As New Zealand and the world urbanise at speed, urban policies have become more critical than ever. In Auckland, many of these policies are described in the Unitary Plan — a rulebook creating choices for where we live and work.

A simple Unitary Plan of self-determination is appealing, but land use choices are riddled with unintended consequences.

A neighbour's renovations will affect your view, a new liquor store in town is unwelcome, a neighbour's unmown lawns are putting off potential house buyers.

This makes urban planning complex, a careful balancing of the needs of everyone — home owners and renters, young and old.


Despite this complexity, discussion on Auckland's urban policy is often reduced to "up" (intensification) or "out" (sprawl).

This simplification overlooks three key issues — Auckland Council's proposed urban limit policy, the policies underlying a compact city and the political economy of urban policy.

The proposed plan vastly extends the urban limit, aiming for an average of seven years infrastructure-ready land supply available at all times. Once implemented, around 20 per cent more urban zoned land will be available. This is enough for up to 76,000 new dwellings (roughly equivalent to all of Hamilton).

Calls for more land supply miss the solutions being implemented.

Proposed policies for a compact city are also misunderstood.

Compact living policies are about creating choices, by reducing existing regulations that stop people living in higher density areas, when they want to.

The inherited planning framework by Auckland Council is heavily biased towards the "quarter acre section" through rigid regulations. This creates a push for urban sprawl.

The city's rules prevent the supply of housing people want in the areas they want to live in - close to the city, with good transport and other amenities.


These preferences are clearly shown in soaring house prices on Auckland's isthmus.

The draft plan was designed to create greater housing choice. But this has been scaled back significantly during public consultation.

Residents want to preserve their lot, but it comes at a cost to future Aucklanders. New height limits have been introduced in many suburbs, while existing height limits have been tightened, as have density constraints which means it will be harder to gain access to attractive suburbs.

Present homeowners benefit by such policies, as restrictions create scarcity and increase house prices. But for the expected one million new residents over the next 30 years or for the poor seeking access to the city centre, the news is bad.

Two important conclusions have emerged from the Unitary Plan process. Planners are wrongly vilified for Auckland's high house prices. Planners' have been arguing for greater housing choice and this was represented in the draft plan.

And the political economy plays a defining role in Auckland's urban policy. Housing choice was cut back significantly following community consultation.

Improving housing affordability and creating greater housing choice require radically new models of planning. Reduced regulations could be exchanged for greater local amenity, improved levels of service, financial compensation or some combination.

Auckland cannot succeed on the global stage if we shackle it from within. Unless we make considered changes, we will be trapped in a vicious cycle of high house prices, financial instability, congestion and a stunted economy.