The days of tiny Auckland apartments are over in the inner city with the introduction of new design controls today, including a minimum studio apartment size.

Cramped apartments with poor ventilation, no sound-proofing, little natural light, and windowless and cupboard-like bedrooms will be banned.

Cheek-by-jowl apartments will be banned. Flat, ugly concrete towers will be banned.

The city's smallest apartments are about 12sq m. The Herald has visited apartments smaller than a prison cell, including a windowless room with one bed suspended in the roof area and another on the floor in an area slightly longer than a human body and about 2m wide.

The new design controls for apartments are the third initiative by the Auckland City Council in the past week to improve the appearance of the city after years of weak planning rules, lax building controls and a rubber-stamping culture by council staff.

Last Friday, Mayor Dick Hubbard announced sweeping changes affecting 16,300 character homes. On Tuesday he announced a radical blueprint to score every new building on its urban design merits to throw out mediocre plans and fast-track quality plans.

Today, Deputy Mayor Dr Bruce Hucker is "sounding the death knell of the pokey apartment, ugly building era" with a series of design controls for the central area district plan.

As flagged by the Herald last week, the council is introducing minimum apartment sizes. The minimum size for a studio will be 35sq m, including an 11sq m living area, 9sq m bedroom area, 5sq m for a kitchen, 5sq m balcony and the rest for a bathroom, laundry and entry area.

The council is also taking a hard line on exterior urban design standards following an explosion in the number of cheap, ugly residential high-rise towers. New apartment blocks will have to be of "highest quality, showing creativity, innovation" and "harmonise with and complement the streetscape".

At ground level, apartments must excite pedestrians with architectural detail, shops and public open spaces. There will be minimum distances between apartment towers, for example, 25m between two 50m-tall buildings.

These controls are too late for more than a dozen apartment towers that have got resource consent and have still to be built. They include the 417-apartment Volt building on the prime Mayoral Drive and Queen St corner and four towers in Hobson St.

Dr Hucker said the controls were in the mid-range of an international study of apartment standards and were aimed to lift the quality of apartment buildings without a big increase in cost.

"I think this is a fairly balanced package ... I don't think we have swung over to the extreme at all," Dr Hucker said.

But Martin Dunn, head of apartment sales specialist City Sales, said "unrealistic" apartment sizes would price new developments off the market. An acceptable size for studios was 25sq m, 35sq m for one-bedroom, 60sq m for two-bedroom and 90sq m for three-plus bedrooms.

Mr Dunn said he knew of woman paying $230 a week in rent for a 20sq m studio at the Meridian in Howe St who loved living there.

"It's quite a sexy little building. The issue should not be about size but about building aesthetics and safety," Mr Dunn said.

The new controls are also going to stop design-led projects like Columbard in Wyndham St with 144 16sq m units, marketed as short-term crashpads for $220 to $295 a week.

The design controls will be applied to a new plan change for the Victoria Quarter, bounded by Hobson St, Fanshawe St, Halsey St, Victoria St West and Union St, announced today. The quarter includes the Victoria Park market site and the former former council depot, where the council wants a quality public open space on the Wellesley St frontage.


Minimum sizes:

* Studio 35sq m
* 1 bedroom 45sq m
* 2 bedroom 70sq m
* 3-plus bedroom 90sq m

Other rules:

* 2.4m min ceiling height for bed and living rooms; 2.3m other rooms (currently 2.2m).

* 1.5m minimum corridor width.

* Windows to be at least 20 per cent of floor area of exterior rooms.

* Minimum internal storage and wardrobe space.

* Separation distance between buildings. For example, 25m between two 50m buildings.