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8 December 2021

Legislation – A Character Bombshell

One of New Zealand’s biggest developers, Mark Weipers of Location Group says the Government’s new blanket approach to density that frees up land for housing development across all major cities could decimate Auckland’s heritage areas.


Legislation pushed through Parliament in the new bi-partisan Bill allows up to three homes, three storeys high to be built on most city sites without resource consent.

Some developers have no issues with the blanket ruling and see the Bill as a positive step in the right direction. Matthew Horncastle of Williams Corporation says New Zealand has a fundamental issue with supply and demand. “If we can put legislation in place that allows us to build more affordable homes, that’s fundamentally positive. Although we need to iron things out, the fundamental principle is positive. “Supply is not increasing, but I agree that heritage areas should be exempt from the blanket ruling,” says Horncastle. Weipers says, it’s good that the Government is doing something productive about increasing housing supply. Auckland needs intensification.

"I don’t think the urban planning will be nice. We believe the approach that’s been taken at the moment is too generalised. It’s spread across too many areas of Auckland without taking into account character areas that we think could be decimated." says Weipers.

“Mt Eden, for example, has many lovely old houses on big sites. It would be really sad if they were picked off for terrace homes.”

More quality controls needed

He says the Government’s approach to a need has been very heavy handed. They should have moved on a progressive basis looking at the main transport routes rather than taking a “broad brushstroke across all sites”. “It will start to create some pretty horrible areas with a three-storey monstrosity in between lovely character homes. There needs to be more controlled development.

They could be more specific and look after the character aspects of Auckland better.” Chris Meehan of Winton NZ agrees the Bill could be a disaster as it would obliterate heritage design in some of the older suburbs. “It definitely should not be allowed to happen in heritage areas.” The thought of putting three homes on a single house lot in character and other sensitive areas like the beach front also concerns Mitchell Jefferson of Seed Property Group.

“Having that kind of density in these locations will have a huge negative impact on the landscape. Heritage areas should be exempt from the new rules. They should consider putting more rules in place or treating heritage areas differently to ensure good design and the effect on neighbours.”

The absence of any reference in the legislation to quality design is yet another bugbear. Says Jefferson: “There are no checks in terms of what is built is attractive. By taking away so many rules, it’s opening the door for more ugly architecture. It’s all very well for those developers who want to make their buildings look good but there’s also those who build whatever they can on the site. And they don’t care.”

However, Horncastle believes beauty is in the eye of the beholder. “There’s always going to be development that in some people’s eyes is not desirable but that’s subjective. To others, it could be the greatest thing ever.”

“It lends itself to an architectural style which is quick, cheap and nasty. It’s not slanted towards good design outcomes.” says Meehan.

Weipers who lives in Mission Bay notes a site among homes in Patterson Ave “that’s just another hunk of concrete that’s about 20 storeys high” and that doesn’t do anything for him. “With this process, they’re going to have to build more simply and that won’t help how Auckland will look in 20 to 30 years’ time.”

Outdated infrastructure an issue

One of the biggest problems developers anticipate is that Auckland’s infrastructure is simply not designed to cope with density, especially in older areas.

Mitchell points out the main reason why we have a single house zone in the first place is because in those areas, the infrastructure is old and it wasn’t designed to support density. Like many older areas, in the East Coast Bays on the North Shore, they already have terrible problems with stormwater. He questions what will happen if you build three homes, three storeys high on sites in those areas.

Jefferson can’t understand why the new Bill is even necessary when the Unitary Plan looked at addressing all the problems and produced a good response. He says, “Surely all the evidence is there from going through that process.”

He says the Unitary Plan has already opened up the zoning across most of Auckland for higher density. “There are barely any single house zones close to the city. There is plenty of land
available for development already. Zoning is not a problem. We’re building so many houses and we’re catching up with supply. “It’s more about the Council and the time it takes them to process consents. Without their detailed nit picking, we could speed up the time it takes to process things. They need to be better resourced.”

Though it takes too much time, he says the actual process is good because it controls what can be built and considers other aspect like daylight controls and outlook. A less restrictive plan will create poor outcomes, he says. “I’m not normally a nimby type of person but it will have a huge effect on everyone in terms of sun and outdoor space – it won’t be pleasant.”

“Nobody has thought this through. There would be some pockets where you can build but nobody has done the work to figure out what areas you can and can’t put density in. There will be sewer in the streets. Adding supply to existing suburbs just won’t work.” says Weiper.

While Weipers suggests density could be targeted around areas with existing infrastructure in place, Meehan counters with the suggestion that there’s not enough infrastructure in the majority of the built-up suburbs across Auckland. He says, they’re already suffering infrastructure issues with not enough capacity in their stormwater or sewage lines.

More efficient greenfields supply

His answer is to address greenfields’ supply in new suburbs where you can create the new infrastructure that’s designed to cope with density. “You need supply but if you’re going to build infrastructure that can cope, it’s a lot cheaper and more efficient to build in new areas.”

And as far as making new homes more affordable, there is a fair amount of scepticism among this group. “It won’t necessarily make the land cheaper,” notes Jefferson because developers still have to pay the same amount and the price of land just keeps going up.

“The way to build more affordable homes is creating smaller homes on large sites. We’re already doing that on mixed housing zone areas.”

Weipers says every vendor thinks their site is worth 20 to 40% more than it was yesterday and skills and materials are an ongoing problem across Auckland and New Zealand. “Construction prices aren’t going to come back in the short to medium term. It’s all very well to zone for development but everyone is already busy and we’re struggling to get fixed price contracts. It’s a very inflationary time.”

Although the new Bill will make it easier and quicker for developers to build more homes, it doesn’t look like they’ll be any more affordable. 

What are the new rules in the Bill?

Up to 3 homes, 3 storeys high to be built on most sites without resource consent - District plans currently typically allow only one home up to 2 storeys

- The bill is an extension to an earlier move by the Government in July last year
- the National Policy Statement on Urban Development(NPS-UD) - directing high growth cities like Auckland to reset their plans for six-storey apartment buildings close to city centres and along            transport corridors.
- The new rules apply in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga and Hamilton
- It will allow development right across Auckland and a number of rural settlements at higher densities than allowed under the Unitary Plan
- Councils are required to adopt new density standards
- Councils can apply to make the new rules even more permissive
- Developers can apply for resource consent to go further than standards allow
- There are exemptions for exceptional circumstances such as natural hazards or where a site has heritage value that needs to be maintained

Note: Initially the Bill allowed height to boundary ratios of 6 metres at the side and rear boundaries, with a 60 degrees recessionary plane. But concerns over sunlight loss saw the environment select committee recommend this be reduced to 5 metres. The Housing Minister Megan Woods and Environment Minister David Parker then reduced this ratio further, trimming it to 4 metres. They said the changes would not dramatically reduce the number of houses allowed under the Bill.

What is legislation in the new Bill designed to do?

- Address the housing shortage
- Create an extra 28,000 new homes by 2030 in Auckland
- Create 48,000 to 105,000 new homes nationally
- Remove complexities in the process to make building simpler
- Blanket rule means no more paying premiums for certain properties in certain areas
- Property will no longer be a political football, so property owners have certainty about the right to build
- Increase affordability of home ownership for families
- Increase availability to slow housing market prices
- Creates more smaller homes


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