Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Auckland Council relaxes rules for expanding city's rural boundary for housing

The council has voted to relax rules allowing housing beyond the urban boundary. Photo / File
The council has voted to relax rules allowing housing beyond the urban boundary. Photo / File

A return to the days of "shoe box" apartments has been rejected by Auckland councillors.

They have knocked back a recommendation for no minimum dwelling size, variously described as "shoe boxes", "chicken coops", "inhumane boxes" and "a dunny for a cockroach".

The new blueprint for the city, or Unitary Plan, will now put in place a minimum size of 35sq m for a studio apartment in the central city and business zones, or 30sq m plus a 5sq m balcony.

For one or more bedrooms the minimum size is 50sq m, or 42sq m plus plus an 8sq m balcony.

The independent hearings panel had recommended there be no minimum dwelling size in the Unitary Plan.

Most councillors supported a minimum size, but Dick Quax said politicians should not be meddling in this area and people should be free to choose to live in a micro apartment of about 20sq m if they wanted to.

"I wouldn't put a dog in 20sq m," interrupted Cathy Casey, who did not want a return to open slather for shoe boxes in the central city.

"You can't keep squeezing people into inhumane boxes...it's a no brainer," said Linda Cooper.

Councillor Mike Lee likened tiny apartments to "a dunny for a cockroach" - a quote from Bob Semple, Minister of Works in the first Labour Government.

Several councillors, including Mayor Len Brown, deputy mayor Penny Hulse and Ross Clow believed the market was not mature enough for tiny apartments, but over time and with good design, the issue could be reviewed.

Councillor Chris Darby noted the governing body had just voted to delete sunlight admission into apartments, which could lead to a 35sq m apartment being totally entombed in darkness.

Earlier, councillors relaxed the rules to make it easier for developers to build houses outside the rural urban boundary.

Developers will now be able to apply to move the rural urban boundary (RUB), through a private plan change. At present, only the council or Minister for the Environment can move the boundary.

On the second day of decision-making on the Unitary Plan, the council voted to support a recommendation from an independent hearings panel, and supported by council officers, to relax the rules around the boundary.

They supported another recommendation from the panel to remove the boundary from rural and coastal towns.

Regulatory services director Penny Pirrit said the objectives, policies and methods in the plan would enable a thorough assessment of private plan changes.

Councillor Mike Lee said the change meant any developer can come along and change the rural urban boundary by seeking a plan change.

"What it will mean is the old bugbear of development exceeding infrastructure will be exacerbated and we will be moving into a far more chaotic era for growth, development and infrastructure."

Councillor Cameron Brewer said there was pressure in the community and at political level for the "very tight" boundary to be softened.

Councillors also rejected a recommendation from the panel to delete objectives and policies that seek to focus growth within the existing metropolitan area.

Officers said the recommendation went against the council's objective for the metropolitan area to be the prime location for growth.

Councillors have also voted for a more restrictive approach for removing mangroves.

This will involve the requirement for a resource consent, although people can still remove seedlings without a consent.

"This is one of the great disappointments for me,"said councillor Penny Webster, saying boats could only go part way down the Warkworth River because of mangroves and communities on the North Shore wanted their sandy beaches back.

Councillor Wayne Walker said mangroves played an important role preventing coastal erosion and "you don't want to mess around with the coastline".

Council chief executive Stephen Town was asked to report back to the incoming council after October's local body elections on operational measures to help communities remove mangroves.

- NZ Herald

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