The Campbell Brown Blog

Auckland Spatial Plan

Spatial Planning in Auckland

By any measure, the development of a Spatial Plan for Auckland is likely to be one of the most significant events in the relatively short history of New Zealand planning.  The Auckland Spatial Plan will have far-reaching implications for the growth and development of Auckland over the next few decades, and flow-on effects for the rest of the country.  The process of preparing and implementing the Auckland Spatial Plan will be of great interest to many, including developers, business leaders, infrastructure providers and professional planners.

What is ‘spatial planning’?

Spatial planning is public sector planning that is undertaken to influence the future distribution of land use activities within a defined area.

The output of spatial planning is generally a plan that identifies future priorities for growth, investment, and conservation within a city or region.  Spatial plans are an attempt to create a cohesive and robust blueprint for a city’s future development, through reconciling public sector policies relating to such matters as environmental protection, economic growth, sustainability, social equity, and transport and infrastructure provision.

The objective of a spatial plan is to provide an integrated long-term vision for the growth and development of a region.  It is expected that a spatial plan will adopt a planning horizon of up to 30 years.  A spatial plan will guide the location of development activities and supporting infrastructure, and indicate the sequencing of such growth.

Why undertake spatial planning?

In Auckland’s case, there is a legislative requirement to undertake spatial planning.  Section 70 of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 states that the recently formed Auckland Council “must prepare and adopt a spatial plan for Auckland”

Even without this statutory obligation, there are a number of reasons why the Auckland Council would want to prepare a spatial plan for Auckland.

Perhaps foremost on the list is that a spatial plan will provide a consistent long-term vision for Auckland.  A stable and coherent planning framework is required if significant private sector investment is to occur.  These conditions will also encourage the efficient provision of infrastructure to serve existing communities and future growth.

In addition, a spatial plan will also provide a vehicle for reconciling competing government policies.  An obvious example arises in respect of the tension between facilitating economic growth while concurrently seeking to preserve amenity values and the quality of the environment.

The Auckland Spatial Plan

The Auckland Council intends to release a draft Auckland Spatial Plan at the end of March 2011 for public consultation.  The intention is, following feedback and further work, to finalise and adopt the spatial plan by the end of 2011.

The Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 describes the purpose of the spatial plan as being “to contribute to Auckland’s social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being through a comprehensive and effective long-term (20- to 30-year) strategy for Auckland’s growth and development”.

There is an expectation that the Spatial Plan will have a strong focus on visual maps and plans, to illustrate the constraints, opportunities and priorities for the region.  High-level policies will also be incorporated in the document.

The Spatial Plan needs to identify the existing and future distribution of land use activities, including residential and employment activities, critical infrastructure, transportation networks, regionally significant open space, historic heritage sites, landscapes and natural features.

The Auckland Council is required to consult widely throughout the preparation and development of the Spatial Plan.  Central government and infrastructure providers, among others, are specifically identified in the legislation as key stakeholders with whom the Council must actively engage.  The obligation does not end there.  The Council must endeavour to secure and maintain the support and co-operation of these same parties in the implementation of the Spatial Plan.

Adoption of the Spatial Plan must occur in accordance with the ‘special consultative procedure’, which is contained in the Local Government Act.  Councils currently utilise that procedure when striking rates, establishing annual plans, and when engaging with communities about significant projects and policies.

Relationship with the Unitary Plan

The Auckland Council is a unitary authority, meaning that it exercises the functions of both a regional and local authority for the Auckland region.  It proposes to replace the existing district and regional plans of the former councils with a new ‘Unitary Plan’.

A hierarchy will exist between the Auckland Spatial Plan and the Auckland Unitary Plan.  The former document will establish the high-level strategic vision for Auckland, while the Unitary Plan will be one of a number of tools that implement that vision.  The Unitary Plan is a subordinate document, which will contain methods and rules to give effect to the Spatial Plan and manage the effects of activities on the environment.  The Unitary Plan will give legs to the vision, particularly as it relates to the development of land in private ownership.

It is expected that more detailed (and controversial) issues such as the precise location of the Metropolitan Urban Limits will be debated, and possibly litigated, through the Unitary Plan rather than the Spatial Plan.  However, the Spatial Plan will still need to grapple with some difficult issues such as those relating to intensification, identification of ‘greenfield’ growth areas, heritage and environmental protection, economic development, infrastructure provision, and funding for the costs associated with growth.  It is also important to remember that Auckland has developed, at least partially, in a polycentric manner.  As a consequence, the Spatial Plan would be expected to provide significant opportunities and choice to the community outside of the CBD in terms of housing, employment and social needs.

Implementation Tools

Formulation of the Spatial Plan presents an ideal opportunity to debate whether the right tools are in place to deliver the vision for Auckland.  Fragmentation of land is a major constraint to integrated development, and perhaps there is a need now to revisit the creation of urban development agencies.  Such agencies would be able to aggregate land and work in partnership with the private sector on major redevelopment projects, in order to unlock the potential of land in strategic locations within Auckland.

In addition, the use of greater development incentives could be considered.  Examples might include density and height bonuses and development contribution reductions to encourage land aggregation and more efficient use of sites.  It is also likely that the Spatial Plan will include a strong focus on raising the quality of urban design, particularly in town centres.

The Spatial Plan will need to secure a level of buy-in from central government.  Substantial government funding will be spent over coming decades in Auckland, and the outcomes of that spending should be well-aligned with the vision encapsulated in the Spatial Plan.  Close alignment of central and local government strategic objectives and associated funding has the potential to transform Auckland into the most liveable city in the world, and one of the most productive.  The government has recently issued a number of position papers on the Spatial Plan and it will be interesting to see how these align with the thinking of the Auckland Council.  Copies of these papers are available at the following link:

Certainly these papers reflect a desire of central government to have a more active role in directing local government growth policy.

Who should be interested?

The new Auckland Spatial Plan should be of interest to anyone who is interested in the future of Auckland, or is involved in the New Zealand planning system.  For professional planners it is an exciting development, and may be a sign of things to come in other regions.  For developers and business leaders it represents a rare chance to help shape the future of New Zealand’s economic engine, and identify trends and opportunities that can inform investment and grow business.  It is also an opportinuty to recognise those areas and features that make Auckland special.

Campbell Brown Planning Limited can provide advice and assistance to help you understand the wide opportunities that exist with regard to the proposed Auckland Spatial Plan.