22 Jul 2015

Auckland Council brings back higher density plans

8:15 am on 22 July 2015

One of the most contentious plans for high density housing in Auckland's suburbs is back on the agenda.

Christchurch Construction.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Auckland Council and a community lobby group are moving closer to agreement on the idea of having no limits on the number of dwellings that could be built on larger suburban sites.

It was an idea dumped at the last minute two years ago, by councillors finalising the draft of the city's development blueprint, the Unitary Plan.

The proposed plan is now being considered by an Independent hearings panel, and a new mix of councillors elected since the last decision have backed the staff's enthusiasm for the idea.

The council says it achieves the key goals of providing a wide range of housing styles, and keeping rules simple for developers.

In general terms, it means in the Mixed Housing Urban zone, next to Town Centres, and making up 9 per cent of residential Auckland, there would be no limit to the number of dwellings on a site.

There would be rules about the scale and form of buildings, and the council could ensure good design. Height limits would remain unchanged at around three storeys.

In the biggest zone, Mixed housing Suburban, which makes up 51 per cent of residential Auckland, the new approach removes density controls on sites bigger than 1000 square metres. A two-storey height limit remains.

The no-density concept had been prized by council planning staff and some developers in 2013 as a way of increasing the mix of homes that could be built on a single site.

Instead of standard cookie-cutter style large townhouses, a development could include three-bedroom townhouses through to studios without garages for the elderly or students.

But it was dumped when councillors led by the later-ousted Ann Hartley and the mayor Len Brown pushed through a more conservative compromise in the final council meeting before the 2013 elections.

One opponent of some elements of the draft plan in 2013 was a group called Auckland 2040. It claims credit for reviving the no-density idea during informal discussions run by the Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel.

2040's spokesperson Richard Burton said what was still to be agreed are the rules controlling no-density developments.

"So people in the residential areas can have a degree of certainty as to what form and scale of development will occur in their area, and that's more important to them than how many dwellings exist in a street," he said.

Deputy mayor Penny Hulse said one of the reasons the idea failed in 2013 was that decisions were being made during an election campaign.

"For some of us we've been working in that field for a very long time and are more comfortable with it. I think some councillors just found the pressure too much and did support the watering down of the plan. Sometimes that's just democracy in action."

The council revived the no-density approach saying it found that the alternative of having prescriptive rules would not have delivered the same number, mix and quality of homes.

There is s still some way to go: the various groups will discuss the issue in mediation next month prior to formal hearings before the panel in October to resolve any outstanding detail.

The panel's decision will be known next year, some months before the 2016 local body elections.