Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Unitary Plan: Potential conflicts loom on road ahead

A plan to change Aucklanders' way of life through intensification is coming under attack as people wake up to the implications for their neighbourhoods. Bernard Orsman looks at the flashpoints.

Papakura's Selwyn Chapel what would be possible under the new rules. The council says the image fails to meet form and design quality rules. Photo / Character Coalition
Papakura's Selwyn Chapel what would be possible under the new rules. The council says the image fails to meet form and design quality rules. Photo / Character Coalition

Heights
Height is at the top of many people's minds with the Unitary Plan.

Whether it's walls of apartments on the ridges overlooking Browns Bay or 18-storey high rises in Newmarket, the council is facing a chorus of complaints.

Buildings in central Auckland will have no height restriction, and 10 metro centres such as Takapuna, Henderson, Botany and Newmarket will have an 18-storey limit. In another 37 town centres, the limit will be eight, six and four storeys, and in local centres, such as Mt Eden, it will be three or four storeys.

To prevent a canyon effect, any buildings of four storeys or more will have to be set back from the street and require resource consent.

After nine weeks of saying the maximum height of "small scale apartment buildings" in the residential "mixed housing" zone was two storeys, it emerged last week that the height limit is three storeys.

Residential zones/density
Moving out of the metro, town and local centres into residential areas, the council has created two zones for intensification - terrace housing and apartments; and mixed housing. There are two zones with no change - single house and large lots on the fringes.

The terraced housing and apartment zone will generally be within 250m of metro, town and local centres, and will fill 7 per cent of the city's urban area. The mixed housing zone (49 per cent of the urban area) allows for one house per 300sq m with no density limits when developers landbank more than 1200sq m and have a minimum 20m street frontage.

The single housing zone (35 per cent) permits one house per 500sq m, and the single lot zone (9 per cent) covers large lots, mostly on the urban fringe.

Writing in the Herald, David Gibbs, director of the architectural firm Construkt that has worked on plans for Hobsonville Pt, Long Bay and Glen Innes, said sections of 300sq m were still too big for a good-size three- or four-bedroom home when more households were becoming single person or couples without children.

Section sizes of 170-180sq m were ample, he said, citing well-designed two-bedroom homes at Hobsonville Pt on 190sq m.

The days of "shoebox" apartments are back with plans to reduce the minimum apartment size from 35sq m to 30sq m, plus a minimum balcony space of 8sq m.

Overlays
What can or cannot be done in each zone is dependent on what "overlays" affect a specific property or area.

Regional planning manager Penny Pirrit says overlays take into account the things people value and want to protect, including local characteristics, heritage, volcanic view shafts and natural features. The rules do not say that sites subject to overlays can never be developed but they do ensure a thorough assessment before development is approved or not.

Rural development
The Auckland Council plans to build 440,000 houses over the next 30 years, 160,000 of which will be on rural land outside the existing urban boundary.

The towns of Pukekohe and Warkworth and communities served by the Northwestern Motorway, such as Kumeu and Brigham Creek, are among rural areas earmarked to contribute to Auckland's growth.

About 90,000 of these homes will be on new land at Warkworth, Silverdale, Whenuapai, Kumeu and Huapai in the north/northwest and Pukekohe, Paerata, Drury and Karaka in the south.

The other 70,000 homes will be within Warkworth and Pukekohe, and rural and coastal towns and villages such as Beachlands, Bombay, Snells Beach, Piha, Wellsford and Whitford.

Freeing up more rural land for housing is getting a mixed reception from farmers and people wanting to preserve rural and coastal environments.

This month, the council and Government announced a streamline process to free up rural and "brownfield" land in the existing urban boundary for residential developments.

Design controls
Auckland Council design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid acknowledges previous councils made "severe mistakes" with design.

"But I do not live in the past. What was missing then was design quality. What is in place now are a series of design quality checks. Design will be the final arbitrator of the success of projects.

"Design will be the X-factor," he says.

The council is preparing a design manual, but this will only guide developers and has no statutory teeth.

Carol Scott, in a letter to the Herald, said the council's "quality first" principle and design manual will rely on council officers having a persuasive chat with developers.

"Since when have developers been easily persuaded to put quality design before financial return?" she asked.

Heritage
The proposed rewrite of Auckland's tarnished heritage rules leaves power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and shuts out the public.

This is the view of the Character Coalition - a group of heritage and community organisations - that called for Auckland to follow Brisbane, which prevents demolition of pre-1945 houses unless the owner can make a case. The public have a say in the process.

On a visit to Auckland in March, Queensland Government architect Malcolm Middleton said the Brisbane model had been considered radical when introduced 15 years ago, but was now largely accepted and worked for the amenity and value of character suburbs.

The rules in the draft Unitary Plan will see council or consultant planners using case law to decide if applications to demolish or remove a house would be publicly notified or not. The council says more applications will be publicly notified. When this method was used by the former North Shore City Council, two of 17 applications were notified in eight years.

The council has proposed widening the heritage net to pre-1944 houses outside the existing heritage character areas and requiring owners to obtain a resource consent for demolition. The council, however, says the public will have no say in this process and officers will make the call because many landowners bought in these areas knowing they were not heritage areas.

Mayor Len Brown and chief executive Doug McKay are refusing to release the documents of a political working party, that meets behind closed doors, used to draw up the heritage rules.

Volcanic cones
The hard-fought protections of Auckland's iconic volcanic cones are being relaxed.

Instead of Aucklanders having much control of the maunga and the view shafts or sightlines, which criss-cross the isthmus, officers are being handed the reins.

At present, any attempts to build higher than 9m under a view shaft is a "non-complying" activity, publicly notified and all but impossible to get permission for.

The plan proposes an 8m height prohibition at the base of cones that would be publicly notified. Back from that, buildings of up to 20m can be constructed under "restricted discretionary" provisions and approved by council officers without giving the public a say.

The relaxed rules have horrified retired Auckland City senior planner Allan Kirk, who helped set up the original view shafts in 1977 following the uproar of The Pines apartment tower on the side of Mt Eden.

He is also alarmed at a number of "permitted" and "restricted discretionary" activities allowed on volcanic cones and conservation open spaces, including the construction of buildings, recreation centres, retail, marae complexes, art works and camping grounds.

Young vs old
Michael Goudie, a 28-year-old councillor, was picked by Mayor Len Brown and Penny Hulse to fire up young people to counter the views of generally older "Nimbys" - Not in My Backyard.

But instead of a legitimate campaign to get teens and 20-somethings to jump on social media with their views, Brown and Hulse turned a blind eye when Goudie promoted an anonymous blog labelling the elderly as "selfish, arrogant and narrow-minded" who should "just hurry up and die".

More constructive has been a campaign by Generation Zero, a group of young people supporting the compact city model of medium density "done well" with affordable housing and better public transport.

Noise
Herald columnist Brian Rudman says unless the politicians wake up, they're going to preside over a potentially noisier residential Auckland than we have now.

He found the draft plan acknowledged setting noise standards to reflect more intense living and minimising, where practical, noise at its source to mitigate adverse effects on adjacent properties.

But instead of aiming for quietest possible standards set out in the New Zealand Standards - between 45-55 dBA Leq (equivalent continuous level) in the day and 35-45 dBA Leq at night, with a maximum burst of sound of 70-75 dBA, the council "have taken the easy way out".

For any non-residential activity measured at the boundary of a residential property, the dBA Leq from 7am to 10pm can be 55dBA, falling to 45dBA at night and Sundays, with a maximum of 75dBA. For noise created within residential zones, the maximum level allowed at the next door boundary is 5dBA less all round.

Getting involved
The council has a website on the unitary plan, www.shapeauckland.co.nz, which is difficult to navigate. Be patient and you will find details about what is proposed for your property and neighbourhood, details of community meetings, a blog and social media forums.

The council has provided limited hard copies of the unitary plan in some libraries.

The public can give feedback until May 31. The council will then consider submissions and make changes before formally notifying the unitary plan in September. It will then go through a special hearing process before it becomes operative in three to four years' time.

shapeauckland.co.nz
Visit the website for more information or to give feedback

In focus: Mixed housing zone
The mixed housing zone, probably the most controversial in the Unitary Plan, covers 49 per cent of the residential land area in urban Auckland.

The zone allows for one house per 300sq m. But where a developer has more than 1200sq m of land and a 20m street frontage, the developer can build to 8m (two storeys) with no density rules.

A developer can apply apply to build to 10m (three storeys) as a "non-notified restricted discretionary activity". Non-notified means the decision will be made by council officers with no public input. Restricted discretionary means the council can only consider specified matters and no others. For the mixed housing zone the matters to be considered are:

*Development design
*Dwelling design
*Neighbourhood character
*Height in relation to boundary
*Sunlight and daylight access
*Building interface with the public realm
*Design of carparking, access and servicing

Matters excluded from consideration:

*Intensity and scale
*Noise
*Traffic
*Wastewater capacity

Developers can apply and be granted concessions outside the zone's controls if they show the effects on the environment are "less than minor".

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 19 Sep 2014 16:54:13 Processing Time: 780ms