2011: A spatial odyssey - the proposed Auckland spatial plan

The Auckland Spatial Plan, now in the first stages of development, will establish the “vision statement” which will drive planning and resource management decisions in the ‘Super City’ over the next 20 to 30 years.  As such, it will be an important document.

We recommend early engagement.

Why a Spatial Plan?

The Spatial Plan is a mandatory requirement, legislated for in the second of the three Acts to implement the Super City.  The legislation specifies that the Plan address infrastructure requirements and the future mix and location of rural production, industrial, business and residential areas, as well as areas for environmental protection across the region.

The Plan is to reflect Mayor Len Brown’s vision of making Auckland “the most liveable city in the world”, embodying the values of inclusiveness, courage, prudence, fairness and innovation.

Spatial plans have been used effectively overseas to establish a ‘blue print’ for the future growth of cities.  Such plans are generally set at a high, aspirational level.  From there, implementation trickles down through the various statutes, regulations, policy statements, plans and consenting processes making up a typical planning regime.

For Auckland, the Spatial Plan aims to facilitate consistent decision making at local and central government levels and to develop an agreed view on how to grow the Auckland economy and to transform Auckland into an internationally recognised and successful city.

What might the Spatial Plan contain?

A report to the Auckland Future Vision Committee, responsible for developing the draft plan, recommends that it should seek to achieve:

  • balanced social and economic development
  • an improved quality of life (e.g. housing, work)
  • responsible management of the natural and physical environment and heritage, and
  • a rational land-use plan – i.e. where growth goes.

“First order” priority projects the Council is developing for inclusion within the Plan are:

  • a 20 year City Centre Masterplan for the CBD (with public consultations in March and April), and
  • a ‘Global Southern Gateway’ centred around the Auckland Airport.  The concept is to create a key transport and logistics hub and a link to the city and to Hamilton, encouraging increased tourist activity in and around Auckland.

The Plan will also contain a range of complementary “second order-place based” projects (for example, the Tamaki Transformation Project, the Hobsonville/Northern Strategic Gateway Development and the Silverdale North Development).

In addition, a draft Auckland Council submission on the Aquaculture Legislation Amendment Bill suggests that the Spatial Plan could be used to address aquaculture issues within the Auckland region.

Proposed timeline

The Council’s target is to have the Spatial Plan in place by the end of this year so that it can inform the 2012 Long Term Community Council Plan (LTCCP).  Phases are currently timetabled as follows:

Phase One.  November 2010 to February 2011.  Discussions over the broad process for preparing the Spatial Plan; consultation with iwi, local boards and key stakeholders; evaluation and refinement of the strategic options and proposals.

Phase Two.  March 2011 to end May 2011.  Launch of the initial draft plan for informal public engagement and consultation.

Phase Three.  June and July 2011.  Final draft adopted for the purposes of statutory consultation using the Local Government Act’s special consultative procedure.

Phase Four.  August to end November 2011.  Statutory consultation process, hearings and any plan amendments.

Phase Five.  Mid December 2011.  Plan adoption and rollout.

Our view

Clearly there would be value in having an agreed path forward for Auckland.  But there are some significant uncertainties that need to be resolved.

In our view, the uncertainty as to what the Spatial Plan will contain is a major issue, particularly given the tight timeframes for decision and with new proposals continuing to emerge.  There is a risk (evident in the proposal that it address aquaculture interests) that the Plan might be viewed by the Council as a ‘fix-all’. 

As lawyers, we also want to see a firmer position on the Plan’s legal status.  At this stage, the preferred options proposed by Government are that it:

  • replace existing strategic plans under the Resource Management Act (RMA) and Land Transport Management Act 2003, or
  • be given statutory weight under the Auckland legislation with strengthened legislative linkages (effectively allowing the Plan to ‘influence’ other existing planning regimes).

But if the Plan is adopted under the consultative mechanisms in the Local Government Act and is subsequently elevated to statutory status, certain public participation rights typical to RMA processes (such as rights to appeal) may be usurped. 

The Plan could unwind years of work and resources invested in developing such documents as the Regional Growth Strategy and the Auckland Regional Land Transport Strategy.  It could also add more regulation to a system already bogged down with so-called ‘planning churn’.

A final point relates to implementation.  We know that the Plan will inform subsequent implementation requirements (particularly asset management programmes) in the LTCCP.  So strategic investment decisions – and your rates – will be affected by the Spatial Plan’s priorities.  The Act does require that there be an “evidential base” to support decision making under the Plan.  However a keen eye will be needed on the economics.  Central Government is clearly watching this area closely as well.

We will continue to monitor the evolution of the Spatial Plan and will keep you informed of developments and of opportunities to engage in the discussion.

For further information, please contact the lawyers featured.

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