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Planning and Unit Titles: Intensification in Auckland

10 April 2019

There is a close relationship between planning or resource management and unit titles law. The overlap between the two areas of law is, however, limited, and this may affect intensification in Auckland.

In New Zealand, district plans made under the Resource Management Act 1991 define where and how unit title developments should be constructed. Unit titles law deals with matters of ownership and relationships between owners in completed developments.

The primary planning framework for Auckland is the Auckland Unitary Plan: Operative in Part (AUP). The AUP was made operative in part on 15 November 2016 and will be fully operative when all appeals against decisions on the AUP have been resolved. The AUP is the combined district and regional plan for Auckland. It is intended to help Auckland meet its economic and housing needs by determining:

  • what can be built (and done) where
  • how to create a higher quality and more compact Auckland
  • how to provide for rural activities; and
  • how to maintain the marine environment.

The AUP enables and encourages residential intensification through a variety of planning tools including:

  • zoning
  • activity status
  • anticipated development outcomes; and
  • performance standards.

Under the AUP, residential intensification in Auckland will take the form of low to mid-rise apartments and mixed-use developments in suburban areas, and more intense high-rise buildings in centres and along strategic transport corridors.

But there are numerous challenges to be overcome for Auckland to achieve the level of intensification anticipated and provided for in the AUP.Every phase of the development process throws up different challenges, which are by no means unique to Auckland.

Sustainable growth and intensification require these challenges to be met and dealt with successfully.

The most significant challenges relate to our perception of the physical changes to our environment that come with intensification, and the associated behavioural changes that are required to accommodate a new style of living. The traditional view of New Zealand home ownership – a quarter acre section with a three- to four bedroom house on it in the suburbs – has long gone in Auckland. But, alternative housing types are still not necessarily accepted across the board.

Changing demographics and modern digital-era lifestyles are changing what we need in a house. A lot of would-be homeowners do not necessarily want the burden of maintaining a house and garden, and are attracted to smaller allotments, terrace-style townhouses, or apartments. Others, however, are wary of the loss of autonomy and privacy that is associated with multi-owner properties.

Fundamental challenges to residential intensification, therefore, include:

  • demand and perception – are the housing types anticipated by the AUP the types of houses that people want to buy and live in?
  • affordability – high land prices and construction costs make multi-storey buildings expensive to build and buy into, and they can also be more expensive to operate and maintain
  • NIMBYism – neighbour opposition to more intensive development can be substantial and potentially fatal to a development proposal; especially in character neighbourhoods that have been up-zoned in the AUP.

Other, more site-specific challenges relate to the design and construction of buildings. A building that complies with the performance standards in the AUP may still fail to meet the actual needs of future unit occupiers. Key issues in this respect include:

  • inadequate infrastructure
  • insufficient car parking
  • insufficient storage
  • inadequate acoustic insulation between units both vertically and horizontally
  • poor building product selection for location and durability; and
  • uncertainty or disputes between unit occupiers as to allowed or acceptable uses of unit property.

Building design and construction can have a significant impact on the annual running costs of a building as well as the costs of repair and maintenance over the life of the building. Unfortunately, none of the issues listed above are dealt with cleanly in either the planning or unit title law frameworks.

The AUP offers significant opportunities for developers and landowners for residential intensification. However, to make the most of the opportunities offered by the AUP, the regulatory framework for unit title developments needs to react too. Issues with the suitability and application of the Unit Titles Act 2010 need to be addressed to ensure that the governance, funding, and management of relationships between owners do not let unit owners and occupiers down.

There is no doubt that Auckland will experience residential intensification – it has started already. In-fill subdivision and unit title subdivision are occurring all over the city with varying degrees of success. The real measure of success, however, will be seen in the longer-term.

To make unit title development living an attractive option to more people (and therefore a viable option for developers and investors), these things need to happen:

  • developers need to think beyond the minimum performance standards in the AUP
  • unit owners and occupiers need to understand what it is they are buying into or living in so that expectations are closer to reality
  • buildings need to reflect how people want to live now as well as how we may live in the future (for example, public transport needs to improve for buildings without car parking to be a functional option)
  • building materials and construction techniques need to meet, if not exceed, minimum durability requirements; and
  • quality architectural and landscape design need to be a priority for all buildings.

Vicki Toan presented a version of this paper to the 14th Annual Australian College of Strata Lawyers Conference in Auckland on 28 February 2019.

This article was originally published in our Body Corporate Update for March 2019.

Should you wish to discuss any of the above and how it may affect you, please do not hesitate to contact Vicki Toan (DDI: (09) 914 3501;