UP7: Burton sees the antithesis of good planning, but says the compact city can work

Controlled intensification at selected central points around the region, or willy-nilly through suburbia?

Retired planning consultant Richard Burton, founder of the Auckland 2040 group seeking to protect suburbs from domination by unwanted new structures, has told the panel hearing submissions on Auckland’s unitary plan that the council proposal for implementing the plan will mean the council won’t have design input, won’t be able to control where development occurs, and will ensure much development occurs where it shouldn’t, and needn’t, occur.

He said the council evidence already showed intensification could be confined to the areas in & around centres, keeping it out of suburban streets, because capacity for the anticipated growth within the metropolitan urban limits as they stood in 2010 was well above anticipated demand: “There is room for a more precautionary approach, providing time to assess the nature & rate of intensification in & around centres before making decisions as to whether additional intensification zoning is required.”

The plan would promote intensification in centres and along main public transport routes, but Mr Burton said it wouldn’t provide sufficient definition between residential zones to clearly demarcate between urban intensification areas & residential areas where limited infill would be more appropriate.

“When coupled with relaxed development controls, very liberal dispensation provisions & the lack of affected parties’ participation in resource consents, certainty in planning outcomes is removed. Rather than promoting a quality compact urban form, the proposed plan is promoting a dispersed intensification model where unplanned, haphazard, high density residential developments will be scattered over much of the residential areas of Auckland.”

Mr Burton said the plan provided for most developments to be approved without resource consent: “Without resource consent there is no ability for the council to have design input. Without design input the only controls on development are contained in the development rules. To a significant extent the development rules in the residential zones have been relaxed. This will permit higher, bulkier buildings to be built closer to boundaries than permitted under the legacy plans.

“Dispensation provisions & assessment criteria have likewise been liberalised and the council’s discretion constrained. The ability for affected parties to be involved has been severely constrained, with the presumption in the plan heavily in favour of non-notification & no neighbours’ consent required.

“These factors combine to create a very permissive development environment with no design input for smaller developments, which make up the great majority of developments. Design assessment will be limited to the comparatively few, larger developments.

“Accordingly, while the proposed unitary plan has objectives of providing for quality compact urban form with high quality urban design, the plan as notified will more likely result in dispersed intensification, with the great majority of developments having no design assessment from the council.”

Auckland 2040 wants the unitary plan to recognise that Auckland’s varied suburban residential neighbourhoods have “value” to residents, and to Auckland as a whole: “The regional policy statement & lower order provisions of the plan need to recognise the distinction between:

  1.  Those areas where the existing residential neighbourhood will be progressively replaced by a higher, more intensive urban neighbourhood typified by multi-storey & attached building forms. These should be focused on creating quality compact urban forms around centres
  2. Those areas where the existing residential neighbourhood will be retained, but infill will be permitted which is of a similar character, intensity & scale to that which exists.

“This will encourage development of Auckland into a more compact urban form, focusing around centres while still providing for the further intensification of the suburban areas in a similar manner to that which has occurred over the past 30 years.”

Mr Burton focused on 3 areas which he believed would enable more growth than the council had envisaged, would also fit into the centres concept and would enable growth of satellites, which the proposed unitary plan hasn’t provided for.

His first focal point was Auckland’s natural north-south axis. He said the unitary plan could strengthen the intended compact form by enabling satellite town development and an urban growth corridor through Dairy Flat, between Albany & Silverdale in the north.

The council proposal would provide for greater intensity around centres but also allow intensification down suburban streets. It would allow growth within a defined boundary round villages & towns in the region, but otherwise proposes development proceed from one urbanised area to the next adjacent one, and satellites aren’t part of the scheme.

Mr Burton said: “If more intensive residential development is permitted across much of the city, particularly as suggested by the development lobby, it is likely to occur in a scattered, haphazard manner wherever developers can acquire sites. This dispersed development will be insufficient to create the vibrant high density communities sought by the council. They will also not give the much needed support to the commercial centres.

“Furthermore, it will not be an effective strategy to encourage use of public transport, as there will be no way of predicting where pockets of intensification will occur. Public transport away from the main rail corridors & motorways will, instead, be severely hampered by having to operate on street systems heavily congested by the existing & additional traffic movements. Also, the scale of intensification scattered over a wide area may be insufficient to support efficient public transport and lead to even worse congestion on suburban streets.”

The council has investigated a potential urban growth area from Dairy Flat to Silverdale/Orewa, but Mr Burton said the focus was on only part of the potential: “The council’s preliminary investigations indicated potential for around 25,000 households or more. If the whole of the northern growth corridor’s potential for development was examined in more depth, considerably more potential exists.

“The proposed unitary plan has proposed a number of areas for future urban development to accommodate between 30-40% of Auckland’s population growth over the next 30 years. The section 32 evaluation for the plan examined 4 alternative options for growth to the north in the vicinity of Silverdale; alternative 4 was recommended for the plan; this included areas at Wainui East and to the south-west of Silverdale (future business land), linking through to areas around Dairy Flat.

“Alternative 4 allowed for 2277ha of greenfields land in the Silverdale/Wainui East/Dairy Flat area, in turn providing 23,134 dwellings at a high density scenario of 10.2 dwellings/ha. The council’s decision on the rural:urban boundary for the plan reduced the area at Dairy Flat by about 1034haares in favour of countryside living & open space. At the high density scenario, this is equivalent to a reduction of 10,547 dwellings, or 45% of the capacity proposed in alternative 4 overall and nearly 62% of the capacity of the area around Dairy Flat specifically, a very significant reduction.”

Mr Burton said this area offered the best opportunity for significant urban growth, which could significantly exceed the estimates if a full analysis of the area between Silverdale & the northern side of the Albany Hills was undertaken.”

The council hasn’t rejected Mr Burton’s views the way it has some more strident criticisms of the proposed plan, but spatial & infrastructure strategy manager Michael Tucker said much of Mr Burton’s evidence related to locational matters best addressed in the rural:urban boundary location hearings & the residential zone hearings.

It’s probably a mix – while Mr Burton has specified areas where he sees growth potential, he’s done so in the context of trying to improve a concept which he believes the council approach will make unachievable.

Mr Burton has tied in his preference for nodal development to transport solutions – both corridor & local – and also in part to business solutions. Addressing the Dairy Flat possibility he said: “Growth of this magnitude would provide significant support to commercial centres at Orewa, Silverdale & Albany, with the potential for a further centre at Dairy Flat and an industrial/commercial area around North Shore airfield.

“There is significant potential for the creation of additional employment opportunities around Silverdale with the proposed greenfields business land. Proximity to Orewa, Silverdale & Albany commercial areas will see those areas significantly expand to cater for the increased population. Those centres will then be more attractive to higher density multi-storey development, further enhancing the nodal compact urban form.”

Furthering the nodal preference which has long been advocated by Auckland 2040 advisor Dushko Bogunovich, associate professor of urban design at Unitec, Mr Burton said the satellite town concept should be fully explored at Pokeno, Huntly, Helensville & Warkworth as an option for accommodating growth in the Auckland region as well as viable potential options for affordable housing.

“The key to the viability of satellite towns is good public transport links, principally rail to employment areas & the cbd. The southern rail corridor extends south past Pokeno & Huntly to Hamilton and points south. With upgrading, this facility could be used for a passenger commuter train service to satellite towns in the south. These towns would be easily accessible to the South Auckland employment areas & cbd. They would also be accessible to Hamilton employment areas if a commuter train service was extended to Hamilton.

“With large areas of suitable land available and significantly lower housing prices, affordable housing has real potential in this area.

“It is acknowledged that Huntly is outside the Auckland region and thus outside the jurisdiction of the unitary plan. However, there are many examples of satellite towns around large cities throughout the world where satellite towns are under a separate local government jurisdiction but work well, with excellent transport links to the main city. The relevant authorities need to work together more closely to achieve outcomes which would support both towns such as Huntly as well as the Auckland region.”

Mr Burton said the council approach to compact would disperse higher density developments across a wide area. “The advantages of a centre-based nodal compact urban form model can be contrasted with the disadvantages of dispersed intensification:

  1. Both the mixed housing urban & suburban zones permit higher density development based on the creation of a site up to 1200m². Submissions by the development lobby seek to significantly relax these zone provisions with the effect, if approved, of permitting higher density development over much of Auckland
  2. Does not create the quality compact form sought by the council because:
    1. Dispersed intensification through the suburbs will compete for development opportunities, diluting the concentration of new high density urban forms around centres, resulting in many isolated developments separated by conventional residential or other activities
    2. Even if dispersed intensification is coupled with nodal intensification, the dispersed nature of development opportunities will significantly increase the time taken to convert an area to a compact form, and therefore effectively negate the compact urban form model
  3. Compounds an existing issue that Auckland has dispersed employment areas, and access to these from dispersed higher density developments using public transport may not be viable
  4. Fails to support commercial centres, either from a retail or employment point of view, resulting in a dispersal of economic benefit rather than its concentration into specific centres
  5. Increases demand for car-based trips, resulting in increased traffic congestion and decreasing the attractiveness of walking & cycling
  6. Increases local demands on infrastructure without the concentration of development sufficient to justify upgrading of infrastructure
  7. Adversely affects the residential neighbourhood & streetscape of residential zones by introducing discordant building forms of a height, bulk & scale which conflicts with the residential neighbourhood
  8. Removes certainty as to the form of development allowed in the residential zones
  9. Undermines confidence in the future of the suburban residential areas, resulting in less renovation & upgrading of existing housing and a degrading of the residential areas
  10. Disturbs community harmony.”

Mr Burton said the hearings panel should place considerable weight on the timeframe over which Auckland’s anticipated growth will occur: “Whether the actual population is at the high projection level of one million additional population or the 600,000 medium projection, we are talking about a 30-year or more timeframe.

“While it is likely that Auckland’s population will continue to grow over the foreseeable future, the rate of growth is heavily dependent on forces external to Auckland such as net internal migration. If migration dropped significantly so, too, would Auckland’s growth. It is therefore more realistic to plan for a 30-year horizon, but to zone for a more intermediate target such as 10 years.”

Mr Burton said recognition that residential neighbourhoods had value was important to the whole compact city concept: “Without specific recognition in the unitary plan, the various distinctive neighbourhood characters of Auckland will be gradually eroded over time and eventually lost, leaving existing suburban development interspersed with a variety of high density, often multi-storey development. This haphazard, uncontrolled, scattered development is the antithesis of good planning.”

Links: Unitary plan addendum, rural:urban boundary
Unitary plan section 32 report
Capacity for growth studies

Articles in the series:
UP1: The PAUP, the MUL, the RUB, the RPS & the LRP – the what-the?
UP2: Council tells panel the evidence backs compact city, and new urban boundary will work
UP3: Paper on preferred form an important backgrounder
UP4: Fairgray doesn’t fix on the far horizon, but says million new Aucklanders will fit in
UP5: Rule changes would shorten land supply and discourage new villages
UP6: McDermott argues for better ways than compact city to accommodate growth
UP7: Burton sees the antithesis of good planning, but says the compact city can work
UP8: Crucial question: Who will control land release?

Attribution: Hearings, submissions, supporting documents.

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