THE BIG SQUEEZE
Auckland Council’s Planning, Environment and Parks Committee has decided to engage Aucklanders in a consultative process from 6 June to 30th July 2023 regarding a draft Future Development Strategy (“FDS”) that has been prepared by the Auckland Council.
The FDS, when will replace parts of the existing Auckland Plan 2050, the Development Strategy 2018 and the Future Urban Land Supply Strategy 2017.
The draft FDS responds to the government issued NPS-UD, which requires councils to ensure there is at least sufficient housing and business development to meet demand for the next 30 years.
Even though Aucklanders have already seen the Council’s response to the NPS-UD, being Council’s Plan Change 78, the new draft FDS seems to be a re-think. Unfortunately, there was a significant time delay been Plan Change 78 and the draft FDS and many investors had secured their investments appropriately.
The overall aim of the FDS is to ensure that as much of the development available is focussed in locations close to employment, services and rapid transit networks. (1) The timing for introducing new (Greenfields / Future Urban zoned) areas is generally pushed back from past planning timeframes and is based on when the actual infrastructure is available. The implication is that wider areas where land is future-urban zoned via recent plan changes, will be re-zoned as rural.
Whenever a long reaching decision has to be made in NZ, we have the benefit of being a relatively ‘new’ country in that we can look to see what other cities have done and see what has worked and what hasn’t.
Let us not make the same mistake again and bury our heads in the sand when it comes to making big decisions like this, as this a big one. Incidentally, I remember researching the issues we had with the failed insulclad cladding for houses which had a large part to play in the leaky home debacle in the early 2000’s that cost the country north of $47 billion. I was surprised to find in my research that insulclad had been tried and failed in a town in the USA, decades prior to being accepted here in New Zealand. It seems the Building Industry Authority (now disbanded) never saw the memo.
So let’s do a bit of research first before we jump in and create a potential solution without seeing if it has already been done and failed elsewhere in the past.
How about we look at another country that is much older than ours and has a similar geographical area. Take the UK for example; the UK has roughly the same geographical area of NZ and has been through the issues that we are now going through over 100 years ago. Fortunately, our English forefathers had the foresight to upgrade their infrastructure in London, creating a myriad of large sewers and drains in the 1860’s to cater for the perceived growth(2).
Have we catered for growth when it comes to infrastructure? Going for a swim at beaches in Misson Bay, St Heliers, Okahu Bay and Herne Bay following a storm may suggest we haven’t. These beaches are all considered ‘high risk’ during wet weather due to wastewater overflow.(4)
An international report has been put together on this city planning issue which has been drawn from over 300 academic papers. The report is called: “Demystifying Compact Urban Growth: Evidence from 300 Studies Across the World”(5)
The studies have concentrated on high income countries and it has summarised the pro’s and con’s of intensifying a city versus allowing urban greenfield development. The executive summary of the report makes this statement:
“Overall, 69% of the analyses found positive effects associated with compact urban form. The collected evidence clearly suggests that increasing compactness has positive effects on a city’s productivity, innovation, access to services, and amenities, value of space, efficiency of public services delivery, social equity, safety, energy efficiency, and sustainable mode choice. There therefore seems to be a clear economic case for compact urban form.”
This concurs with the Auckland Council point of view.
However, wait for the caveat, the summary goes on to state the following:
“However, the few analyses available find that compactness in the global South has more negative effects on access to jobs, services, and amenities than in the global North.”
The ‘Global South’ refers to land mass south of the equator.
The report details why it made the latter statement and it basically states that the higher income countries were the subject of the study and the reverse effects would/could be encountered in lower income countries. The report specifically identified the cost of the well-being of people if the population was made up mostly of renters compared to owner occupiers. The cost of living would increase and the financial and other forms of health of the occupants would be sacrificed. Apart from the various well-being aspects of the occupants, the report goes on to state:
“Increasing compactness can also contribute to higher land values and housing costs, which are borne disproportionately by renters and first-time buyers.”
The after-effects on this is likely to be an increased crime rate, an issue which we are currently trying to solve. City intensification is likely to make this worse.
Luckily that is not us, ‘whew’, most people live in their own house in NZ don’t they? Let’s check the stat’s from the census in 2018 to find out, just to be sure:
Census 2018 – Dept of Statistics NZ
Oh dear, ok, so the Census statistics show that there is a high rental contingency within our population and no doubt that has increased over the last five years since the last census was published in 2018, well before the house prices extended beyond the reach of many.
So, lets summarise what this significant global report is telling us as it relates to urban intensification.
Don’t do it, or do it and suffer the consequences, if:
- your country has a high rental population (it has)
- your country is in the global south (it is)
- your country already has an exiting issue with over-priced housing (it has)
- your country has forethought the growth and has built substantial underground infrastructure (it hasn’t)
So it would seem clear that the report: “Demystifying Compact Urban Growth: Evidence from 300 Studies Across the World”(5) is suggesting that intensification of urban areas is not a good idea for NZ. I wonder if the Auckland Council has seen this study or is it on the same link that the Building Authority missed about the Insulclad?
Satellite cities and significant transport could be created by expanding the existing townships. Developers could obtain funding from ACC and/or similar funders to pay for the infrastructure as they did with the infrastructure in Millwater (6).
The rural production areas that have high production potential or most ideal for livestock can be separately zoned so these areas are not compromised.
The council can upgrade the requirements of the developers to install large wastewater/sewer pipes/other infrastructure to cater for the future growth of the satellite cities. The council will benefit from the savings in infrastructure cost as the Council cost will be minimalised and at the same time the Council will benefit from the income of additional land rates from the creation of new sections.
The Council will need to maintain this infrastructure but the cost for this initially will be relatively insignificant as it is all brand new. The Council can use these reduced costs and increased income to help reduce the Councils massive debt.
The Public Private Partnership (PPP) (7) has proven to be the way forward with the reduction of culpable risk and being able to spread the public capital wider to incorporate more projects. On a macro/micro scale, it worked with the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway and the Millwater township.
It seems that the Policy Statement, issued by the government, has given a lot of lee-way to the Councils in the decision on how the dictated result should be brought about. In saying this, a prescribed policy is more undemocratic and would divide the electoral vote.
The position of the writer of this blog is to allow urban expansion to create satellite cities, not only because the international experts advise this, but also because it makes more financial sense for the Council. New infrastructure in new areas can be financed externally through partnerships however digging up the city to replace infrastructure may not be. More intensifications equals more orange cones, less productivity and more stress.
The final point is that we are lucky being relatively so far away that we can stretch out and enjoy a 600-800 m2 section without breaking the bank. Those citizens that want to live shoulder to shoulder are free to move to Hong Kong/ KL or London.