The Government has just released a revised National Policy Statement on Urban Design – which will affect the look of our major cities and the way they work. It comes into effect on 20 August 2020, just in time for the incoming Government. This is a big one – the NPS-UD was last updated in 2016 under the Nats, and so this is the first time that Ministers Phil Twyford (remember him? He used to be important) and David Parker (the quiet David, not the mountain-bike riding sacked one) have managed to put their stamp on this important piece of Government business.

Greater Auckland have put out a very helpful piece on the effect of this legislation on Auckland, with which I’m not going to try to compete with, but similar effects are going to be felt here in the capital. One of the key parts of this NPS-UD will be the effect on car parking, which of course excites the petrolheads in Auckland more than it does the people in Wellington.

“The requirement in district plans for developers to provide car parking in developments will need to be removed. Developers can now choose to include car parking that meets the needs of their specific development, this will allow space to be more appropriately allocated to other uses and drive down the cost of housing, particularly in higher density areas. It will also support the Government’s carbon emissions reduction goals.”

That’s going to have a big effect nonetheless – being as Auckland has always insisted on Minimum Car Parking provision, and Wellington has had a Maximum instead, but the complete removal of car parking requirements will allow many more developments to get underway. Apartment buildings will now go ahead with zero parking – that’s the way it should be – inner-city residents should be walking or bussing about. Aucklanders will still get excited by this though – recently there was a huge fuss and accusations of the end of the world when a development up there was allowed to proceed with no car parks. Fairly standard practice down here though these days.

There’s more to this NPS-UD than just car parking though. There’s also building height. The NPS-UD clearly wants more:

Policy 3: In relation to tier 1 urban environments, regional policy statements and district plans enable:

(a) in city centre zones, building heights and density of urban form to realise as much development capacity as possible, to maximise benefits of intensification; and

(b) in metropolitan centre zones, building heights and density of urban form to reflect demand for housing and business use in those locations, and in all cases building heights of at least 6 storeys; and

(c) building heights of least 6 storeys within at least a walkable catchment of the following:

(i)  existing and planned rapid transit stops

(ii)  the edge of city centre zones

(iii)  the edge of metropolitan centre zones; and

(d) in all other locations in the tier 1 urban environment, building heights and density of urban form commensurate with the greater of:

(i)  the level of accessibility by existing or planned active or public transport to a range of commercial activities and community services; or

(ii)  relative demand for housing and business use in that location.

Putting it bluntly, I’m in two minds about this as one the one hand I know I’m strongly supportive of increasing building heights and on the other hand my apartment may end up in shadow caused by developers building up to block out my sunshine. No No I say: You are my sunshine! You keep me happy, when skies are grey! Please don’t keep my sunshine away…

But seriously, this UD guideline is on the right track. No doubt enraged and influenced by such stupid developments as Paddington on Taranaki, where in the heart of our “major boulevard” development area, some Chinese & Australian developers have sauntered into central Te Aro and are building two-storey high townhouses in the most inappropriate place: along Taranaki Street. Seeing as they are just starting this week, and will be in place for the next 50 years at least, this bullshit development “Paddington” has fucked up Wellington aspirations under the existing rules – but would not be permitted to exist under the new rules. This particular site was always 6-9 storeys high in the Council’s mind, but the developers would not play ball and preferred to bowl underarm, side-stepping the enormous insurance issues that dog central city apartment owners in Wellington – issues that still need to be addressed and resolved.

Two storey high supposed “Live-Work” townhouses next to our most busy urban traffic boulevard makes a farce of the last 20 years of WCC policy. Of course, they all sold out quickly, mostly to off-shore investors I suspect, who will probably never have to live there. The many laughing, happy, shiny people in the “Paddington” illustration seem blissfully unaware that this is the windy side of a very windy street, that there is no verandah worth speaking off to keep the gusts away, and I had to add in the cars and buses myself to get over the developer bullshit vision of a traffic-free idyll.

It’s not all going to happen overnight, of course, and it will take years to bed in, but it is a start. Unlikely to be overturned by the Nats should they win in the next election – but then again, the Nats are unlikely to win in the next election – this Policy is going to affect not just the people of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga and Hamilton (yes, that’s right – Tauranga and Hamilton are now considered “Tier One” cities, despite being nothing more than endless suburbs), but will also affect “Tier Two” cities as well. That means you: Whangārei, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North, “Nelson Tasman”, Queenstown and Dunedin.

That list must just about cover everyone! Whangārei is a Tier Two city now? Last time I visited there it was just a milk-bar on the main highway out of town! Clearly tie for a roadie – except whoops!!! I don’t have a car!