Debunking Unitary Plan Myths – Again

It pays to check and ask if you are not sure


It seems that despite the ongoing information campaigns we still have a few myths floating around the Unitary Plan. I already myth-busted some (in-part) recently in my High Rises are NOT Heading for the Burbs which attracted attention and even praise from the Council. However, I came across some material that continues to purport some of the same myths this blog, other blogs and the Council and busted before. As we approach the second round of submissions for the Unitary Plan the last thing we need is for myths to run-away and cloud the debate again.

The source where I got the information leading to the myths I will keep anonymous unless the person concerned wishes to be identified.


In the material against the Unitary Plan the following points were made:

  • Doesn’t consider a range of options
  • Doesn’t consider economic cost
  • Rations land and makes housing unaffordable
  • expensive land sucks billions out of the economy
  • Ignores infrastructure needs
  • Ignores inevitable advances in personal and public transport
  • Squanders billions on a tunnel that will serve few people
  • Doesn’t consider spreading development to the North, West Auckland and Manukau
  • Will devastate leafy suburbs
  • Tenements will cause huge social problems


I do wonder if the Council would post a response to the above claims however, I will run some replies of my own here point by point.


The Unitary Plan does not consider the range of options

The basic framework the Unitary Plan needs to abide to is the operative Auckland Plan. The Auckland Plan clearly sets out a 60:40 Brownfield:Greenfield ratio for all urban development in the Auckland Region. While the Auckland Plan was being debated three years ago we had our chance in setting how much urban development should be Greenfield and how much should be Brownfield. After much debate it was decided by the Governing Body at the time that the 60:40 ratio will be used for our urban development. Cue the Unitary Plan which sets out how we plan for that urban development within the 60:40 ratio (that is no more that 40% of urban development (including redevelopment) is to be in Greenfield sites). As for how we manage our Greenfield development; well that is set through the Rural Urban Boundary and Future Urban Zones. The RUB sets a line on how far our urban development can “sprawl” while the Future Urban Zones (that are within the Rural Urban Boundary and are the yellow zone on the maps) illustrate where Greenfield development can go.

Remember that the Council (and endorsed by the Conservative-Right) plan to “stage” the release of land in the Future Urban Zone rather than releasing it free-for-all to prevent “over-taxation” on infrastructure investment to the ratepayers. Also the RUB is not set in stone until the Council adopts whatever the final recommendations from the Unitary Plan Independent Commissioners are. As a matter of fact nothing in the Unitary Plan is fully confirmed until the Council adopts the recommendations from the Hearing Commissioners. So we still have a wide scope available to consider the range of options available to us as a City.


The Unitary Plan does not consider economic cost

That is a very wide point and you could look at a range of economic costs that include (but not solely limited to):

  • Monetary cost
  • Social Economic Cost
  • Physical and/or Social Environmental Economic Costs
  • Business and/or industrial economic costs
  • Opportunity Costs

The Unitary however, is shaped and “controlled” by the Resource Management Act as it (the Unitary Plan) is a planning document. The RMA is an “effects-based” document that does recognise economic costs both when resource consents are set, and planning documents like the Unitary Plan are drawn up. No doubt (unless the Council really wants the Commissioners to pick the Unitary Plan to piece) economic considerations have been taken into account with the Proposed Unitary Plan (including Section 32 analysis) and that the Hearings will test the Unitary Plan against economic costs along the way.


Rations Land and Makes Housing Unaffordable

Rationing land – no, making housing unaffordable – yes – but not what and where the opponents would expect to find the problem (and subsequent answer).

The Unitary Plan does not ration land via the Rural Urban Boundary and the Future Urban Zone but rather prevents a free for all in the Greenfield sites before major infrastructure has had a chance to catch up. As I have mentioned in my “Slow News Day. We Have the Bigger Picture to Focus On” a regional big focus approach is needed by the Governing Body and the bureaucracy to coordinate where the next big piece of urban development is going to go – Brown or Greenfield. That way you can line up the infrastructure (physical and civic) needs before the market and developers take over and provide the housing, commercial and industrial facilities. Unless you want to be (as we are doing from ad-hoc urban development) retrofitting infrastructure a short way down the track because we forgot our coordination.

As for the Unitary Plan making housing unaffordable? Well in its current form it is a yes but through our own design and interference rather than the original intentions of the Plan itself. In short we have two issues with the current Proposed Unitary Plan that need addressing:

  • Complex development controls (in Section Three of the Unitary Plan) – something the Minister of Finance has made mention of yesterday (Budget may ease size regulations for home builders)
  • Zoning on the Isthmus is not correct. That is too much Single House and Mixed Housing Suburban Zones and not enough Mixed Housing Urban, and Terrace Housing and Apartment Zones

My submission to the Proposed Unitary Plan made specific mention of the two bullet points above. You can read the submission below:


Expensive Land Sucks Billions out of the Economy

Hmm need to see empirical evidence of that claim first before commenting on it. But I could easily guess that some planning controls (that is wrong zoning) could be in part to blame.


Ignores Infrastructure Costs

This has been thrashed about since the Unitary Plan was first conceived and it is still being used as a spanner trying to gum up the progress of the Unitary Plan (especially by a particular Councillor). In itself the Unitary Plan does not ignore infrastructure costs otherwise it would be in breach of the Resource Management Act and most likely the Local Government Act as well. However, having the physical and civic infrastructure lined up with the urban development is something that can not be dismissed and should be courting maximum attention over the next couple of years. Again coordination such as what I mentioned here (Slow News Day. We Have the Bigger Picture to Focus On) is going to be needed if we are to line all the ducks up and keep costs down. Or again we go fragmented and be stung with an unnecessary and painful costs to retrofit and fix up somewhere down the track (as Auckland is already doing now).

The fragmentation is what we need to avoid to save ourselves the large infrastructure costs further down the track. The problem is and I am going to go on a limb here but we can not deal with this fragmentation while the entire Council itself seems to be fragmented itself. In short we have the Governing Body wanting one thing, the planners trying to get things lined up, Auckland Transport then doing its own thing, Watercare doing something else, the Local Boards left in the wilderness, ATEED doing something else again, and the citizenry and businesses jumping up and accusing the Council plus the CCO’s as being disorganised. And to be frank I can see why the people and businesses are jumping up and down with frustration too.


An obvious one but yes we need to get everyone in the Council singing and acting off the same song sheet together. An example of this coordination could be the development of the southern Rural Urban Boundary – Future Urban Zone area.


Situation: Population growth has been fasted than expected and to help relieve pressure the Council opens up large Future Urban Zone areas between Drury and Pukekohe for urban development.


Southern Rural Urban Boundary with Future urban zones in yellow
Southern Rural Urban Boundary with Future urban zones in yellow


What we need:

  • Housing
  • Commercial centres such as new Neighbourhood and Local Centres in the new development area
  • Development of light and heavy industry nearby (Drury South is zoned heavy industry per the Proposed Unitary Plan)
  • Fresh, Storm, and Waste Water infrastructure as the land is currently rural
  • Roads, and public transport infrastructure (this includes making sure State Highways 1 and 22 are up to scratch)
  • Parks
  • Community facilities (maybe a new library and community hall)
  • Schools, police, fire and medical facilities able to take the load (so coordination with Central Government)


Who is involved?

Pretty much everyone including Central Government


The Breakdown


Council and Watercare will need to make sure that fresh, storm and waste water infrastructure is not only set and ready to go for the new development but that the existing infrastructure can handle the load as well. This means through coordination that at the same time the new development is under way in the deep south, Watercare also upgrade the Southern Interceptor which is the main sewerage trunk pipeline that takes Southern Auckland’s sewerage to the Mangere Sewerage Plant. We know the Southern Interceptor is old and at capacity already so the new development could be a good catalyst in upgrading the interceptor especially as further Brownfield developments would be occurring as well in the existing urban areas of the South. Also this could be a good time for Watercare to put in the new waste-water treatment plant at Drury South that have been on the plans for a while (so trying to get ahead of our infrastructure investment rather than playing constant catch up).

However, with proper coordination between everyone Watercare would know exactly when these sewerage infrastructure investments were needed and hopefully would get it done before the new development was complete (even if it meant an infrastructure surplus for ten years).



This is always a fun one to do especially when Auckland Transport, New Zealand Transport Agency (who look after the State Highways) and Kiwi Rail are all involved. The questions needing to be answered with the subsequent work rolled out in a coordinated fashion are:

  • Does State Highway 22 need widening or improvements as some 20,000 new homes plus commercial and any industrial centres are developed
  • Does State Highway 1 and the Drury interchange need upgrading like the Takanini Interchange does to handle future private and freight traffic loads from the new development
  • If Paerata and Drury Stations are to be built by AT, should at the same time Kiwi Rail electrify that section (Papakura and Pukekohe) of track while making provisions for a future third main
  • Where will the bus stops go
  • What kind of local and arterial roads will be needed and where that will suit the development
  • Does existing infrastructure further north need upgrading (again the Takanini Interchange for example)
  • Do we have enough electric trains for the increased patronage via heavy rail with the new development straddling the rail corridor once Pukekohe is electrified

All the above will need to be lined up otherwise there is the very high risk of something in the puzzle being left out. Most likely the two State Highways not being up to scratch causing bottlenecks that did not need to be there even if public transport was up to scratch for that area.


Housing, Commercial, and Industrial Centres

Laying down your residential, commercial, and industrial zones are the hardest things to actually do (properly) but the easiest to cock-up with the consequences far-reaching for everyone – and I mean everyone. It is not as simple as Sim City 4 (although it still had its challenges) in plopping down a zone or two and letting development do the rest. Preparing the infrastructure for the new zones and subsequent development aside, the different zones are often incompatible with each other. For example you do not place residential zones right next to heavy industrial zones. Bringing back infrastructure would you place industry miles away from main roads, motorways, and the rail line? Would you place your lowest density developments next to the main rail or bus station? Do you utilise mixed zoning to blend commercial and residential developments to cut down car commuting? What level of infrastructure will be needed from the zone that has been placed down? All questions that need to be answered and coordination needed to get it right first time.

Furthermore when laying down the zones to kick-start a new development (whether Brownfield or Greenfield (as I am using in this example)) you need to consider existing zones else where across the City as well. For our southern RUB case I am using here my attention would also be on the zones around Manukau and Wiri – home of the Manukau Metropolitan Centre (Manukau City Centre) and the Wiri industrial complex. You got 20,000 new homes coming in a Greenfield site, that means upwards of 40,000-60,000 new residents that will need a place to work. Not all will work within their local area so they will search further a field for their employment (and leisure activities as well). As zones give influence to the activities within the given area it is paramount that the zone is suited for what you are trying to achieve.

So for Manukau the Metropolitan (or Super Metropolitan) Centre Zone should allow high density commercial and residential developments to act as the major commercial (and civic) hub for the southern Auckland area. With Wiri it need to be certain that the heavy industrial zone and the land it “occupies” is suitable for heavy industrial development intended for the area. Both if Manukau and Wiri are zoned and developed in a coordinated fashion should become major employment centres (and attractions) for the new residents that would move into the new Greenfield site. If Manukau and Wiri were developed in an uncoordinated fashion then there is the very high risk that we do not have major employment centres ready to go for the new resident, thus forcing those residents to commute further north than what would have been necessary (adding to further congestion on the transport infrastructure).

Looking south down Osterly Way - Manukau City Centre
Looking south down Osterly Way – Manukau City Centre

The need for coordination with our zones I can not stress enough. If this can not be done in a coordinated fashion then the costs later on down the line against the City would be higher than they should have been if we had coordination in the first place.

ACPL's submission to Auckland Plan on Centres' Hierarchy
ACPL’s submission to Auckland Plan on Centres’ Hierarchy


Civic Infrastructure

These are your: schools, parks, fire, police, medical, libraries and community facilities that all need to be coordinated and built for this new Greenfield development. Schools, fire and police stations, and funding for more doctors is done by Central Government. So Council would need to coordinate with the relevant Ministries to make sure the funding is in place for either upgrades to existing facilities or construction of new facilities. Already we are seeing lack coordination between the Council, the Minister of Education, and the Ministry of Education in either upgrading existing schools, setting land aside for new schools, or building new schools on land already set aside as Auckland continues to grow. The Unitary Plan has laid out the zones which give influence to where people will be housed (and employed) so the Ministry of Education should have an idea where its investments in schools need to be. Then again this is not Sim City 4 either so it is not exactly a perfect world…

As for parks and community facilities, they are provided by Council so the relevant services that provide them would need to coordinate with the planners on where best to place that type of new infrastructure there. Again other parks and community facilities will need to be watched in existing areas in case they need expanding or upgrading (like libraries and sport fields).


Back to the original bullet points against the Unitary Plan

Ignores inevitable advances in personal and public transport

Really? I thought Auckland for the most part was getting its act together with continued investment in public and active transport infrastructure – while the use of the car continues to decline. Hmm must have missed something there.


Doesn’t consider spreading development to the North, West Auckland and Manukau

So the large tracts of Future Urban Zones to the north, west and south of Auckland is not considered spreading the development across Auckland? So the ten Metropolitan Centres designed currently as tier two centres (behind the tier one CBD) that will act as hubs are not considered spreading the development? So the current advocacy and foundational work towards the Manukau City Centre as a “super hub” (or Super Metropolitan Centre) for southern Auckland and the northern Waikato is not considered spreading the development? Hmmm I say despite some major focus on the CBD at the moment there is some spread in development (or planning of developments) in Auckland right now especially at Westgate and soon to be Manukau with the City Transformational Unit soon to start work there.

Sleepyhead Head Office and possibly research site
Manukau City Centre and Wiri


Will devastate leafy suburbs

Okay I like to know how that is going happen with the Auckland Design Manual placing quite high benchmarks between Council, residents, businesses and developers for good quality and mutually agreed outcomes with urban design (rather than having it enforced by draconian development control rules in the Unitary Plan). Also it pays to remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder as well. So what might look nice to one person certainly might not be for another… Also remember cities are growing and evolving beings (quite literally) rather than snow-globe pieces found at a museum. Nothing lasts forever and so we will see changes in our neighbourhoods. But coordinated properly it can be done right and tactfully. Yes we have had some butt ugly developments prior but let them be lessons to what to avoid in the future.

Side street of Porchester Road, Addison that could be dropped to 30km/h instead of 50km/h
Side street of Porchester Road, Addison

Tenements will cause huge social problems

Yes they will and have done so in the past overseas. That said the overseas lessons give us very clear history lessons on what not to do (despite Auckland does not have slums any how). I believe with the Hobsonville Point project they are mixing State Houses with private houses in a salt/pepper sprinkling approach to prevent clustering and the subsequent issues we have seen in the past. I do agree that too higher concentration of one set type of housing will run the risk of social issues that causes problems further down the track. By taking the sprinkling approach and providing proper physical and social infrastructure we should be able to mitigate against most social problems that have arisen from overseas experiences.


This brings the post to its conclusion and end

I can not stress that coordination across the Council (and with Government) is needed if we are to pull of coordinated development across Auckland. Or we can revert to the status quo and continue the fragmented approach that this City has done for the last 60-years with us paying for the consequences now and in more ways than one.

The Unitary Plan does not spell doom and gloom for Auckland as opponents would like to purport. But we do need to make sure the Unitary Plan is structured to deliver a 21st Century Auckland in a coordinated fashion – not a 1960’s Auckland in a fragmented pattern. Council especially the Governing Body led by (in this case) the Deputy Mayor (as Penny Hulse is the chair of the Auckland Development Committee that spearheads Auckland’s development) will need to be in the driving seat leading the coordination in Auckland’s development – a task that is no easy feat in itself and especially if there is silo mentality around the place. I do take my hat off to both Penny Hulse and Penny Pirrit (Regional and Local Planning Manager who is overseeing the coordination of the Unitary Plan) in trying to get all the ducks lined up so when the Unitary Plan is operational (2016), Auckland grows in that coordinated fashion (it needs). Getting those ducks lined up is not a task I would envy in a hurry. That said in my opinion as a citizen of Auckland it would be more conductive to assist rather than to constantly stick the boot in. Progress is made when people assist and work as a team. Sticking the boot in constantly for one thing shows a lack of maturity needed for such a mammoth task ahead.


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