Fence controls 'need rethink'

By Bernard Orsman

Plans to restrict high masonry or stucco fences in some of Auckland's most expensive suburbs to give the public a peek at character homes are inflexible and need scrutiny, says planning lawyer Richard Brabant.

The proposal by the Auckland City Council to reduce solid fence heights from 2m to 1.4m in favour of more traditional fencing has also alarmed letter-writers to the Herald.

Fencing controls are part of sweeping changes affecting 16,300 Auckland character homes.

These also include an end to the demolition or removal of homes without a resource consent.

Fencing rules imposing a 1.2m height for 8718 homes in the residential 1 zone - mostly the inner-city suburbs of Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Freemans Bay, St Marys Bay and Mt Eden - are unchanged.

Low scoria walls are recognised as a historic characteristic in volcanic areas like Mt Eden.

But the council has moved to stop 2m-high solid masonry or stucco fences being built in the residential 2 zone, covering Victorian and Edwardian homes on large sections in Herne Bay, Epsom, Remuera, Parnell, One Tree Hill, Kohimarama and St Heliers. This zone has 7598 homes.

The rules for residential 2 stipulate a maximum height of 1.4m, or 1.8m where 40 per cent of the structure is transparent to allow views of the character property.

New fences should be in keeping with the historic character of the street. The council will allow slim metal posts to give a clear view of a property and assist with security. There is no restriction on hedges.

Council heritage manager George Farrant said the reason for reducing heights was to allow people to look at homes in the character zone.

He said hedges were part of the landscape and did not cause the same problems as fences.

Mr Brabant, of the specialist planning practice Environmental Law Chambers, said he had difficulty with the height controls and they required further consideration.

"It's not possible to say a picket fence of a certain height is acceptable and anything else isn't.

"There must be an opportunity to have regard to good design. You cannot achieve good amenity and heritage outcomes through rules."

He said town planning law dating back to 1926 gave the council the ability to draw up rules saying what people could and could not do as long as the controls were "reasonable".

Christine Jackson, of Epsom, said in a letter to the Herald that she was opposed to the new regime.

"It appears to have been conceived by those with voyeuristic tendencies and with complete disregard to the safety of inhabitants.

"Most of the properties within these zones are high value, well maintained, have fences or hedges higher than the proposed 1.4m limit and are disproportionately targeted by burglars."

The public has until July 1 to make submissions on the controls in the proposed district plan change.

Planning lawyer Russell Bartlett said he believed the most intact character streets would get strong heritage controls but mixed areas of new and old housing might not survive the process.

Hobson Bay Community Board member and architect Kathryn Carter said feedback on the new controls was overwhelmingly positive but the council had to be careful not to over-regulate to the point where people could not do anything.

Fencing controls

Residential 1 zone:

* Fences should be no higher than 1.2m (no change).

* Fences should be in keeping with character of the street.

Residential 2 zone:

* 1.4m height restriction on fences (currently 2m).

* 1.8m height restriction where 40 per cent of the fence is transparent.

* Fences should be in keeping with character of the street.

* Slim metal posts allowed to assist with security.

* Hedges allowed with no height restriction.

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