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Housing legislation will change the face of our backyards - Simon O’Connor

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Leading town planner and developer warns proposed Resource Management Act changes will see Kiwis looking into each other's living rooms.

House prices on the periphery of cities will skyrocket as investors and developers snap up sections eligible for development under new medium density residential standards.

"This is ironic given the legislation is intended to reduce house prices and scarcity under a compact city model," says Simon O’Connor, a former Auckland Council planner with two decades experience.

The government last week signalled changes to the RMA, designed to improve New Zealand's housing supply, by forcing councils to allow people to build up to three, three-storey homes on a section without the need for resource consent.

The changes would come into effect from August 2022 at the earliest.

However, O'Connor, who now heads up Sentinel Planning, says the RMA Amendment Bill will likely design suburbs in an ad-hoc way not previously anticipated.

"The reality is, people are going to be allowed to build houses with living rooms that look into their neighbours' with privacy and lifestyle standards that we have come to enjoy being destroyed," says O'Connor, whose company lodges more resource consents for residential development in Auckland than any other.

The new rules signify a poisoned chalice being handed to the country's territorial authorities, who have to adapt and carry these lesser quality standards.

The law change will mean the default height limit will be 11 metres and recession planes increased to 6 metres and 60 degrees. Outdoor living requirements will shrink to 15 metres², and yards will be 2.5 metres for the front boundary and 1 metre for the side and rear edges.

"By the time you add balconies on, you have drummed up a sure-fire way to have neighbours closer than ever free to spread COVID-19 and high-five each other," O’Connor says.

"The boundary rules contained in this RMA proposal will also see significant issues with shadowing, with homeowners' having the urban design quality they would have based their purchase on going up in smoke overnight."

"It has to be contemplated, does this law go too far and throw design quality out the window at the expense of more housing?"

Another concern of Sentinel Planning is that the purpose of the legislation is to tackle the supply

and affordability of Aotearoa's housing crisis - yet the country is likely to witness land banking of properties eligible for development over the next 24-months by opportunistic investors.

"Those with deep pockets will want to secure all the sections that this legislation will permit three townhouses on, especially in the single-house zone of Auckland, thus effectively tripling density and driving intensification in the opposite direction of where the Unitary Plan intended growth to occur," O'Connor added.

Enabling intensification anywhere across our biggest cities, rather than focusing it on places with existing amenities and infrastructure, will make it difficult for the likes of the Ministry of Education, district health boards, power and telecommunications providers, Auckland Transport, Waka Kotahi and Watercare to make decisions on where to invest.

Buried in the amendment is a provision to allow councils to charge for footpaths and nearby trees, in addition to the already-mandated standard development contribution charges.

O'Connor says Sentinel Planning has been inundated with calls from current and prospective clients asking how the new law may affect current and near plans.

"Our advice has been simple; nothing changes until this proposed law makes its way through Parliament. And when it does, expect to see a huge number of ill-considered and, possibly, ugly developments pop up around the country."

The amendments will only apply to applications lodged on or after the standards come into effect.

O'Connor says while his firm has reservations about some of the changes to the RMA, he is delighted to see cooperation between the country's two main political parties.

"Bipartisanship at work is wonderful to witness, and knowing both parties support this legislation means there won't be unexpected changes if the incumbent party is unsuccessful at the next General Election," he says.

"But, an overwhelming question remains, does either party want to be responsible for six-metre building walls, one metre from the northern boundaries of mums and dads."

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