So they did it, the council actually passed a reasonably good Unitary Plan, a feat that just six months ago seemed so unlikely. This represents a fairly historic moment for Auckland as for the first time, the region will have a single set of planning rules that enable the city to grow and are also aligned with the policies and goals of the region.
The Unitary Plan would easily be the largest planning exercise in New Zealand’s history, representing around four years of work for the council, the public and the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP). While planning matters can often seem fairly dull, documents like the Unitary Plan have such far reaching implications that getting a decent plan as a base to build off was important and it appears that the council has largely done that. It also means any future work can focus on smoothing out some of the remaining rough edges rather than having to make wholesale fixes.
One quite notable feature at this end of debate on the Unitary Plan has been the lack of opposition to it from groups like Auckland 2040 who have fought the plan all the way along. It now appears that their opposition to the plan peaked in February. Perhaps it was the optics of fighting against enabling housing in the middle of a housing crisis, perhaps it was because their leader – Richard Burton – was overseas or perhaps it was just they realised was pretty good.
Councillors started debating the recommendations from the IHP and the council officer’s responses to those recommendations on Wednesday and positively they seemed to do it in decent humour, something that can’t be said for all council debates. The meeting had budgeted to take till this coming Thursday but in a fairly surprising move the Councillors were able to move through the agenda relatively well and most of the thorny issues were wrapped up by Friday leaving the last few issues till today.
Over the last four years, some Councillors have been fantastic and perhaps none deserves larger praise than Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse who has guided the process all the way along. A number of other Councillors have also been strong supporters all the way through.
Interestingly during this most recent debate another surprise hero emerged and it was none other than Dick Quax who had many wondering if they had woken up in an alternate universe. He argued and voted positively on many of the topics up for discussion and I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering why its taken so long to see this side of him. Conversely the single worst performer was Mike Lee who opposed almost all measures to provide more housing, voting against them time after time.
A week ago we highlighted some of the key issues the council officers did/didn’t agree with the IHP and recommended the council change or reject them. I had hoped to break down and analyse the various votes but unfortunately the minutes containing the voting records aren’t available yet (and I didn’t have the time to trawl through the hours upon hours of video from the meeting). At a high level they:
- Deleted the Sites and Places of Value to the Mana Whenua overlay
- Deleted the blanket pre-1944 heritage overlay, the special character and overlay still exists though.
- Rejected the watering down of language around ensuring land-use transport integration.
- Agreed to shift the Rural Urban Boundary to the District Plan, enabling it to be changed via private plan changes.
- Agreed to remove the requirement for a minimum number of “affordable” dwellings in a development.
- Lowered the number of dwellings that can be built on a site as of right, above which requires a resource consent, from four to two.
- Feared the shoebox and voted to keep minimum dwelling sizes.
- Doubled the height limit in Newmarket to 72.5m
- Agreed with the recommended zoning, with a few exceptions, this includes at some last minute hot spots at Okura and Crater Hill
- Didn’t agree with the IHP or the officers and removed the minimum parking requirements for retail from centres. This was a surprise and fantastic outcome
The final Unitary Plan will be formally notified on Friday and there will be a window of 20 working days for limited appeals. I suspect one of the most likely appeals will be from the large retailers to try and reinstate the IHPs position of keeping minimum parking requirements in centres for retail businesses – something the retailers argued for at the hearings panel but which is primarily about making it harder for small businesses to compete with them.
Thank you to everyone, who has helped advocate alongside us for a good Unitary Plan, especially our friends at Generation Zero who have put in a huge amount of hard work in support of a better city.
Thank you also to the all of the council staff who have worked so hard to make this plan a reality. They deserve a celebration for effort they’ve put in but of course if they do there’ll be the usual negative voices complaining about spending ratepayers money.
Lastly, well done and thank you to the Mayor and Councillors for finally passing the plan. With better rules in place it also means the focus for improving housing also now shifts back to the government.