7/09/2022·4 mins to read

Reshaping Auckland: intensification of more than just special character areas

Big changes are on the way for Auckland with the recent notification of Plan Change 78 (PC78) to the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP).

PC78 proposes amendments to the AUP that implement two key Government instruments: the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD) and Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2021 (Enabling Housing Act), which together direct significant intensification of New Zealand’s urban areas.

While commentary to date has been focussed on the retention, or not, of some ‘special character areas’, that focus belies the scale of the change that PC78 represents across most of Auckland’s residential areas. In this article we set out some comments on the implications of what has been proposed.

Key points:

  • PC78 proposes significant amendments to the AUP that will enable residential intensification across all of Auckland, not just areas where special character protections are being removed.

  • The implications of what PC78 proposes are significant, particularly in terms of infrastructure provision.

  • Submissions on PC78 are due on 29 September 2022.

Implementing the Government’s intensification directives

As outlined in our previous article (here), the NPS-UD and Enabling Housing Act direct all relevant territorial authorities to amend their district plans to:

  • permit up to three dwellings of up to three storeys in height on most residential sites, subject to compliance with certain standards (the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS));

  • enable buildings of up to six storeys within a walkable catchment of existing and planned rapid transit stops, the edge of city centre zones, and the edge of metropolitan centre zones.

PC78 implements those objectives by:

  • incorporating the MDRS into the AUP through amendments to the Mixed Housing Urban (MHU) and Terraced Housing and Apartment Buildings (THAB) zones and “upzoning” large swathes of residential land to these more intensive zones;

  • giving effect to the NPS‑UD through amendments to the THAB Zone provisions to enable six storey buildings within the walkable catchment of rapid transit stations (for example, the rail network and the Northern Busway), the city centre and metropolitan centres.

PC78, like the other plan changes proposed by other relevant councils that implement the Government’s directions, will be progressed through the Intensification Streamlined Planning Process (ISPP), an expedited process similar to that used following notification of the AUP in 2014.

Importantly - the proposed provisions implementing the MDRS have immediate legal effect. This means they apply now.

Significant shift in the scheme of the AUP

Implementation of the MDRS and NPS-UD must occur across all of Auckland. There are limited exceptions called qualifying matters. Some of those qualifying matters are specified in the Enabling Housing Act (for example where the land is subject to natural hazards or involves heritage), and others can be identified by the Council after a site-specific analysis (Council Qualifying Matter). The ‘special character areas’ that have been the focus of media commentary to date are a Council Qualifying Matter.

However, PC78 is of much greater significance than intensification of some existing ‘special character areas’ - it enables intensification, with limited exceptions, across most of Auckland’s residential areas.

Until now, the AUP has set out a pattern of zoning in which the most permissive residential zones (THAB at six storeys and MHU at three storeys) are clustered around centres, transport nodes and along transport corridors. The lower intensity zones are generally located at a greater distance from these places. This was driven largely by a desire to put the most people close to public transport infrastructure and community facilities so there was less dependency on private cars and therefore traffic congestion and emissions were reduced.

Reflecting that pattern, the ‘normal’ zone in Auckland, applying to over 30% of the residential area, was the Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS) Zone. The MHS permitted two storey buildings and up to three dwellings per site.

PC78 proposes making the MHU Zone the ‘new normal’ in almost all of Auckland. Its provisions have been amended to permit more intensive MDRS developments and it is subject to the limited application of qualifying matters discussed above.

Intensification across all of Auckland poses new challenges

PC78 proposes intensification across all of the Auckland urban area, including where there may be limited infrastructure capacity to support the additional growth that will be enabled. For instance, PC78 proposes restricting intensification due to transport constraints in only one location (the Beachlands coastal town in East Auckland). While there are some limited Council Qualifying Matters related to stormwater disposal, water supply and wastewater infrastructure constraints, they are limited in extent.

In our view, this approach risks unanticipated results. For instance, more intensive development away from established public transport networks and urban centres, risks creating intensive developments that are reliant on private vehicles. This will exacerbate congestion and is contrary to our emissions reductions objectives.

It is unclear why the Enabling Housing Act directed intensification to be dispersed across the urban area, rather than clustered around existing transport nodes urban centres which is where the NPS-UD had previously directed that intensification was to occur.

In fact the Government’s Regulatory Impact Statement for the Enabling Housing Act noted that the “wider urban impacts” of the proposals could include increased traffic congestion, “if there is a significant supply response far from arterial routes or in areas that are poorly serviced by public transport”. However, the analysis proceeded on the basis that market forces would cause intensification to occur in inner-city suburbs.

In our view, there would be greater surety of that outcome if those inner-city suburbs (and others well served by transport infrastructure) were where intensification was directed to occur. Instead, intensification has been enabled over all of Auckland, not just those locations where it would be most appropriate.

Furthermore, because development that complies with the MDRS is permitted as of right, there is limited ability for the Council to require developers to undertake infrastructure upgrades as a condition of consent. While there are some mechanisms available to fund infrastructure to support housing intensification, for instance the Infrastructure Levy Model under the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Act 2020 (see our Infrastructure: review, reform and recover report here), it is very unlikely that they will be sufficient to fund the infrastructure required to support the dispersed intensification that PC78 will enable. In short we end up back where we already are with intensification enabled everywhere and no solution to how infrastructure is provided or funded. 

Finally, while intensification is enabled, there is also a “sting in the tail” with the provisions also requiring additional requirements such as deep root zones and additional landscaping on developments of four dwellings or more which will no doubt be significant obstacles to some projects. These provisions will need careful scrutiny.

Our experts can assist you with making a submission on PC78

Submissions on PC78 are due on 29 September 2022. Given the significance of what is proposed, it is important that interested parties make a submission.

To understand the implications of PC78, or for assistance with making a submission, please get in touch with one of our team of property development experts listed above.

Special thanks to Chris Ryan for his assistance in writing this article.



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