Auckland NPS UD policy directions keep door open on new housing rules

At a marathon 11 hour Planning Committee meeting on 30 June policy directions were decided that inform the development of the council’s Intensification Planning Instrument (IPI). 

The IPI is required to give effect to the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) 2020 and incorporate medium density residential standards (MDRS) into relevant residential zones within the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP). 

The IPI must be publicly notified by 20 August 2022. Following consultation on it, an Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) will make recommendations back to council on necessary changes to the AUP by early 2024.

Council is working to a very tight government-directed timetable. The policy directions come after council’s engagement on a preliminary response to the new housing rules intended to increase intensification and housing supply.

I spoke in support of the policy direction tabled by the Chair Chris Darby (with amendments outlined below). The NPS-UD allows for exceptions to its blanket rules, called Qualifying Matters (QMs). There are specific QMs identified in s77I RMA.  The NPS-UD also allows the council to include “any other matter that makes higher density, as provided for by the MDRS or Policy 3, inappropriate in an area”. I focused on the most controversial issue of the proposed QM called Special Character Areas (SCAs) especially within “walkable catchments”. The proposed QMs for Auckland include matters such as significant ecological areas, volcanic viewshafts, significant natural hazards, open space, gas and oil pipelines, and local viewshafts.

The NPS-UD (under s 77L of the RMA) requires a site-specific analysis of any council proposed QM including special character. (This information sheet explains more about SCAs identified in the AUP as an ‘overlay’.)

The following is based on my notes in speaking to the meeting.

Reconciling the competing needs of urban development and special character is very tricky to navigate but I think it is possible to take an approach that is a win-win. As I wrote a year ago at the start of the process, I don’t think it has to be a zero sum game. 

What the government has dealt us with is a very blunt, one size fits all instrument but I don’t subscribe to the view that it is an EITHER/OR situation; that we only have a choice of either affordable housing or SCAs; climate action or SCAs; equity or SCAs. It is possible, I think, to confront the challenges the city faces and aim for the best possible urban environment at the same time as accommodating a range of qualifying matters including one that covers high quality special character.

In working through what is required by the NPS-UD I don’t think we can ignore the intensive AUP development process and the resulting buy-in to the current rules that put Auckland in a different situation to other metro authorities. We also can’t ignore that the AUP didn’t get everything right. However the NPS-UD is just one urban development and housing supply tool – it is not the be all end all.

Through being forced into this process there is an opportunity to leverage all the tools available to council to enable more affordable housing in well-designed and well-functioning neighbourhoods providing everyone across all our communities the opportunity to live healthy, low carbon lifestyles, safely connected to places of work, study, recreation and community amenities. At the same time we can identify links to past development that are important to many Aucklanders and that future generations will also value and be glad were retained. If we were starting from a blank canvas we could take a totally different approach – perhaps no zoning rules or rules to ensure no low/medium density within a decent walk of the city centre and rapid transport hubs – but that is not the reality of where we are at in Auckland’s development.

In supporting the policy directions, I have four key considerations:

First, what is the legal framework, specifically what are the requirements of the NPS-UD and the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2021. This has been an interesting debate when it comes to SCAs.

Recently the Character Coalition took out a full page ad claiming a group of councillors, me included, had voted against more SCAs. Actually the opposite is the case. We voted for the special character assessment to be undertaken (Walker, Watson and Sayers voted against at the July 2021 Planning Committee meeting). We voted for the preliminary response to go out for consultation including high quality special character as a QM. (Walker, Watson, Stuart, Mulholland, Fletcher voted against). 

What we didn’t vote for at the Planning Committee in March 2022 is for a roll-over of ALL current SCAs as a qualifying matter, as many heritage campaigners wanted. This doesn’t stack up under any reading of s77L of the RMA. It is also a high risk strategy from those who want to retain SCAs because there is no way it would get through the Independent Hearing Panel and would very likely result in a lesser amount of the identified high quality special character being included as a QM.

Secondly I’ve looked at the evidence and analysis that has been provided to us. Evidence to support the walkable catchments (such as from the Ministry for the Environment); evidence to support the special character assessments; evidence to support other QMs such as infrastructure constraints, etc. It is evidence backed up by expert advice that needs to go to the IHP. If we don’t support the evidence, when the decision comes back to council’s Planning Committee on the AUP changes  it runs the risk that the final decision ends up with the Minister (with no appeals allowed to the Environment Court) .

Thirdly I have considered the feedback – I’ve read 1000-odd submissions from Waitematā plus many submissions from organisations. To me, this shows there is still a lot of work to do to assess the feedback and consider the impact. Staff have acknowledged this and it is why I suggested changes to the Chair’s recommendations to allow more time to assess the walkable catchments before this is reported back in August. (in bold below). Also as a result of the feedback I suggested the inclusion of k) ii) to deal with the interface between SCA zoning and walkable catchment zoning.

Next I have taken into account where we are at in the process. This is by no means a done deal. The preliminary response engagement conducted by council (an extra step in the process not required by the NPS-UD) has put a lot of pressure on staff in a constrained timeframe but it has resulted in the opportunity to consider community feedback as work continues.  There may be aspects of the policy direction that we have got wrong or where we have pushed the interpretation to the limit but we still have further public consultation to go and the IHP will look in more depth at the evidence. 

I’ve also taken into account that unless a property is identified as being subject to a qualifying matter when the IPI is notified, the MDRS rules (e.g. permitted three-storeys and permitted three dwellings per site) apply immediately.

My approach overall is guided by a climate lens. I want to ensure we deliver on the goal of Te Tāruke -ā -Tāwhiri Auckland’s Climate Plan to achieve a low carbon and resilient region. Reducing emissions is also an objective of the NPS-UD. However, in many ways the NPS-UD actually runs contrary to this objective by enabling more sprawl in areas with unsuitable infrastructure. SCAs are not necessarily the problem.

Waitematā Local Board presentation to the Planning Committee

Alex Bonham, Deputy Chair of the Waitematā Local Board highlighted in presenting to the Committee that many of the existing SCAs are already mid-density neighbourhoods delivering wellbeing and providing support for local economies.

Cohaus (in the featured photo and where my mum happens to live) is held up as an example of the kind of development that will be unwelcome if inner suburbs are zoned for special character. However, Cohaus is in an SCA and supports the view that we can in fact have both. I think this is summed up well by Architect Graeme Burgess in his submission: “I do not consider that these (Special Character) areas of the city should remain unchanged. … these areas have been managed as ‘Special Character’ for decades, and in that time many changes have occurred, including a degree of intensification as demonstrated by the Co-Haus example. The area will continue to change and in accommodating that change should maintain its ‘Special Character’.

What was agreed at the meeting – under o) below – will further accommodate greater levels of development in SCAs together with the removal of parking minimums. These changes will mean that future cohaus type developments don’t face a $500k bill for a notified resource consent.

Overall, I think the agreed policy directions provide further time to consider the climate impacts together with all the NPS-UD objectives, and where not reconcilable or backed by evidence this should be reflected in the Planning Committee decision in August (informed by Councillor workshops during July).

No one will have achieved exactly what they want from the policy directions. However, I feel comfortable in taking an approach at this stage that continues the analysis before the IPI is notified in August. The door is still open.

The amendment

Before the main vote, Cr Simpson put up an amendment to l) that I seconded (the amendment in italics):

I) confirm the approach for the Special Character Areas Overlay –Residential and Business as a qualifying matter as follows:

ii) that outside walkable catchments, Special Character Areas Overlay – Residential and Special Character Areas Overlay – General is identified as a qualifying matter where special character values are present, being where 66% or more of individual properties score a 4, 5 or 6 where the overall quality of the area is maintained and existing or potential fragmentation is reduced.

I seconded the amendment to get the issue on the table as I think whether 4’s are included should be considered at this stage and not left to the plan change notification in August.  The officer advice at para 61 states  The addition of 4’s will reduce the cohesiveness of the technical assessment and it will therefore be more open to challenge through the hearings process and that There is significant variability in the quality of the 4’s across the region and therefore a blanket approach is not appropriate.  

However it also notes that from a technical perspective, properties scoring 4 contribute or support the overall character of an area and could reduce the fragmentation of the overlay in some areas.I therefore supported the amendment to allow the opportunity for that assessment within tight parameters and to be able to consider the impact at the Planning Committee workshops coming up.

The amendment lost but I think it was the right time to have the debate. Staff warned that if it had been successful they would not have the capacity to assess 4’s AND do the work directed under m) that could lead to increases and/or decreases of the SCAs in walkable catchments.

The decision: Item 14 National Policy Statement on Urban Development – Policy Directions

City Centre zone

a) confirm the principles for the application of Policy 3(a) of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 set out in resolution PLA/2022/29 (see Attachment A to the agenda report), subject to:

i) applying special height controls that reduce the general unlimited height controls in the City Centre zone; and

ii) elsewhere in the City Centre zone applying a 72.5 metre height control (other than in the Special Height Control areas and Precincts).

 Walkable catchments of the City Centre zone, Metropolitan Centre zones and stops on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network

b) confirm the walkable catchments referred to in Policy 3(c) of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development as defined in resolution PLA/2021/80 (see Attachment A to the agenda report), subject to:

i) clarifying that the walkable catchment is from the edge of the City Centre zone and the edge of the Metropolitan Centre zone

ii) the ongoing review of feedback on specific walkable catchments (e.g. modifying factors that might affect the distance in a particular location) as well as carrying out a consistency check on the mapped catchments across the different walkable catchments in Auckland

iii) more work being undertaken to determine the suitability of a walkable catchment of around 1,200m from the edge of the city centre following the ongoing review of the feedback.

(Fletcher, Mulholland, Sayers, Stewart, Walker, Watson voted against keeping the door open on reviewing feedback on the walkable catchments)

Intensification within and adjacent to Town Centre zones, Local Centre zones and Neighbourhood Centre zones

c) confirm the principles for the application of Policy 3(d) of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development set out in resolution PLA/2022/11 (see Attachment A to the agenda report).

d) agree to the application of a Height Variation Control to enable heights in Neighbourhood Centres of 16m (five storeys) where they are within the area of Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings zone (five storeys) following the application of Policy 3(d).

e) note that the Height Variation Control for Neighbourhood Centres may be amended in some places by the application of qualifying matters.

Qualifying Matters

f) confirm the qualifying matters under sections 77I and 77O of the Resource Management Act 1991 (including council-identified matters under section 77I(j) and section 77O(j)) as set out in Attachment A to the agenda report.

g) note that staff are reviewing whether changes are required to the provisions relating to the council-identified local public views qualifying matter and that any proposed changes will be presented to the Planning Committee for endorsement on 4 August 2022.

h) note that additional qualifying matters relating to locations with significant water supply and wastewater capacity constraints, and areas with significant stormwater disposal constraints, will be presented to the Planning Committee for endorsement on 4 August 2022.

i) request staff to further investigate and advise the practicality of identifying transport capacity constraints as a qualifying matter, and other alternative mechanisms under the Auckland Unitary Plan, and report back to the Planning Committee for a decision on 4 August 2022

j) note that ongoing discussions with Mana Whenua may result in additional qualifying matters relating to sites of cultural significance being presented to the Planning Committee for endorsement on 4 August 2022.

k) request staff report back to the Planning Committee on 4 August 2022 on the following additional potential qualifying matters to provide for appropriate transitions by:

i) restricting the required six storey building heights to some extent on properties within walkable catchments that immediately abut open space

ii) restricting the required six storey building heights to some extent on properties within walkable catchments that immediately abut residential properties with a lower density zoning

I) confirm the approach for the Special Character Areas Overlay – Residential and Business as a qualifying matter as follows:

i) that the qualifying matter be described as the Special Character Areas Overlay

ii) that outside walkable catchments, Special Character Areas Overlay – Residential and Special Character Areas Overlay – General is identified as a qualifying matter where special character values are present, being where 66% or more of individual properties score a 5 or 6

iii)      that within walkable catchments under Policy 3(c) of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020, Special Character Areas Overlay – Residential and Special Character Areas Overlay – General is identified as a qualifying matter where special character values are of high quality, being where 75% or more of individual properties score a 5 or 6

iv) that Special Character Areas Overlay – Business is a qualifying matter where it was identified in the council’s preliminary response for the Intensification Planning Instrument.

v) note that staff are investigating appropriate controls to manage the impact of potential development on the cultural and visual qualities of the maunga and will report back to Planning Committee on 4 August

m) subject to (l), agree to amend the extent of the Special Character Areas Overlay – Residential and Special Character Areas Overlay – General by increasing or decreasing the application of the Overlays (while not adding new areas) to respond to:

i) feedback on council’s preliminary response for the Intensification Planning Instrument

ii) walkable catchments where Special Character Areas – Residential and General have a significant effect on development capacity.

n) agree to retain the height variation control within the business zones underlying the Special Character Areas Overlay – Business areas

o) agree to amend the provisions of the Special Character Areas Overlay to accommodate greater levels of development while retaining the special character values:

i) enable up to three dwellings per site (via the conversion of a principal dwelling into a maximum of two dwellings and one minor dwelling), and add new objectives, policies and standards to support this;

ii) amend the provisions to provide for a limited range of non-residential activities (such as home occupations, boarding houses, dairies and restaurants), and add a new objective and policy and assessment criteria to support this;

iii) retain existing standards to maintain and enhance special character values, but amend standards for yards and fences to be more enabling, while maintaining and enhancing special character values;

iv) amend the application of the demolition, removal and relocation rule to individual properties based on the contribution they make to the special character values of an area as identified in the site-specific survey of the Special Character Areas Overlay.

(Fletcher, Mulholland, Sayers, Simpson, Stewart, Walker, Watson voted against I)ii) iii) which if successful would have stopped SCAs progressing as a QM;  Mulholland and Simpson also voted against K)

 Other matters

p) agree to delay the implementation of the National Policy Statement Urban Development and the Medium Density Residential Standards in the Auckland Light Rail Corridor where the route is unknown until the route and stations are announced by Government on the basis that more intensive development in the Auckland Light Rail Corridor is anticipated than is envisaged currently under the National Policy Statement Urban Development and the Medium Density Residential Standards.

q) note that the project sponsors and council staff will continue to work with central government agencies to ensure best urban and transport outcomes are realised by the Auckland Light Rail Project.

r) note that the council is required to notify variations to the following plan changes to incorporate the Medium Density Residential Standards: Private Plan Changes 49 (Drury East Precinct), 50 (Waihoehoe Precinct), 51 (Drury 2 Precinct), 59 (Albany 10 Precinct), 66 (Schnapper Rock Road), 67 (Hingaia Precinct) and the council’s Plan Change 60 (Open Space), and that the variations must be notified at the same time the council’s Intensification Planning Instrument is notified.

s) note that finalising the text and maps for the Intensification Plan Instrument required under the Resource Management Act 1991 and completing the required section 32 analysis is a complex, resource-intensive exercise and that work on capacity modelling, economic and planning analysis is continuing and will be reported to the Planning Committee on 4 August 2022.

t) note that companion plan changes relating to the Regional Policy Statement chapter of the Auckland Unitary Plan, various transport matters and historic heritage places and will also be reported to the Planning Committee on 4 August 2022.

u) note the Medium Density Residential Standards prevent the council from having stronger design standards for up to three dwellings on matters such as privacy, overshadowing, outlook and the size of outdoor living spaces, and that as a result, the council’s ability to ensure good design outcomes has been constrained.

v) note that the council will shortly publish a report prepared under section 35 of the Resource Management Act that investigates the Auckland Unitary Plan in terms of the degree to which it is achieving quality outcomes for the built environment, and that as soon as resources become available, staff will report back on potential improvements to the design standards in the Auckland Unitary Plan on matters that are not restricted by the Medium Density Residential Standards

 

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