Updated: Deep in the pile of submissions to Auckland Council over the new residential planning zones, Kāinga Ora shows its hand. Bruce Morris finds some contentious stuff among the hundreds of pages.

If the country’s biggest landlord and property developer has its way, the Auckland of the future will be dominated by multi-storey and high-rise blocks, putting even more squeeze on the traditional Kiwi home with its own backyard.

Kāinga Ora, the Government’s giant state housing corporation, is standing against what it calls the “blanket approach” to low density zoning, which allows one house for each section with heights not exceeding two storeys. It says it’s time to make room for greater intensification.

The agency sees no place for the single house precinct created under the original Auckland Unitary Plan (revised this year to “low density residential zone”). Instead, it wants just two of the existing urban residential zones.

Housing intensification is up-ending our lives in ways we never imagined
Hash out intensification funding or risk under-servicing communities

One, “mixed housing urban” (MHUZ), becoming known as “three-by-threes”, would broadly allow for three-storey homes on tight plots of land (generally, a standard suburban section where the old house is removed and three or four townhouses are built in its place); the other (THABZ) would expand the territory of the existing “terraced housing and apartment building” zone, allowing blocks of at least six storeys – built on a good-sized suburban section, or perhaps two joined together – to spread much wider.

Such a step wouldn’t automatically take away all the existing limited low-density protections because the agency supports retaining various qualifying matters under the dwindling “one house” rules. However, it wants restrictions on what neighbourhoods should qualify and apparently considers such rankings are best managed through overlays not embedded in the Unitary Plan.

Kāinga Ora’s strike at Auckland’s lowest-density housing zone will surely rattle property owners in the city’s older suburbs especially, but it has plenty more on its wish-list, presumably with the knowledge of the Government, if not its blessing.

Housing Minister Megan Woods’ office would not comment on the agency’s submission, but Kāinga Ora told Newsroom it had not acted in self-interest.

“Kāinga Ora takes a consistent approach to plan submissions, informed by the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD) and the Medium Density Residential Standards.  

“Submissions consider the needs of an area in general terms and are not informed by what land Kāinga Ora currently owns or intends to purchase.”

“Our submission on Auckland Plan Change 78 is mainly focussed on ensuring the plan change contributes to and supports a well-functioning urban environment through concentrating housing around public transport hubs, public transport corridors, and in and around major urban centres,” a spokesperson said.

The agency wants a substantial change to the “walkable catchments” to town centres and train stations, potentially pulling hundreds of new streets and thousands of homes into the six-storey-plus high density zone in Auckland.

It is also after new catchments to include main bus routes that would make the high-rise impact even greater, and wants developers to have the right to go as high as five storeys adjacent to THAB construction sites that reach 10 storeys or higher.

Already the valued Kiwi concept of a home on its own section is on borrowed time through much of the city, and Kāinga Ora’s push for greater density potentially undermines it further.

The agency has thousands of new state homes in the planning stage or under construction so is not short of medium-term opportunity to eat into a growing waiting list for social housing. But it is plainly looking to future proof its operation in Auckland and elsewhere, and will not lack support from private developers.

Kāinga Ora has revealed its thinking in formal submissions to independent planners appointed by the council to further guide its response to the Government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development, new medium density residential standards and requirements of the Resource Management Act.

The Government’s legal moves, supported by National, require local authorities to increase housing intensification in areas like city centres, metropolitan centres, town centres and near rapid transit stops. It was hurried legislation and forced councils to act quickly.

In Auckland, the reception was hardly charitable, with feeling widespread – and shared by many local councillors – that the zones under the original “Supercity” Unitary Plan were already answering the call for greater intensification.

The headlines were dominated by heritage organisations troubled by the potential loss of low-density protection for streets and suburbs of old villas and bungalows. But there was plenty of noise from the other side too: more houses, bringing down prices, would give younger people a better chance of a home of their own.

In Auckland, the deadline was met. Just. But some officers and councillors complained they didn’t have the time to give the process the deliberation it deserved so soon after the creation of the Unitary Plan.

In July, the council planning committee finalised its policy directions on the legislation, basically rubber-stamping a roadmap prepared under duress by its officers.

To meet the legislative demand, it cut thousands of homes from the old single house zone and pushed most of the city’s residential belts into what is now colloquially called “three-by-threes” (three, three-storeyed units on a single section), with further wide areas of high density (six storeys and above) created within the walkable catchments.

From August, the new rules became largely operative, meaning, for example, “three-by-threes” can now be built on a section previously restricted to one double-storey home – unless the land is within the shrinking low density precincts.

But that is not the end of the matter. In a horse-before-the-cart move forced by the Government process, the council appointed a hearings panel and opened a formal procedure which has drawn well over 2000 submissions.

They will be heard through next year before the panel reports back by the end of March 2024 with recommended changes, which will then have to be accepted by the Government.

That’s the platform where Kāinga Ora will argue its case, perhaps supported by developers of like mind, and its pro-intensification message will in due course no doubt be put before other cities.

Of course, Kāinga Ora is just one submitter and independent planners and the council will not simply roll over and accept its prescription for the future. But it is a powerful Government agency, backed by a strong team of planners and lawyers, and its arguments will carry plenty of weight.

In its vast submission challenging the council’s August plan – covering hundreds of pages of detail and street-by-street maps – the agency takes exception to the retention of the old single house zone for 23 outlying settlements, including Helensville, Clarks Beach, Glenbrook Beach, Karaka, Maraetai and Riverhead. It wants that zone deleted and replaced by three-by-threes.

Alongside its proposal to delete the new low-density residential zone “in its entirety”, it opposes retaining some special qualifying criteria like volcanic viewshafts, ridgeline protection and local public views in the Unitary Plan.

The bulk of the existing qualifying matters that give low density protection to pockets of many suburbs – as with the character homes of heritage suburbs like Devonport and Ponsonby – would apparently remain under the agency’s masterplan.

But with the city down to just two residential zones, it may be up to the discretion of council officers to apply them in a whole new round of assessments – without the security of a low density zone embedded in the Unitary Plan – if Kāinga Ora managed to persuade the hearing panel,

The council used the walkable catchments to city and town centres and rapid transit stations to decide where the THAB high density zone should sit, and Kāinga Ora apparently considers it was too conservative.

In a step that would add thousands of Auckland homes to the already-declared high density precincts, it proposes the zone should instead be applied to:

– 2km from a city centre (20-25 minute walk) – against the council’s planned 1200m (15-minute walk);

– 1200m from a town centre or rail station (15 minute walk), as opposed to the council’s 800m (10 minute walk).

As well, the agency wants to apply the THAB zone to properties that fall within 400m (or a five-minute walk) of a “frequent transport network” stop. That would cover buses running through a town or city centre every 15 minutes or so, and would push further thousands of extra homes into the high density bracket in Auckland alone.

The submissions present a wide range of other targets, like special housing areas, the light rail corridor and height changes in business and residential zones.

In the meantime, city property owners with family homes on their own lump of land will worry about what they’re stuck with now, and how that could be even worse in the future. A six-storey apartment block rising across the road – or a three-by-three popping up next door – will do nothing to enhance a property’s value or, many would argue, the visual appeal of our biggest city.

The Kainga Ora submission can be found here.

* An earlier version of this story incorrectly said no resource consent was needed in either category currently, however one is needed for THAB. 

Leave a comment