When Auckland Council was formed in late 2010, one of the first things it was legally required to do was put together a spatial plan, a ‘vision document’ for the region. This was finalised in May 2012 as the “Auckland Plan”. The Council is required to revisit the Auckland Plan every six years, so this is happening right now.
For clarity, I’ll call the original 2012 Auckland Plan the “Old Plan”, and I’ll call the draft 2018 Auckland Plan the “New Plan”. I also refer to the ‘rulebook’ for what is allowed to happen where, the “Unitary Plan”. More on that below.
My first impressions of the New Plan were not good. And they haven’t improved since, especially when I compare it to the Old Plan. The New Plan is still open for public consultation until 28th March, so now is the time to get in with submissions and feedback, before it’s too late! Here’s my take on it, and Greater Auckland will also be submitting along these lines.
The Old Plan had an explicit target of 400,000 more homes for Auckland over 30 years (2012-2041). It wanted 60%-70% of those homes to be inside the old urban limits, but also allowed for 30%-40% outside the limits.
These overall targets, and the focus on intensification, fed into the Unitary Plan. After a lengthy process, the Unitary Plan is now mostly operative: a rulebook allowing plenty of new homes across Auckland. It’s already making a difference, and this will become even more apparent in the next few years.
In theory, the Unitary Plan ‘enables’ at least 1,000,000 new dwellings to be built. In practise, not every piece of land will be developed. Modelling done for the Unitary Plan estimated that 422,000 homes would be ‘feasible’ in the 30-year period, with 270,000 of those inside the old urban limits.
The targets in the original Auckland Plan (the “Old Plan”) guided these numbers: zoning provisions were tweaked up or down with the aim of getting to at least 400,000 ‘feasible’ homes, and enough ‘feasible’ homes inside the urban limits to be consistent with the Old Plan.
Without the targets from the Old Plan, the Unitary Plan would have looked very different, and I doubt we’d have seen as much upzoning.
The Old Plan
The Old Plan was visionary, even radical, for its time and for a brand-new council. It declared war on the housing shortage which was starting to emerge by 2011/12, and set clear targets for building more, and more intensely, than Auckland ever had before. At a time when home building had slumped to record lows, and underinvestment by the legacy councils meant almost no new land was ‘ready to build’, the Old Plan laid out targets for all these things. Here’s a quote from page 270:
Auckland’s population is projected to grow to between 2.2 and 2.5 million over the next 30 years. Around 400,000 additional dwellings will be required by 2040, which means that at least 13,000 additional houses have to be built each year. This is a huge challenge, given we already have a shortfall of about 10,000 homes, and current levels of house building are less than half the volume required. At present, only 5,000 consents for new homes are issued per year in Auckland… in New Zealand as a whole, only about 24,000 houses are built each year, and the rebuilding of Christchurch will take up a large part of national construction capacity.
I track home consents for my monthly “Development Update” posts, and the data shows that Auckland usually consented fewer than 10,000 homes a year, had only ever hit 12,000 a year very briefly, and was languishing at 4,000 a year when the Old Plan came out. The Old Plan targets – averaging 13,000 homes a year for the next 30 years – were ambitious.
The New Plan (draft)
A lot has changed since 2012. Auckland began a migration boom, which is still going. House prices went up hugely, by around 60%. The housing shortage got worse – the undersupply has gone from 10,000 to 50,000 homes. I actually think the Council has done a reasonable job of responding to these challenges, none of which were going to be fixed overnight. But it’s taking time to chip away at them.
Auckland’s population is now projected to grow faster than it was in 2012, largely due to the migration boom:
Given all of the above, you’d think the need for more homes is now even more urgent, right?
Well, apparently not, because the housing targets in the New Plan are much weaker. And “targets” is the wrong word, as you’ll see below – the New Plan doesn’t seem to like targets.
The (Missing) Housing Targets
The Old Plan set clear targets. I liked that. The New Plan doesn’t – Matt made this point this morning, in relation to transport.
The New Plan has 6 Outcomes and 33 Measures, plus a bunch of Directions and Focus Areas. Housing is covered by one of the Outcomes:
The Outcome for “Homes and Places” is: “Aucklanders live in secure, healthy, and affordable homes, and have access to a range of inclusive public places”.
That’s all fine, but there are no clear targets. Instead, it’s all about “measuring progress”, or “tracking progress”. This is a step backwards for accountability.
Here are the “measures” for “homes and places”:
These “measures” are also “used to track progress towards the aims of the Auckland Plan Development Strategy”.
But what are the aims? What are the targets? How do we know whether we’re on track, succeeding or failing, or are we just measuring stuff for the sake of it?
I’ll take a leaf out of the New Plan’s book, and structure what I want under a series of Heartfelt Pleas:
Heartfelt Plea 1: Auckland Council should set clear targets for what it wants to see happen in housing (and transport, and other things), insert those targets in the Auckland Plan, track progress against them, and update its strategy accordingly.
The (Missing) Housing Shortage
The New Plan mentions a current “housing crisis” several times, but it doesn’t really talk about there being a housing shortage (there’s just one reference to a “continued shortfall in housing supply”).
But the Old Plan pointed out an undersupply of 10,000 homes back in 2012. Today, the situation is much worse:
Council, the Reserve Bank and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment have all estimated Auckland’s housing shortfall at between 43,000 and 55,000 and growing
I get that the Auckland Plan is a vision document and these are often fluffy, but shouldn’t it have stronger language that acknowledges the (huge, and still growing) housing shortage and aims to fix it as a key priority? It’s not like the Council has shied away from acknowledging it elsewhere!
So why doesn’t the New Plan set a target of fixing the housing shortage in the next 10 years, or if that’s not quite achievable, then explain why and use 15 years, or whatever is a realistic timeframe?
Step one of fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem, right?
Heartfelt Plea 2: Acknowledge the housing shortage in the Auckland Plan, and set clear targets to reduce it over the next decade.
The Wrong Targets (Which Aren’t Really Targets Anyway)
The number that appeared throughout the Old Plan was 400,000. This was the targeted number of new homes to be built over three decades:
“Supply 100,000 new dwellings in the period 2012-2022, 170,000 new dwellings in the period 2022-2032 and 130,000 new dwellings in the period 2032-2042”. (page 367: a “target” within Strategic Direction 10, measured by building consent data).
The number that appears throughout the New Plan is 320,000. It’s not a target any more, the language is much looser, and the timeframes are less consistent (see pages 12, 84, 178):
“Around 1.6 million people currently live in Auckland. Over the next 30 years this number could grow by another 740,000 people to reach 2.4 million. This means Auckland will need many more dwellings – possibly another 320,000” (page 178)
Again, there’s no mention of this figure being a ‘target’, they’re just “anticipated dwelling growth”. Pages 207-208 give the most detail, and from that I’ve estimated the breakdown for each decade as:
- 120,000 homes in 2018-2027
- 105,000 homes in 2028-2037
- 93,000 homes in 2038-2047
Those figures are much lower than the ones in the Old Plan. Here’s my comparison of the Old and the New:
By my calculations, the Old Plan was targeting 350,000 homes over 2018-2041, and the New Plan “anticipates” 263,000 homes in the same period. That’s a reduction of 85,000, or 25%. Worse, most of the reduction comes in the next decade, the same time when we should be trying to get on top of the housing shortage. The time when the Old Plan was targeting a huge increase in home building, to an unprecedented 17,000 homes a year.
As a side note, the New Plan suggests we were “on track” to reach the decade one target in the Old Plan (page 205). That’s not quite true. Home building has grown significantly and has now reached 10,000 a year – but it needs to average 12,000 a year in the next five years to reach the target of 100,000 for the decade.
Under the Old Plan, the council would keep its foot on the accelerator and keep powering past 12,000 homes a year, up to a whopping 17,000 a year for the next decade. Under the New Plan, it’s cruise control once we get to 12,000. That’s not good enough, not with a housing shortage.
Heartfelt Plea 3: Target much higher rates of home building, especially in the next decade. Return to the targets in the original Auckland Plan, or include them alongside new targets.
Infrastructure and Intensification
The Auckland Plan is meant to be a guide for the Council, a strategy that informs where and how much it invests. There’s a real danger that, if the Council only expects 320,000 new homes rather than 400,000, it will build less infrastructure, and it will have a weaker case for going to the government to ask for more infrastructure funding.
The Old Plan was clear that it wanted to provide for 400,000 new homes, with up to 70% or 280,000 inside the old urban limits. It was the Council’s responsibility to provide infrastructure in line with that.
But the new figure, which of course isn’t a target, is much lower at 320,000 (or 317,700 to be precise). And the figure inside the old urban limits is just 195,000, adding together the “development areas” and “existing urban area” figures from the table below (page 207).
Heartfelt Plea 4: Invest in infrastructure in the existing urban area to support at least 280,000 new homes as per the original Auckland Plan, not the 195,000 currently implied in the new draft Auckland Plan.
Conclusion – and What Can You Do?
If you want Auckland to keep building more homes, and to make real progress on the housing shortage, then please submit on the Auckland Plan. Tell the Council to set clear targets, to make them ambitious, and to make sure it provides infrastructure and upzoning to match them. Write a quick submission. It could be as brief as just saying you want them to stick to the housing targets in the original Auckland Plan – but if you have time, ask for targets on transport too.
If we don’t have a strong Auckland Plan, there’s a danger that we’ll end up without a clear vision or targets on housing, and that the housing shortage which affects so many people will never be fixed.
At the more extreme end, there’s a risk that we’ll actually lose some of the progress we’ve made – NIMBY groups like Auckland 2040 could use a weak Auckland Plan to their advantage and actually try to ‘downzone’ Auckland again. Even if this doesn’t happen, a weak Auckland Plan will make it hard to get more ‘upzoning’ in place.