New density rules for megacities could enable ‘poor quality urban design’

New changes to government-directed housing intensification rules could have a negative impact on what the Hamiltonians see
Kristel Yardley/Staff

New changes to government-directed housing intensification rules could have a negative impact on what the Hamiltonians see as “normal,” says City Council Planning Director Mark Davey.

A city planner grappling with this problem in Hamilton, warns that sweeping new rules of housing density risk enabling poor-quality urban design.

Mark Davey’s candid comments come ahead of Howe Thursday as a city council committee is set to recommend to the full council that the Condensation Change 12 plan (PC12) will come out for public consultation this month.

PC12 provides higher housing density but creates different bases for different areas, including downtown and surrounding areas, around suburban centers and the rest of the city.

On whether the neoliberal rules create the risk of a crowded urban environment, Davey said they did but that it was difficult to avoid given the nature of the new law guiding intensification, which also includes Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

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The law change would allow landowners in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch to build up to three stories without supplier approval. (Video first published in October 2021)

“There is a risk of poor quality urban design outcomes.”

Davey said that Hamiltonians can expect the “normal” to look out the window to see one house on a large site. But PC12’s facilitation of further condensation would change this view over time.

“What this does is fundamentally change what to expect on their streets or suburbs,” Davey said.

While the current policy that allows duplexing has already changed things “it’s going to speed it up”.

“The ability to make the new urban environment natural or the new urban environment attractive is being eroded by first-level metro boards, such as Hamilton.”

Mark Davey, director of town planning for Hamilton City Council, says:

Kristel Yardley/Staff

“There is a risk of poor quality urban design outcomes,” says Mark Davey, director of town planning for Hamilton City Council.

On whether this is a direct criticism of government policy, Davey said: “It is a one-size-fits-all approach to managing urban development that takes away rights from individual communities to have a meaningful say in the shape of their cities.”

PC12 is a draft response to a recent amendment to the Resource Management Act.

The amendment provided for new provisions such as no need for supplier approval for up to three living units up to three floors in the section.

Davy said the “three and three” aspects of things can’t be controlled now but PC12 was able to control building densities and heights.

And the need to protect the Waikato River from the effects of development, in particular, gave the council leverage over how the new rules would be implemented.

It enabled an “accurate or Hamiltonian response” to the new rules that were called “environmental density”.

Twin homes have become a popular design option for Hamilton home builders under current rules (file).

Kristel Yardley/Staff

Twin homes have become a popular design option for Hamilton home builders under current rules (file).

Measures such as more landscaping, trees, rainwater tanks, restoration of canyons and provision of land that helped water absorb, were provided in PC12.

Financial contributions will be charged from developers to help offset the environmental impacts of the developments. This was not expected to result in higher housing prices as it would be offset by savings in resource approval fees.

When asked about the alternative to government methods, Davy suggested that a more “realistic” approach to promoting densification could do better in terms of increasing housing stock, protecting the environment and having affordable infrastructure.

Davey said that while PC12 had some actions that fit Hamilton, it would have been better for the city’s autonomy to have a more stimulating and empowering local approach to development.

PC12 was completely separate from the recent decision by a council committee to endorse a target to have 70% of new housing in Hamilton come from condensation, compared to about 50% now.

Public hearings on PC12 are scheduled for next year, and the new policy is set to take effect in 2024.

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