One of the important background papers before the independent panel hearing submissions on the Auckland unitary plan, Towards a preferred urban form, is first about the rate at which the urban growth boundary might be expanded, second about how to encourage intensification, and third about centres versus neighbourhoods as places to live.
It was written in September 2011 by David Mead & Rachel Ritchie, of resource management consultancy Hill Young Cooper Ltd, for the urban form team of Auckland Council’s spatial planning unit and is among the documents making up the section 32 report for the panel.
3 years on, it looks like many of the lessons have been poorly learned.
On the boundary, the authors wrote: “The rate of expansion of the urban growth boundary needs to reflect demand, but it also needs to reflect the fact that due to incorrect pricing of various urban resources (roads, infrastructure & urban redevelopment), then demand for urban expansion is likely to be greater than it otherwise should.
“Until these issues are addressed directly, (ie, via congestion pricing, full marginal cost pricing of infrastructure and zoning for redevelopment is freed up), then there is a need to restrain urban expansion to reflect the full costs involved.
“However, the extent of the restraint can result in costs that exceed the benefits (ie, high house prices), so it is not a ‘halt’ to urban expansion, but rather more of a ‘slow down’. The extent of restraint needed to better match costs with impacts is not known at this stage. The process involved in any urban extension needs to be able to factor these costs in.”
They said the key issue was therefore how greenfields land should be released: “This is more important than the amount of land to be released, as identified in the 2007 report on housing supply in the Auckland region prepared by Motu, which said simple calculations of “x years of supply” were of limited use.
“A 15-year supply of land that is dribbled onto the market in a prespecified fashion – giving individual landowners effective monopoly rights – may result in far higher land prices than a wide-ranging auction process that handles 7 years’ worth of land at once.
“Land release needs to happen either as a ‘big bang’, with lots of land released so as to increase competition between landowners (so as to reduce/keep a lid on land costs), or else release needs to be managed so a few landowners do not end up landbanking & putting costs up.
“Given that Auckland doesn’t have an endless supply of greenfields land (due to coastal areas/protected landscapes – the ‘no go’ areas), then the process of release needs to be managed.
Planning-led, managed release could involve the council first undertaking structure planning to determine location & mix. However, this has the potential to either under- or over-shoot the best mix of land uses & public benefits, and therefore may raise costs of development too much or not enough.”
How to encourage quality compact housing
Mr Mead & Ms Ritchie also turned their attention to the question of quality compact housing: “Making quality, compact housing attractive to a wide range of households is important to the success of the preferred urban form.
“While a constraint on the rate of urban expansion is important in helping to set the framework for a more compact city, demand for compact housing options cannot be driven by restricting alternative housing options (ie, new housing on the edge of the city). Demand for quality compact housing within the existing urban area needs to be a first choice for many households if the overall strategy is to work, rather than be a second or third choice.”
The authors wrote that a major concern raised with regard to the 1999 regional growth strategy was the slow take-up of intensive housing opportunities, and that a mismatch of development opportunities & market demand had resulted in development that was often of low quality.
“Background work on intensive housing options & housing preferences indicates that, to make a compact urban form work, there needs to be a much closer alignment between where people are happy to live in more intensive housing and development opportunities.
“In other words, there needs to be much greater opportunities for people to live close or next to amenity features like open spaces, coastal areas, expansive views, vibrant village centres or the city centre.
“Experience indicates that people are generally accepting of the idea of trading off private outdoor space for proximity to public open spaces & amenities (ie, small private outdoor living space provided it is close to public ‘living’ spaces of high quality).
“Analysis of the market feasibility of urban redevelopment (which considers factors such as building age, average capital value, average site size, availability of vacant land, and land for infill or redevelopment) can be used to build a picture of where & how the market is likely to respond to calls for greater levels of urban redevelopment.
“Urban redevelopment is most feasible in areas of high land values, generally being areas close to coastal areas &/or close to the central city area. In these areas, demand for housing is high while urban redevelopment involving the aggregation of sites and the replacement of 2 or 3 houses with a group of flats or apartments is a feasible proposition for a developer, provided zoning allows for this.
“Redevelopment elsewhere in the urban area of the scale needed to accommodate growth demands is potentially feasible, provided there is a significant programme of well planned, co-ordinated & sustained interventions in areas to lift their amenity.
“The issue for the spatial (unitary) plan is that, while redevelopment in the higher value areas will be important, these areas cannot meet all needs in terms of affordability, sector demands & housing types. Compact housing options need to be spread across the city so there are local choices to encourage people to transition to quality compact neighbourhood areas, whilst retaining a sense of place, proximity to friends & services etc (eg, aging in place). However to make this feasible in development economic terms, significant investment will be needed in public amenities.
“It can therefore be considered necessary for the spatial plan to follow the market for intensification, but at the same time be able to shape the market.” The authors said a variety of compact housing options needed to be planned for, depending upon context & community such as:
- In central – urban – neighbourhoods, intensification needs to be in the form of mid- to highrise apartments in the “fingers” of land that run between the heritage areas/character suburbs (eg, business land following road corridors)
- In coastal communities edging the Hauraki Gulf, significant intensification is possible in all areas, but transport/infrastructure/community issues are likely to confine redevelopment to the coastal bays (not headlands) and clusters on surrounding “backdrop” ridges
- In the middle ring, inland communities, feasible development opportunities need to provide for smaller, site-by-site compact housing options including duplex-type units, modern-day sausage-block flats (3 or 4 townhouses on a single section). Larger scale developments are possible where larger sites exist and onsite amenities can be provided. Development needs to maximise use of these sites (extra height, density possible). All are best located around existing & new reserves, where good views can be secured (ridgelines) or on the fringes of neighbourhood centres
- In the middle ring, inner harbour-edge communities, significant redevelopment should be planned for & facilitated. The Harbour View subdivision on the Te Atatu Peninsula provides an example of the lift in density & quality of development & natural environment possible in middle-ring suburbs with a water edge. Redevelopment of existing suburbs would need to be facilitated through public action, particularly in relation to site amalgamation
- In the existing outer ring, inland, working communities, compact housing options would involve the ability to add housing in a low-cost way. For example, add a minor unit, divide an existing house into 2 units, extend an existing house to accommodate extended family (more building coverage), build an infill unit.
Who should lead?
Mr Mead & Ms Ritchie wrote that planning-based prerequisites for quality compact housing must involve a mix of regulatory & non-regulatory actions, and said support for and enablement of a wide range of compact living options would depend on whether redevelopment was market-led, plan-led or a mixture of the 2.
“Left to themselves, market forces are likely to see urban redevelopment focused on certain neighbourhoods, particularly those that offer an ‘amenity advantage’ such as access to coastal areas, large reserves, expansive views or close proximity to inner-city, character neighbourhoods. This is likely to lead to largescale infrastructure works to cope with the additional population, while significant change to the character of desired areas is likely to be seen.”
On the other hand, they wrote that a plan-led approach would see redevelopment pressures more evenly spread across the urban area, better matching growth with infrastructure capacity and lessening the impact of concentrated change on the character of areas.
But – they wrote 3 years before the council’s budget crunch saw a $300 million belt-tightening proposed – there is a catch: “For this to work, there need to be incentives created so redevelopment pressures are redirected from high amenity areas to areas where amenity can be improved. An example would be improvements to the amenity of the middle ring suburbs, such as improved parks & open spaces. This would require investment by the council, yet council’s finances are constrained. There is therefore a trade-off between working with the market and shaping the market.
“A middle course is needed, with the extent of plan-led redevelopment dependent upon investment in infrastructure & amenities that will support urban redevelopment in less commercially desirable areas. The extent of investment needed needs to be identified, as it is a key parameter.”
Centres versus neighbourhoods as a place to live
This paper also identified issues about centres versus neighbourhoods: “Previous planning has attempted to focus urban intensification in & around town centres on the basis of support for public transport & proximity to services. This approach also limited the extent to which suburban residential areas may see redevelopment (areas of change versus areas of stability).
“Experience to date is that there is only a limited market for centre-based living. Currently, the transport benefits of living by a centre are small, relative to the costs involved. At the same time, there is also a centres-first approach to retail & office activities. This then creates multiple demands on centres – in terms of accommodating retail, employment & residential demands.”
Mr Mead & Ms Ritchie wrote that a wider range of opportunities should be provided: “Thus a neighbourhood approach to urban redevelopment is advocated, whereby a range of urban redevelopment opportunities should be identified in each neighbourhood, some of which is centres-based, but not all of it. As discussed, redevelopment around amenities like blue & green networks and open spaces is needed to help support compact living.
“The type & form of redevelopment needs to be shaped to fit the context of each neighbourhood, and so a neighbourhood approach needs to be accompanied by a commitment to detailed neighbourhood-level planning. The ultimate shape & form of the city can only be worked through at this level of detail.
“As a corollary of this, public transport systems will need to take on more of a ‘network’ approach. Investment on the amenities of neighbourhoods, particularly features like open spaces, stream corridors & green recreational networks is needed to help stimulate the market for compact living options.”
The authors recommended a more broadly based “equal-share” approach to urban redevelopment, adding: “The extent of acceptance of this approach will largely determine the acceptance of the compact city model.
“To date, planning for the redevelopment of urban Auckland has been strongly influenced by existing residents’ concerns about future changes. Commonly, this can be called the ‘nimby’ response – no development in my back yard.
“Across an urban region, the cumulative effects of nimby-type reactions to growth proposals are substantial, with significant adverse effects on new households that are barred from entering the regional housing market, reduced housing affordability and the overall reduction in the efficiency of the urban system as development gets pushed into more environmentally sensitive areas and in ways that raises infrastructure operating costs.
“However, at the local level, nimby-type reactions are often driven by reasonable concerns about more traffic, impacts on local infrastructure & the like. There needs to be a better means of balancing out local costs with regionwide benefits of urban redevelopment.”
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.