Auckland is growing up

Auckland is growing up

By Andrew Collins, General Manager - Urban Development.

Auckland is growing up.

We mean literally. Auckland is to grow up in many areas.

Auckland Council is currently developing changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan to enable apartment buildings of at least 6 storeys (could be higher) in areas of the city within a 15 minute walk of the central city and within a 10-minute walk of 10 metropolitan areas - Takapuna, Newmarket, Henderson, Albany, Botany, Manukau, Papakura, Sylvia Park, New Lynn and Westgate/Massey North. Apartment buildings of at least 6 storeys will also be allowed within a 10-minute walk of every train station on the western, southern and eastern rail lines and stops along the Northern Busway.

It is not so much in the commercial centres where the changes will have the most impact, but in the residential suburbs surrounding these centres (within the above walking catchments) – areas such as Remuera, Mt Albert, Sandringham and Milford to name just a few – which are currently the domain of lower rise apartments and single dwellings.

Why is this happening?

Auckland Council is considering these changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan to give effect to the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD), as it has to do. Under the Resource Management Act 1991, regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans (noting that the Auckland Unitary Plan is all of these in one plan) must give effect to national policy statements.

About the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020

Since the NPS-UD came into force on 20 August last year, Councils around the country have been working out what they need to do to give effect to it. It has huge implications.

The NPS-UD identifies:

- 19 local authorities located in and around 5 main urban areas (Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch) as Tier 1 urban environments.

- 17 local authorities located in and around 9 other urban areas (Whangarei, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North, Nelson/Tasman, Queenstown and Dunedin) as Tier 2 urban environments. • All other urban areas as Tier 3 urban environments.

Under the NPS-UD:

- All car parking requirements in all urban areas (Tier 1, 2 and 3) are to be removed other than for accessible car parks. There will still be parking standards (dimensions, manoeuvring etc) for when developers choose to provide parking.

- Plan changes in each Tier 1 and 2 urban environment are required to enable building heights of at least 6 storeys in and around (within walkable catchments of) city centre and metropolitan centre zones and existing and planned rapid transit stops. There is some limited provision for local authorities to modify this and to set lower limits for building heights where specified “qualifying matters” exist, such as historic heritage, outstanding landscapes, safe and efficient operation of nationally significant infrastructure, and so on. Some other high value “special character areas” and important “viewshafts” may also qualify for exemptions but lower and moderate value character areas and less important viewshafts are unlikely to qualify.

- The requirements around densities are not dictated to the same extent but the objectives and policies of the NPS-UD are clear that plans need to enable more people to live in or near a “centre zone” (which is defined to include all centres right down to neighbourhood centres) and areas served by existing or planned public transport.

These NPS-UD directives have the potential to really change urban form and drive housing affordability, housing intensification and public transport outcomes. In fact, amongst the key drivers for the introduction of the NPS-UD 2020 have been factors such as:

- relentlessly rising housing prices;

- consequential decline in housing affordability (ownership and rental)

- increasing traffic congestion

- need for viable public transport options (and associated population densities to support them)

- need for improved urban amenity outcomes.

So this is not just happening in Auckland?

No. Local authorities in all Tier 1 and 2 urban areas are grappling with how they implement the requirements of the NPS-UD.

For example, in Wellington a new Spatial Plan was recently approved that seeks to ramp up heights and densities in a similar manner to that proposed in Auckland so as to give effect to the NPS-UD. It was a controversial matter and it divided both the community and the City Council before it was finally approved. Changes to the Wellington City Plan will follow in due course.

Another example is in Tauranga where Plan Change 26 (Housing Choice) has been notified to encourage intensification and change building height limits in certain areas to give effect to the NPS-UD.

Our view

The provision of strong national guidance in the form of the NPS-UD 2020 is a "game changer" for our urban areas. We observed that when it was released last year but it is really only now, as it starts being translated into reality through plan changes and developments at the local level, that the changes will start to be realised.

As a country, we really cannot expect to achieve affordable housing, quality urban amenities, effective infrastructure and reliable public transport outcomes without doing something different. Enabling higher and denser urban forms close to commercial centres and rapid transit stops like railway stations makes good sense to us.

Like Auckland, each Council and community will incur significant costs as the details are worked through and we consider that most of the contentious areas will be around where various “qualifying matters” will enable the status quo (or something close to that) to remain for reasons of heritage, outstanding landscapes, high value special character and so on. We support those environmental protections as they will provide a good counter-balance to the enabling thrust of the NPS-UD.

Change is not always comfortable for everyone. Aucklanders may recall the community debates in the 2014-2016 period when the Auckland Unitary Plan was being developed. There were lots of NIMBY (not in my back yard) arguments where increased urban densities were proposed but the Independent Hearing Panel made some bold decisions that opened up many areas of Auckland to more terraced housing and apartment style development. The market has since really turned to accept that form of housing.

As it turns out however, those bold Unitary Plan decisions back in 2016 are likely to have been just the entrée. The next round of Unitary Plan decisions (driven by the NPS-UD) will provide the next course as Auckland evolves and transforms to meet our future needs.

As always, “the devil will be in the detail” and, in Auckland and around the country, we will be there to analyse plan changes and their implications for our clients and to advise them on ways to participate and get better outcomes. Our talented urban designers, landscape architects and transport planners are also looking forward to advising on the design and delivery of quality comprehensive developments and urban spaces to achieve better urban outcomes sought by these plan changes.

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