A healthy built and natural environment

Auckland’s natural and built environment is measured in this report by examining land capacity or its availability, air and water quality and waste management. These directly relate to the performance of the council, for example, through the provision of services such as water and waste management; regional planning including growth, zoning and land availability; consenting processes such as resource and building consents and regulation relating to water and air quality.

The lack of available land for both residential and business use is driving up the cost of land and housing. Health and environmental problems follow from long term industrial and agricultural use and deforestation that impact on fresh water quality. A lack of incentives for waste minimisation increases the costs of long term environmental effects and also increases the costs associated with managing waste. On the positive side significant progress has been made in recent years on air quality and reduced water usage across the Auckland region.

“Love it or hate it, the Unitary Plan is an essential part of the development programme that Auckland needs to implement to meet the objectives of the Auckland Plan, which is designed to provide an acceptable environment for the increasing population.”
Letter to the editor NZ Herald, June 2013

Land capacity

Across the whole of Auckland’s urban and rural areas there is capacity for between 250,000 and 345,000 more dwellings.53

Auckland’s problem is not the quantity of land but choices about zoning, timing for the release of land, and the amount and quality of urban intensification.

This, combined with brown-field (land already built upon) and green-field (vacant) land for development under the draft Unitary Plan, and “special housing areas” in the Government’s Housing Accord, will go some way to addressing the supply of land for residential development.

Land supply on its own will not resolve housing affordability issues in Auckland.

Over half, 53 percent, of residential land capacity lies within just five of the 21 local board areas, Franklin, Howick, Hibiscus and Bays, Rodney and Waitemata. The contrast between Waitemata and Rodney illustrates differences in land capacity in the Super City. The Waitemata local board area encompasses the central business district which has the potential to accommodate large numbers of new dwellings through high-density apartment living, whereas almost all residential capacity in the Rodney local board area can come from green- field developments.

Many commentators point to regulations, consenting costs and processes, taxation issues and poor productivity in the construction sector as significant contributors to the short supply of land and high cost of construction in Auckland.54

The boom and bust nature of Auckland’s housing market continues.

The number of consents for apartments in Auckland grew rapidly from 2001 to 2005 to just over 12,000 per annum; but fell dramatically to around 3,500 in 2011. Total residential consents followed a similar trend.55 Subsequently there has been growth in residential consents to a monthly high of 431 consents in April 2013.56

The housing shortage in Auckland is partly a legacy of the global financial crisis affecting the construction sector. A slow-down in residential construction has resulted in a shortage in the supply of housing, which in turn has affected housing affordability. While consenting has increased since 2011, there is still a large gap between housing supply and demand.

“I would rather live in a city with well thought out spacious and liveable apartments.”
Letter to NZ Herald, June 2013

Across the whole of Auckland’s urban and rural areas there is 7122 hectares of zoned business land.

This is thought to be insufficient to cope with Auckland’s expected growth and the capacity to provide new jobs in the next 20 years. New business land is designated in the draft Unitary Plan with new Rural Urban Boundaries mainly in the North-West and the South of Auckland. Auckland has relatively few larger vacant business land parcels. These factors put pressure on the Council to deliver well planned, large-scale green-fields developments like Westgate and Hobsonville.

“We cannot let 20 planners sitting in the Auckland Council offices make decisions that will wreck the macro economy.”
The Minister of Finance, Bill English, 2013

Air quality

Each year about 3,000 tonnes of PM10 is emitted into Auckland’s air.

The most prevalent and dangerous substances emitted into our air are PM10 particles (less than 10 microns in diameter) and PM2.5 particles (less than 2.5 microns). PM10 emissions in winter are more than triple those in summer. This is because wood burners used for heating in winter are polluting, while in summer transport is the main source of air pollution. The other main concern for Auckland has been nitrogen dioxide levels caused by car pollution.

PM10 and Nitrogen dioxide levels have dropped.

An important indicator of air quality is counting the number of days concentrations exceed relevant national environmental standards and targets. The good news for Auckland is that on average the number of days that exceed those standards has been dropping from at least 18 days in 2005 to two days in 2011. Nitrogen dioxide levels in particular have dropped thanks to reductions in transport emissions.57

Water consumption

In 1980 per capita fresh water usage in Auckland was over 400 litres per day. Since 1994, this has steadily reduced to stabilise at around 275 litres per person per day in 2010.

While Auckland’s total water consumption has steadily increased over the last thirty years from 280,000 cubic metres per day to approximately 460,000 m³ per day in 2010, per capita consumption has markedly decreased indicating significant gains in awareness and action to conserve water.

Water quality

Seventy seven percent of Aucklanders see themselves as having less access to lakes, rivers, harbours, oceans and coastlines than non-Aucklanders, 85 percent.

Aucklanders are more likely to be satisfied with the state of their lakes, rivers, harbours, oceans and coastlines than non-Aucklanders, 78 percent versus 72 percent, even though they have less access to these natural environments.58

Only five lakes in the Auckland region were rated excellent (one) or high (four) condition lakes.

These were Mangatawhiri Reservoir in the Hunua Ranges (excellent), Tomarata, Ototoa and the Wairoa and Waitakere Reservoirs (high). A remaining 25 lakes were considered to be in ‘moderate’ condition or below. A lower proportion of Auckland lakes fall into the high and excellent categories compared to lakes nationally, and there are a higher proportion of lakes in the poor category in Auckland. This is reflected in LakeSPI (Submerged Plant Index) scores59 with a number of lakes extensively invaded by the worst ranked invasive submerged weeds, egeria (Egeria densa) or hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum).60

In 2010 only five streams and rivers in the Auckland region were considered in excellent condition. A further eight were considered in good condition with eighteen considered either fair (six) or poor (twelve).61

The majority, 63 percent, of rivers and streams within the Auckland region drain non-forested rural catchments (pastoral farming, horticulture and rural residential), followed by native forest catchments, 21 percent, with exotic forest and urban catchments accounting for eight percent each. However disproportionally those in the fair or poor category are in urban catchments.62

Auckland residents’ satisfaction with the overall quality and maintenance of beaches is high, at 77 percent.

Residents’ satisfaction with the overall quality and maintenance of Auckland beaches increased from 69 percent in 2011 to 77 percent 2012, but did not meet the target of 85 percent. This was significant given the reported high use of beaches with 90 percent of respondents to Auckland Council’s residents survey visiting a beach in the Auckland region in the past year. Levels of satisfaction with beaches ranged from 62 to 86 percent across the local boards. The lowest levels of satisfaction were reported by Papakura at 62 percent, and Mangere-Otahuhu residents at 65 percent. The highest levels of satisfaction were reported by Otara-Papatoetoe, 86 percent, Henderson-Massey, 84 percent, Great Barrier and Orakei residents, 83 percent.63

The vast majority of beaches were found to be safe for swimming, while five, Cox’s Bay, Meola Reef, Weymouth Beach, Little Oneroa Lagoon and Wairau Outlet, have water quality issues.

In Auckland, most of the problems related to marine water quality are due to overflows of sewage from the wastewater network and significant pollution from the storm-water system. Consequently the sites with the most warnings for contamination are the central Waitemata Harbour and the Tamaki estuary. The Manukau Harbour has improved markedly to have the fewest warnings between 1998 and 2010.64

During 2012 and 2013, however, bathing spots on the Northern side of the Manukau Harbour (the more populated side) have had high risk pollution warnings at Foster, Wood, French and Green Bays and Laingholm beaches.

Long dry summers may improve water quality due to decreased run-off but placid lagoons and pools can have increased risk of pollution.

Popular swimming lagoons at Piha, Bethells and Karekare beaches had many “no swimming” warnings in the 2012/2013 summer with South Piha lagoon posting 22 red alerts.

“I was more than delighted to read that our beaches feature so highly in the Global Beach Review. Particularly gratifying is that the best beach of all—ours, just down the road—does not feature at all.”
Letter to NZ Herald, June 2013.


Waste per capita to landfill in Auckland region is notably higher than the national average at 0.987 tonnes per capita per year.65

The Auckland Council produced an estimate of the total waste to landfill disposed of at four landfills servicing Auckland; Redvale, Hampton Downs, Whitford and Claris on Great Barrier Island. A key feature of Auckland’s waste stream is that it is controlled almost entirely by private waste companies. Of the four landfills, Auckland Council owns only a part share of the least important ones. The Council owns three minor and one major facility of the 17 refuse transfer stations and therefore, control has to be exercised indirectly through regulation.

Over 30 percent of material in landfill could be recycled or composted. Eighty five percent of waste material that ends up in landfill is generated by commercial activity.66

Due to the ownership structure, the council has little influence over most of the commercial and industrial waste in the region. The bulk of Auckland’s waste management assets are owned by two competing privately-owned companies: Transpacific Industries Group (NZ) Ltd and EnviroWaste Services Ltd. These two companies also control nearly the entire commercial and industrial waste stream providing the potential for conflicting profit maximisation and waste minimization goals.

Over 1.6 million tonnes of waste was diverted from landfill in 2010.67

This includes materials like plastics, glass, paper and cardboard, cans, wood, organic waste, building materials and scrap metal, which in many instances can be recycled. In June 2012, the Auckland Council approved the first region wide plan for tackling waste. The Waste Management and Minimisation Plan is a blueprint for reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. It has an aspirational goal of zero waste by 2040 and three key targets of 30 percent reductions in domestic kerbside rubbish (per person per year) to landfill by 2018, total waste to landfill (per person per year) by 2027, and Council in-house waste by 2018.

53.   Fredrickson, C. & Balderston, K. (2013). Capacity for Growth Study 2012: Results. Auckland: Auckland Council.
54.   New Zealand Productivity Commission. (2012). Housing Affordability. Retrieved from http://www.productivity.govt.nz/inquiry-content/1509?stage=4.
55.   Fredrickson, C. & Balderston, K. (2013). Capacity for Growth Study 2012: Results. Auckland: Auckland Council.
56.   Statistics NZ, Building Consents Issued April, 2010.
57.   Auckland Council. (2012). Air quality report card. Retrieved from http://stateofauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/air-quality-report-card/auckland-reporting-area/.
58.   Statistics New Zealand, General Social Survey.
59.   Lake Submerged Plant Indicators (LakeSPI) is comprised of three indices: Native Condition Index, Invasive Condition Index and an overall LakeSPI Index. See Clayton, J. & Edwards, T. (2006). LakeSPI: A method for monitoring ecological condition in New Zealand Lakes. Wellington: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
60.   de Winton, M. and Edwards, T. (2012). Assessment of Auckland lakes using LakeSPI, Auckland Council Technical Report 2012/034.
61.   Neale, M. W. (2012). State of the environment monitoring: River water quality annual report 2010. Auckland Council Technical Report 2012/006. Auckland: Auckland Council.
62.   Neale (2012). (see endnote 61).
63.   Compiled from data in Auckland Council. (2012). Annual Report 2011/12, Vol.2. Retrieved from http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/planspoliciesprojects/reports/annual_report/Pages/Annual.aspx.
64.   Auckland Council. (2012). Marine sediment contaminants: Status and trends assessment 1998-2010 (Technical Report TR2012/041). Auckland: Auckland Council.
65.   Auckland Council. (2011). Auckland Council waste assessment report. Auckland: Auckland Council.
66.   Auckland Council. (2011). (See endnote 65).
67.   Auckland Council. (2011). (See endnote 65).