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Intensification plans in disarray

Withdrawal of Auckland Council’s proposed Unitary Plan zoning maps could have terrible consequences for the city, warn housing commentators.

Thursday, February 25th 2016, 12:00AM

by Miriam Bell

Property investor & developer David Whitburn

After a marathon extra-ordinary meeting yesterday, Auckland councillors voted 13-8 to withdraw the “out of scope” zoning changes proposed in Unitary Plan maps released in December.

The zoning maps would have up-zoned parts of the eastern and central Auckland suburbs, as well as parts of South Auckland, to allow for more townhouses and apartments to be built.

More than 75% of the city would have been limited to two storeys, in the large lot, single house and mixed housing suburban zones.

However, the proposals were met with vehement opposition from some – particularly residents of the affected eastern suburbs.

While the council’s decision to withdraw the “out of scope” zoning changes has been welcomed by some, many are dismayed by the turn of events.

Economist and housing commentator Shamubeel Eaqub has slammed the council’s decision.

In polite terms, the outcome was near-sighted and “gutless” at best and was driven by the fact it is an election year, he said.

“Councillors signalled they are against the densification and progress that Auckland desperately needs.”

He said the landed gentry – who are not representative of most of Auckland or New Zealand - have won and Auckland will suffer as a result.

“Despite some claims to the contrary, there is a generational aspect to the issue.

“The sight of old people jeering as young people talked about the lack of affordable housing was unpleasant.”

In his view, yesterday’s outcome will result in more high quality submissions, pushing for further densification, to the Independent Hearing Panel hearings in March.

“Will they be too little too late though? I am very worried that the outcome of the Unitary Plan will be far less densification than is needed, especially in areas where there is the infrastructure to support it.”

Proponents of the withdrawal of the “out of scope” zoning changes have said they were motivated by a lack of due process and the desire for natural justice.

Prominent Auckland property investor David Whitburn said the council had been naughty in the way they tried to introduce the “out of scope” changes into the Unitary Plan.

Proper consultation on those proposals should have been conducted and, as it hadn’t been, it was reasonable that the “out of scope” changes were withdrawn, he said.

However, he sympathises with the council’s desire for the greater intensification of Auckland.

“Given the population projections for Auckland, we are going to fall far short of the housing required without more intensification. It is necessary.

“We are not talking massive high-rises here. We are mainly talking terraced housing and there are quality requirements and design standards to control it.”

Opponents needed to think long-term, not short-term, Whitburn said.

“They need to think about the future housing needs of their children or, even more, their grandchildren.”

The council’s decision means the proposed “out of scope” zoning changes which were not supported by submission will be withdrawn.

But there is some confusion about what this might ultimately mean for the future Unitary Plan.

Building and Housing minister Nick Smith has pointed out that the final decision on the shape of the Unitary Plan will come down to the Independent Hearings Panel.

He also said there would be many other submitters to the Panel – including Housing New Zealand which wants much more intensification than the council.

The Panel will be conducting hearings on the Unitary Plan in March and April. It is then expected to recommend a final version of the Unitary Plan in July.

The council then has 20 working days to vote on the Unitary Plan and, last week, Smith told the council that it must have the Unitary Plan in place before October’s elections.

An Auckland Council spokesperson said the council is currently examining the implications of yesterday's resolutions and an update will be provided to councillors and the public in the coming days.

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