This is a guest post from Brendon Harre. It first appeared here.

Hobsonville Point has been a great commercial success.

It demonstrates that Aucklanders will eagerly choose higher density living if it is master planned to a good quality.

The challenge for Auckland is in replicating that success for its existing suburbs that were originally designed for low density autocentric living.

Hobsonville Land Company (HLC) was established in 2006 to master plan a greenfield site, the former Hobsonville Air Force base of 167 hectares.

Hobsonville’s densest residential blocks have about 100 dwellings per hectare.

HLC (now short for Housing, Land & Community) is a fully owned subsidiary of the government department Housing New Zealand.

Hobsonville is the northern red circle and Sunnyvale, Glen Eden and Fruitvale Road train stations are within the western red circle

Auckland has the opportunity to replicate Hobsonville in many existing low-density suburban areas which have much better access to Auckland’s centres of economic activity.

Auckland Council development agency Panuku has a plan to develop Henderson, a suburban centre a little closer to the middle of Auckland than Hobsonville.

How the Glen Eden blocks could look once finished

Some private developers have some excellent projects underway in this space too -such as Ted Manson’s $160m philanthropic apartments. One of his projects is being constructed right next to the Glen Eden train station.

The CRL will significantly improve access to the city for the western rail corridor

Given the demand for housing in Auckland and the improvement in commuter train travelling times that will eventuate once the City Rail Link is completed in 2024, a more ambitious proposal would be to facilitate the intensification of the entire western rail corridor.

Spatial economic theory (and empirical observation) indicates for a monocentric city, resident’s collective preference (not planners dictates), results in a city, such that as one travels towards the city centre, house prices rise, dwelling sizes decrease, building heights rise, density increases and land prices increase. A polycentric city is similar but instead of a single centre there are multiple centres.

From “The importance of housing choices in cities” by Peter Nunns

When the City Rail Link is operational it will in effect move the western rail corridor suburbs closer to the centre of Auckland. Which theory indicates will increase the demand for higher density housing.

How might this look in the real world?

An investigation of the residential suburbs around three train stations on the western rail corridor -Sunnyvale, Glen Eden and Fruitvale -shows there is the opportunity to increase residential density fivefold, if effective mechanisms are enacted to enable this.

I examine three examples where suburban blocks could be intensified to yield more than 500 new homes net. There is potential to replicate this process many more times in the western rail corridor.

In a recent joint announcement by Mayor Phil Goff and Housing and Transport Minister Phil Twyford, they outlined their plan to invest $28 billion on Auckland’s transport infrastructure over the next decade, much of it developing a congestion free rapid transit network.

This means there will be more rapid transit corridors in Auckland where housing intensification supply can be provided along corridors of growing demand.

It is therefore worthwhile investigating the specific supply potential of these newly connected rapid transit suburbs.

Sunnyvale example

A residential block adjacent to the Sunnyvale train station on the east side. Block surrounded by bush and trees.

Approximately 35 existing houses.

Area 350 m long by between 40m and 100m wide giving an approximate area of 1.75+ hectares.

If Hobsonville type density housing were built here then this block could be intensified to 175 or more houses, a fivefold increase in its density.

Glen Eden example

A residential block approximately 500m from Glen Eden train station with the following boundaries; the wide Clayburn road and the narrower Malam Street, Clayburn park and the train line.

Approximately 29 existing houses.

Area is approximately 2 hectares.

If built to Hobsonville type density it could contain up to 200 residential dwellings, a more than sixfold increase.

Fruitvale example

A larger residential block that is less than 500m from the train station at its farthest point. It has the following boundaries -Fruitvale, Northall and Westhall roads, the train line and some existing newer higher density housing.

There is an area of natural storm water drainage in the middle of the block that drains eastward, which will need to be retained. Public walkways may benefit the wider community to prevent such a large block being an obstacle for accessing Fruitvale station.

Approximately 50 existing houses.

Area approximately 2.5 hectares.

Potentially this site could be intensified to 250 dwellings depending on how much land area is required for storm water drainage and public paths.

What sort of mechanisms would enable a fivefold increase in intensification?

The Unitary Plan has upzoned a lot of Auckland, especially areas around rapid transit -such as the western rail corridor.

In the above examples, the Sunnyvale and Glen Eden sites are zoned for terraces and apartments, with a height limit of 16m and a boundary recession plane of 3m vertical and then angled in at 45 degrees.

The Fruitvale site is in a mixed housing urban zone, which has a height limit of 11m plus 1m extra for an angled roof. There are some other minor differences, such as, building and impervious ground coverage (see above Unitary Plan link).

Building five story 16m high apartments would certainly give a fivefold plus increase in housing density. How affordable these would be is questionable, given the savings on land costs per dwelling would in part be countered by more expensive foundations, lifts, sprinkler systems etc.

The more affordable medium density housing option from a construction point of view, is terrace housing and three story walk-ups -the type of dwelling that makes the bulk of Hobsonville.

The problem though with achieving a fivefold increase in density across large residential blocks, such as the examples I examine, is they are broken up into 29 to 50 individual property titles where there are various Unitary Plan rules to prevent one neighbour’s development being a ‘nuisance’ to another. Such as recession planes and outlook requirements -for sunlight and privacy externalities.

Recession planes
Note: For the terrace and apartment building zone or the residential mixed housing urban zone the height at boundary is 3m.
Outlook requirements

If bigger sites are assembled then these externalities can be better internalised.

What this means in practice is that for larger sites, where there is a clean slate, like what HLC had in Hobsonville, the master planned development can maximise density while ensuring each dwelling has a good level of light, privacy and other externality considerations.

Smaller sites like the individual property titles in the examples I examine are not big enough to maximise the height allowance that the Unitary Plan allows. If intensification happens at this individual property level it will achieve much less density -perhaps only a two or three fold increase.

Larger sites could be assembled by sole private developers, purchasing neighbouring lots to create a site with more density potential and therefore more profit potential. This takes time and is prone to hold-outs who can maximise their monopoly pricing power, at the expense and potentially viability of the sole private developer’s project.

Alternatively, I have speculated that groups of agreeable neighbours, in order to get the best degree of density and profitability from their combined assembled site could join together to facilitate development on a equal party basis, in neighbouring pairs that I call reciprocal intensification or larger groups to create new laneways.

This general concept is called hyperlocalism and is discussed in the “Rebalancing the continuum between devolution and centralisation” section of my report – Unravelling the strands of the urbanisation debate: To improve urban performance.

The two hyperlocal proposals that I have previously written about do not appear well suited for the blocks I have examined in Auckland’s western rail corridor. So I am going to suggest another unit for neighbourhood cooperation called;

Master Planned Blocks

I would suggest that a legal structure be created that would allow the landowners of a residential block to develop a ‘special purpose vehicle’ where the community contributes their land and houses, becomes pro-rata owners of the resulting development, can access finance and can partner with a master planning entity, such as HLC or a Urban Development Authority.

This would allow all the landowners to jointly benefit from a scheme that maximises the density and profitability from their assembled block of landholdings.

If each Master Planned Block had its own planning permission or worked in conjunction with an agency that had planning permission such as a Urban Development Authority and there was many Master Planned Blocks competing against each other and against other housing development models, then in theory planning regulation costs should be competed down to the true social benefit value of planning regulations (for managing externalities, nuisances etc).

This saving should also in theory be shared by increased profitability for developers (the original community of landowners in the Master Planned Block’s case) and lower prices for new home buyers.

Increased construction competition would drive productivity investment and innovation improvements.

What factors should be considered to make Master Planned Blocks effective?

*A clear definition of the geographic area of a potential Master Planned Block

  • Community, council or central government entity defines the area?
  • Must not border other residential areas? Or if it does, clear rules about the boundary effects and a government agency determines where the boundary goes (to prevent some groups of landowners gaming the system geographically by strategically blocking off other potentially more competitive shaped Master Planned Blocks).
  • Must not be too big, maximum of say 50 properties, so that community cooperation is viable?

*What percentage of existing property owners must agree to initiate development? Eighty, ninety percent? Also how to stop developers buying into neighbourhoods and stacking the vote?

*What sort of management structure -something like body corporates, democratic, what?

*What are the rules for rehousing existing residents within the new development versus getting a financial payoff and moving elsewhere? In other words is retaining and building a community an important aspect of Master Planned Blocks?

*Can the new special purpose entity have planning powers within its own geographic area? What about at the boundary?

There is a lot to consider but none of it seems insurmountable.

Given the important benefits intensification brings for maximising the potential from the public’s investment in rapid transit and for addressing the housing crisis and environmental considerations, such as climate change. I believe Master Planned Blocks is something worthy of further investigation.

Articles from the internet that support intensification of anglo-centric cities

London’s Adam Smith Institute makes a compelling, free market argument for removing restrictions on housing intensification, so more people, can live more affordably, in places where there is the most economic opportunity.

John Myers co-founder of London YIMBY in his latest paper argues;

we could easily treble the number of homes in London by allowing Georgian or Edwardian densities again …attractive rows of gorgeous terraced houses or maisonettes and mansion blocks…. it would vastly reduce the cost of land per home… (making) better housing more affordable.

John Myers argues that allowing Georgian and Victorian housing densities would solve London’s housing crisis

Patrik Schumacher is an outspoken London architect. He has polemic free market views for how removing government regulations can solve the housing crisis. I think he goes too far in some of his prescriptions, such as privatising public land -like Hyde Park. He seems to have pulled back on some of these extreme ideas in his following paper.

Sometimes though to make a dent in public opinion, especially in such a intractable problem like the housing crisis, someone has to express extreme polemic views to move the Overton window. This public service by Patrik Schumacher is recognised by others in London, even when they disagree with him, by their acknowledgement -“his heart is the right place”.

In general, I have nuanced views on the continuum between the free market and state control. In the housing sphere, I believe that mostly regulations need to to be freed up, although in New Zealand, building (construction) standards for healthy homes (warm, dry, ventilated, mould-free) should be raised.

In New Zealand, the new coalition government has indicated that although they are not interested in private capital provision for hospitals, schools and prisons, for transport and housing related projects they are “open for business”.

Patrik Schumacher in his paper alludes to a possible solution along the lines of my Master Planning Block proposal.

To the extent that collective decision making is called for to regulate development rights in the light of externalities, I suggest that an organized association of property owners should set regulations. Voting rights could be distributed in accordance with the relative value of the respective holdings, analogous to shareholder rights in stock companies. Such a privately organized planning system (similar to how to many successful industry self-regulation initiatives operate) can be expected to maximize total social value, in contrast to our current political processes.

A related idea has recently been proposed by John Myers as key proposal of his YIMBY campaign. The proposal involves allowing individual streets to vote on giving themselves permitted development rights, to build upwards to a maximum of six storeys and take up more of their plots.

A less confronting discussion of the need to improve the cultural acceptance of living in higher densities is presented by American/Japanese aspiring musician Ryan Tanaka.

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  1. On my website I have a better edited version with a benefits from Master Planned Blocks section. Also a couple of interesting links about Tokyo/Japan at the end.

  2. Great idea but what how vulnerable is this to perverse outcomes? What if a bunch of neighbours get together and democratically vote to institute a 6m height limit, minimum 5m setbacks from all boundaries and a 4 car garage for every dwelling?

    “similar to how to many successful industry self-regulation initiatives operate” – A lot of industry self-regulation actually raises barriers to entry. They appear ‘successful’ because they claim quality has been improved but the reality is that low-cost competitors have been excluded.

    Would limiting such schemes to only being allowed to increase density work?

    1. Yes there could be a rule that the Unitary Plan zoning is the minimum density and blocks can choose to upzone.

      It is doubtful though that blocks would want to choose to downzone as that would devalue there properties.

      I did think there might be a limit to how much upzoning could occur. In particular a height limit to prevent really high apartment buildings which would affect neighbouring blocks.

      What do people think of that?

      1. “It is doubtful though that blocks would want to choose to downzone as that would devalue there properties.”

        Huh, what? Downzoning → artificial scarcity → higher prices. Note the prevalence of single housing zone on the inner isthmus suburbs. Note how those areas are still expensive. Note how much protest there is against upzoning. Maybe I’m missing something.

        1. Probably the difference is between owners enjoying the suburb-wide lower-density zoning that keeps everyone’s properties scarce and expensive, vs a block-scale decision to keep low density in just the one block, which wouldn’t gain suburb-wide scarcity (and value), just provide less development potential per property.

        2. Yes that is what I think. Why would a block downzone itself hoping to create artificial scarcity and capital gains when all the neighbouring blocks can undercut them by upzoning and building more.

        3. On a practical note be given permission to create a master planned block would be conditional on creating a master plan which significantly increased housing intensification.

          There already is a process where parts of suburbs can create ‘special character areas’. Which is essentially downzoning.

          Master Planned Blocks essentially is a process to do the opposite -upzoning and actually build it too.

        4. I think there is certainly a risk of this happening. You are right to say that the land would be more valuable if it were upzoned, however that doesn’t mean it is not still valuable with tight zoning restrictions. People may well be happy to keep their current value knowing that they won’t have to ‘put up’ with lots of neighbours.

          Don’t underestimate people’s willingness to keep things the way they are.

  3. Hi Brendon,
    Great article.

    Personally I don’t think there should be any density restrictions as long as the effects are mitigated. We need an elastic land market.

    Urban planners don’t do Regulatory Impact Assessments on every single rule they write (they should have to) & don’t bear the costs of the rules.

    The government should legislate to remove zoning limitations & get back to effects based consenting.

    In most cases this will mean that developers will have to amalgamate titles to ensure e.g. sunlight is maintained, in brownfield areas.

    Masterplanning in greenfields as suggested above is fine.

    1. If I had the money I’d join you. That graphic about travel times before and after the CRL was a real eye-opener. 15 years ago I regularly visited a friend in Glen Eden from Birkdale and it didn’t make any difference going via the Harbour bridge or Hobsonville, it was a lousy journey. I know they have spent a fortune on motorways since then but have anecdotal knowledge that things haven’t improved. Knocking 20 minutes of the train journey will be a fantastic improvement. Suddenly remote suburbs will be reattached. There will be many opportunities to develop micro-Hobsonvilles but hopefully faster and cheaper. My guess is AT will be astonished at the increase in train usage – just hope they can can respond to the demand.

  4. The Hobsonville artist’s impression above shows clearly to me how townhouses are quite wasteful of space compared to apartments. All that individually fenced off land with narrow shaded strips beside each house could be far better amalgamated into shared outdoor spaces. Far better is the style of development proposed by the Grey Lynn Cohaus development, in which the communal courtyard allows for bigger trees, sunny areas, shared (and therefore socially beneficial) vege gardens, etc:

    1. In theory you sound right but in practise high density townhouses are a better and often a cheaper solution. Visit Spitalfield London where I used to live. They had mid-rise apartment blocks probably from pre-war and tower blocks from the sixties/seventies and dense terraces of what I suppose you might call townhouses. They were very cheaply built and deservedly popular and maintained the same population density. I checked this recently – my 3 bedroom 2-storey terraced house had a floor area of 36sm and a front and back garden maybe the same 36sm and that was larger garden than most. There was a park nearby for kicking a ball around and a kids playground. All that a only a walk to the Tower of London or the city of London.
      Apartments require more expensive soundproofing and firewalls and you are more at the mercy of your neighbours. You also lose control of your property – changing the windows, adding solar, painting different colours.
      Thinking about it a rather pointless disagreement – lets have both and see what the public wants.

      1. Yes, that is a good development type too. And I think the walk to the amenities of central London is part of its magic. 🙂 What you describe is about the 100/ha density, I think, once roads are included? But lower once parks are included. Yet the house is much smaller than most of the Hobsonville Point houses, isn’t it? So does Hobsonville Point only achieve its density because of a mix of larger houses and taller apartment buildings? I haven’t looked at it in that detail.

    2. Wasteful, nah, there’s suburbs out in the southeast, with houses on more than 400m² of land, and somehow they manage, on all that space, to still have only 3 small strips of concrete around the house. The 4th side, the front, shall be the big driveway and the front lawn which nobody uses.

      This one is relatively sane. (isn’t the example Bob gave more or less the same layout?) The townhouses with little backyard pattern is a tried and tested way of developing residential areas overseas.

      And at least the space in between is not all filled up with garages and driveways. Why would anyone ever need car access to both the front and back of the house?

      Private garden or shared garden? The former may suit you better if you like the private space. You can’t put a paddle pool in a shared garden. Both have their advantages.

      1. Yes, I should keep my criticism to worse developments, of which there are many. Bob’s example was interesting because the two storey house on 36 m2 footprint is smaller than any houses I see going in other than progressive social or cohousing type developments. Scale it up to a 260 m2 house and the density drops, even if it looks kind of similar.

        1. Increasing or decreasing the density of a development is only one question. If you choose a density there’s still lots of trade-offs to make:

          • Shared garden vs. private gardens: both can have trees ad veggie patches. For higher densities I’d say shared will win.

          • Townhouses with garages on the first floor? It can look silly, but if you move the house next to the garage, that costs you an extra 50 m² of building footprint for every house.

          • More storeys means higher buildings but also more open space between buildings. The UP often limits you to 2 storeys, which is stupidly low.

          • And then, parking. That’s a hard one:

          – How many parking spaces per unit? That Cohaus development: 9 spaces for 19 units. Pretty ballsy move. This may or may not result in another dozen of the residents’ cars parked on the street all the time.

          – And where? You often see developments where most of the common area is paved with a driveway and one parking spot at each house. I really dislike that arrangement, but it’s what you usually get…

          – OTOH the Cohaus puts it all together in a corner. That’s a vast improvement.

          – On quieter streets: just have the parking at the front. Use the roadway which is already there. Maybe even just angle parking on the street. It may deteriorate the street a bit, but it frees up a lot of space that you’d otherwise need for the big driveway. A garage just on the street also gives flexibility: the next owner may use it as a small shop instead of a garage.

        2. Roeland I think this is the sort of collective design considerations that would need to be thrashed out at the stage when submissions are made to Master Planner.

        3. Yes, parking all in one corner is a good idea. To me, consolidating parking and doing away with the multiple dangerous-for-kids driveways has to be the first thing a Master Planned Block could achieve, even if nothing much else gets changed. I like the car-share and shared bike parking that Cohaus have provided, too.

          I’m hoping we get a commercial car share in Pt Chev soon, which will open up lots of possibilities here.

  5. Good to see these ideas, Brendon. Thanks. If I think about what NIMBYs in my area seem to be most afraid of with more intense development, the big ones seem to be
    1/ being overshadowed and overdominated
    2/ parking issues and traffic issues in general
    3/ concerns about trees, green space
    4/ parties and noise from a younger or poorer demographic
    5/ waste not being dealt with properly, because where do you dump it if you don’t have your own garage

    The first one is probably the one that restricts consent the most, and I think your proposals address it. The others, however, need to be managed well.
    2/ Developers need to get their heads around carshare. Cityhop has research on how many cars each carshare space takes off the road. Intense development on multiple good transport routes will easily allow for car-free living. Intense development on just one good transport link to the network will still require car use from time to time, and people will create a parking problem if they aren’t provided with carshare. It’s important developers design it in from the start.
    3/ Hobsonville is not a good example in terms of green space.,174.6581133,570m/data=!3m1!1e3 Yes, there are school fields and a few other bits. A good example would have gone to four storeys everywhere, with space for really big trees. Hobsonville feels claustrophobic to me, and when you emerge from it, it feels windswept. We can do better, at the same overall density.
    4/ In some suburbs, HNZ are at the forefront of some of the more intense development. I hope they are now well-resourced enough to provide proactive management of complexes and good response to noise nuisance. Public acceptance of higher density living might be shaped by their experience of HNZ developments. Government needs to get it right.
    5/ Society has a problem with waste, and with Stuff. Again, design from the start, with waste streams and bulk storage designed into developments is really important for the public’s acceptance of higher density.

    1. I hope we allow experimentation, innovation and diversity as our cities intensify.

      Hopefully that way problems are solved…

      Amenity is enhanced…

      People have opportunity at a price that all can afford….

      1. Yes. I’m linking developers with community gardeners, community waste groups, and with carshare operators at the moment, to help the higher intensity developments here have the best outcome. I would like to see someone at Council taking this role in other suburbs, as I think the transition can be smoother or rougher depending on how we manage it.

      2. And what is the process we have to mange all the many “failed experiments” out of the ecosystem?

        Let them rot? Fall apart, become ghettos for low income or HNZ “tenants”, or forcibly restructure/demolish?

        [and who gets to decide which ones are successful experiments and which are not?]

        Isn’t this lack of past cleanup of the many failures that has left so many great examples of exactly how not to do it littering Auckland and elsewhere?

        And isn’t this what the NIMBYs are really worried about deep at heart? Only they may not clearly say so, but isn’t it often what they mean when they raise a lot of their objections?

        Maybe the your idea can work – if don’t control all the rules too much going in, but also then have a full-on weeding out program down the track to fix up the inevitable mistakes?

        It seems that with so much investment (financially, emotionally and infrastructurally) in our housing in NZ, that its near impossible to do anything to a housing stock once an area or even a house is built wrong/a failed experiment.

        So people who may have to live with the mistakes (or own them), usually want to try and avoid making mistakes at all – which just further embeds the current “just do what you know works” system into place. So goes against your idea of lots of experimentation.

        I guess if the construction and red tape related costs weren’t so damn high we could afford to make mistakes. But right now you get one chance to build it right in effect.
        Not conducive to experimenting.

        1. The problem with HNZ model is a lack of ownership. Tenants simply don’t take care it.

          They can trash the dwelling, setup a Meth Lab, vandalism the surrounding. At the end of the day, tax payers pays the expensive repair cost.

          Secondly is the HNZ encourages a high concentrated of poor and anti-social people – crime rate goes up, rich moves out, the whole area get ghettoized.

        2. The problem is that Housing Corp used to be for middle of the road NZers. There was no shame, we were in a housing crisis together back then. Now it’s the last step before homelessness. Given the housing crisis now, many issues could be solved if HNZ was scaled up and made available to middle of the road NZers again.

        3. +100 Heidi. Many of the state houses you see were actually sold to first time home buyers with low long term mortgages. This was normal, there was no stigma. These were mixed with social housing. You could also buy housing on the fully private market and state housing was mixed or ‘peppercorned’ with that. As the state has withdrawn from this area the private developers simply haven’t stepped up. Why would they? Lower income groups can no longer afford housing and there is no longer a leg up for them.

        4. Greg, I think the Pattern Language and Permaculture concept that you first repair what doesn’t work before building on anything that is good as it is should be embedded in regulations somehow. There should be a priority for fixing up messes, but it’s just too easy to build on anything not yet built on.

        5. I think also a key thing is that experiments start on a small scale (ideally). So if it fails there’s not a lot of mess to clean up.

    2. I think you can add a number /6 to the list that people have little faith that quality construction will result. There are just too many examples of of poor quality, leaky buildings in this city. We just don’t have a history of building quality, intensive housing in Auckland. (maybe that’s changing, only time will tell)

      I’ve recently been looking at buying an Apartment in central Auckland and it is literally a minefield, have a look on TradeMe at the number of apartments for sale with building resolution issues in progress

      I did laugh at the photo illustrating this piece of the row of Portland stone Georgian townhouses

      1. Not just quality of the construction but also the quality of the wider area.

        If you look for an apartment, also pay close attention to the surrounding area. Victoria Quarter for example has a lot of apartments but it is otherwise totally car-dominated. And the council is in no hurry to even look at it. You thought walking home from work is relaxing? Ha.

        So now we’ve got a new problem:

        — Lo and behold the virtues of high density living
        — (looks out over Hobson Street) Dude, seriously??

  6. In oversea cities, by law all residences living in the same apartment is required to join the residence association. The residence association will democratically elect representative board. The board will appoint body-corp and decide long term renewel plan.

    The board with clear majority vote can sell the land back to developers or urban agency.

    I believe the same system can be applied to Auckland.

    All council need to do is setup a law requiring all residences to join the local residence association and periodically elect a board.

    The board have power to override development controls, appoint body-corp to carry out common maintenance, issue notice to fix, re-landscape and optimise land use, and collectively redevelop land, or sell it to developer/government with majority vote.

    Basically, some local council maintenance function is carried out by local residence association’s bodycorp. The bodycorp rate should be deductible against council rates. This reduces council burden and makes the residences has more control over their common maintenace.

  7. No it is impossible to get large groups to work together where the people have more than one aim. Groups only work were everyone shares a single motive like profit for companies or a cause for charities or a deity for religions. People in neighbourhoods have little in common except that they bought in the same area.
    I saw this when I was a student surveying rural water supply schemes. There were farmers who were in and farmers who were out and some who were in were trying to get out and some who were out who wanted to get in. The Judge didn’t let any out and only let new ones in if they had originally opted out but would have a main running past their gate.

    1. Maybe. Let’s watch London Yimby. Or imagine Generation Zero convincing Ted Manson to fund a development of their design. He he. Could be delightful. (GZ – have you considered asking him?)

      I was talking recently with someone who had studied cohousing developments in New Zealand, including those that didn’t get started. He said that when a group of people all put in seed money to get the development started, buying the land, etc, that failure was common. Once money was involved, people were no longer creative with the design, they dug in their heels on details and in the process ruined the whole thing. Whereas if one or two families can fund the initial stages until RC is achieved, everyone is creative and their input can be used.

      I would imagine Master Planned Blocks would need quite a prescriptive template supported by an agency to overcome the fact that people already have financial interest in the outcome.

      1. Miffy and Heidi getting agreement with large groups can be difficult. Although when there is a chance to unlock greater value by cooperating, rather than going it alone, then perhaps this difficulty can be overcome?

        Variations on this hyperlocal idea is something that London is genuinely beginning to try out. Check out this post.

      2. Perhaps there needs to be a clear process for creating Master Planned Blocks?

        Say something like the following;

        Central or local government supports the concept and gives some funding to one or more Master Planning agencies to facilitate intensification in particular areas.

        Master Planning agencies conducts neighbourhood meetings and explains the benefits they can provide.

        If a residential block expresses an interest in becoming a Master Planned Block for intensification purposes and has the support of over half the residential landowners then a process is started.

        There is a set timeframe for submissions on what sort of design values are important and then some time for the Master Planner to develop a conceptual design, estimated construction budget, market value assessment etc.

        Residents are then given a simple yes/no binding option of whether to proceed or not, with 80% agreement being the minimum threshold required.

        1. Yes. I would imagine it would need to be piloted by one block who want to do it, and a Council planner who is keen to assist and use it as a prototype from which a process could be developed.

        2. Yes that seems sensible -or perhaps a three way community + local/central government venture? Does anyone have any input with Phil Goff or Phil Twyford? I would be happy to discuss this further with officials…..

        3. For that to work you have to live in a society that says it is ok to evict an owner who loves their house and loves where they live. Every neighbourhood has people who have different goals. Some are investors who are there to maximise capital gain. Others are people looking to move up. Some are there because the property gives them amenity they cant find elsewhere. Some are there because it has been their home for decades and they really don’t want to live anywhere else or in any other building, it is their home and their community. In NZ we accept that people can be forced out for public utilities, but I don’t think we are at the point where we accept you can be forced out so someone else can make a few bucks.

        4. Every existing homeowner would benefit financially equally -so it not the case that someone is evicted and prevented from participating in a scheme that “makes a few bucks” from their land.

          Yes it is true that someone could be outvoted by 80% of their neighbours and lose their existing home but they can be compensated by being given a new home in the same location plus their pro-rata share of the financial returns.

          New Zealand in the past has massively relocated urban dwellers against their will. Auckland’s central motorway junction (CMJ) had a significant effect on inner city Auckland. 15,000 dwelling were removed and 50,000 people moved from the area when the CMJ was constructed in the 1970s.

          This Master Planned Block proposal would be a significantly smaller order of scale.

          Does one or two neighbours have the right to force a lower value type of urban development onto eight other neighbours? Especially when that lower value development is also a loss to the wider city community?

        5. Yes mfwic (didn’t see your reply first, Brendon, but here’s my similar reply), but we need to consider the rights of people who don’t have homes. And the rights of people to have decent access to their work and city instead of having to have an exhausting commute to the outskirts.

          Too long property owners’ rights have come above rights to a decent life.

          And we need to consider the damaging projects for which people have been forced from their homes and weigh them up against the urban repair projects that we’re considering here. I’d be more happy to say that it is no longer legal to use compulsory acquisition for roads, as a totally wild example. 🙂

          In most cases it wouldn’t be about compulsory acquisition anyway, but about that property owner needing to put up with higher wall on the boundary than the existing zoning allows, or maybe giving up rights to build out in return for gaining rights to build up.

        6. Thanks Heidi for describing the loss to the wider city community so well : )

          Also: One source of mine indicates this sort of scheme sometimes occurs in Germany and Japan -and due to loss of property rights concern -there is the high bar of 80-90% landowner agreement. But I haven’t been able to confirm this yet.

        7. I don’t think you will ever have a majority of neighbours who want to demolish their house now. Houses last a long time. For some people it is a home and not an investment. Some may just have been renovated recently.

          If at all possible the master plan should allow replacing the houses gradually, maybe even over decades. How do you build an Eurobloc? One house at a time. If you eventually want a neat row, draw the front line on your master plan.

          In the meantime we should actually allow terraced houses in the terraced housing zone. You can vote for that, and then owners still have the freedom to build now, or build 10 years from now.

          And what about firewalls, and so on? What if your neighbour is not building yet? That is a solved problem, you see that all the time in Europe.

        8. Roeland I have some sympathy with your argument and it marries up with my reciprocal intensification idea. But in the residential blocks I examined the street layout and property shapes/sizes do not facilitate that process.

          What is needed for those large blocks in Auckland is a reallocation of land to create some new lanes in the right places and the creation of many more smaller plots of the right shape/size for a combination of terrace housing, 3 story walk-ups and apartments.

          If that is not done, those middle Auckland suburbs will never shake off their autocentric past.

          Unfortunately Master Planned Blocks will need to be done in one go -which may make them less popular. I cannot see any way around that problem. Although with such a high rate of intensification all the existing residents could be rehoused by developing just 20% of the combined site. So very few of them would spend time not being housed in a old or new house on the site.

        9. Firstly Brendon forget about the nonsense of 50,000 people having their homes removed for the central motorway junction. The CMJ occupies about 50ha which is 0.5 sqkm. For there to have been 50,000 people living in there the population density would have been twice that of Manilla. Even higher than that as a big chunk of the 0.5sqkm was a cemetery. It is a good example of a post hoc fallacy. (Post hoc ergo propter hoc- it follows therefore it is caused by). The population declined because a metric shit-tonne of land was converted from residential into business and tertiary education land. The population also declined due to a change in demographics as large extended families were replaced by couples with one or two children.
          Second, the fact that people can be slung out of their own home for a road, pipe or light house doesn’t make it right to appropriate their land for other purposes. A better solution would be to fix the evil rather than repeat it. The Public Works Act exists as a bastard child of the divine right of kings. We are well past that crap.
          Thirdly if you think someone who loves their house because of the utility and amenity the building and location give them is equal to the cash they could get as a developer, then you have totally missed the point. People buy a house because it is worth more to them than the market price. They keep there house as long as that remains true. Assuming everyone only values their home at the market rate only makes sense if all of those homes are for sale.

        10. mfwic, playing devil’s advocate here, what about gardeners? Either tenants or homeowners. Their concept of home may be their garden, full of fruit trees they planted and pruned to exactly the form that they want, with a forest garden they’ve established under the spreading boughs of a neighbour’s huge *protected* tree that provides a particular chemical makeup in the soil, dappled shade, leaves for compost, and maybe structure for vines to grow on. They may have built up skills for that particular ecosystem that are not transferrable to another site.

          You have argued against tree protection, so the huge protected tree could be removed for a development, perhaps replaced with drainage works and dense shade that entirely wrecks the garden. That complete concept of home, gone, for the gardeners, despite the fact that they established the garden while the tree was protected. They’d have to move on and make a new home and garden somewhere else.

          I would far prefer to see someone having to move on to allow a better urban form than to have to move on because a development can’t be designed around a large tree.

        11. Miffy firstly, I am not sure if your 50 hectares is correct but if it is then at Hobsonville density of 100 houses per hectare and at Auckland’s average density of 2.9 people home then that works out at 5000 homes and nearly 15000 people.

          Secondly, a call made up BS on your inference that the divine right of kings is the root cause of government’s having the right of compulsory acquisition. The UK at the beginning of the industrial revolution did not have the right of compulsory acquisition for network infrastructure. There are some famous examples where aristocracy prevented train tracks being put through their land, such as occurred in Stamford, which prevented the succesful stage coach stop town being on the main trunk line between London and Edinburgh.

          Thirdly, residential property rights is a fluid beast, it is a bundle of rights that have altered many times over the decades depending on legislation like the RMA (maybe you are a RMA clip the ticket guy who likes the current status quo of property rights?). It can be altered again, if society agrees to it.

          Fourthly, those communities of residential blocks I examined in my article will change. They will intensify one way or another. The local residents could collectively take control of the process and maximise the benefit for themselves and the wider city. Or they could leave it for individual land owners to do a half-arse job…..

        12. You could be right at 15,000 if you include the dead people that were moved. The Crown has always had the right to appropriate land. Even the Magna Carta said nobody could not be deprived of life liberty or property without due process of law. Thing is the powers of the Crown are delegated to the Government who also write the law.
          There are plenty of examples of railways avoiding major land owners properties. If you watch Michael Portillo’s show he loves to point them out. In the early days of rail Lords had an automatic right to sit in parliament and the Landed Gentry controlled the Commons. So Parliamentary government was all about protecting major land owners, whether it was corn laws or restricting calico to make wool more valuable or diverting canals and railway lines around important people. The same rights were not given to all. Commons were enclosed so that wealthy people could take grazing land from poor people. It was all done lawfully by act of parliament.
          The problem I have with the Public Works Act is not that the Crown can force a sale, but that they only have to compensate on the basis of a willing buyer and willing seller. The seller is not willing, the seller values the land higher than that. That consumer surplus is simply stolen by the state.

  8. Creative ideas there with multiple owners merging together to develop larger blocks of land. Because as you’ve said, it’s all very well having land zoned THAB, but the zone isn’t really that ‘enabling’ over the other zones if you have one section at at time.
    Piece by piece development will result in two storey ‘sausage flats’ – if a developer is trying maximise what they can do on the site.
    Not that I’m against any particular style or design.

    I’ve seen some decent designs for mid density development in Flat bush, it’s just a shame its isolated from transit links and everyone will ‘need’ a car to get around.

    1. Exactly Anthony. Master Planned Blocks complements the upzoning of the Unitary Plan.

      It provides a new option for landowners to maximise the value that upzoning creates in a way that also provides wins for those interested in more affordable housing, better access to places of economic activity, lowering the impact the city has on climate change…

      Those ‘sauage flats’ are horrible. We have loads of them down here in Christchurch, they just end up as low value rentals.

      An earlier idea of mine was to provide an alternative to this type of infill housing with ‘streetscaped laneways’. This would also have a wider community benefit of improving walkability/permeability.

      1. So do you think the simplest form could be something like a group of, say, 10 adjacent property owners agreeing together that they could change from Mixed Housing Suburban Zone to THAB zone?

        1. Yes that sort of upzoning could occur.

          But also 10 adjacent properties cooperating together on one master planned scheme could use THAB zoning to create more dwellings, with more amenities (green space, views, light etc), compared to 10 property owners doing 10 different schemes.

          One common scheme allows houses to be attached across the property boundaries of the orginal 10 property titles because in effect those old property titles are being reconfigured into many more titles in a higher valued configuration where many of the terrace houses or apartments are built up to common firewall boundary, new laneways are the optimal size, location etc.

          If you look closely at the Hobsonville Master plan that is what they have done to achieve such high densities.

          For smaller sites (that individual properties would be) -even if it is zoned THAB -the recession plane and other rules severely impact on the height and bulk of any resulting housing intensification. For instance a small 20 metre square plot would have a maximum height at the peak of its roof of 13m and its bulk would be restricted to 3m vertical at the side and rear boundaries plus 10m at a 45 degree angle due to the recession plane rule.

          An architect with diagrams of typical plans of how an entire residential block could be intensified under different scenarios would demonstrate this better than I can explain in words

        2. Yes, I understand. It’s the same thing Roeland comments on above – that the THAB zoning isn’t actually allowing terrace housing. If the AUP had actually got THAB right, then master planned blocks would only be necessary for taking that extra step, of making a really nice perimeter housing form.

    2. The community perception in Auckland is ‘sausage flats’ are ugly and it provides one reason for more restrictive planning rules to prevent this type of urban development.

      Prior to the Unitary Plan the rules preventing sausage flats created all sorts of distortions by encouraging large 200sqm+ McMansions but not the same residential bulk split into 2–4 seperate dwellings.

      I do not think that the Unitary Plan has fully resolved its planning contradictions in this matter -but Master Planned Blocks and other hyperlocal would provide a solution.

      The following GA article from 2011 explains the ‘sausage flat’ problem in more detail.

  9. Miffy thinks compulsory acquisition of property is morally wrong but not fixing urban property markets may also be morally wrong.

    The problem with the property market is it is different to other markets because property or land is immobile and attached to other properties -there is a location, contiguity/site assembly aspect to land which does not apply to other goods and services. This creates a kind of market failure -over and above any market failure of planning regulations etc. For example, when buying more apples for a bakery, the apples don’t have to come from neighbouring trees, but if the bakery wants to expand, it has to buy neighbouring properties. See here for further discussion of land contiguity

    Historically in NZ we have addressed this market failure for private property by charging a small land tax or rate on unimproved property i.e the land not the building or other improvements. This discourages land banking and encourages land to be put to its best use. NZ stopped doing that in the 1980/90 reforms moving to a more user pays model. NZ’s government in the past have also ‘burst up’ large land holdings into more efficient sized farms for sheep meat and dairy farming, which was then balloted to new farmers.

    For property purchases for public projects the government has the power of compulsory purchase under the Public Works Act. NZ as part of the 1980/90s reforms abolished its main Public Works providing agency -The Ministry of Works and since then the pipeline of public land acquisitions for major projects -especially projects for trunk infrastructure (future arterial roads, rapid transit lines, corridors for sewer, fresh and storm water etc) needed for urban growth has been non-existent. Without ‘Making Room’ trunk infrastructure corridors outward urban growth is very constrained and very poor quality i.e. no greenfield transit oriented developments, like Houten, Netherlands

    After Christchurch’s earthquakes Gerry Brownlee was given the power to make compulsory purchases wthout triggering the Public Works Act. He used this power extensively to buy up 20% of inner-city Christchurch land and for the government to partner with a monopoly developer -Fletchers. In a sense central government created a Urban Development Authority with the power of compulsory acquisition. It has not gone well. Read about it here.

    So if urban growth is constrained going out (possibly good for the environment but bad for housing affordability) and if there are opportunities to intensify because new rapid transit infrastructure is being provided. But if Auckland intensifies like it has in the past -on an individual property title basis and at a slow pace. Then less intensification will occur than could have and the outcome will have less amenity value i.e it will be a Unitary Plan version of the 1950/60s sausage flats.

    Given the fish hooks of a hard compulsory acquisition process for acquiring larger sites for urban intensification I have thought that ways neighbouring properties, new laneways and master planned blocks could voluntary reallocated their land holdings in a more efficient layout to maximise the benefits of intensification was a promising solution. That is why I have worked on reciprocal intensification, streetscaped laneways and now the master planned block proposals.

    Admittedly, there is an element of coercion involved in the master planned block proposal but that coercion comes from the community not an outside agency. And there are checks in place to prevent abuse -there is a very high bar required for the scheme to proceed -80 to 90% agreement, financial benefits are equal on a pro-rata basis and everyone who wants to stay in the community is rehoused in the same location.

    1. Try looking at history for the answer. How have countries without strong private property rights fared? The answer is they are mostly screwed. All of sub-Saharan Africa is a good example. Eastern Europe eventually got the hang of it.

      If you transfer a persons rights to their neighbours then you are accepting a form of tyranny where the strongest most evil person gets control and makes all the decisions. They do it through corupting enough others to gain control then coercing the rest.

      Your proposal for neighbourhood development soviets is cloaked in well meaning language but I thank God we dont have it. And I am an atheist FFS. Thankfully we never will have it.

      1. Miffy if you believe that property rights are so sacrosanct then you must believe that all these development restrictions are a nonsense. I could respect that argument. I might not agree with it. I think there are some externalities and market failures that need to be addressed. But at least it would be logically consistent.

        But I know that you Miffy do not respect the right of property owners to determine their own car parking requirements, for instance. You would like to steal this property right from them. Are you secretly a communist Miffy?

        Seriously, if property rights is the only important matter then why regulate shade planes and setback rules and all the other regulations in the Unitary Plan at all? These are all rules that allow neighbours and the wider (Soviet?) community to impinge on individuals (capitalistic?) property rights.

        So FFS calm down with your right wing moralising.

        All I am proposing is a system of regulating these externalities (which are already being regulated with a loss of property rights) in a better way.

        If you think I have got the costs and benefits wrong, address that issue, but do not accuse me of being a communist.

        1. Not true at all. Do you imagine I think in binary? Development controls are needed to address external effects. That is why we have planning. Your property affects others and others can have and effect on yours. As for right wing moralising, I vote Labour, but left wing theorists who have no idea about the impacts of their proposals scare the shit out of me. Or perhaps you are more of a fascist? They support the idea that the strongest willed get to determine the outcome for others. Either way turning up in a neighbourhood and rounding up some support for a development and then being able to lawfully strong arm others is a terrible idea. One day you might see that. Can you imagine the tactics developers might use if this was allowed? You are assuming everyone is equal and will treat each other fairly. But in truth some will act only in their commercial interests and rather than having to respect other people’s land as they do now, they will get to govern what happens.
          You really don’t seem to have thought this through.

        2. Mfwic I apologise for calling you right wing if you consider that an ad hominem accusation.

          I do have respect for property rights -that’s why I considered a super majority agreement was important. Also thinking about it -this sort of ‘taking’ would require some sort crown agency with legislative permission. So it would be a regulated activity.

          Perhaps though the Master Planned Blocks would be better to work around ‘objectors’ where they can and very rarely use ‘taking’ powers.

          To get over 80% support would mean that only a few households disagree and it is possible those properties could remain and not impact too greatly on the project.

          Ideally Master Planned Block projects would be an improvement for the community not something that causes division and resentment.

        3. mfwic, what is your solution to the problem that our city has been and is being developed with poor urban form?

        4. Heidi people develop for profit. If you want more houses close to centres then you need to rezone with high enough density to create plenty of profit opportunities. Already people can band together to cooperate but that is almost always too hard because or how people are. But if the potential profit is high enough one person or company will buy up enough to make it work on their own. The problem is how do you protect the interests of incumbents who have different values. My answer is a FIZ or Future Intensification Zone like the current FUZ used on the edge of the city. Zone increasing rings of FIZ and make an automatic change to and operative intensive zone after 10 years. That way people can either wait it out and sell or sell now to avoid it or whatever suites. But you get time to figure out what you want before a neighbour can build right to you side boundary.
          Every year or so add more FIZ. In 10 years the debate is over.

        5. That’s good. So some questions:

          1/ Do you agree with me that the FIZ mustn’t be a stepwise increase in intensity over time but a wholescale step up to a long-term intensity? Buildings will need to be replaced but replacing them with slightly higher density several times is a waste of resources.

          2/ The THAB zone, in particular, doesn’t promote a good urban form. Rather, it allows sausage developments. In addition to the FIZ, we’ll need the THAB regulations changed to allow perimeter development and prevent sausage development. Do you think the city can cope with a change to the AUP already? Or do we need an established process to allow several property owners to adopt a different set of regulations together?

        6. Heidi to get development to occur you need to enable a big change. FUZ exists to stop people doing 10 acre blocks when the land should be saved for more intensive development. Little steps don’t work, they actually make it more difficult. FIZ should do the same but in the centres. The steps would be to annually increase the FIZ over more areas to provide for what is needed in 10 years. I still would never advocate forced sales. If someone wants to live in a villa surrounded by six storey buildings then let them. Their descendants will sell. A good society accepts that we all have different things we think are important. FIZ wouldn’t stop the council approving earlier development so long as it met the current zone rules and mitigated its effects. But it would signal a big change with enough time for people to get used to it or make other arrangements.
          I have no problem with changing the plan. I gave evidence at plan change 6 two weeks ago and I am giving evidence on plan change 5 today. Ongoing changes are better than the big grand reviews.

        7. OK, that’s good to hear. It wasn’t clear to me if changes were pie in the sky after the big AUP change. So I’ll put another question to you and Brendon and anyone else below soon.

  10. Brendon, mfwic, anyone else: how do we save a couple of blocks in Pt Chev from being sausaged? I don’t live there – but I know people who are wanting to develop. The regulations allow them to build a foul sausage.

    Here is the area – my overlays are for the AUP zone. The one I’m wanting to discuss is the orangey one in the centre of the image, which is THAB. The beige one at top left is Mixed Housing Urban.

    As you can see, there are a few infill houses, but not many. The area has been somewhat saved from infill as the sites were smaller than elsewhere in Pt Chevalier. Instead, there are a lot of backyards still green. So it’s actually a prime position for Perimeter Housing instead of what THAB allows.

    How could the residents go about changing the regulations to allow a better form to develop piecewise?

    1. The more southern of the two big blocks being the stronger contender for perimeter housing. The northern one looks like too much infill already, on reflection.

      1. To make a successful perimeter block development the block needs square/rectangle/type shapes with sides of between 50m and 100m.

        So those really big rectangle blocks in Pt Chev need to be broken down to smaller squares by the addition of new lanes.

        This could happen if two neighbouring properties who were considering making sausage flats each having its own driveway instead cooperated to share a driveway/laneway.

        If there backyard neighbours chose to do the same then a through lane is created.

        If this was publicly accessible it would be a community amenity. As such it should be something the council encourages.

        That is the basis of my Streetacaped Laneways idea. Which is the first step needed to move towards a perimeter block development.

        It would take some effort to negotiate with the neighbours but the end result would be a higher valued development so it might be worth it.

        1. Thanks Brendon. I looked at the Prague examples referred to in Peter Nunn’s post about legalising perimeter block housing, and the dimensions were similar to what you said, but slightly bigger – usually the short side was 80 to 110 m, the longer side maybe up to 160m. But yes, the laneways are necessary.

          What’s going to keep the central area green and not built on? A set of four neighbours might manage the laneway to form a block of about the right dimension. And they could presumably develop along the laneway. But when their neighbours have done the same, it isn’t a perimeter block development at all, it’s still sausage development.

        2. To create a perimeter block with central green courtyard open to all of the perimeter block would require a master planned block.

          It might not take many houses because the layout of the existing blocks isn’t that bad in PT Chev – it just needs some through lanes.

          Something like 10 to 12 adjoining properties might do it.

        3. 🙂 My thoughts were more along the lines of inviting Brendon and mfwic to come to a meeting for residents. Brendon could show a series of shots of different development types, including what the THAB will allow to happen on the block, and discuss pros and cons. And once the residents have indicated what they’d prefer, mfwic could explain how to get a plan change through… 🙂

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