Yesterday I attended two events related to the unitary plan. The first was held by the council and covered off the next steps of the Unitary Plan along with the Auckland Design Manual. The second was a talk on the issues with the plan hosted by Construkt.
Council – Unitary Plan
As many will know, the Unitary Plan will be officially notified on Monday. At that point the entire plan and all of the updated maps will be on the council’s website (replacing the Shape Auckland site). Due to the size of the plan and with Christmas looming, the council will hold allow for submissions up until the 28th of February. That’s 5 months which is twice as long as was allowed for in the draft consultation earlier this year.
During November the council will be holding events around the region so that people interested can find out more about the plan. I think one of the issues with the draft plan consultation is that perhaps there weren’t enough events later on in the process so hopefully the council will also be holding some in late Jan/early Feb so they don’t get caught out in a wave of negative publicity like they seemed to last time. The council are also working with the planning institute to hold sessions about the process including giving people tips on how to make a better submission.
For the consultation the council have also put together a a number of documents intended to help the public understand the plan including local area factsheets that show how the zoning in the local board areas have changed from the draft plan to what is being notified. This is a good step although I still think that there simply isn’t enough easy to obtain information for people as to what zoning exists now. It leaves me concerned we will see a repeat of the draft consultation where lots of people complained about building heights in areas that weren’t actually proposed to be changed from what already exists. Also hopefully it is just my copy but it seems a decent number of the maps have been stupidly printed upside down.
After consultation closes it likely won’t be until sometime in May that we get the first idea of what the feedback actually and that is when the council will release a summary of the submissions. However it will take officers a longer time to properly work through everything and the formal hearings are not expected to start until 2015. If you remember the government will be the ones appointing the hearing commissioners and that is meant to be happening before the end of this year.
If you remember we got an idea of some of the changes to the maps from the documents that came out during the final stages of the council discussions. The maps below give a good indication as to just how much the local boards have pulled back on intensification with most pushing for the much lower Suburban version of the Mixed Housing Zone.
Council – Auckland Design Manual
This was the much more interesting part of the council talk as it has been something that a lot of people have been waiting to see. It too goes live on Monday with the unitary Plan. The intention of it is great, while it’s a non-statutory document, it is meant to work alongside the Unitary Plan and contain “the latest design guidance, best practice processes and real life examples”. The council also said that the manual and how they are implementing it is a world first for a best practice guide.
Created by Auckland Council, the Auckland Design Manual (ADM) will tell readers everything they need to know to achieve the high quality houses, neighbourhoods and open spaces Aucklanders want – and the best return on investment.
The manual will work as a practical companion guide to The Unitary Plan – the new rulebook for Auckland’s built and natural environment. Put in simple terms, the Unitary Plan will say what can be built and where, while the ADM will say how those rules can best be met – with developments that look great, work well and are economically viable.
Unlike the Unitary Plan the ADM will be non-statutory, which will enable it to be updated regularly and quickly with the latest design guidance, best practice processes and real life examples.
The website will also be a continual two-way conversation – welcoming feedback and suggestions from the public on page content. This will create a dynamic resource with the most current advice and guidelines.
Initially the plan will launch with only two sections
Design for Auckland will explain how your project fits into the bigger picture – because no matter what the scale, your project will shape the community as a whole.
Design for Places is the ‘how to’ guide within the manual and will give practical design tips through case studies and worked examples
While in February additional sections will launch.
Design Process – a step-by-step guide through the design and development process to ensure you know what to do and when.
Design Thinking – a portal for the key design issues and principles that matter to Auckland.
Resources – useful tools such as a home buyers guide and checklists for what to look for in different house types
We were only showed a brief glimpse of the manual and how it worked so I will need to reserve full judgement until it is published but it certainly looked pretty. Users will be able to drill down to get real life examples of good developments across a wide mix of different building types and price points. If you’re interested you will even be able to get site specific details including the location, floor plans and many other attributes.
The council want to use as many local examples as possible and initially they have 12, eight from Auckland and four from Wellington. But it also raises my first issue/concern. They used the excuse that they need to keep it mostly local as they are worried that if they show international examples that people will just dismiss it saying that it can’t work here. They will eventually release international examples but it sounds like those will be much more limited in comparison to the local ones. I can understand why they are doing it this way but I do worry that it means it will take longer for great design ideas to catch on. Further people will be able to submit their own examples of good designs to appear on the site – after they have been checked of course. One of the hopes is that appearing in the design manual as an example will become something that developers (of all sizes) strive for and therefore raising the quality in Auckland.
The initial sections that launch will include examples on housing and parks however eventually it will be expanded to include design examples about good streets and even good neighbourhoods. All up the manual sounds really good but I guess my main concern is that simply it ends up being either too ambitious and doesn’t deliver or that it, or the dedicated staff who will be maintaining it become the victims of some future round of budget cutting. That could leave the site languishing to the point that people simply stop using it. On the other side of the coin, if it does catch on like the council hope, it should become an excellent resource.
Some of you may remember a report which came out last year while the council were discussing the Auckland Plan that criticised the council over how much growth the plan would actually allow for. Well one of its authors, Patrick Fontein was speaking about the unitary plan and some of the issues with it. At the time the report was picked up on by the likes of Dick Quax to suggest that intensification simply wasn’t going to work and that we should open up more greenfield land however it was pretty clear from Patrick’s talk that he was saying quite the opposite. He was suggesting that we needed to be bolder and allow for more density if we want intensification. One of the key reasons for this is that just because a site is zoned for say apartments, that doesn’t mean apartments can or will be viable to develop there.
Interestingly he provided a list of the key recommendations he made to the council back in 2011 when he produced the report and had marked them against what has happened with the Unitary Plan. The sad thing is the areas where we have had the biggest concerns about the plan were also the same things he raised back then. The recommendations included:
- Intensification zoning needs to be bold
- Political resilience and backbone to support quality intensification, especially when facing substantial NIMBY resistance (NIMEY?) – NIMEY stands for Not In My Election Year
- A major public relations campaign to show the benefits of good quality intensification to the wider community.
A crap public relations campaign (was there even one?) that did little to talk about the benefits of intensification and the dis-benefits of not intensifying combined with not highlighting to people what zoning currently exists led to a lot of NIMBYs. Those NIMBYs then complained loud enough that some of the weaker politicians folded scared they wouldn’t get re-elected and as a result any bold intensification zoning was scaled back (except for in the Henderson-Massey area where the local board went bolder).
What is scary is the result of all of this. In 2011 when he produced the original report, Patrick estimated that the Auckland Plan would allow for about 67% intensification which was just under the council’s target of 70%. By the time the first draft of the Unitary Plan was released he estimates the changes in zoning have removed the potential for about 100,000 extra dwellings in the urban area, bringing the intensification level down to 45%. With the latest changes to the plan following the consultation he estimates it has removed another 50,000 potential dwellings and brought the intensification percentage down to about 32%. One of the reasons for it dropping so much is that the reduced height limits in many places have not only removed potential dwellings but have also made many of the sites no longer viable for development.
What all of this means is that in a few years we are likely to need to go back and fix all of the issues with the plan. Effectively re-litigating across large portions of Auckland height and density limits as well as historic protection rules all over again – in other words all of the most contentious parts of the plan. I’m sure that is a sobering thought for many, particularly those who have been fighting for the plan to be better.