The Auckland Council are currently consulting on the publicly notified changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP).

The proposal follows a draft consultation on the changes the Council launched in April and are in response to the governments housing rules under the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) from 2020 and the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) from 2021.

Known as Plan Change 78, the proposed changes respond to the government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD). This requires the council to enable buildings of six storeys or more within walking distances of Auckland’s city centre, 10 large metropolitan centres, and around rapid transit stops.

Additionally, with the plan change publicly notified, the government’s new Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) also come into immediate legal effect from today, 18 August, allowing up to three houses of up to three-storeys to be built on most residential sites.

John Duguid, General Manager for Plans and Places, says the council is encouraging people to make their submission and give their views on changes to implement the NPS-UD and the MDRS.

“These changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan will have a major influence on how our city will grow in the years ahead.

The Auckland Unitary Plan already enables significant capacity for housing and development, however, the changes enable substantially more, creating capacity for housing that greatly exceeds the projected demand in Auckland over the next 30 years.

“The changes enable taller buildings within walking distances to our largest urban centres and public transport as well as changes to the rules for how people can choose to develop their property right across the city.

Unsurprisingly, the notified version signed off by council in early August is nearly identical to that proposed in April. The good news is that the plan will allow for a lot more housing within the existing urban area, just as those government changes intend. The bad news is that the flaws in the draft plan still exist which means little to no change will be allowed for in suburbs with some of the best transport options and local amenities.

The two biggest issues with the plan are:

  1. The retention of so much Special Character zoning
  2. The light rail void

Let’s look at those quickly.

Special Character

A big part of the issue with the changes is that the council appear to have approached the changes with the mindset that the existing AUP was near perfect and so nothing needed to be done. This is most evident in how they’ve treated special character. Instead of focusing their time on working out how to make the city more liveable, such as ensuring that higher-density zoning allows for the amenities needed to support residents of those areas, the council planning teams spent all their time physically and virtually walking the streets to try and judge character values.

Earlier in the year when I asked the Council why they hadn’t focused on liveability more, their answer was they ‘didn’t have enough time’.

As this guest post highlighted, that methodology was deeply flawed and geared towards the council trying to make as few changes to these areas as possible. Interestingly it appears the government agrees.

Ministers in Wellington think Auckland Council has been overzealous in the way it has applied character protections to villa-heavy central suburbs and potentially in breach of new planning laws designed to free up urban land for more apartments and townhouses.

This could be a problem for the council as it is a central government minister who is the ultimate arbiter of whether it has interpreted the planning laws correctly or not.

If the Government is right, it would mean – eventually – more land in city-adjacent suburbs like Grey Lynn and Ponsonby being zoned to allow for apartments and townhouses.

The Light Rail Void

Take one look at the planning maps and it’s hard to miss the huge void in the middle of the isthmus and around Mangere thanks to light rail. This area is huge, covering an estimated 37 square kilometres (comprising 26 sq km in the isthmus and 11sq km in Mangere). This will that the effect of delaying housing development in some highly desirable locations with good public transport options for years.

I disagree with it but I can understand the point of excluding this area to some degree while council wait to see what, if anything happens with light rail. But one of the things I find particularly outrageous about this is that it covers existing stations on the rapid transit network

For some more on why it’s important the council include this corridor now is outlined here.

Submissions are open till 29-September.

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  1. Also worth mentioning that the soon-to-be Eastern Busway stations are also not being rezoned, even though the soon-to-be Rosedale station on the Northern Busway is getting up zoned.

    I see no reason to exclude the future eastern busway stations as AC are. The route is confirmed, funding is available, prep works are starting, stage 1 is complete, it has unanimous political support. It IS happening. On top of that, the huge frequency / ridership 70 bus route already plies that route, which by a more reasonable interpretation of the NPS-UD rules should be included in the upzoning anyway.

    And there are significant downsides to delaying this change. The new THAB zone will produce the best urban outcomes, delaying the inevitable switch will produce worse outcomes. Also the more land we can get up zoned the cheaper the THAB land will be. These stations have better walking catchments than most of the Northern busway stations, it would make a big difference to the total land area allowed to be built up.

    1. It’s worse than that. They haven’t even included the Northwest Busway station which are currently under actual physical construction.

        1. Te Atatu Road and Lincoln Road. Lincoln Road is unlikely to affect to much zoning as the surrounding land is mostly industrial. However, at Te Atatu, the THAB zone north of the motorway stops at the station.

        2. Where sorry? The entire south bit of the peninsula is THAB and everywhere else is anywhere near is mixed. It’s already zoned denser than some rail stations, this Bus way will suck.

        3. The entire catchment of the busway station is zoned to prevent apartments. The NPSUD requires council to enable apartments in that area.

        4. Would these bus improvements be considered Rapid Transit or Frequent Transit? Only the former needs to be included under the NPS:UD

        5. The NPS-UD definition for rapid transit is:
          “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”. They should qualify.

  2. So what they are saying is they want more second rate infill standalone housing in this area rather than terraces and apartments. Got it. Makes complete sense. Not.

    1. It makes a lot of sense if you DO want to avoid apartment blocks in your neoughbourhood, because, you know, avoiding “transients” moving into “established communities” (Auckland 2040 group talk at the main Unitary Plan hearings). I mean it’s clearly better that people live in cars, in shacks at the fringe, or leave to Australia than be able to afford a home in an apartment block in your leafy suburb street.

      Yes, apartment blocks aren’t automatically good for a neighbourhood. But politicians should do what’s right for the city, not prioritise individuals opposing changes. Sadly, future voters don’t vote, existing residents do.

  3. Plan Changes are an immense and slow-moving way to change design and development rules. Something better is needed but is not going to arrive quickly. Zone voids are one way of holding development opportunities until government is able to legislate value capture to fund significant infrastructure needed for the high growth wanted near rail, light rail and busway. Too much has already been zoned to do this for much of the city, but it may help for the ALR corridor and Eastern Busway. Besides transport, 3 waters infrastructure is needed plus education and health. Windfall wealth for landowners and developers needs to contribute equitably to these costs.

    1. Don’t disagree with some of this BUT you got to remember that intensified housing actually provides much significantly more rates compared to ongoing OPEX than greenfields development (even though it also comes with CAPEX upgrade costs, same as greenfields). So basically, even without windfall value capture, it’s actually a much more financially sustainable path for Council’s than greenfields. By deterring brownfield intensification they are cutting their own future flesh just to avoid some controversies now. And presumably any windfall capture would need to be via a government law change anyway.

    2. > legislate value capture to fund significant infrastructure

      They should value capture to fund motorways. 95% of the land value on the North Shore only exists because of the harbour bridge – let’s tax that instead.

      A more sensible option would be a Land Value Tax. Rather than try to capture value from bits and pieces of random infrastructure.

      1. They already can through betterment, but I don’t think anyone has yet managed to. Betterment tends to be an empty threat NZTA rolls out when someone won’t accept their lowball offer for some land.

  4. The council’s economic report in the section 32 assessment says existing housing stock (business and resi zones) is 528K dwellings. Current unitary plan enables 1.825 M dwellings. With the Plan Change 78, this goes up to 2.826 M dwellings (without the qualifying matters it would be 3.298 M). Growth projections to 2051 are 716-913K total dwellings. So even with the current qualifying matters, Plan Change 78 enables 3x the forecast demand in 30 years’ time. The council also says the enablement is split 80% MDRS uplift vs only 20% through increased growth around centres (the NPS-UD). Any claims that the qualifying matters go too far and don’t enable enough housing will probably fall on deaf ears. With an 80/20 split one could say the government-imposed MDRS have undermined the intention to concentrate growth in and around centres and in effect weakened arguments to remove more of the SCA overlays. None of these numbers include the light rail area. Arguably there needs to be a push that the 80/20% split in capacity uplift is no good against the NPS-UD. Therefore, when his areas come forward next year in an update to the plan change, they should be letting development go gangbusters in this corridor to improve things.

    1. “Any claims that the qualifying matters go too far and don’t enable enough housing will probably fall on deaf ears”

      But as noted, the Govt will decide this, not a Council hearing panel? And in any case, as with gerrymandering, you *can* comply with the letter of the law, while the spirit is twisted out of shape to protect some interests / areas. Its good that its enabling a lot more housing. Not so good that it keeps casting parts of town into amber, like Ponsonby etc are museum villages.

      1. The independent hearings panel (appointed by the council) will hear submissions and make recommendations to the council on the plan change (their scope of their recommendations is not limited by what is said in submissions). The council will then decide whether to accept or reject each recommendation. For each rejected recommendation, the council must propose an alternative and the The Minister for the Environment will then make decisions on those. There are no rights of appeal for anyone against the decisions by the council or the Minister. Only the right of judicial review.

        1. If the Minister has to make a decision on anything I reckon it’ll be in the first half of 2024.

    2. How is that capacity counted? Houses generally last longer than 30 years so a lot of them will still be around, even if there is “capacity” to build something more substantial. Only a small percentage gets redeveloped every year.

        1. Why would they bother working that out? The more supply there is, the lower house prices will be. Why wouldn’t a council with insanely unaffordable house prices want to supply as much development as possible until house prices get to a reasonable level? It’s quite obvious their calculations are utter crap as house prices are going up which means supply is less than demand. High school economics is more advanced than Auckland councils models.

    3. Clearly, only some of the enabled capacity will be developed; the percentage considered ‘feasible’ seems to shift, as has its importance. I think the 463,000 difference due to the qualifying matters shouldn’t fall on deaf ears; it is of concern, as these 463,000 units would be in the most accessible areas.

      “With an 80/20 split one could say the government-imposed MDRS have undermined the intention to concentrate growth in and around centres and in effect weakened arguments to remove more of the SCA overlays.”

      There’s every reason, though, to enable both. Intensification around centres AND in lower density areas. This will provide the different types of housing that people are wanting, and reduces the pressure on land. I think suggesting the MDRS weakens arguments to remove more of the SCA overlays is too complicated for the reality of the situation:

      Removing the SCA overlays is required because it provides more housing in the places people want to live now, where there’s accessibility. The MDRS will help to keep the prices down in those more accessible areas because of the level of choice on offer. Enabling development everywhere offers fairness and choice. From my work on decarbonising transport, I know that bringing more amenities, housing and public and active transport amenity into the lower density areas is just as critical as intensifying around the transit nodes, as it brings lifestyles of proximity to many, many more people.

      The way to determine if the enabled capacity is sufficient is if there’s no need to regulate to allow any more sprawl or to allow any conversion of green space within the built area to be developed. If we are relying on golf course and race course conversions to housing, for example, then we haven’t enabled sufficient intensification.

      1. The only measure of whether the council have enabled enough development is house prices. Since the council supposedly created enough development for the foreseeable future in the last unitary plan, somehow house prices went up. It seems supply is still well short of demand and if Auckland council had two brain cells to rub together they would know that because it’s just so bloody obvious.

      2. “Since the council supposedly created enough development for the foreseeable future in the last unitary plan, somehow house prices went up. It seems supply is still well short of demand”

        To be fair, zoning permissiveness is only one of, like 3-4 key things that creates / hinders housing affordability (others are our tax system currently favouring housing speculation, construction cost prices currently being excessive, the amount of tradies/workers in the industry etc). Its a very major lever, but not the only one.

        Enabling more housing however on the flip side also helps more than the cost of housing, it also (if done right, which Council isn’t) enables housing *where* it needs to be (closer in, rather than out in the sticks). So talking about X dwellings enabled is always going to miss part of the point, even if X is theoretically well enough in number.

    4. Why do the call it enablement? Shouldn’t it be called “reduced disablement”? If the council were to tell me that I am allowed to take 20 breaths per minute, are they some kind of superhero enabling me to breath?

  5. Gutsy call from Christchurch City Council today to not endorse their plan change for notification. One finger salute to one size fits all, top down, authoritarian planning.

    1. I don’t know how Christchurch council have performed, but the authoritarian planning is a result of almost every council getting it so wrong for so long. No planning is worth citizens not being able to afford a roof over their head, almost every council in NZ should be embarrassed rather than pulling out a one finger salute.

      1. And you think these planning changes are going to somehow make a meaningful difference to housing affordability?
        If so, you are deluded.
        The impact on affordability will be trivial.
        It’s just an excuse for a so-called ‘Labour’ government to look like it is doing something.

        What it should, in fact, be doing is building industrial scale social and affordable housing. That’s the only way this crisis will be meaningfully addressed.

        1. “It’s just an excuse for a so-called ‘Labour’ government to look like it is doing something.”

          You forgot the point that it was Labour AND National passing this unanimously. One of the few really positive non-partisan things they’ve done recently.

          If local democracy has a stranglehold on society, that strangehold needs to be broken. It’s not authoritarian for the *government that we all voted for* to pass some significant changes.

    2. Please help me understand: You think authoritarianism is when government limits its power?

      (remembering that local government plays in the sandbox created by central government, central govt just made the sandbox a little smaller)

      1. So there’s nothing authoritarian about imposing planning rules on cities and local communities without those communities having any (meaningful) say on it?
        Hmmmm really sounds like democracy in action….

        1. What’s the one where you rig planning rules in your favour to drive gains in land values at the expense of younger people?

        2. Did someone stop you from voting in the last election? You *had* your say. This was passed by parliament, not by some shady star chamber or a dictator.

          Also, it reduces govt control, not expands it.

        3. Damian, this is a really important point. What Zen Man is suggesting is that more “consultation” from Council would improve the democratic result on this topic. Yet there’s no evidence to support this statement. Evidence shows Council’s consultation harnesses a very biased set of views, and is interpreted through further bias within Council (eg the elevation of any feedback relating to specific properties over majority will on many properties).

          More consultation doesn’t mean more democracy. We don’t have a direct democracy system, we have a representative one, but these consultations are imposing a burden of democracy on people constantly, when we should be able to vote and then only submit on big questions, once in a while.

          The housing challenges that exist are largely a result of local councils listening too much to vocal property owners instead of experts who understand planning.

          I’d love to see deliberative democracy used, however I imagine the results would be similar to the government’s suggestions.

        4. Nobody voted for this at the last election. Voting doesn’t mean you give up rights to your property nor a right to express and opinion. Voting at a general election has absolutely nothing to do with the matter being discussed.

        5. “Voting doesn’t mean you give up rights to your property” Quite right, it’s district plans that give up your property rights.

          I voted for part of the government because of their intention to resolve the housing bubble. If you didn’t know they wanted to do that and voted for them anyway, then more fool you.

        6. We start out with rights as people, property owners later. Or, we should. And when property rights interfere with human rights – which they do throughout NZ law – that needs challenging, not defending.

        7. “If you didn’t know they wanted to do that and voted for them anyway, then more fool you.” Not a mistake I will make another time. These people have gone past their use-by date. Just like when Aunty Helen wanted to limit the flow in my shower it is time for my once in a while National vote. Think I am voting Wayne Brown for no other reason than it will piss off more people at the Council and AT.

        8. Yep, an elected government changed the law to remove some restrictions on what you can do with you’re private property, nothing authoritarian about that.

          Councils operate within the laws of central governments across the world.

        9. “Think I am voting Wayne Brown for no other reason than it will piss off more people at the Council and AT.”

          Seems as good a reason as any.

  6. Yep and in doing so they over-rode our societies norms where plan changes are notified, you can submit and if you can appeal to an independent body. A system that works really well. they are the Government and they can do that. The question is should they do that?

      1. it works really well for Miffy, he must be raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in professional fees helping clients jump through all of the hoops AT and AC have erected to prevent development. He pretends to be upset at them all but, at the end of the day, thinks it is “A system that works really well”.

        1. Mrs mfwic tells me to relax and enjoy the income every time I get another ridiculous time wasting s92 request from the AT box tickers.

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