Two important events last week mean the council is going to need to drastically rework its Unitary Plan. I’ll cover both in separate posts starting with the National Policy Statement on Urban Development.
Council’s across the country have long talked about wanting to stop or slow our cities from sprawling over the countryside. They talk about wanting quality and compact cities but when they get to the fine print in their plans, they then put in place rules that make that intensification difficult and leaving sprawl as the fastest, easiest and cheapest option.
On Thursday the government released a new National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS), replacing one introduced in 2016, and which will make a significant change to this situation, mandating significant upzoning in our cities and the removal of some of the most harmful planning rules.
The National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) will direct councils – particularly in the five high growth centres of Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch – to free up their planning rules while focusing on well-functioning neighbourhoods and communities.
Phil Twyford said the new approach to planning through the NPS-UD will allow better connections to transport and other amenities so our cities can flourish and better support their residents. “We know New Zealand can create high and medium density communities with good urban design and open spaces.”
The NPS contains a number of policies but there are two that are the most significant. These are:
Councils covering the urban areas of Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch will need to enable significant upzoning.
So plans must allow a minimum of six-stories in city centres, metropolitan centres, within walking distance of city and metropolitan centres and within walking distance to existing and planned rapid transit stops. This is a massive change, especially as many of these areas, especially those on the isthmus where there is demand for more intensification, currently have zoning that enables 2-3 storeys as a maximum.
What is also interesting is that the NPS blasts away other density restricting techniques planners have used to hide behind. For example, heritage can still override this density requirement but “only in relation to the land that is subject to the designation or heritage order“. In other words council’s won’t be able to put blanket heritage protection on areas and as they need to provide site-specific analysis on every property they want heritage protection on. There is also no mention in the qualifying factors about viewshafts which have effectively prevented density in places like Panmure.
In saying this, council planners are nothing if not creative at finding ways to not do something. Perhaps one area they’ll focus on is the definitions of rapid transit and walkable. The NPS includes a definition for the former but not the latter.
rapid transit service means any existing or planned frequent, quick, reliable and high-capacity public transport service that operates on a permanent route (road or rail) that is largely separated from other traffic
I think it’s also a positive that planned rapid transit has to be included as that will allow development progress sooner, or even in advance of rapid transit being built – thereby potentially helping to bring it forward. This will presumably mean councils will have to put the planned rapid transit lines into district plans. Bringing our long term land use and transport plans together would be a positive move. I am also aware there are rapid transit plans under development for Hamilton, Tauranga and Christchurch.
As for walkable, traditionally about 800m is considered be a walkable distance however in other analysis the council have tended to use 1500m. This was based on research at a variety of train stations which found.
- more than 50 per cent of respondents walked further than 800 metres to get to a train station;
- more than 15 per cent of respondents walked further than 1500 metres to get to a train station; and
- walking is the most significant mode of travel for trips less than 2000 metres.
The map below (from here) gives an idea of just how significant this is these changes are if we include the proposed RTN lines. In the map the city and metro centres are shown in green and 800m from these is shown in purple.
What this also really shows is the areas with rapid transit shadows. In particular the Western North Shore and in the east around Howick.
In the past we’ve seen vocal opposition to even minor change and councils have tended to focus on appeasing the often older, wealthier and noisier, opponents than to think about future generations. These changes will result in significant change to some areas and in Policy 6 the NPS states that decision-makers need to accept that these changes:
- may detract from amenity values appreciated by some people but improve amenity values appreciated by other people, communities, and future generations, including by providing increased and varied housing densities and types; and
- are not, of themselves, an adverse effect
Over time more people in an area will mean more local shops, cafes and restaurants, more frequent public transport, better equipped and maintained public spaces, and the list goes on.
Removal of Minimum Parking Requirements
The second major change is the requirement to remove minimum parking requirements (MPRs) from all urban areas of greater than 10,000 people.
Again this is a fantastic change and one that will have positive implications. Car parking can add tens of thousands to the cost of each dwelling and in the case of underground parking, that can easily be $70k or more. That all but rules out the ability to provide affordable housing.
In Auckland we’ve already seen them removed from some areas and as a result are starting to see some fantastic car-free / car-lite developments coming through but this will spread that further. It will also mean that big box retailers – the most active supporters of the regulations – won’t be able to use them as a way to prevent competition.
In response to the removal of MPRs, councils (and Auckland Transport) are going to need step up on how they properly manage on-street parking.
MPRs were starting to come under increasing scrutiny in a number of places (that had implemented them) but NZ is probably the first country to mandate their removal.
Some of the other changes introduced by the NPS focus on things such as
- Ensuring there is enough development capacity in plans as well as only allowing that capacity to be counted if it is “infrastructure-ready” – so that counci’s can’t just zone land for development and claim they have enough capacity without putting in place the infrastructure (or plans to provide it) to enable that development
- Requiring councils to state ‘housing bottom lines’ – the amount of development capacity needed to meet expected demand.
- Requirements around the monitoring a range of metrics such as the demand and supply of dwellings, housing prices and rents etc.
Another key aspect is the changes outlined in the NPS are real. They’re not out for consultation that can be watered down. They’ve been signed off already and to change them would require the government issuing a replacement NPS. In terms of timing, this NPS comes into force on 20 August and the table below sets out how long councils have to comply with the various policies contained within it. The key here is councils have 18 months to remove MPRs and 2 years to enable the intensification.
It will be interesting to see how councils respond. With the government cutting through the rules and mandated changes it hopefully means the discussion with the public shifts from being “how much development do we allow” to “this is happening, how do we make sure it happens in a quality way“.
For his part, Auckland Council’s planning committee chair Chris Darby says they aim to respond in double quick time.
'Gone by lunchtime' car parking minimums will get a costly monkey off the developer's back, enable greater capacity and contribute to more affordable urban living on a number of fronts. @AklCouncil will be responding in double-quick time to confirm the changes. https://t.co/4VVOrJqgF1
— Chris DARBY (@DarbyatCouncil) July 23, 2020
Oddly enough given their regular rhetoric around removing regulation, being business friendly and even wanting to scrap the RMA in full, the National Party’s new Urban Development spokeswoman Jacqui Dean, opposed the changes while their transport and infrastructure spokesman Chris Bishop supported it.
This policy statement from Phil Twyford is madness. Congestion in cities is already a big issue and this will only exacerbate the problem as more cars jostle for fewer spaces. Public transport works for some but realistically it’s not a suitable option for everyone. https://t.co/7ZtJiemekj
— Jacqui Dean MP (@JacquiDeanMP) July 23, 2020
Dean later said her
I should have been clearer, while I broadly support most of the provisions in the NPS as it relates to car parking, I still have concerns around potential for congestion in the short term, but more importantly access to suitable parking for vulnerable communities.
Of course as the image earlier shows, accessible parking isn’t covered by these changes