Pippa Coom: Auckland NPS-UD Policy Directions keep door open on new housing news

Ponsonby News founder John Elliott was a considered and thoughtful commentator.

One of his last columns looked at the government’s new housing density rules and the impact on Auckland. He would have been keenly interested in the latest development to increase intensification and housing supply. There is a big gap in the debate without John’s ongoing analysis. He will be greatly missed.

On 4 August the Planning Committee will be deciding on changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) to give effect to the government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) 2020 and to incorporate medium density residential standards (allowing three storeys and three dwellings on sites as of right) into relevant residential zones. Council is working to a very tight government-directed timetable.

One of the most controversial issues is what happens to Auckland’s special character areas (SCAs) especially within “walkable catchments” around the city centre, metro centres, town centres and rapid transit stops. The NPS-UD allows for exceptions to its blanket rules, called Qualifying Matters (QMs). The proposed QMs for Auckland, in addition to what is identified in the NPS-UD, include high quality special character, significant ecological areas, volcanic viewshafts, significant natural hazards, open space, gas and oil pipelines, and local viewshafts.

John questioned whether it’s possible to reconcile the competing needs of urban development and protection of special character. It is very tricky to navigate but I think we need to take an approach that is a win-win. As I wrote a year ago for Ponsonby News at the start of the process, I don’t think it has to be a zero-sum game.

In my view it is possible to confront the challenges the city faces and aim for the best possible urban environment at the same time as accommodating a range of Qualifying Matters including one that covers high quality special character. Many of the existing SCAs are already mid-density neighbourhoods delivering community wellbeing and providing support for local economies. Cohaus is the kind of development that should be welcomed in central suburbs zoned for special character.

Following the earlier engagement on council’s preliminary response to the new housing rules I was able to work with Cr Darby to ensure a further review of feedback to look at modifying factors relevant to specific walkable catchments. I also sought further work on a potential new QM to deal with the interface between SCA zoning and walkable catchment zoning and supported the ongoing assessment of the extent of special character areas.

What comes back for public notification is unlikely to please everyone. The debate about special character, walkable catchments, housing supply and better intensification will continue through the consultation process starting in late August. Evidence will need to be provided to an Independent Hearings Panel for consideration next year. The panel must make recommendations back to council on necessary changes to the AUP by early 2024.

As John summed up in May, “Residents must inject their views to ensure that the amenity we value is retained and the city is not a-one-size-fits-all model, but a nuanced response to our diverse 21st century lifestyles where sustainability, quality of life and community spirit can thrive.” (PIPPA COOM)

For more information and consultation details visit akhaveyoursay.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/housing

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