Impact of the Unitary Plan

13 July 2018

Auckland Council’s Chief Economist Unit have put together a brief report to highlight some facts on the Unitary Plan and the impact it is having on what and where we build ...

It took around 9 months for the Unitary Plan to begin to affect consenting activity.

Consents began to fall below the 4-year trend from April 2016, about 6 months before the UP became operative in part. Many investors had bought up brownfield land in advance of the UP becoming operative, and were waiting for it to do so before they could lodge consents for more intensive development.

During the period from November 2016 to June 2017, the first few months of the UP being operative, this got even worse as new development seemed to cease as developers made plans for more intensive development. Why would you seek consent for a 2nd dwelling when waiting 6 months would allow you to put up 4 on the same land?

Since August 2017, the impacts of the UP have begun to be clearly seen

Residential construction’s second wind began in August 2017. The number of new dwellings consented in the 10 months to May 2018 is up 27% over the same 10 months the year before, and only 5% off the all-time peak of the June 2004 year. This is despite a much tighter regulatory regime resulting from the 2005 Building Code and the leaky homes debacle. But how do we know this is the result of the UP?

  • 90% of all growth in new dwellings consented in the 10 months to May 2018 (since the new uptick began in August 2017) is in brownfield areas where greater intensity has been allowed by the UP. i.e. basically all of it.
  • Total brownfields share of new dwellings consented in these 10 months of growth has, as a result, shot from 62% to 69% (remembering that the target of numerous Auckland planning documents is for around 2/3 of growth to be in brownfield areas), completely reversing a trend of brownfields accounting for a declining share of building consents over the previous 4 years.
  • More intensive multi-unit (terraces and apartments) are now about 53% of new dwellings consented (with roughly equal split between apartments and terraces), while houses are only 47% across all of Auckland.
  • In the urban area (2016 definition) around 66% of new dwellings are multi-units, precisely what the UP aimed to deliver.

Crucially, this sudden surge in interest in brownfield developments also provides an interesting insight into the green/brown RUB/no RUB debate. People are increasingly preferring to build in brownfield areas even though land there costs much more (for good reason). Despite the huge subsidy greenfield development currently receives through lower than cost-recovery DCs, developers know that people want to live near amenities such as public transport, swimming pools, good schools, wastewater systems that work, and coffee shops.

The preference for transit-oriented development can’t be overstated

So we know the vast bulk of development is in brownfield areas. But what about access to jobs and other amenities? Well, it turns out that a disproportionately large number of dwellings are being consented in catchment areas for rapid transit networks (RTN). i.e. people value rapid transit access, and development, enabled by the UP, is responding:

  • Only 2.6% of Auckland’s entire land area falls within a 1.5 km walk of an RTN station – the train or northern busway. But an astonishing 42% of all multi-unit developments consented in the last 12 months were in the RTN catchments. This share of multi-unit consents is 16 times higher than the RTN catchment’s share of Auckland’s land.
  • 11% of stand-alone homes were consented in the RTN catchments, 4 times more than the catchments’ share of land area.
  • 81% of all dwellings consented in RTN catchments in the last year were multi-unit, delivering the kind of densities we want around transport nodes.
  • Overall, 40% of all dwellings consented in the 2016-defined urban area (UA) were in the RTN catchments, even though those catchments only account for 25% of Auckland’s urban area.

Below is a map showing where consents have been delivered in the year to December. We don’t yet have a map for the data to May 2018, which would show a larger quantum, and also more of the mix of growth toward the RTN and UA, but this will give you some idea of where the growth is happening – particularly larger projects, and multi-unit (attached) projects.