One of the key challenges faced by those tasked with shaping the new planning framework for Auckland is the need to accommodate a huge amount of population growth within the “compact city” concept currently favoured by Auckland Council. The debate surrounding the intensification or expansion of urban Auckland is not new, yet the planning and legal landscape is quickly changing around us. And while there are a number of aspirations for growth clearly set out in the Auckland Plan, there is mounting concern as to how those goals will be translated in subsequent planning documents and, even more so, how they will be put into practice.
The Unitary Plan will attempt to tackle head-on the questions of how and where to house Auckland’s growing resident population, while simultaneously improving Auckland’s urban design and the environmental qualities treasured by its residents. To make matters worse, Central Government has made its expectations known - the Council must take meaningful steps toward proving affordable housing. As a result, the Council seems caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, yet one thing is clear - previous ad hoc “solutions” will no longer be sufficient.
Over the past years, resource consent and private plan change applicants have butted heads with councils and parts of the community about what development should look like; where it should be located; and, in some cases, whether it is required at all. Inevitably resource consent and plan change processes that propose new greenfields or brownfields development have seen a divergence between developers who see an economic opportunity; planners who either leap at, or shy away from, the chance to increase density; and those in the community who are less than enthusiastic about potential changes to their neighbourhoods or local centres. Put simply, for those involved in the consenting process (equally applicants, community participants, consent authorities and infrastructure providers) existing tensions boil down to intensification vs the status quo; affordable options vs profitable developments; over-development vs lost opportunities; and the vision of planners for the future vs how and where people want to live right now. It seems inevitable that these same tensions will emerge during submissions on the draft Unitary Plan.
The preparation of the Unitary Plan will be the first time since the inception of the RMA that the whole of Auckland is effectively up for grabs. Conversations about intensification will not be limited to “is this site right”; instead the question will be “where is best”? And that will require a detailed examination of existing areas and potential development sites in order to make some Auckland-wide decisions about where additional housing should go - outward, upward or somewhere in between? Of course, as far as land-owners and developers are concerned, there will be definite winners and there will be losers.
This paper will consider Auckland Council’s vision for Auckland, as set out in the Auckland Plan, including the strategic directives with respect to residential development. An examination of recent attempts to achieve much-needed intensification in key locations will seek to identify how those development proposals have previously grappled with the issues that inevitably arise. And, looking forward, how will the Unitary Plan plot a course through the difficulties ahead and accommodate the many divergent views?
Auckland Plan - a vision for Auckland
As part of the amalgamation of local government in Auckland in 2010, the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 required the Auckland Council to prepare a spatial plan which sets out the high-level long term strategy (20 to 30 years) for Auckland’s growth and development. Auckland Council has clearly identified that the draft Unitary Plan will be the key tool for implementing the targets and objectives of the Auckland Plan.
The Auckland Plan promotes an ambitious intensification target, noting that Auckland’s population is expected to increase by one million people over the next 30 years. Some equate that to 3-4 people “arriving” in Auckland ever hour. (The comparative “arrival statistics” are 1 every 2 hours in Christchurch and 1 every 2.5 hours in Wellington.) Based on those projections, it is clear that provision for intensification has to start occurring immediately, certainly in identified key locations if not across the board.
The majority of the expected 400,000 new dwellings (around 60 to 70%) will be built within the existing urban footprint, with the remaining dwellings located within new greenfield developments, satellite towns, and rural and coastal towns. For the provision of these future dwellings, the Auckland Plan sets out the following development objectives and targets:
- 100,000 new dwellings between 2012-2022; 170,000 new dwellings between 2022-2032; and 130,000 new dwellings between 2032-2042.
- Deliver greenfield growth in a sequenced way over the next 30 years, with an average of 7 years unconstrained development capacity at any point in time. (For the purpose of the Plan, unconstrained development capacity is land which has a relevant, operative zoning and is serviced by bulk infrastructure.) Significant development outside the Rural Urban Boundary (“RUB”) will be restricted.
- Development is to be undertaken in accordance with the Urban Centres hierarchy. The hierarchy classifies areas according to their existing and future role and function and identifies City Fringe Centres (eg Devonport and Ponsonby), Metropolitan Areas (eg Takapuna and Botany) and Town Centres (eg Milford and Pt Chevalier) as areas where high-density development will be encouraged (ranging between 5 - 9+ storeys).1 These are primarily areas where public infrastructure is already in place, with close proximity to public transport and amenities.
- Further down the centres hierarchy, some growth will occur in less populated rural areas, but particularly in identified satellite towns (eg Warkworth and Pukekohe) and rural and coastal towns (eg Wellsford and Helensville). (A number of the identified locations have been noted as requiring further “investigation”.)
- Over the next three years, priority growth will be focussed on nine existing compact urban areas that are served by existing infrastructure (including the City Centre, Takapuna, Hobsonville, and Onehunga).2 The Auckland Plan proposes early Council investment in infrastructure and community facilities to support the intensification of these areas.
- All development will be expected to take a ‘design led’ approach and meet the principles of good design (as detailed in the Auckland Design Manual).
- Increased density and commercial activities will be encouraged in and around urban centres and out-of-centre retail and development will be limited.
- The supply of affordable housing will be encouraged as part of development proposals within urban centres.
Relatively speaking, while the Auckland Plan includes a fair amount of direction as to where Auckland’s new housing might locate, it is less clear from the Plan how that development might be enabled in practice. What the Auckland Plan does not clarify is how the Auckland Council will ensure that there is sufficient development capacity, or “ready to go” land, for housing in the locations that have been identified. The Plan leaves that level of detail to the proposed Unitary Plan. While that approach in principle is the correct one, if the aspirations set out in the Auckland Plan are to be accomplished, it must be clear that the land is available for development in those. Otherwise any attempt by the Unitary Plan to “have regard” to the Auckland Plan (as it is currently required to do in accordance with proposed reforms to the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009) will fall short.
So do the aspirations included in the Auckland Plan have any realistic prospect of being implemented?
The population projection included in the Auckland Plan would equate to approximately 400,000 new houses on about 20,000 hectares of land by 2042, if the format of development continues to reflect traditional Auckland suburbs. However given the shortage of vacant sites and potential greenfields development areas, the assumption is that much of the required housing stock will be provided by master-planned developments that include apartments, high-rise buildings and town-houses; housing types suited to greater densities than traditional “house and garden” suburban living.
The ability of developers to meet demand for large scale, master-planned residential development has been low given these developments require significant land areas, proximity to major centres and a developer who is able to fund and follow through high calibre developments. Often, the sheer scale and cost of this type of development is a deterrent to developers, who would much rather undertake a series of smaller, less risky, subdivisions instead. Developers who wish to undertake large scale development of the type anticipated in the Auckland Plan face:
- An absence of well-located, available land.
- Capital cost and exposure to on-going holding costs.
- Reducing margins, due to increasing construction costs, resource and building consent costs, development contributions, requirement to provide infrastructure outside serviced areas and/or infrastructure connection fees.
Together with those practical obstacles, applicants are often challenged by the community, who may not have any interest in an abstract need for density and are vocal in their desire for development to go elsewhere. Increasingly, applicants also have additional demands from a Council that is looking for more affordable housing options or more intensive use of particular sites. (And at the same time as seeking the provision of affordable housing, the Council may impose urban design and other mitigation requirements that in many case make otherwise “affordable” developments unaffordable - at least insofar as the developer is concerned.) There is a dichotomy between developers being asked by the Council to invest private funds in projects to support Auckland’s growth and to assume the commercial risk themselves, while being painted as unreasonable or as pushing the envelope too far when seeking certain density or design outcomes.
To implement objectives and targets related to growth and design included in the Plan, the Council proposes to actively explore all mechanisms within its statutory mandate, including:
- Requiring developments to provide a mix of dwelling sizes and types and including zone provisions which allow for greater residential density throughout large parts of urban Auckland.
- Implementing measures to ensure the supply of residential land can meet demand such as:
- amalgamating large sites for large development and using Council-owned land as a catalyst for stimulating development, particularly in areas that are less market attractive;
- investigating auctioning rights to develop land and creating mechanisms for the staged release of land within the RUB; and
- reviewing current building and resource consent processes to improve provide simplified, quicker and more cost-effective outcomes.
- Fast-tracking quality developments and/or providing financial incentives (such as reduced development contributions) for those developments that increase the supply of a particular type of housing and density or ease overcrowding in specific areas.
- Establishing joint ventures between the Auckland Council and private sector providers to identify and release large areas of land and provide capacity within the building sector to meet the anticipated development.
The Auckland Plan has recognised that innovative solutions are needed, as development (both residential and commercial) struggles to keep pace with demand. But how difficult will it be to follow through, given the myriad competing considerations that are still very much at play?
Development pre and post-Auckland Plan: what have the challenges been?
The Auckland Plan uses the example of Hobsonsville Point to demonstrate that people are “prepared to accept” more afford able, attached, intensified houses as long as the houses are well designed and the area has high amenity. However a number of examples both pre- and post- the release of the Auckland Plan have demonstrated how difficult it is in practice to achieve intensive outcomes that respond to demand without antagonising the community in which that intensification is to occur. This section of the paper will examine in detail some of those recent examples.
Milford - market attractive location lacking community and political support
In 2012, a private plan change was proposed to rezone a single landholding of 2.9 hectares in Milford to enable future residential development.3 Under the Auckland Plan, Milford has been pinpointed for significant residential intensification and identified as one of four “market attractive” town centres, largely due to its close proximity to public transport, major employment and amenity areas and social services. Prior to the Auckland Plan, Milford has consistently been identified at a strategic level - ie in both the Auckland Regional Policy Statement and the Auckland Council (North Shore Section) District Plan - as suitable for future residential intensification and expected to accommodate its share of the significant ‘growth’ predicted for the Auckland Region.
The Plan Change would enable development of up to 235 apartments constructed within three medium-rise residential towers of varying heights (between seven and 17 storeys) and some ground terraced town-housing. This type of development seems consistent with the clear directives regarding growth in the Auckland Plan, particularly comments that, in some town centres, developments of nine or more storeys may be appropriate.
However the Plan Change was met with significant opposition from the local community (around 3000 submissions were received, the vast majority of which were in opposition). The community, led by the Milford Residents Association, argued that the Plan Change would significantly alter the low-rise village character of Milford. Submitters argued that any future growth within Milford should be consistent with the existing development (predominantly low-rise) and that high-rise development, of the form proposed by the Plan Change, would be more appropriately located elsewhere such as the City Centre or other areas such as Takapuna. While submitters were generally not opposed to residential intensification in Auckland per se, there was an overwhelming sense that intensification should occur “somewhere else” - a textbook NIMBY response. Mayor Len Brown also waded in on the debate commenting that he was “not comfortable with high-rise plans in Milford...[and that] it should be five to six storeys maximum and generally speaking three to four”.4
The Milford example demonstrates a common divergence, in this case between developers whose aspirations are supported by a suite of both regional and district planning instruments that identify Milford for residential intensification, and the local community who want Milford to remain characterised by low-rise low density residential development with a “village” character. Yet if growth can’t be easily accommodated in Milford - which is identified precisely for that purpose - then real difficulties are likely to be experienced in less obvious locations.
This case highlights precisely why the Council’s Unitary Plan needs to identify market attractive locations as the areas with the highest potential density. There is simply no point zoning commercially unattractive land for intensive residential development, or like-wise “under-zoning” commercially attractive properties, which would simply result in a lost opportunity to intensify.
Orewa - coastal village community rejects potential for growth
Orewa is a similar case study. While Orewa is certainly a market attractive and desirable seaside location, historically it has been an area predominantly characterised by low-rise suburban developments. Yet the former Rodney District Council had greater aspirations for Orewa and promoted Plan Variation 101, which sought to create an overlay zone to enable greater intensity (and height) within part of Orewa Town Centre. Orewa residents, however, had other ideas about how development in their community should be undertaken and successfully appealed the Council’s adoption of the Plan Variation to the Environment Court.
Following the Variation 101 decision, the Auckland Plan once again signalled the Council’s intention for Orewa to bear its share of residential intensification. The Auckland Plan expects that there will be an extra 95,000 households in the Urban North and West area of Auckland over the next 30 years. Of this, there are likely to be approximately 25,000 new homes in the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board area. Like Milford, Orewa was identified in the Auckland Plan as a Town Centre, where low to medium-rise development of up 8 storeys and density of 20–60 plus dwellings per hectare is considered appropriate.
However, despite the Auckland Plan’s direction, the recently released draft Hibiscus and Bays Area Plan, prepared by the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board, continues to resist intensification objectives. The Area Plan records that “over the next 30 years, centres and surrounding existing suburbs could see a third of their housing redeveloped (mainly to town houses, apartments and 2-storey units)”. Rather than the type of development envisaged by the Auckland Plan, the Area Plan states that for the Orewa Town Centre the following development is appropriate: 5
- The commercial area of the Town Centre will be mixed use development, with new buildings restricted to four storeys.
- Mixed use housing will be encouraged beyond the town centre, with housing up to three storeys.
- Mixed use sites will be encouraged on the beachfront, opposite the commercial area. However, guidelines will be developed to ensure that new buildings will be limited to two storeys in order to protect the amenity and existing views within Orewa.
- Buildings will be developed and located so that they do not unduly shadow the surrounding beach, parks and reserves.
The Board has commented that the Area Plan reflects the community’s wish to “maintain the coastal village feel” and “get the right balance of growth”. Destination Orewa, the Orewa Beach Business Association, has also waded into the debate, commenting that the Board has ignored the economic realities that higher density must occur in Orewa if it is to compete with nearby Silverdale.
Like the Milford example, the debate in Orewa illustrates that division that can exist between the local community, who want Orewa to remain a “sea-side village”, and the Council, which is promoting residential intensification. Developers are effectively playing “piggy-in-the-middle” - as they are willing and able to give effect to the Council’s vision but being faced with an uncertain planning framework and potential community opposition. The Council will need to resolve the issue in the Unitary Plan to ensure that the final planning framework provides a clear direction for the expected intensification in areas like Orewa.
Long Bay - cost of affordable housing and infrastructure
Residential intensification in Auckland’s northern outskirts is underway at Long Bay, where construction has commenced on a development that will eventually include some 2,700 houses. It is anticipated that 67 hectares (of a 160 hectare site) will be used for housing, with the majority of the first stage allotments being 500m2 in size (the largest sections being 930m2). Starting prices for the first three-bedroom, stand-alone houses are anticipated to be at least $700,000.
The Long Bay development has received criticism over the lack of affordable housing and intensification on the site. While the Auckland Plan outlines the supply of affordable housing and residential intensification as key priorities, the Long Bay development has been described as more akin to “the density of a traditional suburb, nowhere near the kind of density envisaged in the Auckland Plan...” and effectively “expensive houses on large sections gobbling up prime land”.6
However, the developer has argued that it is not economically viable to provide a development of the scale anticipated under the Auckland Plan, given the development’s history and other infrastructural constraints:
- While construction has started this year, the development has been on hold since 2006 when the Structure Plan (which guides the development on the site) faced considerable community opposition in Council, and Environment Court appeal processes. The Structure Plan, which was only approved by the Court in 2011, was opposed on the basis that the land should be merged with the Long Bay Regional Park and that the “growing population should not go to areas like Long Bay....”[t]hey should go somewhere else, obviously.” 7
- The developer has had to spend circa $10 million in installing the necessary wastewater infrastructure to meet the capacity of the area and prevent storm water spilling into the park.
- In 2010, about 23 hectares of the original site was vested as public reserve when the former North Shore City Council reached agreement with the development company for public ownership of 18.7 hectares zoned for protecting archaeological sites, as well as 4.6 hectares for parks.8
Against this background and the significant costs already incurred throughout the consenting process, the developer maintains that the provision of affordable housing is “completely impossible” and that the construction, consenting and connection costs have, ultimately, been reflected in the prices and densities at Long Bay.9
The Long Bay example illustrates one of the key issues that can arise with greenfield development, namely the lack of existing infrastructure to service the future transport, water supply, wastewater and storm water needs of the area. Whether a greenfield area can be quickly and successfully intensified will inevitably depend on the capacity (or existence) of such service infrastructure. In the absence of existing public infrastructure, other development goals, such as affordable housing, may need to be sacrificed in order to make the development economically viable.
Developers have long faced similar problems in un-serviced areas of Auckland. In a recent example, Plan Change 32 was promoted to facilitate the expansion of the Clevedon Village and to provide for an additional 600 household units and additional business land. One of the critical factors in initiating the Plan Change was to address existing wastewater issues in the area as well as to ensure reticulated services would be in place to serve new development. As a rural village, wastewater had historically been treated and disposed of by on-site wastewater systems; however, in more recent times, these systems have started to fail, resulting in public health concerns. Despite the obvious need for development to be serviced by a reticulated system, the notified Plan Change failed to provide any constraints on subdivision occurring prior to the new infrastructure being in place. The decisions version of the Plan Change largely accepted submissions on this issue and provided that subdivisions not connected to a reticulated system would be a prohibited activity for several years, to allow for necessary network infrastructure to be consented and constructed.
While the Plan Change is still subject to appeals, for developers in the Clevedon area the Plan Change places an effective prohibition on residential development until there is a reticulated system in place.
These examples demonstrate that, if the Council is committed to the intensification outcomes set out in the Auckland Plan, it needs to ensure both that its funding and asset programmes appropriately reflect those outcomes, and that it is making the most of intensification opportunities in existing serviced areas.
Merchant Quarter vs Wynyard Quarter - build it and they will come?
Elsewhere in Auckland, two new apartment developments have been announced for New Lynn and the Wynyard Quarter. In New Lynn, apartments in the planned 14 storey Merchant Quarter development are meeting the demand for affordable housing by selling for under Auckland’s average - starting from $246,500 for a one-bedroom apartment. Closer to town, in the Wynyard Quarter plans have been released for around 980 apartments and low-rise townhouses on 2.7 hectares that will ultimately accommodate between 2,500 to 4,000 new residents. The smallest apartments are projected to be priced at $500,000, small townhouses would be $850,000 and many properties are likely to sell for over $1 million.10
While Merchant Quarter may tick the Council’s box for affordable housing, submitters and commentators have questioned whether people actually want to live in the areas where such housing is being offered. Equally, the Property Council has raised concerns that the priority areas identified in the Auckland Plan are low and middle-market areas that do not attract the necessary demand to meet the targets in the Auckland Plan.11
To inform its submission on the draft version of the Auckland Plan, the Property Council commissioned a report on the economics of redevelopment in three case study areas: Parnell (a City Fringe Area), and (now prioritised areas) New Lynn and Onehunga. The key findings of the report were that Parnell had a strong demand and high development potential for the next 30 years; whereas Onehunga and New Lynn had weak demand and low development potential for the next thirty years. The report concluded that Auckland’s upmarket centres (those close to the CBD and local amenity areas) would have an important role in accommodating Auckland’s future growth compared to low and middle-market areas. In the Property Council’s submission, “a granular analysis of study zones within Auckland is likely to demonstrate a fundamental disconnect between where the Council wishes to accommodate future generations of Aucklanders, and where those Aucklanders will actually want to live”.
An emerging criticism is that the Council has focussed intensification in low- and middle-market area where the opposition to intensification will be less problematic, for example New Lynn. Of the Town Centres identified in the Auckland Plan, it remains to be seen how many are truly desirable locations, and therefore have realistic potential for development both now and in the future. If the Council’s prioritised locations prove unpopular, then intensification will not be achieved as developers simply will not invest where there is no market. Housing affordability will be equally adversely affected: if Aucklanders continue flock to areas that are predominantly low-rise (such as Remuera, and Ponsonby), increased competition in those areas will result in prices continuing to sky-rocket.
Ponsonby - opposition to development in desirable locations
In Ponsonby, identified in the Auckland Plan as a City Fringe Area capable of accommodating medium-rise and medium to high density development, even low-rise developments meet with community opposition, particularly given the heritage character of the area.
A proposed three-storey retail and apartment building on the corner of Ponsonby Road and Pember Reeves Street has already received a frosty response from the community and is sparking debate about the extent to which modern architecture should be allowed along the famous character strip. Western Bays Community Group has submitted that the development “has no place on Ponsonby Road” and is “synthetic, inappropriate and unsympathetic to its surroundings”. This is in contrast to a leading urban design expert supporting the design and stating that it is an appropriate development within the mix that characterises Ponsonby Road.
Various other small-scale developments have been met with horror in recent times, including mixed use development on Great North Road, a development on part of the Herne Bay Bowling Club grounds and the redevelopment of pensioner flats on Bayard Street. Community reception to these developments continues to demonstrate that intensification within City Fringe areas is a hard pill for existing residents to swallow. But it is exactly in these areas that Aucklanders want to live, work and play.
How the Council plans to reconcile community opposition to its Urban Centres hierarchy will be another challenge for the Unitary Plan. Certainly the Auckland Plan expects local communities to play their part, noting that it is “expected that the private sector, local communities, iwi, the Auckland Council, Central Government and third sector parties will work together” to ensure we achieve the best development possible in our urban environment.
In advance of the notification in draft, planned for March, the Council may be confident that it has managed community expectations in respect of intensification. The strength of public feedback will soon reveal whether that is the case. Will the Council respond by avoiding communities that have the resources to continue to oppose intensification in their back yards?
Proposed Unitary Plan
The Prime Minister noted in his recent state of the nation speech that he is keenly awaiting Auckland Council’s new Unitary Plan. He believes that there are “plenty of private sector investors who want to invest in housing, if only we can remove the roadblocks that are slowing down the process and driving up costs”, and personally expects the Unitary Plan to include multiple options for both greenfield and brownfield residential property developments.
Although the March release will be the first time the entire draft text has been available for review, the Council has engaged in a moderate amount of early stakeholder engagement already, to assist in the preparation of the draft text. While it is unclear how much the text has changed since draft provisions were circulated late last year among some industry members, in an early draft eight key issues of regional significance were identified to shape the provisions of the Unitary Plan, the first of which is to enable urban growth. The corresponding outcome is to address the supply of land in appropriate locations. The working draft also notes that there are many challenges to accommodating growth, but that development must maximise the benefits of land use while providing high quality urban living and lifestyle choices.
To achieve this outcome, it is anticipated that developments that either make very good (ie dense/intense) use of large development sites, or that incorporate increased density by way of well-designed taller buildings, mixed-use development or other innovative solutions, will be given a significant “leg-up” in the Unitary Plan to ensure that sufficient new development occurs within the necessary time-frames. Certainly such a leg-up seems to be required. The biggest obstacle in the past has sometimes been decision makers reducing the number of units or floors in a proposed development in an attempt to appease submitters or urban designers. So how will the Unitary Plan provisions ensure that the Council’s intensification agenda will prevail throughout the Hearing Panel process, despite community expectations remaining unchanged?
Providing sufficiently for the projected growth will not be a question of picking between different alternatives, but rather implementing all possible options. Not all of the solutions will be immediately apparent in the March-draft text - they may develop as a result of consultation, submissions and the inevitably lengthy mediation and hearing process. But, on review of the draft provisions so far, it seems that at least the following techniques are likely to be implemented:
- Greater emphasis on mixed-use zones.
- Policies and incentives directed at greater housing affordability and choices.
- Increased maximum heights in identified metro and town centres, and in some local centres and corridors.
- Fewer residential zones, identified by housing typology - ie single house, mixed housing, terraced/apartment housing, and large lot residential.
- In mixed housing zones, no limits on density for large lots (1,500m2 or more) provided that three or more units are provided.
The Auckland Plan recognises that there will be no single solution. Instead, “urgent, large-scale, bold, multi sector action is required”, and it seems that will not be restricted to the provisions of the Unitary Plan. There will also be reliance on other planning tools, including:
- The Auckland Plan’s Development Strategy is the high level strategy contained within Section D of the Auckland Plan and broadly sets out how Auckland will change and grow over the next 30 years. The Development Strategy Action Plan seeks to increase the supply of housing inside the existing urban area and to ensure it becomes more affordable for people on low to middle incomes.
- The Auckland Design Manual will include guidance on best practice urban design outcomes and is intended to be read as a companion to the Unitary Plan. While the Manual will no doubt contain a high level of detail on design expectations, there has been no consultation with key stakeholders thus far. The content is expected to be completed by July 2013, with the initial release anticipated for September 2013 (to align with the notification of the Unitary Plan in September 2013). While it is intended that there will be no rules in the design manual, only case studies and general “ideas” for urban design, in the working draft Unitary Plan provisions, the extent to which the design, form and location of the development aligns with the Auckland Design Manual is an assessment criteria for residential development.
- The Strategic Housing Action Plan arises out of directive 11.1 of the Auckland Plan and looks at the role that the Auckland Council can play in both the broader issue of housing supply, as well as the role it can play in affordable housing - the tools and levers the Council can use to influence housing.
Yet in addition to those initiatives, others are needed. The Auckland Plan is clear that high quality design is key to the compact living concept, which places high expectations on design outcomes. Yet placing extensive design-related restrictions on development will slow down, rather than speed-up, new development. Instead, particularly innovative design or amenity provisions should be rewarded with bonus development opportunities or density allowances.
Equally, the Council could consider the use of Floor Area Ratio controls rather than maximum height limits, which will still increase the value of land, while encouraging more innovative design. Or the Plan could permit trading of development rights either on a site or between suburbs - allowing owners of lots that are potentially sub-dividable to trade that development potential to owners in areas where development is sought. The home-owner benefits from retaining open space without losing value, and a developer in a high-intensity zone elsewhere is able to increase yield in an appropriate location. Allowing people to trade development rights in this way will have both economic and local community benefits and should be actively encouraged.
But perhaps the single most effective, yet controversial, solution will be bold intensification of desirable locations. The Auckland Plan is clear that “planning for intensification will focus on the areas most suited to it” and goes on to provide that intensification and growth will be developed in consultation with local communities, taking into account their aspirations for an area. However, in practice, Council and community aspirations are unlike to reflect one another - already communities such as Parnell and Grey Lynn have presented their own plans to the council as part of the Unitary Plan process. Grey Lynn wishes to develop in a sustainable way in keeping with its alternative values and the Parnell structure plan wants to focus on the community by returning roads to pedestrians and cyclists. While this community flavour is interesting, these are very desirable areas to live and work and precisely the locations that higher intensity development opportunities would attract developers willing to build, and residents eager to settle.
If there is to be any hope of accommodating the anticipated growth, decisions in respect of these key locations will need to be made. And those decisions will not find favour with everyone: the March draft will almost inevitably result in an immediately heated debate. The Council’s response to public feedback will no doubt result in changes to the draft to be formally notified later in the year, in time for local-body elections. Will the final decisions that are made in respect of Auckland’s future growth be made by politicians or planners?