Councils told to grow up and grow out

22 August 2019

The Government’s planned National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) has been released for consultation. It seeks to improve housing supply by requiring councils, particularly in fast growing areas, to make room for growth, both up and out.

Submissions on the discussion document are due by 10 October.

Process and timelines

The recommendations arising from the submissions will be reviewed by an independent technical advisory panel before presentation to Ministers. The NPS-UD is expected to come into effect in the first half of next year. It builds on, and will replace the National Government’s NPS on Urban Development Capacity 2016 (2016 NPS).

The NPS-UD is part of the Government’s wider Urban Growth Agenda, which also includes a workstream on developing new tools for infrastructure funding and financing.

Once the new NPS comes into force, councils will be required to reflect it in their planning documents and decision-making as soon as practicable, except where the NPS-UD specifies a different timeframe. Unless the NPS-UD directs otherwise, standard Resource Management Act (RMA) processes will apply, meaning that any plan amendments will be publicly notified and consulted on.

Two spheres of application

Some of the provisions in the NPS-UD will have application across all urban environments. Others, setting more stringent requirements, will be restricted to “major urban centres” where the pressure on housing is greatest. Identified for this status are: Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown (the Big Six).

Broad reform objectives

The proposed changes are directed at ensuring:

  • an adequate supply of land to keep up with housing demand at affordable prices
  • better integration of transport systems with land use, to improve access to jobs and reduce car dependency, and
  • cities which create less pressure on natural resources and are better at meeting people’s needs for physical activity, air quality, mental health, disability access and social cohesion.

Specific proposals

Future development strategy

The requirement for councils to prepare a Future Development Strategy (FDS) was included in the 2016 NPS but implementation has been patchy. The proposed changes reflect the lessons from that experience and would require FDSs for the Big Six to:

  • identify locations for intensification based on demand for housing and proximity to services, amenities, infrastructure and employment
  • consider how infrastructure and other development will support capacity in existing and intended urban areas, including identifying indicative locations for future infrastructure corridors and sites
  • encourage engagement with other local authorities and central government during planning
  • be informed by long-term plans as required under the Local Government Act and regional transport plans under the Land Transport Management Act, and
  • be supported by an implementation plan.

Councils in slower growing urban areas will simply be encouraged to include an FDS in their planning framework.

Enabling opportunities for development

The 2016 NPS requires councils to provide sufficient development capacity to meet demand. The Government proposes to change “sufficient” to “enough” (plus a margin) to recognise “that not all development opportunities will be taken up”.

The future provision must comprise a diversity of locations and housing types across a range of price points. Other changes would:

  • replace the current development capacity targets in planning documents with bottom lines to reflect that this is a minimum amount, and that more is better, and
  • require local authorities to inform the Minister for the Environment if they cannot enable enough development capacity.

Quality urban environment

In addition to making room for growth, the NPS-UD also focuses on how that growth contributes to quality urban environments.

The preamble to the NPS-UD will provide a comprehensive description of the features of a quality urban environment – e.g. using ecologically sensitive design, having a light environmental footprint, enhancing safety and health, promoting resilience to natural hazards, providing a range of transport options, and reflecting historical and cultural heritage.

The preamble will be supported in the body of the NPS by:

  • an objective setting out a non-exhaustive description of the features which would be reflected in a quality urban environment, and
  • policies to ensure planning decisions are made with these considerations in mind.

Amenity values in urban environments

The objective here is to blunt the conservative influence of NIMBY-ism. Proposals are to make it clear in the NPS that:

  • amenity values can change over time with changes in the community, and through the opportunities that urban development can create, and
  • councils need to take a future as well as a current perspective in relation to these issues, and consider how to meet the needs of the whole community, rather than just a small minority.

Growing up and out

A tougher regime is proposed to ensure that housing and land supply keeps up with population growth. The Big Six will need to:

  • provide in their district plans, zone descriptions for each zone outlining the types and nature of development intended within that zone
  • include in their regional policy statements an objective “to enable residential intensification that ensures the efficient use of existing urban land, infrastructure, services and facilities”, and zone for higher density residential activities e.g. terraced housing and apartments, within
    • a suitable catchment area, or
    • the more prescriptive approach – within 800m walk of frequent transport stops (unless there is a good reason why not), or within 1.5km of city centres, and
  • consider plan change requests for out-of-sequence greenfield development or development outside designated urban development areas where that development would deliver particular urban outcomes, (including access to transport choice), infrastructure could be provided and environmental effects could be adequately managed.

Other proposals would limit or remove the ability to regulate the number of car parks required for a development.

Iwi and hapū engagement on urban planning

The NPS-UD will include objectives and policies to ensure that urban development takes into account the issues of concern to iwi and hapū, and local authorities provide opportunities to identify aspirations for urban development on whenua Māori.

More direct intervention

The Government is considering whether more direct intervention through a National Environmental Standard (NES) or a national planning standard should be used to require, preclude or replace certain rules in district plans – e.g. height restrictions, density and subdivision standards, private outdoor space requirements, site coverage limits, and minimum floor areas or apartment sizes.

For more information or help preparing a submission, please get in touch with one of our contacts.

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