Two things are happening currently which could help us create a compact, liveable, green city:
- Tomorrow, the Planning Committee will discuss the Council Officers’ proposal for incorporating the next section of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) into our Unitary Plan.
- Today, submissions close on the Natural and Built Environment Act Exposure Draft (NBA).
Verdant. Compact. Full of birdsong. Bursting with city delights – the bustle, the diversity, the richness of human endeavour. Nestled amongst urban forests, with healthy waterways and fresh, clean air. Where transport works for us, and children run, scoot and bike freely, independently, filling the space that is theirs with play. And with affordable, sustainable, warm, dry housing for everyone – in great locations.
Image credit: Jon Burke, via twitter.
Auckland was once mainly a forest. For a more liveable future, resilient to stresses like heat, flood and wind, we should attempt to re-forest it again. And intensification is an opportunity for this kind of transformational regeneration, but our planning hasn’t been heading us in this direction at all. Instead, sprawl has been destroying biodiversity, low-rise infill has resulted in more driveways, smaller sections have led to fewer big trees. And our street tree stock is meagre. Really, the only developments we’ve had that’s compatible with a green city have been the 5+ storey apartment buildings that honour the land they’re built on, by making good use of it.
The NPS-UD is the appropriate time to have a full rethink about our Unitary Plan. I think we need to simplify our strategy down to a few concepts:
- Stop sprawling
- Allow mixed use development everywhere
- Require low site coverage and tall buildings – probably fitting into a “perimeter block housing” arrangement.
- Continue to develop our rapid transit network
- Minimise and consolidate parking, and have as few vehicle crossings as possible
- Decarbonise our transport system, using low traffic neighbourhoods, and reallocating road space to protected cycleways and frequent bus routes on all our arterial roads.
(Plus various concepts regarding three waters, waterway, and other infrastructure.)
Berlin. Image: Todor Stojanovski
Here’s why the various residential zones aren’t serving us well:
- Recession planes and setbacks are creating an inefficient use of land
- Sprawl is still happening because intensification is hindered
- Too much land is being built on with low (1 to 3-storey) development and car infrastructure
I suspect we should get rid of most of the zones. The better zones – that allow greater heights on lower footprints – are:
- Residential – Mixed Housing Urban, (MHU)
- Residential – Terrace Housing and Apartment Building, (THAB) and
- those various Business zones that allow for mixed uses including residential.
In contrast, the Residential – Mixed Housing Suburban and Single House Zones should generally be discontinued. They are not compatible with preserving greenspace, because they are premised on high site coverage with low heights.
The Planning Committee Meeting Tomorrow
Scott wrote about the last Planning Committee discussion about the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD). Tomorrow they are discussing the NPS-UD Policy 3d.
A Stuff article hints of likely conflict. Councillor Newman shows he’s had enough of NIMBY resistance to intensification:
Newman said allowing the city’s wealthiest suburbs to maintain their single house zoning has to stop.
“It is time to look at urban development in more equitable terms,” Newman said. “Those communities with the highest land values, many of which have relatively good public transport connectivity too, need to take a fair share of the development burden too.”
It’s great to see Councillor Newman following through on a comment he’d made about climate action and urban form, back on the 11th of February:
This is more than a “tension”, it’s a direct cost that falls on our least resilient communities, as well as council. So we need to quantify the cost of that urban sprawl. We need to affirm the commission’s position and support that, and we need to declare that govt’s position on green fields sprawl is wrong, and it’s expensive.
He is a welcome champion for better urban form. On the other hand:
But Ōrākei ward councillor Desley Simpson said Newman’s call for more development in areas like Remuera is simply not realistic.
“What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to build houses that are more expensive, or more affordable?”
Simpson said property prices in areas like Remuera would make Newman’s plans unworkable.
And she said it’s not just about building more housing with better access to public transport, as not everyone wants to use it, or works in the city.
Preventing development in Remuera has excluded people from living there, hiked prices (favouring existing property-owners) and pushed development out into sprawl (exacerbating car dependence). This failure to support the consulted-upon vision of a compact city creates an inequitable city with a poor form, and means everyone misses out on the benefits from regenerating our city.
All Councillors would do well to remember they have committed to:
- maintain and uphold a compact city strategy, reviewing the Auckland Development Strategy to ensure it delivers low carbon and resilient development (see the Auckland Climate Plan)
- use the necessary financial, regulatory and other tools at their disposal to address the climate crisis and mainstream the Auckland Climate Plan targets into the most impactful city decision-making processes (see the recommitment to the C40 network membership)
- investigate urban growth management as part of the Transport Emissions Reduction Plan (see the Councillors’ mitigation for their poor decision to endorse the inadequate Regional Land Transport Plan).
Auckland can move from a city where only some people have access to amenities, and most people end up driving because amenities are so far away…
… to a city where the trees are glorious, and like all amenities, are easily accessible to all:
But to enable this, Councillors will need to push back on the Council officers’ inadequate proposal. It still presents too many obstacles to compact, low carbon development.
Some of the problems are:
1/ Council needs to calculate accessibility and does so by identifying proximity to these key destinations or opportunities:
- centres and mixed use zones
- education facilities
- convenience stores/dairies
- medical facilities
- open space.
Yet even though accessibility to these amenities is valued, the officers are proposing that “high demand” areas include zones that don’t allow for these amenities – even dairies! Why increase the need to travel?
2/ The proposal has a narrow focus on city-wide housing capacity rather than on housing choice. Yet choice is a core directive under NPS policy 1: Housing Choice, in terms of type, price, and location. Council officers should be proposing to allow many different typologies, everywhere.
3/ The 6 story mandate is supposed to set a baseline for enabled capacity, with other areas seeing more capacity based on their “relative demand for housing”. Therefore, the officers shouldn’t be proposing Mixed Housing Suburban zoning anywhere.
4/ The major parts of the frequent transit network need to be 6 storey zoned as well.
5/ Because the Council was so conservative in its decisions on Policy 3c last time, with the size and number of catchments, 3d needs to mitigate this with more ambition.
6/ The proposal says Mixed Housing Suburban allows for “unlimited density”. This is simply not true.
Councillors let us down by endorsing a substandard transport plan. If they now show inadequate leadership on development as well, their claims of taking climate action will have lost all credibility.
The review considered a new role for spatial planning, looking at plans and processes across the RMA, LGA and LTMA. This considers new ways that planning could respond to the pressures of urban growth, and better manage environmental effects.
The intention is to replace the RMA with three separate acts:
- Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), to protect and restore the environment while better enabling development, as the primary replacement for the RMA
- Strategic Planning Act (SPA), to help coordinate and integrate decisions made under relevant legislation, through requiring the development of long-term regional spatial strategies; and
- Climate Adaptation Act (CAA), to address complex issues associated with managed retreat.
Today, submissions are due on stage one of the drafting of the NBA, called the “Natural and Built Environments Bill Exposure Draft”. The second stage will be a standard legislative process for the full Bill next year.
Since I’m concentrating on trees for this post, I’ve looked at the submission by The Tree Council, a non-profit organisation that was established in 1986 to “protect, conserve and improve the tree cover in the Auckland region, especially in urban areas”. Here are some excerpts from their submission on the draft National and Built Environments Bill:
Why we need urban tree protection:
Loss of trees. Deregulation via the removal of blanket tree protection rules from the RMA in 2012 has led to significant losses to the urban forest in New Zealand’s cities since the new rules were implemented in 2015, especially of large trees on private land…
We can have quality urban design, an intensified urban environment housing more people and a healthy urban forest with mature trees that sustains us, but we need to require it, not assume that the market will deliver such an outcome. In the last 6 years, Auckland’s market alone has shown that this is most definitely not the case.
I particularly like their suggested inclusion of specific targets into the wording in a number of places.
The Tree Council has also started a petition:
“Our cities need to have both quality, intensified urban housing AND a sustainable Urban Forest. Other large cities around the world achieve this already, so we need to legislate now to ensure we can achieve this in Aotearoa New Zealand as well.”
They are right: intensification is compatible with keeping our trees. Indeed the higher, more intense built forms leave more space for trees and remove all need for sprawl, which needs to stop immediately. Getting the details about intensification right in the Unitary Plan maximises our chances for regeneration. They also raise these very important points:
1/ We should be planning around our large trees:
Large trees matter to cities. It is the larger trees that provide the greatest ecosystem services and benefits that urban dwellers value directly and passively, and need in order to maintain their health and wellbeing. Trees store and continually sequester carbon, provide shade, treat stormwater and lessen outflows to beaches, reduce flooding and air pollution, produce oxygen, reduce extreme heat island effects, reduce crime, improve local economies, temper traffic speeds, increase property values and have a significant measurable effect on improving our physical and mental health.
2/ We have not put in place appropriate targets nor mechanisms to increase our canopy coverage:
Many cities globally already recognise the values & benefits of an urban forest & have rules and publicly accessible tree maps in place to protect them. Current canopy coverage across Brisbane is 44%, Melbourne has 22% tree cover and a target of 40% by 2040, New York City has 21%, London has 21% with a target of 31% by 2050. All these cities have a significantly larger population than the likes of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch combined, yet manage to retain a greater percentage of their land area as urban forests.
Here’s a map showing the change in canopy cover between 2012 and 2016/18. We published a copy of an earlier version of this map, incidentally, in Of Trees and Housing. Since then an error in the data was found, apparently, so the results are now different.
The differences in absolute canopy cover between areas are more significant, with Hibiscus and Bays (24%) having about double that of Manurewa (13%). Council should help address this with far more street trees.
Planning that allows higher, more efficient development is a way to honour that land. And blanket protection for trees can hinder a low carbon development response of building a compact city. So we should approach:
- Intensification in a way that improves our urban forest, and
- Tree protection in a way that ensures we provide quality housing for all our current and predicted population without any need for sprawl.
- solve our housing crisis,
- enable a low carbon transport system, and
- improve our urban forest,
we need to allow tall buildings everywhere, but require them to have small footprints and gardens, with minimal or no car infrastructure. And protect our large trees by planning around them.