Hive News Thursday: Unitary Plan faces 1 year delay due to Character Coalition appeal; Appellant denies Auckland housing shortage

Hopes the new Unitary Plan would unleash an imminent surge in housing development to address Auckland's housing crisis have been dashed for up to a year.

Auckland Council's Director for Regulatory Services, Penny Pirrit, told me yesterday that all the zoning maps for the Unitary Plan would be put into limbo for between six months to a year while the High Court considered a broad appeal by the Character Coalition and Auckland 2050.

"The wording is very broad and our legal advisers have advised us it applies to all of the zones on the planning maps," Pirrit said.

Pirrit said officials would recommend to the Council that large parts of the Unitary Plan could not be made effectively operative until the appeal was resolved, given all the zoning maps were affected. This would add extra complexity and uncertainty for developers, given they could not rely on the maps in the Plan for guidance, she said.

"This appeal does put more uncertainty into the picture for developers and land-owners with regard to what rules apply to their land," Pirrit said, adding it would add more time to planning processes and force developers to employ more consultants.

The High Court is due to hold a conference on October 14 on how to deal with the 41 appeals to Court over the Unitary Plan on points of law. There are also 65 appeals to the Environment Court, but they are largely on specific issues or plots of land and not nearly as broad in their application as the Character Coalition and Auckland 2040 appeal. There are also eight applications for judicial reviews filed with the High Court.

Given the broad application of the Character Coalition/Auckland 2040 appeal, other interested parties would want to get involved, which would extend any Court hearings for weeks rather than days, Pirrit said.

"We do think this is a six to 12 month process."

Pirrit said the Council's lawyers had approached the lawyers for the Character Coalition and Auckland 2040 to see if the appeal was as broad as it appeared from the initial legal advice. She said the Council had yet to hear back. She said the appeal, as it stood at the moment, meant that all of the zones were affected, including rural and business zones.

Here are the official's recommendations for today's meeting, including the recommendation that the parts of the plan not subject to appeal be made operative.

Pirrit said applications for resource consent to develop a property would need to be assessed against the relevant operative legacy planning zones and rules, given the new zoning maps would be inoperative.

“Until all appeals are resolved, Auckland Council is required to assess all resource consent applications against parts of both the old and new plans,” she said in a later statement.

“Decisions will need to be made on a case by case basis as to how much weight can be given to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan versus the operative legacy district and regional plans. In practical terms, this will add greater complexity and a degree of uncertainty for applicants while the appeal process is ongoing.”

'Rezoning done without affected land-owner input'

The full Character Coalition/Auckland 2040 appeal lodged on September 16 is here, and is titled for Residential Zone Topics 059 to 063 and for Rezoning and Precincts (Geographical Areas) for Topics 80-81.

The appeal refers to the rezoning of Single House Zone (SHZ) areas to Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS), Mixed Housing Urban and Terrace House and Apartment Buildings (THAB), and the rezoning of Mixed Housing Suburban land to more intense housing forms.

"The SHS and MHS rezoning resulted in 1,000s of residential homes being rezoned without scope and opportunity for submitter, land owner and affected owner input," they wrote in the appeal.

"This appeal is a challenge to the mapping of the SHZ and MHS zone (where the lines are drawn) because the Hearings Panel acted outside scope and therefore outside jurisdiction."

The IHP proposed the Unitary Plan on July 27 and it was broadly accepted by the Council on August 15. The plan, which now appears to be on hold, would allow over 400,000 houses to be built over the next 30 years and up to 131,000 houses over the next seven years.

Just to remind everyone of the scale of the changes to potential housing supply in the maps for the now-suspended plan, it would:

  1. Increase the size of Mixed Housing Urban zoning (3 storey apartments) by 48% to 5,097 hectares, including a 60.3% increase on the Isthmus.

  2. Increase the Terrace Housing and Apartment Building zoning (5-7 storey apartments) by 25% to 2,485 hectares, including a 21.3% increase on the Isthmus.

  3. Double the size of the available areas for intense developments within walking distance from main transport routes and town centres to 400-800 metres.

  4. Reduce the size of the single house zone by 22% to 8,551 hectares.

  5. Allowing section owners in the mixed housing urban and suburban zones to build up to three homes on a section without the need for a resource consent, where previously a consent was required for anything more than two houses.

  6. Remove the pre-1944 heritage overlay that prevented re-development of land occupied by villas and bungalows built before that cut-off date.

  7. The rezoning of five view shafts around volcanic cones as locally significant rather than regionally significant, which may make it easier to develop in those areas.

  8. Removing the requirement that developments with more than 15 homes have at least 10% of affordable homes, which MBIE had lobbied for as a way to accelerate and simplify larger developments.

The Character Coalition and Auckland 2040 appeal refers to items 1 through 4 of those changes.

'No shortage of housing'

Auckland 2040 Chairman Richard Burton confirmed to me by email that the appeal covered all the proposed zoning maps.

He said the appeal was related to errors of law that Auckland 2040 believed the IHP and the Council made over what constituted an "in-scope" submission.

"Council last year released proposed zoning maps which they acknowledged were largely out of scope. Had these been accepted by the IHP it would have given those affected a right of appeal to the Environment Court on the merits," Burton said.

"However the IHP took the same zoning maps and declared them in scope, thus depriving anyone of a right of appeal. So the Council says the changes are out of scope and the IHP says in scope. Both cannot be correct. The appeal seeks to address this issue."

Asked if the appeal would frustrate those, including the Government and potential first home buyers, who wanted the Unitary Plan in place to help address housing shortages, Burton denied there were housing shortages.

"This has little to do with supply. There is plenty of current supply. The issue has always been demand not supply," he said, pointing to demand from offshore investment and high migration as the culprit.

"If we have a virtually unfettered investment policy we will never have sufficient supply as the demand is virtually limitless. The media have bought into the government spin that's it's a supply issue, it's not," he said, pointing to other countries that had limited offshore investment through stamp duties, land taxes and other limits.

Young Aucklanders and apartment builders frustrated

Generation Zero's Auckland Spokesman Leroy Beckett said he was disappointed by the effective suspension of the new Unitary Plan.

"It's disappointing and frustrating that groups which were unsuccessful in convincing the independent hearings panel of their arguments are now trying to delay the whole plan through an expensive legal process," Beckett told me.

"Given the massive negative impact of any delay we hope the appeal can be expedited and resolved quickly," he said.

Construkt Architects director David Gibbs told Morning Report the suspension of the zoning maps would delay the delivery of affordable homes.

"Auckland 2040's application basically says that the panel had no right to draw the planning maps as they had done, and that really strikes at the heart of the Unitary Plan. So it's really hard to see it not affecting an awful lot of applications," Gibbs said.

"It will undoubtedly affect applications that are in the pipeline now and that's problematic for the supply of housing," he said.

In other financial and economic news...

The Productivity Commission published its draft report on "new models of tertiary education" that found the sector was "tied up in knots" by prescriptive funding rules and regulatory requirements. It suggested the creation of a voucher-type "Student Education Account" with access to NZ$45,000 worth of course vouchers that the student would decide how to use on buying education, and the re-imposition of interest on currently interest-free student loans. Here is the summary of the findings and recommendations.

Steven Joyce immediately shut down these ideas with this release, in which he said: "The government has ruled out placing interest back on student loans and I don't see anything new in this report which would change that view. We also would be unlikely to consider the introduction of 'Student education accounts' which look like it would involve changing one complex system for a new one with its own complexities."

BusinessNZ published its September quarter planning forecast, saying the key indicators suggested a GDP growth rate of 3.5%, although its Economic Conditions Index fell 1 point 19 in the September quarter from the June quarter.

Gerry Brownlee announced EQC CEO Ian Simpson would leave the EQC at the end of the year after six years in the job to become the CEO of GNS Science

Numbers of the day:

NZ$1.5 billion - The amount spent by the Government buying red-zoned land in Christchurch, as detailed by Gerry Brownlee in this release.

4,000 - The number of Airbnb listings in Auckland, according to Airbnb in a release announcing an agreement with Auckland Council to provide free temporary accommodation in the event of a natural disaster. Airbnb said overall listings in New Zealand had more than doubled over the last year to 16,000.

Have a great day