Tens of thousands of homes in Auckland's leafy residential suburbs are being rezoned for multiple townhouses and apartments and Auckland Council says homeowners will not be notified about the changes.

The central isthmus suburbs of Pt Chevalier, Epsom, Mt Eden, Mt Albert, Glendowie and St Heliers; the North Shore suburbs of Birkenhead, Glenfield and Takapuna; Whangaparaoa Peninsula, rural towns such as Kumeu and the southern suburbs of Howick and Mangere Bridge are among areas affected by the changes taking place behind closed doors.

Richard Burton, of the Auckland 2040 community group, says Aucklanders are blissfully unaware of the new rules that will change the city.

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He said the Unitary Plan - a new planning rulebook for the Super City - was turning into a farce, with the council making fundamental changes without any public process.

He and Auckland 2040's barrister, Richard Brabant, have challenged the council's ability to change the rules, and are not ruling out legal action.

Epsom MP and Act leader David Seymour said the proposed intensification had enormous implications for congestion, character and the shape of school zones - and challenged councillors to speak up.

"The Herald today reports that councillors have been sworn to secrecy over intensification plans for Epsom, Mt Eden, and other central suburbs. If this is true, then it's an affront to the purpose of elected office. If it's false, then all councillors should deny it immediately," said Mr Seymour.

"It's also a betrayal of young people in its assumption that they can never own a house and must live in apartments. It's vital for councillors to speak up over this plan, not just to keep Auckland residents in the loop, but to ensure accountability to voters in next year's local election."

Mr Seymour said residents have been worn down by the lack of consultation and constantly shifting goalposts for making submissions.

"This has been made worse by the timidity of councillors who are meant to facilitate information-sharing. The apparent failure of councillors to facilitate broad consultation with individual residents is a dereliction of duty.

"Aucklanders deserve better. I'm calling on each councillor and mayoral candidate to tell residents what their real position is on Len Brown's intensification agenda."

Councillor Mike Lee said the Council's proposed decimation of the single house zone, without notification half way through the plan process,completely disregards Aucklanders' civil rights and their property rights.

He said the major discrepancies in the percentage figures being put out by the deputy mayor on the one hand, and council planners on the other, affecting thousands of homes, suggests a procedural shambles.

"This to give it the kindest interpretation," Mr Lee said.

Tomorrow, the Unitary Plan committee will meet behind closed doors to approve changes to the single house zone in north, south and east Auckland.

This follows a decision by the 11-member committee on November 10 to approve changes to the zone on the Auckland central isthmus and West Auckland.

The council has rewritten the rules for the "single-house zone" where one- and two-storey houses are typically set amongst trees and gardens. New rules mean tens of thousands of houses no longer qualify and will be rezoned to a "mixed-house" zone to allow for townhouses, studios and apartments of up to three storeys.

Senior council planner John Duguid said the new rules responded to submitters asking for more clarity and a targeted approach to the zone.

Developers and groups such as Housing NZ and youth lobby group Generation Zero have been pushing for more intensification, particularly around public transport routes.

Auckland 2040 and Herne Bay Residents Association co-chair Christine Cavanagh said there were serious issues of natural justice for residents of the single-house zone.

Only people who submitted views on the Unitary Plan can take part in any changes. Mrs Cavanagh said this meant many residents were being shut out of the process.

The Herald first revealed proposed changes to the single-house zone in August. Since then, councillors and local board members have been brought into the process and sworn to secrecy about opening up more of the city for intensification.

Mr Duguid said on the Auckland isthmus the single-house zone was shrinking from 35 per cent to 21 per cent, and from 31 per cent to 23 per cent in West Auckland. It would be similar in the north and south.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said Auckland-wide figures showed the single-house zone falling from 36.1 to 28.8 per cent. Maps of the changes would be made public next month, she said. She backs the zone changes.

Mr Duguid said the council had no plans to notify individual residents of the changes.

Kumeu-Huapai Residents and Ratepayers Association chairman Pete Sinton said it was madness to rezone Kumeu to mixed housing when it was a car-oriented town with no public transport.

One St Heliers resident, Elaine Russell, welcomed the changes, saying she hoped her property would be rezoned because was planned to sell or develop it within the new three or four years.

"The mixed housing zone would be brilliant.Well done John Duguid and his team," she said.

Mr Russell said she believed those affected should be notified as a matter of courtesy, and looked for to seeing the maps when they were published.

The suburbs

• Pt Chevalier

• Epsom

• Mt Eden

• Mt Albert

• Glendowie

• St Heliers

• Birkenhead

• Glenfield

• Takapuna

• Whangaparaoa Peninsula

• Rural towns such as Kumeu and the southern suburbs of Howick and Mangere Bridge.

Q & A

What is the single house zone?

The zone has 158,282 homes covering about 32 per cent of residential Auckland. It allows one house per 600sq m, maximum site coverage of 35 per cent and 8m building height limit. In short it is low density suburban housing surrounded by trees and gardens.

What is happening to the zone?

Auckland Council is proposing to rewrite the rules resulting in tens of thousands of properties moving from the single housing zone to a "mixed house" zone where density controls are being relaxed to allow greater intensification. Mixed developments of townhouses, apartments and studios of two or three storeys could be built.

How have the rules for the single house zone changed?

The previous rules allowed for low density suburban housing with one building per site of one or two storeys surrounded by areas of private open space. The new rules say houses must meet specific tests, such as being within an area of natural or built heritage or have significant infrastructure constraints.

What are the rules in the 'mixed housing' zones?

In the mixed housing urban zone, next to town centres and transport routes, there are no density limits, but strengthened design controls. 3-storey height limit. In the mixed housing suburban zone, typical of suburban areas, you can build one dwelling per 200sq m on sites less than 1000sq m and no density limits on sites greater than 1000sq m.
Strengthened controls limits. 2-storey limit.

How did the proposed changes come about?

Auckland Council is recommending the changes to the independent panel considering the Unitary Plan after submissions on the plan urged greater intensification. The push has come from developers and big property owners, like Housing New Zealand.

Do affected homeowners get to have a say?

In most cases, no. The vast majority of residents in the zone did not submit on the Unitary Plan because they believed the zone protected their interests. Because they did not participate in the formal Unitary Plan process at the outset they cannot become involved at a later stage. People may be able to appeal this "out of scope" changes, but not until next year when the independent hearings panel for the Unitary Plan makes its final recommendations to the council.

Surely the council will let people know of the changes?

The council is not proposing to tell people their homes are being rezoned. It says it encouraged people to submit on the Unitary Plan whether they liked it or not. Officers say the council is simply following a prescribed process in the Resource Management Act. Maps showing changes to the single housing zone are expected to be publicly available next month.