Auckland Council expresses 'significant concerns' about aspects of the Government's proposed Urban Development Authorities, including the composition and powers of them and the nature of new development that could arise

By David Hargreaves

The Auckland Council’s questioning a number of aspects of the Government’s proposed new urban development authorities (UDAs) and wants to make sure it can have absolute power of veto over specific development proposals.

The council says it has “significant concerns” regarding aspects of the Government’s overall proposals including the composition and powers of Urban Development Authorities (UDAs), the processes outlined for the development of UDA, and “about the nature of new urban development that could arise if these are not sufficiently cognisant of, and responsive to, the legislative, planning, environmental and infrastructure context in which they would sit”.

The comments are made in the council’s draft submission to the Ministry of Business and Innovation and Employment, in response to MBIE’s discussion document published earlier this year.

At the moment the Government’s looking toward having legislation in Parliament by the middle of next year to establish UDAs.

As outlined by the MBIE discussion document, the powers potentially available for an urban development project would relate to:

►Land – powers to assemble parcels of land, including existing compulsory acquisition powers under the Public Works Act 1981.

►Planning and resource consenting – powers to override existing and proposed district plans and regional plans, and streamlined consenting processes.

►Infrastructure – powers to plan and build infrastructure such as roads, water pipes and reserves.

►Funding – powers to buy, sell and lease land and buildings; powers to borrow to fund infrastructure; and powers to levy charges to cover infrastructure costs. An urban development authority would not have building consenting powers.  

The MBIE discussion document says that to succeed, urban development projects need central and territorial authorities to work together.

Power of veto

“The Government therefore proposes that no development project will be established without the agreement of every territorial authority whose area falls within the proposed project boundaries. This effectively gives territorial authorities a veto over the application of the proposed legislation.”

However, while under the proposal, regional councils will be consulted as part of both the establishment and development plan stages, it is proposed there “will be no need to obtain the prior agreement of the relevant regional council to the development project and they will not have a veto right”.

As a “unitary council”, Auckland Council is both a regional council and a territorial authority.

The council submission says as local authorities, “regional councils should be involved in the process of developing a UDA”.

“…The council strongly supports territorial authority veto rights (proposal 50). In particular, the veto right is essential to ensure the strategic objectives of an UDA are appropriate and do not undermine the council’s responsibilities under Part 2 of the Resource Management Act (RMA). Any legislation needs to be clear that if a territorial authority vetoes a UDA proposal, the process ends.”

Having made this point forcefully, the council then goes on to question whether the MBIE discussion document actually properly tackles the perceived development problems.

‘Problem insufficiently defined’

“The problem which the discussion document seeks to solve is insufficiently defined,” the council says.

“A more specific problem definition would be helpful in providing useful feedback and suggested improvements. In addition, the discussion document does not address the considerable resources that would be required to establish and operationalise a UDA.

“…The council does not believe that, as proposed, the tools, processes, and interventions in the discussion document will address the underlying constraints that presently hold urban development back. In addition, many of the suggested tools intended for UDAs’ use are already available to local authorities.

“The council is unconvinced that, as stated in the diagram of proposed processes (page 15), the benefits of the proposals will lead to better integration between land use planning and transport systems, as well as increased planning certainty for developers. Collectively, the proposals are likely to reduce planning integration and will reduce certainty for local government and other actors such as key infrastructure providers.”

The submission goes on to say that the council does not support proposals that would allow the strategic objectives of a UDA in a project area to override a territorial authority’s strategic decision making at the city and regional level. For Auckland, this includes proposals that would conflict with the urban growth strategy contained in the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) and the Auckland Plan.