Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Easing public fears on city blueprint

Council rethinking Unitary Plan to answer residents' worries on building heights and new apartments in suburbs.

Mayor Len Brown has signalled a backdown on heights in some coastal settlements. Photo / NZPA
Mayor Len Brown has signalled a backdown on heights in some coastal settlements. Photo / NZPA

Lower building heights, tighter controls on developers and giving the public the right to object to apartment buildings are among changes being considered for suburbs in Auckland's Unitary Plan.

In an exclusive interview, Unitary Plan manager John Duguid says the mayor and councillors have to get their heads around some "big topics" when it comes to apartments in the suburbs.

Many of the nearly 1400 submissions on the draft Unitary Plan focused on developers getting an easy ride and the public being shut out when it comes to building "small-scale apartments" in suburban streets and four-, five- and six-storey apartments close to town centres.

Mayor Len Brown has signalled a backdown on heights in some coastal settlements and the "need to moderate some of our positions" without compromising the compact-city model of "a little up and a little out".

Mr Duguid said one of the big concerns from the Auckland 2040 lobby group and others was that neighbours should be involved in apartment developments, and applications should be fully notified when they breached the rules.

Under the draft Unitary Plan, the public have no say when developers want to build an apartment block in their street and no say when they apply to breach the rules.

Mr Duguid said officers were looking at whether infringing the height limit should be publicly notified and whether there should be some flexibility - such as an extra storey or two - before an application is notified.

The third option was to have a fixed height limit, but that was very restrictive, he said.

Another issue is a rule that makes it easier for developers to build five or more dwellings in the terraced housing and apartment building zone than to build up to four dwellings.

Mr Duguid said this rule was put in the Unitary Plan to get the most efficient use of residential land close to town centres, public transport and community facilities.

However, he said the rule was causing some concern for people considering small-scale developments, such as subdividing a section.

Mr Duguid said officers would ask councillors if they wanted to continue focusing on higher intensity or provide equally for lower and higher intensity.

Former Auckland City Council planner Allan Kirk said the rule was a reversal in New Zealand planning philosophy, which was about placing a limit on height, space and number of dwellings.

"You could say it's a case where the council is saying, 'The applicant isn't being greedy enough here'," Mr Kirk said.

Under review

Mixed housing
*Coverage: 49 per cent of suburban Auckland.
*Maximum height: 3 storeys
*Rules: One house per 300sq m. Where a developer has more than 1200sq m of land and a 20m street frontage, they can build up to two storeys with no density rules as a "permitted activity". Developers can apply to build to three storeys subject to conditions as a "non notified restricted discretionary" activity. No public input.
*Possible changes: Giving neighbours and the public a say when developers want to build three storeys or breach controls. Three-storey apartments could become "discretionary".

Terraced housing and apartment buildings
*Coverage: 7 per cent of suburban Auckland.
*Maximum height: 4, 5 or 6 storeys, depending on location.
*Rules: Up to four dwellings is a "discretionary activity". Five or more dwellings is the easier "restricted discretionary activity". Developers can apply to exceed height limits if a building is 7m from the boundary and has a 30m frontage. No public input.
*Possible changes: Giving neighbours and the public a say. Having the same rules regardless of the number of dwellings. Making it harder for developers to build above the height limits or breach the rules by making "discretionary" applications.

Activity status - from easy to hard
*Permitted activity: Building work that can be done as of right. Resource consent not required.
*Controlled activity: Building work that requires a resource consent. Conditions imposed.
*Restricted discretionary activity: Resource consent required. Council can only consider specific matters. Conditions can be imposed.
*Discretionary activity: Resource consent required. Conditions can be imposed. Can be notified.
*Non-complying activity: Resource consent required. Wide open to what council may consider. Usually publicly notified.
*Prohibited activity: Not allowed.

Source: Resource Management Act

- NZ Herald

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