Gareth Hughes

Park the urban sprawl – how parking shapes our cities

by Gareth Hughes

The Herald reports the government has been criticizing Auckland Council for its new spatial plan. The government says the spatial plan places too much emphasis on improving public transport and creating a compact urban form (as if they’re bad!).

The government is implying that the council is trying to force a particular type of development on Auckland – rather than leaving it up to the market.

It’s ironic the government is saying this when, in fact, Auckland’s sprawl is no accident and has little to do with market forces. Instead it is largely due to successive governments unbalanced transport funding policies which have prioritized motorways above all else and over-regulation by the council.

One regulation that drives sprawling development is minimum parking requirements. Whenever I try to explain what minimum parking requirements are peoples’ eyes glaze over and I can see I’m losing them. So here’s a real life example:

Imagine that you’re a developer and you want to take over one of the car yards on Great North Road and turn it into a 4 story development. This development would consist of say 10 apartments. The apartments are 2 bedroom – your market is couples, singletons and young families.

Your development is 2 minutes from a bus stop on Great North Road (one of the most regular bus services in Auckland) which will get the residents of your apartment into the CBD or to the university in 15 minutes.

It is also 7 minutes walk to the local supermarket, 10 minutes from the Grey Lynn library and doctor’s, and 10 minutes walk to the Kingsland rail station.

And it’s just 5 minutes bike or 20 minutes walk to the restaurants and pubs of Ponsonby and K Road. There are various primary schools in the vicinity and some good high schools a short bus trip away.

In short, this is an incredibly accessible location. Many people living in this area might well choose to live without a car.

Building carparking is expensive so you want to offer resident a choice You will build just a few carparks and offer apartments with a carpark at a higher price. Apartments without a carpark will be cheaper.

But the council declines your resource consent application. They say that by council regulation you are required to provide at least 1 carpark for every apartment in the building (more if it’s a big apartment).

To provide those carparks you’re probably going to have to either a) build an underground basement or b) devote one story of your whole building to carparks.

That drives the cost of your development up immensely. It also means that all the potential buyers for your apartments have to pay a higher price – regardless of whether they want a carpark.

You crunch the numbers and decide your development is not economically viable – instead you decide to look at building some detached town houses in a greenfield site on the fringe of Auckland.

The government likes to talk about cutting needless regulation.  Minimum parking requirements are the type of regulation we need to cut.

New Zealanders often talk about how vibrant and fun Wellington City is compared to our other big New Zealand cities. People don’t know why – they just know they like the Wellington CBD. It has so many cool pubs and cafes. It is fun to walk around. It has such high rates of public transport use.

Well, one of the main reasons is that Wellington City Council got rid of all their minimum parking requirements in their CBD in the 1990s.

Rather than criticizing Auckland Council for trying to create a compact city, central government should be listening to Auckland and encouraging the council to get rid of minimum parking requirements and other planning regulations that encourage car dependency and discourage medium density housing.

Otherwise our hopes of providing affordable accessible housing for the 900,000 people projected to move to Auckland over the next 30 years are very slim indeed.