In the fortnight before Christmas, the independent panel hearing submissions on Auckland Council’s unitary plan scheduled what will probably be its most important discussion, on the overarching role of the regional policy statement and 2 components, the rural:urban boundary and the compact city concept.
Most of the paperwork was in, and the way the panel has been working has been to accept brief summaries from submitters on the formal submissions day.
The positions were well defined, but did the facts presented substantiate the positions?
The rural:urban boundary (the RUB) & its predecessor, the metropolitan urban limits (MUL), have been the cause of much consternation. The idea of the boundary was to contain urban sprawl, but with some flexibility. However, while territorial councils in the region saw reason to extend the boundary to enable development, the Auckland Regional Council stood in the way and extensions were negligible.
This inflexibility was blamed for a decade of reducing available development land and corresponding price escalation. Nevertheless, in 1999 the region’s mayors all joined the regional council chairman in signing support for the compact city and, with that, cementing of the MUL in place.
For the new urban plan (while it’s going through the hearing process, it’s the proposed Auckland unitary plan) & the replacement regional policy statement, which is a key part of it, the new restraining mechanism is to be the rural:urban boundary, which is to be fixed, but with flexibility derived from the creation of a large supply of future urban-zoned land.
During work on the Auckland Plan, the policy document implemented by a series of new plans, the successor to all the region’s previous 8 councils, the Auckland Council, hastily agreed to incorporate boundary reviews to placate opponents and to ensure a supply of urban-zoned land would come onstream as required.
The theory put in place in 2013 was the 70:40 model – the council would aim to get 70% of new development inside the metropolitan limits as they were in 2010, plus areas rezoned since then, but would have the flexibility for up to 40% to be in greenfields outside the old limits. The council would set a 30-year goal for all urban development to be inside these fences, though plan changes & consents for external development would still be possible.
The hearing panel won’t have the economic analysis before it to justify doing away with the concept in its entirety, though there’s been plenty of time to do that job properly since the Productivity Commission had a shot in 2012 at analysing what it deemed a flawed concept.
Critics of the rigid boundary concept had thought the council’s own capacity for growth studies would provide answers, but that source of information has kept changing, been redefined, and information from the newest version is not only still on the way but won’t give the definitive answers showing how the existing boundary has affected costs.
Along with acknowledgments in the overarching plan of the new council, the Auckland Plan released in 2012, that the council would ensure a constant supply of land zoned ready for subdivision, there was belated recognition that more was needed than merely counting land potentially available for urban conversion.
In November, first mention of the council’s proposed land release programme (the LRP) came in presentations to the hearings panel. In the pre-Christmas session, council submissions amplified what this programme was about. But, like the ever-changing capacity for growth study, the LRP won’t be ready for presentation to the panel until May.
Submitters asked: How can they present educated submissions when they don’t know where the rural:urban boundary will be? And if they don’t know how the land release programme will work? Or – this is fundamental – who will dictate the release programme, council or developers?
The hearings panel has scheduled a session for Tuesday 27 January on whether it should issue interim recommendations on the regional policy statement section of the unitary plan. I can see the whole unitary plan process getting tied in knots if these interim recommendations were followed by interim (or final?) council decisions, which would then become open to appeal on matters of law while the rest of the process was still wending its way through.
However, interim decisions on where the panel stands on the regional policy statement may lay the ground enabling submitters to better understand how the panel sees the whole unitary plan, and therefore how to better submit on the many sections reliant on how the policy statement is spelt out.
One of those sub-sections beneath the policy statement is zoning, the second fundamental plank of the unitary plan after the rural:urban boundary is set. Observation of guidelines on where urban development can be carried out will be followed by guidelines on where that urban footprint can be intensified. The 2 go together.
The whole idea of a growth forum for the whole region, not just individual council areas within it, arose in the 1990s because Auckland’s population was rising and there was concern that, without planning well ahead, the city could easily come to a grinding halt, housing wouldn’t be available, prices would escalate. 18 years after the growth forum first met, 15 years after the region’s mayors (& regional council chairman) signed their agreement with a compact city concept requiring intensified development, the predictions are coming true and those arguments still haven’t been put to rest.
The hearings panel can set out its view anytime in the next 18 months on how the divide between urban & rural uses should be treated, enabling a more precise definition of capacity and preparing the way for practical resolution of zoning.
But, while the panel has an unenviably tight timeframe to complete an exhausting task, the chairman, Environment Judge David Kirkpatrick, has made it clear many times that the panel also wants to help submitters get their views across. Setting out its views on the central documents – the regional policy statement and the rural:urban boundary – will clarify the requirements of submitters presenting over the next 15 months.
The unitary plan series:
This is the introductory article for an immediate series of articles on the overarching policy, how or whether urban & rural uses ought to be separated, how proposed zoning ought to be applied or whether the proposals are appropriate.
Somewhere down the track I may venture my own opinions, but for this series I am essentially a messenger packaging up ideas from a vast array of submissions. On the way through, though, I will also question them.
There are 3 articles today, essentially outlining positions. Tomorrow’s trio of articles will be meatier. I expect the series to run for several days.
Links: Unitary plan addendum, rural:urban boundary
Unitary plan section 32 report
Capacity for growth studies
Darroch for Centre for Housing Research Aotearoa NZ, 2010 housing market assessment
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.