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News and views from our members.
Views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Urban Design Forum or its supporting institutes.

A Simple Plan?

  • 2 August 2016
  • Author: Graeme Scott
  • Number of views: 931
A Simple Plan?
The Auckland Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel’s recommendations to Auckland Council are clear, and as simple as they could be following the two-plus years of submissions/mediations/expert conferences and hearings involving almost everyone in Auckland’s design and planning community.  

Gone are the peripheral concerns around matters that are, or should be, dealt with by other regulations, such as dwelling and room sizes, ceiling heights, window sizes and insulation standards which, in the Panel’s view, are Building Code matters.  Arguments around socially aspirational outcomes (affordable housing, universal access) have been swept aside. The much debated rural-urban-boundary, following agreement by our national politicians that it’s a bad idea, has been predictably neutralised as an issue, although it’s still there in name.  Gone are the so-called urban design rules on such matters as garage door setbacks, windows to the street and front fence heights.  Requirements for parking on private land are, thankfully, mostly gone.

So, a simple plan; a plan that is, as they say, focussed on outcomes and integrated both vertically and horizontally.  By way of example, in the residential rules (the main area of my involvement), the outlook requirements from habitable rooms are now common to all the main zones, and I never did understand why, in the originally proposed plan, the mixed housing zones had yards and height-in-relation-to boundary-controls, while the terrace house and apartment zone had stepped setback dimensions to achieve much the same end.  All these zones now have a common set of rules, covering such matters as coverage, building separation, outdoor living and fences.

The Panel has taken the Auckland Plan very seriously, and has modelled their recommended plan on the principles set out in the 2010 document.  But more than that, it has actually delivered on the compact city vision, with almost 60% of the planned 422,000 dwellings over the next 30 years to be located inside the 2010 Metropolitan Urban Limit.  Some of the increase in the planned numbers above the originally proposed 212,000 came from mediated changes to the zone rules during the hearings process (it went up to around 296,000 as a result), but the huge increase to the present number appears to be largely a result of applying the zones differently on the maps.  Density around centres and transport corridors has been emphasised.

So this is the good news, but the other part of the Auckland Plan’s vision for the quality compact urban form is the “quality” part, and this is where the recommended plan encounters some difficulty.  While “recognising that the need to achieve a quality design is increasingly important as the scale of development increases”, the Panel’s report goes on to say “good design is based on principles rather than rules. Mere reference to good design or the listing of preferred design principles is ill-suited to a regulatory framework which imposes binary ‘grant/decline’ outcomes. Discretionary decision-making must be exercised on the basis of relevant and clear objectives, policies and assessment criteria rather than on subjective preferences”.

Auckland Council’s brave attempt to start to address this issue through the mandatory provision of Design Statements has been ruled out as being costly and ineffective, but there’s little on offer as a replacement, and no mention of peer design review which has proved so successful at Hobsonville Point, for instance.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect an RMA plan to deliver

The stars are aligned…

Graeme Scott's Radio NZ interview

  • 23 May 2016
  • Author: Graeme Scott
  • Number of views: 1448
The stars are aligned…
For better or worse, we now have cross-party agreement that Auckland’s proposed rural-urban-boundary is a bad idea.

Supposedly responsible for escalating residential land prices, it now looks unlikely to be included in the Independent 

Hearing Panel’s recommendations to Council.  That of course begs several important questions, such as:

Will the outward expansion be satellite cities, planned communities, or just ordinary sprawl?
Who will pay to install services in the vast areas envisaged to be opened up thereby reducing price?
How will transport be organised in the new areas, or will we just build roads?

Anyway, the announcement by the Labour party last week triggered this interview on National Radio between chairman Graeme Scott and Jesse Mulligan. 

Housing supply: it’s complicated

  • 13 April 2016
  • Author: Graeme Scott
  • Number of views: 1750
Housing supply: it’s complicated

Respected business commentator, Brian Gaynor, writing in the NZ Herald on 2 April 2016, examines the changing role of banks over the last 30 or so years.  He outlines the history of banking deregulation and the subsequent massive rise in residential lending, from less than one billion dollars in 1984 to $211B this year.

His conclusion that “aggressive bank lending has been a major contributor to the sustained rise in house prices over the past few decades” adds yet another ingredient into the complex mix affecting housing supply.

Together with economists’ frequent references to our favoured tax treatment of houses, the growing view of houses as investment products rather than homes, the anecdotal evidence of dwellings standing empty in Auckland, and the significant proportion of the building industry being diverted into reconstructing leaky buildings, it’s a rich mix that warrants some serious attention from the government.

How disappointing, then, to read the Productivity Commission’s view that “planning has massively increased the price of urban land by not zoning and servicing enough land for new housing”, (NBR 15 January 2016) with only a passing reference to the multitude of other factors involved.

To be fair, the topic they’re investigating is urban planning, but their airy dismissal of the “many reasons why house prices have grown” is very frustrating.

However, in our submission to them, we stuck to our field of expertise and avoided politically fraught topics – you can read it here.  Many thanks to all those who contributed.

If you’re really stuck for something to do, you could read all the submissions at

In their submission, Sir Geoffery Palmer and Dr Roger Blakeley, noting the government’s current multi-headed interest in planning and urban design, went on to say “At the very least, those stakeholders with an interest in planning will suffer from submission fatigue.  Three sets of submissions on related, but not identical, topics are due almost at the same time.
This is a recipe for confusion and policy train wreck. Serious resources need to be brought to a topic like this, and to balkanize the policy resources of a small country in three separate efforts seems both unwise and profligate.”

We can all agree with that!


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