20 Apr 2022

Higher density development on cards for 5000 character homes in Auckland

10:00 am on 20 April 2022

Auckland Council expects a quarter of the city's character homes will lose their special heritage status when higher density rules come into force later this year.

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Photo: 123rf

It has released draft maps of the areas proposed for six and three-storey apartments, as part of its public consultation which opens today.

Council general manager of plans and places John Duguid said about 5000 of the 21,000 character homes will be able to be developed.

"With the government requirements there is no specific recognition of these special character areas, council is choosing to have a balance between the intensification requirements from government and enabling housing while retaining some areas of Auckland's identity," he said.

"We have to do a very rigorous exercise on a site-by-site property-by-property basis to justify why it's more important to apply those [character] restrictions than allow the five or six storeys depending which part of Auckland you're in."

The draft maps allow residents to search their address and see the zone proposed for their house.

Central government requires Auckland Council to allow for apartments of six storeys or more in and around the central city and large urban centres and more medium density housing of up to three storeys across almost all suburbs.

Auckland's 10 urban centres are Newmarket, Manukau, New Lynn, Sylvia Park, Botany, Papakura, Takapuna, Henderson, Albany, and Westgate.

The council is opening up its plans for public consultation today, ahead of notifying changes to its planning rulebook, the Auckland Unitary Plan, mid-August.

'Council is being tougher than government'

The Character Coalition is a group representing different heritage and historical societies across the city.

Its spokesperson Sally Hughes said the suburbs set to lose the most character homes are St Mary's Bay, Freemans Bay and Remuera.

"The areas that they've chosen to really hammer are valuable just like all of the special character areas. It is true that not every house in those areas is of heritage value but as a whole the areas are special character and they've been special character for many years for a reason."

She said Auckland Council had gone too far.

"The council is being tougher than even the government expected them to be, we feel. The loss of those areas will be very great."

Across the Waitemata Harbour, Stanley Point has prime views of the city and houses there are destined to lose their character protection.

The Devonport Historic society chair Margot McRae said it opposed any removal of the suburb's character status that allowed for high density housing.

"We're very much opposing that because it's full of character homes and doesn't seem to make much sense."

She said any medium-to-high density housing would likely still be unaffordable for most.

"The land value of these places is so high that if you take out some of the non-heritage houses, they're not going to be putting in affordable housing, they're going to be putting in very expensive housing for very wealthy people."

Council chief of strategy Megan Tyler said it understood character homes were an important part of Auckland's identity and wanted to hear from residents.

"I don't think anyone's going to be happy ultimately but the government's direction is that there should be no contraints at all. The question for Auckland is when looking at things like special character in the built environment, how much should be constrained because of that element and that value."

Councillor Chris Darby, who is chair of the council's planning committee, said he was encouraging all Aucklanders to have their say.

"Central government has come in strongly with how it wants Auckland to grow by requiring greater building height and density across our city, meaning big and at times complex changes in the years ahead," he said.

"The majority of the government's changes are mandatory. Where we do have scope to make some limited decisions, we're working hard to make sure they meet the needs of our growing city."

There are two significant central government planning reforms that the council is required to implement.

The National Policy Statement on Urban Development requires council to enable buildings of six storeys or more within walking distances to the city centre, 10 large metropolitan centres and around train stations and stops on the Northern Busway.

It also requires the council to enable greater heights and density within and around Auckland's other suburban centres, of which the council said there are around 70.

An amendment to the Resource Management Act passed in December, requiring the council to enable more medium-density housing of up to three storeys across almost all Auckland suburbs.

The act also requires the council to replace its existing design standards (or rules) with the government's new standards for developments, such as building setbacks from boundaries and minimum size requirements for outdoor living spaces.

Duguid said there was still a long way to go before final changes were decided.

"Right now, the council has put out some proposed approaches for Aucklanders to have their say on whether we've struck the right balance between the requirement to enable more housing density and protecting the things many Aucklanders value such as sites of cultural, historic, or ecological significance," he said.

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A three storey housing development in Auckland. Photo: Bill McKay

Evidence needed for exemptions

The government allows for some exemptions, called qualifying matters, to reduce its mandated building heights.

"But we can't use these without providing strong evidence to prove why further housing density should be limited, and this needs to be justified against the government's clear requirements to allow more housing density," Duguid said.

Council said feedback received from Aucklanders would help to inform its proposed plan change to the Auckland Unitary Plan which must be publicly notified by 20 August.

An independent hearings panel will consider all submissions before making recommendations to the council on the changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan.

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