10 Mar 2016

HNZ reveals the difference housing density makes

3:41 pm on 10 March 2016

ANALYSIS: What's in a little housing density, you might ask? For Housing NZ in Auckland, the answer is about 20,000 dwellings.

That's why the government's housing landlord will use summonses to bring Auckland Council expert witnesses to appear at hearings on the city's Unitary Plan.

Homes at the Waimahia development in Weymouth in Auckland.

Homes at the Waimahia development in Weymouth in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The decision ends the uncertainty of how the Council would play its part in the crucial end of hearings on how Auckland will develop over the next 30 years.

The Council faced a legal quandary, after a revolt a fortnight ago by councillors forced it to withdraw some higher-density housing proposals which had been already lodged with the panel.

Legal advice backed the Council's view that its experts could then not turn up, but refuse to argue part of the evidence, which still remained on the hearing's website for others to use.

It's no surprise that it was Housing New Zealand which broke the deadlock. It needs the highest-density version of the council's evidence to support its own case for even more.

"The corporation is in a unique position, in that its size and extensive land holdings, means it - more readily than private developers - can give effect to the vision for intensification," said HNZ's submission to the panel.

Housing New Zealand currently owns 30,800 homes in Auckland, on 6.5 percent of residential land.

Its numbers are revealing on what the different levels of density could mean, in a city short of all kinds of housing - social, affordable and free-market.

Judge David Kirkpatrick, chairing the Independent Hearings Panel considering the Unitary Plan.

Judge David Kirkpatrick, chairing the Independent Hearings Panel considering the Unitary Plan. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

HNZ development planning manager Brendon Liggitt said the version of the proposed Unitary Plan signed off by councillors in 2013, upzoned its land holdings by 19,000 dwellings.

The council's final proposals - before they were sunk in the 13-8 vote by councillors - allowed HNZ to build an estimated 31,500 dwellings on the same land.

On Thursday, HNZ presented its own take on the level of housing intensification it wants. That would let it build 39,000 additional dwellings on land currently carrying just 30,000.

Appearing with HNZ was the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment with reference made to a further submission by the Minister for the Environment, pushing intensification.

In a process where the Independent Hearings Panel can form its own view on the best future shape for Auckland, the council's partial absence from the zoning discussion can't be quantified.

The panel will recommend a plan to the council by late July, for it to adopt or in-part reject.

The scenario which the council's leadership spelled out, is that councillors uncomfortable with the densities they opposed two weeks ago, may have to vote on a final Unitary Plan which includes even more.