gone. Our treasured suburbs and centres will soon be destroyed!

Fact: The Recommended Unitary Plan retains all the current heritage and character protection. For example the old Residential 1 & 2 areas (in places like Ponsonby, Mt Eden & Eposom) are now Single House zone with Special Character overlays. Character town centres have character rules like under the current plans, and this is the same with historic buildings. Some historic buildings have been added to the schedule, such as the old Farmers building as Category B, and the Civic Administration building as Category A.

Man concerned about Unitary Plan stands in front of villa protected by Unitary Plan

Man concerned about Unitary Plan stands in front of villa protected by Unitary Plan

 

Myth 3: The Unitary Plan removes all rules from residential developments and lets developers do what they want.

Fact. The Unitary Plan retains many of the core rules from our current residential zones. These are the rules from the Mixed Housing suburban zones with very similar rules in the Mixed Housing Urban and Terrace Housing and Apartments zones.

  • Height in relation to boundary (buildings within a 2.5m height plus 45 degree envelope)
  • 3 metre front yard & 1 metre side yards (10m by streams & by the coast)
  • Impervious area a maximum of 60%
  • Landscaped area of 40%
  • Outlooks space of 6 metres from habitable rooms
  • A complex set of rules ensuring daylight access to rooms by controlling the height of the building opposite given a certain depth from the window
  • Outdoor living space of 20m2 for ground floor units, and 5m2 (one bedroom) or 8m2  (2 or more bedrooms) for dwellings on the first floor or above.

Developments of 5 or more dwellings require a resource consent under the Land Use rules. However developments under 5 dwellings will still require a subdivision consent (whether this is traditional freehold subdivision, unit title or cross-lease). So unless a new development is being built on existing lots, they will require a resource consent.

Of course this also relates to the myth the Unitary Plan will allow “unlimited density”. Of course the rules above will control the density to a significant impact, as will the economics of land development.

Myth 4: The Unitary Plan will allow high rises to sprout all over Auckland. We will soon look like an Asian megacity!!!

(yes a few commentators have actually made this outrageous comparison)!!

Fact: A building height of 2 storeys will still predominate across Auckland. Only the Terrace Housing & Apartment Zone allows more that 3 stories, and this is mostly a 4-5 storey zone, with a few exceptions near Metropolitan Centres.

Will Taylor has done some great data visualisation using the zone data that helps highlight this.

Residential Development up to 2 storeys:

Will Taylor up to 3

Residential Development greater that 3 storeys:

WillTaylor

Similarly Aaron Schiff has put a series of maps together showing all of the overlays and zones that create restrictions on building. Some prevent development all together, others just restrict what that development can be. All restrictions combined are shown in the map below while he breaks them down in individually on his blog too.

Aaron Schiff - restrictions map

 

Myth 5: Auckland Council will not have any control over the design of developments.

The key change made in regards to Urban Design was the removal of the specific need for design statements for developments of 5 or more dwellings. This was part of a broader change that removed references to all specific assessments, as the IHP said these could be requested as part of the standard Assessment of Environmental Effects. However the council will still be able influence control of the design of development where 5 or more dwellings are proposed. For example the assessment criteria for both the Mixed Housing Suburban & Urban Zone says the council should assess developments of more than 4 dwellings on the following matters :

(a) the effects on the neighbourhood character, residential amenity and the surrounding residential area from all of the following:

(i) building intensity, scale, location, form and appearance;

(ii) traffic; and

(iii) design of parking and access.

This suggests that while urban design assessments are not mandatory, the council will still be able to assess the urban design impacts of proposals of developments with 5 or more dwellings.

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…

What, specifically, do you want?

I think reasonable people could disagree about the Independent Hearings Panel’s recommendations on the Auckland Unitary Plan. In fact, a large number of generally reasonable people have spent a lot of the last two years disagreeing about the appropriate shape of the plan.

That’s all part of the democratic process. It doesn’t necessarily produce a perfect outcome on every issue, but on average it’s pretty reasonable. I expect that people will continue to critique, relitigate and change various pieces of the plan – that, too, is part of the process. We should welcome the ongoing debate.

What is not tenable at this point, however, is to criticise without being concrete, or to insist that we reject the entire plan and go back to – what? Those are not meaningful positions to espouse at the end of a multi-year planning and hearings process with many, many opportunities for community input. Nor do they offer anything positive for solving Auckland’s housing crisis, which is turning families out into the street for want of a home.

Brian Rudman’s column on the Unitary Plan recommendations in last week’s NZ Herald was, unfortunately, an example of a substance-free critique that doesn’t add much to the discussion. He writes:

There’s a cargo cult hysteria erupting over the magical cure-all abilities of Auckland Council’s proposed unitary plan, as revised by the Government-appointed hearings panel.

A broad church of true believers, including such odd bed-fellows as the Sallies and property developers, seems convinced the panel has discovered the holy grail which will conjure up affordable housing for all. They’re now ordering councillors to abdicate their responsibilities and tick the recommendations through unread.

Named the Coalition for More Homes, they’ve written to councillors thundering, “the time for deliberating is over, the process has been followed, it’s time to get on with it”.

At the risk of suffering elder abuse, dare I point out they are wrong. Like them, I’m shocked by the housing crisis. But I’ll be equally shocked if our elected representatives suddenly panic and get swept along with the mob’s obsession with housing at the expense of all the other ingredients that go into making a world-class city.

So what does Rudman want? It’s not at all clear. He certainly doesn’t think that councillors should adopt the Unitary Plan as is – hence his use of hyperbolic phrases like “cargo cult hysteria” and “the mob’s obsession with housing”. But what does he want them to do instead? Should they:

  • Vote to accept some of the IHP’s recommendations, and reject others? (If so, which ones?)
  • Vote to refuse all the recommendations, and default back to a completely different plan? (If so, which plan?)

In the absence of clear suggestions about what specific parts of the Unitary Plan he thinks are unacceptable, and how he thinks the city should proceed, Rudman’s column doesn’t add anything positive to the debate.

To be fair to Rudman, he does offer two or three specific examples of things he doesn’t like about the IHP’s recommendations. For instance, he really doesn’t like the approach they’ve taken to development on a volcanic cone in Papatoetoe:

Like despoilers from another age, the panel has also rezoned precious Crater Hill, on the edge of the Manukau Harbour at Papatoetoe, as suitable for up to 575 houses, either inside this privately owned volcano or on its outer slopes. This, at the request of the owners.

Geologist Bruce Hayward says Crater Hill is the second best preserved of the southern mountains after Mangere Mountain. It is ranked eighth most valued volcano in a report supporting Auckland’s attempt at World Heritage status for the volcanic field. Says Dr Hayward: “Welcome to the new world of more housing subdivisions, no matter what the cost.”

This is a perfectly reasonable view to hold. It’s fine to not want Auckland’s maunga to be built on. After all, they are an iconic part of the city’s landscape.

But piecemeal objections are not a good reason to call for rejecting the entire Unitary Plan. Binning the plan and starting again from scratch would be expensive and risky, due to:

  • The cost of throwing housing development into limbo while we restart a very long planning and hearing process – in the middle of a housing affordability crisis
  • The time and money that council and submitters will have to waste repeating the same exercise – probably with a similar result
  • The risk that Auckland Council will be sacked and replaced by commissioners – I can’t see how that would enhance local democracy.

If that’s not what Rudman wants – and I hope it’s not – then he needs to clearly explain what he does actually want to see from the Unitary Plan and from the council’s decisions about it. The same goes for all critics of the Unitary Plan: Rather than carping about the plan in general, they need to play a constructive role and articulate what specific things they’d like to be changed, and how they think we should go about changing them.

What do you think is good about the Unitary Plan? What do you think could be better?

Unitary Plan reinforces need for focus on PT

The Unitary Plan is a crucial document for improving housing in Auckland, by enabling a lot more of it. As we’ve discussed, the Independent Hearing Panel’s (IHP) Recommended Unitary Plan enables almost double the “feasible” capacity from what the originally Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) did – from 213k dwellings to 422k dwellings. We also know that of those 422k additional dwellings, around 270k of them are expected to be within the existing urban area.

It’s worth pointing out some of the comments/decisions from the IHP. As part of the process the panel have examined and then agreed to the Auckland Plan’s development strategy of a quality, compact city with development focused around centres and transport corridors. In the overview report they say this:

The Panel has been careful to recommend a spatial pattern of capacity that promotes the centres and corridors strategy and a more compact urban form. This pattern is a prerequisite to the success of public transport and the efficient functioning of the city.

….

As mentioned above, this clustering of capacity is a prerequisite to the success of public transport and the efficient functioning of the city.

Further, as part of the justification for their views on parking provisions they say:

This overall approach is expected to improve development opportunities and support public transport and alternative modes of transport in and around centres rather than commit resources to potentially inefficient use as car parking, while retaining parking requirements outside of centres to ensure that the amenity values of those areas are maintained.

Those are some fairly significant comments in support of how the city should develop and a recognition of the importance of proximity to jobs, local amenities and social interaction. The aim being so that it’s possible to live without driving being the only realistic option all of the time, which in turn means less space needs to be dedicated to transport along with other benefits too.

I’ve already seen some asking what is being done to ensure the city doesn’t descend into gridlock as a lot more people in Auckland makes it even more important we work to fix our already struggling transport networks. It’s important because as the sayings go: “transport and land use are two sides of the same coin” and “the best transport policy is a good land use policy” (and vice versa).

As you likely know, over the last year the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has been running with the aim of developing a preferred approach to Auckland’s transport system over the next 30 years. We’ve already seen the:

  • Foundation Report which saw the parties involved agree on the assumptions to be used and analyse the current transport plans – finding them lacking.
  • Interim Report which looks at and analyses a range of possible alternative plans to help identify ways to improve the final plan

At the end of August (likely public in September) the final report is due which should come out with the recommended plan and the politicians aren’t allowing for that timeframe to change. While it will likely be fairly broad in many areas with more analysis needed on the exact timing of projects, it is likely to give us a good indication as to what will be needed, especially over the next decade. To do this, ATAP relies heavily on modelling to try and predict future transport demand based on a range of factors and one of the big ones is predicted land use.

With the IHP so significantly increasing the feasible capacity that immediately raises alarm bells as to just how valuable ATAP will be. It also happens I asked a question about this at the release of the Interim Report in June as my understanding of the complexity of the modelling rules out the option of assessing everything again with the IHP’s recommendations. We were told that the ATAP team will likely only have enough time to do some light analysis based on the recommended changes while providing a professional opinion as to what impact any significant changes could have. As an example, some of the substantial increase in capacity on the isthmus – like has happened – likely strengthens for light rail to be approved and built sooner.

So I thought I’d take a look at the ATAP Interim Report to see what it said about this, and it turns out the document is fairly useful in this regard. A page appropriately titled “Land Use Assumptions”. They say they’ve assumed substantial household growth will occur throughout Auckland and that includes the inner parts of the urban area. On growth uncertainty they say:

  • Where and when growth occurs is subject to a wide variety of factors including the extent to which it is enabled by planning documents, infrastructure provision and market attractiveness. This leads to unavoidable uncertainty about future growth assumptions.
  • There are some substantial differences between the growth assumptions used in this project and what is enabled by the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP). This is particularly true in the balance between inner urban and outer urban household growth with the PAUP providing feasible capacity for approximately 50,000 fewer dwellings on the Auckland isthmus than the growth assumptions used in this project.
  • Where and when growth occurs affects the timing and priority of transport investments as well as the overall size of the transport challenge faced by Auckland. Depending on the outcome of the Unitary Plan, a greater balance of growth towards outer areas will need to be reflected in the prioritisation of investment.

The middle of those three points is the most important showing that ATAP has allowed for around 50k more dwellings on the isthmus alone. That would likely put the numbers used in ATAP much closer to the IHP recommendations than the PAUP. Given some of the earlier comments from the IHP it made a lot of sense to expect zoning to increase in many areas, especially on the isthmus and it looks like a good thing they did that – although perhaps not by far enough.

The difference between what is being used for ATAP and the PAUP is shown below. It can be a bit hard to tell but one area you can see a bit more development allowed is in the western isthmus and that was matched to some degree by the IHP’s recommended plan.

ATAP Growth Pattern vs PAUP

As a comparison he’s the heat map from the IHP’s version which goes further again.

Recomended UP - Recomended Feasible Capacity

But what impact will all of this have? It’s hard to tell exactly but my hunch is that if the recommended plan is passed by the council it will only make investments in many of the key PT projects even more crucial. In particular the Rapid Transit projects such as AMETI + Pakuranga Rd, Light Rail on the isthmus and to the airport, the NW Busway, rail to the North Shore are going to be vital to providing enough capacity for people to be able to get around the city free of congestion. For those local hotspots it will also likely represent AT needing to focus to ensure there are quality walking and cycling networks so that residents can access amenities in the immediate area easily without having to drive.

What impact do you think the recommended Unitary Plan should have on Transport and importantly, would the government agree?