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Intensification plans: Auckland Council speaks out

Maximising land use through intensification is part of the solution to the tough problem of Auckland’s supply shortage, says Auckland Council’s chief economist.

Thursday, August 20th 2015, 7:52PM

by Miriam Bell

The Independent Hearing Panel’s hearings into the Unitary Plan’s residential development controls and assessment are due to take place in October.

With the date fast approaching, the hot topic of Auckland’s intensification is generating strong views and, once again, headlines.

The NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) recently released its report on intensification, which was produced for the Council.

Now, to follow the NZIER report up, the Council’s chief economist Chris Parker has said Auckland has to economise on the massive amount of urban land it already has - and use it to its best effect.

Auckland needs to treat its land like gold dust, and a little needs to go a long way, Parker said in his latest quarterly newsletter.

“As well as making the size of the city bigger, there needs to be more dwellings like townhouses, low-level apartments, high-rise apartments where demand is highest (especially the inner suburbs).”

This would help housing affordability in future by increasing the supply of homes generally and by increasing the volume of lower priced attached dwellings specifically.

Current property owners would also benefit from intensification due to increasing land prices, Parker said.

“Intensification will benefit younger generations by providing them with more affordable homes closer to where they work and play.

“But it will also help older people in retirement to cash in on their wealthy properties and live in a downsized modern home without needing to move away from their community.”

However, there are many people with opposing views, who are worried about what intensification could mean.

For example, it was recently reported that neighbourhood residents groups are concerned large parts of the “single house zone” will be rezoned to allow developments with no density controls.

Auckland Council Unitary Plan manager John Duguid said such speculation was premature as discussion on mapping the zones had not even begun.

He said the Council was not changing the rules on the “single house zone” laid out in the Unitary Plan.

“But there is wording in there now to give greater clarity and guidance about what the single house zone applies to as we move into the next phase of it all - which is the mapping.”

Duguid said the single house zone, which covers 34% of Auckland, includes historic areas, areas with environmental concerns like flooding, areas of significant ecological value, the coastal fringe, and areas removed from any public transport.

Debate over the Unitary Plan is part of the democratic process and shows that Aucklanders are engaged with the future of their city, according to Auckland Council’s GM Plans and Policies Penny Pirrit.

She said the process was now getting down to the nitty-gritty of how to better provide for a range of quality housing choices in Auckland.

The Council wants to adopt a more flexible design-based approach to the growth of the city.

This means relaxing some density controls and relying on a number of key development controls and assessment criteria to manage the scale, form and design of buildings and their associated outdoor living areas.

Pirrit said that high rise apartment blocks like those developed in the 1980s and 1990s were not being promoted.

“It is all about well-designed buildings, which are on a human scale, and provide healthy and affordable living options for people.”

The Independent Hearing Panel is scheduled to recommend a final version of the Unitary Plan to the Council next year.

« What could intensification mean for investors?Record high migration adds to housing pressure »

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