Yesterday, Auckland Council revealed some of the work it has been doing in response to the National Policy Statement for Urban Development (NPS-UD), the government’s attempt to coerce councils into enabling more urban intensification, particularly up to 6 stories, around transit nodes to improve housing affordability.

Historically, attempts to intensify become henfights over whether a single development is suitable, while missing the bigger picture of well-functioning cities and housing affordability. The NPS-UD takes a more reasonable approach of gaining democratic agreement over a common sense principle: that there should be more housing in transit- and job-rich areas. Then, the amount of housing that can be targeted to those areas can be done by technocratic rules, rather than fighting with NIMBYs with every tiny step.

The work shown off yesterday specifically provides updates on how Council will respond to two of the most important parts of the NPS: walkable catchments and qualifying matters. In simple terms, the walkable catchments are the areas within jobs and transit, and qualifying matters are the reasons we might not want to maximise development capacity for a given site. The walkable catchments are defined by:

Regional policy statements and district plans must enable building heights of least 6 storeys within at least a walkable catchment of the following:
(i) existing and planned rapid transit stops
(ii) the edge of city centre zones
(iii) the edge of metropolitan centre zones;

This is particularly important to get right in the case of Auckland, as our post-Unitary Plan building boom has largely missed the inner suburbs, despite those having the best access to transit and jobs.

Unfortunately, it seems the Auckland Council planners have taken many years of taking beatings from NIMBYs to heart (much like their Wellington City Council counterparts, whose watering down of their NPS was shot down by councillors last week), and have produced a plan which follows the NPS by word, but not by intent.

Planners have taken purposefully narrow interpretation of the definitions to vastly undermine the capacity of housing that could be produced by the new plan, particularly by sabotaging rapid transit routes and catchments.

Rapid Transit

The current and planned Rapid Transit Network in ATAP.

The NPS defines rapid transit as:

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

Architect of the NPS-UD, Phil Twyford, explicitly stated that this definition was chosen as a broader definition of rapid transit than is used by transit agencies, which should include some routes which run just in bus lanes.

And yet, rather than even just considering ATAP’s presented Rapid Transit Network as the RTN for NPS-UD, the planners have dialled it back further, saying that the Onehunga line doesn’t have the frequency to constitute a rapid transit node, and that ferries don’t run on road or rail. Bizarrely, they are claiming that Dominion Road Light Rail is not a ‘planned’ project as it’s not funded in the RLTP, despite nearly $2bn earmarked for City Centre to Māngere.

Importantly, it also ignores one of the most effective public transport investments that Auckland Transport has made in the last decade: the isthmus’ New Network for buses which operate on a relatively comprehensive network of T2, T3, and Bus Lanes on Auckland’s arterials, which are only set to improve with it’s planned Connected Communities program. Great North Road, New North Road, Sandringham, Dominion Road, Mt Eden Road, Manukau, and Great South Road should handily qualify under that definition of rapid transit, if not the rest of the frequent network such as Tāmaki Drive and Remuera Road.

Catchment Size

One of the most significant parts of today’s paper was how big they’re looking at making the catchments for new housing, which would be shrunk based on “modifying factors” such as steep inclines (ie, most of Auckland).

City centre – around 15 minutes / around 1200m from the edge of the City centre zone
• Metropolitan centres – around 10 minutes / around 800m from the edge of the
Metropolitan centre zone
• RTN stops – around 10 minutes / around 800m from existing and planned RTN stops.

The laws of geometry dictate that a doubling of the radius of a circle equates to a quadrupling of its area. This means its important to make sure that the radii chosen are as generous as feasibility possible to enable as much housing as possible. Unfortunately, the planners have taken a different view:

A more common approach in public transport planning, and one similar to that put forward
by the Ministry for the Environment in guidance on the NPS UD, is to determine and apply a
walkable catchment that caters for most people. It is proposed to base walkable catchments
in Auckland on a distance the average person will walk to access a centre or RTN stop

While this seems reasonable on face value, it’s incoherent. The “average person”, or the median/50th percentile does not represent “most people”! By definition, half the population would be more inclined to walk more than the average person. While it’s not reasonable to try encapsulate the walking distance of every individual, missing half the population is not a good basis for public policy. A more realistic conception of ‘most people’ would look at the 85th percentile of demand, which is the figure typically used in urban planning when considering, for instance, parking minima.

In 2013, Council produced a survey of how people were accessing the rapid transit network. While the average walking distance for the Median user was ~800 metres (~10 minutes), the average walking distance for the 85th percentile user was ~1700 metres (20+ minutes)!

It’s also important to note that these are the distances people walk when factoring in the “modifying factors”, so if planners really want to optimise around the median pedestrian, then should be looking more towards a base figure of 1000-1200m.

Qualifying matters

Auckland Unitary Plan zoning, with Special Character Overlays covering most City Centre adjacent areas

One of the biggest barriers which has prevented new homes being built in the inner suburbs during the Unitary Plan has been “special character controls”. These are often conflated with heritage controls, but are in fact distinct. Heritage is protected by the RMA, aiming to prevent destruction of particular buildings which have unique cultural value.

Special character, on the other hand, is about protecting the “vibe” of a entire neighbourhoods by freezing them in time, making redevelopment all-but-illegal. It’s difficult to see how this is a worthwhile thing to do during an unprecedented housing shortage.

But Council seems to disagree, as they are getting ready to send out surveyors wandering through the streets to rate all 30,000 properties under special character controls across Auckland as low, medium, or high character. Those deemed low or medium falling within catchment will seemingly have their protections eliminated. This could be very positive or very negative, depending on how these ratings are undertaken, but it’s hard to be optimistic given their approach to date.

One small win is that the council has not mentioned the “pre-1944 demolition controls”, which are a blanket protection on all old houses. They will likely drop this altogether, as it would have been very hard for the council to justify under the new steep evidentiary requirements for qualifying matters.

Zone

Completely missing from today’s paper is what “building heights of least 6 storeys” actually means for residential development inside these catchments. While the Unitary Plan offers the Terrace Housing and Apartment Building Zone (THAB), which has an explicit height limit of 6 stories, it also has other rules which impose more restrictive height limits in most circumstances.

Most notably, height-in-relation-to-boundary rules mean that few buildings can even touch the stated height limit of 16 metres without a 26 meters wide site. A 10 meter wide 6-storey apartment would need to be sitting on a 36m site! This zone will do little for the majority of sites in these catchments which sit at around 12-16 meters wide.

Council will either have to look at revising THAB, adding a new higher-density residential zone, or looking to the zone currently enabling the kind of development NPS seeks to encourage: Mixed Use Zone, which has already produced many beauties in the slivers of Grey Lynn where they’re allowed.

Carbon emissions

The paper ends with some strong claims about emissions:

The urban form of cities directly affects the level of emissions they generate. It also affects the level of exposure it’s residents and businesses have to the effects of climate change. Land use and urban form are one of the most significant drivers of emissions given their long-lasting impact. Land use decisions undertaken now will lock in growth patterns that will be very hard and expensive to undo in the future.

..

Some of the relative impacts of the types of intensification sought by the NPS UD are described below:

  • Density – increased density is associated with reduced energy use and emissions, both within and between cities. 
  • Proximity to the city centre – households closer to the centre of a city tend to have shorter trip lengths and greater mode share, and therefore generate a lower level of transport emissions. 
  • Proximity to rapid transit – households closer to rapid transit tend to drive less.
  • Access to jobs – proximity to jobs has been found to be one of the strongest predictors of household vehicle travel.

Hopefully all councillors who claim to care about carbon emissions, especially after being forced to swallow a miserable 1% reduction in the RLTP, will push back against the planners’ tepid NPS response like their Wellington counterparts.

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98 comments

  1. Tamaki Drive has literally no eastbound bus lanes at all, so perhaps a stretch to say it’s a proper rapid transit route in the same way that Great South Road – which has them on both sides – clearly is capable of being.

    But even more interesting; the designation of Massey/Westgate, given the ongoing pushbacks of the SH16 transit improvements. Quite telling in the context of the inner city areas that will likely be fighting tooth and nail to push development out of their areas once the special character areas are drafted.

    1. Roads and highways are not rapid transit areas.

      Why council approves intensifying there, but not close to mist of railway stations.

      Also why The Mahia station has no access from southern part of station?

      1. Council should definitely approve intensifying around all the railway stations and improve the walking access to all the stations. There’s quite a bit of work to do on that.

        On roads and highways: to reduce vehicle travel, many of our roads and highways will need reallocation to public transport and active modes. We’ll need to make some of them frequent transit corridors, and some of them rapid transit corridors.

  2. For those who want a long read of what is going wrong with housing in NZ. Check out these papers which I started writing last year.
    https://medium.com/land-buildings-identity-and-values/new-zealands-rack-rent-housing-crisis-ec40d5f9aec2
    The earlier parts of the Rack-Rent Housing Crisis describes how bad housing is in NZ.
    The latest – “Part Six: Where To Now?” describes some of my history with the housing crisis in order to provide a rationale for where I think the government is heading with housing.

    1. Thanks for the link Brendon
      I am still to read your link in detail, but I did notice this line “they zone less land for homes and more for offices’. I like to explore the idea on how ground floor zoning in NZ could become more mixed use, more social (think Amsterdam / Delft) and less vertically separated (think Rotterdam / NZ District Plan rules).
      Would it be posable to have a zone that allows commercial (retail centre) to loosely expand mixing with residential or contract allowing residential to mix between commercial at ground floor.

      1. Hi Peter that would be ideal. I am not an expert on Auckland’s Unitary Plan. But I believe there is some mixed use zoning. Scott could perhaps give us the details.
        I would add that if local governments do not implement the spirit of the NPS-UD then the government might be tempted to go further down the road towards Japanese style planning where central government makes all the zoning laws. Which would definitely support more mixed-use built environments.
        http://urbankchoze.blogspot.com/2014/04/japanese-zoning.html

        1. Mixed zones doesn’t include 25-storey living condominiums.

          Mixed zones mean there are legal possibilities to open some services or barbers at the ground floor

    1. It’s a but like when you go to the supermarket with two small children with the best of intentions, but then after hearing them ask for lollies 200 times you end up caving in, because you’re sleep-deprived and their constant lobbying has more effect on your addled brain than the principles you vaguely remember starting out having.

      1. It’s more like the grandparent who gives in to the kids at the first suggestion because they like to be ‘the one’ who gives the treats (not caring or hearing the parents explain that everyone is doing the same – the other grandparents, the children’s friends, the neighbours, the school teachers…)

  3. I haven’t read the restrictions around character areas but surely the look and style of the area could be achieved with a higher density?

    The classic villa look has been achieved in 5 storey apartments in Kensington Park. I see no reason why character areas can’t have high density as well.

    A few tweak to the rules and it could happen….

    1. Pics please! I’ve yet to see a 5 storey high block successfully look like a timber weatherboard villa. Personally, I’d say that it could not be done – but if you have evidence to the contrary, I want to know!

      1. If a character is created solely through “every building is made of the same thing” then it doesn’t have character, it has a ubiquitous architecture.

        1. Only after they were rebuilt – presumably due to weather-tightness issues. Although nothing stopping the use of weatherboards initially.

    2. As Tamatha Paul said last Thursday: “Let’s rename the heritage streetscapes for what they are: colonial streetscape precincts. This is colonial protection, upholding the architecture that acknowledges a particular time in our history.

      “Character is something that is created by the people who live in a precinct. It’s how they interact with each other and care for each other. It’s not what the houses look like. We should at least be honest about what we’re trying to achieve. Otherwise it’s like saying, if you don’t have colonial villas in your neighbourhood, you have no character.”

      Intensification means there’s going to be a whole lot of new people in an area. Perhaps they should decide any “character” of the new housing.

      1. You almost sound like you are adopting the free market Heidi!

        People should be able build what they want on their land. In Ponsonby I suspect a lot of villas would be removed to go up. And to be honest why wouldn’t you – the location is fantastic.

  4. The most optimal place for people is columbarium: their daily travel distances are 0, they emit 0 carbon, the density is damn high, and their health doesn’t deteriorate. Win-win for everyone.

  5. Surely when we have spent $10 billion or $50 billion on PT and rail in Auckland it is then sensible to encourage people to live close to stations. Now we are about to spend another $30 billion over the next 8 years. We trust that councillors care about our businesses and families. The money must be spent in a way that gives us maximum returns.
    Building new sprawling surburbs further out and with stations too far away for people to walk to just won’t help. Families living far out spending hours commuting and $100s filling up their tanks will be easily encouraged to move to Australia.

  6. Is there anything reasonable or democratic about the NPS-UD? Auckland went through a formal process that was heavily skewed to favour the Council. when it was over a couple of Ministers didn’t like the result so they jammed the NPS-UD through. Finally as an after thought they added a prohibition on sensible parking rules. The NPS-UD is an exercise in centralising power.

    1. Depends on what you mean democratic, a democratically elected government, with very legitimate elections, implementing policy that would be in the best interest of the country and her people seems pretty democratic to me.

    2. Arguably central government is more democratic than local government because it is more representative due to higher voter turnout.

      1. Only if they state before an election what they intend doing. I don’t recall a party saying they would deny Aucklanders the appeal rights other New Zealanders have. I don’t recall a party saying you can expect apartments built next door if you live 10 mins from the edge of a centre. I don’t recall any party saying they would put Auckland through a two to three year process to figure out the rules and then ignore all of that.

        1. Turn your mind to bittertrolling about all the travesties of democracy that have led us to this villa belt protection in the first place, miffy.

          I hope you recognise what they were.

        2. NPS-UD came out before the election. If the people were opposed to it they could have voted for a non-government political party. But that didn’t happen… so

        3. When you defer doing the right thing for ages, it can seem sudden. The leadership challenge now is to bring enough resisters along to embed the change. You should seriously consider running against it if you feel that strongly.

        4. Brendan are you seriously suggesting that people like me should stop voting Labour because they left a twit in charge of a minor ministry? I thought we had local government and local elections to do this stuff and national elections for more important matters. If you are right then why should we ever waste out time voting in local elections again? If they dont do transport and they dont do land use and the dont do waters then honestly what is the point of Councillors and local boards?
          Villa protection sucks too Heidi but that doesn’t make this right.

        5. local government and local elections to do this stuff and national elections for more important matters.
          Miffy housing was one of (if not the) biggest election issues.
          The villa belt protection style rules (same thinking in wellington etc) have contributed heavily to this inane pricing. You cant seriously have thought the central government would change nothing to increase housing supply in some of the most viable places for it?

        6. Jack everybody expected the Government would fix the housing problems they and earlier Governments had created when they brought in daft legislation like the LGAAA and the requirement for spacial plans and all the other planning bollocks that made it harder and more expensive to build. But they didn’t say they would pull the rug out from the agreed and accepted Unitary Plan by allowing apartments 10 minutes from the edge (not the centre) of metro centres. Clearly Labour has been hijacked by the Greens and in future I will have to vote NZ First to balance this. Seriously we went through a process biased towards the Council and got the Unitary Plan based on evidence and facts. Then in comes the some totalitarians at the end because facts and evidence didn’t give them the answer they wanted.

        7. They absolutely campaigned on fixing the housing crisis. Twyford was pretty outspoken about needing to deregulate this sort of stuff.

        8. The UP process had more to do with the hourly rate of Kiwi Income Properties and Wesfield’s lawyers than evidence and facts.

        9. Lawyers could only achieve what the did because the Council had a weak case to start with. The Council set out to bias the process from the start by clipping appeal rights. Had they spent more time on their arguments than on disenfranchising people they might have done better.

        10. The RMA, (passed by a democratically elected Parliament) has had the provision for the Government to introduce National Policy Statements since it was enacted. In fact, it was the intention at the time that far more would be implemented than have been in the past. They’re a tool to give more guidance as to how it’s expected that the RMA should be implemented. Councils have never had the authority to run their own planning system, they operate within a framework set by central government.

        11. Yes they were intended for things that are of national significance. My point is when did density and building typology ever need that? When did parking rules ever qualify for a national edict? The answer is it happened when the least competent Minister in a generation was put in charge.

        12. ”Yes they were intended for things that are of national significance. My point is when did density and building typology ever need that? ‘

          When people started living in garages and cars.

        13. When the greenfields development / road building / automotive sectors manipulated the national understanding of urban form, preventing the intensification that would’ve happened naturally without their meddling, sinking us deep into car dependence, housing unaffordability and a high emissions transport system.

        14. ‘When people started living in garages and cars.’ Are you naïve enough to believe building little million dollar apartments will get anyone out of the dire situation they are in? We need cheap homes. You won’t find them in a six storey apartment building near a metro centre or station.

          Heidi local planning rules became a matter of national importance when a couple of control freaks got power. The RMA specifically tried to keep planning local and limit the input of the Government. Now the Government has prohibited sensible parking rules and as a result even disabled people wont be able to drive if they choose to.

        15. ‘Are you naïve enough to believe building little million dollar apartments will get anyone out of the dire situation they are in? We need cheap homes. ‘

          Are you naive enough to think that reducing controls on inner city areas and increasing supply across the board won’t create more affordable homes? Clearly its not working now. Anyway, you’re on full troll mode at the moment so I can’t be bothered with you.

        16. Miffy is correct, these rule changes will have zero effect on creating more affordable homes or affordability in general. Consider for a minute house price increases in regional towns – percentage wise it’s similar to Auckland, if not more in some centres. Is it because they have villa protection? No. There is something much bigger at play and it’s not limited to NZ, it’s world wide. It’s called cheap money.

    3. The really undemocratic part is that a few wealthy people in central suburbs usurped the property rights of other landowners and condemned future generations to pay through the nose to live in damp garages.

      These wealthy landowners were able to pay lawyers and lobbyists to get the council to adopt rules preventing reasonable development with no basis in demonstrably adverse effects. The courts refused to uphold the law and shut down the district plan rules that go far beyond the scope of the RMA because they sensibly feared that the rich landowners were always going to drag it out for years.

      There is nothing remotely democratic about the District Plan process.

      1. The Council created that situation. Had there been a normal system of hearings and appeals then we might have had more balance in the outcomes. By convincing the Government to get rid of appeal rights for the people while keeping appeal rights for the Council the whole thing became a political football rather than a planning based process as it would normally be. Council officers caused that. Then they were surprised than people focussed on lobbying Councillors instead. A good lesson is if your take away rights then people find another way.

  7. IMO, there is a place for an open air museum streetscape, where very strict appearance regulations are applied to <100 meters of an old street. This could provide real value to the city as a tourist attraction / cool place to go.
    But that is it for the entire city, you cant control swathes of the city like this.
    That is insanity. The city is a living morphing thing, which is where all the character comes from.

    I do wonder how so many people reconcile themselves with being really bitter about all the buildings destroyed in the downtown while essentially advocating for the same thing in the villa belt.
    Sure there are a few that should have been kept, and there was probably a way to save more of the lower facades, like those pedestal buildings like in Vancouver / https://goo.gl/maps/P9BT9j7eAKvFvcPX8 . But the increase in floor space was good and a natural progression for the city. Just as it will be good to increase residential space in the inner suburbs.

    1. I’m quite a fan of one of miffy’s ideas to basically pay Dunedin to be our open air museum. It’s got a reasonable amount of old buildings, it’s not growing much and it’s pretty much the least earthquake prone place in the South Island.

      1. I would find six nice villas in a row somewhere out of the way like Devonport and keep them. All the photos of San Francisco show the same six houses. Everything after that is a waste of time and may as well be in Dunedin where it doesn’t hold Auckland back. But as noted above I think this is what local government should do. Central government should mind their own business.

        1. I don’t get you views on this. NPS (in general) are a core part of the RMA for exactly this reason: The decisions made by local government, for example on housing supply, ultimately end up imposing costs on central government (and vice versa, for that matter). Problems with housing affordability, for example, are a major driver of increasing costs of the accommodation supplement.

          It’s silly to say an NPS is “undemocratic” when they were a core part of the RMA as passed and amended over decades. And if you speak to the people involved in and/or familiar with the legislation as is was drafted and debated, then they typically say the lack of NPS is the root cause of many of the problems we currently face.

        2. Stu I did Tim McBride’s Environmental Law paper in 1990 and he had us work through the Resource Management Bill. The NPS part was put in to ensure national issues could be addressed. The idea was intended to guide things that couldn’t be done locally with practically everything else being done locally. Both the density and parking rules in the NPS-UD were promoted locally for years and people considered them and said ‘no we will do some of that but not all of it’. The NPS-UD is a major F**k You to the concept of local planning and engagement.

        3. Housing affordability is a national issue.

          You can’t argue NPS are to address national issues and then, when a national issue emerges, argue the use of an NPS to address housing affordability issues are undemocratic.

          It’s such a vague buzzword as to be meaningless.

          One could equally say Labour were democratically elected to tackle housing affordability and that’s what their trying to do.

        4. Stu they were elected to fixed a housing crisis. The only way they can do that is to build houses for those who can’t afford to. They failed at that so they are doing this to give the appearance of doing something. The Unitary Plan THAB zone is already extensive and already provides more than enough capacity for apartments. Adding more land isn’t going to create more houses in the short run given the bottlenecks in construction, the cost of development and simple issue of demand for apartments (by those with $1million or thereabouts who actually want to live in one). The new zoning just means the same number of blocks of flats get built but spread over a wider area. It could also slow development as people hold out for higher land values ie they won’t build 2 or 3 storeys if they think someone will want to buy it for 6 storeys. Central government created the housing crisis by increasing demand (which they control) while pushing up building costs through regulation like stormwater treatment and the need for scaffolding on even small homes. Now they have politicised zoning. What will that mean for the future once a right wing government gets back in and figures it can make changes too?

    2. For the city centre thing, there is actually a name for it — Brusselization. Auckland is said to be pretty badly affected. It is not so much about what gets torn down, but about what replaces it.

      There is an aesthetic in game development called “liminal spaces”. Common in first person shooters. Space which looks vaguely familiar yet feels uncanny and threatening. This is how they get tense atmosphere.

      Enter modern architecture. Auckland is full of streetscapes like this — https://goo.gl/maps/7pTS5reEDHJVmCn68 — which frankly could have come straight out of Half Life. Other example: walk around the new 277 mall in Newmarket. Or the Sky City building in the city centre. Why does that bus terminal feel so uncomfortable? Modern architecture turns your own streets into a real life version of those liminal spaces, giving a similar visceral feeling of discomfort.

      The 277 is brand new. Note the difference in aesthetic between that and the Smith & Caughey’s, a building with a similar function.

      At least the buildings pictured above look better, but yeah people have learnt to expect much worse.

      And yes part of the NIMBY movement is about not turning their street into another Death Star trench. Can you really blame them?

      1. Weird, part of my generation’s concern is having somewhere to live in the city we were born in and not being priced out of it for ‘character’ reasons.

        1. I know that. The thing is we have to talk about architects at some point. We haven’t exactly been successful in relaxing those zoning constraints. For many reasons, this is one of them.

        2. And yet a lot of the buildings downtown that everyone loves and misses were built in a borderline Laissez-faire economic system. At least as far as zoning, setbacks, building regs, etc were concerned.

          I’m not advocating a return to that, but it seems a lot of the rules in place now, hurt more than they help

        3. Give me a bleak never-ending arterial with Public Trust Building after Public Trust Building with Light Rail out the front. I’m prepared to admit I’m wrong but only if we try it first.

  8. It really begs the question – how hard would it have been for MfE to have just better defined/been more prescriptive about what’s meant by “rapid transit”, “planned”, and “walking distance”. Like literally specify a distance, name the services, and state what projects count as “planned”. Leaving any of this to interpretation by Council will always result in the most conservative reading – Council are the ones that will be legally challenged, not MfE.

    The qualifying matters thing is more problematic – MfE have made a rod for their own back by specifying RMA section 6 matters. As long as that’s a bar to clear, heritage and amenity will tend to trump things like providing sufficient housing supply.

    1. Totally, it’s the interpretation of the person submitting the consent, and having seen a few, the submitters make a good deal about interpreting any submission to benefit the client. Not the city, not the council, not the community, not the environment, and not future residents. ‘Relaxing’ constraints is only as good or bad as the people submitting and the time and energy those approving the submissions has to investigate.

      ‘Close to a cycleway or train/ RTN’, may be in 100s of meters, but it’s not counted that several of those meters are crossing a 4 lane highway, to get to the primary school, for example.

      Mixed use is what we need to ensure that there are places to go, and work, and engage. But again, when everything is valued on more houses faster, it’s not zoning that stops people building in mixed use on ground floor. Its $$$$$. Less ROI (and social importance) for developers whether crown, or private, if its not another box to store people in.

  9. Take a deep breath folks, removing protection for 30,000 character homes is not going to solve climate change or housing affordability.

    I find it quite amusing that the woke left think that destruction of ‘colonial neighbourhoods’ is now a worthy pursuit. I feel that it was the same group of people that were only 20 years ago railing against developers for destroying the fabric of our city through infill housing and organising protests when charter homes were being demolished for apartments.

    1. Ah ha – I was going to say a similar thing:

      A consideration on heritage and character. Sometimes a character is desired to be retained, eg ‘eww gentrification stuffing the fabric of this community”, is the fabric of the community mouldy cold houses with big sodden lawns? Were the people of GI correct about wanting to retain the state housing as it was?
      Why are the town center facades and historical buildings so heavily protected, eg Lopdel House?
      Whose heritage is it anyway, and when is it old enough to matter?

      I thought the idea was to have a range of different housing typologies, to suit various people at various life stages.

      We also know the mistakes of tower bocks, which makes me wonder whose type of city we are rooting for, Moses or Jakobs? Because it sounds like we’re a little unsure, and it changes.

      On Jane and Robert: “This broadside against the prevailing scientific rationalism of urban planning extolled diversities of usage, old buildings and the organic structures of cities: “Why have cities not, long since, been identified, understood and treated as problems of organised complexity?” ”

      https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/apr/28/story-cities-32-new-york-jane-jacobs-robert-moses

    2. It is a bit amusing but not nearly as amusing as the liberal right’s unwavering support for restricting their neighbour’s property rights.

      I disagree regarding affordability. Allowing higher density housing will almost certainly make housing more affordable in these areas in 30 years time than it would have been without it.

      1. Completely disagree. High density housing in Parnell, Remuera, Mt Eden Herne Bay etc would never be affordable housing. Even with no density restrictions the underlying land value will remain very high given the value of the houses already on these sites. Example, knock over a $5M house on 600sqm of land in Herne Bay is equivalent to paying $8,333/sqm for the land – this will not result in an affordable property being developed. On the other hand mixed use zoned land in say Mt Wellington or Mt Albert at $2,000/sqm (which already exists) can deliver more affordable homes.

        1. That depends entirely on how you define affordable and how many residences are built per square metre.

          I never said they would be affordable by the government’s current definition or your’s for that matter, just than what would currently be available on those sections in Parnell.

          If you replace 1 house with 20 dwellings, even if they still cost quite a bit that’s 19 houses somewhere else in the city that have come available.

        2. Agree. Over time it might have a net effect of slowing house price inflation, but it will do diddly squat to make housing more affordable. It might help a bit on the rental side.
          The only way we’ll get affordable housing options is by the government building leasehold, shared equity etc. And in this respect I see very little intent from the government.
          Affordable, private sector freehold housing is a futile fantasy.

        3. This is exactly why the majority of building consents are not in the ‘villa belt’. The mid-market is much larger than the top of the market. Developers will be attracted to more potential customers. With employment in Auckland being quite de-centralised this also helps more people live closer to their place of work.

    3. It’s not going to solve affordability, but not doing it guarantees we won’t achieve affordability.

      Btw, no one is saying ‘change streetscapes because they are colonial’ its ‘be aware of what you are protecting ‘

    4. The irony goes both ways – plenty of neo liberal right wingers want the housing market to be highly regulated.

  10. So, retaining some high quality heritage in clusters is a good idea, insisting on the retention of all old buildings is a bad idea. Doing density well is great but it has to be done in coordination with low traffic neighbourhoods and existing PT. The denser a city is the better the regulations and standards have to be because we will all be much closer to each other. Your neighbour’s business will become your business. Heritage and single house zones are also proxies for family housing/ having green space/ trees/ food security/ sunlight/ independence/ peace and quiet and for many beauty (in my mind the old villa is not more or less colonising than the new apartment building, the constant push for growth and more land is just a continuation of the colonising project). The positive values can be achieved at density only with high urban planning and building standards. Are we doing that at the moment? No. Could we? Yes, we have the knowledge and the skills in the design office. It is a shame that we are not being presented with a whole vision at once. It would make the whole process a lot less unsettling particularly as both the NPS-UD and the new discussion document on Housing and Urban Development are openly underpinned by a strategy for urban growth (and in the latter particularly greenfield development) as a form of economic growth. This latter document sets out a vision that does not once mention trees, gardens, parks, sunlight, community centres, low traffic neighbourhoods, walkability or any of the other proxies that indicate density is being done well. The AUP has enabled what two million? new homes, and loads are being built. Progress is actually being made. The economic levers have been pulled and they are making a difference. If only, I feel, we could be more ambivalent about growth, and more focused on improving the environment and making people’s lives better!

    1. “Heritage and single house zones are also proxies for family housing/ having green space/ trees/ food security/ sunlight/ independence/ peace and quiet”
      Sometimes. I think of parts of Kingsland and other working class areas and they don’t tick many of those boxes. I suspect many apartment blocks fulfill the functions that working class cottages did circa 1900 i.e. the are what people can afford. I don’t know whether society performs a great service to these potential owners by turning them into properties that they can’t afford.

    2. That’s a thoughtful response. The concrete block apartments around View road and Esplanade road in Mt Eden provide a good picture of what poor urban planning and building standards can mean in the longer term. Those units were mostly built in the late sixties and early seventies when the council was (ironically) supportive of replacing old villas with blocks of flats, While they did provide much needed inner city housing (good) they are also ugly by pretty much any standard, and environmentally negative, with no green space and no trees. Just concrete for the parking. Unlike the villas they replaced, which were wooden framed and adaptable, the concrete block apartments are not easy to modify to meet changing expectations about the places we call home.

      1. Richard, just as houses can be ugly by any standard. My first house on Cambourne Road was on about 600 sq m, but environmentally that’s all it had going for it, apart from it being close to bus transport on Sandringham Road.
        At that time a mate owned a significant number of those ugly apartments/ flats that you talk of. When he bought he would paint, carpet and put in a new kitchen. He would then either rent or sell. Apart from the housing downturn in the early nineties there was never an absence of buyers, and never an absence of renters.
        Not everyone wants or needs grass and trees, or can afford it. For me that’s why berms are very important as a place for trees and not car parks.

        1. I wouldn’t disagree with some of what you write here. Clearly those early “high density” apartments are fulfilling a real need (though just because they can be sold and rented doesn’t mean they are well designed). A bit of nimbyism if one of those got plonked down next door couldn’t be begrudged.

          However – while individuals may not want grass and trees – our city needs them. Trees are critical in providing shade and preventing heat buildup, preventing loss of moisture, creating a workable habitat for bird life, and cleaning the air. My wider point was that lightly regulated intensification will inevitably lead to the loss of private green space. Some of this green space is low value lawns, but some of it isn’t. If no parallel effort is made to provide public green space, then the city is headed for a hot unpleasant future. All of the apartment blocks pictured in the main article fill the entire site, with no green space. There is nothing wrong with any of these developments in isolation, but if the plan is simply to build more of these, then the plan looks environmentally unsustainable.

    3. “The denser a city is the better the regulations and standards have to be because we will all be much closer to each other. ”

      There’s an inherent bias in your statement, Alex. You’re ignoring the enormous imposition on each other caused by sprawl. My single house zone might have greenery but it certainly doesn’t have community health. It’s swamped with cars. Local and passing through. Parked and being driven – often badly and usually too fast. They’re smelly and dangerous and the noise never abates. It’s depressing and a failure of Council planning.

      So I’d rewrite your statement as:

      The less dense a city is the better the regulations and enforcement have to be as we will all be imposing on each other in our vehicles much more. Also, the less dense a city is the better the leadership and planning will have to be as the infrastructure and systems will all be more costly and the housing will be more expensive too.

      1. Yes, density doesn’t have to justify itself. Sprawl does. I hope Alex realises that “I’m not against density, but it has to be done well” is on the Nimby bingo card.

        “does not once mention trees, gardens, parks, sunlight, community centres, low traffic neighbourhoods, walkability or any of the other proxies that indicate density is being done well.”

        Are they proxies that indicate sprawl is being done well too, Alex?

        *Cough* LTP asset recycling *cough* “consolidating community centres”… It’s not density that’s caused these problems, it’s sprawl.

        1. If your neighbourhood is swamped with cars now, then the most likely outcome of doubling the density is your neighbourhood getting swamped by double the amount of cars. This is why berms are getting filled up right now.

          Both high and low density can be done poorly, the difference is with low density you can kind of get away with it. You have some room to park all those cars without having to pave every single square metre. There is some room inside your house or backyard for kids to run around, or for socializing.

          With high density you potentially just lose that space and win nothing. Parking and traffic just gets way worse. The “done well” part is a big deal. Make sure your streets don’t suck. Well, about that:

          If you ever are on Lightpath, walk down a bit further. Hobson Street, Nelson Street, Cook Street and Union Street. These are some of the most densely populated blocks in the country. Look around, and think about what the council is communicating through its actions. Or rather its lack of actions. Our council’s disdain for high density neighbourhoods is diabolical. I have no idea why this is. I don’t know how hard it is to solve but I always imagine a few bollards, a few red light cameras, and a few parking officers will go a long way. It just doesn’t happen for some reason.

          I think it is very unwise to dismiss this argument.

  11. Central govt needs to give hard definitions for rapid transit, walkable catchment, etc. Our 18 Tier 1 councils are going to interpret as depressingly narrowly as they think they can get away with.

  12. These Great North beauties already creating some pressure on Newton school, which is looking at some redevelopment to accommodate more pupils. Freemans Bay School (which was just recently completely rebuilt) just begun building another new class because of growing demand. I think this denounced villa protection not just about protecting villas.

    1. Its not just about villas. Its all about infrastructure. And these villa belts have the greatest potential transport (which is where Auckland lacks the most) of anywhere in the city. Everything within a walk or bike, or short PT ride. Largest amount of employment in the country, education, hospital etc.
      Sure other infrastructure will still have to be built, like you mentioned, schools. But the alternative is worse, and that’s the point. Where all the the infrastructure has to be built, instead of just some, and these Greenfields developments don’t have the potential at all to provide the same kind of transport to the same number of jobs. The transport out there will always be inherently worse, never having the potential to get much better.

    2. I think that is the city centre — 50,000 people and not a single school. If that would have an averagely shaped age pyramid they’d be at least 3,000 places short already. You’d think if they develop Wynyard Quarter in a family-friendly way they’d include a school.

      Now if you actually move there with a family you risk having to send your kids to school halfway across the city.

      1. Access to the FBS from the Wynyard is quite relaxed in comparison to most of downtown. But yes it’s my point all this development would worth nothing without appropriate school supply. I don’t know what the requirements for primary schools, maybe it’s just too hard to make school happen in a high density area.

  13. A lot of people forget is viewshalf restrictions. There is a huge difference if intensification cannot be built when It block the view of the mountains.

    The different in how many sites can be developed is night and day.

    1. A few of those viewshafts are ridiculous. A few I can understand. But man a lot are just plain crazy. I wonder what it would take to get rid of the few lowest value, most damaging ones, a lightening bolt and signed order from a deity?

  14. Yes. And consultation on a discussion document on the NPS-UD was very low key, most laypeople would have known nothing about it.
    And then the final NPS-UD went way bolder than what could reasonably be expected in the discussion document.
    I don’t have many issues with the final NPS-UD but the process was a farce, and very top down and centralized.

  15. It looks like the Government need to issue another NPS-Special Character Areas Overlay, and deal with this NIMBY once and for all. I was in council’s policy planning team when the unitary plan was being developed. This is déjà vu all over again. Why are we going round and round within the same narrow circle for the sake of the same outdated argument from the same narrow band of people? Bite the bullet and just do it. Make the density mandatory. Isn’t that what the NPS was introduced for? why this mucking around? For goodness sake.

  16. I am pro-density and pro-heritage. I believe this isn’t a zero-sum game. Focusing on the central city for building high end apartments, won’t do anything for lower and medium end of the market where there is a lack of supply. Furthermore this does not allow for additional infrastructure such as schools. I strongly believe that rather leaving it to the market government and council need to actively involved in developing brown fields sites in areas such as Onehunga, Penrose, Te Papapa and Otahuhu. These also have good access to multiple transport nodes and existing community facilities.

    1. Actually it does. The people inside those new apartments have to come from somewhere. If a large amount of people get accommodated in those apartments then it will relieve pressure further out.

      But indeed, what about schools.

  17. You can’t intensify your way into affordability. It doesn’t work like that.

    There’s a house for sale near me currently for $25,000. It’s 3 bedrooms and has a lot of land with it. Yes, in July 2021 you can buy a 3 bedroom house for $25,000 in New Zealand. It is located in the complete absence of intensification.

    The more dense the surrounding urban environment is, the higher the prices.

    Intensification has been going on in Auckland for years now, and prices have only gone up and up with the height of the buildings.

    That’s the factual reality.

    1. Bullshit. $25,000 is far less than the replacement cost of the most basic structure, let alone the land. The only way that happens is in some thoroughly dead town that nobody wants to live in because there are no jobs and no opportunity, where there is a glut of old abandoned houses on the market the can’t sell.

  18. The final section about emissions reduction makes me wonder if people have thought through how transport and land-use integration actually reduces emissions.

    Auckland is not a unipolar city. Up until amalgamation it was explicitly multipolar, now the focus on the isthmus hides the fact that huge proportion of the population lives elsewhere. The obsession with destroying character areas which characterises many posts on this site ignores this fact, and leads to advocacy of policies that will make emission reductions much harder. As I explain below an obsession with deregulation and the isthmus works against both lower emissions and climate justice.

    The reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed over the next 5-30 years need to come from existing residents. Most transport emissions arise outside the central area. Focussing intensification here will do next to nothing to reduce emissions.

    Emissions reducing intensification needs instead to focus on strengthening the network of sub-regional centres and urban villages and linking them with good quality public transport and cycling facilities while ensuring streets within are welcoming and walkable.

    But this only half the story. Critical to emissions reduction is creating far more 15 minute communities than currently exist. Housing intensification needs to occur around sub-regional centres and urban villages in ways that strengthen relocalisation. Relocalisation of services and facilities is the critical measure for reducing emissions because it reduces the need for motorised trips.

    It is also a critical part of climate justice. The obsession with sprinkling up-market high-rises in the inner suburbs makes for great Twitter fodder but ignores the needs of the bulk of people on lower incomes. Most low-income families in Auckland live in areas built as part of the 1960s sprawl. The real challenge for intensification and emissions reduction in Auckland is not how to build a few more luxury apartments and shade a few more villas in Grey Lynn Rather it is how to relocalise, refit and reduce car dependence across the vast acres of sprawl north, south and west of the isthmus, where many many people, especially those on lower incomes who will be badly hit by rising energy costs, live.

    My challenge to this blog is to focus on how to use relocalisation to create more choices for people who generate a lot of Auckland’s emissions. Many of these folk have few options beyond car dependence, and are dealing with unaffordable housing costs. Targeted Intensification at sub-regional and urban village level, rather than a random sprinkling of apartments across the isthmus, seems critical to both climate action and climate justice.

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