Auckland, where the average house price is over one million dollars. Image credit: Malcolm Peacey

Four reasons you should care about the Auckland Unitary Plan

It sounds unbelievably boring – and it’s true the many thousands of pages of rules and policies in the plan are complicated and confusing – but the Unitary Plan is going to shape the future of Auckland. Here are 4 reasons you should care.

One – Affordable housing

Is your rent going up? Think you’ll never be able to afford a home of your own? Part of the reason the average house in Auckland costs almost $1 MILLION (crazy, right?) is because the planning rules make it extremely difficult to provide more homes on valuable land.

The rules buried in previous plans said all or most development outside the CBD has to be single stand-alone houses, each with their own driveway and garage. Needless to say, this is not how a grown up city works. We can’t afford to use up so much land storing cars, and we need to build more homes for people.

The Independent Hearings Panel has assessed all the evidence, and taking the Council’s own direction of wanting to provide for forecast population growth, and keep the majority of that growth (60-70%) in the existing urban area, they have proposed changes to residential zoning that will make it possible to provide 400,000 more homes in Auckland.

People mostly don’t want to spend hours commuting to work – they’d like to be able to afford to live where jobs and education are. As the population grows, the only way to make that possible is to allow more dwellings to be provided on a given area of land. Three to four storey attached dwellings are entirely possible on the isthmus, but ONLY if we change the rules.

Two – Climate change

The climate is already changing and it is going to be bad news if we don’t reduce our carbon pollution fast. Transport and buildings are huge contributors to Aotearoa’s carbon footprint because they’ve historically been so car dependent and inefficient.

Cities have the potential to vastly reduce carbon pollution, if we build them right by providing fast, frequent electrified public transport and safe walking and cycling. Increased population density reduces the distance we need to travel, and can preserve open spaces. Attached dwellings are more energy and water efficient, and will especially be so if we fix the building code.

Most cities with decent density also have plenty of room for trees and parks, because we don’t have to take up so much land with paved areas for roads and car parking. That makes cities cooler, and more water resilient, if done well.

The Unitary Plan sets the rules for how development happens, and although it could go even further, the changes recommended by the Hearings Panel go a long way toward reducing the car dependence of our cities and enable higher density residential development.

Three – Inequality

Out-of-control house price inflation and car dependence are both huge contributors to inequality. The shortage of homes is concentrating wealth, and the lack of decent, affordable transport options makes it that much harder for those people on low incomes to get to work.

Being able to walk and cycle safely, and have affordable transport to university, can be a huge game changer for the health and education opportunities of young people. The Unitary Plan has the potential to shape future Auckland in a way that provides more opportunities through both affordable, diverse homes and accessible transport.

Four – Happiness

The Happy City sums up all the latest research on health and happiness outcomes of cities. What could people want more than health and happiness? It turns out cities can be engines of happiness – but only if we design them for people (not cars).

Again, although it seems boring, part of the answer to achieving this change is getting the rules in the Unitary Plan right.

You don’t need to understand all the implications of the detailed recommendations from the Hearings Panel on the Unitary Plan. But if you want a happy, healthy, fair, affordable and green future for Auckland, let your local body politicians know that the recommendations are going in the right direction.

All we need now is to #ChangetheGovt to ensure we fix the building code, transport investment, and the other factors influencing housing affordability from central government.

Further reading