This is a guest post by Heidi O’Callahan.

We currently have an opportunity to change how Auckland grows, and Council wants to know what you think.

Submissions on the draft Future Development Strategy (“draft Strategy” or “FDS”) are due on the 31st July.

It replaces the existing Auckland Plan 2050 Development Strategy 2018 and the Future Urban Land Supply Strategy 2017 [FULSS]. – FDS

The draft Strategy and the supporting Overall Evidence Report (“OER”) are 272 pages long. Thankfully, Council has kindly produced a shorter Overview Document too.

A brief description of what this strategy is about

Auckland has been sprawling out over farmland for decades. Our urban area now covers such a large area that the city should never need to grow outwards again. The draft Strategy is very clear that intensification is preferable to urban expansion:

In general, urban expansion and greenfield development is likely to produce more emissions than existing urban development…

Adding additional growth at the fringes of our existing networks is the least cost-effective investment in infrastructure to support growth. The best return on investment is closer to the centre…

focusing infrastructure investment decisions in existing urban areas could influence health outcomes, accessibility, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, business and employment outcomes and development costs – FDS

The draft Strategy also shows Auckland is expanding faster than planned.

Rather than the sequenced approach provided for through the FULSS, live zoning has come through private plan changes ahead of time…

this has put more pressure on the council group’s ability to provide funding and financing to service
development – FDS

One third of the 15,000 ha of land identified for the 30 years of growth from 2017 to 2047 is already “live zoned” and under development:

In effect, private plan changes are driving the strategy… – FDS

Council rightly proposes big steps to tackle the problem, including reducing the “Future Urban Area”, and introducing “triggers” before any further development in an area is allowed:

future urban areas will be sequenced, with this sequencing linked to triggers dependent on when all the required bulk infrastructure can be provided – FDS

But here’s the snag. Companies that profit off sprawl have encouraged significant opposition. Your support for the draft Strategy really matters. Please encourage others to submit in support too.

The five questions that Council has asked are:

  1. Focusing Growth. What do you think of our approach to focus most of Auckland’s growth in existing urban areas?
  2. Accessible Local Centres. What do you think of our approach to focus development near local centres?
  3. Avoiding hazards. What do you think of our approach to avoid further growth in areas which are exposed to significant risk of environmental hazards?
  4. Resilient Infrastructure. What do you think of our approach to prioritising nature-based infrastructure that responds to the impacts of climate change?
  5. Do you have any other feedback?

My quick take on the first four questions is “It’s Great!” Below, I discuss the topic a little deeper.

For the fifth question, I will acknowledge the large amount of good work that has gone into this draft Strategy. The maps are awesome.

This plan is good, and – if they rezone all the Future Urban Areas that are recommended for investigation, it will make a big difference. I also think this will make further improvements possible.

In addition to my support for the plan, I’d also like Council to go further and:

  • change the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) to allow better forms of development throughout the city, including in the low-density suburbs further from ‘centres’.
  • shift the development nodes to sit well within the existing urban area.
  • halt infrastructure projects that support expansion, so investment can be diverted to intensification projects.
  • use deliberative democracy when developing policies, plans and strategies.

To have less change every few years, it’d be easier in the long run to have a more fundamental rethink that truly responds to the urgency of the climate challenge.

A more transformational development strategy

Should Council be proposing that the city keep expanding at all?

We are already struggling to maintain, improve, and service our city because it is too large. Making any more rural land “urban” simply makes all our problems harder to resolve, and more expensive.

The map below shows that, while Council proposes rezoning some pieces of land back to rural, and recommends investigating other parts further, there’s still plenty of “Future Urban Land”:

Why? The Overall Evidence Report explains that expansion is still allowed because:

  • It is already committed by being live-zoned.
  • It is needed to meet demand for land.
  • It is needed to meet the need for more business land.

Taking these reasons one at a time:

  • Much of this “live zoning” shouldn’t have happened at all, as it’s occurred in the four years since Council declared a climate emergency. Can the land still being released for development be removed from the Future Urban Area too? What about those large areas they are proposing to recommend “for further investigation” – Could they not just be removed immediately?
  • Council can significantly reduce the “demand for land”, by increasing the development capacity in the existing urban area.
  • As for business land, the draft Strategy claims 1400 hectares of new business land in greenfield areas is required. NZ businesses have more ability to adapt to climate-appropriate land use practices than Council seems to be assuming – they just haven’t been helped to do so. Also, economic growth must not simply continue; there are obvious planetary limitations. So, I look forward to seeing how the accompanying Business Capacity Assessment (not yet released) aligns with the IPCC expectations.

There’s a huge (missed) opportunity here

The overarching issue is how to equitably meet our climate commitments. This goal is far easier to achieve if we don’t add any more land to the city. Council seems to have misconstrued the goal as whether or not there is “sufficient” development capacity without needing to add more homes within the existing urban area:

The Future Development Strategy identifies there is sufficient residential and business development capacity across Tāmaki Makaurau…

[T]his Future Development Strategy does not focus on identifying significant additional plan-enabled development capacity – FDS

How can Council say sprawl is required due to a “demand for land” if the draft Strategy does not attempt to reduce that demand by seeking more capacity for growth within the existing urban area? Why is there no focus on making it easier to do more intensification?

Another contradiction arises in the draft Strategy’s approach to infrastructure investment. This is really good:

The council will proactively invest in a limited number of places at a time to achieve the greatest benefits, across multiple outcomes, and support development capacity in those areas to be realised. This means investing primarily in existing urban areas, with a strong focus on aligning land use and infrastructure. This is also a way to support projects which have city-shaping potential. – FDS

Will Council actually tackle the transport sector, though? Appendix 3 lists numerous infrastructure projects serving greenfield areas that are described as “either committed and funded or signalled”. That any of these projects still have a green light of any kind, four years into a climate emergency, is an indication of a lack of climate leadership.

Waka Kotahi and Auckland Transport are spending a lot of money on expansion-related projects in Auckland. Indeed, poor prioritisation of investments has tied up so much money that the Auckland Transport Board appears to have given up on meeting our climate commitments.

In a time when budgets are increasingly stretched to cover repair and recovery, a responsible strategy would stem the tide of public money being wasted on new costly sprawl infrastructure – such as in Warkworth, Drury, and the Northwest.

Let’s urge Council take this critical opportunity to divert money rapidly from sprawl projects to climate action.

Put the Nodes at the Heart of the Existing Urban Areas

The draft Strategy proposes to keep nodes at Warkworth, Albany, Westgate, the City Centre, Manukau and Pukekohe.

All these locations need people-friendly improvements, better regulations and mixed-use zoning – but the outer ones should not be nodes of growth.

As is obvious from the map, Westgate and Albany are located on the edge of the city, so half their catchments consist in low-density rural areas. Shifting the growth to the existing urban area requires shifting the growth nodes to sit within the existing urban areas. This will attract people for employment, shopping, or recreation from all over the West and North Shore, respectively, making them really fantastic parts of the city to live.

Hitch the Strategy to the Goals!

Plenty of good analysis was done in the preparation of this plan, but it was weakened by some assumptions from a paradigm that existed before climate planning. For example:

additional growth will have limited influence over travel patterns and behaviour over the next 10 years. – FDS

Our existing urban form will continue to shape how far people will travel, and is why the city mustn’t sprawl any further. Despite this, the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) still found average trip lengths can be reduced by 10% by 2030 (from +5% to –5%) as a result in development changes:

reduction in trip length possible through smarter neighbourhood design and intentional, transport-oriented development. – TERP

So the draft Strategy is wrong on this. If we can reduce trip lengths by 10% over 7 years, that means our development strategy has a large influence over the next 10 years; not a limited one.

Similarly, Council has misunderstood the emissions reduction potential in typical Auckland suburbia:

Less focussed and scattered intensification, such as that enabled by the MDRS, is not effective in reducing [vehicle km travelled (VKT)] and therefore transport emissions. – OER

This contradicts the TERP, which is focused both on development near centres and on what happens in the low-density suburbs further away:

Vibrant, mixed-use neighbourhoods for people across Auckland, where residents can easily access most of their daily needs by walking, cycling and PT. Building on the existing quality compact approach and continuing the trend to a greater diversity of land uses and an increased mix of housing typologies will transform single-use residential and commercial suburbs into vibrant, mixed-use Neighbourhoods.

Cities across the globe have made this a key component of their efforts to reduce transport emissions, with concepts such as Complete Neighbourhoods and the 15-Minute City being widely embraced. These ideas focus on retrofitting low-density suburbs into more healthy, accessible and equitable neighbourhoods, predicated on enhanced walkability and improved cycling access. – TERP

Remember, the TERP’s goals rely on decarbonising in an equitable way. Residents in all suburbs – including low-density suburbs further from centres and stations – must be provided with good amenities and effective sustainable transport options – for the plan to work well.

Another – rather large problem – is apparently in the Overall Evidence Report. Council misdiagnoses the cause of tree loss. It presents before and after aerial photos of Mt Roskill to mistakenly blame “intensive development” for the “loss of private green space and tree canopy”:

This is certainly not an example of “intensive development”. It is wasteful low-rise development that covers a lot of ground, created as a direct result of Council’s regulations.

The problem here is not intensification: it’s that the “Mixed Housing Urban” zone of the AUP allows buildings to sprawl right to the back of their sections, but severely limits their heights, including by a 45 degree “recession plane”.

Council might have faced less opposition last year if their AUP changes in Plan 78 had proposed regulations that would create an attractive new urban form. Instead, they simply made an incremental change in dimensions:

While this change will still help prevent sprawl, with a net benefit for green infrastructure, better regulations would create a beautiful and functional environment, such as in the Bern example below, which has:

  • 5-storey development around the perimeter of each block,
  • verdant central shared gardens,
  • footpaths unbroken by so many vehicle crossings,
  • far more homes for all kinds of people, with views front and back, walkable footpaths, and quiet spaces away from traffic.

Better urban forms like this can develop, site by site, throughout all of Auckland, creating neighbourhoods of perimeter block housing, organised around gardens and greenery.

The draft Strategy misses the opportunity, and instead of recommending the AUP be changed to allow this greenery-rich urban form, it only recommends:

Strengthen protection of existing vegetation and encourage or require new planting and ecological connections – draft FDS.

Everyone deserves a home in a leafy suburb. It’s called Good Density.

Focus on improving streets

The draft strategy could extend its focus on quality design to the creation of quality streets.

There is some street focus in the draft Strategy’s suggested nature-based solutions:

This is a soothing green picture. Do I spot some skinny bike lanes there? Water-sensitive design specifically includes reallocating space from traffic lanes and parking to footpaths and cycle lanes, as caring for water involves reducing both how much we drive and the area of tarmac we dedicate to the driving mode.

The picture also shows footpaths that aren’t striped with driveways. Development projects can vastly improve the footpath environment by removing vehicle crossings, with enormous improvements for safety and active travel. More often Council turns a blind eye to development making footpaths, and safety, far worse.

A transformational strategy would tackle this at last. Yet the words “footpath”, “driveway”, and “vehicle crossing” are not mentioned.

Using better democratic tools

Even though stopping urban expansion would improve our collective finances, environment and wellbeing, most Aucklanders barely give the idea a thought. Conversely, those individuals and companies who make money from sprawl are motivated to submit against. Consultations are useful for highlighting considerations that officers had not previously canvassed, but there are better ways to inform decision-makers about “the public sentiment” on the topic.

The draft Strategy is about both “climate action” and “transport decision-making“, so it’s a perfect example of where Council’s own plan (the TERP) instructs them to use deliberative democracy:

11.1. Enable deep and ongoing dialogue with Aucklanders on climate action
11.1.2. Transform engagement processes to better enable citizen participation in transport decision-making, using participatory models such as deliberative democracy – TERP

The good news is that the Transport and Infrastructure Committee is being asked, today, to approve a “Deliberative Poll” for another piece of work: the VKT Reduction Programme. I am really encouraged that Auckland Council is taking this step, and look forward to more.

Meanwhile, for this draft Future Development Strategy, it’s worthwhile to remind Council that it is not the job of the public to balance the submissions from vested interests. It is Council who has the legislative responsibility to plan for future generations. A liveable future for our collective well-being must inform what Council should do, not fear of well-moneyed backlash.

However, let’s try to lock in these improvements. Happy Submitting! The last day for submissions is the 31st July.

NOTE: All Aboard Aotearoa is currently putting together a submission based on the points in this post. We can refine our submission in response to thoughtful comments from readers, so we look forward to your insights. With a view to constructive outcomes, we also invite comments and clarifications (or direct emails if you prefer) from Council officers.

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  1. For higher density living to be made attractive and healthy in New Zealand cities: existing laws and regulations regarding noise need to be enforced.
    At the moment, buyers or renters need to be aware…. Excessive noise is not controlled or enforced.
    You could end up suffering every day.
    Endless loud helicopters, unlawfully loud motorbikes and cars, lawless behaviour in vehicles and on the streets. Vehicles with external horn loudspeakers and subwoofers at high volumes. Loud parties on apartment balconies.
    Emergency vehicles with loud sirens.
    All of this is likely at any hour.
    I believe that excessive noise is a significant factor in the increasing percentage of children having learning and behavior difficulties.
    I also believe that the above-mentioned noise pollution is a factor in why we see growth heading outward, rather than upward in NZ cities.

    1. Noise is a problem throughout the city, but the paradox is that it is caused by lower-density urban forms, with their accompanying excessive use of cars, rather than by higher-density urban forms. Public health professionals have found that traffic noise is the cause of about 60 premature deaths per year In New Zealand.

      Helicopter noise should be limited to important public uses, and yes, it should be more common in the central city. In reality, it’s a problem throughout the city, even on the gulf islands, due to terrible Council regulations.

      1. Noise is also a problem because so many of our homes are old and low quality, with no insulation in the walls and single glazing. Double Glazing alone can reduce sound in a room by over 30 decibels, making it 8 times as quiet, which is the difference between using a power tool and a casual conversation.

        1. Yes the sooner we have more retro doubled glazing the better, it’s expensive.
          Yes tighter regulations/enforcement on noisy vehicles, no idea of the status on this but…

    2. “I believe that excessive noise is a significant factor in the increasing percentage of children having learning and behavior difficulties.”
      Can you cite a source on this?

      1. I can…It is a theory of mine.
        I think it is healthy to have some quietness in your environment.
        I think that some schools are moving away from the open plan classroom style as learning and concentrating is easier for some children, in a quieter environment.
        I note that some supermarkets feature a regular 1 hour each week quiet shopping environment. During this hour, music and lights are reduced in the store. Ideal and helpful for sensitive children.

        1. I wasn’t in favour of open classrooms initially, but I have had to admit I was wrong. When my local high school was rebuilt I discovered that the open plan design of a completely new building is far superior, acoustically, to that of the individual classrooms used previously. It’s also fantastic from a ventilation, temperature and air quality point of view, which helps a lot.

          I think renovated schools – and possibly earlier design? – have given open plan schools a bad name. This recent design, for secondary school level at least, is fantastic. It has apparently worked really well for students who are particularly sensitive to environmental stress, as they can choose different environments to work in, such as nooks. The four walls of a traditional classroom can be terrible, acoustically.

          Your concerns are good; the solutions aren’t always obvious.

        1. As an aside, better classrooms will make better learning environments. But open “modern learning spaces” are hopeless for neurodiversity. This is also a significant issue for public spaces, especially for transport infrastructure.

        2. I’m sure the situation is complex, but with schools it’s about good design. My local high school’s open plan environment is better than the individual classrooms for neurodiversity. Four walls bounce noise back much more, and provide for no options for escape.

  2. Change as we know is difficult,there is plenty of opposition to developments in the city boundaries,that don’t provide “enough ” car parking,but people adapt ,even if it takes their car being broken into 3 or 4 times,as it is parked on the road.
    Ockham recently announced a building with no car parking,just a bike lift,they have confidence in this as a way forward.
    Private enterprise is much more nimble, than council or govt organizations, and l fear that the regulations around noise control, road space use,fire resistance,are currently ,not fit for purpose. New Zealand has a habit of being underprepared,no tug boats to rescue Inter lsland ferries,very few ladder fire trucks. The electrification of the road fleet, most likely is way ahead of what the fire service is prepared for.
    Our elected officials can no longer sit there, rubber stamping the status
    quo,they must be able to rapidly adapt to a future ,they may not like,but is coming,regardless.

    1. “Ockham recently announced a building with no car parking,just a bike lift,they have confidence in this as a way forward.”

      … and the reaction from Twitter NIMBYs was to scream about how it would ruin the neighborhood because the residents would still have cars and park on the streets; and about how it was a shoebox slum and how they’d rather live in a moldy, draughty old villa

      1. Meh. They lost, we won. Parking minimums are abolished nationally, already fully implemented in district plans.

        They’re going to stay losing too. The political boot is now on the urban foot, and every infill townhouse and apartment cements that further. The villa belt will erode, and fall eventually.

  3. Are these details showing Council’s development strategy planning isn’t aligned with the TERP findings an internal tension or just some individuals not keeping up to date?

    1. There are a lot of internal tensions, which I could write a whole post about. But I would like to hear from officers directly. Being more clear on the science would help them push back against partners or stakeholders who claim the need for continued urban expansion of any kind.

  4. Brilliant, brilliant post. Some thoughts of mine to improve AUP to support good density. Activities permitted in areas with residential (so city centres and mixed use zones as well as suburban) should not cause ongoing loud noise or pollution in the street even if that noise is sporadic. Dropping pallets outside distribution centres, or motorbike test rides, or ongoing night time construction is not conducive to work/rest nor good mental and physical health. A 10pm end to Al fresco bar/restaurant/festival noise on a school night might be helpful (later on weekends). Agree about preventing helicopter permits in residential areas. This report may be helpful with regards noise:

  5. The reality is that intensification is hard. It takes more than zoning an area and then hoping for the best – which is Councils current strategy.. If the Council seriously wants high quality intensification it needs to be properly master planning growth nodes, and then actively aggregating land to enable that growth and desired form. I see diddly squat evidence that Council understand this or wants to assign a budget for it. Until then, this strategy is nothing more than a way to increase average house prices to $2m!

    1. In fact, the higher costs involved with greenfields development reflect the extra work required in expansion compared to intensification.

      Intensification is only seen as “hard” because we’ve had generations of urban expansion and we’re not so used to it. Council may be “zoning an area and then hoping for the best” currently; the regulations they have in place prevent quality intensification.

      High quality intensification doesn’t require actively aggressively aggregating land. Whilst this has occurred in specific examples in history, the vast majority of cities have grown and intensified on a site-by-site basis. These cities were simply not hindered by the kind of regulations that we have. Conversely, we now have the benefit of centuries of history to be able to design effective regulations that overcome the various problems cities have faced in the past, as well as the specific ones we face today – climate change, and autodependency, for example.

      1. Well until then intensification will be on the slow burn. If we want to slow down greenfield growth more active involvement is needed by the Council as happens in London brownfield sites for example.

  6. Hi,
    I have a development site in the Deep blue zone. I am ready to develop but short some Funds. medium-large scale project.
    Any clue I can find some funds from the Government to get the project deliverd?
    Or, when funds available to apply, I can have the priority to get it?

  7. Some ideas I have to encourage excellent density via improving AUP. Even if the noise is intermittent, activities allowed in residential areas—that is, city centers, mixed-use zones, and suburban areas—should not result in persistently high levels of noise pollution in the street. Pallet drops outside distribution centers, motorcycle test rides, and nighttime building are not favorable to relaxation and work, nor to excellent mental and physical health.

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