Local Government Magazine
Urban Planning

Door open for developers to ride over town planning

Councils around the country are reeling with the Government’s cavalier dismissal of resource consents for the sake of chasing ‘affordable housing’, in the face of rising building costs and property prices going up because of their new development value. It may also leave developers to decide where to build, not town planners.

The Wellington City Council was in the process of debating its District Plan, when the Government announcement was sprung onto councils.

Mayor Andy Foster says the council had completed four years of work to get to that point in its urban planning. “It means there will inevitably be a great proportion of future growth spread out around the suburbs, rather than concentrated close to public transport routes and the centre city,” he says.

Wayne Guppy​, the mayor of Upper Hutt says the Government keeps saying it wants to work with the local government sector, but this came out of the blue and interferes with work undertaken under previous Government planning dictates. He also iterated the same message other Teir 1 councils around the country have said – where’s the funding for the necessary infrastructure?

“It will be unsustainable to put the total cost on the current rate paying base – or the future one,” adds Campbell Barry, the mayor of Hutt City.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says his council is very aware of the longstanding crises of housing shortages and unaffordability but want the housing built and the neighbourhoods creates to also be attractive places to live.

“Aucklanders also wish to retain the best of Auckland’s character and heritage. This needs to be balanced with the need for more housing. In our submission on the government’s bill we will be addressing our concerns in these areas.

“With respect to intensification, in Auckland it is happening now and faster than ever before. Building consents issued, around 20,000 in the last year, are the highest in the city’s history. In August this year, 70 per cent of dwelling consents issued were for multi-unit dwellings, such as apartments and terrace housing.

“Since the passing of Auckland’s Unitary Plan in 2016, Auckland has addressed most of the criticisms the government is making of restrictive district plans. What is currently holding us back is not planning controls – but access to funding to build the infrastructure required to enable the current huge growth in housing,” says Goff.

The chair of the council’s planning committee, councillor Chris Darby, says planning constraints are not a significant barrier to house building in Auckland and the Government’s changes announced last month will make only a small dent in the provision of housing consents. “The real impediment to building is insufficient investment in supporting infrastructure, ongoing supply chain challenges, and a shortage of skilled workers.

“It is also concerning that while the announced changes focus heavily on quantity, they do not adequately address the need to guarantee the quality of built outcomes.

“Aucklanders are generally accepting of the need for density, but are increasingly concerned about the potential for poor design outcomes.” 

Urban intensification reality

Hamilton City Council says sweeping changes to planning rules announced by the Government threaten the face and heritage of its city.

Under new central government intensification, to come into effect by August 2022, developers and property owners will have carte blanche to build three homes of up to three storeys on most city sites without needing a resource consent. On most residential-zoned sites, Hamilton’s District Plan usually only allows for a house and ancillary flat with a maximum height of 10 metres.

Mayor Paula Southgate says Hamilton can irrevocably change as a result of these changes aimed at cutting red tape and enabling more medium and high density housing in the city.

The reality is that these new standards are a lot more relaxed than our current District Plan rules, she says. “They will enable quite radical changes to height, plus how close and how high you can build to the front and side boundaries of sections. They are significant and they will change the look and feel of some of our neighbourhoods.

“I know some people will be concerned and I certainly understand that. So, we need to make sure whatever is built is sympathetic and makes for a better community.”

The central government dictates impact on the council’s strategy for the Waikato River. “And our Council will have a lot of questions around funding and how these changes fit into the growth we already have planned,” says Southgate.

“As a city, we’ve done huge amounts of work to determine where growth should go. And we’ve planned for that growth by putting in the right infrastructure, like roads and water services and parks, in place. So I certainly won’t be happy if the Government now comes along and dictates new growth areas without first agreeing them with us.

“There are huge infrastructure costs incurred in supporting more density. You can’t just put more people into more houses and expect existing infrastructure to cope. In some instance it won’t. So we will certainly be looking for financial and other support from the Government to deliver on their changes.”

Auckland local board challenge to Government

The Auckland Orakei Local Board has voted to challenge the proposed Resource Management Amendment Bill, which targets the city’s need for intensive development and the building of more homes, more quickly.

The board argues that Auckland’s Unitary Plan already supports public and private sector development and housing supply across Auckland and enables opportunities for different housing types and increased supply.

It also has concerns over exemptions for character and heritage areas and the increased risk of bad planning and design outcomes.

Troy Churton, Orakei Local Board planning portfolio lead, says; “We will ask council’s planning committee to urgently request the government to pause and engage with council before making any further decisions in recognition of the significant impact this Bill will have on our communities.

“We already have challenges around density versus design, which means it is foreseeable that we will have greater negative cumulative effects if we start enabling density without consents as proposed under the Bill.”

Orakei Local Board chair, Scott Milne also calls for other local boards to join them at “this fundamental checkpoint.

“The Bill seems unnecessary for the objectives it seeks to achieve, and will not lead to a substantial increased supply of affordable housing for many areas of this city.”



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