Grant Gillon: Dense cities need the right space

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Photo / Brett Phibbs
Photo / Brett Phibbs

Peter White argues that Takapuna can become the intensification show home for Auckland and articulates the many benefits of intensification.

However, many reports over the last six years have identified several serious concerns with apartments that had been built in the Auckland Council area. A report produced by Aaron Sills van Bohemen for North Shore City Council pointed out that it is clear that density alone does not deliver benefits unless other issues are addressed as well. These include adequate open space and pedestrian friendly streets.

So, yes there was fearful reaction to the Studio D4 and Jasmax proposals that two of the three heritage zoned areas on the North Shore, (Birkenhead and Northcote Points) be subject to intensification but this fear was rational and justified. Communities have for too long suffered from the effects of bad planning decisions and short-term development politics as examples well illustrate.

North Shore City had suffered under numerous examples of poor residential developments built with little regard of their effect on the public domain. Concerns have included poor amenities such as a lack of provision for disabled, elderly and children. For example in some developments, residents' parking is mingled with the area in which most children play. Also, residents struggle up several floors with shopping, washing and young children. Affordable maybe, but certainly not always pleasant living.

European apartment lifestyles are often held out as the inspiration for duplication in this country. But while most European countries have regulated sizes for apartments, New Zealand is unusual in the developed world by not having minimum housing size standards.

Auckland City residents found this out to their cost. Apartments of only 18 square metres and even 12 square metres were reported in Auckland back in 2005. This led to a report to Auckland City advising that there had been significant community concerns with the size of individual units and the lack of internal and external amenity including matters such as natural lighting, ventilation, noise attenuation, and separation distances. There was a "lack of control to require quality built form design".

As a result Auckland City implemented a plan change (Appendix 12) that introduced minimum apartment standards. This change effectively required new apartments to be a minimum of 35 m2 for studio apartments, 45 m2 (single bedroom, 70 m2 (2 bedroom) and 90 m2 for three bedroom apartments.

But when North Shore City attempted to introduce similar minimum apartment sizes some politicians (presumably the same political leaders mentioned by Peter White) argued for smaller ones (Strategy and Finance Committee 20 July 2010). After a long, divided and sometimes difficult debate the North Shore City Council eventually decided upon introducing minimum standards (larger than those proposed by officers), similar to the new Auckland City ones, to ensure some control over size and design.

But, even 'The London Plan 2009' (with the smallest minimums in Europe) and Sydney set minimum standards higher than Auckland and North Shore.

As van Bohemen pointed out in the report for North Shore City, good design is crucial for apartment living (i.e. intensification) to be a viable long-term option for us. Unfortunately there is no practical way to legislate for good design. But minimum apartment sizes are a useful start. I hope that the new Auckland Council sets minimum standards for across Auckland that are not standardised but are appropriately adapted to the needs of particular suburbs.

* Dr. Grant Gillon is a former North Shore City councilor and current Kaipatki Local Board member.

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