What has changed?
Recently, councils across New Zealand removed minimum vehicle parking requirements from their planning documents, with the exception of accessible or mobility parking. This change has been directed by the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD), which seeks to ensure that our towns and cities are growing to meet the changing needs of people, communities and future generations.
The bold policy intervention represents a paradigm shift. It is intended that the changes will promote the efficient and cost-effective use of urban land, additional housing supply, the revitalisation of public spaces, and greater uptake of active and public modes of transport.
Rather than enforcing the provision and, in some cases, over-provision of parking spaces through planning regulations, the allocation of parking spaces for new urban developments will instead be driven by market demand.
Why this is happening
With the effects of the current climate and housing crises being felt by all New Zealanders, there is a greater sense of urgency and a shared understanding that urban development should contribute to good environmental and socio-cultural outcomes. The NPS-UD has provided a policy framework, and an expedited timeline, for New Zealand to respond to these crises.
The intention of the recent policy change is to incentivise comprehensively planned and designed developments and encourage the use of public transport, which in turn will lower New Zealand’s carbon emissions. Developers now have an opportunity to support sustainable transport modes and divert project budgets to the allocation of space for alternative modes of transport including walking, cycling and microbility.
It is also intended that urban development in New Zealand trends upwards as opposed to outwards and with no minimum parking requirements, development budgets can be redirected to increasing housing density in suitable locations. The onus is now on developers to provide buyers with more sustainable housing options at affordable price points.
Opportunities and challenges
While I am supportive of this policy shift, I am also mindful that change is never without challenge.
In the near term, the benefits of this policy change will likely be focused on areas where there is existing well-functioning public transport and access to amenities. In the longer term, additional incentives and disincentives will need to be introduced to contribute to a reduced dependence on vehicle transport and the development of lively and sustainable places to live, work and play.
There is undoubtedly a deficit of investment in public transport in New Zealand, and because of that, people have a right to be wary of blunt policy changes such as the removal of minimum parking requirements. Notably, it was only recently that well-functioning tram transport was abolished in Auckland to make way for vehicle transport.
This policy change is not a silver bullet solution and developers may choose to not provide sufficient parking in areas that are not supported by adequate public transport. Councils will need to proactively manage this with additional plan changes and ensure a multi-pronged approach to regulation is taken.
Going forward, the needs of communities and developers need to be carefully balanced. Those involved in urban design and development processes have an important role to play and will need to work to ensure that each development proposal responds to its local context and produces sustainable and liveable built outcomes.