Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Growth study plan for Auckland proves controversial

Mt Albert would be a good test of the political risks of urban intensification, the survey suggests.
Photo / Martin Sykes
Mt Albert would be a good test of the political risks of urban intensification, the survey suggests. Photo / Martin Sykes

High-rise apartment blocks on North Shore waterfront raise eyebrows

Auckland's existing boundaries could take more than a quarter of a million extra houses but the area's council bosses will need strong nerves and a huge rezoning push to achieve this.

These are the findings of a study into the feasibility of Auckland Council's controversial plans to contain 75 per cent of all new growth within the existing metropolitan urban limits (MUL) within the next 30 years, a scheme criticised by the Property Council which pushed for further details and a fine-grained analysis.

The result was that on December 22, a report was finished by Patrick Fontein of Studio D4 and Alistair Ray and Tim Robinson of architecture practice Jasmax.

The Birkenhead/Northcote area was one of 14 studied and one image showed blocks lining the picturesque historic waterfront, an image which left Nick Kearney, deputy chairman of the Kaipatiki Local Board which represents the Birkenhead area, seeing both sides of the debate.

"In one sense, it's predictable because if we're going to have this compact city and one million more people to house, then really what alternative do they have? That's what you're going to have to expect. On the other hand, being a locally elected representative it will go down like a bucket of cold sick in my area. People will not want that at all. Housing and prisons - there's a nimby impact.

"Don't built it next to us, please. Going outside the urban limit means putting in roads and people say that's bad for the environment," he says.

"I have a suspicion the report would be lumbered on the councillors a week or so before the decisions on the plan. That's a council tactic and it's just wrong and public submissions have closed. We have a report like this which vastly affects the public. These sort of things need to be community-led issues rather than top-down, that's the key thing out of all of it," he said.

Vivienne Keohane of the board is upset.

"It is outrageous that we have had no information or input to this, even if it is just kite-flying by officers. It should have been run past us before being released to the public. I am the local board's portfolio holder for keeping an eye on consents in our area and am qualified as a chairperson for hearings as well as having been involved in consents and taking an interest in planning for 18 years and find this proposal to be something that the public will find unacceptable in the area."

Dick Quax, a councillor, said he was gobsmacked at the plans and has sought more extensive information.

The report from Fontein and Jasmax said intensification on the enormous scale planned would require huge political resilience.

Those in the commercial property sector say the council is actually expecting 300,000 to 400,000 dwellings within the MUL but the commercial sector does not believe it can because there is very little land available.

So the purpose of the analysis was to ascertain what land was available.

The council agreed to do a study of 14 suburbs out of 112 as a pilot study.

That was completed on December 22. It shows the council has grossly overestimated the amount of land and will not be able to get near its target.

The report said that if the council rezoned huge areas of Auckland - changing suburban areas from allowing for housing only, to allowing for medium and high-rise apartment buildings - it might be able to prove that it has a theoretical capacity within Auckland.

But developers are claiming this is nonsense because most of Auckland already has existing-zoned capacity that is never realised. Zoning is helpful to unlock land and make it easier to develop different types of housing, but it does not control what happens.

The council is due to meet to talk about the plan next month and make a final decision in March.

One developer said the plan would have the opposite effect from that intended.

"If the council puts the squeeze on growth into greenfield areas, we believe that Auckland will grind to a halt and nothing will get built because the land is too expensive, people don't want high-rise apartments next door to their houses and so places like Hamilton and the Kaipara district will start to develop up along the north-south spine as satellites for growth."

THE AIM
*2.2m to 2.5m extra people expected in 30 years.
*300,000-400,000 extra houses needed by 2040.
*11,000 new Auckland houses needed annually.
*75 per cent in existing areas, 25 per cent outside urban limits.
Source: Auckland Council

Report sizes up suburbs for building

Mt Albert, Onehunga, Tamaki and Browns Bay are ripe for thousands of extra houses.

But Parnell and Manurewa are less viable because land is restricted and subdivision sites are too small.

Yet Birkenhead/Highbury could become a "great intensification hot-spot" for the next 20 to 30 years, partly because of the good ferry service from Northcote and Birkenhead Point, similar to Sydney's Cremorne.

Fourteen suburbs were studied by Patrick Fontein of Studio D4 and Alistair Ray and Tim Robinson of architecture practice JASMAX, who decided Mt Albert would be "a litmus test for political resilience. Quality upzoning could make Mt Albert a vibrant intensified precinct."

That language is being interpreted by commercial property experts as meaning any council which ushers in the plans could be voted out of office and the intensification scheme would be ditched after a public outcry.

The report said Onehunga could be a more intense suburb in the medium term because many developed sites are large and suitable for more housing.

"Tamaki is the best rejuvenation opportunity that Auckland has," said the report for Auckland Council, concluding that the area's good schooling, existing residents, safety and security would attract new people.

Browns Bay could be a flagship high quality mixed-use intensification precinct for Auckland because of good bus connections and sections close to the town centre. It presented the best opportunities because sites were under-utilised and near the coast which gave them even more potential.

Parnell had been built out and presented minimal opportunities for rezoning because the area had older housing worthy of preservation combined with higher density places.

"Parnell suffers from a shortfall of further development sites," the report said. Intensifying Manurewa was "just not viable to anywhere near the numbers sought by the council".

Farm Cove would be attractive for development from 2040 to 2060 but unlikely before then because existing sites were highly utilised with big expensive houses.

Glen Eden is hard to intensify because of small sites and New Lynn needs careful phasing.

Unsworth Heights has almost no new sites, the Te Atatu Peninsula has good potential but targets to intensify Oratia are not realistic because of so many big new houses on small sites.

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