By Bernard Hickey
Auckland 2040, which opposed Auckland Council's proposal for 'up-zoning' of some suburban areas in the current Unitary Plan process, believes Auckland does not have a long term housing supply capacity problem.
Richard Burton, who chairs the collection of over 100 residents' groups who have repeatedly campaigned against the Council's plans to allow three storey apartment blocks in established suburban areas in the Eastern Suburbs and the North Shore, says the current short-term supply issues and high house prices are caused by the building industry, the collapse of finance companies and developers, and strong demand from non-resident buyers.
Burton told Interest.co.nz in a Double Shot interview Auckland 2040 preferred apartments be kept in town centres and that any intensification of established suburban areas be limited to multiple smaller single level dwellings on existing sections.
"You can keep the same bulk indication rules -- the same height, the same coverage and the same yards -- and put more dwellings in the same building envelope. That creates an environment where you have far more dwellings within an area, but without changing the bult form to as measurable an extent," Burton said.
"There's definitely a place for three or more storey apartment buildings, but those places tend to be around places of significant employment. Your town centres, some of your larger employment areas and perhaps along some of your arterial roads," he said.
Burton said Auckland 2040 had campaigned to relax the density rules in suburban areas, but opposed the Council's proposals for mixed suburban zoning that would allow three storey apartments. Burton and Auckland 2040 opposed the Council's 'out of scope' zoning proposals to the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) for the Auckland Unitary Plan. See more in this February 24 article. The Council in late February voted to withdraw the proposals after opposition from residents' groups, but the IHP can still make its own recommendations for the Council for dense zoning. The Council will have to make a final decision in August, just a few weeks before the October 8 close of Council elections.
"But when you're starting to talk about suburban areas -- like the Eastern suburbs, out around Blockhouse Bay, all over Auckland there are areas of suburban housing -- you can significantly increase the number of dwellings within those areas without adding an extra storey simply by means of relaxing the density," Burton said.
He said this was not 'in-fill' housing, but denser forms of single level housing.
"I'm talking about taking an 800 square metre site with an old house on it. You take the house off. Under the current rules you could put two dwellings on it. Because you want to maximise the coverage, those dwellings will be large. What we're advocating is putting four or six units on the same site, but of a smaller size. That achieves two beneficial outcomes. One you get more dwellings per site. And secondly, because they are smaller, they are cheaper," he said.
"When you're talking about putting three or more storey apartments within the conventional suburban areas, that is where we have a problem. We believe there is no need for it. All of the surveys prove there is not a huge demand for apartments."
'Plenty of capacity'
Burton rejected the suggestion that the Auckland Unitary Plan did not have enough capacity to handle up to 600,000 extra residents expected to be living in Auckland by 2040, referring to modelling done by an Auckland Council submitter using the Auckland Council Development Capacity (ACDC) model created through the IHP process.
The results of the Council's modelling have been contested by others in the 'Topic 13' group advising the IHP on the Unitary Plan's economically feasible capacity. Housing NZ Corp has also argued the previous versions of the 'down-zoned' plan were not sufficient to meet housing demand.
"All of the modelling work done to date has said there is sufficient capacity within Auckland to accommodate the foreseeable growth. Insofar as Council's own evidence, which it has put up for the IHP, that evidence says there is sufficient capacity. There are different viewpoints that come from different points of view. That's something the IHP is going to have to sort out," Burton said, adding he took his cues from the Council's evidence.
Burton rejected the suggestion that Auckland 2040 simply opposed more intense development in the suburban areas of its supporters and were NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard).
"We have consistently supported intensification that includes multi-storey apartments around town centres and other areas. We advocated the relaxation of the density provisions throughout the residential zones of Auckland. Those are two significant things that will assist with the supply of dwellings in Auckland," he said.
Burton said Auckland had a short term supply shortage and there needed to be a distinction made between this short-term issue, and the longer term capacity built into any Unitary Plan.
"The short term supply issue we have in Auckland, which is causing to a large degree the increase in the house prices, is a whole combination of events," he said.
"It's high net internal migration, it's significant numbers of offshore, non-resident investors purchasing houses in Auckland, it's the effects of the GFC, which knocked out most of the finance companies and most of the major developers, it's the implications of the Christchurch earthquake, which pulled a lot of trades people away from Auckland down to Christchurch, and then you start looking at the impact of monopolistic pricing of building materials."
Auckland's builders were also very small and not able to scale up.
"Capacity is the ability of the Unitary Plan to provide enough opportunities for dwellings to meet the foreseeable demand into the future. We are not talking about 600,000 people today or the next 10 years. We're talking about over the next 30 years," he said.
Burton also pointed to a lack of development of Special Housing Areas (SHAs) as a sign that demand for apartments was not as high as some suggested, or that there were major supply shortages.
"The SHAs are not developing furiously. Takapuna has not got a single development under way and the SHA has been there for two or more years. There is a heap of capacity there. There is a lot of greenfields which are still able to be developed. There is a lot of intensification able to be done within the existing urban areas. Zoning another 1,000ha of developable land will not suddenly increase the supply of land or the actual number of houses built," he said.
"The issue is there are some structural issues relating to the number of people who want to come to Auckland to buy a house, to the cost structure, to the shortage of developers to the shortage of trades -- all of those factors combine to make it unaffordable."
Burton said those young renters complaining about NIMBYs should instead direct their attention to the Government, which was generating the commentary about supply shortages.
"There are opportunities that are going to come out of the Unitary Plan. Take my 800 square metre example in a lesser value area -- not Mission Bay because they won't be able to afford Mission Bay -- you take 4 units or 6 units instead of two. Those units are going to be cheaper, they are going to be affordable. I have two daughters who want to buy houses. I'm telling them wait a bit," he said.
"The Unitary Plan is going to start affecting things significantly. There's going to be more supply of smaller dwellings, be they single houses, more likely to be duplexes or terrace houses. There will be more supply coming on stream quite quickly if the Unitary Plan produces as I believe it will. And in the Eastern Suburbs and on the North Shore. Specifically in those areas because they are wealthy areas. Land values are high and they can sustain higher sale prices. But the units built in those areas will be expensive because they come from expensive areas. You're not going to get cheap affordable houses in Mission Bay. You may get cheaper, more affordable houses in other parts of Auckland, which is just as good for first home buyers. Not every first home buyer can afford a house in Ponsonby."