NZGBC reacts to Unitary Plan recommendations on density and Homestar

27 July 2016

The Independent Hearing Panel’s recommendation to significantly increase housing density in Auckland’s central suburbs is key to Auckland’s future and should be applauded, says the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC).

After extensive hearings on all aspects of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP), the Independent Hearings Panel (the Panel) released its full recommendations to Auckland Council on July 22, and the Council publicly released the recommendations this afternoon.

The Panel recommended 22% fewer sections be zoned for a single house and 25% more be zoned for apartments and townhouses. Urban growth will be focused around town centres and transport nodes. NZGBC chief executive Alex Cutler says these principles will help bring Auckland into line with other major international cities that have already faced and overcome similar problems.

“Over the past couple of years in Auckland, there has been a lot of debate and opposition to the concept of density, and we’re pleased that the Panel has stayed true to what Auckland city badly needs. The reality is that Auckland has a significant housing supply and affordability crisis on its hands, and there’s no way the city can continue without embracing some level of density – as well as broadening the range of housing choices in terms of size and typology,” she says.

“The good news is that there are plenty of examples of density done well – from all over the world, to here in Auckland with Wynyard Quarter – that we can roll out on a larger scale. Compact cities create vibrant, liveable communities.”

Although the Panel has recommended 60-70% of development should happen in existing urban areas, they’ve also recommended Auckland Council expands the rural-urban boundary to include 30-40% more land.

“This isn’t surprising, given political pressure around the issue, but the reality is that it costs more to develop infrastructure as a city expands. Cities around the world are coming up with solutions that avoid or minimise sprawl, and its environmental cost,” Ms Cutler adds.

“OECD research has found that cities with a compact urban form and high population density are likely to have lower CO2 emissions per capita, through lower transport emissions and lower electricity consumption. Also, a 2014 study from the University of California found that while densely populated cities produce lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions per person, the sprawl around these cities — and the commuting and bigger homes — can significantly affect that benefit.”

Homestar not part of IHP recommendations

As part of the recommendations, the Panel also stated that achieving a 6 Homestar rating on all homes in Special Housing Areas should not be required in Auckland’s Unitary Plan.

Under the PAUP, all homes built in Special Housing Areas (SHAs) were required to be built to a minimum 6 Homestar rating. This means they would perform better than houses built to Building Code, in terms of warmth, health, efficiency and sustainability. Currently, more than 5900 homes are registered under the Homestar tool, and approximately 4000 of those are in SHAs.

Launched in 2010, Homestar rates New Zealand homes on a scale of 1-10. It assesses energy, water, waste, ventilation, health and comfort, and other environmental factors, at Design and Built stage, and is certified by the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC). A typical new home built to minimum Building Code standard will only achieve a 3–4 Homestar rating.

NZGBC chief executive Alex Cutler says the decision is disappointing, considering Homestar has already had such a positive impact on Auckland’s residential housing market.

“Homestar is a rigorous, science-based and market-tested rating tool. Since it’s been in the PAUP, it’s pushed developers to think about the long-term impacts of their practices, to find ways of building more efficiently and minimising the ongoing footprint of their homes – which is also a great selling point for buyers,” she says.

“Companies that have gone through the process of adapting how they work to incorporate sustainability will have discovered it doesn’t cost more to build green, and are now well placed to capitalise on an increasing interest from consumers who want healthy homes that have lower running costs and a smaller environmental footprint. After all, you can’t unlearn how to do things better!”

Ms Cutler adds Homestar creates a “winning formula” that developers are beginning to embrace around the country, regardless of planning rules. Fletcher Living will achieve Homestar certification for all residential buildings across Christchurch’s East Frame development, and Queenstown Council's proposed district plan provides incentives when Homestar is used. The tool is also being used by retirement home operators, group home builders and in apartment buildings.

“High-rated Homestar homes are more popular with buyers because they’re warmer and cheaper to run, and international studies show homes with sustainability features attract a resale premium. Developers also recognise the market advantage of being able to independently confirm the quality of their homes,” she says.

“There’s an opportunity here for the market to keep the momentum going, and for consumers to demand more efficient, sustainable homes from suppliers. We want to set a building standard that all New Zealanders deserve.”

ENDS

Alex Cutler is available for interview.
For more information: Mary de Ruyter, New Zealand Green Building Council, 022 312-6619

Notes to editors

About the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC)

The NZGBC is a not-for-profit industry organisation dedicated to a sustainable built environment. The Council achieves this through setting standards of best practice through green building rating tools; education and training for all areas of the building industry value chain; and providing access to networks, information and resources for our members to lead the market. Visit: www.nzgbc.org.nz

About Homestar

Homestar is the comprehensive, national, independent system that rates the health, comfort and efficiency of New Zealand homes, on a scale of 1-10, at the Design and Built phase. A 6 Homestar rating or higher provides assurance that a home will be warmer, healthier and cost less to run than a typical new home. Homestar ratings are assessed by qualified professionals and certified by the New Zealand Green Building Council. Ratings take into account energy, water, waste, ventilation, health and comfort, and other environmental factors. Homestar also has an online tool for homeowners to rate and improve their own homes.