Industrial land: one solution to Auckland's housing crisis

Are there pockets of industrial land that are better suited to housing?
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Are there pockets of industrial land that are better suited to housing?

OPINION: A number of constraints have been identified in the debate around Auckland's housing crisis of late.

They range from additional land being located on Auckland's periphery far from town, to the tax system, to evil capitalist land bankers.

One of the macro issues limiting the supply of housing in Auckland, however - and one which needs consideration - is its historic older industrial suburbs.

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Prior to the super-city, Auckland comprised of some 39 borough councils.

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Many of these smaller councils were intent on having a multiplicity of land uses within their fiefdoms, which led to a patchwork of industrial areas across Auckland's urban heartland.

Justin Kean says Auckland's older industrial areas could house 60,000 houses.
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Justin Kean says Auckland's older industrial areas could house 60,000 houses.

There are industrial precincts tucked away in places like Beach Haven, Marua Rd in Ellerslie, Cascades Rd in Pakuranga and many more.

To be fair, the historic development of industrial areas was for the most part contemplated in locales that were on the fringe of the urban environment.

Places like Mt Wellington, Onehunga, Penrose, Rosebank and Wairau Valley-  fast forward to today and many of these industrial suburbs are now surrounded by high-value residential suburbs.

Add to that these industrial suburbs often have excellent access to main arterial routes, train lines and land which has been developed to a low level of intensity.

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In Auckland's Unitary Plan these older industrial suburbs comprise over 2000 hectares of land - enough to accommodate some 60,000 housing units.

Residential uses, which have underlying land values often as much as three times more than the industrial zoned lots across the road, are now knocking on the door of these industrial precincts.

To add to this, many of these industrial suburbs in Auckland are now filled with outdated buildings.

Many of these buildings are functionally obsolete and not fit for purpose for modern occupiers.

Industrial users now prefer larger floor plates, higher stud heights and better reticulation within the sites that they occupy.

These sites can be found in "new build" precincts like Wiri, the airport and Highbrook.

Correspondingly, many of the properties in Auckland's older industrial suburbs are too small to contemplate modern industrial development, meaning the possibility of redevelopment is small to none.

Unless, of course, residential is permitted within these precincts.

Now, I am not proposing that entire industrial areas be turned over to residential, with high-rise towers being put next too heavily polluting or noxious uses.

But there are many instances where residential could begin to bleed into older industrial suburbs, where modern industrial users will simply not be able to go.

What stands in the way of such a proposal is Auckland's shiny new unitary plan.

Because industrial areas have housed all manner of commercial and retail uses in the past, the new zoning for industrial refuses to contemplate any other use.

Blanket zoning is the same from the wide open spaces of Wiri through to Verrans Corner in Birkenhead.

What this means is that as our city evolves and sees more intensive development, these older industrial suburbs housing older and obsolete stock are quarantined against the economic forces which drive change and urban renewal.

And for Auckland's – that's a problem.

Justin Kean is an asset management director at the Wairaka Land Company.

 - Stuff

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