Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Unitary Plan blueprint - the big issues

Auckland needs to find room for an extra 1 million people in the next 25 years. The blueprint for making that happen — the controversial Unitary Plan — will be made public on Wednesday. Super City reporter Bernard Orsman outlines the big issues.
At its heart, the plan aims to achieve a higher quality, compact city. Photo / Richard Robinson
At its heart, the plan aims to achieve a higher quality, compact city. Photo / Richard Robinson

A blueprint to build more houses on smaller sections for Auckland's ballooning population is days away from being unveiled.

After three years of raging debate, Auckland Council's new rulebook telling people what can be built, where and to what height buildings can go is one step away from coming into force.

The rulebook, formally known as the Unitary Plan, with final recommendations from an independent hearings panel, has been delivered to council officers who will release it on Wednesday. Auckland councillors meet in August to make final decisions on the new planning regime that will shape the city for decades to come.

At its heart, the plan aims to achieve a higher quality, compact city with more townhouses, terraced houses and apartments on smaller sections and less urban sprawl in Auckland's rural land.

The council plan is for about 260,000 more houses in the current urban area and about 140,000 houses outside city limits to accommodate up to a million more people by 2041.

How far the hearings panel agrees with the "little bit up, little bit out" vision after listening to more than 13,000 submissions at the same time Auckland's housing supply and affordability crisis has deepened, remains to be seen.

With Labour calling for the "rural-urban boundary" to be scrapped, National wanting to free up more land and questions over the ability of the compact city model to deliver the number of houses needed, there's a good chance the panel will recommend more permissive intensification and sprawl.

The Nimby (not in my backyard) brigade may have to accept more density in the leafy suburbs and council puritans may have to release more greenfield land to property developers.

The Unitary Plan process has been far from perfect. Its ugly moments pitted old against young and caused division around the council table. But it has engaged Aucklanders on big issues with far-reaching consequences about where they and their children will live, work and play.

Here's a summary of some big issues councillors will be resolving.

Density and height

The idea of squeezing more homes, up to three storeys tall with no density limit, into city suburbs has led to howls of protest from homeowners - labelled Nimbys by Cabinet ministers and Generation Zero, a youth lobby group wanting better designed, smaller properties closer to a vibrant city centre and public transport.

Suburban neighbourhoods are split into three zones - a single house zone, mixed housing urban (mainly three storeys) and mixed housing suburban (mainly two storeys).

When councillors secretly switched a further 20,000 properties into a proposed higher density zone late last year with no right of reply for affected homeowners, residents rose up, especially in the leafy suburbs.

The matter was made worse because the areas were not previously proposed for rezoning and not subject to any submissions. The changes, known as "out of scope" amendments, meant affected homeowners could not make submissions to the hearings panel.

The proposal was scuttled by councillors at an acrimonious meeting in February - a taste of the public backlash against intensification that councillors face heading into October's local body elections.

It's not just in the suburbs where density is a dirty word. There is disquiet at the concept of high-rise towers in major town centres like Takapuna, Albany, Henderson and Manukau and a new terraced housing and apartment building zone.

This zone allows for four- to six- storey apartment towers close to town centres and major transport routes.

Right now, the council is under enormous pressure from developers and the Government to lower the hurdles to higher density in existing suburban areas.

Urban boundaries

Should farm paddocks be used for farming or houses? The debate around a "rural-urban boundary" in the Unitary Plan to contain urban sprawl has become increasingly politicised.

The RUB, as it is known, is supposed to define which rural areas can be carved up for housing and which areas are to be kept rural. The plan provides for up to 140,000 new houses for 30 years of expansion in greenfield areas planned by previous councils and new greenfield areas for between 61,000 and 76,000 houses.

Landcare Research has found waves of urban growth between 1990 and 2008 resulted in Auckland losing 4 per cent of high-class agricultural land and 35 per cent to lifestyle blocks.

In May, Labour called for the Government to abolish Auckland's city limits, saying it had not prevented sprawl but helped drive land and housing costs through the roof.

"Labour's plan will free up the restrictive land-use rules that stop the city growing up and out," said housing spokesman Phil Twyford.

Housing Minister Nick Smith is opposed to placing a "straitjacket" around the city for residential development and the Government says it will require Auckland Council to free up more land as the city reaches specific levels of population growth.

Heritage

The housing crisis is placing renewed pressure on preserving the city's built heritage.

Heritage and community groups under the Character Coalition umbrella have fought to follow Brisbane with blanket controls on pre-1940s houses where a case for demolition has to be proven.

The council has assessed areas of pre-1944 houses, removing many houses in the eastern suburbs and on the North Shore and bolstering other areas like Grey Lynn and Westmere's collective value of wooden bungalows.

The hearings panel issued "interim guidance" on heritage, saying it was not convinced with the term "historic character" and preferred the lesser legal term "special character".

It also said the pre-1944 demolition control placed unnecessary constraints and burdens on landowners seeking to develop their properties.

Volcanic viewshafts

Viewshafts protecting unimpeded views of the city's volcanic cones are literally up in the air.

You can't see them, but there's been a battle between developers who want to build into them and campaigners like the Volcanic Cones Society who say none of the viewshafts (a view line between one point and a volcanic cone) should be removed.

A recent report highlighted that some viewshafts could be deleted and others had local, rather than national significance. The council has proposed that developers can build up to the floor of a viewshaft and up to 8m in a height-sensitive area.

Eden Park

Eden Park is seeking permission under the Unitary Plan to secure four major concerts a year at the country's rugby fortress.

The financially strapped Eden Park Trust Board faces a number of hurdles from neighbours, established venues and the hearings panel.

In September last year, the panel issued interim guidance on Eden Park, saying it did not consider additional night games or concerts proposed by the board had been justified by the evidence provided.

Where have we come from?

March 2013: Draft Unitary Plan released by Auckland Council for feedback

September 2013: Extensive changes made to the Proposed Unitary Plan

2014: More than 13,000 submissions made

Mid 2014-2016: Independent hearings panel, chaired by Environment Court Judge David Kirkpatrick, holds hearings on 70 topics over 249 days.

July 22: Hearings panel delivers its recommendations to council

What happens next?

July 27: Recommendations by independent hearings panel made public

August 10-18: Council will make decisions on the plan

August 19: Decisions notified on council website

September 16: Period for appeals ends

When will the plan come into force?

The earliest date is September 16 if there are no appeals - and there are limited grounds for appeal. If there are appeals, those parts of the plan will use the current rules until the matters have been resolved. The timetable for appeals is up to the courts.

Will the new mayor or council be able to change the Unitary Plan after October's local body elections?

The new council could amend the plan through a plan change process in the Resource Management Act. It could also resolve to review the whole plan.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 25 Sep 2016 17:54:52 Processing Time: 42ms