Urban growth in New Zealand : Where are we heading?

Article by Kensington Swan, a proud sponsor of the Reform or Transform Conference 2018

Nicky McIndoe, Partner, Environment and Planning, Kensington Swan

The Government’s proposed urban growth agenda provides a glimpse into the future of urban development in New Zealand.

The Cabinet paper outlining the agenda describes it as an “ambitious and far reaching programme”, and clearly there are challenges to be overcome in achieving this vision. The agenda is “designed to improve outcomes for New Zealanders by addressing the fundamentals of land supply, development capacity, and infrastructure provisions”.

The main objective of the agenda is improving housing affordability. This primary objective is supported by ambitious goals to improve choices for the location and type of housing, and improve access to employment, education and services.

The agenda also aims to assist emission reductions and build climate resilience, and enable quality built environments while avoiding unnecessary urban sprawl.

How do we get there?

Achieving the stated objectives will not be easy. Special Housing Area legislation, Auckland Council reorganisation, the Housing Infrastructure Fund and the Auckland Unitary Plan were all promoted as solutions to housing unavailability (and the infrastructure needed to support housing). The Urban Growth Agenda promises a more comprehensive and integrated response.

The Cabinet paper proposes five ‘interconnected pillars of work’, designed to achieve the objectives. These are infrastructure funding and financing, urban planning, spatial planning – initially focussed on Auckland and the Auckland-Hamilton corridor, transport pricing, and legislative reform.

The Cabinet paper contains little detail on what changes will result from this work. Possibilities include removal of urban growth boundaries, height limits and density controls, congestion pricing, moves to prevent land banking, and debt financing of development infrastructure (including water infrastructure).

Achieving these goals will require carefully managing sometimes competing objectives. For example, the Government wants to:

  • Remove urban growth boundaries – while also supporting walking, cycling and public transport, and providing access to jobs, amenities and education.
  • Make housing more affordable – while also ‘rebalancing development risk from local authorities to the development sector’.
  • Provide greater flexibility for development opportunities – while also ‘defining clear, concise and unambiguous built environment principles …from the site and street level through to the city level in terms of urban form’.

A concerted, deliberate and phased approach will be required to ensure the Urban Growth Agenda initiatives complement rather than undermine each other.

Urban Development Authorities

Announcing the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the Government said it is “setting up an Urban Development Authority (‘UDA’) to lead large scale urban development projects”. The Cabinet paper described an Urban Growth Agenda work programme closely related to other work areas, including urban development legislation that “will establish an urban development authority and provide planning and consenting, land assembly, infrastructure and funding powers that can be used to deliver complex urban development projects”.  MBIE recently announced that a UDA Bill will be introduced in March 2019.

Wellington City Council Chief Executive Kevin Lavery has suggested[1] that Greater Wellington Regional Council, WCC, the Government, and the NZ Transport Agency should form a Wellington UDA to progress the Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport programme. The multifaceted nature of that initiative would make it a good candidate.

The Cabinet paper hints that a UDA could be used to develop a “new leapfrog greenfield development” south of Auckland. This could be a reference to the 30,000-home satellite city Infrastructure New Zealand has suggested for Paerata.[2] Getting the right transport solutions for such a development will be crucial.

Who will do the work?

Establishment of the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development began in earnest on 1 August 2018, and it will officially start operating on 1 October 2018.[3] We expect the new Ministry will provide the horse power to drive the policy and legislative changes indicated in the Urban Growth Agenda.

Announcing the new agency, Minister for Housing and Urban Development Phil Twyford said it would provide strong leadership and fresh thinking, streamlining the currently fragmented approach. The Urban Growth Agenda work programme demands this sort of focus.

When will work begin?

The Cabinet paper recommends that officials report back to Cabinet on the necessary legislative changes by 30 June 2019. Implementation of new funding and financing tools, transportation pricing decisions and planning methods is scheduled for ‘2020+’.


[2] Meeting Auckland’s Growth Challenge: The Innovation City, October 2017.

[3], 8 June 2018