In the attachments to the agenda for the Council’s Planning Committee tomorrow is a copy of a presentation used in a workshop with councillors on changes that will need to be made to planning rules in relation to the Government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) that was released last year.
As a quick reminder, the NPS-UD makes some significant positive changes to planning rules in New Zealand. The two most interesting ones from our perspective is it:
- requires planning rules to allow for much more development in existing urban areas by allowing for buildings to a minimum of 6-storeys within walkable distances of:
- existing and planned rapid transit stops
- city centres
- metropolitan centres
- requires the removal of minimum parking requirements (MPRs) from all urban areas greater than 10,000 people
- removes the ability of planners to hide behind some of their traditional density restricting techniques such as applying blanket heritage protection on entire areas.
Since the NPS-UD came out, the big question has been how the council will interpret these rules, particularly the ones that allow for intensification. Will they, for example, come up with comically small walking catchments as a way to limit the amount of change on some communities that have traditionally been vocally opposed to change. As such, this presentation is interesting in that it starts to give us some ideas of where their thinking is going.
Minimum Parking Requirements
Starting with MPRs, the council are required to have these removed by February 2022 and to do so without going through a normal plan change process.
It seems the main issue the council officers have here is the impact the change on public on-street and off-street parking, which will require more ‘active management’. In other words, they’re worried we’ll need more enforcement.
In response they highlight a need for a review of Auckland Transport’s Parking Strategy – this is something we’ve seen indications of in some AT board papers. The presentation says AT intend to evolve the Strategy and add new sub-components to it. Those sub-components are:
- Park and Ride Strategy
- Kerbzone Optimisation Strategy
- Comprehensive Parking Management Plan Framework.
There are a few big concerns I have, these are that:
- AT will see their role as being to provide a bunch of new parking facilities all over Auckland.
- In optimising kerb space and on-street parking, it will make it all that much harder to make changes to our streets to provide space for cyclists as well as walking and other safety improvements. To counter this, it’s critical the parking strategy provides a clear hierarchy of road space priority. Particularly on arterials, parking shouldn’t be provided unless there is already safe walking and cycling infrastructure and in most cases, also bus priority too.
- AT will be as fearful of and hopeless at properly enforcing parking which will lead to even more cases of issues like footpath parking.
It’s likely we’ll hear more about this around July or August.
The changes to enable more intensification are critical to get right and if we do, will likely see significant development occur in many parts of the city. They also have the potential to open up so much more development within the existing urban area that we can then scale back much damaging sprawl that is currently on the plans.
The presentation highlights the key changes. In a later slide they note that most metro centres already provide for this level development but that “very few areas” do for the circles in red.
They say some of the issues they’re working through are:
- Inconsistencies with our current approach to rapid transit. For example, rail frequencies
- Potential inconsistency with local authorities
- Working on alignment across transport and planning documents. For example, RLTP
On that first one, Rapid Transit is defined in the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) as having a minimum of 15 minute frequency services all day and a dedicated Right of Way. But based on that definition we have no rapid transit as the rail network has poor off peak frequencies and the Northern Busway services don’t have a dedicated right of way for their entire journey. However, the intent of the NPS-UD is clear and so it would be incredibly disappointing if the council/planners were to use technicalities like this as a way to avoid upzoning areas around stations.
It’s also worth noting that the definition for Rapid Transit in the RPTP is the same it is for frequent buses. In addition, the definition included by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) in their guidance says:
- 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
- rapid transit stop means a place where people can enter or exit a rapid transit service, whether existing or planned.
Then Minister of Urban Development Phil Twyford also confirmed last year it is intended to “a high frequency bus service on a main arterial“. All of this suggests most of the city centre focused frequent bus corridors on the Isthmus as well as Onewa Rd on the North Shore should be included.
That brings us to the issue of walkable distances. The MfE guidance doesn’t give a specific definition as to what walkable is but suggests 800m is most common but it can range from 400m a kilometre or more depending on the area – for example, people will walk further to access the city centre than they will to access a frequent bus.
The presentation included these proposed catchments and modifying factors
These at least look like sensible starting points. There is however a bit of a disconnect here with some of the modifying factors. Issues like street crossings and traffic volumes absolutely impact walkability and they intend to include them in the analysis. But instead of changing zoning as a result of these, where identified they should be fed into a programme of work for AT to fix – to make it easier to walk in an area, such as by adding more pedestrian crossings etc.
Unfortunately, we’re not sure what the feedback from councillors was on this, whether they supported the proposed levels or wanted changes made. The included timeframe suggests we should get more detail from their June Planning Committee meeting with any consequential changes following that in a July or August meeting.
We hope the council officers don’t try to find ways to get out of or limit the changes that need to be made and instead present councillors with some bold options for upzoning the city.