23 Feb 2013

Editorial: Panic over draft housing plans badly misguided

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Photo: Thinkstock
Published: The New Zealand Herald – 23 February 2013

The greatest intensification is scheduled to occur in 10 'metropolitan' centres where apartments of 18 storeys will be allowed.

The greatest intensification is scheduled to occur in 10 ‘metropolitan’ centres where apartments of 18 storeys will be allowed.

Criticism of intensification seems based on fear of repeating old mistakes, but with careful scrutiny, new mix should enhance Auckland

Opposition as shrill as it is misguided has accompanied the release of the housing proposals in the Auckland Council’s draft unitary plan.

Much of this criticism bears the stamp of thinking wedded to the 1950s, most notably in envisioning the nature of any high-rise developments and enunciating the type of housing that people want. It seems to be assumed that the mistakes made in erecting old apartment blocks, such as those in Britain after World War II, will be unthinkingly replicated. And that all people still crave a standalone family home, complete with its own lawn and garden.

That is far from so. Indeed, the draft plan is hardly breaking new ground with its mix of housing options to meet the needs of all people.

These are developing of their own accord. Many people, particularly the young and the elderly, are content to live in two-bedroom apartments and terraced housing, especially if it is close to public transport.

As such, they should be largely receptive to a plan that seeks to accomplish the difficult task of catering for an expected million extra people in Auckland by 2040.

The greatest intensification is scheduled to occur in 10 “metropolitan” centres where apartments of 18 storeys will be allowed. In 37 town centres, four to eight storeys will be permitted. Remaining residential areas will have a mixed-housing zone.

The terrace house and apartment zone and mixed housing zone account for 56 per cent of residential land, leaving 44 per cent for a single-house zone and a large-lot zone.

Among the critics, councillor Wayne Walker fears that “walls” will be created along the beachfronts of Browns Bay and Orewa. But both are six-storey zones and, therefore, hardly likely to soon take on the appearance of Surfers Paradise or Waikiki. Another councillor, Cameron Brewer, worries too much about a return to tiny shoeboxes because the proposed rules reduce the minimum apartment size from 35 square metres to 30sq m.

In 2007, under Mayor Dick Hubbard, the Auckland City Council, in a burst of micro-management, went to great lengths to act against such apartments, imposing the limit that the plan now seeks to reverse.

It would have done better to concentrate on the bigger picture. As much as with other options, there will always be people who are happy to live in such circumstances.

Aucklanders have, of course, good reason to carefully scrutinise the draft plan. Successful implementation will rely on excellent urban design, and the controls that will guarantee this.

That has not always been the case in the past, and Auckland is blighted by poor-quality housing and all manner of badly designed apartment blocks.

Many of these buildings have suffered further because they are tenanted. There would be far less chance of urban ghettos if as many as possible of these new apartments and terraced houses were owner-occupied.

The draft unitary plan will be officially released on March 15 for public feedback. It will have to be persuasive on two levels. Even more so than changing Aucklanders’ behaviour and expectations over housing, the council will have to convince them that this intensification can be achieved in a way that enhances the city.

That it will not, in fact, be the catalyst for new levels of unloveliness.



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