Two action groups of commercial property owners on the North Shore are celebrating significant changes to the final Auckland Unitary Plan, which industry professionals say will help preserve the value of their property assets.
Property owners’ collectives, comprising 170 commercial landlords in the Wairau Valley and 70 along Barrys Point Road, have spent nearly four years successfully challenging a proposal by Auckland Council to “down zone” the Wairau Valley (apart from the Link Drive bulk retail precinct) and Barrys Point Road to Light Industry under the new unitary plan.
This would have represented a significant change from their Business 9 zoning under the North Shore District Plan which allowed for a much more flexible mix of uses, says Daryl Devereux, a director of Bayleys North Shore Commercial. He drew owners’ attention to the impact this could have on the vibrant nature of both precincts as well as property values and helped co-ordinate and provide administration support at no charge for action groups established to fight the proposed zoning change.
The two action groups joined forces to fund a team of expert consultants to represent their interests at hearings on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP). This comprised resource management consultancy firm SFH Consultants, Urban Economics, legal firm Glaister Ennor and barrister Gill Chappell.
Mr Devereux says commercial property owners in the Barry’s Point precinct have had complete success, with the Independent Hearings Panel established to review the PAUP recommending that their proposed Light Industry zoning be changed to Business - Mixed Use, which was accepted by Auckland Council.
“A site-by-site land use analysis by Urban Economics found that only 16 per cent of land in Barrys Point Road was being used for predominantly industrial purposes which underlined just how inappropriate a Light Industry zoning would have been,” he says.
SFH Consultants director Stephen Havill says the success of various submissions to have the proposed zoning changed to Mixed Use is a fantastic outcome for Barrys Point Rd owners which has added considerable value to their properties. “This means they can continue to use their ground levels for retail, which is what gives the road much of its buzz, with office and/or residential accommodation above up to a height of 18 metres. This provides a huge amount of flexibility and opportunity.”
Wairau Valley property owners weren’t quite as successful in their endeavours to get their Light Industry zoning changed to General Business, to align with the neighbouring Link Drive precinct, despite the Urban Economics survey showing only 38 per cent of sites were predominantly used for industrial purposes.
However, the Independent Hearings Panel did recommend an Identified Growth Corridor Overlay zoning be provided along Wairau Rd, encompassing properties on both sides of the main arterial, which the council also accepted. “This was a major concession as there are only a few such overlays, which apply to a significant road corridors with high volumes of traffic, within the final Auckland Unitary Plan,” says Mr Havill. “The overlay allows for a wider range of activities than is possible under a Light Industry zoning, and in particular enables resource consent to be sought for large format retail in situations where it may not be appropriate for or be able to be located in nearby centre zones because of the size, scale or nature of the proposed activity.”
This recommendation also provided a platform for seeking further council concessions, says Mr Havill. This took the form of an appeal to the Environment Court, funded by the Wairau Valley Property Owners Collective, seeking to overturn Auckland Council’s rejection of another Independent Hearings Panel recommendation relating to greater retail and office activity outside the centre zones.
Before the appeal made its way to an Environment Court hearing, there was a successful mediation between the council and the collective, says Urban Economics’ director Adam Thompson. “During this process, an agreement was reached that retail and office activity could occur across all business zones, and was no longer restricted to just the centre zones, under certain circumstances.
“Changes to the plan’s Regional Policy Statement as part of this agreement provide for a more wide ranging planning approach, similar to that seen in the UK, where retail and office is focused in centres, however there is some flexibility for it to occur elsewhere when the centres have run out of space.”
Daryl Devereux describes the long process involved in securing changes to the PAUP as a classic “David and Goliath” battle between small groups of persistent property owners and a large bureaucracy with very fixed planning views.
“The Wairau Valley Property Owners Collective, headed by Fred Collie and Bill Hayward, in particular never gave up and they were unflagging in their desire to get a better deal for commercial owners in the valley which would preserve the value of their properties.
“Most importantly, they sought the appropriate professional advice and went about things in a structured and systematic way within the confines of what was allowed in the submissions and appeal processes on the unitary plan.
“While they didn’t get everything they wanted, a much better outcome was achieved than what they were looking at four years ago when the proposed plan was first announced. Gains achieved through the appeals mediation process will also benefit all property owners across Auckland with premises in a Light Industry zone.”
Mr Devereux says the success achieved by the North Shore property collectives underlines just how important it is for owners and their advisers to put time and effort into understanding their properties’ zonings and what the practical implications of these are.
“At an initial North Shore public meeting held at the Bruce Mason Theatre by Auckland Council to promote the PAUP and answer questions, there were only three people from the public in attendance - one of the three realised he had come to the wrong meeting, but stayed to hear what sounded like an interesting topic, and the other two were Stephen Havill and Daniel Shaw of SFH Consultants.”
Concerned by the implications of the proposed Light Industry zonings, SFH Consultants lodged a submission in December 2013 on the PAUP, in order to preserve the opportunity to be heard at any future council hearings and provide a voice for both Barrys Point Road and Wairau Valley property owners. It argued that a Light Industry zoning was no longer appropriate because of the changing nature of both precincts and would seriously restrict potential land use activities by making retail and office developments non complying which would accordingly have a negative impact on property values.
Daryl Devereux convened a number of meetings with both landowners and tenants in Barrys Point Road and the Wairau Valley which resulted in the formation of the respective action committees.
Between 2014 and 2016 both committees actively participated in the hearings processes with specialist evidence presented by Stephen Havill and Daniel Shaw of SFH Consultants, Adam Thompson from Urban Economics and John Darroch, at that time head of Bayleys Valuations.
Wairau Valley Property Owners Collective chairman Fred Collie, owner of The BBQ Cover Co. in Parity Place, says the Auckland Unitary Plan zones have been established in accordance with the objectives and policies set out in the plan’s Regional Policy Statement.
“Our consultants advised at an early stage that we had to firstly challenge the regional policy framework under which the new zonings have been established and the centres-based planning approach which it prescribes. In doing so we have been the trail blazers for other smaller property owners throughout Auckland who have faced a similar zoning change.”