Auckland reaches its 176th anniversary on the verge of a substantial change. The "unitary plan" that will permit higher density development in many residential areas of the city must finally be approved by the Auckland Council this year.

It seems an eternity since the first draft of the plan was released, bringing an outcry from all corners of the region at the prospect of three-storey apartments next door. Few were mollified by the fact that modern multi-unit developments need not be solid blocks they fear. Well designed, they can be an attractive composite of dwellings, each with some outdoor privacy and offering a sense of community.

It has to be hoped they do, because after two years of outrage and closed-door council deliberations, the revised unitary plan issued last month still allows swathes of "intensification" throughout the city. It is time, perhaps, to accept the inevitable. Auckland is bursting at the seams. It is where most of the latest immigration wave are settling, as well as the greater number of New Zealanders returning to the country than leaving it, and continuing internal migration.

Auckland is now home to a quarter of New Zealand's people, one of the largest proportions of any country's population, and half the nation lives north of Lake Taupo, the Auckland province that shares the anniversary today.


It is not only the number of people pressing into the city making closer living inevitable. The large and growing Asian population seems more accustomed to apartments, inner-city life and public transport. The city's population is also younger than the national average, with more young couples and families trying to afford houses at prices reflecting not just the building industry's failure to cope with demand but the attractions of property investment to immigrants and established home-owners.

Rising house values, which appear to be slowing in Auckland since October's tax changes and November's lending restrictions, are now spilling over to other cities of the former province. But projected population growth in the big city has put paid to the old argument of whether expansion should be outwards or upwards.

Auckland City is already spreading on its perimeter, at Pokeno in the Waikato District, at Kumeu in the west and Silverdale to the north. Soon, it is likely to have more high rise on main roads and around suburban centres with railway stations.

The resistance to high density development at centres such as Panmure and, very recently, Milford, will continue. Remuera and the rest of the eastern suburbs may become hotbeds of opposition to the density of development coming to them.

But some might consider their protests a bit rich considering what many are doing of their own volition. The trend in house building and renovation is to do away with gardens and lawns and build to the maximum area permitted. Often enough, sections are subdivided and two or more homes are built almost to the boundaries.

Aucklanders have been reducing outdoor living space and intensifying suburbs since long before they heard of a unitary plan. The city has to fit many more people in and the plan needs to ensure it is done well.