David Gibbs: The Big Squeeze - we can all fit if sections are smaller

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According to Statistics NZ, by 2031, 50 per cent of households will be either single-person, or couples without children. Photo / Janna Dixon
According to Statistics NZ, by 2031, 50 per cent of households will be either single-person, or couples without children. Photo / Janna Dixon

Auckland's population in 2031 is projected to be almost double what it is today. Based on this, it is not a question of if Auckland should intensify: we clearly must.

However, we do need to ensure the model of intensification Auckland adopts reflects the changing needs of our society. In 2031 the city will also be home to a very different demographic.

According to Statistics NZ, by 2031, 50 per cent of households will be either single-person, or couples without children. It simply doesn't make sense to continue developing so many large sections and big dwellings as if the nuclear family reigns supreme.

The consequences for our housing are clear: Auckland will need to offer more housing choice to satisfy the growing requirement for smaller, more affordable yet higher-quality dwellings.

But that's easier said than done: the existing rules make it difficult to create and develop small sections.

A minimum section size of 300sq m is being imposed in many areas under the Draft Unitary Plan, but the question remains: is a minimum section size appropriate for a mixed-housing zone that is clearly earmarked for intensification and will, therefore, likely require dwellings much smaller than today's average?

Sections of 300sq m are still bigger than we need for a good-sized three-to-four bedroom house, and way too big for a terrace house for which sites of 170-180sq m are ample.

That's not to say there isn't provision to do smaller section sizes in mixed-housing zones - there is, provided you have a section of 1200sq m to subdivide, you have 20m of frontage, and you are prepared to jump through a lot of hoops.

The minimum section size has reduced over time - yet the size of our homes has increased. In 1991, the floor area of the average standalone Auckland home was 144sq m; in just over 20 years that has grown to 220sq m.

Larger houses on smaller lots, that's where we've come unstuck - it has created many of the poor "infill" outcomes evident across Auckland today.

Demand for smaller homes such as terraced housing is certain to increase.

It follows that lot size should be informed by the design of the house: smaller homes need smaller lots.

We need to focus on good housing design that considers outlook, access to sunlight, usable open space, amenity and, importantly, affordability - and not be bound by the restrictions of a minimum section size.

The Hobsonville Pt development is an example of a design-led approach to modern housing. The development has a mix of housing types and prices, including well-designed, smaller, more affordable two-bedroom terraced homes.

The typical section size for these houses is just 190sq m.

The development also meets one of the Auckland Council's directives to offer a mix of dwelling types within a single neighbourhood, which reflects changing demographics, family structures and age groups.

It is also proof that mixed-housing developments can be done well and tick all the right boxes: high-quality, affordable, amenity, community.

In economic terms, the difference between a 300sq m site and a 190sq m terrace house site, for example, is around $82,000.

That's a substantial saving, and sufficient to mean the difference between affordable and simply out of reach of the growing demographic we should be building for - young couples, elderly retirees, and solo parents with one or two children.

Specifying a minimum section size presents an unnecessary hurdle for mixed-housing developments. To ensure we create housing that meets the needs of Auckland's growing and changing population in future, we need to remove the barriers, like minimum section size.07-05-2013 05:30:00

We must take a more sophisticated approach to the rules around protection of the qualities that matter to us.

David Gibbs is a director of Auckland architecture and masterplanning firm Construkt. Construkt has developed masterplans including Hobsonville Point, Long Bay and Northern Glen Innes.

- NZ Herald

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