The Panel of Independent Commissioners on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) have issued interim guidance memoranda on matters of significance: special character areas, the pre-1944 building and demolition control overlay, and volcanic viewshaft protection. The purpose of the guidance is to inform all parties of the Panel’s interim position on these two matters. They are not a formal recommendation/decision and is not yet binding on the Council, submitters or the Panel. They do, however, give a clear indication of the direction in which the PAUP will likely go on these matters. None of them are good news for some important built and natural heritage protections currently in effect. These assessments have all been significantly guided by s32 of the Resource Management Act 1991 which requires that ‘benefits and costs’ be included in evaluation reports in the context of assessing efficiency and effectiveness. The most recent amendments in 2013 were intended to take effect in time for the preparation of the Auckland combined plan under Part 4 of the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010. The post-2013 s32(2) requires that:
An assessment under subsection (1)(b)(ii) must –
(a) Identify and assess the benefits and costs of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects that are anticipated from the implementation of the provisions, including the opportunities for-
(i) economic growth that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and
(ii) employment that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and
(b) if practicable, quantify the benefits and costs referred to in paragraph (a).
On this basis, applied for instance to volcanic viewshafts, the panel asks for an assessment of the ‘public value’ of all 87 of the viewshafts, taking into account ‘employment and economic growth opportunities (including lost opportunities)’, suggesting that although it is not necessary for submitters to ‘convert the effect of viewshafts in terms of lost floor area into dollar terms’, it would ‘assist in decision making.’ In fairness to the panel, they are bound to follow the guidance provided in this legislative scheme and assess current and proposed rules against it. The Panel made the following comments:
Pre-1944 Building Demolition Control Overlay
I have written before on the purpose and very limited effectiveness of this overlay. At the time of writing, the overlay has triggered the assessment of about 5% of properties under resource consent applications and seen scheduling of less than 1%. The Waitematā Local Board area will not be as affected as others by removal of the pre-1944 overlay given that heritage surveys have been carried out, at the urging of the Local Board, by a specialist team in Westmere, Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and Freemans Bay. They have identified 12 ‘hotspots’ in the current Res 1 fringe and we will know the full results of their survey in September.
- The Panel hold that the overlay is placing unnecessary constraints and burdens on landowners seeking to develop their properties.
- The Panel considers that there is inadequate analysis and evidence to justify this overlay in the PAUP.
- In particular, additional analysis should include the implications of the overlay on the PAUP’s urban growth provisions and the basis of any such control under s6 and s7 of the RMA.
- If the Council wishes to pursue this overlay, it should be done through a future plan change process.
Staff will report to the next Auckland Development Committee meeting with further advice on the implications of this interim guidance.
Volcanic Viewshaft Protection
Of far greater concern is the panel’s guidance note on the preservation of volcanic viewshafts. There are currently 87 volcanic viewshafts which have been painstakingly negotiated over the past 50 years. Following the construction of The Pines apartments on the side of Mount Eden Maungawhau in the 1970s, many Aucklanders were galvanised to protect views to our distinctive maunga. Auckland Council Regional Planner, Roy Turner, proposed that a cross-section of views be preserved for posterity. The Auckland Regional Council and Auckland City Council began a joint review of the viewshafts in 1996 and notified a revised list in 2005 with 34 additions and 24 removals. Section 32 RMA assessments, outlined above, are of particular importance in the Panel’s thinking on this matter and their view is that the objectives, rules and policies in relation to viewshafts do not meet the requirements of the section.
- The Panel write that the ‘volcanic cones are a defining element of Auckland’s natural heritage. Views to and between the cones are generally worthy of protection.’
- However, the Panel states that ‘not all views are equally significant or equally sensitive to development change’ and is unconvinced ‘that any development that penetrates a viewshaft would be inappropriate.’
- 2 different methodologies have been proposed. Council have proposed a single level of protection for regional volcanic viewshafts and Housing New Zealand have proposed a 3-stage hierarchy of regional, district and local viewshafts. HNZ have complained that viewshafts are causing ‘a potential capacity loss of 1150 units’ to HNZ and 24,500 to developers city-wide.
- The Panel consider an as-yet-undisclosed number of viewshafts to be not regionally significant pending further assessment.
- They also consider that a great deal of refinement can be achieved due to GIS technology not available at the time many of the viewshafts were originally identified, and ‘improved development capacity modelling tools are now available to better understand the opportunity costs alongside the benefits so that better informed assessments can be made than in the past.’
The parties are to liaise with one another and agree by 31 July to provide further assessment detail by way of a work programme and a timetable to prepare for a resumed hearing.
Special character is the second part of the two-part test in the pre-1944 Building and Demolition Control Overlay. So, even if the pre-1944 overlay survives, it will be significantly undermined if the following views of the panel are an accurate guide to what will be in the final unitary plan.
- The Panel is not convinced that special character is ‘historic heritage’ requiring protection as a matter of national importance.
- Therefore, if Council wishes to change the provisions from special character to historic character (i.e. a change from s7 to s6 of the RMA), then it should do so through a future plan change.
- Additional special character areas raised through submissions should be addressed by a future plan change.
- Howick should remain a special character area for the purposes of the PAUP process.