The independent panel hearing submissions on the Auckland unitary plan has told submitters the council’s proposed provisions for the new rural:urban boundary “may be overly stringent” and that a more flexible boundary would be better.
The panel also said in interim guidance it issued on Monday: “A rural:urban boundary is the most appropriate method to achieve the objective of a quality compact urban city when compared to the principal alternatives of the operative metropolitan urban limit & no boundary.”
A quality compact city is Auckland Council policy, following on from policies of its predecessors and formalised in the Auckland Plan, issued in 2012, and related planning documents. This is despite continuing disputes over the economic advantages or disadvantages of intensification.
Development of some special housing areas under the 2013 accord between the Government and the council may provide for intensification within that housing area, but not necessarily an overall compact urban form.
Perhaps most importantly on the boundary question, the hearings panel questioned the land release programme the council revealed late last year as its way of enabling a supply of rezoned land. Numerous submitters opposed this release system, which some argued would entrench council control over land release – the very problem that has dogged urban development for more than 20 years, albeit there is now a promise of more rational behaviour.
Panel chairman Judge David Kirkpatrick wrote in the guidance note: “The panel is not satisfied that a land release programme or strategy should form any part of the regional policy statement or the rest of the proposed unitary plan. While there would obviously be value for strategic planning in considering future subregional development scenarios, it appears to us that formalising such a programme – in conjunction with a strict rural:urban boundary and the application of a future urban zone to undeveloped land inside the rural:urban boundary – would be restrictive in nature rather than enabling.
“This approach would not promote the growth objective. We think it would be more likely to perpetuate current imbalances between land supply & demand, with consequent adverse effects on social & economic wellbeing.”
One of the big issues for debate in writing of the proposed plan concerned intensification in & around Auckland’s many smaller centres, as well as at the larger centres of the region’s old councils.
The panel said in its guidance note: “It is appropriate to enable higher residential densities in & around centres & corridors, or close to public transport routes, social facilities or employment opportunities. A broad mix of activities should be enabled within centres. A wide range of housing types & densities should be enabled across the urban area.”
The panel issued the first 2 items of interim guidance on Monday on the sections of the plan on urban growth and on rural subdivision, and said it would release further interim guidance over the next few weeks following its hearings on the regional policy statement. It also emphasised that this interim guidance wasn’t a recommendation and could be revised after it considers evidence presented on the regional & district plan provisions of the proposed unitary plan.
In detail on its rural:urban boundary guidance, the panel said the purpose of such a boundary was to set a threshold for change – probably a minimum of 7 years of developable capacity – and to provide a high level spatial planning tool for structure planning, including planning for infrastructure, to respond to urban growth. The principal feature of a rural:urban boundary is that urbanisation outside it is to be avoided.
“The purpose of a rural:urban boundary should not be to identify areas for development or where development should not occur. Areas where development should not occur ought to be specifically identified & assessed on their own merits and then listed & protected using specific controls in the appropriate plan.”
The panel said the basis for establishing or changing the rural:urban boundary should be determined by criteria in the regional policy statement “which include at least the following” – a feasible developable area, infrastructure able to provided efficiently (including on a timely basis) & resiliently, and an appropriate timeframe for development.
The panel produced another caveat on the council view of restricting growth, essentially adopting an anti-compact stance while basing the guidance on the council’s compact city strategy: “There do not appear to be any plan methods which would achieve any objective or policy which seeks to allocate growth within & outside the current metropolitan area, other than using future urban zones as a restriction on growth.
“The panel is not satisfied that such restrictions would promote either the overall growth objective or the purpose of the Resource Management Act. The use of the words ‘greenfield’ & ‘brownfield’ in this context is accordingly not supported.”
In the interim guidance on rural subdivision, the panel said the unitary plan should provide for rural lifestyle subdivision “to a greater extent”: “It may be discouraged or constrained, but should not be effectively prevented. There should be no requirement to use existing rural sites rather than create new ones.”
22 February 2015: Unitary plan panel to give interim guidance next month (well, it came sooner)
31 January 2015: Minister says no need for legislation to help unitary plan hearing along
28 January 2015: Panel to make crucial decision affecting course of unitary plan hearing
21 January 2015: UP8: Crucial question: Who will control land release?
13 January 2015: UP5: Rule changes would shorten land supply and discourage new villages
12 January 2015: UP1: The PAUP, the MUL, the RUB, the RPS & the LRP – the what-the? (first in the unitary plan series of 8 articles, which you can link to from this one)
Attribution: Panel guidance.