Govt eyes more say over Auckland development rules; says if Council accepts govt panel recommendations, then no Environment Court appeals

Govt eyes more say over Auckland development rules; says if Council accepts govt panel recommendations, then no Environment Court appeals

By Alex Tarrant

The government will set up a new panel to tell the Auckland Council which new development plans it can impose outside of the Resource Management Act (RMA).

The government on Wednesday dismissed a request from the Auckland Council for it to effectively be exempted from the RMA process carte blanche when imposing the whole of its latest development 'rule book' for the city aimed partly at addressing Auckland's housing crisis.

However, the Council will still get the chance to gain exemptions from being taken to the Environment Court over certain new development rules, but only if it accepts recommendations on its Unitary Plan made by a government-appointed independent panel, set up to consider the Plan and public submissions on it.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown asked the government last year to consider changes to Auckland legislation to allow it to fast-track new planning rules. Fairfax reported Brown saying last month that this would help to sort out the city's housing issues.

Brown also requested that the Unitary Plan, as notified, was granted immediate legal effect. Any appeals would only be allowed on points of law.

But Environment Minister Amy Adams announced on Wednesday that the government had rejected this proposal, "as it considered it did not provide adequate recourse for Aucklanders to seek full and impartial review of the council plan."

“In my view, the council’s proposal did not provide sufficient safeguards and reviews on council decision-making or ensure that stakeholders and the community would be properly engaged in its development,” Adams said.

“I am, however, concerned that under the current process, the first Unitary Plan is estimated to take between six to 10 years to become operative. No-one benefits from long, drawn-out and expensive processes during which time Auckland’s development stagnates in a cloud of uncertainty," she said.

“Auckland’s economy is too important to New Zealand to wait for up to a decade for the plan to be implemented.”

The Government proposed a process, with which it estimated that most, if not all, of the plan provisions would be operative within three years.

That proposal involved the Unitary Plan being developed and notified by the council. It would then be referred to a hearings panel "totally independent from the council, with the intention that it be chaired by a retired High Court or Environment Court judge," Adams said.

The panel, similar to a Board of Inquiry, would be appointed by the Ministers for the Environment and Conservation.

"The panel will have the power to direct robust mediation process, including caucusing of witnesses and grouping of issues, and will hear public submissions and evidence through a process which allows for cross-examination and careful testing of evidence," Adams said.

"After considering the plan, the panel will deliver its findings by way of recommendations to the council.  Where the council accepts the panel’s decision, these provisions will be immediately operative, subject only to appeals on points of law," she said.

"In respect of any recommendations the council does not accept, full appeal rights to the Environment Court will be available."

The process would complete the Government’s objectives for Auckland local government reorganisation, and help address the shortage of housing and business land needed for Auckland’s growth, Adams said.

The process for the Unitary Plan would be incorporated into the Resource Management Amendment Bill that would be introduced to the House by the end of the year. Public submissions would be invited as part of Select Committee consideration.

Labour gives support

Labour Party Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford said the party gave its qualified support to the fast-tracking of the Auckland Unitary Plan so the Council could "get on with tackling the city’s housing crisis, as long as there is a fair process that guarantees the community a say."

“The Unitary Plan needs to become operative as soon as possible," Twyford said.

“Auckland’s lack of affordable housing is nothing short of urgent. Given all the work over the last three years that has gone into the Auckland Plan, which provides the base for the Unitary Plan, Labour believes it is justifiable to shorten the legal process in this case," he said.

“However, we do have concerns about whether the Government’s proposed changes will actually deliver the plan in a timely fashion or whether unforeseen legal wrangles will tie it up and deliver worse outcomes for Auckland.It is also concerning that the Government has reserved the right to appoint the hearings panel, given it has not fully signed up to the goals and direction of the Auckland Plan.

“There is considerable disquiet as well from local communities who want to have a strong say over the plan and we will need to be convinced that the enhanced consultative process will allow them that," Twyford said.

“Labour will discuss these issues with the Council and scrutinise the bill through the select committee process," he said.

"The Unitary Plan will tidy up the myriad of district and regional plans of the previous councils and will help guide the development of Auckland for years to come. Given it is aimed at tackling important issues such as housing provision, it's hugely important that we get it right."

The plan

The Unitary Plan would be the rule book for what could and could not be done with public and private property in Auckland, and how the region’s natural resources could be protected and enhanced, the Auckland Council said in August.

It will replace the district plans and regional policies of the eight former councils. By determining how Auckland can develop, the Unitary Plan will be the key tool for putting the 30-year Auckland Plan into action, the Council said.

The Unitary Plan would cover areas such as resource consent (planning approval) for building, alterations and demolition, and protection for historic heritage and important environmental resources and features.

"To ensure future development has a positive impact on the lives of Aucklanders, we need to give everyone the chance to engage and have their say on the Unitary Plan," Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said in August.

"We want to produce a great plan that will work for all of Auckland. To do this, we need to get our communities involved in developing it."

Between August and November 2012, local boards are meeting with key stakeholders and community groups to gather information and ideas that would be used to prepare the initial draft Unitary Plan, which would then be available for informal public engagement between March and June 2013.

A final draft Unitary Plan will go to the council’s governing body in September 2013 for a decision on notification. Formal consultation and hearings would follow.

The Council said key issues for engagement included:

  • housing availability and affordability
  • the protection of historic heritage (the natural and physical resources that contribute to New Zealand’s history and culture)
  • a rural-urban boundary to establish new areas for development
  • infrastructure such as water and stormwater drainage
  • the rural economy
  • business development areas
  • provision of open space and community facilities
  • transport improvements including public transport, cycleways and new roads.

Urban Limits

One of the key issues the Council is seeking feedback on while developing the plan is the city's 'rural-urban boundary', or its metropolitan urban limits (MUL), Kensington Swan partner Greg Milner-White and special counsel Grant Hewison said in September.

The Council plans to allow for 30-40% of new development over the next 30 years to occur outside the current limits ('greenfields' development), meaning 60-70% of new development within the limits ('brownfields' development).

Research in 2007 by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research showed house prices just inside the city's limits were 10 times that of prices just outside the limits.

In 2009, Motu economist Arthur Grimes said in a report on Auckland's high land and house prices that extension of Auckland's Metropolitan Urban Limits was one way to remove roadblocks to the development of New Zealand's biggest city.

Auckland's development was at risk from being stifled by high house prices, with current policy settings around the MUL making houses more expensive.

Auckland was land-rich, Grimes said, adding that the MUL could be extended around existing infrastructure such as the Northern Motorway. This would have the double effect of lowering Auckland house prices and creating more space for productive 'urban' activities not allowed outside the boundaries in rural zones.

'Urban' activities not allowed included setting up factories or housing, or even schools in rural zones. Here is a 2008 working paper from Grimes and Yun Liang on the Northern Motorway extension.

Lower land prices would make it less expensive for businesses to operate inside the expanded boundaries, and lower house prices would mean workers would be better able to afford to live in the city rather than being forced away by high prices.

Grimes recommended Auckland's growth limits should be reviewed in a more flexible manner, rather than having long periods between boundary reviews, especially because of the increase in Auckland's population (38% between 1991 and 2006).

Affordability crisis

Auckland house values and sale prices have continued to rise over the year, hitting new highs almost monthly. Ongoing population growth and a lack of supply of new house building is considered the catalyst for this.

In July, Westpac economists noted that over the three years to June 2011, for every new dwelling in Auckland, the city's population increased by seven new residents.

The government has indicated a supply-side approach to affordability issues following a report earlier this year on the subject by the Productivity Commission.

That response is likely to include making new land available for building, relaxation of Resource Management Act requirements, and attempts to ease building costs. See Alex Tarrant's article, Wholesale changes to how government approaches housing affordability as it drops helping demand and focusses on supply side.

Finance Minister Bill English has said the biggest opportunity for brownfields housing development within Auckland's city limits was in the hands of central government, due to its large land holdings for state housing.

English has said the government's response to the Productivity Commission should be released by the end of October - delays were down to the workload of the RMA changes.

The majority of changes are likely to be to the Resource Management Act - overseen by Environment Minister Amy Adams. Two bills are set to be introduced to Parliament by Adams detailing the changes shortly.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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The Minister's statements about the timeline simply do not add up.
She says a law change is needed, with a bill to be introduced by the end of the year.  National already has a seriously overloaded Order Paper of over 60 Government bills,  and a legislation programme suffering a massive logjam.
It will be only after National has passed legislation,  and then fix-up legislation to fix technical and drafting errors, that the Auckland Council could begin formal work on a plan change. Any TLA change process takes time, or will be challenged by the aggrieved.
So there is no way that most of the changes could be operative within three years.

Government needs to get Auckland to have a decent walk way from the city centre all along Auckland coasts to Mission Bay and beyond.  It needs to be nice and wide. New Plymouth and Australia has decent wide walk ways along the coast line so you can walk , run, cycle or play.Even Thames in the Coromandel has better walkway than Auckland.  This should be on the agenda for the whole of Auckland to enjoy. Aucklands train system need more routes and if not use more ferry taxi services around Auckland that connect to places and failing this build cable car  routes to get around Auckland.  A the moment we are spending lots on roads when the younger generation would prefer an Iphone than a car, and building extra roads has made no difference for traffic congestion and added billions to the countries debt.

Video with Amy Adams there now too

If Aucklanders were remotely interested in politics, they may be concerned that their City's future is decided by a Cabinet where the top 20 positions have two Aucklanders (Bennett and Coleman) although some may consider John Key now an Aucklander. Judith Collins represents Papakura, which is close by. 
There are 5 Cantabrians (including Key); while some 11-12 seem to come from rural or semi rural backgrounds. 
So Auckland isn't very likely to get much share of whatever national cake is being shared around; nor much sympathy on anything much at all.
So perhaps be a little nervous over Cabinet control; and watch out for any spin involved.

Having Cantabrians at the table hasn't helped Christchurch.

Apparently not (although for very good reasons Christchurch is getting a good share of the cake for the foreseeable future.) Judging by Hugh Pavletich's comments, they are just not applying those resources well at all. I do wonder if the rural mix on cabinet means there is just a lack of understanding on how cities work; whether in their city structure, or in their employment and business. 
Time will tell; the Auckland Super City idea actually appealed to me (even though it meant my own rates went up considerably). Whether it actually delivers efficiencies over time; or just bogs down decisions in an extra level of bureaucracy I'm not sure. This article suggests Cabinet are now going to add yet one more decision layer to that process (being their tick of approval); and that from a rural and/or South Island perspective. It is hard to be confident. least another 3-4 years that Auckland continues with its 20th century planning system
Thats another 3-4 years of residential construction malaise
Another 3-4 years of price rises, unless the bubble finally pops
Really quite appalling 

But it will! The rest of NZ couldn't care about Auckland! And renters and people wanting to buy have NO voice. There are no leaders anymore, just bureaucrats hanging on to their jobs.... Sigh!!!

MIA, I found out yesterday that a 90m2 total do-up on 300m2 with no garaging and no view a couple doors along from one of ours in Ponsonby just sold for $1.3m!  We paid not much more than that for our fully renovated and extended one just a few months ago (double the floor area plus double garage plus high end kitchen and 2 bathrooms, plus a stunning north facing open plan living opening to a massive north facing deck a fantastic view of the upper harbour).
The market in prime central areas seems to be up 20% this year alone.
The only solution is for the Government to exit ownership of thousands of state houses that have hamstrung the central suburbs with swathes of streets occupied by $50pw tenants.
Take a look down Fenchurch St or Sunnymead Rd in Glen Innes (3rd world housing on quarter acre paddocks less than a kilometre from million dollar homes).  Then look at how the state tried to solve the problem by "densifying" just round the corner in Rowena Crescent.  This is a leaky, mouldy ghetto.  It demonstrates that the state should get out of the market and turn these houses over to upwardly mobile doer uppers and developers and relieve the pressure on the supply.
The occupants would be served much better by brand new housing on transport links further out.   There's plenty of poorly developed land in Otara and Mangere to regenerate for state houses.

by "doer uppers", I hope you really mean bulldozer drivers.

Chris_J - so you're a promoter of gentrification.  Not making excuses for the "leaky, mouldy ghetto" in Rowena Crescent but wouldn't densification of the existing state owned land as a principle be preferable to gentrification of the inner suburbs with its consequent movement of low income households to the periphery? 
Take Queenstown for example, the high cost of ownership in the city means that hospitality workers, for example, need to be bussed in from places like Cromwell and indeed even further afield.  Bus transport being paid for by the businesses.  The point is there is a requirement for low paid workers in the inner city and the cost of gentrification in this regard needs to be considered.

Auckland is like Melbourne a sucking vampire quid with an economy growing on population growth (a ponzi scheme benefitting developers and associated industries).
The Yarra Monster is Killing Us
The developers and left are in a celestial alignment:
This great divide began in the 1970s when a set of ideas emerged about immigration, race and the nature of Australian suburbia. These ideas were both moral principles and symbols of social status. They served the new class as markers of cultural identity. ‘If a taken-for-granted assumption develops that only crude, ethnocentric, narrow-minded, selfish people are critical of immigration,' Betts writes, ‘to refrain from such criticism (or to express approval of immigration) is an easy way of demon­strating that one is not infected by such disabilities and, indeed, belongs to quite a different category of person.' [5] The record of survey opinion and other data shows, she says, that during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, disproportionate numbers of the intel­ligentsia were either pro-immigration or opposed to those who were critical of immigration.
The 1960s was a decade of university expansion, with a number of new institutions established plus a substantial growth in enrolments at the old sandstones. The ensuing social mobility produced a first-generation professional middle class whose members sought ways of distinguishing their new position from their own largely lower-middle-class and working-class origins.
 Betts points out that films from the 1960s like Zorba the Greek established the idea of the ‘marvellous ethnic' and of continentals who really knew how to live the full life, untrammelled by narrow Anglo-Saxon inhibitions. ‘Traditional southern-European society is in fact tightly bound by values of honour, female chastity and family authority,' Betts writes, ‘but cultural tourists will always find the foreigner they imagine, and the idea of the “marvellous ethnic” agreed with liberal values of internationalism and tolerance.' [6]
Professor (Growth is Good) Paul Spoonly:
JESSICA – Let’s talk a little bit about that population spread. Why are so many people moving to Auckland?
PAUL – Well, Auckland – there’s an agglomeration effect, so the bigger Auckland becomes, the more attractive it becomes. It becomes more attractive economically, but it also becomes more attractive as a place to live. And so we’re seeing the sort of perimeters of New Zealand, the regions, beginning to flat-line, so they’re not growing, and we’re now beginning to see the first of regions beginning to decline.
PAUL – Well, the first thing is that 40% puts us right at the top. I mean, there aren’t many cities around the world that have 40% of their population born overseas. I mean, Toronto, Vancouver, but really Auckland’s right up the top there.  

Toronto's removal of bike lanes marks opening salvo in 'war on cycling'


The Coming Infrastructure Crisis in Texas
by Angie Schmitt

The way Texas throws around money for highways — $5.2 billion for a third outer-belt for Houston, $2 billionfor Dallas’ eighth downtown highway – you would think TxDOT was running over with cheddar. This is a state, need we remind you, that “found” $350 million for a stalled highway project local leaders freely admit was designed to encourage sprawl, not solve any pressing mobility problems.

A Texas-sized pothole in Dallas. Photo: CBS DFW

But the Lone Star State is on a crash course toward a big infrastructure crisis, according to a new report from TRIP [PDF], a think tank supported by road builders, insurance agencies and other interest groups.

Highly unlikely that we will see any new innovative plan for Auckland finalised and put into practice before 2016.
In the meantime house prices in Auckland likely to increase at 10% + per anum over the next 3 years due to lack of a new scheme, low volume of building, increasing migration into Auckland and interest rates that are likely to remain where they are now or lower for at least 4 years.
Put Hugh and Matt on the government panel and push for one dwelling per 250m2 / 300m2 throughout the old Auckland City Res 5 and 6a zones, drop the 2 car park per household requirement and allow 3 or 4 level construction in those zones. Supply problem then solved!
In days gone by you could have 4 flats on a 750m2 site - this should be encouraged again.
Politicians and councillors own plenty of property in Auckland and it's in their selfish vested interest to do nothing with the Auckland Plan and watch their own personal property values soar.

Message to Councils from Nats: "Any colour you like as long as it is black"
When Rodney Hide introduced the Local Government (Auckland Council) Bill in 2009 he waxed lyrical about how amalgamation would solve the region's woes and deliver a world-class city.  Even then his claims were dubious to anyone who knew how local government in New Zealand actually works. But we had to keep an open mind as the project 'had' to proceed.
And here we are not even three years down the track and we have hit a major roadblock. By agreeing to a fast-track procedure for the Unitary Plan the government is tacitly agreeing that the Auckland problem was not so much one of governance structure but one of government interference in the form of the RMA legislation. Bear in mind that the Unitary Plan is the jewel in the crown of amalgamation. As most major infrastructure is either owned by central government (roads and rail) or was already being managed regionally (three waters) this plan is the one place where Auckland Council can deliver something different from its predecessors.
But as the people of CHristchurch are discovering it is a Faustian bargain dealing with this government. The government is willing to loosen one buckle from the straijacket they place around local government as long as the Council does exactly what its told.
And this is what passes for democracy.

The current draft has miniumum lot size....increased to 400sqm (most Ithsmus is 6a which was 1/350 until 2004 then 1/375.  Mankau has lots zoned less than this also)
So Council's plan is to decrease density - which increases prices.
Their concession to increasing density is if you have a 1500sqm site with 20m road frontage you can densify IF you jummp through hoops (and how many 1500sqm+ sites are there - a negligible amount)
There is one clause that offers hope which will probably dissappear.  Generally looking through the current draft the unitary plan is going to make housing more expensive.

Bob, is the draft Plan on the Council's website (can't access it at present)???
That sounds a disaster if they are doing 400 sq m minimum lot sizes. Presumably though thats just for low density zoning ,and they will have a higher density option in certain strategic locations that will provide for 150/200 sq m sites????
You are quite right about 1500 sq m sites - hard to find, if they don't exist then 2-3 contiguous sites need to be bought up which is particularly difficult
Sounds like another council train wreck.... 

Just a rumour - no public draft.
Rumour has it zones may be 'single house' 'large lot' and rural/coastal' at 1 per site, 'mixed housing at 1/400 (presumably the main replacement zone) and a 'terraced housing/apartments' with no desity liimits but as a Discretionary or RD Activity - so you won't know density or land value until you have negotiated a consent with council.
Rumour has it there may be an 'invisible' density Permitted Activity clause which is most sensible and, if it stays, is one bit that would help housing affordability.
Also there's a rumour of reduced parking requirements per house (minimums and maximums etc.)

I guess thats not too bad, as long as the zone with no density limits is reasonably prevalent.
Perhaps applications could be RD activity, and you could have a prototype handbook like they have in Portland where site layouts that comply with the protoypes maybe are classified as controlled activities   
invisible density is just common sense, should also have more "gentle density" - granny flats etc. Like Sydney renting out granny flats should not be prohibited. 
the problem is probably not the direction of COuncil but the time it will take for the plan to actually become operative. Not good when affordability is at cirsis levels and construction remains on its knees. Auckland simply can't afford 3-4 years

Bob, is the draft Plan on the Council's website (can't access it at present)???
That sounds a disaster if they are doing 400 sq m minimum lot sizes. Presumably though thats just for low density zoning ,and they will have a higher density option in certain strategic locations that will provide for 150/200 sq m sites????
You are quite right about 1500 sq m sites - hard to find, if they don't exist then 2-3 contiguous sites need to be bought up which is particularly difficult
Sounds like another council train wreck.... 

Cheap fringe sprawl houses are actually expensive to live in:
" ...  The inclusion of transportation costs affects  the relative affordability of many metro areas.  For example, housing costsin the Houston region are comparatively affordable as a share of income, ranking eighth out of the 25 regions examined.  When transportation costs are included, however, Houston drops into 17th place, as one of the less affordable regions for the combined costs of housing and transportation.  In contrast, metro areas such as San Francisco, Boston, and New York are some of the least affordable regions for local moderate-income households when just housing is considered, but are among the most affordable when housing and transportation costs are considered together."

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