In recent weeks the Herald would have you believe that the council bogeymen are about to turn up on your doorstep in the middle of the night and force you to turn your house into a “highrise” three storey terraced house or apartment – note: even just using the terms three storey and high-rise together is utter stupidity. They’ve been ratcheting up the hysteria after they learned the council was looking at making changes to the zonings in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) currently being heard by a government appointed independent panel.
Before going any further it’s worthwhile giving a quick recap of what’s been happening.
- In 2010 the government amalgamated the eight Auckland councils into one body. One of the rationales was to address inconsistencies in planning across the region. The new council was also required to come up with a 30-year vision for the region, which became known as the Auckland Plan and was adopted by the council in 2012.
- As each of the former councils had their own rules around what could be built, and how, the next step was to turn that long-term vision into reality. To do that, the council needed to shift the city to a single RMA-compliant planning rulebook – a Unitary Plan. Traditionally with district plans councils propose them, get feedback and they then go through a hearings process, with some appeals potentially going to the Environment Court. In early 2013 the council took the step of releasing a draft version of their plan to get early feedback – they had over 21,000 pieces of feedback covering over 100,000 individual points. One of the reasons I think they got so much feedback was that the Herald drove a lot of hysteria around it – much like we’ve seen again recently – through deliberately deceitful and one-sided reporting. This also led to the creation of groups opposing it like Auckland 2040.
- Following the consultation and analysis of the submissions on the draft plan, the Council made a number of changes before launching the formal PAUP in late 2013. Importantly the councillors who decided on what it should contain did so just a few months before the 2013 local body elections, and as such the original plan was watered down a bit following the hysteria that had been generated. The PAUP was then open to submissions which would be part of the formal hearings process. They received 9,400 submissions and 3,800 further submissions on the plan.
- The government, through special legislation, allowed for a slight fast-tracking of the normal RMA process which otherwise could have dragged the process out to 7 or 8 years (based on other district planning changes). The process meant that the hearings panel would hear submissions and review the evidence before making recommendations on the plan. Any aspects the council agreed with would be implemented, while any they didn’t agree with would be subject to normal RMA process and appeals.
That brings us up to now. As part of the hearings process the council are allowed to make a final submission in response to the issues raised by the public. They say they are currently confirming their position on a range of topics and one of those is zoning. Taking into account a range of factors, the council is suggesting some changes to the zones in the plan that determine what can be built where. It’s these changes which have had the Herald and a number of councillors worked up. The factors include
- the submissions and evidence
- the interim guidance on some topics from the hearings panel – such as on viewshafts and heritage controls
- further analysis of the zones i.e. fixing inconsistencies
- amended infrastructure plans such as the addition of light rail on the isthmus
Now you may have seen reports a few days ago that the mayor quashed a motion by Councillor Dick Quax signed by eight other councillors calling for the public to be allowed to submit on the changes the council are making. It’s being presented by some as the council working to some sort of sneaky agenda, but as explained above is actually just the council effectively having their right of reply in the process. To allow submissions on that would not only go against the RMA process, but would only serve to delay the Unitary Plan process, increasing costs and leaving it longer before we have a coherent plan affecting the ability to improve the supply of housing.
So what is the council actually proposing? The reality is there aren’t that many changes overall, and even less when you look at what is allowed in each zone. For housing there are five different zones across Auckland which are briefly explained below.
- Large Lot zone – As the name suggests this is very large sites, and is often only found near the edge of the city.
- Single House zone (SH) – Again as the name suggests this is for a single house, up to two storeys, on a site that is a minimum of 600m²
- Mixed Housing Suburban zone (MHS) – This allows for up to two-storey terraced houses on sites and given some of the other controls means they would tend to have a very similar bulk and scale to the single house zone. It also allows for the likes of granny flats on sites. I’d say a common use theme in these zones will be single houses on ~300m² sections
- Mixed Housing Urban zone (MHU) – Very similar to above. The main change is that it allows for up to three storey terraced houses; however, importantly, it is is still subject to rules such as height in relation to boundary.
- Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings zone (THAB)- This represents a more significant shift than the zones above. Feedback from developers said it wasn’t viable to build four-storey apartments due to the step change in costs (lifts, fire systems etc. become needed), and as such the proposed THAB zones would be ineffectual. As a result, the council are upping the height limit in THAB zones from 4-7 storeys to 5-8 storeys.
All of the height limits are of course maximums, so someone could build a one-storey cottage if they wanted. The changes also don’t have an impact on other controls such as height in relation to boundary, site coverage etc.
A summary showing the impact of the changes to the zoning is shown below. As you can see there’s been roughly a 6% shift in housing now becoming Mixed Housing Urban while there’s a similar shift out of single house. While the numbers are similar, it’s not a case of shifting the Single House areas to MHU. As I understand, for most properties that do have change, it’s just a single step, e.g. some Single House areas have become MHS, and some MHS areas have become MHU.
So based on this around 77% of Auckland’s residential land will be capped at two storeys with another 17% capped at three storeys. That’s hardly turning the city into high-rise Hong Kong.
On to the maps themselves. The changes to the council’s submission won’t be finalised till next month, but they’ve decided to release them now so people can see them. Helpfully they’ve also included the original maps to be able to compare with. It’s worth noting that the new maps haven’t been loaded up to the council’s GIS viewer yet. The city has been split into 43 different areas to make it more manageable for people. I’ll only show a few examples for this post.
You can see the changes made in the ‘Preliminary Position’ maps as they have a blue or black border around them. If I’ve understood correctly, the black borders represent changes in relation to submissions or issues raised during the hearings. The blue borders are where no submission has been received but the council think the zoning needs to change to fix inconsistencies in the map.
Below are a couple of examples from areas where there has been strong opposition to providing a range of housing options.
This area was one of the most controversial for us, as despite its relative proximity to town and decent public transport, much of the area was locked up in the single house zone. You can see quite a bit of change along some of the corridors where light rail is planned, especially on Sandringham and Manukau Rds – by and large reflecting some of what’s there now. Another big change you can also see that most of the area to the South West of SH20 has gone from single house to MHS. In some cases I could also see some down-zoning from MHU to MHS – such as along Rosebank (not in this picture).
You can see sprinklings of upzoning from SH to MHS or MHS to MHU but nothing significant. In some case the changes in zoning really just reflect some of the built form that’s there now.
I’d urge you to go to the council’s website to have a better look at the maps (at the bottom)
As expected many of the changes seem sensible and nothing to be alarmed about, and the rants of the Herald and others seem to once again be completely misplaced. Rather than scaremonger around the height of buildings (which aren’t even high), it would be much better if the Herald could lead a conversation about how we ensure new buildings have good design that complements the area. A set of well designed three storey terraced houses could have less impact than a poorly designed two storey single house.