Auckland Council considers urban development policy

Publish Date : 28 Jun 2021

Auckland Council has today released proposed approaches for implementing the government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) including for the policies requiring more intensification across the city.

The NPS-UD is government policy aiming to improve housing affordability. It directs councils to plan for more housing and businesses to be built in places that give people good access to jobs, community services and public transport and in response to market demand.

Auckland Council’s Chief of Strategy, Megan Tyler says: “By law the council must implement the NPS-UD which has strong and prescriptive requirements for the council to enable greater building height and density across the city, including in and around the city centre, metropolitan centres and rapid transit stops.

“We’re carefully working through what the NPS-UD directs the council to do while protecting the things Aucklanders care about the most to achieve the best outcomes for our city and its people.

“Our proposed approaches are just the starting point for a lengthy period of more detailed policy and public engagement work to prepare changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan for public submissions in August 2022.”

What must the council do

As directed by the government, unless a ‘qualifying matter’ applies, Auckland Council must:

  • allow unlimited development capacity in the city centre.
  • enable at least 6-storey buildings within metropolitan centres.
  • enable buildings of at least 6-storeys within walkable catchments around the city centre, metropolitan centres and existing and planned rapid transit stops.
  • allow higher-density buildings in other parts of the city to match either the level of active and public transport access to jobs and services or the demand for housing in an area, whichever is greater.

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. Where justified, the council can apply other qualifying matters.

The council must also:

  • be more responsive to private plan changes adding significant numbers of new homes and businesses connected by transport corridors - even in places it’s not planned for.
  • remove rules for minimum off-street car-parking for new developments from the Auckland Unitary Plan without public consultation, except for mobility car-parking.

“There is limited flexibility for the council to tailor the NPS-UD to meet the needs of our city,” says Megan Tyler.

“We have some discretion but must provide robust evidence justifying why required building heights should be modified, including surveys of specific sites, and even then, must still allow for more high-density housing than we currently do.”

Auckland already achieving some NPS-UD objectives

Auckland is already achieving many objectives of the NPS-UD. In 2016, the Auckland Unitary Plan removed much of the city’s height and density rules, allowing a huge amount of additional higher-density housing and more people to live in and around urban centres and public transport routes.

The city centre already allows for significant high-rise development, consistent with the NPS-UD, and most metropolitan centres enable buildings greater than 6-storeys as major residential, commercial and transport hubs.

“The Auckland Unitary Plan allows for over 900,000 dwellings within residential areas, and more when the city centre and other metropolitan centres are included. That’s almost twice the number of Auckland’s residential homes, enough to cater for growth over the next 30 years,” says Megan Tyler.

“And in response to the Auckland Unitary Plan’s up-zoning we’re seeing record numbers of new homes being consented. The annual total of 18,223, which is 3,000 more dwellings consented in the year to April 2021, than in the four years from 2008 to 2011 combined.  

“Of these, around 66 per cent are higher-density homes, like townhouses and apartments, compared to only 37 per cent prior to the Auckland Unitary Plan, and 25 per cent are within walkable distances to rapid transit.

“This shows our plans are driving the creation of a more compact city giving Aucklanders greater housing choices in places they want to live.

“However, with Auckland expecting to grow by another million people over the next 30 years, this brings many challenges. It puts pressure on our communities, our climate, our housing, and our transport networks and increases demands for more space, infrastructure, and services.

“It’s because of these ongoing challenges for cities across New Zealand that councils must now look to opportunities to plan for growth in spaces where it has not currently been planned and enable more housing close to urban centres and rapid transit.”

Aucklanders will get a say

“This week, the council’s Planning Committee will consider proposed approaches as starting points to guide more detailed policy work to prepare plan changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan in August 2022,” says Megan Tyler.

“These proposed approaches may change as this further work is completed. Because this government policy significantly changes the council’s existing plans, it will take some time to work through what it means for Auckland. We don’t have all the answers yet.

“Aucklanders will have opportunities to have their say. We are currently exploring options for initial public feedback on what council proposes and there will be formal public consultation on changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan in August 2022.”

Auckland Council’s proposed approaches

As required by central government, walkable catchments around Auckland’s city centre and 10 metropolitan centres will allow for buildings of at least six storeys, unless there are ‘qualifying matters’ that may make building to that height inappropriate.

Around the city centre a walkable catchment of around 1,200 metres, or about 15 minutes walking and around metropolitan centres of 800 metres, or about 10 minutes walking, which follows Ministry for the Environment guidelines.

A walkable catchment of 800 metres is also proposed around train stations on the Western, Southern and Eastern rail lines and stops along the Northern Busway.

Since walkable catchments cover the actual situation on-the-ground, these distances may change in some places to accommodate impacts on people’s walking distances, such as traffic volumes, the number of street crossings, and the type of terrain.

To contribute to the NPS-UD requirements for a well-functioning urban environment, new policies on reducing green-house gas emissions are proposed to be added to the Auckland Unitary Plan.

Also, private plan changes for significant developments will need to meet a range of proposed criteria, such as delivering thousands of new homes, being next to existing urban areas and funding being in place for bulk and local infrastructure, if it doesn’t currently exist.

Given many of Auckland’s special character areas are located where the NPS-UD requires higher-density housing, it’s proposed that residential areas with high-quality special character be added as a ‘qualifying matter’ to retain the existing zoning, mostly single house, of up two storeys.

Where this would have a significant impact on the capacity for housing that is required under the NPS – UD, a more balanced, location-specific approach is proposed.

This ensures a balance between preserving Auckland’s character housing with the government’s strong direction to create more opportunities for homes to be built in these areas to provide better access for people to jobs, community services and other amenities.

Next steps

Once the council’s proposed approaches have been agreed by the Planning Committee, work will begin to prepare changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan for public notification 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, alongside proposed improvements to urban design standards within the Auckland Unitary Plan.

More information is available in the Planning Committee agenda here.

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