My post the other day on the Productivity Commission’s housing affordability report generated a number of really good comments – but also prompted me to have some further thoughts on the issue. But before I get onto that, the excellent Bob Dey Property Report makes some criticisms of the study too that are worth commenting on:

The difference of opinion between central & local government on whether Auckland should have an urban boundary is well known, but the commission’s calculations before reaching the conclusion that Auckland needs to make more land available – and preferably 20-year supply – are remarkably poor.

Equally poor is the assertion that Auckland should make adequate supplies of land for greenfield & intensive housing available, without any consideration of how you would encourage intensive when you’re supplying far cheaper land for stand-alone homes, and without any consideration of how the existing markets – for housing and for finance – would accommodate the supply of land at sharply lower prices.

This matter of supply, and the pricing of it, is a central question which the commission has failed to address, let alone try to answer.

This is similar to one of the key criticisms that I have of the report – which I could summarise by asking the question: “did they actually read the Auckland Spatial Plan?” The reason I ask such a basic (and cheeky) question, is because the report seems to ignore the incredibly obvious fact that the Auckland Plan actually provides for a lot of urban expansion. Here’s what the Plan’s summary document says:

The Development Strategy contains policies to maintain our rural and urban distinction. It promotes urban intensification and carefully managed peripheral growth.

A high growth scenario of an extra 1 million people living in Auckland in 30 years, means an extra 400,000 dwellings. Of these, 300,000 dwellings can be accommodated within the 2010 Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) through intensification. This equates to a 75:25 split between growth in existing urban areas and growth in new greenfield land (currently classified as rural land) and rural satellite towns. Existing greenfield areas are already identified (“in the pipeline”) or under development within the 2010 MUL. This will provide capacity for around 30,000 new dwellings. These areas will generally be developed before new greenfields are released.

To accommodate the shortfall of 100,000 dwellings and business and employment growth by 2040, around 5,000 – 6,000 hectares of new, undeveloped greenfield land will be needed. Areas for greenfield development are identified for further investigation (see Maps D.1 and D.2, red dotted lines around areas for investigation), and will fall within a new Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) that will replace the MUL.

The release of greenfields land will be staged within the RUB to meet market demand, and is supported by policies to ensure:

  • there is always 5 years’ available land which is zoned for residential development and serviced for water and waste water (“unconstrained capacity”) and a further 15 years capacity planned
  • there is a forward supply of unconstrained business land capacity, earmarked for particular purposes (especially Group 1 industrial land).

Future growth and development will be supported by a suite of tools to enable the desired change and ensure delivery is timely and well-executed.

If we add together the greenfield capacity for 30,000 dwellings within the existing urban limits and the 100,000 dwellings proposed to be located outside the urban limits, we get 130,000 total dwellings by 2040 that are planned to be located outside the current urban area. That’s quite a lot of urban expansion or sprawl.

Where will this sprawl go? Well the Auckland Plan provides some answers to that question too – in the areas shown in yellow below as well as through growing a number of satellite towns like Pukekohe and Warkworth: The yellow areas look pretty small in the map above, but once you put them together you get some idea about the level of urban expansion proposed: Another way to get an idea about how big an area 130,000 units will encompass is to look at the number of dwellings in the old council areas. This is shown in the table below (data from 2006 census): You can see that 130,000 dwellings is approximately the total of adding together Manukau City, Papakura District and Franklin District in 2006. At two and a half people per dwelling, it’s around 325,000 people (not far off the urban population of Christchurch or Wellington) living outside the current urban area.

And that’s not enough sprawl. Apparently.

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  1. Remember the Productivity Commission was a Rodney Hide invention, and all their senior members originate from the Treasury and Reserve Bank, and only one ideology rules their. So naturally they were going to come up with this conclusion.
    The real culprits in restricting housing supply are the development companies which drip feed land onto the market.
    Also the issue the last couple of years has been the lack of house building due to bad economy, compounded by fiance and development company collapses. This is going to make things much worse in coming years. Also construction sector was at flat tack for many years prior to the top of the boom so dont thing many more houses could have been built anyway. Of course these are all market reasons, hence the Productivity Commission doesn’t want to know about them.

    Of course sprawl is actually self defeating because the really bad effect is the rural land that will be in the urban growth path is cut up into hopeless 1acre blocks scattered around the place. This makes future urban development very difficult. Can be seen in Aardmore, near Massey, and probably the worst at Dairy Flat. Tends to result in dreadful urban form as the blocks are developed in a piecemeal fashion, Greenhithe and the the area just north-east of Albany (over the motorway) are examples of this.
    Not sure how they got around this in Flat Bush, but like the concept of the Council (and Housing NZ) being the lead developers when sprawl does happen.

  2. Good analysis once again.

    I’ve dismissed the productivity commission’s stance on MULs as purely ideological and hence they will never have any credibility on any future issue until they are all dismissed.

    That’s one bit of the public service that should be cut. Go on John Key, cut out the useless bits first.

  3. All good stuff. Every time I see something written by a property developer or those with links to developers all I do is try to remember the last time I saw a good development. They are few and far between.
    Hobsonville Point may, based on the web info, prove to be an exception. Here’s hoping.

    1. “Still hedging it’s bets by-”

      Hate it when they cut off like that.

      Great stuff, 2 points that leap out seem to be-

      1. The Productivity Commission has ignored several salient areas (LAQC on second third and fourth “homes”).

      2. No-one’s building the type of high density that people actively want to live in. Is that a planning failure?

  4. This commission is Hide’s vehicle, and the Right [that same coalition of democracy lovers that brought you the Epsom farce] is planning on running Hide against Brown at next Mayoral election. Real purpose of this process is to build up to that campaign, it is a PR stunt posing as research. The aim is to discredit the Auckland plan, and anything else Brown represents, which is why it actively ignores even the parts of the plan that it is trying to argue for. Nothing but grubby politics from some really nice people.

  5. What really needs to be talked about more is medium density. Rob Oram was reaching for it in that interview, but didn’t quite get there. Words such as ‘intensification’ and ‘high density’ are unfortunately loaded with connotations, and can quite easily derail a discussion. I think many or even most Aucklanders understand we need to be building smarter and cannot go on as we are, but the high density strawman often gets wheeled out.

    Unfortunately, high quality examples of contemporary medium density housing are quite rare here – it’s almost as if a large agency that recognises a housing shortage exists needs to go out and just build it….

    1. Raffe you’re right- it is all about medium density, we hardly do high density at all. Sprawlers always talk about about UK council estates and other slum examples as the only option to 300m2 McMansions on freshly ruined countryside. This is a trap to avoid, the best examples of the appropriate kind of multiunit medium density projects are across the Tasman, especially Melbourne, there are some here but not many good ones.

  6. I beleive that the UK experience of slum council estates is more due to Mrs Thatcher cutting off the council’s ability to raise funds in order to finance the maintenance of them It is possible to deisgn a decent medium – high density development, as the following show:

    As other posts have pointed out, this does also require a more efficient use of land – less carparking, an ability to ignore the setback rules ( as this wastes effectively one room width per plot) and i think in an ideal world the plot sizes would be re-though to allow greater street frontage and encourgae walk-up access from the street.

    1. Accordia. ( Cambridge, UK)

    This is probably the best single housing development I’m aware of in the past decade, as evidenced by the award of the Stirling Prize. I think it demostrates that with committed clients ( teh hosueing association) architects, developers, and crucially, council, outstanding mass housing can be achieved.

    2. Bo01, Western Harbour, Malmo, Sweden—Western-Harbour/Buildings.html

    3. Amsterdam’s eastern docklands, notably Borneo

    A large, extended re-development of docklands. This has created a large area of medium to high density development on the site of former docklands. Many well known architects have been involved in schemes throughout the development, and while some of these are over-blown, the overall result is successful. Key reasons for this success have been good design, services, public transport and amenities.

    4. A good website is the UK Housing Design Awards

    While many of these are likely to be too large for NZ, some or the smaller schemes ( such as Osprey Quays or New Islington ) may be more appropriate references.

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