Spatial Plan To Be Re-Written?
How much urban sprawl is good for Auckland? It has major transport planning implications.
That debate is back on the table after the recently established Productivity Commission released its report on the NZ housing situation – and challenges the Auckland Plan which tries to halt the march towards rural land on the outskirts of Auckland.
In fact it demands the draft Auckland (Spatial) Plan be reconsidered.
The Auckland Plan calls for an ambitious 75 per cent of growth over the next 30 years to be contained within urban boundaries.
The commission argues that home ownership will continue to elude many Kiwis unless bold changes are made.
Commission Chair Murray Sherwin argues that the 2001-2007 housing boom was unprecedented with house prices almost doubling over that period and young people and those on lower incomes especially in Auckland are missing out on getting their first home.
The Commission believes that the doubling of property prices over the last decade could be alleviated by an increase in land supply, improvement in consenting processes, streamlining of regulation, and reform of conventional building practices. These changes would lessen the proportion of incomes committed to housing, bringing a much improved standard of living to residents.
The Commission is likely to be taken seriously by the Government. The Commission which is also called Te Komihana Whai Hua o Aotearoa (the Commission that pursues abundance for New Zealand) – is an independent Crown Entity that began operating in April.
It describes its work on productivity as being “largely at the ‘framework’ level – that is, helping the Government to improve the laws, regulations, institutions and policy choices that guide and incentivise how individuals, businesses and other organisations make their decisions.”
The Commission’s key recommendations include:.
- Reconsideration of Auckland’s draft spatial plan. Auckland faces significant housing affordability challenges and the Commission found its current plan, with a target of accommodating 75% of new homes within existing urban boundaries, will be difficult to reconcile with affordable housing.
- The urgent need for more land to be opened up for housing, especially in urban areas, because sections now average about 40% to 60% of the cost of a house
- Improved processes for consenting, to speed up the service and lower costs.
- Improving how local council development charges for infrastructure are calculated and applied,including making them reviewable. The Commission found the current model has too much regionalvariation and is not transparent.
- The Commission considers that there is scope to improve productivity in the home construction sector and endorses the work of the Building and Construction Sector Productivity Partnership,established in 2010 as a joint industry-government initiative.
This issue has important implications for Auckland’s future public transport needs – as pointed out today by Stephen Selwood, CEO of NZ Council for infrastructure Development in the wake of the Commission’s report.
He says the report provides a timely warning that urban containment can have a negative influence on housing affordability in New Zealand’s faster growing cities.
“Past experience with urban intensification undertaken in isolation of public transport development in some areas of Auckland has also resulted in increased dependence on private motor vehicles and greater risk of urban congestion than traditional urban sprawl.”
The Auckland Plan calls for an ambitious 75 per cent of growth over the next 30 years to be contained within urban boundaries. Urban intensification through smaller section sizes, developed with multilevel attached housing is intended to result in more affordable housing and enable greater density to support investment in public transport.
“Constraints on land availability leads to an increase in land values. This, combined with the higher construction costs of multi-level development, forces prices to rise – worsening housing affordability and reducing home ownership.
“In addition, failure to provide public transport that meets people’s mobility needs forces car dependence. Greater density means more cars per square kilometre of urban development, leading to increased congestion on adjacent road networks.
“An example of a Council attempting to achieve land use goals without satisfying the mobility needs of residents can be seen in Flat Bush in south east Auckland. Planned under the old governance regime, parts of Flat Bush represent relatively high density living without high density transport solutions, such as rapid transit, or proximity to employment and recreational opportunities.
“Property sizes tend to be in the order of 300m2, or less than half the size of more traditional stand-alone unit properties. Interestingly, unit floor space has remained relatively large often acomodating multiple families or shared living situations to spread cost. The need for mobility across Auckland for access to jobs has meant a doubling of private motor vehicles per square kilometre of development. The result is a much more intense living environment, and streets and sections crammed with cars.
“Compare that to a more traditional urban design. The cost difference, at around 25% per cent higher per square metre of floor space ($4,000/m2 in Flat Bush apartment living versus $3,000/m2 in Botany Downs and Flat Bush de-tached living).
“If Auckland Council is to gain greatest advantage from a more compact urban form, it is going to have to maximise the level of intensification in sought after urban areas which are well serviced by existing and proposed public transport investment. These areas include the CBD, Newmarket, New Lynn and Onehunga.
“Blanket intensification over the region will not only incentivise the delivery of lowest cost units by a market under pressure to meet land use objectives, but will likely result in a doubling of cars per hectare, increased congestion and a loss of liveability.”
Will the Commission’s report, backed by business interests like Business NZ, force through a change?
The Council’s chief planner is reported today as pointing out the Spatial Plan is just a draft so “We are amenable to changes.”