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Plan Changes Mean Less Freedom To  Build Rurally with Michael BoturPlan Changes Mean Less Freedom To Build Rurally with Michael Botur

After a whole lot of public consultation, hearing panels and appeals, a package of plan changes to better manage the projected population growth in the Whangarei District is going ahead.

The plan changes create incentives for people to settle where there is already water, power and roads, ie people are being gently nudged towards subdivisions where infrastructure already exists.

I don’t speak Councilese so I got Blair Masefield of Lands and Survey to break down the changes for me.

“The District Plan has tightened up; it’s now harder to subdivide rural production land,” Blair explained. “There is, however, leeway for subdivisions in rural villages such as around Matarau and Waipu or coastal locations like Ngunguru”.

“At the same time, the city is maturing over how it enables residential development. At the moment it’s pretty basic – one house per site on three residential zones. Early proposed changes will make it much more sophisticated. WDC is wanting to encourage residential town centre living to get vibrancy back in the city centre.”

More density is part of what drives this vibrancy. Housing affordability is also part of the motivation here too - development should be more affordable where there are fewer development costs and dwelling sizes are smaller.

In the Whangarei city centre, medium density buildings could be created up to a height of 20m without too much trouble, Blair says. “If it’s economically viable, council is looking to set up the regulatory framework to enable that sort of building. That’s what they’re launching into now.”

Once all the changes become publicly notifiable next year, we’ll see what people really think.

The bigger picture around the world – including in Auckland – is that cities are focusing on consolidation of urban areas instead of sprawl. “Typically that drives better utilisation of public assets as well as adding more vibrancy to urban environments,” Blair says.

What he means is we already have good built-up areas, and we need to double down on those – not build on more and more rural land.

“Largely it’s driven by infrastructure. If your city has a level of density to it, you’re not continually extending your roads, powerlines and pipes too far out. In terms of transport, viability of public transport is higher if population is dense. If you have sprawled it’s much harder.”

“It’s also driven by economics. It can be cheaper to establish individual developments on the fringe, but if you consolidate around the urban area, the whole of life costs can be the same or less.”

Of course, a lot of people don’t like urban infill. Sneaking in increased density slowly is one way around it. “There may not be much backlash against slightly smaller suburban sections - 500sqm going down to 450sqm.”

More community awareness, however, might open the gates for some criticism.

To get a feeling for what some rural landowners feel about the rural land package of changes, you have to read through submissions (some messily handwritten).

Here’s one submitter, frustrated with incoming restrictions on his coastal land:

“I currently have the right to build a house [by the rural coast], in the future I won’t, and there will be strict regulations on the future use of my land. Clearly this is a significant impairment of my accepted property rights. PC114 promises unknown but significant future costs for development and a likely detrimental effect on the value of the property and its ease of sale. Materially speaking I am a serious loser [...]  Council documentation makes me feel like I am the heinous landowner who needs to be prevented from inappropriate action on every second page while the Council is guilty of decades of inappropriate inaction.”

We do need to prevent sprawl, but ouch. Let’s stay tuned and see if backlash erupts once the rural changes bite and the urban package of changes are released for public comment mid-2019.

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.


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