Alex Johnston: Unitary Plan changes good for Auckland

A last-minute change to Auckland’s proposed housing controls could be overturned at a council meeting today. Alex Johnston supports them.
Auckland can't avoid being a city of scale any more. In five years we will add a population the size of Tauranga. Photo / Chris Gorman
Auckland can't avoid being a city of scale any more. In five years we will add a population the size of Tauranga. Photo / Chris Gorman

Auckland's housing crisis hit home in the past couple of weeks as I searched for a flat so that I could move out of my parents' place. I'm a student with two part-time jobs, but the only rooms that I could afford would get me into deeper debt when the transport, food and other living costs were added up.

I went to a well-heeled school in a leafy suburb, yet staying at home is the new norm among my peers studying in Auckland; the burden of borrowing to rent a place to live is simply too much. We are the lucky ones; our parents have bedrooms to spare.

Yet it is in these leafy suburbs that many of those already established in the property market are agitating to pull the ladder up behind them. The outrage from a vocal group of house owners about the new zoning rules in the proposed Unitary Plan is baffling. Most of the outcry arises from some areas previously deemed for single houses on large sections now zoned for "mixed housing urban". When I looked into this, there was nothing to suggest the imagined horror of high-rise apartment blocks looming over backyards.

Rather, it permits buildings of up to three storeys.

These still have to be set back from the front of the property, have stringent height and view-shaft controls, and at a limited density when the site is less than 1200sq m. To my mind, these proposed rules are not a threat.

In fact, only 6 per cent of Auckland outside the CBD can actually have proper apartments of four or more storeys built on it under the proposed plan. Meanwhile 75 per cent of the city is still zoned for the type of two-storey suburban housing that we are used to.

The changes simply allow the demand for land in limited central areas to be reflected in the type of houses that could be built there. There is no requirement to do this, but the market will have a little more flexibility to respond to demand.

A more diverse range of housing types could be built to provide for the demographics that Auckland actually has: families, students, young couples, single and retired people. The rich supply of four-bedroom standalone houses can be complemented by granny flats, duplexes and terraced townhouses.

It doesn't allow the range of housing that is needed to make the Auckland market attainable for my generation, but it is a start.

Over New Year I was visiting family in Edinburgh. There, grand apartment buildings from the Georgian era have world heritage status, while students and young professionals live in terraces in the medieval city. These neighbourhoods had immense character, leafy streets and green space, and views of the castle. But they also had choice; a diversity of people living there, and a majority of the population having close access to the city centre and to public transport.

Auckland can't avoid being a city of scale any more. In five years we will add a population the size of Tauranga. Putting everyone out in Silverdale or Flat Bush isn't an option.

What we can do is accommodate the growth while providing a lifestyle that we can all enjoy. Housing choice supports diverse communities, allows local shops to thrive, sustains frequent public transport, and, thankfully, gives students more flatting options so that they can give their parents a break.

Let's embrace the changes proposed in the Unitary Plan for my generation and those to come to be able to enjoy the Auckland that we all know and love.

Alex Johnston is deputy chair of the Auckland Council's youth advisory panel. He is 19, studying law and English at the University of Auckland.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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