There were a number of interesting comments this week in relation to intensification in Auckland. The first came from the Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler talking about how Auckland needs to do more to enable intensification in the city and address NIMBYism to address housing shortages.

Wheeler said the Reserve Bank estimated Auckland had a backlog of unbuilt houses of 15,000 to 20,000 and needed to build 10,000 houses a year for the next 30 years to keep up with demand.

“If you look at permits at this point they are running at an annual rate of around 7,500, which is a huge improvement on where they were 2 years ago, but still well short of the 10,000,” Wheeler said.

“I think some very good work has been done on opening up new areas but a major challenge there is getting houses built quickly enough, and a lot of those areas are in the periphery of Auckland where people may decide that the transport costs are less attractive for them, or the infrastructure needs might be considerable,” he said.

“I think work needs to be done in inner Auckland in addressing the height restrictions and the Not-In-My-Backyard syndrome that’s there.”

Wheeler said he welcomed the Government’s commissoning of work by the Productivity Commission on how issues around zoning decisions, regulatory reform and approval processes

“I am very interested to see the outcome of that sort of review. But we see it mainly as a supply side problem,” he said.

We’ve certainly made it easier to develop greenfield land and with the unitary plan it should get even easier with the proposed Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) which is larger and more flexible than the old urban limits. However even that looks set to be watered down to enable more greenfield development.

The independent panel hearing submissions on the Auckland unitary plan has told submitters the council’s proposed provisions for the new rural:urban boundary “may be overly stringent” and that a more flexible boundary would be better.

The panel also said in interim guidance it issued on Monday: “A rural:urban boundary is the most appropriate method to achieve the objective of a quality compact urban city when compared to the principal alternatives of the operative metropolitan urban limit & no boundary.”

The number of dwelling consents issued over the last 12 months is around 7,700 which is up considerably on the low of just over 3,200 in August 2009.

Consents Issued - Jan 15

In response to Wheeler’s comments, Bill English – who has in the past spoken about the NIMBYism issue – has said calls for more densification in Auckland’s housing were “about as popular in parts of Auckland as Ebola” would be. Suggesting that putting a few terraced houses or low rise apartments in an area is provides a similar fear to a deadly disease is probably taking things a bit too far but also highlights why the council need to do a better job of explaining the benefits of more people being in an area – such as that it provides more opportunities for local businesses and amenities such as local cafe’s, shops and more/better parks.

In addition:

Mr English, who spoke today for the seventh year in a row at the annual Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Massey University lunch in Auckland, said the city’s local government had said homeowners couldn’t build up but have now recognised that means there has to be a “build out.”

The government will confirm details in the new few weeks about further decisions on the Tamaki Redevelopment Co, a joint venture between central government and Auckland Council in 2012 to rejuvenate the suburb. The entity is expected to build about 7,500 new houses over the next decade. Once old properties have been removed or demolished, that will increase the area’s housing stock by 5,000, of which 2,800 will be Housing New Zealand-owned.

“We want to accelerate this type of activity, so small and large redevelopments of Housing New Zealand land and properties are completed with more urgency,” English said.

Lastly he had this to say about housing and infrastructure in general:

The minister said the government had learnt a lot over Auckland’s housing issues and that should lead to a more constructive process than previously about the region’s infrastructure needs, including a second harbour crossing.

‘We could do with a common understanding of the strategy. To government, it has looked like a series of projects arriving for political reasons as well as economic ones and we have to have that common view.”

Coming up with a region wide strategy was one of the key reasons behind amalgamating the previous councils into a single region wide council and requiring a 30 year plan (The Auckland Plan). The problem wasn’t the plan but that the government chose to ignore it for ideological reasons and as such kept fighting it. I’d also suggest that unless he’s prepared to fight the NIMBY issue then there’s not much point in even discussing a second harbour crossing as the local board areas on the North Shore have some of the lowest levels of population growth forecast across the region – in part due to much of the area fighting any form of development.

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  1. There are also downsides to higher housing density – noise is one. One inconsiderate person with a loud stereo can make a whole neighbourhood miserable. Loss of privacy is another issue.

    1. That’s why having options is the key to satisfying as much of the demand as possible. Removal of some of the height restrictions will allow more of the demand to be meet closer to the CBD and should allow prices to stabilise. There are issues with build quality, but that’s what the building code is for.

      I respect your opinion and enjoy that it’s different to mine, but would ask that you not limit my ability to live in my favoured form of housing, just because it may not suit you.

      1. Of course, but let’s not forget the secondary effects.
        If, indeed intense housing leads to noise pollution, then additional council noise control officers are required
        There are also likely to be follow on effects with refuse collection and pests too.

        1. Describing parking wardens as pests is almost uncharitable.

          All of the other bits associated with second order effects would be required no matter where the dwelling is located, although dis-economies of scale would suggest that having less travel time between locations/incidents may reduce sum of the costs associated with providing the services.

        2. Easily offset from the maintenance cost of extra km of infrastructure sprawl leads too.

    2. That’s only an issue if the property in question is poorly designed and has no or too little sound-proofing. I’ve just moved into an apartment in Eden Terrace in a building that’s 3 storeys high. Discovered yesterday when bumping into them in the hallway that the people in the unit right next to us have a very young baby. We’ve been here two weeks now and we’ve yet to hear any crying.

    3. From the 1980s onwards most of the houses in my street, and surrounding streets, have had their sections subdivided, so there are now nearly double the amount of dwellings. I have two different noisy neighbours (one who likes noisy parties on their decks till the early hours; the other with small children who are noisy inside both and outside, plus the parents screaming at the kids or screaming at each other) plus now with the added benefit of multiple planes lower and slower overhead on the new flight paths to the airport.

      Wooden houses – even ones now stuffed to the gubbins with insulation – were never built to deal with neighbours so close. A modern purpose built multiple dwelling buildin with double glazing and comprehensive insulation would be far quieter than what I’m experiencing in the burbs.

    4. Virtually zero problem at all if designed properly. We get less noise now, in a med/high density community, than when we lived in the ‘burbs in our full sized house on our 1,300 m2 section.

      1. Again obviously the good examples like the one your in need to be the blueprint. Density done well or density done poorly is an absolute disaster. The public needs a lot of confidence in the blueprint and solution, this obviously hadn’t happened, who is at fault for that. It should cover full spectrum of liveability issues.

        1. Transport is officially our No1 problem. We all know the why. Moving forward how can developments not make that worse, a staged approach of maximising existing rapid transit and following new rapid transit with density done well. Closer to town obviously good PT and seperated cycling needs to be up first. The sooner that AT just reprioritises all the arterials for their new strategic fit the better for everybody and developments. Don’t open things up in areas when things aren’t up. Even our key ones like Flat Bush, even had full NZTA Wellington sign off for full blown off road cycling network, but no budget to build it ..come on!!!Houses going up full noise, a great start?

  2. As I recall, selling a chunk of the previously government owned power stations was about as popular with most NZers as the prospect of an outbreak of Ebola – and where are we now?
    Intensification will happen because it has to happen to achieve reasonably priced housing outcomes for those who want it; and for those who will learn to like it because that’s all that they can afford.

    1. It will also happen simply because there is a huge population of people in Auckland who would like to live centrally in an apartment and there simply isn’t the supply necessary to accommodate them all. Every single apartment development that goes on the market sells rapidly, and my own experience with rent out an apartments is that the demand is so great that finding a tenant is never an issue.

      1. “Every single apartment development that goes on the market sells rapidly,”

        Gross generalisation there beeb, check the new Ockham building on GNR, they started selling mid last year, early settlers moved in early December and they’re still desperate to flog maybe half?

        1. I’m pretty sure that there were only 7 available when I was still looking! This was over 6 months ago though and was under construction. The only apartment block that appears to be having trouble is the one on k-road/symonds street. However this is over priced for what you getting so not surprised.

  3. There is another angle the Council and Government refuse to address. Stop growth, stop foreign ‘investors’ buying up central Auckland and by doing so raising prices in the suburban areas. Auckland is becoming less and less affordable to locals as more wealthy foreignors are encouraged to live here. Anyone disagree? Time to learn Cantonese as central Auckland will soon be a Chinese city. Areas such as Epsom and the Eastern suburbs already are.

    1. Without any hard data or figures on foreign buyers, this argument can only ever be speculative and based on anecdotal hearsay. It has more than a tinge of Winston’s ol’ “Asian Invasion” rhetoric and invokes a latent racism and fear of the ‘other’. There are many Chinese New Zealanders who are able to speak English as well as Mandarin or Cantonese. That they choose to speak their mother tongue to their partner when on the auction floor doesn’t necessarily mean they are not permanent residents or Kiwi citizens.

      But yes, given the size of our market it doesn’t require much input from foreign players to make an impact. However, we must not fall into the temptation to scapegoat what is actually a complex problem with a number of causes working in tandem.

    2. Anyone want to check this on census data? The 06 census had only the eastern cbd as majority asian.

      Immigration isn’t the problem either

  4. A way to solve it is developers should pay a standard compensation to nearby house that is affected. That compensation would help the nearby house to add value. Which actually gentrifiy the street and making everyone winners.
    Compensation should have a standard to avoid lengthy negotiations.

  5. The whole intensification “debate” in the Auckland Plan/Unity plan process was a debacle because the case for intensification was so badly communicated to Aucklanders. So while there was a whole lot of NIMBYism there was also a lot of people who had legitimate concerns that were never addressed. So its unsurprising that intensification was watered down so much. This was particularly true around transport issues. There really was no plan communicated effectively as to how the extra people would be able to move around without resulting in massive congestion. The message seemed to be “don’t worry about that, we’ll sort it out later”. A case in point is West Auckland, where the benefits of intensification were rather obvious (kick starting a depressed local economy) and the means of dealing with the transport issues was even more obvious (intensify around the existing rail corridor). So not surprising that the NIMBY voices here were drowned out and the intensification plans were enhanced rather than watered down. In contrast, areas such as the North Shore where the only high capacity public transport route (the busway) is along the motorway where no one wants to live and the areas where intensification were proposed were quite a distance from this route along narrow roads that are already congested. There was no plan communicated as to how those extra people would move around. If a credible plan had been communicated, such as to build bus lanes and bus interchanges to move people to the busway and how the busway could be converted to rail and this integrated with a future harbour crossing, then the story is likely to have been very different. Surely the first step in fighting NIMBYism is to deal properly with legitimate concerns otherwise you are on a hiding to nothing.

    1. Totally agree, address the concerns. Density done well. Brent Toderian from Vancouver does an excellent job of explaining benefits well worth viewing his presentations. Density by rapid transit, no congestion problems, right beside best option there is for long distances.

      1. Again we should be looking at the success stories and going from that and even trying to make better in terms of density improvements. Could say that about a lot of planning and transport iniatives. As V Lee says above you need to have good solutions to current problems as well the proposal or you are going to get shot down in flames. Bob English should be throwing the book at transport as first and foremost spending on the lowest denominator ie car last 60 years has been a disaster. We know better now or at least AT Board does since 8 days ago. Fix this first before we intentionally add people.

    2. Fully agree. We’ve written about the benefits of intensification from time to time – here was my entry to the debate:

      It’s simple: There are economies of scale in the provision of both public and private goods. That means that if you live closer to more people, you can have more public transport, more parks, more good restaurants, more shops, and so on and so forth. If you desire variety at an affordable price, you want density.

      1. Apart from Victoria Park, where is there a good flat park in the central city (where there is a load of intensification)?
        In any suburb I could probably name 5

        1. There is plenty of public space in the city centre – Myers Park, shared spaces, Albert Park, the western edges of the waterfront, Vic Park, and a myriad of small parklets scattered around.

          The reason that there aren’t more _flat_ parks in the city centre is that most of the land is not flat. Basic topography.

        2. That’s the answer. Just send your kids out to play in the shared space, no way that could go wrong!

    3. “West Auckland, where the benefits of intensification were rather obvious (kick starting a depressed local economy) and the means of dealing with the transport issues was even more obvious (intensify around the existing rail corridor). ”

      That’s built on the previous Council there spending many years communicating exactly those points to their citizens.

      It takes commitment and nous. I’m not sure which of those factors the current bunch are lacking the most but they’re being out-communicated by ageing coastal folk who want their leafy villages to stay the same at the expense of future residents.

      1. The problem with all this is it assumes NIMBYs can be reasoned with. I have no faith that this is the case, they are consumed with their own selfish position of maintaining their suburb in its current state regardless of who it affects. The argument should be shifted from “whether” intensification should happen to “how” it should happen, ensuring good design outcomes.

        1. Yes, you can’t reason with NIMBYs but you don’t have to. NIMBYs are always a minority but they will use every tactic in the book to scare everyone else so that they will get their way. You have to counter this with good information that gets through to people over all those scare tactics. It would be great if we could just move on as you suggest but unfortunately the only way to do that is to convince enough people that intensification should happen.

      2. Perhaps a reason we need a “Minister of Urban Planning” whose role woul be quite distinct from the Minister of Environment. The issue is not just a housing issue as National seems to simplistically think.

    1. When nominally free-market types strongly object to Manhattanisation of any kind, I suspect their NIMBYism comes from self-interest in the housing bubble. Or the desire to keep out the ‘undesirables’, just like a gated community. Or both.

    2. ACT Politicians and their supporters are pretty much like those who strenuously oppose local brothels or liquor stores, or pokie parlours going in next to them.

      Yet, they will quite happily, own, and, no doubt, also frequent such establishments – provided they are located elsewhere in the city, away from where they live, so they won’t be seen using them and the social effects won’t impact them.

  6. I know it’s “amusing”, but the Ebola comment reminded me that infectious diseases do indeed spread more quickly in denser cities.

    As such, any cost:benefit analysis of intensification needs to factor this in (I’m sure it’ll be about the fourth number after the decimal point, but it still matters)

    If we were indeed hit by a zombie-like virus, rural areas and even suburban areas would survive much more easily than the dense inner city. Basic epidemic mathematics.

    1. This was a relevant consideration for urban planning 150 years ago. But since then, improvements in infrastructure (reticulated water, wastewater treatment, etc) and public health have massively reduced the cost of density.

      These days, our major public health problems are diseases of inactivity – diabetes, heart disease, etc. And those are heavily associated with low-density, unwalkable environments.

      I’m all for taking public health costs into account when doing urban planning. But please, let’s do so using information from this century, not the 1800s.

        1. Agreed however we still have major sewer overflows from pump stations that enter the harbour in storm events. Wouldn’t say fully fixed it yet slowly catching up but not fast enough.!! Great that AT Board saying rapid transit and active modes now strategic fit, now a hope of fixing transport, but still MOT/NZTA want to spend majority pretty much 100% on roads, yet they have National MPs asking how do we double rail growth? Hello!!Cash needs to go down right track literally. Rail and Sepetated Cycle or at least busways.

      1. Actually Peter there is still significant pockets of infectious diseases in New Zealand, especially in over crowded Maori and Polynesian households. This is a problem of housing affordability. Rheumatic fever is a significant problem in some communities, which can develop into lifelong cardiac problems.

        There is also a suspected link between NZ’s high asthma rates and cold damp housing. In any case many NZ houses breach the WHO recommendation regarding warmth of living and sleeping areas.

        1. We do indeed have some major preventable diseases going around, although I’d note that that has more to do with rental affordability than home purchase prices (I do realise that when you say “housing affordability” you could be meaning either one of those!). Some good steps being taken by Housing NZ etc to bring their houses up to a liveable standard, but hard to see whether this will happen in the private sector without government action. The insulation subsidy schemes were disproportionately taken up by owner-occupiers, so that will have led to an even greater gap between housing quality for low-income households and everyone else…

  7. And a nuclear attack would eliminate tens of thousands in central Auckland. At the first indication of a strike I’m stealing a boat and trout license and heading for the Ureweras.

        1. I can already see the Herald’s title:

          “Traffic on a standstill on the Harbour bridge while Aucklanders try to flee the bomb, second Harbour crossing came too late”.
          Disgruntled residents upset with council: “It’a all fault of Len’s Loop. Try fleeing a nuclear strike on a train!”
          Property prices hit new records, as only house left standing in Auckland is bought for 100000000$ by an overseas investor at a special Barfoot auction today.
          Gerry Brownlee appointed boss of new reconstruction agency: “thanks to the bomb we now have a clean flat piece of land to fill up with carparks”

    1. When nominally free-market types strongly object to Manhattanisation of any kind, then I suspect their NIMBYism comes from self-interest in the housing bubble. Or the desire to keep out the ‘undesirables’, just like a gated community. Or both.

  8. Obviously Bill English should be backing intensification if he thinks it is a good idea, not hiding behind Numbys.

    Looking at the population projections by LBA, the areas north of the bridge don’t look to be particularly low however. Of 21 local boards, the 5 north of the bridge are 1st, 4th, 7th, 17th and 18th in terms of projected population growth.

    1. Actually *FOURTH* harbour crossing! Coatesville Road being the first, then AHB, and then finally Upper Harbour Highway.

  9. Intensification to Ebola? A new low in the moral panic…

    Reminds me of when I lived in Birkenhead, and we got a flyer in the post warning us about the looming intensification.

    The entire area was about to be filled with high-rise! Look at all those colours on this map! On closer inspection, a large area had a 2 storey limit, and most houses were already 2 stories. And then all these people calling 3 stories “high-rise”. It was just embarrassing.

    But there are definitely legitimate concerns which need to be addressed.

    The transport issues: If all the people in those extra dwellings have to go to work by car, then yes, we will have a big problem. V Lee is spot on about the North Shore.There is the NEX, with almost no-one living close to where it stops. And no feeder routes either. Take Milford for example. There is a T2/transit lane to Smales Farm, but there’s only has 1 service per hour along this lane, and even during peak there is no frequent service. The other frequent bus route I know of is Birkenhead–city, but all the gulleys and rivers in that area make it tricky to serve this area by public transport. Maybe that will improve once people get over their bicyclophobia.

    So, then what does “intensification” look like? First, most common forms of intensification appear to be prohibited. You see almost no terraced housing or low rise apartments in desirable areas. For developers on the other hand, “just enough lawn to be able to wash your windows comfortably” is the new Kiwi dream. Just look at those new developments everywhere, in Silverdale or Long Bay, and just everywhere where development is happening.

    Second, and I think that’s a big one, I think if you say intensification, a lot of people think we’ll all end up living in apartment blocks like the ones in the CBD. A lot of people are referring to those apartment blocks as slums. It’s not that bad of course, but they do have a point. I encountered one on Hobson street. There are a lot of small and larger problems:
    • The street. Enough of this has been written elsewhere on this blog. You’re basically living on a motorway on-ramp.
    • The quality of the buildings. A lot of people found out the hard way you really need sound insulation between neighbouring units and the hallway.
    • No space for people to meet. (see ‘the street’, and also every square centimetre between the buildings is just parking). And if you talk in the hallway you keep other residents awake (see ‘quality of buildings’).
    • At least now we have a countdown on Victoria Street. I once read somewhere that usually amenity follows development of housing only after a few decades. Seems to be true here as well.
    • The access to public transport isn’t great either. Bussing to Newmarket or taking the train will usually start with a decent walk.
    • Boy-racing appears to be legal (or at least tolerated), around the clock. (in front of the police station on Hobson street nota bene)
    • Pimping your exhaust to produce 100dB appears to be legal. Especially annoying in combination with the previous point.
    • AFAIK Auckland is the only town/city centre in NZ where it is legal for trucks to use engine braking (look out for the “no engine braking for the next xx km” signs along any town centre along the highways).
    • Why do we need trucks in the CBD at 1am anyway?
    • You will hear the cops from time to time. Sometimes they don’t want to wait at the red light before they enter their garage, so they use their siren (regardless of the hour of the day/night).

    All of this adds up to a feeling that those apartments are just there as a last resort, a place where you end up living if you really don’t have another choice, with a council that doesn’t really care if it’s nice to live there or not. And if that situation is the first thing people think about when you start about intensification, then of course there will be resistance.

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