By Matthew Paetz*
The Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) has many positive attributes. The push for intensification is an essential component of providing for the city’s growing population. At the same time, the AUP provides for planned urban expansion. However, a third urban planning approach is missing: utilising the vast rural hinterland of Auckland region as a resource to provide ecologically-focused communities.
My proposal is that a maximum of 20% of Auckland’s rural hinterland (which comprises nearly 400,000ha, the majority of which is not used for farming) is utilised for “cluster housing” zoning. This approach, quite widely employed in the US and to a lesser extent in Australia, enables clusters of housing within rural properties.
More than 70% of the land area of a site must be retained as open space in perpetuity – to help maintain rural character – and ecological restoration (on or off the site) is mandated. Minimum requirements in terms of tree planting and revegetation apply. High design and environmental standards are demanded. Smaller rural properties might only provide one cluster of 20 houses; large properties may comprise hundreds of houses in several clusters.
A major benefit of this approach is that the cluster housing can be developed utilising on-site approaches to wastewater disposal, water supply and stormwater, which are becoming more and more effective and efficient. This avoids a major issue that is a barrier to the future delivery of greenfield housing in Auckland – the cost of trunk infrastructure, and the time it takes to fund and construct that infrastructure.
Furthermore, given that the cost and efficiency of solar technology is predicted to plummet after 2018, such communities could also be largely self sufficient in terms of energy.
I propose between eight and 10 broad zones across the Auckland region that would enable cluster housing. The zones would avoid the most productive farming areas and sensitive ecological areas. They would typically be located in high amenity areas near Auckland’s coast, near rural towns, or close to existing urban areas.
I estimate these zones could collectively enable 50,000 houses over the next 30 years. But they could be particularly useful in addressing Auckland’s short to medium term housing needs, given their lack of reliance on large scale infrastructure funding and delivery. With wide distribution across the region, impacts on traffic infrastructure would not be concentrated, but rather dispersed.
Each zone would be governed by a high level and flexible masterplan, which would provide some structure to a planning approach that is otherwise quite organic and ad hoc.
This approach does not replace plans for urban intensification and planned greenfield expansion in Auckland. Rather, it complements and strengthens that approach. By helping to limit urban land price escalation, the approach would actively incentivise the redevelopment of urban properties (as opposed to land banking which is only incentivised by urban land value escalation).
It also addresses the fact that the AUP is predicated on unrealistic assumptions around development potential and feasibility in terms of urban intensification. I for one will be very surprised if we see any more than 50% of the housing the AUP assumes will be achieved through intensification over the next five years actually built.
If I am right, Auckland will fall even further behind in terms of its housing needs, without alternative approaches.