New Zealand: We have lift off - Auckland Unleashed

Auckland Unleashed – the strategy which will determine the way Auckland lives, plays and does business over the next 30 years – has now been released for preliminary comment and is likely to progress swiftly from here.

The Auckland Council's aim is to have a draft document publicly notified in August for statutory consultations under the Local Government Act and to have the plan formally adopted by the end of this year.

The decisions taken in this exercise have the potential to create both opportunity and risk. If you have any exposure to Auckland, we urge you to get involved.

Overview

The discussion document sprawls over 220 pages and is deliberately aspirational in tone with a strong eco and social focus. It seeks to make Auckland "the world's most liveable city" and takes as its objectives:

  • improving the quality of life for everyone (and putting children and young people first)
  • enhancing socio-economic wellbeing
  • responsible management of the built and natural environments, and
  • development of a rational land use plan in the public interest.

But it also sets specific economic targets, including increasing Auckland's relative contribution to national GDP from 34% to between 39% and 44% by 2031 and improving Auckland's ranking against other OECD cities by 20 places in 20 years.

Snapshot of key concepts

The Auckland Plan (the Plan) will be panoramic in its sweep, addressing the long-term social, economic, environmental and cultural objectives for Auckland and its communities. Key concepts include:

A business friendly city

Conditions to achieving this are identified as:

  • world class infrastructure (particularly transport and broadband)
  • sufficient space allocation to support future business growth (through a mix of protecting existing industrial zoned land against residential encroachment, identifying new greenfields sites, special zoning provisions for value-added manufacturing sectors and joint Council/private sector investment to create economic development and industrial precincts), and
  • efficient and responsive Council and regulatory processes.

Economic growth zones

Three areas are identified as having the potential to achieve a 'step-change' in Auckland's economic performance. They are:

  • International City Centre and fringe; extending from the Ponsonby ridge to Devonport (via ferry link), would house the "cultural and civic heart" and the CBD
  • Southern Opportunity Area; centred on the airport and Manukau Harbour, a location for high value manufacturing, population "diversity" and residential growth, and
  • North Western Opportunity Area; encompassing Albany and across to the west, to the foot of the Waitakere Ranges, a hub for marine and film industries and a model of new ways of undertaking public-private partnerships (PPPs) to improve housing supply options.

Making these the "top spatial priorities" for integrated planning "will help Auckland to pull its weight for New Zealand," the discussion document says. Targets and, where possible, costings and timelines for delivery will be included at the next stage – the draft plan to be issued for consultation in August.

The eco-city

This aspiration is described as "a bold new direction for Auckland" and proposes a range of ambitious targets including cutting carbon emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 – a target which would appear to require significant departures from 'business as usual'.

Strategies to achieve the eco-city include: more energy efficient buildings, promoting renewable energy generation, urban planning to reduce the need to travel and to encourage non-car alternatives, the purchase of electric or low emission vehicles, the reduction and removal of green waste from landfills, and tree planting.

The Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL)

Although the document acknowledges that the MUL has its critics and can force up land prices, it is clear that the preference is to continue with a "quality, compact Auckland". However feedback is sought on gradually changing the way Auckland grows by designating some new areas for growth outside the current MUL.

Transport

Three transport options are proposed, all of which contemplate a continuation of the central goal of the existing Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS), this being to reduce the reliance on the car. They are:

  • Option One – to take the current RLTS into the Super City
  • Option Two – to trim the number of new projects under the RLTS to fit with the new budget austerity, and
  • Option Three – to bring forward the City Centre Rail Link and the Airport Rail Link. The North Shore Link would also be explored but would be likely to be much more expensive than the other two rail projects so could, if pursued, "leave Auckland with critical gaps in its motorway/arterial network".

Recategorising existing town centres

These are now classified according to their function (e.g. whether a principal centre or a local centre). The document suggests re-categorising them according to the actions required to ensure that they achieve the desired quantum and quality of growth. Proposed categories include: emergent, market attractive, regeneration, rural village, satellite and urban village.

Funding

When it comes to the Council's funding strategy, the discussion document leaves things very open. It acknowledges that post the Christchurch earthquake, the world is a different place and contributions from the Government will be limited.

The discussion document recognises the need for the Council to be innovative in creating future funding sources and leveraging off its asset base (worth over $32 billion), rather than relying on rating and central government as the only sources of funding. Other proposed funding tools are targeted rates, development contributions and demand management. For transport, specific tools are identified, including tolls, congestion, parking and road user charges.

Given the scale of changes proposed, it seems inevitable that the Council will need to look to the private sector to form PPPs or obtain private capital.

Status of Plan and relationship with other plans

In our previous Brief Counsel, we expressed concern at the lack of clarity around the spatial plan's statutory status, and the Council acknowledges that the Plan is currently "floating in legislative space".

But the discussion document makes clear that the Plan will sit at the top of the hierarchy of Council plans i.e. above the new unitary plan (which will replace the existing district and regional plans) and the Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP). And the Council's Manager Regional Strategy, Community and Cultural Policy, Ree Anderson, told a recent seminar on Auckland Unleashed that discussions are underway with the Government about what legislative changes might be needed to crystallise this status e.g. amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA).

In the meantime, it is difficult to reconcile how the Plan will fit with other RMA processes, and how it will mesh with the Auckland Regional Policy Statement. By way of example, the Council suggests that the Auckland Plan could re-classify town centres. Significant work has already been done in this area via RMA changes to the Auckland Regional Policy Statement and various district plans as a result of the Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004. We query whether making further changes to the sequencing through the Auckland Plan, which will be adopted using the consultative process under the LGA, would achieve the best resource management and planning outcomes, given that there is no right of appeal.

By way of further example, the discussion document contains strong statements regarding the potential use of the Auckland Plan to actively protect nationally and regionally significant features (e.g. built heritage, volcanic cones, coastal environments and the like). This may signal an intention to protect features that are not already protected by existing statutory planning documents outside of the usual RMA processes.

A recent statement by Auckland Councillor, Sandra Coney, suggests that some people will interpret the discussion document in this way. In speaking about heritage protection she stated that:

"The council will use devices such as the Auckland Spatial Plan to protect our built heritage because the public understands the importance of preserving the uniqueness of our city".

Timing

The Council's target remains to have a draft Auckland Plan publicly notified in August 2011, with adoption of the Plan by the end of 2011. We consider that this timeframe is ambitious, particularly considering the proposed breadth of the Plan and its far-reaching implications and wonder at the Council's ability to "get it right" in the time available. This is a significant piece of work, and it represents a real mind-shift in strategic planning for Auckland.

Next steps

Responses to Auckland Unleashed are due with the Council by 4pm on Friday 31 May 2011. To assist you with your response, Chapman Tripp is offering short targeted workshops on the discussion document free of charge.

If you would like to attend a workshop, or for any other assistance, please contact one of the lawyers featured.

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The information in this article is for informative purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please contact Chapman Tripp for advice tailored to your situation.

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