What You Need to Know about the Changing Auckland Unitary Plan

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By Liam Wick

27-07-2022

As discussed in my previous blog, there are two new government housing policies that are forcing councils into re assessing their zoning rules.

The first is the new Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) as part of the amendments to the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Act.

The second is bringing forward the implementation of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) by a year to match the timeline with the MDRS.

For a detailed breakdown of what these are I strongly suggest first reading my previous blog here. In this blog, we are going to take a deep dive into how these changes will affect the Auckland Unitary Plan. It must be noted that we are examining the initial draft plan which is partly subject to change based on the feedback council has received.

The draft plan was open for feedback from April 19 to May 9. The council are currently reviewing the 7,860 pieces of feedback that they received over this period. They must then publicly notify proposed planning changes by 20 August.

Unlike previous government legislation, the NPS-UD and MDRS is the most forceful and hands-on approach to town planning that central government has taken. While a lot of their previous directives were  guidelines for councils to interpret, a large proportion of the changes in the NPS-UD and MDRS are mandatory.

You can click here to use the council’s preliminary response viewer and toggle between the current and proposed changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan. Below is a snapshot of the isthmus for us to examine.

The first thing to note are the two outlined zones in the legend. The mixed housing urban zone has been modified to meet the new medium residential standards (MDRS) as set out in the amendment to the RMA. The terraced housing and apartment building zone has been modified to meet the requirements of the NPS-UD.

The changes are quite striking, as the vast majority of Auckland’s residential area is now the modified mixed housing urban area, allowing for 3 dwellings and 3 storeys without the need to apply for resource consent.

The black outlined sections show the area where the council has deemed walkable catchments from rapid transit stops and city centre zones. THAB zoning areas have now expanded to fill these areas, allowing for building up to 6 storeys. Auckland Council have proposed the walkable catchments as a 15 minute walk or 1200 metres from the edge of the city centre and a 10-minute walk or 800 metres from the edge of rapid transit stops.

Qualifying Matters

Qualifying matters are reasons why it doesn’t make sense for the above two zones to apply. Due to qualifying matters, there have been two new zones created that are highlighted in the striped pattern shown in the legend. These are named ‘Two-storey single dwelling residential area’, and ‘Two storey medium density residential area’. These often apply in coastal areas, where coastal erosion or volcanic viewshafts are sighted as qualifying matters on site. A full list of all qualifying matters can be found here.

Special Character Areas

The most significant qualifying matter that applies to Auckland is where a ‘Special Character’ overlay applies to protect the aesthetics and historic feel of suburbs like Devonport and Grey Lynn. As part of the new rules, the council has had to individually assess each property for special character value, rather than apply the heritage order blanketly over an entire area. This has resulted in approximately 4000-5000 of the current ~21,000 dwellings losing their special character status. These can be seen in red below.

Corridor of light rail

As you can see in the image below, there is a corridor that has been untouched by the zoning changes. Council have decided not to make any changes as they are waiting to see the outcome of the planned light rail project. Hopefully these areas do not suffer if the project experiences significant delays and zoning is still under the old regime whilst everywhere else has the MDRS in place.

What does this mean for the future?

Overall, the council have largely had their hand forced by the government so the room for variations is limited. What Council must do now is focus on keeping the infrastructure up to speed with this intensification. There are concerns that we don’t have the infrastructure capable to absorb such intensification, however, just because these rules are in place doesn’t mean we will suddenly see three units three storeys high everywhere. It will take time, and council must now ensure parking, transport, stormwater, wastewater etc is adequately managed to keep up with the supply of housing.

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