Parking minima is appealing as people see the need for a household to have parking as inevitable, so it follows that as we intensify that we need buildings to provide parking in proportion to the new households who would move in. But in reality, where people live and how they get around is reflective of the price of doing so. Cars are the most space intensive form of transport, and as space in our city gets scarcer and scarcer as the city grows, it will get more costlier. Meanwhile, electric micro-mobility options like scooters, bikes, and everything in between get cheaper and cheaper. But parking minima force people to pay the cost of car parking regardless, making (particularly centrally located) housing more expensive, and distorting people’s transport choices towards private car use (which imposes fairly large costs upon society).
A year ago, in advance of the September 2020 committee meeting, council planners released their recommendations for the Council’s response to NPS-UD’s Policy 11, which states that “the district plans of tier 1, 2, and 3 territorial authorities do not set minimum car parking rate requirements, other than for accessible car parks”
Unlike much of the NPS (which is unfortunately open to wide interpretation), policy 11 is clear: you have to abolish parking minima. Consequently, the planner’s recommendation was straightforward: “that the Committee recommends that Council removes all provisions of the district plan that set minimum car parking rate requirements, other than for accessible car parks”.
The planners noted that the only legal alternative to removing them immediately would be to remove them at some later time (but no later than the deadline of February 2022), but advised “this option would create a prolonged period of uncertainty and place ongoing compliance costs on resource consent applicants and council in the intervening period before the on-site car parking requirements are removed from the district plan.”
Unfortunately, none of these were the words of Auckland Council.
Instead, this was the advice of Hutt City Council. Only after dragging their feet for a year have Auckland Council planners finally released their proposed response to NPS-UD (despite pleas from planning chair Chris Darby wanting it done and dusted by April), and the result is clearly worse-off for it. Rather than taking the government urban development direction to heart — as Hutt City did — AC planners have instead recommended a handful of questionable but mostly harmless changes around regulation of access and parking for bikes, supply & deliveries, and pedestrians. But most notably, they’ve found a loophole: by mandating that new developments have electric car charging facilities, they can force developers to continue to provide space for car parking under the guise of emissions reduction.
Council officers blatantly ignoring the spirit of the NPS has been an ongoing trend over the previous months’ planning committees (as we’ve written about here and here), but so is being outdone by the Hutts: Upper Hutt is currently consulting on allowing at least 6 stories across about half its urbanised area.
It’s reasonably unlikely that retaining parking minima via charging stations is going to fly with the Environment Court. It’s likely that this approach will expose the Council to years of litigation with property developers like Kāinga Ora and central government, possibly with large legal costs awarded against them. Despite this, the only financial implications that they are advising councillors that the elimination of car parking minima will have upon council books are the cost of greater enforcement which may need to be conducted by AT (also conspicuously missing: revenue generated by that enforcement). It’s extremely unclear that this approach will have any effect beyond delaying the inevitable, and it’s perplexing why council officials are asking councillors to start this fight.
In fact, it’s not clear that council officials are serving councillors well at all in the implementation of NPS-UD.
Contrary to Auckland Council’s advice that we need more car parking to save the planet, Hutt City planners correctly identify that “removing parking minimums from the district plan will have a positive effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as parking minimums mandate an oversupply of parking that acts as an incentive for driving motor vehicles. Removing parking minimums dis-incentivises driving motor vehicles, supports active and public transport, and supports compact urban development which in turn promotes lower energy use.”
The Auckland Council advice says that we have to do this because people will own cars anyway, so we need to make sure that developers are providing infrastructure for it. The infrastructure we build drives how people navigate the city. By making poor assumptions about how people navigate our city in the future, and building infrastructure around those assumptions, we are accidentally creating self fulfilling prophecies. This is the mistake we’ve repeatedly made when building our highway system as we’ve ignored induced demand.
More fundamentally, the approach that planners are asking councillors to endorse robs people of choice. The officials dismiss the decision to live car-free as a choice only made by 7.4% of households in Auckland (which amounts to more than a hundred thousand people across the city). To use that statistic – which largely represents how people buy cars when forced to buy car parking – to claim that this will continue to be how Aucklanders choose to get around if we were to give people choice is incoherent. As the relative costs and benefits of different transport modes shift, so will people’s transport habits – and as the climate continues to change, it’s extremely unclear why this is a fight worth picking.