Follow us on Twitter

Taskforce to Tackle Loopy Rules

The National Party have announced that if they’re re-elected they’ll form a taskforce to tackle loopy rules and regulations.

Local Government Minister Paula Bennett today announced the establishment of a new Taskforce to rid New Zealand of loopy rules and regulations.

“The Rules Reduction Taskforce in partnership with local government will work closely with the public to weed out pedantic and unnecessary rules that frustrate property owners and councils alike.

“We’ve seen rules and regulations brought in over decades that were well intentioned but end up being confusing, onerous and costly while failing to deliver any real benefit for the property owner or the wider public,” says Mrs Bennett.

The Taskforce will be up and running in October. As well as central and local government experts, it will include specialists from the building and trades sector.

“Anyone doing building work knows just how frustrating and costly the bureaucracy can get. We want to hear from property owners, builders, tradespeople and businesses on rules and regulations that are crying out for sensible change.

“There will be a website where people can send us examples of loopy rules and the Taskforce will hear submissions from the public on areas ripe for change.

“We have rules dictating all sorts of weird and wonderful things from signage over cake stalls to where your shower curtains need to be positioned.

“In another example, a property owner trying to replace a 130 year old fence discovered some of it was on a scenic reserve and they faced having to buy or lease the land.

“While there’s always a degree of rationale behind these rules, the Taskforce will be charged with identifying what should stay and what should go so people can get on with the job of building, renovating or event planning without have to wade through a morass of unnecessary rules,” says Mrs Bennett.

Fantastic, how about they start with some that will have the most impact. That would mean starting with

  • Minimum Parking Requirements
  • Minimum Lot Sizes
  • Minimum Dwelling Sizes
  • Minimum Bedroom sizes
  • Minimum Setbacks
  • Restrictive Height Limits
  • Blanket heritage protection for everything old
  • Minimum Rear Yard Sizes
  • Minimum numbers and size of tress per site

Of course during the debate on the Unitary Plan National Party MPs and aligned councillors fought hard to not only keep these loopy rules and regulations but in many cases to make t hem worse.

How the Unitary Plan Changed

There’s just under a week left to go if you want to make a further submission on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP).

Further submissions to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan close on 22 July 2014.

These are limited to being either in support or opposition to changes to the plan, as requested in the over 9,400 original submissions which contained requests for nearly 100,000 changes.

Only people or entities with an interest greater than the general public or who represent a matter of public interest can make a further submission.

For more information on who can make a further submission see here.

One of the big disappointments with the Unitary Plan process was the way the councillors and local boards shirked their responsibility and gave in to a vocal group of complainers. That ended up seeing large swathes of the city have its zoning downgraded, in some cases to less than what was allowed for by the existing district plans created by the old councils in the pre super city era. In saying that some local boards were actually smart and went the other way increasing the zoning across large areas, this is particularly evident with the local boards in the West.

To highlight the changes reader Steve D has put together this map showing how the zoning changed between the Draft Unitary Plan and the formal PAUP that was put out for consultation. In the map below the key changes are shown as:

  • Greeen have been up-zoned
  • Red have been down-zoned
  • Orange is new future urban land.

One thing to note is that in the Draft Unitary Plan there was a Mixed Housing Zone. In the PAUP that was split in to two separate zones, Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS) and Mixed Housing Urban (MHU). There were a number of differences between the two and one of the biggest was height limits with the Suburban zone allowing for two storeys and the Urban zone allowing for three. Where a section has gone from Mixed hosing to MHU then it’s considered as being up-zoned while going  to MHS is down-zoned.

Unitary Plan changes from draft to proposed version on Koordinates

What you noticed quite strongly is the amount of down-zoning on the North Shore and large parts of the Isthmus with larger swathes of up-zoning in the West, South and East. Also with hall that future growth in the North West and South the Northwest Busway and rail electrification to Pukekohe are going to be essential

Thanks to Steve for putting this together.

The Unitec Opportunity

Unitec’s submission on the Proposed Unitary Plan outlines a pretty radical change to their Mt Albert campus, downsizing the actual educational campus from 53 hectares to around 10 and developing a major residential and commercial area on the rest of the site. Probably the most extensive coverage so far was in yesterday’s NZ Herald.

Ede explained the background to plans for the 53.5ha site, much of it now park-like open space which the locals love.

He wants 43.5ha to be leased or sold for intensive residential and commercial development and Unitec squeezed down to 10ha. The deal would use the land to generate money to run the institute and allow Unitec to step out of its seismic building noose, which now concerns him.

The concept plan for what’s proposed is below:

NZH0555837228Somewhat unsurprisingly the plan is generating fairly robust debate among the locals – although it’s good to see at least one local board member come out strongly in favour of it:

Martin Skinner said the neighbourhood was already regularly grid-locked mornings and afternoons from the huge influx of Unitec traffic. Yet Unitec had not tackled traffic management or implemented public transport or pedestrian initiatives.

“Residents can no longer park cars in the surrounding streets during the day, and it’s unsafe for children to walk to schools and kindergartens,” he said.

Cathy Casey, an Auckland councillor, said that in the first round of applications for Special Housing Area status in November, Unitec applied to build 800 units on their site.

“It was rejected,” she said…

…But Derek Battersby, of the Whau Local Board, backs it.

“Bring it on,” said the outspoken JP, predicting a big urban revival in the area if Unitec gets the green light.

“The opportunity for Unitec to put land aside for residential housing on their Carrington site is one that should be encouraged and considered as a Special Housing Area.

“It a great opportunity to create something quite special, promoting excellent urban design principles and open space,” he said.

However, Casey said Unitec’s SHA for 800 places was rejected by the council.

But Battersby said the scheme would revitalise a wide area of the isthmus.

“Carrington/ Unitec is within a substantive residential catchment taking in Point Chevalier, Mt Albert and Avondale. It is also close to St Lukes mall, Lynn Mall and public transport nodes,” he said.

A trade analysis study would show a significant opportunity for the local shopping precincts to redevelop into vibrant economic retail areas, yet these places now look unloved, he complained.

“There will be many detractors similarly with Auckland’s Council’s Unitary Plan process,” he said.

At a high level you’d struggle to find too many better opportunities for large scale redevelopment in inner Auckland. Not too far south you have the Mt Albert train station, not too far north you have Pt Chev and all the Great North Road buses which will include those that might eventually form part of a North West busway. In addition under the new public transport network there will be two frequent bus services running along Carrington Road – giving it a level of PT service provision similar to what Dominion Road has now. A large number of additional residents would also support the town centres of Mt Albert and Pt Chev, which feel like they’re just bumbling along a bit in recent years.

With a further tweak to the transport network you could also help a major permeability problem in the inner western part of Auckland plus improve public transport access into Unitec and avoid Great North Road buses from getting stuck in traffic at the Waterview interchange. The idea is a bus/cycle/pedestrian bridge from Great North Road over into the Unitec site – a kind of modern day Grafton Bridge that could surely be built in such a way that avoided any negative effects on the creek below. This would enable Great North Road buses to hook through the Unitec site before returning to Great North Road via Pt Chev. Something like this:

NZH0555837228

It would also hardly be unreasonable for Unitec to pay for the bridge – given the benefit they will gain from the proposal as a whole. Whether private vehicles should be able to use it is a tougher question, with a balance to be found between the permeability gains against the potential for it to be a major through-route. Perhaps something for the comments thread to discuss further. This type of routing would also ensure that we avoid the “Stonefields mistake” of creating a new urban area completely disconnected from its surrounding area and as a result developing in a highly car dependent manner where the only buses that go in have to basically do a “U-turn” and come back out the same way.

Overall the Unitec site seems like a great location for further growth to occur – certainly better than Wesley, Kumeu south, Helensville or other silly areas where Special Housing Areas have been approved. The proposal provides a significant amount of open space (see page 170 of here) and with a relatively small intervention we could ensure it’s incredibly well served by public transport travelling to many different parts of Auckland.

NZ Initiative’s ideology short-changes compact city debate

The New Zealand Initiative last night released a think piece on the trade-offs of urban form – entitled “Up or Out“. Given the extensive recent debates in Auckland over the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan, plus the ongoing issue of housing affordability, it’s helpful to have further analysis and research in this area. Unfortunately, it seems as though some ideological assumptions behind what the NZ Initiative has come up with mask many of their conclusions – somewhat ironic given that one of the key thrusts of the piece is (valid argument) that we need to step back from assumptions and look at the data.

The general approach of the paper is reasonably logical – it analyses some of the benefits of a compact city approach, questions whether they hold true and then compares those benefits to some of the costs. Firstly, looking at agglomeration:

Part of this debate has centred on the agglomeration benefits that come from urban proximity. This is an important discussion point because agglomeration is often cited by planners as the clincher in their argument for compact cities. We do not reject the economic advantages to situating businesses and consumers closer to one other. After all, people and firms in urban areas tend to be more productive than their counterparts in less well-populated areas.

However, these advantages are only detectable as agglomeration benefits when the positives of proximity outweigh the costs of density. This is a balance that any city, regardless of urban form, has to strike if it is to survive. And yet this report shows that the restrictive planning regulations required to deliver the utopian vision of a compact city often tips the balance towards the cost side of the urban ledger.

You can tell from the use of the phrase “utopian vision of a compact city” that they have started out from an ideological position that density is bad.

It does make some sense that agglomeration benefits would have a limit. Yet if we look internationally there are much much larger cities and much much larger urban cores than Auckland – and we find that often it’s the larger cities and larger urban cores which are growing the fastest. The paper even references the significant agglomeration benefits from the CRL’s business case before going on to counter-intuitively suggest that agglomeration benefits in central Auckland appear to be on the wane.

However, the main argument is that the two main negatives of congestion and higher land prices need to be balanced against agglomeration to work work out whether building “up” or “out” is the right approach. Let’s work through the arguments made by the paper on each individually:

Congestion is one of these costs. Traffic congestion data from the United States shows that the most congested metropolitan areas are often the ones that have chosen to pursue compact development. Additionally, quantitative research into transit investments over a 26- year period using data from 74 US metros shows public transport had no long-term impact on road congestion. This stands at odds with the perception that high transit penetration is the solution, not an aggravator of gridlock.

Digging a bit deeper into how they arrived at this conclusion, it seems as though the same methodological mistakes around the measurement of congestion are being made as occurs with the Tom Tom surveys – focusing solely on congestion severity and ignoring issues like congestion exposure. The key point here is that low density car dependent cities may have less intensity/severity of congestion (because they’re so spread out) but whatever congestion there is has to be experienced by everyone because there are no alternatives. In a place like New York, the roads may be congested but to the vast bulk of people this doesn’t matter because they’re walking, cycling or using the subway.

The other gigantic flaw in the paper placing so much emphasis on the issue of congestion is the inconvenient analysis undertaken a couple of years ago which shows the most congested US cities are actually the most economically productive. While it’s more likely economic success causes congestion than the opposite, the congestion doesn’t seem to be holding these places back.

congestion-gdp

The key takeaway from this is that while congestion is annoying and perhaps theoretically should hold back economic performance, if we look at different cities across the USA it doesn’t seem to be doing this. It’s also interesting to compare how we view congestion on the transport network to other areas of society. For example people will choose to go to a restaurant that is busy, even if it involves waiting rather than go to an empty one next door. The crowded and congested restaurant is successful while the empty one is not. If we expand that to a city scale, many people would prefer being in a busy and interesting place with lots of other people than an empty city.

Moving on to land prices, this is seen as the other main negative resulting from a compact city approach that should be balanced against the agglomeration benefits:

Another cost is land. From the perspective of local government in New Zealand, compact cities are desirable because they limit the amount of roading, water and social infrastructure that will need to be provided. Yet by limiting the supply of land, city officials are inadvertently putting a scarcity value on housing in this country, which ranks among some of the least affordable in the world. Equally, the onerous regulations and zoning restrictions required to steer development along the compact model add to the scarcity value of housing. This scarcity value is not limited to housing, and businesses facing higher property costs will pass these on to customers in the form of higher prices, and where they cannot, firms will look to relocate to cheaper areas – a process that is already happening in Hamilton, a beneficiary of fleeing Auckland firms.

We’ve covered off this debate many times before in the past few years as the Auckland Plan and then the Unitary Plan were hashed through in great detail. While limiting the supply of land will theoretically drive up its price, when it comes to housing affordability the issue is the cost of housing more than the cost of land. Furthermore, it’s the cost of housing in particular areas that’s the issue – there’s plenty of affordable housing in Papakura, Clendon, Pukekohe, Waiuku and other far flung parts of Auckland. The huge price escalation is happening in the inner areas – and I can’t quite see how it’s possible to create more land in Grey Lynn or Mt Eden (although of course it’s possible to get more housing out of that land through intensification).

Going back to the paragraph quoted above, what’s particularly odd is the sentence “…the onerous regulations and zoning restrictions required to steer development along the compact model”. Given that enabling intensification is about the removal of zoning restrictions so people have more flexibility to do as they choose with their land, I wonder whether the NZ Initiative has completely misunderstood what planning does and does not do. One is not forced to build terraced houses in the Mixed Housing Urban zone – contrary to popular belief!

The other crazy thing that the paper completely ignores is the gigantic amount of sprawl that has been enabled in Auckland through the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan. In one big bang the restrictions on land supply in Auckland have been pushed outwards – even though the result of this is likely to be extremely expensive and not actually what people want anymore. Have the authors been completely ignorant of the Unitary Plan by accident or deliberately?

The paper then briefly touches on health issues – it seems to be cherry picking data and making assumptions based on how cities were in the 19th century to come up with conclusions that seem strangely at odds with what books like “Happy City” suggest. I’ll leave those details to a future post though.

Overall, the paper thinks that it’s come to some grand conclusions:

We have shown through academic research and the historic record that compact cities are not a panacea for the social, financial and infrastructural problems gripping modern cities today. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to urban costs, and the sooner we abandon ideology, the sooner we can start developing nuanced solutions to issues like congestion and skyrocketing property prices.

The aim of this report was not to generate specific policy recommendations but to unpack the highly technical argument surrounding urban form changes for the average citizen to participate in the discussion. Still, it is evident at a high level that overly centralised planning and decision making structures are one of the major contributing factors driving urban costs in New Zealand and further afield.

The conclusions are not completely wrong – in highlighting that cities are complex and any ‘one size fits all’ approach is likely to fail. However, in both key areas of critique (congestion and land prices) the paper has made some fundamental oversights – like ignoring the complexities of congestion and its seemingly minimal impact on economic performance, like ignoring the huge amount of additional land supply provided by the Unitary Plan and like ignoring that a key part of the compact city approach is liberalising planning rules within existing urban areas.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, but certainly disappointingly, the paper promises much but inevitably fails to deliver beyond repeating a simplistic ideological perspective on forms of urban growth – falling into the very trap it so merrily accuses others of doing.

Governments view on the Unitary Plan

This week the council put online all 9,400 submissions to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP).

I’m going to look at a handful of interesting ones over the coming days/weeks and one has already been picked up on by the media and it comes from the government, submitted by the Amy Adams, the Minister for the Environment.

In the submission the Minister says that “it’s important the PAUP has integrity and robustness, not least because it will be the single largest resource management plan in New Zealand, responsible for enabling or constraining up to 60 per cent of New Zealand’s future growth-based capital investment.” I think that’s an important point to remember in the Unitary Plan discussions. Huge growth is expected to occur in Auckland and it needs to be addressed. Just hoping it won’t happen or trying to implement policies like limiting immigration when the main cause of the growth is simply lots of people being born is head in the sand type stuff.

The submission says that after analysis from her officials she concludes:

Govt submission on UP - Summary of Issues

And her focus is on five specific concerns.

  • Housing Supply
  • Plan Efficiency
  • Plan Integrity
  • Plan Suitability
  • Infrastructure

I’m just going to pick out some key points from each of those.

Housing Supply

While she does talk about the issue of greenfield land she also talks about the restrictions on intensification that have been imposed and in some cases that means the PAUP represents a downzoning on current plans. I also like how she’s noted that there is a huge risk that the underzoning of many areas could lock in sub optimal land use for decades. To me this is particularly the case across the Isthmus area.

Govt submission on UP - Housing Supply

Plan Efficiency

Adams notes that particularly for medium and high density developments the rules are overly complex and inflexible, much more so than they were in the March draft of the plan. She says the March draft had a more widespread presumption towards non-notification and a liberal use of restricted discretionary activity status for higher density development. She also says helps in the plan making the hard decisions about intensification rather than leaving it to the resource consent process. However she says with the PAUP, notification will be much more prevalent. She then basically says the council gave in to NIMBYs by reducing flexibility and increasing development controls despite the draft UP having the tools to ensure better quality urban design. The outcome of all of this will be less medium – high density development.

She even calls out some of the stupid requirements like parking requirements, minimum dwelling sizes and set back requirements. In addition she questions the widespread heritage and significance to Manua Whenua overlays.

Govt submission on UP - Plan Efficiency

Plan Integrity

Perhaps most crucially in this section the Minister says the amount of greenfield land available for development will likely need to increase, particularly if the development restrictions mentioned earlier are not adjusted. However she also notes that increasing greenfield land won’t solve problems simply not everyone wants to live on the edge of the urban area. She also notes that increased greenfield land will place more pressure on the efficient provision of infrastructure.

Govt submission on UP - Plan Integrity

Plan Suitability

Adams calls out three areas where she thinks the plan “oversteps the bounds of what is necessary or desirable in a resource management plan”. These are:

  • Including affordable housing requirements in developments with 15 or more dwellings
  • Sustainable building design provisions
  • GMO regulation

Infrastructure

Adams says the plan does not sufficiently provide for Auckland’s infrastructure needs. She says the planning and policy framework may not enable the consenting of major strategic infrastructure anticipated by the government and council. On transport infrastructure she says:

Govt submission on UP - Infrastructure

All up the submission seems fairly accurate and balanced and it’s pleasing to see the government calling out the silly and restrictive provisions that will limit density. My question though is why the government didn’t say anything about this sooner. Further why were government MP’s scaremongering about intensification during the UP debates and pushing people to oppose the plan. MP’s like Maggie Barry were rallying against the plan which assisted in the public opposition from places like the North Shore that led to the down zoning of the plan.

The Owairaka train station

A few weeks back I wrote about a potential Mt Roskill train station, which would sit at the end of the Mt Roskill spur line around where Dominion Road passes over State Highway 20. There’s also one other station that could sit on this spur line – as shown in the map below:

This, of course, is Owairaka Station (or Stoddard Rd station I guess) which would sit near the group of shops at the corner of Richardson Road and Stoddard Road.

From a transport perspective the station would be useful in intercepting many of the buses that use Sandringham Road before wiggling their way through the less helpful street network south of SH20. Essentially all buses south of SH20 could become feeder services into the railway station, while Sandringham Road buses would focus on the inner part of the route – but also linking to the station for people needing to transfer to another bus, or the train. This is much like how the Mt Roskill station could intercept the longer distance Dominion Road bus trips – both together taking buses out of the city centre and reducing pressure on two very busy bus routes.

Below is what is currently planned for buses as part of the New Network. A frequent bus from New Lynn along Tiverton/Wolverton, past the location of the station and then up Sandringham Rd (yellow). There is also a less frequent bus that will travel around the suburbs and pass the station (pink).

Owairaka station buses

Looking a bit closer at the station’s possible location, we can see that there’s probably room between the shopping area and the motorway for it to be located – including potential for good pedestrian links from both Richardson Road and Stoddard Road Alternatively it could be a little further south-west and a little closer to Maioro St. Note that due to construction of the Waterview Connection, the aerial photo is pretty out of date:

owairaka-station
One of the most exciting things about the station is its ability to be a catalyst in the transformation of this area – which already in recent times has seen pretty major change with some large retailers setting up (Countdown etc.) The Unitary Plan’s zoning is for a pretty extensive town centre – which enables a lot of residential intensification as well as retail and other business activities:

owairaka-zoning
You can see that not only is the town centre zone pretty extensive as it goes right along Stoddard Road between Richardson and Sandringham, but also there are some pretty massive areas of Terraced Housing and Apartment Building (THAB) zone in orange and Mixed Housing Urban in light brown zones beyond that. In fact, at a sub-regional scale it stands out as one of the main areas of upzoning in this part of the isthmus:

isthmus-zoning
Servicing this area – which has tremendous growth potential – with rail would be key catalyst for seeing such growth actually happening and could also result in Owairaka Station being a pretty busy station in the future, especially once you add in feeder buses serving the New Windsor & Blockhouse Bay areas.

The Mt Roskill train station

We’ve discussed the merits of a “Mt Roskill Spur Line” on a number of occasions in the past, the western half of the Avondale-Southdown Line that forms an important part of the Congestion Free Network. However we’ve recently had a few people questioning if the project is actually worth it and if the money we allocated for it should perhaps be used elsewhere. This post is to hopefully try and clear up some of the confusion.

The route of the line, including the two possible stations (Owairaka & Mt Roskill) is shown in the map below:

There are a number of benefits arising from building this extension to the rail system. To briefly summarise:

  • It’s a useful way of being able to operate “short-runners” on the inner part of the Western Line to provide greater capacity where demand will be much higher in the future.
  • Post CRL it can balance out the long routes we have which can help in allowing trains to stick to schedule.
  • By feeding buses into Owairaka and Mt Roskill stations from the south, fewer buses from the southern isthmus would need to run into the city centre which will take pressure off Sandringham & Dominion Road, as well as off city centre streets.
  • It will provide those within walking distance of the two new stations with a rapid transit link to the city centre and the rest of the rapid transit network that is faster than the bus (once CRL is built).
  • It could encourage intensification and transit oriented development around the two stations.

Also, it’s a pretty easy extension of the rapid transit network to build as the route is already designated and NZTA’s recent motorway projects provide for the rail extension in the form of longer or additional bridge spans at most locations. A good example can be seen below at Maioro Street, where an additional bridge for the future railway line has been provided:

Some of the potential around the two additional stations are quite exciting. I’ll discuss Owairaka Station in a future post, but for now I’ll look at Mt Roskill. An aerial photograph of the area where the station is most likely to go is included below:

roskill-stationMuch of the surrounding land is already owned by the Council, after Auckland City Council bought it a long time ago as the southern terminus for their Dominion Road light-rail plans. It seems like a fairly simple island platform station could be built in this location with direct access from the Dominion Road end where the two tracks would terminate. The land to the north of the station could be the bus interchange facility, perhaps with some redeveloped higher density housing, retail and public square also tied into the development.

Looking further afield, the walk-up catchment to the station looks like it could be upzoned further in the Unitary Plan (from memory such a request was included in our Unitary Plan submission) to really make the most of the catalytic effect the new station could have.

roskill-zoningA mixed use area connecting the station with the existing Mt Roskill town centre – effectively growing the town centre significantly and to the south with a range of apartments, retail, small-scale offices and other uses – could really make Mt Roskill a fantastically interesting centre in the future with superb access to all kinds of transport.

To the south of the motorway there’s the Mt Roskill cone itself, but beyond that there’s a major cluster of state housing that could be redeveloped in the future – once more adding significant population to the walking catchment of the station. Not too far to the east is a cluster of schools, including Mt Roskill Grammar.

Overall, there are a number of exciting opportunities that a future Mt Roskill train station could present – particularly in terms of acting as a catalyst for significant development around Mt Roskill town centre that could really maximise the potential of this part of Auckland.

CFN 2030A

ACT Party spokespeople tragically born missing sense of irony

There are many great contradictions in politics, and there’s never enough time to explain them all. Certainly one of the greatest contradictions, though, has to be what some people associated with the ACT party have to say about intensification. The supposed ‘free market party’ seems quite scared of landowners’ rights to develop their land in the way they see fit – something you’d think would be more likely from the Conservative party.

Quoting a recent speech by David Seymour, the new ACT candidate for Epsom:

The people of Epsom do not want more traffic jams and a city closing in on them under Len Brown’s intensification plan.The funny thing about Epsom is that it was built well before modern urban planning.  Nobody planned the organic mix of streets between Mt Eden and Dominion roads.  The character villas were not part of a grand plan.  Ditto the crescents backing onto Cornwall Park, the historic Parnell Village, or roads that wind over the slopes of Remuera.

Len Brown and the central planners can’t stand the thought of a spontaneous urban form.  They must make their mark with apartment towers all over the electorate.

If irony were made of strawberries, we’d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now (thanks, South Park). One of the major barriers to intensification is the zoning restrictions in inner-city suburbs, and yet David is appealing to his audience’s fear of an “organic mix” or “spontaneous urban form” arising in Epsom. Perish the thought.

Dick Quax, former ACT parliamentarian turned councillor, is also a chap who spends quite a bit of time raising concerns about intensification.

Don Brash, former ACT Party leader, has also gotten a lot of mileage arguing that we should remove urban limits, and conspicuously ignoring the restrictions which exist inside those limits. When pushed, he points out that he doesn’t have a problem with intensification… but that’s certainly not the message he’s chosen to focus on publicly.

As some of the other bloggers have pointed out before, the usual left-wing/ right-wing divisions that occur at central government level seem to break down, or behave in unexpected ways, when you get to the local government level. And I’d call this is one of the unexpected ways.

People at the supposed ‘right wing’ end of the spectrum often go on about the need to remove planning restrictions at the city’s edge, and how that will help housing affordability. They sing a different tune when confronted about restrictions inside the city boundaries. This ranges from the kind of rhetoric used by David Seymour above, to the more nuanced views held by Don Brash (but which he certainly isn’t at pains to publicise).

And yet, when urban economist Edward Glaeser was asked which the bigger problem for Auckland housing affordability was – urban limits or zoning restrictions in existing areas – he pointed the finger at zoning restrictions. Hmmm.

On the other hand, Penny Webster, another Auckland Councillor and former MP for ACT, has tended to vote with Len Brown on most issues, so it’s dangerous to generalise between different people. The general impression that we get from people most closely (and most currently) associated with the ACT party itself, though, is that intensification is a bogeyman to be feared, and – from David Seymour above – that it occurs because of council planning, not in spite of it. I leave it to you to consider whether, if we removed all planning restrictions  in both the inner suburbs and at the city fringes, Epsom and Remuera would stay the same with no intensification occurring.

Transportblog Unitary Plan Submission

Today is the last day, if you haven’t already, please make a submission before 5pm

Submissions for the Unitary Plan close at 5pm this afternoon so if you have been thinking about making a submission then you need to get on with it. I’ll be finishing our submission today however here are the key points we will be raising.

Specific Suggested Amendments:

Section Suggested Amendment Reason(s)
Chapter I – Future Urban Zone Zone should be split into two sub-zones, one which relates to areas suitable for development in the next 10 years and another suitable for development beyond that date. Zones could be referred to as “Future Urban (short term)” and “Future Urban (long term)”. 

The specific controls for the zoning, especially in “Future Urban (long term)”, would reflect the direction of some future urban zoning developing earlier and some later.

This change would give clearer direction about which parts of the Future Urban Zone are intended to be developed sooner and which parts later. This will enable infrastructure providers to plan with greater knowledge about the sequencing of land for development. 

This change would also minimise the risk of ‘leap frog’ development through private plan changes and enable the provision of quality transport infrastructure at the same time as development occurs.

Chapter I – Residential Zones Front yard setback requirements should be removed or reduced, particularly in zones where intensification is anticipated. Front yard setback requirements take up valuable space that could otherwise be used within the main area of outdoor open space (generally to the rear) and undermine high quality urban design outcomes where interaction between the dwelling and the street is encouraged. 

Front yard setbacks are likely to undermine achieving the ‘quality’ urban form the Unitary Plan seeks to achieve.

Chapter I – Residential Zones Density limits should be removed for development of four or more dwellings in the Mixed Housing Suburban zone. 

Density limits should not apply to the Mixed Housing Urban zone.

Density limits are an overly crude way of managing built form that undermine many of the goals of the Unitary Plan – particularly the provision of affordable housing, the provision of a variety of housing types and promoting a quality built form. 

Other development controls, particularly height limits and site coverage limits, adequately control any adverse environmental outcomes. Density controls are therefore superfluous and counter-productive to the goals of the Unitary Plan.

Chapter H –Parking Rules Removal of parking minimums from Mixed Housing Urban and Mixed Housing Suburban zones. 

Removal of parking minimums for Tavern activities.

Parking minimums undermine many goals the Unitary Plan is trying to achieve – especially in zones where intensification is proposed. Negative impacts of parking minimums in the Mixed Housing zones will include undermining the ability to intensify, adding unnecessary cost to the consenting process, undermining the ability to achieve quality design outcomes, acting as a hidden subsidy to private vehicle travel and undermining investment in public transport.
Chapter I – Business Zones (Mixed Use Zone) Some areas zoned for Mixed Use development should have a significantly higher height limit to reflect their location close to high quality public transport infrastructure (e.g. Morningside, Newton). Some areas zoned Mixed Use (e.g. Morningside & Newton) are suitable for higher density development than the rest of the Mixed Use zone. This is because they are close to strategically significant existing or proposed railway stations and other amenities/services. 

Enabling higher development densities in parts of the Mixed Use zone will enable best value to be achieved from significant investment in projects such as the City Rail Link.

Maps – Morningside All areas between Morningside train station and St Lukes Shopping Centre proposed to be zoned “Light Industrial” should be rezoned “Mixed Use”. Morningside station is a strategically significant station on the rail network once City Rail Link is completed. The station will be less than 10 minutes journey time from the city centre and the area surrounding it is generally not constrained by heritage/character, plus has a number of large site sizes. 

This is an area suitable for significant residential development due to its proximity to rail and to other amenities such as St Lukes, Fowlds Park and Mt Albert Primary School. The zoning should enable this development, which has already begun to occur over the past decade.

Maps – Mt Roskill The area bounded by May Road to the west, Mt Albert Road to the north, SH20 to the south and Mt Roskill Grammar to the east should be “upzoned” to Terraced Housing & Apartment Buildings This area has excellent access to high quality public transport (Dominion Rd buses & possible rail along Avondale-Southdown Line) and is close proximity to Mt Roskill shops. A good location for intensification that would support many of the high level outcomes in the Regional Policy Statement such as providing housing choice and minimising adverse impacts on special character (as this is not a heritage area).
Maps – Grey Lynn The sides of Great North Road between Ponsonby Road and Surrey Crescent should have an “Additional Zone Height Control” overlay applied to enable a higher height limit. This area has high quality public transport options, is on a ridge line and is relatively free of heritage constraints. It provides an almost unique opportunity for significant intensification in the Grey Lynn area.
Maps – Meadowbank Areas within an 800m walk of Meadowbank train station should be upzoned to either Terraced Housing & Apartment Buildings or Mixed Housing Urban (or a combination). Meadowbank train station is one of very few stations that has not seen upzoning around it – which is anomalous and inconsistent with various objectives and policies to enable intensification in areas with good access to rapid transit. This area also overlooks Orakei Basin, which provides good natural amenity and further increases the suitability of the area for intensification.
Maps – Central Isthmus Areas zoned Mixed Housing Suburban within the area bounded by New North Road in the west, the city fringe in the north, SH20 in the south and Great South Road in the east should be considered for rezoning to Mixed Housing Urban. The central isthmus has the best public transport accessibility of any part of Auckland, plus a gridded street network and frequent centres of various scales. It also has significant market demand for development. 

Rezoning areas from Mixed Housing Suburban to Mixed Housing Urban would enable a wider variety of housing typologies in an area suitable for growth because of its public transport access and other amenities. Mixed Housing Urban would still retain the broad character of the area.

 

Mixed Housing Suburban area generally avoid places where Special Character overlays are applied.

Maps – Greenlane Along both sides of Gt South Rd between Greenlane East/West and Main Highway proposed  “Light Industrial” should be rezoned “Mixed Use”. This area has excellent access to high quality public transport, has good access to other amenities and is free of heritage constraints.

 Areas of Support

Section Specific Matter Supported Reason(s)
Chapter I – Residential Zones 3.3 – conversion of a dwelling into two dwellings This is supported as it is a way of providing affordable housing and allowing intensification in areas where growth is otherwise very difficult (e.g. heritage or character areas).
Chapter I – Business Zones 1 – Activity Tables The strong restrictions placed on retail & office activity outside centres zones is supported. Out of centre retail & office activity results in areas very difficult to adequately serve with public transport but quite often have high concentrations of destinations.
Chapter H –Parking Rules Support not having parking minimums in the various zones listed in Table 3 of Transport: section 3.2. Parking minimums undermine many goals the Unitary Plan is trying to achieve – especially in zones where intensification is proposed. Not applying parking minimums in these areas is supported.
Maps – General General support of zoning areas close to rapid transit or high frequency public transport to zones that enable intensification – particularly Mixed Use, Terraced Housing & Apartment Buildings or a centre zone. Enabling intensification in areas with good public transport options will support the increased use of public transport and enable those living in higher density environments to be less car dependent in their lives, reducing the financial burden of transport on them.

Notified UP - Central

Bill English on Intensification vs Sprawl

Bill English has provided a fairly blunt but accurate explanation of the issues with urban development in Auckland. Interest.co.nz reports

With respect to so-called urban sprawl, I think that’s a nonsense. If you’re against urban sprawl and that means lower to middle income Kiwis can’t buy a house and you can’t build an apartment in the middle of Auckland for less than NZ$600,000, then that’s too high a price to pay. And if it means driving up house prices in a way that wrecks the economy then that’s too high a price to pay,” he said.

“Funnily enough the people who are most worried about urban sprawl live in the middle of the city. They don’t get to see it. How much time to they really spend out the end of the Western motorway or Botany? None actually. They think you should be able to walk to the countryside. Well…welcome to Gore. If you’re really mad, that’s where you should go. But they don’t. They stay in Auckland Central,” he said to laughter from the audience.

“What’s actually happened is that the local authorities were keen for a denser city, but the inhabitants weren’t, so they’ve jettisoned a fair bit of the densification aspect,” he said.

“So if Auckland wants to grow now, it has to grow out because you don’t want it to grow up. Now that’s a fair choice, but please don’t stop it from growing out as well, otherwise we’ll get another few years of 15% house price growth and you get a real mess when it crashes,” he said, adding the special housing areas agreed under the Housing Accord with the Auckland Council “do spread the city because the planning rules don’t let you do anything else.”

“We’re indifferent as a government as to whether you grow up or out. But you said don’t grow up, so we expect to help you grow out.”

I don’t think that all government ministers were indifferent as to whether Auckland develops up or out but from I’ve seen Bill didn’t seem too concerned with either option. As for his other comments though, he is quite correct, if intensification isn’t allowed then the only option would be to sprawl. I think it’s a message that many of those opposing intensification completely ignored.

What I don’t agree with him on is that an apartment can’t be built for less than 600,000. Many of the projects on our development tracker are certainly well under that price.

Don’t forget to make a submission on the Unitary Plan if you haven’t already they close tomorrow afternoon.