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Auckland’s public land now extensively mapped

In the scramble to find every pocket of public land that you could possibly build a house on in Auckland, authorities realised there was no complete picture of who owned what in the region. There is now, thanks to work completed by Auckland Council's infrastructure team.

Public entities own 19.12 percent of the region's land area, or 93,542 hectares. That doesn't include roads, railway lines or waterways. It does include schools, hospitals, parks, Housing New Zealand holdings and community halls used traditionally by groups who often don't realise they don't own the land they meet on. Auckland has 41,508 hectares of public open space and 2946 ha of coastal land. The Queen has an awful lot of property in Auckland, and another big chunk is owned by nobody.  

The council's environment committee chair, Penny Hulse, says the council has no intention of selling off any of its prime parkland or reserves, but the report gives the council a good understanding of where vacant and underutilised land could be better used to meet the city's housing needs. 

The council's principle growth analyst Kyle Balderston says the report makes no suggestions as to which bits of land would be most suitable - "We're ambivalent about that, although that's the purpose this data will get put to," he says. Nor will the housing minister be able to put these maps on a big screen and pick off the likely spots - a lot more work needs to done on titles and suitability. Balderston admits the report may leave some feeling uneasy about their secret places that have now been revealed as being ripe for development. 

The report is an expansion of data that was around in 2014, and came to be after the Productivity Commission asked for a comprehensive work on land availability in the face of Auckland's desperate housing shortage. 

Publicly-owned land falls into three categories: Crown land, local authority holdings and land that isn't owned by either but is considered publicly-owned - marine and coastal areas for example. Much of it has special status and is "incapable of ownership". (Nobody owns it, but it's open to the public, so it's public land.) The Crown owns 27 percent of Auckland's public holdings; local government owns 40 percent. Watercare is the biggest land holding CCO with nearly 3000 hectares. The council's property CCO Panuku, charged with development, is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the report. 

Work on the data was often complex and difficult, with land searches revealing inter-twined ownership and the same properties being held by multiple entities. Some schools have the Queen's name on the title, some the Ministry of Education's, and a few are held by boards of trustees. Avondale College has three parcels in different names making up its property. Balderston says people often make assumptions about the name on the title and it's possible some people will be prompted to make official changes as a result of this work. 

All the data was gleaned from publicly-available information - Balderston points out that anyone with the software and skills could have compiled it, and other local authorities are likely to do so. 

The sort of work the data will be used for includes, for example, making the business case for light rail from the city to Mangere - where the council already owns land that could be a depot, and what land needs to be purchased - and for a train corridor to Hamilton. Had it been available in 2015 it may have also enabled then-housing minister Nick Smith to avoid announcing plans the government was freeing up public land for housing - only to find much of it wasn't available, or suitable. The lack of a comprehensive inventory led to MBIE identifying surplus Radio New Zealand land as having housing potential, but it was acquired under the Public Works Act so should have been offered as first right of refusal to local iwi. This report not only identifies ownership, but categorises it as well, making it easier to see what you can't do with the land. 

In the past such vagueness with the records has led to situations such as public anger from property owners when they haven't realised their berms are not theirs. The Te Atatu peninsula is an example of that - where land ownership was assumed by the title holders to extend to the cliff edge but which was actually land long designated for a future coastal walkway. "It's pretty hard to say to those people who've built their swimming pools and decks there that they should move them back so strangers can walk on their front yards," says Balderston. 

The full report will be available on the Auckland Council's website from Tuesday. 

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