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Un-planning the Unitary Plan

Un-planning the Unitary Plan.

Once again Auckland Council's planning priesthood is proposing further changes to the current diabolical Unitary Plan. As if it wasn’t bad enough already! Last year the ‘Herald’ featured an article by Grant McLachlan – an environmental and infrastructure specialist, entitled ‘Council officials make mockery of Unitary Plan.’ (https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12006948)

That mockery continues, one current example being ‘Proposed Plan Change 26.’

The target this time is ‘Special Character’ areas which have been recognised as having a stock of distinctive heritage buildings and architectural style reflecting both specific time period and community living styles. The usual ineffective style of consultation which permeates Council these days is under way. Not that everyone affected will know that, because it seems that only those who, in the view of the planners, will be ‘directly affected’ by the plan change have received direct notification. Traditionally, the claim to being affected is for submitters themselves to argue and prove the case.

The ‘planner speak’ language in this plan change adopts euphemisms that obscure the real implications of some key plan changes, such as the Council seeking to ‘refine’ some standards within the Special Character Areas Overlay, including height in relation to boundary, yards, paved areas and fences. For ‘refine’, read change. The planners indicate that the plan change is to ‘retain and manage’ such areas. For ‘manage’, again read change provisions, in ways that are likely to damage the special character of the areas rather than protect it.

The vague language disguises the breadth of discretion accorded to Council planners to ‘refine’ and ‘manage’ however they wish. In fact, ‘refine’ and ‘manage’ are a misleading description of what is actually proposed for the Overlay. It seems some changes proposed would assist those who wish to develop or redevelop their properties more intensively, rather than assist owners who want to protect the character and amenity of the Area.

A stated purpose of Plan Change 26 is to ‘manage the height of buildings, to retain the existing built form character of predominantly one to two storeys in the established residential neighbourhoods, maintain the relationship of built form to the street and open space, maintain a reasonable level of sunlight access and minimise visual dominance effects.

Further, the vague language disguises the breadth of discretion which allows the planners to “manage” and decide what they want. And what does the clause “maintain the relationship of built form” actually mean? What is a “reasonable” level of sunlight access, and how would they “minimise visual dominance” effects? Presumably they will decide these questions on an ad hoc basis?

The existing built form character of Northcote Point is not predominantly two-storey. There are actually relatively few two-storey buildings and they would mostly have been erected when yard sizes were larger than the existing or proposed yard sizes. Quite a number of them are villas or bungalows, which have used the roof space and dormer windows to enlarge the house. The resulting external form is not a traditional two-storey design.

The proposed plan change introduces a greater use of smaller yards, especially by drastically reducing the 3m.rear yard, which could lead to houses being cheek by jowl on most sides. If many sections are developed in two-storey buildings, the density of housing will greatly increase, and completely alter the character of Northcote Point.

If Proposed Plan Change 26 goes ahead as proposed, making two-storeyed houses as easily approved as one-storey houses, that will be an incentive to try to get existing typical old houses demolished so that larger two-storey houses are facilitated, especially to take advantage any wonderful views. Thus the character of Northcote Point would be extensively altered. The inevitable conclusion is that Council planners want increased intensive housing in heritage areas, reducing open space around houses and so on.

The saddest effect though, is that the claim that these changes will help better manage these heritage areas is entirely false, because many of the new ‘controls’ will probably encourage major changes to the housing stock and general amenity, most notably demolition of heritage houses, and only one month has been allowed to respond to this proposal.

Tony Holman.


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