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Nimbys, carparks and the status quo under threat as govt tells big cities: grow up and out

Wednesday 21st August 2019

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Local councils face a huge shift in how they plan the growth of cities, with the government issuing draft national directives that would require councils to focus on the positive and future impacts of new developments rather than their current tendency to favour the status quo.

"Current planning reflects a bias towards the status quo and away from change," the draft national policy statement on urban development says.

"Some planning decisions on urban development appear to consider only the effects on the natural environment or specific amenity considerations and not how the urban environment meets the social, economic and cultural needs of people and communities. Many decisions focus on the adverse effects of development and do not adequately address its benefits (including for future generations). This can have local and national impact.

"Potential and future community members, as well as lower socio-economic groups, are under-represented or absent in planning processes", as are Maori, according to the policy statement, which was unveiled at a Porirua subdivision development this morning by Urban Development and Environment Ministers Phil Twyford and David Parker.

One of its main jobs was to "shift the perception that urban development only has negative effects on amenity for individuals, to also recognise that it can enhance amenity for other people and communities".

The long-awaited document, a key plank in the government's efforts to improve housing affordability and solve traffic congestion in cities like Auckland, follows last week's announcement on a policy statement to protect highly fertile soils from urban encroachment and the announcement of the country's first urban growth partnership.

That partnership will see central and local government coordinate the construction of intensive housing, public transport and other infrastructure on a designated urban corridor between Auckland and Hamilton.

Submissions are open until Oct. 10, putting the proposals in play in the lead-up to local body elections on Oct. 12. Implementation of a final version is planned in the first half of next year and is aimed particularly at the country's largest and fastest-growing cities - Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. They will be encouraged to grow both 'up' and 'out'.

That will occur through a mix of more intensive, including high-rise, urban housing and a pro-growth approach to developments in undeveloped 'greenfields' areas as long as councils make sure that "growth pays for itself" by "allowing people to build provided they can carry the true costs of growth, including infrastructure and transport."

Reducing car dependency is cited as another main aim of the policy statement, which proposes removing councils' ability to require a minimum number of carparks for new housing, shopping centres, office buildings and industrial parks. It says those minimum requirements have "led to an over-supply, where most car parks are empty at any given time", leading to costly and inefficient land use.

Instead, car parking should be managed as a shared resource among different types of users, with the draft policy concluding that "on balance, the benefits of removing car parking requirements outweigh the potential drawbacks". 

However, the draft policy stops short of proposing new rules to stop councils imposing costly or inflexible rules on building design, such as ceiling heights, balcony requirements on apartments, rules about how high or how much of a section a building can take up, or how much private space a development should include.

Instead, the government is "exploring whether more direct intervention using national direction tools should require, preclude or replace certain rules in district plans", using either national environmental standards or national planning standards.

Also treated cautiously is the government's determination to break down boundaries between urban and rural land zoning - a major cause of inflated house prices in urban areas because land inside an urban boundary is so much more valuable than rurally zoned land.

"Existing urban boundaries or planned land release sequences are sometimes defended to encourage a particular urban settlement pattern or to manage infrastructure costs. The proposed NPS-UD is seeking to support the urban growth agenda's objective to provide a system that is more open and responsive to new urban development opportunities in the areas where they are most needed."

Any such greenfield developments should be well connected to jobs, public amenities and transport, particularly public or active transport. The "onus to provide infrastructure ... should not fall on the local authority when not provided for by their long term plan" and there would "still be many areas where it is not appropriate to local urban development" or where types of development would need to be controlled.

Also proposed is a requirement that local government produce a new form of future development strategy for urban development, update every three years, and that they be required for the first time to take account of real estate market and other evidence "about demand, supply and prices for housing and land, to inform their planning decisions".


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