Auckland councillors will take the next step today in a long-running culture war over the city's urban identity between residents who want to preserve suburbs of historic housing and advocates pushing for greater intensification. Super City reporter Bernard Orsman explains what's taking place.
In a nutshell, what are councillors voting on today?
The council's planning committee is voting on feedback to proposed changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan, the city's planning blueprint that came into effect in 2016.
Why are changes being made to the Unitary Plan?
The Government, through a new law, passed in December, and changes to the National Policy Statement - Urban Development (NPS-UD), has instructed the country's fastest growing cities to change their planning documents to allow for more intensification.
What changes under the new law and NPS-UD?
In July 2020, the Government released the NPS-UD requiring Auckland Council to enable apartments of six storeys or more within walkable distances of the city centre, 10 metropolitan centres and rapid transit stops. It also does away with car parking requirements in urban areas.
This was followed by a Housing Enabling Bill, cooked up by Labour and National with the backing of their respective leaders Jacinda Ardern and Christopher Luxon and their Auckland MPs. The law, passed last December, allows people to build up to three homes of up to three storeys high on most sites with few planning rules without a resource consent. Large sites can be subdivided for more housing.
Where does the loss of the city's wooden villas and bungalows fit in?
The new law gives councils discretion to consider "qualifying matters", such as heritage and areas at risk from natural hazards. Auckland Council has chosen to make heritage a qualifying matter.
How has the council gone about making heritage a qualifying matter?
The council proposed that "Special Character Areas" - council jargon for the city's villas and bungalows with heritage value - should be kept within walkable areas of busy centres where 75 per cent or more of individual properties have high character values. Outside walkable areas, the threshold is 66 per cent.
A council review of the Special Character Areas assessed whether each property has high, medium or low qualities. Anything less than a high score of 5 or 6 is "out the door".
Following the review, the council opted to rezone nearly one in four of 21,000 homes with heritage values in 'Special Character Areas' for high density housing.
The most impacted areas are St Marys Bay, Birkenhead and Northcote, Epsom, Remuera and Parnell. Mt Albert gets some change, and most of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn is unaffected.
Feedback to the proposal in April/May found 65 per cent support to retain Special Character Areas.
Who are the main protagonists in the culture war?
The Character Coalition, a coalition of 60 heritage and community groups, is on the side of heritage. The Coalition for More Homes, representing charities, trade unions and think tanks, is on the side of increasing density. Politicians and lobby groups, such as Generation Zero, also hold strong views.
In the Weekend Herald, Devonport Heritage chair Margot McRae and Coalition for More Homes spokesman Oscar Sims, set out the cases for preserving heritage and building more homes. What did they say?
She accused the Government of wanting to "wipe out" Auckland's historic suburbs, accusing ministers of not giving a toss about what residents want for the city.
Auckland is already building record numbers of homes and the Unitary Plan has capacity for 900,000 more homes.
McRae and the Character Coalition say demolishing villas in wealthy historic suburbs will not provide any new housing remotely affordable.
The reality of the legislation will be to scatter bad housing randomly, wrecking the homes of many Aucklanders with young homeowners finding their backyards with the kids' sandpits shaded by 12m housing blocks.
Environment Minister David Parker has the final say and can overrule local democratic decisions, said McRae, but it's the job of Auckland councillors to care and to work to ensure Auckland is a great city.
"It will be up to councillors to decide whether they will stand up for their city's identity, history and liveability or cave in to the threats from central government."
He says the coalition is taking a stand for a more liveable Auckland - and that means increasing density in the inner suburbs.
The debate is focused around "walkable catchments" - areas around town centres and transport hubs that the new laws will allow new housing where it will be more convenient to get from home to work, school and the shops.
Sims rejects the argument increasing density in inner suburbs will do nothing to improve affordability for the rest of Auckland.
"This ignores basic supply and demand - if we build more homes, then it will ease the pressure on the market, helping affordability."
In 2022, we've reached the point where expanding our city upward has to be part of the solution - and putting the bulk of new houses on the city fringe will confine future generations to long commutes on traffic-choked motorways.
"Auckland Council must allow more medium and high-density housing in our inner suburbs if we want to avoid this."
What will councillors be voting on?
The recommendation is to support the principles of the NPS-UD and the approach in the Special Character Areas, which is to retain about 75 per cent and rezone about 25 per cent for high density housing.
What happens next?
In August this year, the council will publicly notify changes to the Unitary Plan based on the proposed changes being made today.
Once submissions close, an independent hearings panel will consider them and hear from submitters before making recommendations to the council to make the necessary changes to the Unitary Plan.
If the council rejects any of the recommendations, Environment Minister David Parker will have the final say. The process does not allow for appeals to the Environment Court.