Auckland councillors have mixed views on the issue of replacing some of the city's kauri villas and bungalows with six-storey apartments to help address the city's housing crisis.
But after an all-day planning meeting, a majority of councillors voted to proceed with a Government directive to increase intensification deep inside many traditional suburbs and along public transport routes.
Mayor Phil Goff said the issue is about finding a balance between intensification and protecting what is important to the city in the way of cultural and architectural heritage.
He said the council is required to implement the Government's National Policy Statement (NPS) on Urban Development, which gives the council discretion to keep some special character areas.
"We are not going to send in the bulldozers and wipe out the old villas," said Goff.
The most stringent intensification directives in the NPS are directed at high-growth cities like Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
In Christchurch, Mayor Lianne Dalziel and councillors have pushed back at the NPS.
Dalziel told the Herald the council supports the underlying intent of the NPS, but is concerned it will enable over-intensification in some suburban areas at the expense of amenity value for residents.
She has written to Environment Minister David Parker, saying considerable thought has gone into the rebuild of Christchurch for a "lower rise quality built environment" and asked to meet the minister to discuss the matter.
Albany councillor John Watson said it is a farcical process, saying the council should not just roll over.
He said the council had been through the process of protecting the few special character areas in Auckland and should not knock down old houses for new homes that most people cannot afford.
Said councillor Wayne Walker: "We have got more than enough provision for housing in Auckland for decades to come. We should not have to sacrifice areas that go to the heart of Auckland."
Waitakere councillor Shane Henderson said the council is being conservative when it needs to be ambitious.
The father of one said the choice of his generation and younger is "do I have kids or buy a house", saying the balancing act needed to come down on the side of housing.
Jacques Victor, the council's general manager for long-term planning, said the National Policy Statement on Urban Development will create more houses, more competition, greater choice and have an effect on house prices over time, but will not address affordability for a lot of people.
He said the city could do with more development capacity, but other things need to be done to address affordability.
"A lot more has to be done. This is not the solution," Victor said.
Under the NPS, the council must allow for unlimited development in the central city, at least six storeys within metropolitan centres and at least six storeys within walkable catchments around the central city, metropolitan centres and existing and planned rapid transit stops.
In the biggest change to planning rules since the Unitary Plan, developers will be able to build tall apartment buildings within a 15-minute walk of the central city and 10-minute walk of metropolitan areas like Takapuna, Newmarket, Henderson and Albany under the NPS.
The biggest impact will be on suburban areas currently zoned for single houses close to the metropolitan centres.
Auckland Council strategy chief Megan Tyler has said "it will mean changes to the way we work and live and how our city works".
She said the NPS contains "qualifying matters" that are excluded from the new rules, including things of national significance in the Resource Management Act, such as protecting listed historic heritage.
The council is also including special character areas in the Unitary Plan, or about 30,000 homes, as an additional "qualifying matter", she said.
These homes are mostly in the city's early suburbs like Ponsonby, Herne Bay, St Marys Bay, Grey Lynn, Parnell, Birkenhead and Devonport.
Street-based surveys of special character properties have started to assess whether each property has high, medium or low qualities. Only high-quality houses will retain special character status. Medium and low-quality houses will lose protection and be rezoned.
Council heritage manager Noel Reardon today said each house would be tested against six criteria - scale, relationship to street, period of development, typology, architectural style, and level of physical integrity. Houses would have to pass five of the six criteria to retain special character status.
Tyler and plans and place general manager John Duguid could not say how many of the 30,000 properties will be in or out of qualifying for the updated special character status. The fate of the special character areas outside walkable catchments will be addressed in a report to the planning committee next month, Duguid said.
The two planners said the changes are likely to be at street or area level with logical boundaries to avoid perverse outcomes of pepper-potting of six-storey buildings in a one- and two-storey area.
Reardon said if you had a street of special character where three of the sites did not meet the criteria and you built six storeys that would invariably alter the character of the street.
After the council has completed the survey and done work on other intensification changes across the rest of the city, there will be public consultation on the proposed changes in August next year.
The directive from the Government to increase intensification comes as the council today announced 1708 dwellings were consented in May. This brought the number of consents issued in the last 12 months to 18,565 - up 28 per cent in the last year.
Goff said the figures demonstrated the effectiveness of the Unitary Plan, which sets out to create a more compact city with housing intensification replacing sprawl.