04 Jul 2012

The unitary plan: A giant, introducing innovative access, likely shortened post-notification period

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Written by: Bob Day
Published: The Bob Day Property Report – 04 July 2012

The Auckland Council is working on a revised process which will see more upfront consultation on the proposed unitary plan, and what the council hopes will be a much shorter timeframe to post-appeal adoption.

This article covers that issue, the proposed timetable, several issues discussed by the council’s unitary plan political working party and signaling by a new coalition of campaign to support heritage & character areas.

The council is talking to the Ministry for the Environment about how the second part of shortening the timeframe can be achieved, including what legislation would be needed. In the meantime, it’s set out a timetable for release of the unitary plan & consultation.

The council’s Auckland Plan committee got the first of proposed regular monthly updates on the next stage of its monumental introduction of new plans yesterday.

Unitary plan manager John Duguid said in a background report: “Given the size of the Auckland region, number of local boards, volume of key stakeholders and complexity involved in preparing a single plan to replace the Auckland regional policy statement, 4 operative regional plans & 7 operative district plans, widespread community & comprehensive key stakeholder engagement is not possible under the current timeline.

“Should the committee wish to see the Auckland unitary plan publicly notified early in 2013, a targeted engagement process is all that can be achieved. This brings with it a number of significant risks, including the possibility of an inferior product (having not had the benefit of extensive feedback/input from a wide range of parties) and the possibility of widespread community opposition. An opportunity exists for a significantly enhanced engagement process that is likely to result in a better quality plan and far greater prospects of community support.”

One councillor, Wayne Walker, wanted to get into detail on the plan so far: “I would like to see examples early of how the design-led approach works. The other thing is the necessity for overlays because the zonings as proposed are quite coarse. I still don’t have sufficient confidence of how we’re going to develop overlays and sufficient detail to those overlays to retain what we have now. There’s an absolute need to incentivise sustainability, and I’d like to have more information on mechanisms to have that.”

The council’s regional & local planning manager, Penny Pirrit, said the council’s political working party would meet weekly with staff, bringing out large pieces of the plan for endorsement: “By the end of August, we will be taking large drafts for endorsement. It won’t necessarily be all plain English at this time, but getting out ideas. We will have a set of draft maps. They won’t contain all the overlays the party has been working on but the key overlays.”

The council told the Government after last year’s general election it wanted the unitary plan to be adopted quickly – unlike the decade-plus timeframe for many new district plans of the former councils: “The regional & district plans of the former Auckland councils generally took between 5-10 years to become operative. In some cases they remain partly under appeal,” Mr Duguid said in the background paper.

“Ministry for the Environment officials have made it clear that any changes to legislation would need to be accompanied by a highly collaborative upfront process to develop the Auckland unitary plan. In light of this feedback, council officers and Ministry for the Environment officials have met on a number of occasions to discuss options for an alternative end-to-end process (ie, from plan development through to notification, submissions, hearings & appeals). Those discussions are ongoing.”

He said the key features of this enhanced engagement process were likely to include:

Pre-notification:

  • Beginning in August 2012 with increased engagement activities
  • Local board engagement with communities
  • Potential stakeholder involvement to drafting aspects/parts of the draft unitary plan
  • Release of a draft unitary plan for informal feedback in March 2013
  • Roadshow/drop-in sessions & other engagement activities from March-June 2013
  • ‘Friends of submitters’ service to assist individuals & groups in giving feedback
  • Feedback sessions that provide an informal, roundtable process of discussion with elected representatives
  • Informal feedback closing June 2013
  • Responding to individual feedback to ensure the process is genuine & robust
  • Update draft unitary plan based on feedback.

 
Notification:

  • Unitary plan ready for public notification in September 2013.

 
Post-notification:

  • 3-month submission period
  • Roadshow/drop-in sessions
  • ‘Friends of submitters’ service to assist individuals & groups in making submissions
  • Pre-hearing meetings/workshops including mediation & expert caucusing to narrow down points of contention & issues
  • Possible release of an amended unitary plan for feedback before hearings start.

Mr Duguid said local boards could take a lead in engaging with local communities. Council staff would work to design and support engagement that was fit-for-purpose for local communities. This could include clusters of local boards engaging together.

“Under an enhanced engagement process it would be logical to hold a regional discussion that runs in parallel to engagement with local communities, including building a better understanding & acceptance of the ‘hot issues’ for the whole of Auckland through an ‘expo of ideas’ or a mayoral forum. The focus would be on key directions from the Auckland Plan, including those relating to housing choice, historic heritage & historic character; rural & greenfield development; business land supply; and supporting metropolitan, town & local centres.”

He said the council would need to develop a communications campaign with a focus on educating & informing the whole of Auckland on what the unitary plan addresses: “This would include a basic guide on the Resource Management Act and a better understanding of the linkages to the Auckland Plan. It would also include information on what the unitary plan will not cover, such as by-laws. A blog could be used to stimulate debate on issues.”

A number of issued were highlighted in yesterday’s presentation to the committee. Among them:

Density:
A political working party discussion centred on how design-led standards could be used instead of minimum lot sizes & density controls in existing urban areas, but as few members of the working party were present that discussion was deferred.

Rural-urban boundary:
The working party considered options for implementing the rural-urban boundary in May, and endorsed continuation of policy development towards implementing an interim boundary on the basis of staff providing further detail & direction. This approach accepted a staged basis to showing the boundary. A follow-up process of plan changes would be needed to complete the mapping of the boundary once the information on its exact location through the Auckland Plan red box areas of investigation is completed.

New settlements:
The working party also considered how to manage proposals to create new settlements within rural areas: “Over the last few years, a number of appeals & private plan changes have sought to create new settlements in places such as Weiti, Clevedon & Te Arai. In line with the Auckland Plan, it was agreed that the unitary plan would develop an approach based on the avoidance of these new settlements [but not avoiding the consented Weiti development], with objectives & policies that provide a clear set of parameters for considering proposals that will inevitably arise.”

Rural subdivision:
The working party considered rural subdivision on 5 June and endorsed this approach in relation to new dwellings in rural areas: “Single dwellings easy to develop on vacant lots that are without constraints. Constraints would include minimum lot sizes, elite soils, difficulties for servicing and remoteness or poor access roads. For multiple dwellings on lots, a resource consent would be needed and the same constraints considered.

“For subdivision in rural & coastal areas, a strongly restrictive approach was endorsed. Specifically, consideration would be given to the productive use, elite soils, servicing difficulties & access or bad roads. Further subdivision opportunities through a reduced minimum lot size in the proposed countryside living zone was agreed, subject to roading constraints. For the extent of the countryside living zone itself, endorsement was given to the zone being extended via structure plan processes.”

Innovative online access:
Mr Duguid said the likely physical size of the completed version of the unitary plan, combined with the desire for it to be as user-friendly as possible, had led to a decision to provide the plan online as a true interactive electronic plan.

He said the council had awarded the contract for the specialist software after tender to a venture between a New Zealand firm, Twentyfour, and the Australian firm Icon: “The online version of the unitary plan is proposed to offer users the opportunity to enquire into the contents of the document via a number of avenues. Firstly, users will be able to view the document in a traditional way from page 1 to page x. Secondly, users will be able to type in an address or click on a point within the GIS system to be provided material applicable to zoning, overlays & other special characteristics. Thirdly, the enquiry can be based on a proposed activity that the user may wish to undertake. Many enquiries will likely be a combination of the second & third forms of enquiry. This system has been specifically chosen to speedily simplify the process of determining whether a particular development proposal needs a resource consent, and has been based on the most popular forms of enquiry that planning officers receive over the front counter & phones.

“The online enquiry system will be one of the key innovations associated with the unitary plan and has the potential to greatly enhance the public’s understanding & use of Auckland’s planning system and considerably reduce regulatory costs. It also has the ability to greatly enhance the feedback/submission process by enabling online submissions in addition to hard copy.”

Heritage on the agenda
A coalition of 18 heritage & character campaigning groups – the Character Coalition – has been set up to take part in the unitary plan consultation process, headed by the 2 woman who established Save Our St Heliers, Alex Dempsey & Sally Hughes. They’ve turned round from an unsuccessful campaign to save 3 Spanish-style cottages in Turua St from demolition, coming up with a positive campaign for solutions to the contest between development and protection of heritage & character areas.

The pair delivered their ideas to a small number of councillors at the council’s planning & urban design forum in May, focusing on what Brisbane had done to preserve its heritage buildings, and delivered the same message from a much wider group to a wider audience at the Auckland Plan committee’s meeting yesterday.

Ms Dempsey & Ms Hughes said yesterday notification of demolition proposals had to be on the agenda. They also supported the concept of a heritage report independent of both developer & council.

They said Brisbane had come up with ideas for medium-density housing which didn’t ruin what was already there. And, to a question from Independent Maori Statutory Board member Glen Tupuhi on where pre-colonial heritage fitted in, they said they were talking about heritage as all-embracing.

Earlier stories:
29 June 2012: 3 big council plans adopted – now it’s time for unitary plan
30 May 2012: Council’s aspirational plan greeted by renewed attack on heritage performance
30 May 2012: St Heliers pair say Brisbane offers the heritage protection model Auckland needs


 

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