The government have said that reforming the Resource Management Act (RMA) is one of their top priorities and yesterday the Environment Minister Nick Smith outlined 10 major changes it was planning. This comes after they failed to make controversial changes to the RMA during the previous term but failed after losing the support of some of minor supporting parties. The major changes planned are
- Add natural hazards
- Recognise urban planning
- Prioritise housing affordability
- Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
- Greater weight to property rights
- National planning templates
- Speed up plan-making
- Encouraging collaborative resolution
- Strengthening national tools
- Internet for simplicity and speed
While we don’t have any real details on what’s planned some of these – such as making greater use of the Internet – are simply plain sense. Of the other ones a few particularity stand out.
Add natural hazards
Presumably this means giving more weight to projects that provide resilience against natural hazards. If true it could be about further making it easier to build projects such as large duplicate roads such as Transmission Gully where the government can use the threat of an earthquake in Wellington as an excuse to build it.
Recognise urban planning
I’m not quite sure what this could mean but hopefully it means there will be greater emphasis on how our planning affects our urban environment.
Prioritise housing affordability
This will be covered further on in the post.
Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
All the talk in the press release relates to the impact of housing however the RMA also covers a lot of non housing development including roads. Again could this be about making it easier for infrastructure to be built and/or making it cheaper for developers to tap into existing infrastructure.
Greater weight to property rights
One of the big issues we had with the Unitary Plan debate was that those advocating for more restrictions (e.g. height, density, carparking etc.) or for developments to happen anywhere but near their backyard are effectively restricting the property rights of others. Addressing some of the NIMBYism we saw could be a very useful change but would the government go that far?
Despite the lack of public detail, Len Brown has been quick to praise the government over the suggestions for change.
Mayor welcomes ‘pragmatic’ proposals to reform RMA
Mayor Len Brown has welcomed a review of the Resource Management Act announced today by Environment Minister Nick Smith.
“From Auckland Council’s perspective, there is considerable scope to improve the RMA, in particular streamlining the complex processes councils are required to work within, reducing duplication and providing more affordable housing,” Len Brown said.
“I particularly welcome recognition of the needs of cities and urban areas, including housing and infrastructure, which the current legislation doesn’t cover well.
“Auckland Council is working closely with the government and we have had significant input into this discussion. We welcome the government’s desire to seek broad support for any legislative changes.”
To go along with the government announcement they also released a report from Motu that had been commissioned by Treasury looking at impacts of various planning rules and regulations have on the cost of developments. The paper is based on the responses from developers on many of the regulations we’ve long thought are stupid or counterproductive such as density limits, height limits, room sizes, balcony requirements etc. If accurate some of the costs impacts are quite staggering with balcony requirements – something Stu touched on recently – being one of the worst.
I’ll go the report in more detail in the future however the cost impacts are shown below. Importantly the authors say that while they have attempted to look at the costs, that the benefits of any of the regulations isn’t something that they’ve considered. As such some of the items on the list will likely still need to happen.
While not all we would want to change, taken at face value it suggests that the regulations can add almost $200k to the cost of an apartment and around $150k to the cost of a standalone dwelling.
We’ll obviously have to wait to see just what the government proposes to see if they’re good or not but they certainly seem to have opened up a lot areas for discussion.
Well in this case anyway. Here is a suburban rail station in Melbourne, a train, a dog [for Stu], and a new apartment building going up in the background. Right next to the station. Someone got the planning regulations and building incentives right. Now that we are most of the way through upgrading the passenger service on Auckland’s rail network shouldn’t we be aligning land use up with this new opportunity? It would be a mistake to only have intensive dwelling options in the City Centre, particularly as land is cheaper out along the rail corridors, so these dwellings would be both more affordable and extremely well connected.
Follow the rail corridors on this map [hotter the colour the higher the value, grey means not residential, yet]… looks like a huge opportunity for a City Development Agency to me. And older centres like Papatoetoe, say, could do with an injection of construction and new residents.
53: Concentrating on Corridors
What if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does?
One of the things we hear all the time in Auckland is ‘Unlike – insert City X – we can’t do that here because – insert excuse Y’. Now, sometimes these differences are real and we need to work harder to translate good ideas into a New Zealand context. But more often than not we exaggerate the differences between city life in this small corner of the world and that elsewhere. Fundamentally we have much in common with cities elsewhere, especially the New World cities of Australia and North America, even when they are much bigger than ours.
So what if we got serious about intensifying corridors like Melbourne does? We tried this once before; the former Auckland Regional Council’s growth strategy put a lot of emphasis on intensifying centres and corridors. But not a lot of development happened. We often hear that the problem is our original grain of subdivision and street patterns that doesn’t lend itself well to this type of development. Is that the case, or do we just need to go about it differently or work a little harder to change that?
To really go to town on corridors, we would need to accept greater change in character of the say 7.5% of land area that fronts these arterial corridors, to offset less intensive change elsewhere across most suburban streets. This seems to be the basic premise of recent strategic planning in Melbourne. We can debate how successfully that strategy is being realised over there, but it is hard to argue against the fact that Melbourne already has far more examples of good mid-rise mixed use development on its major roads than Auckland. Why is that?
Here in Auckland, have we forgone such an opportunity with the Proposed Unitary Plan? Imagine if the Council had put more effort into zoning for these outcomes along corridors like Dominion, Mt Eden and Remuera Roads on the isthmus, the former highways of Great North and Great South Roads or the likes of Onewa Road or Lake Road over on the Shore. Such an approach could have adopted a strategy of greater protection of historic commercial buildings balanced with more aggressive up-zoning across the balance of sites including much deeper back from the main street to create viable sites for more intensive mid-rise development.
In acknowledging this as a great planning and urban design outcome, we would also need to acknowledge that it is pretty tough for developers to assemble sites and make it work. Council would need to look to use as many carrots as it can muster across its regulatory, revenue-gathering and investment toolboxes to provide far greater incentives for this to happen.
An Auckland where more people could afford to live amongst the great amenities and character of the long-established suburbs we already have? Wouldn’t that be a better Auckland?
Stuart Houghton 2014
Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:
Town centre could rise around new rail station
Colin Taylor writes:
One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.
The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.
Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.
The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.
This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.
Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.
“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.
“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.
“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”
Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.
“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”
However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.
“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”
This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].
But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.
So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.
- A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
- A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
- A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
- A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.
With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.
Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.
However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.
Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].
And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.
The 2013 Census results showed very strong population growth in Auckland’s city centre. The four census area units of Auckland Harbourside, Auckland Central West, Auckland Central East and Newton grew from 19,116 usual residents in 2006 to just under 28,000 in the 2013 census. However, the number of people under 15 years of age living in these four census area units is still pretty low – with only 1,068 being recorded in the 2013 census – just 3.8% of the population. This is far below the proportion of under 15s across the whole of Auckland, which sits at 21%.
This situation is not unusual internationally, with many cities struggling to attract families with children to live in their downtown cores. The reasons for this are – to some extent – fair obvious: a lack of schools, a lack of space for outdoors play (at least private space) and I imagine a bit of remaining stigma around downtown as an appropriate place to raise children.
Yet there are good reasons why we should want families with children to live in the city centre. Strong communities need a wide variety of residents, people downtown have a huge active transport modeshare to work and therefore take pressure off the transport network, people and families living in the city centre give it a liveliness that continues 7 days a week, not just in business hours. But how can families with kids be attracted to living in a part of the city which seems so unusual and (to some) seeming unnatural?
Vancouver is an excellent model here, as over 5,000 kids now live in their downtown and the proportion of the downtown population that is under 15 is on the up:
The CityLab article linked to above explores some of the deliberate steps Vancouver has taken to increase the downtown area’s attractiveness for families with kids:
Units: For starters, Vancouver required developers to set aside of share of high-density housing units for families—typically 25 percent, according to Langston. That means at least two bedrooms, one of which should have play space for toddlers designed into it. (Oh, and thick, thick walls.) Since families might not want to live on the 16th floor, the city suggested grouping family units closer to street level, often in multilevel townhouse-type structures that form the base of more traditional residential towers. This ground-level clustering makes coming and going easier and gives children peers in neighboring units.
Buildings: Family-friendly buildings need a few architectural quirks that towers for singles might not: bulk storage space for things like strollers or toys, better nighttime lighting in common areas, corridors that can fit a tricycle. They also need secure, safe play spaces—ideally ones that can be seen from inside the units or from a designated supervision area. The spaces should maximize sunlight and be made to withstand “the rough and tumble of children’s play,” according to Vancouver’s guidelines. You have to love a government document with lines like this: “Opportunities for water and sand play are especially important.”
Surrounding areas: Vancouver also realized that not all parts of the city were as family-friendly as others. It instructed developers to choose sites within half a mile of elementary schools, daycare centers, and grocery stores, and within a quarter mile of transit stops. Safe walking routes—ideally separated from high-traffic arterials—were also important. Langston writes that the city went a step further and actually required some developers to build or fund community facilities (such as daycare centers or parks) if none already existed, and even to designate sites for schools.
It seems like creating a more family-friendly city centre requires a number of pretty active interventions on behalf of the Council. Partly through its investments in public realm improvements, safe walking routes and community facilities but perhaps more so through clever regulations and incentives for developers to provide housing typologies and facilities themselves which attract a wider range of households to the area.
Streets safer for kids to play – Photo by oh.yes.melbourne
The city centre part of the Unitary Plan contains some provision for bonus floor area provisions – based around heritage protection, encouraging residential dwellings, public open space, artworks and through-site links. Perhaps, to truly encourage families with children into the city centre these rules over time need to be further expanded to deal with issues such as the provision of childcare or other family-focused facilities.
The Ministry of Education also need to raise their game by providing a Primary School within the city centre, which along with the City Centre Master Plan‘s vision of a people-focused city centre would go a long way towards increasing the diversity of the population and really bringing families and kids into the heart of Auckland.
Wynyard is one of the few places designed to let kids play in the city – Photo by oh.yes.melbourne
Wynyard includes lots of family friendly features – Photo by Patrick Reynolds
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.
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.
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:
Somewhat 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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
And her focus is on five specific concerns.
- Housing Supply
- Plan Efficiency
- Plan Integrity
- Plan Suitability
I’m just going to pick out some key points from each of those.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.