Good news, everyone – in the year to September 2017, for the first time ever, Auckland consented more “attached” homes than it did standalone houses.

Why is that good news? Auckland has a housing shortage, so any home is a good home, right? Well, yes, but attached homes – apartments, terraces and the like – are where we need to be heading. It’s how Auckland will ‘intensify’ and keep most of its growth in the existing urban area rather than sprawling out. It means more homes in the places people actually want to live: close to jobs, study, shopping and good public transport. It means homes better suited to our changing demographic (an ageing population, with fewer people per household).

Apartments and terraces should cost less than standalone houses do, and their residents will probably save money on transport too. As a bonus, they’ll have lower power bills too – simple physics means these homes don’t lose as much heat through the walls or roof, since they’re attached to other homes.

So that’s all good stuff, and this is an early sign of the direction that Auckland needs to head in in the future.

I’ve updated the RCG Development Tracker for the month. Things keep ticking along, and new projects get added too. This month, you can imagine my reaction – it was somewhere in between “Sacré Bleu!” and “Zut Alors!” – when two new apartment complexes launched in Orewa, called La Residence de la Mer and La Residence de la Plage. These are the first new apartments for Orewa since Ocean Point Beach Residences, which were completed at the start of 2015.

I remember from high school French that “mer” is sea, and “plage” is beach. As for “Residence”? I haven’t got the faintest idea what that means.

So let’s look at those building consents.

In the 12 months to September 2017, Auckland consented 10,317 homes. 5,147 of those (49.9%!) were standalone houses. 2,309 were apartments, 811 were retirement village units and 2,050 were terraces. This was the first-ever twelve month period where more attached homes were approved than detached houses.

I called this in March last year, and it’s nice to be proven right. Or rightish – the numbers bounce around a bit from month to month, so we could easily slip back below 50%, but it’s the trend that’s the important thing. And what that trend means for Auckland going forward.

Here’s what we actually said:

Based on building consent data and our own forecasts, over 50% of the new homes built in Auckland will be attached by 2017. This is a considerable shift from the average of the last 20 years, which has been closer to 35%. Demand for medium density living is booming here. In Australia’s 3 largest cities at least 60% of new homes are attached.

This is because the only practical and affordable way to provide for Auckland’s growing housing demand is through higher density. So traditional detached housing will play an increasingly smaller role.

Still true, I think, and hopefully in ten years’ time it will be truer still.

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  1. It’s great we are finally getting more town houses but as you mention thermal efficiency.
    I see lots of new blocks of terrace housing going up in whenuapai, and many of the blocks are facing the wrong way. And as it’s a SHA i would assume they are not constrained buy land shape or size.
    So these units will get no winter sun and be bombarded buy all day summer sun.
    Some of these units will cost up to 10 times more to heat and cool then the units sitting next to them.
    So should there be a campaign to educate the public and developers on this.

    1. Yes!!! More than a campaign – the rules should be really strict. Each site usually presents an obvious design with regards to sun. I can’t believe designers don’t understand. They are simply putting other design needs higher.

    2. How do they get no winter sun but bombarded by all day summer sun? The sun is in the north both seasons, the only difference is the angle and the spread across the day.

      1. Think about it, Jezza. Draw the two sun angles, then place a building on the north side that cuts the winter sun but allows in the summer sun.

      2. In mid winter the sun rises and sets from North East to North West and stays closer than the horizon.
        In Summer it rises east and passes right above and sets West.

        1. Back in the day, I used to forget which directions the sun rises/ sets in. Then I remembered the RHCP song Californication: “the sun may rise in the east, at least it sets in its final location”.

          Similar insights, these ones for daylight savings, can be gleaned from Shihad’s song Home Again: “put your clock back for the winter”.

      3. Hundreds of possible ways for this to happen. Most obvious one is a house located south of a steep slope or dense vegetation which shields all shallow winter sun, but does nothing against the more vertical summer sunlight. My mother’s home is in this exact situation.

      4. Thanks all, I can see the logic of the position of other buildings, hills, vegetation etc blocking winter sun but not summer sun. John’s initial comment talked about the buildings facing the wrong way, which on it’s own couldn’t result in all day summer sun an no winter sun.

  2. I have just to returned from the large new suburb of Flat Bush. It has about a 50:50 mix of terraced and stand alone houses..Many similar looking streets and houses are not very interesting and few have a view.
    I would like to see some 5 or 10 story apartments for more variety which have a view and add more green spaces .

    1. +1, I’d like to see a central road in developments like that flanked with mid-rise apartments both sides and terraces tucked in behind

    2. I saw some new sections advertised there, 800k+, sections sizes 350-390m2. I don’t understand why anybody would live in flatbush, i assumed it was cheap.

  3. What Auckland needs is not terraced housing – which is a Kerensky-esque half-way house not deserving of any real consideration – but apartment towers.

    Basic geometry shows us how much more spatially efficient vertical construction is. The space saved can then be used for gardens, sports fields, etc.

    I once did some concept drawings involving four towers oriented around a central quadrangle – the central quadrangle for tables, outdoor eating etc, and then a green boundary around the towers featuring a soccer field, a rugby field, a cricket oval, and then a large food garden area. My maths showed how many more people we could fit in without losing green space.

    1. Agree. And an apartment all on one level makes for much nicer living. There are good reasons for not having tall towers, though.

      1. What are the reasons not to have tall towers? My understanding is some failed due to poor design (people hated them ). With good design can they work? Many cities have them. Not saying they are the solution to every problem but want to know their faults are

    2. The problem with towers is they are not human scale, you don’t get to know your neighbours, as the number of residents is too large, it’s like walking down queen street, you don’t stop and say hello to everyone you walk past.
      And with towers you don’t go outside much as it’s too much hassle, the outside is too many floors away. It’s like urban sprawl except vertical rather than horizontal. I understand 6-7 stories is the sweet spot, you are still as likely to go outside then as if you lived on the ground floor.

      Though apparently Jan Ghel isn’t too worried about them

      1. Replying here to both Waiukuian and Dan C. Yes, the human scale is important. Have a look at pattern 21 in A Pattern Language which discusses the psychological effect of tall towers. (In this document, search for the words “There is every reason to believe” and it will take you to pattern 21 directly: )

        More recently, Vancouver has been studying loneliness, as it appeared unexpectedly as their residents’ top concern. Their high-rise buildings have been identified as a major cause of loneliness. The effects are, of course, different for different people, but Vancouver researchers are recommending to other cities not to make the same high-rise errors they did.

        From a more ecological perspective, a good city aims to produce its own food and energy and deal with its own waste, including organic waste, wastewater, recyclables, and so on, and is compact enough to do so without transport becoming a sink of resources. Hard for us to imagine. Yet by encouraging buildings at about 4-storeys, together with good green infrastructure, this is possible. Check out the Bullitt Centre, the headquarters of the organisation that devised the Living Building Challenge. They sized their building to ensure it could capture the energy and water it required, and so on: five storeys.

        1. While I agree in the context of Auckland, a proliferation of 4-7 storey buildings within, say, 10 minutes of the railway stations would probably work I do wonder if it is really impossible to not design a friendlier skyscraper.

          I mean, the obvious starting place would be the design of the halls leading away from stairs/lifts to the units. If you maybe sacrificed a unit or two on a floor, you could probably create little indented bits where you could have pot plants or something… pseudo-porches. And surely having communal provision of basic things like washing machines or dryers in some relatively central location could help (you could also save room in each flat this way)? Semi-shared balconies? Might be a security issue there but even so. Windows into halls? Buildings with holes in the middle… so that you face across over a gap to a neighbour? Even if this was accomplished with glass seeing through the central stairs and lift structures (might be difficult to design).

          There must be options, though, that’s sort of my thinking.

        2. Yes, it’d be fun to try. Being able to see and hear what’s happening down in the street is probably important, though. Having said that, people do respond differently to different environments. But then there’s the shade thing. Taller buildings do cast shade on unwitting victims.

        3. Shared laundry is great in my grandparents retirement place for meeting n chatting with other residents.

        4. The loneliness is not a surprise at all for anyone who ever lived in a high-rise apartment. These things are the epitome of engineering out social life.

          I think the surrounding streets have as much to do with it as the buildings themselves. And the nasty habit of covering every square metre around the buildings with parking.

          That said, I doubt the “modern” loops & lollipops pattern of suburban development will fare much better.

        5. Living in the East End of London it was obvious that the councillors, town planners, architects did not live in the tower blocks that were built in the 60’s and 70’s.
          By the 80’s they were building high density terrace housing to good effect and as cheaply as tower blocks. [The cheaply may also have applied to the build quality but that is a digression] -in Docklands people wanted to live in narrow 3 floor town houses with their car nearby.

          However the pleasures of living are more related to other factors than stand alone -v- tower block. Much of the low kudos of the London tower blocks related to the slum dwellers who they had been built for. Even the Taj Mahal and the White house would lose their reputation if inhabited by riff-raff.

          Dense housing pushes people into your face – the unknown neighbour you meet on the street in Auckland in London becomes someone you are sharing a lift with: are they wearing hoodies? will they molest me? etc goes through your head where in Auckland you walk on the other side of the road or change your walking speed to avoid company. It is not the very rare attacks but the living in fear that leaves you stressed and looking to move on. This issue with abrupt meetings with strangers reduces to an instantaneous decision: are they ‘us’ or ‘them’. That is why some of the retirement villages work well despite being large apartment blocks. It is why multi-culturalism causes issues – the faces look odd and the simple disarming ‘Hello’ that breaks down many ethnic barriers doesn’t work without good English.

        6. There’s a world of difference between dense housing that has elements like:
          – a progression from public to private for each residence
          – a socially-appropriate number of residences sharing common space or entrances
          – common outdoor space that balances enclosure and expansion, order and flourishing chaos, amenity for physical activity and for sitting

          These elements can provide the social glue to bridge differences.

        7. Heidi – yet again you are right. I remember seeing a TV program many decades ago explaining the significance of ‘defendable space’ and they used examples from 12th century Italy that are still inhabited (courtyard surrounded by houses with a single gate for entrance).

  4. John, I keep expecting the Development Tracker will show the Pt Chev developments. I believe the following are in the public realm and probably at consent stage (apologies if I don’t have details correct):

    Housing NZ corner Premier Ave and Kanuku (replacing 2 with 6 or 8?)
    Housing NZ corner Moa Rd and Walmer Rd (replacing 2 with 6 or 8?)
    Housing NZ corner Pt Chev Rd and GNR – 60 units
    RSA on GNR – about 42 apartments
    Andy Miller site – GNR, about 98 apartments

    Others in the pipeline.

  5. Not being political about housing prices but for my knowledge keen to know what is “affordable” house price being time and again spoken of by current government. Even apartments/terrace houses are $500k plus.

  6. Not many people want to buy highrise apartment rooms.
    They have their place in the CBD or by the beach,
    And are perfect rentals. But tend to incur unpredictable body corporate fee’s.
    Like the owners of the apartment building i work in, the Owners are being hit with an $80 000 fee each to have the cladding replaced due to leaks.
    Most people would rather own the building foundation to roof, so terrace housing fits the bill.

    1. I think not having a body corporate is overrated — normally your body corporate is better than you at planning the maintenance of a house.

      And realistically, if you buy a townhouse in Auckland you also are going to have a body corporate. It seems townhouses are always built in clusters, and there’s always that private driveway which needs to be maintained. Not sure what happened to the idea of having townhouses just front a street.

  7. not wanting to spoil the party or anything….but a few points:

    – many of the consents will be for HNZ’s aggressive program. That’s not a bad thing, at all, but I suspect the private sector is not delivering anywhere near enough, and the HNZ program is, to a large extent, playing urgent ‘catch up’

    – you say ‘Apartments and terraces should cost less than standalone houses do’
    Do you know how much apartments are typically selling for? Upwards of 700K for a compact 2 bedroom, if you are lucky. You can still buy 3 bedroom homes on at least half sections in the Auckland region for less than 800K

    If 2-3 key rules in the Unitary Plan were changed, 2 beddies could be delivered, profitably, for no more than 550K – 575K. But, so long as the rules say 6m outlook space is required, that all units need more than a juliet balcony (because people cannot possibly have a good life unless they have a big balcony), and every unit MUST have at least one off street parking space, you can wave goodbye to that 550K pipedream!

    1. Apartments around here no longer need parking for each unit. Agree you don’t need a balcony. But the 6m of outlook space – is that a minimum of 6m before you look at another building?

      1. yes, apartments in THAB or Town Centre zones don’t need parking. But Mixed Housing Urban – they do. And that zone is big (geographically).
        Outlook – That is 6m within the site.
        All of these rules ‘mean well’, but they make it effectively impossible to build more than 4 dwellings on a single 700-800 square metre site. To get the land costs per dwelling down sufficiently, we need to be getting at least 6, if not 7, dwellings.
        I find the obsession with needing large balconies, bizarre. Most of old Europe has Juliet balconies. I’ve lived in several apartments with no balconies. I’ve also lived in a couple of apartments with balconies and they were hardly ever used, apart from by a smoker flatmate.

        btw I’m not advocating for total deregulation, at all. I think there is very much a place for internal standards, around room sizes, ceiling height natural light, acoustics etc etc. I think it’s important too for a certain design quality in building exteriors, too.

        1. +1 What I notice with balconies is they so often shade the windows below. Stupid, for a rarely-used space. I hope they change that sometime soon. Thanks for clarification about parking – I wish that Council could be more prescriptive. I think the huge garages being put into existing suburban sites should be outlawed. Taking the sun from the properties, reducing green space, and putting up the heating costs. In Mixed Housing Urban and Suburban they should be able to prescribe something like 1 space per 4 units if a car share scheme is established.

          Is the 6m outlook required in all directions? If it’s just at the back it seems fine to me.

        2. Yeah. I am sure a large and growing number of people could live with parking on the street especially if it meant they could afford to buy….

        3. In MHU zone, balconies of 8 square metres (yes 8!) are required for upper level units.
          Apparently everyone MUST have a balcony that can accommodate a bbq, table and chairs….

        4. Out of curiosity, is the definition for balcony set in concrete? Imagine a rectangular (say) floor plan. Instead of a balcony extending beyond the rectangle, imagine a balcony set inside the rectangle. So it’s set up with weatherproofed floor, and set down the required step from the internal floor level, etc. Now, can this balcony then be fitted with Juliet balcony doors and railings so that it can be open up in summer, shut up in winter?

        5. Heidi, I have looked at that option – essentially a flexible indoor / outdoor space.
          The feedback I got from Council’s urban designers wasn’t positive.
          Some of them are ‘so’ doctrinaire…..

        6. And for additional stupidity, usually you’re not allow to dry your laundry on your balcony.

          There’s one apartment block next to the police station where they apparently scrapped that rule, you see laundry outside all the time. Doesn’t bother me. I always wonder why this is so often not allowed.

          Outlook isn’t really that bad with terraced houses. In the usual pattern you see in Europe, windows overlook either street or your own garden.

      2. That’s a good thing, but not the typical situation over here. You’re usually quite limited of where you can go without a car, and for most I think lack of parking is a deal-breaker.

        Actually, even where I lived on Hobson Street it was a PITA to get anywhere outside the CBD without a car.

    2. 1) Stats NZ do split out consents for the public sector (i.e. Housing NZ) vs the public sector, but I haven’t looked at the split recently. Last time I did, Housing NZ was only a very small part of building consents: fewer than 1,000 nationwide. (See I doubt they’ve hit 1,000 a year in Auckland yet, although they’ll scale up a lot in the next few years.

      2) Key word being “should”! At the moment, apartments and even terraces are relatively expensive, because the kinds of builders that can do them are in short supply. That should change in the years to come, as builders grow their scale and expertise in these types of construction. Plus, land costs are lower for apartments (and should go lower still). Auckland is in the early stages of learning how to do apartments well. It will get better and we’ll get more affordable housing as a result.

      1. Mmmm, wish I shared your optimism on apartment costs coming down significantly, John.
        I think there is much better opportunity for efficiency gains in 2/3 level typologies.

  8. The big unanswered question is how fast can Ministet Twyford get his Urban Development Agency up and producing houses?

    He will need a Cabinet decision by Christmas 2017 that tests where HNZ, NZTA, HLC, TRC, MBIE and others for and function.

    Then most of 2018 to draft and pass it.

    Then set it up late 2018-early 2019.

    To election 2020 that’s 1.5 years of operation.

    I know he has a plan, but he will need to operate every lever at maximum to achieve his housing outcomes.

  9. Quick question. Can corrugated colour steel be used in urban areas. It’s common on rural house’s and barn’s
    As it’s cheaper per M2 then brick and most James Hardie products and its quick to install comes in many colours no need to paint also hard wearing and won’t leak or adsorb water plus it’s attractive especially when combined with other materials.

    1. Used it on our extension. The pattern that we used didn’t seem particularly cheap nor that quick to install. It has produced an excellent finish that does seem hard wearing and leak proof.

  10. Really hope the move to density continues. Only hiccup would be the new plan by the Labour Party to remove the RUB and causing a increase in green fields development in Auckland. Really hope that they will come to see reason on that one. Had too much of denial from the last government on issues to deal with it again.

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