Creating a compact city – trends in residential development in Auckland

Since the amalgamation of district councils across Auckland in 2010, there has been an increased focus on increasing urban density to limit Auckland’s urban footprint and reduce urban sprawl.  To enable this intensification, the Auckland Unitary Plan (Plan) up-zoned thousands of existing properties to allow for more intensive development.

Less than two years since the Plan became operative, Auckland Council’s Chief Economist David Norman has presented a report to Council’s Planning Committee showing the impact of the Plan on residential development in Auckland.  Mr Norman argues that since becoming partly operative in November 2016, the Plan has had the desired effect and a compact city is emerging.

Overall, there has been a 27% increase in the total number of new dwellings consented in Auckland between August 2017 – May 2018 since the previous year.  Three trends have emerged showing a change in the housing supply, type and location of urban development in Auckland:

1. There has been an increase in brownfield redevelopment

Over the last seven years, the trends have shown an ongoing preference for development in greenfield areas.  Land in greenfields is attractive because it is often cheaper and provides developers with a “blank canvas” to create communities and idealised lifestyles.  However, David Norman’s report indicates that this trend has reversed.  In the 10 months preceding May 2018, 90% of the growth in new dwelling consents has been in existing urban areas.  Despite land on the fringes generally remaining cheaper, the market is displaying a strong preference for brownfield development which can take advantage of existing infrastructure and proximity to employment and amenities.

2. Apartments and multi-unit developments are the new ‘norm’

The report indicates that we are seeing a trend towards more intensive multi-unit developments, in particular, apartments and terrace or townhouses, as enabled by the Plan.  This type of housing now accounts for 54% of all new dwellings consented by Auckland Council (compared to 37% two years ago).  In the urban area, approximately 66% of new dwellings are multi-unit.

3. Intensification is not limited to the central city

Intensification is also occurring within Auckland’s wider suburbs.  While apartment living is still most common in Auckland Central, apartments are becoming more common in Mt Eden and Mt Albert and in northern suburbs including Takapuna and Devonport.

Multi-unit developments are also becoming popular in areas such as Upper Harbour and Rodney/Hibiscus Coast.

Overall, there has been disproportionate growth in denser development around transportation networks, particularly, rapid transit areas.  These areas are defined as areas within 1500m of a train station or northern busway stop.  This area covers 2.6% of Auckland’s land area but accounts for 40% of all dwellings consented (and 42% of all multi-unit dwellings).  Mr Norman argues that his analysis shows that most people “prefer to live closer to jobs, infrastructure that works, public transport, schools, shops and other amenities.”

Transit-oriented development characterises intensification but as a result, significant pressure is placed on existing, already heavily congested, infrastructure in Auckland City.  This, along with significant financial losses in the construction sector, and the recent refusal of intensive residential developments on rapid transit routes, is a grey cloud still hanging over Auckland Council’s plan for a compact, efficient, affordable and desirable city.

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