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Source: Auckland Council

Auckland Council’s Planning Committee has endorsed policy approaches for implementing the government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) to guide further work to prepare for public engagement on changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan in August 2022.

The NPS-UD is government policy aiming to improve housing affordability. It directs councils to allow for more housing and businesses to be built – with greater height and density – in places close to jobs, community services and public transport and in response to market demand.

Yesterday, the council’s Planning Committee agreed policy approaches to walkable catchments around Auckland’s city centre, ten metropolitan centres and rapid transit stops. It also agreed to the ‘qualifying matters’ for Auckland – the characteristics that may modify required building heights in some areas where it’s justified.

Planning Committee chair Councillor Chris Darby says: “Auckland’s massive growth challenges are putting increasing pressure on our available housing and driving a generation of Aucklanders away from their city because they’re finding it hard to see a future here.

“We need to take some action and do things differently because this problem is running away on us. The Government understands this, and we need to share in the responsibility of addressing this issue.

“Auckland has been going down the road of higher-density housing for people to live closer to public transport and large urban centres with the Auckland Unitary Plan since 2016 and we’re now seeing a real desire from people for different types of housing.

“There are significant numbers of consents for new multi-storeys homes such as apartments and townhouses – 59 per cent of new homes consented in May 2021. With more people, around 25 per cent in the past year, choosing to live within walking distances to rapid transit.

“Our plans need to keep up with the city’s growth and with the demand from Aucklanders to have more housing choices in the places they want to live.”

The NPS-UD requires unlimited development capacity in the city centre, building heights of at least 6-storeys in the 10 metropolitan centres and within walkable catchments to the city centre, metropolitan centres and existing and planned rapid transit stops.

By law, Auckland Council must implement the NPS-UD and amend its planning documents. There is only limited flexibility for the council to tailor the NPS-UD to Auckland’s urban environment.

The policy approaches endorsed by the Planning Committee for further work include:

  • a 15-minute walkable catchment around the city centre (around 1200 metre) and a 10-minute walkable catchment around the 10 metropolitan centres (around 800 metres).
  • a 10-minute walkable catchment around existing and planned rapid transit stops (around 800 metres).
  • the ‘qualifying matters’ for Auckland that may modify (or reduce) the NPS-UD directives for building heights of at least 6-storeys on the basis it’s supported by robust evidence.
  • retain special character areas of high-quality within walkable catchments as a qualifying matter with the existing Auckland Unitary Plan zoning of mostly two storeys.
  • in instances, where retaining the current special character zoning significantly impacts the development capacity required by the NPS-UD, further assessments will be completed to enable buildings of at least 6-storeys in some parts of the special character areas.
  • in places where character is of medium or low quality enable buildings of at least 6-storeys unless another qualifying matter applies.
  • where historic heritage is identified within the special character areas progress a plan change to protect it under the Auckland Unitary Plan.
  • include new policies on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Auckland Unitary Plan.
  • develop new criteria for responding to private proposals for significant developments based on key topics, including scale, location, proximity to public transport and the availability and funding of infrastructure.

“The character homes of older residential suburbs are important to Auckland’s overall identity and are one of the physical representations of what makes our city unique,” says Councillor Darby.

“Aucklanders are proud of it, and we know that if they disappear, they can’t be replaced. It is possible to provide for new homes while preserving the value of our character areas in the same way as cities like Sydney and London. But we need to approach this carefully with a thorough evidence-based analysis which is now underway.

“We are only at the start of a lengthy period of detailed policy work ahead of Aucklanders having their say.”

Walkable catchments

Walkable catchments distances are a starting point for further work. They will follow actual pedestrian routes and may change in some places to accommodate differences in the urban environment around the city centre, the 10 metropolitan centres, and rapid transit stops that may limit the distance people can walk in 10 or 15 minutes.

These include typography – is it steep or flat, traffic volumes, street crossings, block sizes and barriers such as wide roads and motorways that make it difficult, or impossible, for people to cross.

Special character areas

Many of Auckland’s older residential suburbs were built around the early public transport networks and town centres, which are the areas the NPS-UD now directs the council to enable buildings of at least 6-storeys.

This would likely compromise the character qualities within these areas but also means special character areas could have a significant impact on the development capacity for more housing that the NPS-UD requires.

The NPS-UD does not allow blanket protections. This means we need a balanced approach between allowing special character areas to continue making a significant contribution to Auckland’s built landscape and the government’s strong direction to enable more housing in these areas to provide more homes and better access for people to jobs, community services and other amenities.

Qualifying matters

The NPS-UD requirements the enable buildings of at least 6-storeys may be modified (or reduced) where the characteristics of an area make it inappropriate. These ‘qualifying matters’ include things of national significance in the Resource Management Act, such as protecting historic heritage and the relationship of Māori to their ancestral lands and taonga.

However, while the council has some discretion it must provide robust evidence justifying why qualifying matters should modify building heights, including surveys of specific sites, and even then, the council may need to allow for more higher-density housing than is currently planned for.

Next steps

The policy approaches agreed to today are just starting points for the more detailed policy work. The council is required to publicly notify changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan for public submissions in August 2022.

Next month, proposed approaches for implementing the NPS-UD requirements for building height and density in all other areas of the city will be considered.

See OurAuckland for more information on the council’s response to the government’s NPS-UD.

MIL OSI