The Auckland Council hasn't done any work to compare urban and rural infrastructure costs as it asks Aucklanders to adapt to a new way of life that includes a mix of residential intensification and urban sprawl.
Click here to see an interactive map of the draft unitary plan
The council is commissioning an "Auckland cost-of-growth study" that doesn't begin until after feedback closes on a new planning rulebook which has huge implications for the city's urban, rural and coastal environments.
The issue of infrastructure arising from the rulebook - or Unitary Plan - has been a hot topic at public meetings, where people have expressed concerns about the effects of a more-compact city on water, transport and open spaces and costs in rural subdivisions.
An expression-of-interest document for the growth study says there is some overseas evidence that it is more expensive to provide infrastructure outside urban areas than inside, "but no specific work has been done for Auckland".
The study was prompted by the Auckland Housing Accord between the council and the Government to fast-track consents for 39,000 new houses.
The accord, announced on May 10, aims to tackle Auckland's housing crisis by enabling the council to create special housing areas in urban and rural districts where consents for qualifying housing would be fast-tracked if they were consistent with the Unitary Plan.
The cost-of-growth study is aimed at improving plans for growth, the delivery of infrastructure and promoting affordable housing options.
Councillor Dick Quax said it was unbelievable that the council was only now seeking evidence that the compact city being promoted was better in terms of infrastructure to "peripheral expansion".
"I would have expected that before plans are drawn up to change forever the way people in Auckland live ... there was some hard evidence to guide council. Sadly this has not happened and is another failure of the draft Unitary Plan," he said.
Council chief planning officer Roger Blakeley said the Unitary Plan was a resource management document and did not include funding for infrastructure.
"The council knows about the costs of infrastructure. The long-term plan 2012-2022 includes provision for funding of roads, water supply, wastewater, stormwater and parks," he said.
Dr Blakeley said it was well established that infrastructure costs for new "greenfield" developments were higher than the costs for urban "brownfield" developments. One Sydney study had put greenfield costs at more than twice those of brownfields.
Watercare Services said it was working with the council to understand the implications of the draft plan, saying it took an integrated approach to providing infrastructure in greenfield areas in a timely way.
When it came to providing infrastructure in existing urban areas, Watercare environmental planning manager Ilze Gotelli told councillor Chris Fletcher town centres could be serviced, but had concerns about the mixed-housing zone that covers 49 per cent of residential Auckland.
"The existing network in the many parts of the city would not have sufficient capacity to provide for the full level of development that could occur in this zone.
"There is need to prioritise and sequence growth within these areas so that Watercare can target infrastructure upgrades where there will be uptake of services," Ms Gotelli said.
Water puts a damper on rural towns itching to grow
The rural townships of Helensville and Parakai are crying out for growth and more housing, but are being told it won't happen until 2020 at the earliest when their water woes get fixed.
"We offer quality homes and a quality environment," says Dianne Kidd, spokeswoman for a community action group trying to get traction through the Unitary Plan, the new planning rulebook for the city.
Local real estate agent Jane Burmester said three-bedroom homes sold in Helensville for $400,000 to $450,000, but prices were rising because of the lack of new subdivisions and people being attracted to the area's rural and adventure lifestyle close to the city and Albany. The two towns on the northwest outskirts of Auckland with a combined population of about 4000 residents drew up a structure plan in 1998 for an extra 1000 sections, which has been thwarted at every turn.
The main handicap has been the capacity of the existing water and wastewater system. Watercare is spending $5 million upgrading the wastewater treatment plant but has no plans to upgrade it for growth until 2020. That is because Mayor Len Brown has provided no funding in his 10-year budget as the council does not see Helensville as a high-growth priority.
"It is completely unacceptable for the draft Unitary Plan to again place this region on the backburner," the community says in feedback on the Unitary Plan. "Our towns have not prospered. Business turnover is high. A large number of businesses both commercial and retail remain empty.
A public meeting attended by more than 300 residents last month called for the rural-urban boundary around Helensville and Parakai to be extended to accommodate more residential growth.
"We're not looking for residential intensification and reduced section sizes. We want to create a sustainable environment and landscape that attracts people and families to live and, if possible, work here," Ms Kidd said.
Watercare Services has told the Helensville community it was often wrongly blamed as the constraint on growth but could only plan as and when determined by the council "otherwise we face a significant infrastructure investment risk".