Removal of Car Parking Minimums

(a.k.a. how to make a simple task complicated)

By Iain McManus

The National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (“NPS-UD”) requires territorial authorities to remove from their district plans all objectives, policies, rules and assessment criteria that have the effect of requiring a minimum number of parking spaces, other than for accessible (or what used to be called "disabled") parking. 

Councils have until 20 February 2022 to make the required changes and must do so without using Schedule 1 of the RMA (i.e. without notifying a plan change), eliminating the opportunity for public submissions, hearings or appeals.

After sitting on / studying this requirement for more than a year, Auckland Council has given its first public hints at how it proposes to respond to this requirement.

And, true to Council form, Council proposes to respond in what, on the face of it, seems an unnecessarily complicated way.

Dealing with Consequential Changes

In their latest report to the planning committee, officers advise that the removal of minimum car parking requirements will require “consequential technical amendments” to the Auckland Unitary Plan and the Hauraki Gulf Islands Plan to ensure:

  1. Consistency and certainty of text within each plan.
  2. The policy framework supports the removal of minimum parking requirements. 
  3. All provisions that imply a minimum number of car parking spaces but do not specify a number of spaces, are removed.
  4. The effects of car parking (where developers choose to provide it) can still be addressed.

There are no real surprises in the above.  Amending plans is never as simple as people initially think.  There are always flow-on effects.

The kicker, however, is the advice that consequential technical amendments must be made by way of a publicly notified plan change. 

It is difficult to imagine that the Government, in expressly requiring councils to give effect to this part of the NPS-UD without a plan change, intended that councils would make the required changes in tranches, with strict and narrow compliance initially and then a long drawn out process of dealing with consequential technical amendments through a publicly notified plan change.  So how did we end up here?  Is this a case of poor drafting by the Government or pedantic interpretation by Council? 

Potential Additional Changes

Council has also decided to investigate further changes to address issues that could arise from the removal of minimum parking requirements.  In particular, Council has resolved to investigate making changes to:

  1. Require accessible parking. 
  2. Require on-site electric vehicle charging facilities.
  3. Require on-site bicycle access and bicycle parking where no vehicle access is proposed.
  4. Require pick-up and drop-off / loading facilities and access for emergency services where no vehicle access is proposed.
  5. Ensure the appropriate design of private pedestrian and cycle access where no vehicle access is proposed.

Requirement for accessible parking

At present, accessible parking is required under the building code rather than the Unitary Plan or Hauraki Gulf Islands Plan, however, the requirement is based on the number of non-accessible parking spaces provided and, as a consequence, if no non-accessible parking spaces are provided, no accessible spaces are required. Council officers have come to the view that this as a problem. 

It's hard not to have some sympathy for this argument, given the extra difficulty (relative to the rest of the population) many disabled people are likely to have in getting around without access to parking, but also interesting to note that the Unitary Plan already allows developments without parking (or accessible parking) in many parts of Auckland and Council does not appear to have seen this as a problem before the NPS-UD came along.  Indeed, the CBD has been devoid of minimum parking requirements for decades without Council identifying a lack of accessible parking spaces as a problem requiring resolution.

Requirement for on-site vehicle charging facilities

This issued evolved following submission of the officer report.  The officer report recommended that Council investigate requiring on-site electric vehicle charging facilities in new developments, which would have amounted to a requirement for on-site parking (accessory to the charging facilities), something the NPS-UD was expressly prohibiting Council from requiring.  Luckily, the politicians were smart enough to spot the flaw in that recommendation. 

The Planning Committee resolved instead to investigate a requirement to provide electricity connections to enable provision of on-site vehicle charging facilities where parking is already proposed by the developer (with the last change being the key change).  This suggestion has the potential benefit of not being ultra vires.  It does, however, beg the question: if developers can be trusted to decide whether to provide parking, why can’t they be trusted to decide whether to provide electric vehicle charging as well? 

The other interesting aspect of the officer recommendation was the advice that Auckland Transport “does not anticipate supporting on-street [charging] facilities”.  Which of course begs the question: why not?  And where has the public debate on that decision been?  Every other grown-up city is doing exactly that in its most intensive areas.  Is Auckland Transport oblivious to the Council’s declaration of a climate emergency?

Requirement for on-site bicycle access and parking

The officer report states that:

“The AUP does not require on-site bicycle parking until relatively high development thresholds are reached.  Furthermore, there are no provisions in the AUP relating to the design of on-site bicycle access and secure, sheltered parking facilities for bicycles.”

The report does not go on to say why this is a problem, but the underlying fear seems to be that developers, released from the requirement to provide vehicle access and parking, will also choose not to provide bicycle access and parking, resulting in some sort of transport or amenity crisis with lots of people with bikes and no way to get them into their property or place of work and/or nowhere to put them once there.

The Council may be right at the margin, but it would surely take a pretty stupid developer to construct a development without access or parking for any form of private transport whatsoever (who is going to buy, lease or rent premises within such a development?)  This outcome would surely be the exception rather than the norm.  And it would surely lead to unhappy consequences for the developer and lessons for other developers. 

Put more broadly, if the now accepted philosophy for car parking is to let the market decide, what is the rationale for treating bicycles differently?  Is there something special about bicycles, such that regulation relating to access and parking for bicycles is required, when regulation relating to access and parking for cars is not?

Requirement for pick-up and drop-off / loading facilities and access for emergency services

The officer report states that:

“Developments or land uses that do not have vehicle access for servicing, pick up and drop off and deliveries may be reliant on roadside access. This may lead to conflicts with transport network functions (parked cars blocking the carriageway) and may have safety effects (such as visibility constraints, unsafe vehicle manoeuvres and effects on pedestrian safety).

The AUP requirements for on-site loading have relatively high development thresholds and there are no requirements for on-site loading in residential developments. The current on-site car parking requirements allow some of these loading and servicing tasks to occur without specific provision being made.

It's hard to disagree with the risks noted above but interesting to note that there are already large parts of Auckland where no parking is required under the Unitary Plan and Council does not appear to have seen this as a problem before the NPS-UD came along. 

So, is this an acknowledgement that the existing Unitary Plan parking requirements in large parts of Auckland are creating problems and, now that the same approach is to be extended to the rest of Auckland, Council needs to do something about that?  If yes, let’s be honest about that. 

Design of Pedestrian Access

At present, the Unitary Plan includes standards for pedestrian access only where vehicle access is also required.  There are no standards for pedestrian access where no vehicle access is provided.

The officer report states that:

“Evidence is emerging of residential developments with private pedestrian access routes of poor quality.  The number of developments without vehicle access and onsite parking is likely to increase across all zones once minimum car parking requirements are removed from the AUP. Without specific standards in the AUP, there is an increased risk of poorly designed and unsafe private pedestrian access. This presents a number of challenges in terms of universal access, emergency services access and egress (fire, police and ambulance), personal and public safety, convenience and general amenity.”

Hence, the Council proposes to investigate the need for new provisions for pedestrian access.

Timing from here

The Council proposes to proceed as follows:

September/October 2021

Consultation with tangata whenua and local boards.

November 2021

Draft plan change for consequential amendments submitted to Planning Committee for approval.

Investigation into additional matters (as recorded above) reported back to Planning Committee.

February 2022 

Removal of parking minimums confirmed and plan change for consequential amendments notified.

The timing of any measures (e.g. plan change measures) to address the additional matters is to be confirmed following the report back in November 2021.

As always, we will keep you posted.  In the meantime, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions regarding the above.

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