Compact city plans 'may worsen problems'

Last updated 05:00 17/06/2014

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Local councils looking to tackle housing affordability and congestion by limiting land supply will only make the problem worse, according to a new report.

The New Zealand Initiative's Up or Out? report released yesterday looked at whether the benefits of compact cities - such as the economic benefits of situating businesses and customers closer to one another - outweighed the negatives of population density.

The organisation said an increasing number of the country's councils are looking to adopt compact city development strategies to address high house price inflation, congestion, and declining liveability in urban areas.

The NZ Initiative went on to say that the compact city ideology is built on the belief that cities should be sustainable in their use of resources, with policies principally concerned with restricting urban sprawl.

In other words, should cities seek to build up instead of out?

NZ Initiative executive director Oliver Hartwich said international evidence showed compact city planning may well worsen the problems it sought to solve.

"The evidence is plain to see, especially in places like Auckland, where urban development limits and building restrictions have significantly contributed to the price of land.

"Yet many councils, like Tauranga and Wellington, appear to have missed the link between land supply and housing affordability, and are pursuing their own compact city agendas."

The report also showed a focus on high investment in public transport was unlikely to meaningfully reduce traffic congestion levels because many people, such as working parents, prefer the convenience of using private vehicles.

Evidence cited in the report from the US Environmental Protection Agency showed a strong relationship between high population densities, traffic, and pollution.

"We've seen the same trend of high house prices and congestion again and again when examining the track record of compact cities," Hartwich said.

"These are facts that are hardly ever discussed by city officials when they take their development strategies to voters, which are instead coached ‘clean-green' platitudes. We hope this report will change that."

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- The Press

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