Protecting the urban character of Tāmaki Makaurau


If twenty thousand buildings across the city were determined to have exactly the same kind of characterfew would try to claim that everyone is “special.”

And yet, that is exactly what Auckland Council planners are doing.

The National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) is a document containing international best practices for the development of affordable, accessible and low-carbon cities, which directs key local authorities to increase the area to allow apartments up to 6 floors close to major public transport. and employment centers.

It acknowledges that some of these areas will not be suitable for this, introducing “qualification issues” to shield them from development. This is primarily intended to minimize new construction in areas that might be vulnerable to things like natural disasters, while also keeping in mind areas that have existing cultural or historical value, such as particular sites of significance to Maori.

Auckland council obviously has a broader, colonial idea of ​​cultural or historical value, and the discussion around the NPS is now mainly a struggle over whether to retain existing building bans (known as special character zones) in the nearest suburbs built as the first wave of the city’s suburbs, filled mostly with villas and bungalows that were mass-produced to accommodate the city’s growth when thousands of immigrants came from Great Britain. Brittany to start a new life here.

Although heritage protections are explicitly allowed by the NPS, the vast majority of villas and bungalows do not meet the threshold to be considered heritage – most of these buildings have been extensively altered, are in other cities both in New Zealand and overseas, and are not significant sites for notable people or historical events. Their only claim to “heritage” is to be old and to be villas.

These areas are often quite pleasant – but it’s mostly a lush canopy of mature trees, plenty of traffic calming measures, and being built long before we started clearing huge amounts of our urban space for the private automobile – producing a compact built form that is generally not allowed by the very rules that modern zoners seek to impose.

The plan

Unsurprisingly, none of this is included in the new definition of the special character. In determining that special character is an allowable matter, the Board produced the following:

It is clear from the inclusion of ‘period of development’, ‘level of physical integrity’ and ‘architectural style’ that Special Character was designed to stealthily lower the bar for a preservationism that cannot be justified by traditional protections. of heritage.

But even more glaring is the inclusion of ‘scale’ and ‘typology’. It is inconsistent to say that existing scale or typologies are a reason to prevent the scale and typology led by the NPS-UD, when the NPS-UD exists to change the scale and typology of places whose Existing urban form is unsuited to our climate, housing, and transportation needs.

It’s hard to see that what’s being consulted is legally consistent with the NPS-UD, not to mention the myriad crises of national importance in housing costs, climate emissions, or transportation accessibility across the city. Especially since the qualifying subjects are themselves qualified, as follows:

  1. Qualifying questions should identify specific characteristics that make the level of intensification required by the NPS and MDRS inappropriate in light of the national importance of urban development.
  2. Heights and densities more restrictive than the NPS watershed can only be imposed insofar as they affect the characteristic under consideration
  3. Site-by-site evidence is required for qualification matters, which includes substantiation of the extent of the area to which it applies, as well as the sites to which it applies

From these it is quite evident that a number of their methods, some of which were discussed by Anna’s guest post last weekare false:

  • “Special” is not specific, and therefore not something which may itself be a matter of qualification
  • Character areas cannot have single family home zoning under the underlay, they must be MHU/THAB (or equivalent in non-residential areas) with the overlay only regulating features identified as area specific
  • Sites that are not determined to have a character dwell on them cannot have special character protections on them

How should this work?

An approach that was both consistent with the NPS and concerned with protecting the existing character of urban areas would have started by defining the specific physical characteristics currently exhibited by particular areas. For example, many areas urbanized in the 1970s are characterized by brick and tile architecture – perhaps this is a feature we decided to preserve in these areas. Rather than prohibiting everything except construction, new apartments should be permitted if they meet these characteristics.

The Onehunga Mall Club, mid-rise development in the city center

The Onehunga Mall Club under construction is an example of how this could work – 6 floors of modern apartments will be located above a row of newly built shops with a facade built in the characteristic shape and materials of the old downtown stores.

Under a more rational system of character management, an overlay would define that particular style of shop frontage as the specific feature that defines Onehunga Town Center, and new developments would be instructed to respect this, but otherwise the construction of apartments is permitted.

Of course, for this to work well, thought would have to be given to the features we want to preserve – some architectural designs may look good on a villa, but poor on an apartment. Similarly, many streets are sometimes enhanced by breaking a feature to make the area more visually diverse.

In some exemplary cases where all the houses on a street conform to an architectural era, this approach may be indistinguishable from preservationism. For example, McCullough Ave is a street in Mt Roskill that is entirely intact, state houses from the 1940s, and villa streets like Cockburn in Gray Lynn have been largely intact. Protecting a handful of streets like these would be inconsequential for housing supply, but allow them to be properly managed as an “urban museum” – spreading preservation as widely as possible in the city means scattering resources to keep these areas intact!

A character protection approach that allows accommodation is not only preferable, it is necessary:

The national importance of urban development

So maybe it produces better results – but why bother? Because qualification issues cannot stifle the “national importance of urban development”, and the most important change we need in the urban form of Auckland is to fill the housing doughnut. While only ~4% of residential land in the city sits under a special character overlay, almost the entire area they sit on is where it makes the most sense to step up. If we do not open these areas to apartments, we condemn less suitable locations to densification, which will have less desirable effects on climate and transport.

Fortunately, Auckland Council still has time to reconsider its approach. Today is the last day of pre-consultation on the NPS-UD plan change to be submitted in August, and the Coalition For More Homes has created a submission guide for anyone hoping to push us in a pro-housing and pro-housing direction. urban :

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