Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Unitary Plan - Hopes and fears for a new city

About midday tomorrow, final recommendations for the new rulebook telling people what can be built where - and how high - in Auckland will be made public. Aucklanders will be able to go the Auckland Council website, type in their address and find out what the rulebook (or Unitary Plan) potentially means for them.

In the last of a three-part series, Bernard Orsman talks with Aucklanders about their hopes and aspirations for the future of the city.

They range from a well-designed, small townhouse in the central city, to space outside the urban limits or protecting Auckland's food basket in Pukekohe.

Ben Grimer and Anna Macky, with Jessica, 2, say they would not have bought in Panmure had they known how the area was going to be rezoned. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Grimer and Anna Macky, with Jessica, 2, say they would not have bought in Panmure had they known how the area was going to be rezoned. Photo / Getty Images

Ben Grimer and Anna Macky, Panmure

Ben Grimer doesn't want to raise his family in the kind of intensification that drove him from London.

Grimer, who works for a bank, and his wife Anna Macky, a paediatric nurse, moved to Auckland two years ago to give their baby daughter a Kiwi upbringing. They have a second child due in September.

Last year, the couple sank their life savings into a 1950s, four-bedroom home in Kings Rd, Panmure after carefully checking the zoning provisions in the Unitary Plan.

They thought the property would retain traditional suburban status but, after submissions closed, discovered their area would be rezoned to allow for three-storey apartments or townhouses.

Worse still, the couple fear their neighbourhood could be rezoned for even greater intensification when Auckland Council finalises the Unitary Plan next month.

Grimer says the couple would not have bought where they did if they had known the full story. They would have bought somewhere like Rodney instead, he says.

"That is the kind of lifestyle I want for my daughter. I don't want to be living in an intensely urbanised environment.

"We have developers who have bought behind us. We are going to get a three- to four-storey block of flats 1m from our boundary fence. Our garden is north-facing and our sun is going to be [taken away]."

Grimer understands intensification is required to meet the city's demand for housing, but has been frustrated at the lack of transparency about the impact of the changes and difficulty following the Unitary Plan.

"Understanding what neighbourhoods are going to be impacted and to what extent has been very hard to follow," says Grimer.

He is also unimpressed at the Government pointing the finger at the council for not fixing the housing problem when it has failed to address demand.

"The changes that have to be made can't all come from Auckland Council. The Government has to start using fiscal policies to do something."

(From left) Dinesh, Bharat and Amrut Bhana face an uncertain future amid urbanisation. Photo / Michael Craig
(From left) Dinesh, Bharat and Amrut Bhana face an uncertain future amid urbanisation. Photo / Michael Craig

Bhana family, Pukekohe

Two years ago, the Bhanas were cropping early potatoes on a leased paddock of frost-free land on the outskirts of Pukekohe. Today, the paddock is sprouting houses.

"We are genuinely worried the elite soils are getting eaten up for housing," says Bharat Bhana, whose family have been growing vegetables in Pukekohe since 1957.

In the past 10 years, about 16 per cent of Pukekohe's dark brown, volcanic soil has been taken over for houses, and more is under threat from the city's new planning rulebook.

Pukekohe, surrounded by market gardens, is the last food basket left in Auckland.

With a generation of four Bhana brothers coming up for retirement, Bharat says they could make a fortune selling about 50ha of their land zoned for future residential use.

"We are passionate and realise we are here as caretakers, to look after what we have got and think of future generations. We are in the food business and proud of what we do," Bharat says.

The brothers intend to pass on the business to the next generation of the family, who face an uncertain future.

Prime soils south of Pukekohe township, close to the Bhanas' business, are earmarked for housing.

Bharat wonders how long the business will be able to cope with the pressures of "reverse sensitivity" - residential neighbours complaining about the smell of spray, noise and dirt on the road.

"We are losing the right to farm because of the pressures of urbanisation," says Dinesh Bhana.

If Auckland is not careful, say the Bhanas, Pukekohe will run out of soil to feed the city and will have to import vegetables. They say making matters worse, Waikato Regional Council is planning to stop any more vegetable growing.

Chris Aiken, Hobsonville Land Company chief executive. Photo / Supplied
Chris Aiken, Hobsonville Land Company chief executive. Photo / Supplied

Chris Aiken, Hobsonville Pt chief executive

Chris Aiken is in a better position than most to talk about the new rulebook for Auckland.

As chief executive of the company master-planning and developing Hobsonville Point on the city fringe, he believes the Unitary Plan is first base for a rapidly growing city.

Hobsonville Point, says Aiken, had an equivalent plan, which has seen the new suburb become a roaring success. A mix of standalone houses, town houses, terraced houses and apartments are being built at more than one a day.

By 2021, the harbourside suburb will have up to 5000 houses and a population of more than 10,000. Already there or coming soon are new primary and secondary schools, 24ha of parks and open space, a farmers' market and a ferry service to downtown Auckland.

Aiken says Hobsonville was planned as an exemplar for Auckland. It showed the market was far more ready for small houses and a mix of housing. Another lesson was you can make good money from smaller houses.

Hobsonville Point has shown home-buyers a range of products, most of which were only previously available in the city, such as affordable and well-designed smaller houses on smaller lots. Other benefits included lower water use and power bills.

Other areas that could benefit from the lessons at Hobsonville Point and the Unitary Plan, with the potential for 100,000 new houses, were out west in Kumeu, Coatesville and Riverhead, and south along the train track to Hamilton, in character communities such as Pukekohe, Pokeno and Te Kauwhata.

Aiken wanted to see more density in Auckland's suburbs. Few people, he says, can afford a 1000sq m section - four terraced houses in that space, with good design controls would be better.

House-hunters Bharat Bhushan, 31, and Lovely Garg, 27. Photo / Jason Oxenham
House-hunters Bharat Bhushan, 31, and Lovely Garg, 27. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Bharat Bhushan and Lovely Garg, Home Truths couple

Bharat Bhushan does not know much about the new rulebook for Auckland but what he does know, he likes.

The 31-year-old IT worker and his wife, Lovely Garg, an early childhood teacher, are would-be home-buyers who earlier featured in the Herald's Home Truths series looking at housing affordability.

Like many new Aucklanders, they are not emotionally attached to the traditional Kiwi section and are happy to consider high-density living - one of the pillars of the city's new rulebook, or Unitary Plan.

The idea of building more houses on smaller sections in the city's suburbs appeals to Bhushan, who does not want a long commute to work.

Living in Blockhouse Bay and watching city houses rising to $1 million is proving a real problem for the couple as they continue their hunt for a property.

They have an appointment this month with a charitable trust for a 30-unit apartment block in New Lynn, where three-bedroom units are selling for $650,000 and $450,000 for two bedrooms.

The couple have a $60,000 deposit with a price cap of $600,000.

Bhushan believes the new rulebook will take Auckland in the right direction in terms of intensification and city fringe development, but does not see demand or prices slowing any time soon.

"We just want to get cheaper houses because we can't afford expensive houses."

Rachel Harvey-Lees-Green. Photo / Michael Craig
Rachel Harvey-Lees-Green. Photo / Michael Craig

Rachel Harvey-Lees-Green, Generation Zero

At 28 and working in a good job as a transport engineer, Rachel Harvey-Lees-Green, and her student husband, Nick, would like to buy a small property in central Auckland.

Not surprisingly the couple are struggling to find an affordable property, ideally a terraced house, in the central fringe. The cheapest property they have come across is a 40sq m, one-bedroom apartment in Eden Tce priced at $450,000.

Harvey-Lees-Green is a member of Generation Zero, the youth lobby group demanding "density done well" - a quality compact city with vibrant neighbourhoods, cycleways, good public transport and affordable housing.

She wants to live in a small house, having already lived in a tiny city apartment which she described as awesome.

Bigger houses were not only more expensive, but required more housework and maintenance, said Harvey-Lees-Green, who also lives a car-free life.

She said there were tiny apartments in the city and bigger houses in the suburbs, but Auckland is lacking smaller terraced and other housing options.

On the affordability question, she said the central city was more expensive than further out but increased density would provide more options.

"If there are more one or two bedroom dwellings, for example, then those are inherently cheaper than a bigger house. Even if per square metre they are expensive they are still cheaper to buy and rent."

Harvey-Lees-Green is hoping the Unitary Plan will allow greater intensification, not all high-rise apartment blocks that scare people, but low-rise apartments and a lot more terraced housing.

"Where I'm living at the moment [Campbells Bay] is terraced housing and it's wonderful. We have got four houses on a plot of land which probably used to have one big mansion on it, but everyone still has plenty of space and privacy."

What happens next?

• Tomorrow: Final recommendations for planning rulebook made public

• August 10-18: Council will make decisions on the rulebook, or Unitary Plan

• August 19: Decisions notified on council website

• September 16: Period for appeals ends

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 22 Oct 2016 18:40:37 Processing Time: 33ms