13 Sep 2013

Blueprint for biggest change city has seen

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Published: The New Zealand Herald – 13 September 2013

This week, Auckland Council ratified the new planning rulebook for the city – or Unitary Plan – for formal notification. Super City reporter Bernard Orsman examines the plan that will reshape our city.

Mixed housing zones, like Manukau Rd, have caused the most controversy.

Mixed housing zones, like Manukau Rd, have caused the most controversy.


The height of apartment buildings in big centres like Newmarket and designated town centres was one of the most contentious issues in the draft Unitary Plan.

The prospect of walls of apartments on beachfronts like Orewa and Browns Bay and 18-storey towers in 10 “metropolitan” centres drew a chorus of complaints.

There was a general consensus that buildings in central Auckland should have no height restrictions, but there was a lot of feedback on the 18-storey height limit, with lower limits being set in Papakura, Westgate/Massey North and Newmarket – in that case to protect a volcanic viewshaft.

Some communities, notably Milford, Orewa and Browns Bay, succeeded in reducing the maximum heights, or having staged heights in town centres such as Otahuhu and Panmure.

Other communities were not successful. Residents from the eastern beachfront village of St Heliers wanted the maximum height reduced to three storeys but the council was adamant the existing height limit of four storeys should remain.

Developers generally supported a higher ceiling for apartments, saying they needed to be at least five storeys to be economic.

Residential zones/density

The mixed housing zone has been the most controversial zone where plans for widespread intensification have been like the proverbial red rag to a bull.

In this case, the bull was normally quiet, middle-class homeowners who turned up at public meetings in their thousands when they saw their way of life under threat over the fence.

The issue led to the formation of the Auckland 2040 movement to oppose haphazard multi-rise development and a pro-compact city campaign from Generation Zero, a youth-based organisation.

Howls of protests led to the mixed housing zone, covering 49 per cent of residential Auckland, being split in two – a three-storey mixed housing urban zone close to transport routes and two-storey mixed housing suburban zone in the suburbs.

Density limits in the mixed housing suburban zone dominated four of the five days of meetings last week to wrap up the Unitary Plan, with politicking and an unsuccessful stand by council planners to have no density limits on sites bigger than 1200sq m with a 20m frontage.

There was much intrigue about the positions of councillors Ann Hartley and George Wood, who both represent the North Shore where the issue is red hot.

In the end, Mrs Hartley failed to achieve a minimum density rule of one dwelling per 300sq m (later amended to 250sq m) and both she and Mr Wood supported a compromise by Mayor Len Brown for one dwelling per 200sq m on sites greater than 1200sq m with a 20m frontage.

The council also backed off from not giving the public any say on suburban developments to a position of assessing cases for public notification on a range of issues, including breaches of height, height to boundary, walls on boundaries, building setbacks, landscaping and outlook controls.

Rural development

Farm paddocks are not there to sprout houses, Franklin Local Board chairman Andy Baker told a five-day meeting on the Unitary Plan.

Yes they are. Mayor Len Brown and Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse want to turn 8000ha of rural land into housing as part of their “little up and little out” compact city model.

What’s more, 4260ha of land in the suburban “rural urban boundary” (RUB) is elite or prime soils – 90 per cent of the southern RUB.

The council is setting out to build 160,000 of the 440,000 new homes over the next 30 years outside the existing urban boundaries.

They will be built in four main rural areas in and around Warkworth, Silverdale/Dairy Flat, the Kumeu/Huapai/Red Hills/Brigham Creek area, and Pukekohe.

About 90,000 of these homes will be on new land.

The other 70,000 homes will be within Warkworth and Pukekohe, and rural and coastal towns and villages such as Beachlands, Bombay, Snells Beach, Wellsford and Whitford.

The Housing Accord between the council and Government will provide a streamlined process to free up some of this rural land.

Changes made to the RUB include:

• The Southern RUB has been refined to include about 376ha of additional land, including land that was recently the subject of the Drury South plan change.

• In the Northwest RUB, about 360ha to the north and west of Red Hills and bound by Brighams Creek to the east and Taupaki/Nixon Rd to the west, has been excluded.

• In the North RUB, about 1021ha south of Bawden and Dairy Stream Rds and east of Lower Jess Rd has been excluded.

• In the North RUB at Warkworth, an extra 151ha has been added east of Matakana Rd and north of Sandspit Rd.


The proposed rewrite of Auckland’s tarnished heritage rules has made progress, but not enough to satisfy the Character Coalition, an umbrella organisation of 60 heritage and community groups.

The organisation had called for Auckland to follow Brisbane, which prevents demolition of pre-1945 houses unless the owner can make a case.

The public have a say in the process.

Instead of following the more prescriptive Brisbane path, the council has adopted a “precautionary” demolition rule in pre-1944 areas before they are assessed for “special character” status.

Under the pre-1944 control, homeowners will need a resource consent to demolish a property. The application could be subject to public notification.

The council plans to survey the pre-1944 areas by the time the Unitary Plan becomes operative in about three years.

There are concerns that some streets in the special character suburbs, such as Mt Eden, Grey Lynn and Herne Bay, have been excluded from special character status.

Other old suburbs, such as Westmere, have extensive groupings of pre-1944 bungalows that currently have no character protection.

Council heritage manager Noel Reardon said it was a “big ask” to assess houses in the pre-1944 areas over the next three years.

He said the council had assessed five areas this year – Balmoral, Otahuhu, Onehunga, Mangere and Mt Roskill – saying it took time and resources to carry out the task.

The council also rejected a recommendation from officers to exclude Housing New Zealand from the pre-1944 demolition control.

• See more details of the plan at shapeauckland.co.nz


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