Auckland’s Unitary Plan — a changing building landscape

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I thought for the last article of 2013, I would report back on some key aspects of the proposed Unitary Plan that was notified on September 30, 2013.
Whilst parts of this Unitary Plan came into force immediately, the substance of it will not come into force for at least three years or possibly four years from the date of notification. It seems to me that anyone caught up in the construction business needs at least a working knowledge of its effects/impacts.

A starting point is that the Auckland Council web site provides a very useful Unitary Viewer where you can specifically identify the area or property that interests you, and then go in and view the various planning restrictions relevant to that property.

I would encourage each reader of this article to, at the very least, carry out this exercise on their own property, and print the report that is available through the Unitary Viewer. It is a very useful first snapshot of the effects of the Unitary Plan.

Policy
In terms of policy, it is fair to say that the Unitary Plan and the amendments made to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) that came with it is a switch in focus, with the inclusion of these principles:
• Effective functioning of the built environment, including the availability of land to support population changes and urban development,
• Management of significant risks of natural hazards, and
• Efficient provision of infrastructure.
It is a move away, it seems, from perhaps what the current Government perceives as too great a focus on environmental protection. However, there remain contradictions, in particular “the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment” has been removed from the RMA. Yet its removal is at odds with the stated Government objective of “enabling economic development while ensuring good environmental outcomes are achieved”.

Make up of the Unitary Plan
The Unitary Plan is made up of the following parts:
• Introduction,
• Regional Policy Statement,
• Regional District Plan Objectives and Policies, and
• Regional and District Rules.

It is the Regional and District Rules which will concern most of the readers of this article. The underlying theme to the Unitary Plan is urban intensification.
Under the Unitary Plan there are 45 different types of zones and 53 potential overlays. All land and coastal water (except some roads) are zoned. Overlays can apply across multiple zones. There are also precincts created called “mini zones” that contain “place-based provisions” which recognise “local differences”.

It is important to note that the Unitary Plan is only a proposed plan at the moment that will only come into effect after everyone who wishes to be heard has had their submissions considered by the appointed Hearings Panel.

The cut-off date for all submissions is February 28, 2014 (although I have read at least one article suggesting that, in fact, to be safe, all submissions ought to be made one month earlier due to potential ambiguities in interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions).

It is also important to note that some aspects of the Unitary Plan have already come into force — for example the pre-1944 Building Demolition Control overlay which is prevalent in areas such as Westmere and Pt Chevalier in Auckland.

One of the potentially more controversial new zones created by the Unitary Plan is Terraced Housing and Apartment Buildings (THAB). Typically, local shopping centres and streets adjoining these areas have been zoned within THAB under the Unitary Plan.

It is anticipated that this particular zoning is likely to create some opposition via the submission process. In particular, the THAB zoning allows a landowner within this zone as of right to construct four-storey buildings (14.5 metres high plus 1 metre semi-basement parking) next to local centres and most town centres, and six storeys (20.5 metres high) next to metropolitan centres and some town centres.

I have already fielded enquiries from home owners concerned about this zoning under the Unitary Plan.

Practical tips
• The reality now is that even for a simple house extension which requires a resource consent, a planning consultant is most likely required, who will need to address the existing plans and the Unitary Plan.
• Furthermore, any potential purchaser ought to be seeking planning advice on the likely planning affects of the Unitary Plan prior to entering into a binding contract to purchase land. I would go further and suggest that conveyancing solicitors ought to direct their clients to obtain that advice prior to purchasing.
• If you want to be heard upon the Unitary Plan, you need to put in a submission even if you agree with the Unitary Plan in its current form, or otherwise you will not have the right to lodge cross submissions where you disagree with submissions in opposition.

Note: This article is not intended to be legal advice (nor a substitute for legal advice). No responsibility or liability is accepted by Legal Vision or Building Today to anyone who relies on the information contained in this article.