The Auckland Unitary Plan reached a new milestone on Friday evening, when Auckland Council notified its Decisions Version of the Plan. This document represents the Council’s Decisions regarding each of the Independent Hearings Panel’s Recommendations on the Unitary Plan, which were publicly notified on 27 July 2016 (our summary of those Recommendations is available here).
Following four days of deliberations, the Council’s governing body has largely accepted the Independent Panel’s Recommendations, with some notable exceptions. We detail below some of the key areas in which the Council departed from the Panel’s Recommendations.
The Unitary Plan rules (as per the Council Decisions version) now take legal effect.
Notable Departures from the Panel’s Recommendations
The Panel recommended the deletion of references to the Auckland Ambient Air Quality Standard, on the basis that reliance on the national standards provides sufficient regulation for managing air quality, and that the Auckland Ambient Air Quality Standard could still be considered via s.104(1)(c) of the RMA when processing applications for resource consent. The Council rejected this Recommendation, expressing its view that the outcomes for air quality required by the Auckland Regional Policy Statement objectives will not otherwise be achieved, and failing to include the Auckland Ambient Air Quality Standard would cause uncertainty and inefficiency in the processing of resource consent applications. In practice, this means (for example) that particles of less than 10 microns (PM10) and 2.5 microns (PM2.5) must be rigorously monitored, with only one permissible exceedance per year for the former, and none for the latter.
The Council rejected the Panel’s Recommendation that in-situ subdivision be enabled (via objectives, policies and rules) for rural lifestyle purposes, stating that it would enable inappropriate subdivision in production-focussed areas, and undermine the Auckland Plan’s strategic direction for the Rural areas.
Subdivision: Future Urban
The Council rejected the Panel’s Recommendation that subdivision in the Future Urban zone be changed from a Prohibited Activity to a Discretionary Activity. The Council considers that the Plan must not facilitate the fragmentation of land, and that by allowing discretion the Plan would be unclear about what types of subdivision might be appropriate. The Council’s stance is very restrictive, particularly when considered in the context of the activity status of the other activities in the Future Urban Zone – landfills, for example, are Non-Complying activities.
Growth within the existing metropolitan area
The Panel had recommended deletion of objectives and policies that sought to focus growth within the existing metropolitan area. The Panel had argued that it is more important to promote a ‘centres and corridors’ strategy and quality compact urban form, rather than any particular predetermined location of this capacity. It considered that the provisions were arbitrary and may in practice impede desirable growth in some areas. The Council however rejected this Recommendation, arguing that focusing intensification in the existing urban area will better contribute to compact urban form.
Rural Urban Boundary
The Panel recommended that the Rural Urban Boundary provisions be recast as a District Plan rule rather than a method in the Regional Policy Statement. This would change the nature of the RUB, and enable it to be relocated by way of a private plan change. The Council accepted this Recommendation, although it made some amendments to the objectives and policies which establish the RUB to ensure that any relocation of the RUB achieves “a quality compact urban form”. These objectives and policies remain RPS provisions, illustrating the importance of distinguishing between RPS-level and District Plan level provisions.
Minimum dwelling size
The Panel recommended that the standards detailing minimum dwelling size in the City Centre, Business and Residential Zones be deleted. This was because, in the Panel’s view, this standard goes beyond the Council’s authority in relation to land use control under the RMA and Building Act. However, the Council stated that the Building Act does not address social or design quality effects associated with small dwellings, so it is appropriate to manage these through the District Plan.
The Panel recommended deletion of the maximum and minimum parking rates within the Metropolitan Centre, Town Centre, Local Centre, Mixed Use and Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings zones, for all activities except retail and commercial services provision. The Council however expressed its view that these parking rates would result in better management of parking “oversupply” and associated effects on the transport network (including congestion). It also considered that the maximum parking rates will result in better urban design and amenity outcomes.
The Council rejected a number of the Panel’s Recommendations with regard to the Residential Zones, including with regard to the height in relation to boundary control, minimum dwelling size, building coverage, and fencing rules.
Process from here
As many of you will be aware, due to specific legislation, the appeal rights in respect of the Unitary Plan are restricted where the Council has agreed with the Panel’s Recommendations. However, where the Council has rejected the Panel’s Recommendations (and for “out of scope” matters), the public now have 20 working days to file an appeal. This period ends on 16 September 2016. Any part of the Unitary Plan not appealed will come into force on 16 September 2016.
The Council deliberations on the Panel Recommendations made for very interesting viewing. From a legal and procedural perspective, the absence - in many cases - of robust ‘testing’ of the evidence heard and considered by the Panel was notable. While some of the issues on which the Council diverted from the Panel Recommendations fall in the category of ‘pet peeves’, there are some substantive region-wide issues, such as the treatment of the RUB, air quality, and appropriateness of the Future Urban zone as a ‘holding pattern’.
While the PAUP process to date has been relatively arduous for many, we expect to see a number of appeals against the Council’s Decisions version of the Plan. These will likely focus on those issues directly relevant to development interests, such as specific zonings and zone changes, subdivision, and development controls (e.g. dwelling size and car parking). Whether there is an appetite to take on some of the ‘big ticket’ items such as air quality standards and the RUB will be interesting to watch.
Please contact us for more detailed advice regarding the Council’s Decisions version of the Plan, or if you wish to talk about your submission and rights of appeal.