Designing well-connected communities of the future 

Last Updated : 05 Jun 2024

The Whenuapai structure plan is being updated. But what does that mean? What does a structure plan do? 

The Planning, Environment and Parks Committee has given the green light to start updating the structure plan for Whenuapai.  

Over the past few years, there have been changes in government policy, council guidance and a heightened focus on the impacts of climate change and stormwater management. These are all things that impact council plans, so council planners are now launching into bringing the 2016 Whenuapai Structure Plan up to date.  

And what does that mean? 

A structure plan is a blueprint for how an area will grow over time to create a sustainable community. It includes guidance on different types of zones and where they will apply, so there are places for people to live, work, and play. 

It’s also an important opportunity to pinpoint any constraints to development, like areas of flooding and coastal erosion, and a way of mapping out the infrastructure the area will need. This includes roads, water and wastewater pipes, as well as social infrastructure like parks, recreation facilities and walking and cycling pathways. Sketching this out ahead of time means the council can work out how it will be paid for and plan it into future budgets and long-term plans. 

It’s all part of the plan 

This is all part of the council’s plan to manage the needs of Auckland’s growing population. The council’s Future Development Strategy, which was adopted in November 2023, sets out where and how Auckland will grow and develop over the next 30 years.  

Central to this is the 'quality compact approach’. It means most future housing should be focused in existing urban areas and near to town centres, where there are jobs, transport, and other amenities like schools, parks, and shops close by. 

Since the Auckland Unitary Plan came into play in 2016, this has been the norm. 80% of consents to build new homes are now in existing urban areas, and 60% are within 20km of the city centre. It has also enabled more houses to be built, and a wider housing choice, which research shows is having a positive impact on house and rental prices. 

But people should have a choice over where they live, so there is space for some greenfield growth, particularly on the edge of urban areas, like Whenuapai.  

Housing isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ thing. Striking a balance between creating new homes in urban areas closer to town centres and allowing for some greenfield growth means people have more housing choices. Growth is timed for when new infrastructure can be funded and built. Staging greenfield growth allows the council to provide infrastructure, which helps communities have access to the jobs, services and everyday amenities they need. It also reduces urban sprawl.

While this is the council’s approach, there are times when private plan changes are requested by people who would like to develop greenfield land before a structure plan is in place. The council is often unable to refuse this, even if it’s not in line with the Future Development Strategy, as it’s bound by laws in the Resource Management Act.  

What’s happening in Whenuapai?   

You may be familiar with Whenuapai. It’s situated on the edge of the city and is home to the Whenuapai airbase. Warren Maclennan, Manager - Planning for the North, West and Islands, says: “We’re at the start of looking at updating the structure plan for Whenuapai and there’s a lot to consider.   

“Since the last plan was finalised in 2016, a new industrial zone is now being built. We’ve also received requests for private plan changes, so we want to make sure we have an up-to-date plan in place before development happens to guide future planning decisions.  

“We’re looking at proposing new land for businesses and areas of different residential densities. There’s also the consideration of engine noise from the airbase. It could be that light industrial zones will be placed around this, rather than using it as space for residential housing.” 

Transport is also high on the agenda. The new structure plan will focus on walking, cycling and public transport as key modes. NZTA Waka Kotahi is already putting long-term plans in place that will see Whenuapai become well connected with other major routes.  

Warren says: “This is in the early stages, but planning takes a while – you’ve got to be in it for the long-run. 

“Before we do anything, we’ll look at the impacts of climate change and flooding, to make sure the structure plan aligns with upcoming changes to the unitary plan that will make Auckland more resilient to these kinds of natural hazards.” 

Public engagement is key 

Part of the process to develop a new structure plan is to capture feedback from the community. The plan should reflect their needs, balanced with those of our growing population and the need to mitigate climate risks.  

Warren says: “The council’s goal is to set the scene for a community that is well-connected, built-to-last and has great facilities. The community must tell us what it needs to do this. 

“We’re really keen to hear from local residents and groups when the time comes.” 

Auckland Council is currently in the early stages of putting together a draft of the updated structure plan for Whenuapai. There will be an opportunity to have your say on this later in 2024.  

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