Edit: Just to be clear, the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek. But the point of the post – that poorly thought out policies can have unintended consequences – is very serious.

The Auckland City Harbour News reports that a new cafe in Grey Lynn has drawn stiff opposition from the locals:

Concerned residents are saying a big “no” to a proposed cafe at The Little Grocer site.

The fate of the Grey Lynn property at 311 Richmond Rd will be decided by a panel of independent commissioners after Auckland Council received 62 submissions opposing the application.


Christchurch-based Hummingbird Coffee is proposing to convert the current retail property on the corner of Richmond Rd and Peel St into a 60-seat licensed cafe which will operate from 6.30am to 6pm, seven days a week.


Surrounding residents fear an increase in traffic, parking shortage and the noise and unpleasant smells from coffee roasting.

Let’s put aside, for a moment, the whole debate over whether or not homeowners should be able to impose on their neighbours’ property rights. Let’s consider what would happen to the economy if we all exhibited such reflexive opposition to any changes to our neighbourhoods.

First of all, it would probably stifle the competitiveness of Auckland’s retail sector. Banning one new cafe from opening might seem like a minor thing – but if people organised in opposition to every new coffeeshop it would give existing businesses a monopoly. Queues for morning flat whites would run out the doors, and prices would skyrocket.

If we did the same thing with, say, supermarkets or DIY shops, we’d all end up paying higher prices for lower-quality goods. Of course, deep-pocketed companies would be able to foot the bill to fight the court battles, but they’d have to pass on those costs to consumers. And, ultimately, it would result in a retail environment where McDonalds and Countdown could squeeze out their independent competition.

Second of all, if it’s this hard to get a cafe started, imagine how difficult it would be to open a new factory or warehouse. Auckland’s blue-collar economy would slowly gurgle down the tubes as the red tape imposed by residents associations forced businesses out to China or the Waikato instead. And when the blue-collar jobs went, there’d be increasing pressure for the white-collar jobs that go alongside them – from R&D to design to logistics t0 head offices – to follow.

Third, supply of new housing would slow to a trickle as existing residents would picket every attempt to build a new block of flats or subdivide a residential lot. New Aucklanders looking for housing would be forced out to the fringes, raising their housing and transport costs while offering them less amenity and fewer job opportunities. To add insult to injury, residential opposition to every new bus lane, rail line, bike path, or road widening would result in steadily increasing congestion and no opportunities to avoid it.

However, there is a bright spot in the nightmare scenario created by an effective ban on changing anything in Auckland. House prices would eventually fall to a more sensible level, as the crippled Auckland economy failed to attract new migrants and retain young Aucklanders. But that wouldn’t exactly be in the best interests of the residents associations either…

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    1. The place is zoned res 1, there is currently a samll cafe/food shop there. There is no doubt that this proposal represents a significant change in scale of development. So I can understand people opposing it without being daft.

  1. The cafe you are talking about is a corner dairy in the middle of a residential area. ( I do not live there or know anyone living there ) albeit on a busy road. There is a big difference to a corner dairy that already serves coffee to a sitdown 60 seater. Your arguments are a bit extreme and obviously you have an agenda thats not appropriate for this change of use. I do however agree that council planners and their ideas, are well behind current attitudes and trends and are contributing to the poor urban results we have seen over the last three decades. The current crop of council planners and urban designers are obsessed with control and advocating ideas that are decades old. I think some of them want to rebuild a new zealand version of coronation street. Some of the ideas advocated in the unitary plan I was promoting to planners 30 years ago to no avail. I was also advocating higher densities and submitting schemes for three level apartments on major PT routes 30 years ago in Papatoetoe but the planners although they applauded
    the concept didn’t have the courage to back it, despite largely complying with the district scheme at the time.
    Its time for some radical surgery re the way we plan our cities. The nats plan to reshape the RMA to be more pro development and to release the stranglehold planners have on urban development. Although I have some deep concerns about the Nats intentions for the natural environment with the reshape of the RMA as far as the urban areas go freeing up large scale redevelopment from council bureaucracy can only be a good move.

    1. It is not currently a corner dairy, it is a small cafe/food shop. Nice enough but overpriced. I live very close.

      But the OPs comments are a bit extreme — the site is zoned Res 1 single dwelling while the proposed development is a significant commercial operation. Fair enough to have an enquiry if there is significant opposition and fair enough that there is opposition.

    1. The title is intentionally provocative – and a bit tongue-in-cheek – but I don’t think it’s shrill to point out that poorly thought out policies can have unintended consequences.

  2. Hummingbird used to have a little whole in the wall on the corner of Manners and Victoria in Wellington that cranked out hundreds of possibly the best coffees in Wellington every day. It was a sad day when it pulled the shutter down for the last time. So if these idiots in New Lynn don’t like coffee bring it to Wellington please.

    (Actually I don’t know that it was an official hummingbird spot. They used hummingbird coffee and the guy (forget his name) went to work for hummingbird IIRC.)

  3. I feel like the point – that opening a new cafe is relatively benign and contributes to the local economy – could have been made without resorting to a slippery slope fallacy. Come on guys, keep on message and keep it professional.

    1. I’m being purposely hyperbolic, but I don’t think this is as much of a slippery slope fallacy as you think. Think back to the Unitary Plan, where opposition from existing residents led to major tightening of planning regulations throughout much of the isthmus and North Shore. (See http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2014/07/17/how-the-unitary-plan-changed/ for a convenient map.) There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that tighter planning regulations make housing a lot more costly, especially when applied in areas of high demand. (See for example Glaeser and Gyourko’s excellent 2002 paper on the topic: http://www.nber.org/papers/w8835.)

      As an economist, I’m concerned that overly restrictive policies will stifle Auckland’s growth in the future by making housing less affordable and putting up barriers to changes in the economy and transport systems. Obviously, there is a balance to be struck in some areas – no reason to allow a tannery to open in a residential suburb! – but people should be a bit reasonable about what they oppose.

      Finally, my comments are far less over-the-top than the 62 submissions against opening a local cafe. C’mon, that’s a bit absurd.

          1. Coffee roasteries do produce a large amount of unpleasant smells when they have their drum dryers running. I have one next to my house and you can tell the second you open window if they are roasting a batch that day or not.

            That is perhaps the one legitimate concern, and something that needs management. I would say a covenant that roasting is only done during normal business hours Monday to Friday would be fair.

  4. Isn’t this why we have urban planning rules? Planners look at an area, identify acceptable uses, and provide guidelines. If a proposal is within the rules it goes ahead. If it departs significantly, then it’s entirely reasonable that local residents are notified and make submissions. The proposal then either gets the go ahead or not, taking into account the property owner’s rights, the benefit to the community, and whether adverse effects can be adequately mitigated. We had an issue recently in Onewa Rd Birkenhead where the property owner wanted to construct a new Z service station, despite there being a BP just down the road. The locals objected, but the decision came out in favour of Z, and it’s now a done deal. Basic argument is that the owner can develop their property as they like so long as it’s within the rules. I’d imagine these sorts of issues occur frequently all over Auckland. Just need to get the planning right in the first place.

    1. Exactly. Seems these people are perfectly within their rights to oppose this out of zone for this site. You can argue that the zoning is dumb in the first place but to suggest that opposing another crappy cafe (and 5 carparks!) is bringing Auckland down is a bit much.

      1. I do argue that zoning is crap. There should never be such a thing as a ‘residential zone’ if that means a place that cannot host ordinary human activities like buying a coffee, meeting friends, etc

        And car parking? I have spoken with the ring leader of the NIMBYS in this actual case (nice woman, of course) and she cannot understand that the carparks will be the worst part of the scheme, like most such people (Freeman Bay res assoc, for example) she thinks it would be better if they had more!? She Responded with a story of a neighbour once having her driveway blocked by someone….

        Please note it is always about parking, that’s what it is with the anti Skypathers too. People simply cannot understand that less parking equals less driving equals better for locals. Instead they insist on more….

        My fellow Grey Lynners disappoint me.

        1. “There should never be such a thing as a ‘residential zone’ if that means a place that cannot host ordinary human activities like buying a coffee, meeting friends, etc”

          Most people regard their home as a place of human activity, and where they meet friends and family. You don’t need a shop or business of some sort to socialise.

          You come across as one of those folk who don’t like silence Patrick, i.e., you want to always be surrounded by human activity and busy-ness. That’s all well and good, but to say that’s how everyone should live is highly presumptious. Most people only want such things in small doses, not as a lifestyle. They want to go home to peace and quiet.

          If there is a case for this business to proceed, it will. But the rights of people who live there 24/7 are paramount over anyone moving in or wanting to establish a business in their midst.

          1. Because the newcomer seeks to bring change to the daily life of the established resident in their own home, and most good thinking people understand the importance of the sanctity of ones home. Our homes are the most important place in our lives, and should be treated with respect by others.

            If the newcomer can find a way to keep their noise and smells out of the property of the established resident, then I don’t see why the business wouldn’t be approved. But if not, then they need to accept that sending noise and smells into somebody’s property is reason for that property owner to say no to the project. It’s their home after all.

      2. Five car parking spots sounds too much by only a couple, but could still be acceptable. For a 60-seat cafe, a couple of spots are understandable for universal access and service usage. And if designed right, it might not necessarily dominate the building’s interface with the street.

        It would be better, of course, to convert a couple of spots into bike parking (still possible), and to prioritise the remaining ones for disability/service use (and perhaps consolidate it to serve the area, not just one site). But I didn’t see the Grey Lynn brigade support that kind of code in the Unitary Plan, or imply it in this situation.

          1. Bryce,

            Indeed, it will be financially viable without parking, but will it be universally accessible? The balance sheet is not all that matters; people do. Some people (fewer than one might think at first) are reliant on cars with good reason, and it isn’t unreasonable for a private establishment in this suburban context to choose to provide a modest amount of space to support them — perhaps one or two mobility/service spots. I’d add that bicycle parking should be provided for the same reason, but at a higher priority and in greater supply. It would be better to share car parking resources with neighbouring sites and minimise distorting building form, as I said, but I can’t see that being viable in this location for some time.

      3. 1) Unitary Plan zoning is largely bollocks and 2) local opposition to development is bringing Auckland down.

        The two statements are, IMO, accurate both independently and when considered together.

  5. Not to get too drawn into this particular example, but I think the OP has a valid point regarding the costs of litigation/resource consent red tape and it’s effects on the retail environment. Small businesses (which are often called the lifeblood of the NZ economy) can’t afford such costs just to get started, which blunts dynamism and vitality. Larger businesses can afford the costs, but as the OP points out, they pass them on to the consumer. So the average person loses both in terms of less choice and higher prices…

    Has anyone else ever felt that Auckland retail is expensive?

    Clearly a balance needs to be found in terms of zoning and land use – a tannery in a residential area is a classic example of a clear-cut no-no, but the grey area is huge. IMHO there needs to be a discussion about priorities in terms of commercial land use in Auckland, but if there has been one, it has been drowned out by the palaver about residential zoning. It just goes to show what a total mess the Unitary Plan-related debates have been. Perhaps it’s time for a refocusing and rethink by everyone concerned.

  6. Is it just unique to Aucklanders that when they buy a patch of ground they think they own the entire district. I recall a girl high school student wanting to sell ice creams from a cart on Takapuna Beach during the school vacation to pay for her college fees but denied through the protests of Hurstmere Rd retailers. Then NZ Co-op Grocery Giant Foodstuffs wanting to open a Pak’n’Save Supermarket in Wairau Rd but denied for an astonishing 20 years by the protests of Woolworths Australia.
    In my experience the residents who are protesting would be far too mean to buy a decent cup of coffee and then they would just complain about it
    If Hummingbird want to open a cafe please come to the Glenfield shops. There are shops for lease on the main street and almost no opposition apart from a couple of franchise fast food retailers. And we also desperately need at least one proper restaurant.

    1. Roasting of green beans smells remarkably like silage and I could understand people not being too keen on living next to that. All it would take is for the roasting equipment to be ventilated and have well maintained carbon filters, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

    2. Indeed, roasting raw green beans to create the brown dried beans that get ground is a totally different, and far less pleasant, smell than brewing up a cup of coffee from the grounds. I actually liken it a bit to the burnt metal smell you get from welding.

  7. How many of those 62 will eventually go and have a cup of coffee there and enjoy every sip of it. We are now part of a coffee society. Surely a coffee shop is not that bad. I would say that whatever popular retailer went into that premise there would be parking issues. There are parking issues in a majority of shopping precincts all over Auckland, big or small. I have a job that has me making deliveries to retailers in an 8ton truck. Now try getting a legal park at these shops with one of these. I can’t frequently.

  8. What are the hummingbirders planning to do to the place? Bit short on details really. “Creating five car park spaces” sounds a little like “knocking down that little flat” in the back yard to me, and increasing the housing shortage but surely that’s the only real objection.

  9. I think you have used a very poor example to make your point. The proposed development is a non-complying activity in a Res 1 zone. You may not agree with the zoning but there should be certainty around how it is applied.

        1. So what you really want is the shop to be turned into a residential single-storey home? Intensification, Grey Lynn style? Sorry, but this is just getting weirder and weirder. Had hoped for more from you.

          1. @Loraxus I was just stating what the zoning is and that a “mistake” hasn’t been identified (the current zoning is rolled over into the UP) – I wasn’t giving an opinion about what the site should be used for.

        2. Pippa, I think you’re possibly missing the point of the post: Which is to highlight what many of us here at TB (and Gen Zero for that matter) think are 1) the absurd nature of res 1 zoning in particular (and zoning in general_ and 2) the asymmetric nature of most “local input” into development decisions.

          In terms of #1, this proposal will increase jobs and competition within Auckland’s economy through more intensive use of existing commercial premises in close proximity to an existing town centre. If our proposed zoning means this sort of activity is “non-complying” then we’ve obviously got the zoning wrong, either in terms of extent or nature. I also disagree zoning needs to be “consistently applied” – there are many many situations where exemptions are warranted, because the provisions of a plan are found to not align with its principles. In which case the developer is within their rights to take the case to the Environment Court.

          In terms of #2, we’ve written a lot about this in the past. Just to sum up, under the current planning paradigm we only consult with existing residents and businesses (some of which may compete with this development – which is worth bearing in mind). In the process, the notification process is biased heavily towards those who oppose the proposal, because those who don’t won’t even know about it. We also do not consult with future residents and future businesses – many of whom would stand to benefit from the proposed development. Hence, our “consultation” processes are very asymmetric, or biased.

          Of course, it may be that the author could have made these points clearer – but it is a Sunday and we’re all volunteers so sometimes a bit of satire is the quickest/easiest way to get a point across.

          1. Stu, I understand the point the post is making (although failed to find the satire in it!). What I disagree with is negatively characterising all community opposition as coming from NIMBYs who don’t “get” development.

            Over 99% of applications are approved without notification. If anything the process is completely biased in favour of the developer.

            I think it is legitimate and understandable for the community to oppose non-complying activities being approved without any public input (the Bunnings big box non -complying development in a MU zone is an example of where thanks to the hard work of under-resourced volunteers we are likely to end up with a much improved design)

          2. “Over 99% of applications are approved without notification. If anything the process is completely biased in favour of the developer.”

            Source please. But even if your number is correct, it is because people simply don’t apply for resource consents that are likely to get notified as this adds such a great expense.

            To say the process is biased in favour of the developer is absurd, when we have a planning system where it is close to impossible to build anything outside of the CBD, and even minor changes such as the example in this post meet this kind of resistance.

            pippacoom – You don’t seem to understand the connection between this restrictive planning system, obstructive residents groups, and Auckland’s expensive housing.

    1. Perfect example of why zoning regs are rubbish. ‘Non-complying’ my arse, who wants to live in an area where you have to drive to get a coffee? That’s EXACTLY what’s wrong with newer suburbs than this one, and explains exactly why I live just around the corner from this location.

      Time to ditch zoning, or at radically simplify it, it was after all invented in response to serious health effects from poisoning Victorian industry that was killing people…. ‘Coffee aromas’ please.

  10. I live not too far from there in freemans Bay, if they wanted to open a coffee shop right next to my place I’d be rejoicing especially with those operating hours, the sound of coffee being made is much more pleasant than the CMJ.

  11. I also think you’ve used a terrible example to make your point. I live in the greater area but occassionally go to the numerous cafes in the vicinity. There are already cafes just a few hundred metres in either direction, and as a cafe lover I would welcome more. But the one they are proposing to turn into a 60 seat cafe is on a busy stretch of road, on a bend, and it is a difficult intersection with two other roads coming off it. (Why the council haven’t put a roundabout there I don’t know – maybe because it has a downhill slope?). I’d suggest you go to the actual site, rather than relying on a google map image, before passing judgement.
    I’m all in favour of progress, and not being hamstrung by outdated rules, but I think you’ve got it wrong here.

  12. Oh well: someone’s music is someone else’s noise. Most of these issues could be addressed using performance zoning rather than descriptive zoning. Development could be made subject to a required performance, e.g. keeping noise below a certain level. It would be up to anyone proposing change to make the case by which means the required performance is achieved. Other than that: no usage restrictions – if a tannery can demonstrate how they stay within the performance targets, why not. And no density restrictions either. Yes, there will be a lot of debate, but it’s not as if we don’t have that now. The debate will centre around outcomes directly rather than on rules as a purported means to achieve outcomes – rules have failed us epically!

  13. Why all the fuss? Surely the commissioners will undertake a robust cost-benefit analysis to balance the benefits of the cafe against any spill-over effects on neighbours. No?

    1. Ideally, this would be done. In practice, cost-benefit analysis is difficult and time-consuming, especially when it involves such a wide range of effects.

  14. Sylvia park and westfield st lukes wanted to expand the shopping mall few years ago. Guess what happened afterward? Resident rejected, end of story here. And then IKEA wish to have a stall near slyvia park. The resident complained about traffic. Again red taped. The people really want to live a village life here

  15. I respectfully suggest that issues like this should be framed as criticism of unduly restrictive zonings, not as a criticism of NIMBYs. If the use is non-complying and that triggers a right of objection, then people have a right to object. It’s for the decision-maker to take all factors into account, including the likely benefits to the wider community who haven’t made submissions.

    And decision-makers who approve proposals against local opposition need to be upfront about it: it’s not that they’re ignoring the objecting residents; it’s that their job is to think of the wider benefits to other people.

  16. We should take care when dismissing any concern or opposition with the flippant NIMBY acronym. An earlier commenter referred to the slippery slope fallacy. I think there’s also an element of the strawman fallacy here. The proposal is not for every commercial development on very possible site in every area, it is to change the use of a building from a retail shop to a cafe. Therefore extrapolating this situation beyond what is proposed to support a different argument/proposition is not possible. Peter, your post is actually two mutually exclusive posts. One is a report about a resource consent application for a cafe which some local residents don’t support. The other post is a hypothetical exploration of what-ifs and the economics of competition and control.

    Some planning and Resource Management Act comments on things people have said above:

    – trade competition and the effects of trade competition cannot be taken into account under an RMA assessment of a resource consent application.
    – resource consent applications are not a numbers games. It’s not necessarily about how many submitters oppose or support an application. The independent panel will be more concerned with the substance and merit of the various arguments.
    – whether this application is granted or not has no bearing on another proposal for a cafe on another site in another part of the city.
    – I don’t know if they are proposing to roast coffee beans as part of their cafe operation but roasting coffee beans produces an acrid burnt smell that many people find offensive or objectionable.
    – zoning as a tool is not the only way to manage development of an area, it’s just the technique that has been used for so long that I think many people assume it’s the only way that is allowed or forget there are other options.
    – perhaps ironically, business often argues in support of zoning as a planning tool because it provides ‘certainty’ they crave.
    – zones that attempt to separate and compartmentalise land uses have been the subject of criticism for many years, but public policy has been slow to adopt change and this is made harder by political opposition. I agree we need a better mix of uses in proximity to each other – or on top of each other! Residential suburbs with nothing but houses within walking distance are silly. I’d much rather walk to my coffee shop or for a bottle of milk than drive. What a shame we’re still building this sort of stuff (e.g. Millwater, Botany Downs, etc) and will continue to do so under but the Special Housing Area provisions and the Unitary Plan (to a large extent).
    – an argument about impinging on one’s property right by another should encompass the full picture, which includes the fact that it is a two-way street, e.g. excessive smells, noise, disturbance etc affecting a person’s private property right to enjoy the residential use of their residential property.
    – if the use of the cafe is not a permitted activity (i.e. it needs a consent before the use can establish) then there is no property right to be affected, therefore this argument is flawed.
    – ultimately the decision as to whether to grant or refuse will be made based on the proposal’s effects and what the relevant district plan policies say about this sort of thing.

    *Disclaimer: I have no knowledge of the cafe proposal other than what is in the original blog post. I don’t live in the area and whether it’s granted or refused has no effect on me directly.

    1. >> – I don’t know if they are proposing to roast coffee beans as part of their cafe operation but roasting coffee beans produces an acrid burnt smell that many people find offensive or objectionable

      But neighbours may never even sense it. The roaster could cut most perceptible odour with the use of electrostatic filters or afterburners. Building a taller stack, roasting smaller batches, or scheduling roasts carefully, can further mitigate impact. It is not established that they won’t take these steps; all of them are commonly practiced in the industry. Objecting on this basis, then, is akin to opposing a residential development on the site for fear that any new neighbour might play loud music, belong to a gang, etc.

      >> – whether this application is granted or not has no bearing on another proposal for a cafe on another site in another part of the city.

      This story builds on a sustained pattern of, yes, NIMBYism, in a particular suburb, which seems to oppose by default anything bearing even a whiff of intensification, except for a few hard-won, narrow and conditional concessions. (In this case, a cafe might be seen to bode increased amenity serving or inducing an enlarged market in the same locality, i.e. greater density.) We are not (yet) discussing the consent application’s outcome, but rather the opposition going into it, and this does have a signal bearing on the development prospects for future projects.

      1. I would much rather have a cafe that closed at 6 pm than a dairy that is open to all hours and attracts anybody and anything that slithers by.

  17. First of all, does Auckland really need another cafe? There are three on every block. I say this only to point out the absurdity of the debate. It’s not like it’s an aluminum smelter. As for prices skyrocketing, as mentioned in the original post, that of course is ridiculous. Take for example, Devonport. There are a good 15 cafes there and they all charge the same for coffee. In fact, every cafe charges the same for coffee. If there was really strong comptition in the coffee market you could find lattes for $1.00. Good ones.
    (I know that was part of the tongue in cheek part. Someday I’ll share my theory on the abundance of cafes in NZ.)

  18. Transportblog supporting capitalism again

    How you can support a good socialist mechanism like PT, but then shill for the shopowners (cafe owners), always strikes me as rather impressive cognitive dissonance.

    “he red tape imposed by residents associations forced businesses out to China or the Waikato instead” <== well, if businesses put their own bottom line ahead of loyalty to Auckland, good riddance. We don't want mercenaries.

    1. What because public transport is a public good it’s ‘socialist’? So therefore are parks, roads, the police and dog pounds. We must rally against them all immediately.

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