Self proclaimed urban planning tragic Matthew Paetz looks at the key rules for intensification in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan

Self proclaimed urban planning tragic Matthew Paetz looks at the key rules for intensification in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan

By Matthew Paetz*

Call me an urban planning tragic, but by lunchtime on Wednesday my body was flowing with adrenaline as I awaited the afternoon release of the Independent Hearing Panel’s recommendations on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP). My planning colleagues were also brimming with anticipation whilst our property colleagues continued steadily on with their work, giving us occasional strange looks, puzzled by our source of fascination. 

I think everyone in Auckland should be very interested, if not excited, in the recommendations. Whilst a very long and seemingly dry document, the PAUP means huge things to Auckland’s future across all areas of life, for the present and well into the future. The government is rightly placing huge stock in the PAUP, as it has the potential to get to the root of our city’s housing ills. 

While it will take some time to digest and fully understand this huge document and its potential ramifications (noting this is a recommendation – the final decision will be made by Council in August), I went quickly to the Residential chapters of the plan. The significant recommended extension of the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) is a story in itself. In this article I focus on some of the key rules for intensification in urban areas. 

Firstly, it is fair to say a lot of emotive nonsense has come out of some media quarters on the Plan. There have been misleading stories around what can and can’t be done under the plan, and a general exaggeration of impacts. 

Putting the media circus to one side, the first thing I looked for were density rules, and controls on height, outlook and private open space. It is essential to look at all of these rules holistically, as they interrelate. If one rule is liberal but the other is highly restrictive, then the overall impact on development feasibility and ultimately housing supply may be restrictive. Density rules control the intensity of development, and are usually measured in terms of residential units per area unit of land. For example, a density control of 1 unit per 300 square metres of site area would allow two houses to be built on a site of more than 600 square metres, but not on a site of less than 600 square metres. 

My first surprise in reading the PAUP recommendations was that density rules had been done away with. Not that I disagree with this. Density rules can be inflexible and can place a barrier on the delivery of a greater number of smaller units which generally have similar impact as a smaller number of larger houses.  

I think the Panel is right to focus on controlling externalities, by way of other development rules which moderate impacts on neighbours – such as shading controls. The variances in rules, such as height and building coverage, between different zones will by default lead to variance in densities between the zones, without applying a density rule. 

The problem with the 6 metre outlook space rule

But given this apparent focus on externalities, I was rather surprised with the retention of the six metre Outlook Space rule. I was surprised this was retained, because although well intentioned, it will pose a significant potential barrier to feasible medium density site redevelopment and therefore housing supply. Through the hearings a number of developers submitted that the rule be done away with, whilst the Property Council argued that such a rule could be retained, but reduced to four metres. I considered this to be a reasonable, and essential, compromise. I expected the change. 

Let’s unpack this – the devil is in the detail. What the Outlook Space rule requires is that within a site, an unobstructed outlook of six metres must be provided from the window of the principal living room (ie. main lounge room). If you consider that for typical suburban sites that are 15 or 16 metres wide, the obvious development model is to run terraced or semi-detached townhouse down the site, with courtyards off ground floor living rooms, then this effectively acts as a six metre side yard control (ie. six metres between the window of the living room and the boundary fence). The illustration below from the PAUP shows the rule. 

This is not to say that potential design solutions cannot be found to get around the rule. But it does make it hard, and creates the very real risk that odd building forms and outcomes will arise. Furthermore, the issue is less pronounced in the Mixed Housing Suburban Zone, where less height (2 storeys) is anticipated than in the Mixed housing Urban Zone (3 storeys). 

For example, on a typical section (dimensions 16m by say 43 metres deep) an obvious potential solution in the Mixed Housing Suburban Zone could be to build semi-detached townhouses towards the front of the site, at least partly using the road reserve as ‘borrowed space’ in terms of the Outlook Space rule. And then building a further one or two dwellings towards the rear of the site. 

However as can be seen in the illustration below, even this is tight on a 16m wide site once shading rules are applied (the lines inclining into the site). And this will be very hard to achieve on the large number of sites that have widths of 13-15 metres. 

As can be seen below, things get even harder on single sites in terms of the three storey development anticipated in the Mixed Housing Urban Zone. Unless developers build to only two storeys in this zone (which would start to undermine maximisation of development capacity), only larger sites will be able to typically be developable to three storeys. Or alternatively developers will need to buy up and amalgamate two adjoining properties, which is not necessarily an easy exercise.

Whilst the plan as recommended by the Panel allows for consideration of infringements of rules such as Outlook Space, this creates all sorts of unnecessary uncertainty, risk and cost. Uncertainty is the developer’s enemy. 

Hopefully this article has demystified some of the rules, and also shown that the liberalisation of density comes with significant amenity protection, but possibly at the risk of making redevelopment quite challenging. I’ve now got a month to calm down until the next, and ultimate, milestone is announced – Auckland Council’s final decision on the recommendations.


*Matthew Paetz is Auckland Planning Manager at The Property Group, a nationwide consultancy specialising in property advisory and planning services. He has 20 years’ experience in planning, with his most recent role before joining the Property Group in 2016 being District Plan Manager at Queenstown Lakes District Council. The sketches were drawn by Bruce Macleod of Common Ground Studio.

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out of interest from this document upkeytopicsmixedhousingurbanandsuburbanzones.pdf

An outlook space at ground floor level from a principal living room may be reduced to 4m deep if privacy
to adjacent dwellings is provided by fencing at least 1.6m in height ? dont know if its current however ?

Also if you go up in the building you need more - so now alot of ground level living rooms will be built facing the road ? Again maybe they will recess the living room into the building - which means odd shaped buildings. instead of tradition L shaped buildings you will get C shaped buildings maybe ?

Matthew, you show 6x4, 3x3 and 1x1 outlook spaces. I thought there is just a 6x6 and which may be reduced to 6x4 by complying with some related condition/ rules. where does 3x3m and 1x1m come from in the AUP? Thanks

The 6m applies to living rooms, 3m applies to the main bedroom and 1m to the second bedroom.
The 6m rule is the main problem. It is very restrictive and in my opinion is the 'elephant in the room'. Its a pity as I think otherwise the plan is good.

Unitary plan doesn't matter as long as foreigners and non residents are allowed to buy here. Simple as that. Keep the money laundering scam going.

Thanks Matthew. Great to have some expert advice. For those interested in knowing about the economics of site assembling -acquiring neighbouring contiguous properties so that residences with more floor space can be built, here is a good article.

Great link, Brendon. As with any Plan, t'devil's in t'details. So there's a world of difference between Planning for density and Achieving it on the ground. The classic Planner Delusion.

Do you think perhaps that they are trying to encourage developers to amalgamate a number of residential sections to give a larger concentration of dwellings while preserving a decent amount of open space around them. This way it would encourage more dwelling per square meter. It would be disappointing if all that is achieved is a bunch of 2 or 3 dwelling constructions on 600 m2 or less sections.
The downside however of this approach is that it is going to take a long time to buy all the properties and you can guarantee that some owners will hold each project to ransom. The trouble is that we need lots of houses now or a large brake applied to the demand side pressures while the market has a chance to equilibrate and give the time and space to allow these changes to be implemented in a way that delivers the best outcome.
As I have said before I cannot see anything affordable coming out of the expensive Eastern Bays suburbs as the houses are already very close together, very expensive and on very small sections. All that will happen there will be very expensive developments for the mega rich and predominantly foreign buyers.

I don't have a problem with it at all. Currently you need 100sqm living court with 6m Dia circle in many res zones like 5 and 6. Overall the rules are so much less onerous than existing that this is minor. In notified version the 6m had to be from edges of decks which had to be 2.4m deep so it became over 8m which was problematic. Having got consent for projects in SHA under these rules the 6m led to better outcomes/nicer units. If your living area is up a level you can of course look over the drive area below.

Living rooms without outlook aren't nice. This rule is also designed to encourage living rooms to either face the street or the rear yard - not the side yards which impinges on neighbours privacy which is better.

In your diagrams above you could use the alternative HIRTB within 20 of street frontage not the 3m+45 which would be be better.

Although it is a big document it's a fraction of what we had to deal with previously - 7 district plans and modifications. Most people would only be interested in small bits - res, business and city centre rules plus transport. These sections are so much simpler and shorter than current plans I still am in (good) shock.

On the 6m outlook this is just for Permitted status - there's nothing stopping people applying for Resource Consent for less if it can be justified.

Thanks Matthew, good article. I think a key point you raise is "developers will need to buy up and amalgamate two adjoining properties".

Large numbers of suburban properties mixed urban suburban will allow even less density. As he said, under 600 sq m only one building.??
Also apparently present allowable minor dwellings 65? sq m no longer allowed.
Lets keep all the planners in business, pay millions to make rules then spend more millions changing them and enforcing then more millions reviewing, changing...the present mess is a result of planners and beurocrats

Hi Matthew Paetz*, I've read the Unitary Plan text and they have shifted the density requirements into Section E-38, a section dedicated to Subdivision and Density. I think you've missed it if you only read Section H. :)