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Rudman on the Spatial Plan

NZ Herald columnist pulled out one of his best articles yet today – shining a light on the diverging opinions of central government and the Auckland Council when it comes to Auckland’s transport and land-use planning future.

Writing in the Sunday Star-Times, Mr Joyce said the challenge for Auckland’s spatial planners would be “not to impose their ideal Auckland on us, but allow for an Auckland that reflects the varied ways in which the people of our biggest city already choose to live”.

Simpletons like myself had thought the spatial plan concept was introduced to try to repair the huge cock-ups we Aucklanders have made by doing just that, choosing to live by sprawling ever outwards – towards Whangarei in one direction and Hamilton in the other.

But no, says the minister, “we … have to understand that people like to live where they want to live …”

As I said yesterday, it is simply untrue for Joyce to state that Auckland’s urban sprawl is the result of a ‘natural desire’ for the city to spread that way. Low density development is planned for down to the minutest detail throughout our existing District Plans. It will be interesting to see how and if those plans change as they are replaced by an Auckland-wide plan over the next few years (which one assumes will be informed by the ‘higher level’ Spatial Plan.

However, as our planning and transport documents have developed over the past decade there has been an increasing divergence – with the planning documents focusing on intensification (at least at the higher strategic levels, this has yet to completely filter down into the nitty gritty District Plans) but the transport strategies retaining much of a roads focus. The point of the spatial plan is to bring these together: so that we have our land-use and our transport strategies working together, not in conflict. This essentially means a choice between a public transport focused compact urban strategy and a roads-based sprawl strategy (or something in the middle). Steven Joyce’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Sunday Star Times shows quite clearly which strategy he prefers.

Getting back to Rudman’s article today, he does a great analysis of the hypocrisy that is infiltrating transport decision making:

It hadn’t been the best of weeks for the minister. It started with Sunday Star-Times columnist Rod Oram unveiling a secret, independent business study of the Puhoi to Wellsford “Holiday Highway” which showed the cost/benefit ratio as 0.4, which meant that for every $1 invested the return was just 40 cents.

Embarrassingly for Mr Joyce, the analysis was commissioned by the Government.

A few days later, Mr Brown triumphantly released the business plan for the proposed CBD rail tunnel, commissioned by the old regional transport authority and KiwiRail, which declared the $2 billion project would pay for itself more than three times over. A much better score than the Government’s pet Puhoi highway.

Of course, this northern highway was declared a “road of national significance” without waiting for the spatial plan to be developed.

Yet at the grand inauguration ceremony for the new Auckland mayor and councillors, Mr Key said any verdict on the CBD tunnel would be subject to the spatial plan.

I should be getting a copy of this business study into the Puhoi-Wellsford road in the next few days. I’m looking forward to having a read through it.

After repeating some of the lines from Joyce’s opinion piece and its critique of “those evil planners”, Rudman cuts to the point linking back to the CBD Tunnel project:

And with Mr Joyce’s laissez-faire approach to development comes the huge costs of roading, public transport, drainage, schools and so on, that the rest of the community has to pay.

The CBD tunnel report explains exactly why we should not be leaving Auckland’s development to the whims of land-bankers poised to make a fast buck at the city’s fringes.

It argues that if Auckland is to achieve the Government’s goal of becoming a globally competitive urban centre, it has to create a highly liveable, high-density central working environment to attract the best and brightest from home and abroad.

In a nutshell, this is the reason why I’m surprised Joyce has had such a negative response to the CBD Rail Tunnel business case. The project is not being proposed on the ground of its “green credentials” (even though I’m sure getting 10,000 vehicles off the road has good green credentials). It’s not about simply creating a more vibrant CBD to improve the quality of life for people who live, work and play in the CBD (although I’m sure it will contribute to that too). The project’s viability is based on its ability to allow (and indeed encourage) concentrated employment in Auckland’s CBD – which all research tends to indicate would have a massive effect on Auckland’s (and indeed New Zealand’s) productivity and eventually wage levels. That’s exactly the sort of language I thought this government had a keen ear for.

23 comments to Rudman on the Spatial Plan

  • Chris R

    Joyce’s negative reaction to the report is because it doesn’t suit his dogma of “roads, roads ,roads”. And he’s been caught out by Rod Oram comparing the BCR for this job with that of the Holiday Highway.

  • Matt L

    It definitely was one of Rudmans better articles. I just hope we continue to see columnists put him under pressure as I think we will start to see some interesting results.

    • Matt

      Columnists, editorials (Granny’s doing a half-hearted job so far, and until her editorial team catch up with the will of her home city nothing much will change there) and, eventually, real journalism that excoriates Joyce for his two-faced attitude toward WEBs and BCRs – road projects, even utterly wasteful ones, will get funds because they’re road projects, but rail projects can go whistle no matter how good the economic justifications.
      It will be the real journalism, and hopefully some real opposition in the House, that guts him like a fish and leaves him flopping about publicly trying to justify wasting 60 cents in the dollar on a road project while denying the taxpayer a return of 13 cents on the dollar for a rail project. At that point, Key will either have to cut him loose or, hopefully, back him and then lose the election – if Labour can muster a proper opposition position to explain to the electorate that National want to waste taxpayer money on projects that have no economic justification at the same time as cutting taxes for their rich buddies.

  • Cam

    Glad to see the pressure continue to pile on. Hopefully Rod Oram does a rebuttal to Joyce’s article. He needs to keep getting hammered on this he’s been allowed to gloss over things for far too long.

  • dan

    At least we know now that Mr. Joyce’s opposition to rail is personal and philosophical; not merely part of his job. It’s also an interesting, though unfortunately common sentiment: “We should continue to do things the way we’ve been doing them because that’s how things are because obviously that’s how people want them to be therefore we should continue to do them”. It’s ‘the best of all possible worlds’ refrain so competantly mocked 200 years ago in Candide.

  • Sanctuary

    dan, real men of action like Stephen Joyce are paid to lead not read – and they especially don’t read books with a girl’s name.

  • ingolfson

    It’s about whether Auckland is actually ruling itself, or whether Wellington rules us. Sure, Wellington will say stuff like “if you want it, pay for it”. But that ignores the fact that they are wasting prodigious amounts of money on things we do NOT want, while all the time claiming they want input from Auckland.

    Wellington treats Auckland like a subsidiary. Or more like a centralist regime treats its lackeys in the provinces: Do this, do that. One-way communication only.

  • Sting

    This episode is also starting to lead to even greater fundamental questions about the role of the wider “planning” process in New Zealand. The underlying principle of planning is to intervene in the market, with the intention of providing much better outcomes for the common good than would otherwise happen if left to the market.

    As a planner trained abroad, I was staggered to arrive in NZ a few years back to find such a market led planning process, which is effectively just a giant property valuation tool. I thought it was changing slowly, for the better, but comments like this from the Government start to make me feel very worried that they consider the whole notion of trying to shape our environment for the better to be completely off the agenda.

    I believe this week / non-intervention approach has led us into the mess we are in. But if the Government fundamentally believe that a) we are not in a mess, and b) that we cannot intervene in the market, then I wonder whether there is any use any of us practising in the built environment field at all in NZ.

    • Matt

      One of the very comforting things that’s come out of Labour’s recent change in direction is an explicit rejection of the “the market knows best” attitudes that dominated NZ politics for the last 25 years. By coming out in favour of strong interventionism, they have turned toward proper town planning (amongst other things), and this is a path down which National cannot travel because they are still so firmly wedded to the market orthodoxy.
      So if we get Labour next year, not only will we have a party that’s pro-tunnel in charge we’ll also have a party that believes (at least on the surface) in Auckland being allowed to develop a spatial plan that actually proscribes some forms of sprawl and encourages real density development.

  • ingolfson

    Sting, it’s simple – free market vs societally controlled markets. We know which side this government comes down on.

    I am not too worried about the government, it will eventually go away again. What worries me more is that too much of the public after decades of constant propaganda onslaught now believes the bull that regulation is automatically bad for both the individual and the economy, when neither is true (as leaky homes and GFC should have taught us)

  • Sting the thing is, that central government is intervening, does intervene. This is not letting the market decide, this is leading the market. What is interesting about Joyce’s rant is that has him admitting this while pretending it isn’t so. 11 Billion dollars of infrastructure investment is the biggest driver of urban form in the whole country and Joyce is saying he’s doing it because sprawl is good and more big trucks on the road is good, in fact vital, so vital that he hopes to kill off the only other alternative. Make no mistake Puford goes hand in hand with the closure of the Northern Rail line. This is a gift to his trucking buds and a disaster for the country’s net infrastructure capabilities, for freedom of choice in the market and competition, for safety on the roads, and for protection from pending oil shocks. Joyce is not a pragmatist, he’s a visionary, and what a crazy 1950s vision it is too.

  • ingolfson

    Fair point, Patrick. Goes to show that even I have been brain-washed a bit. Thanks for reminding me of that aspect.

  • Indeed Patrick, in terms of the free market there is no difference between spending public monies on highway projects to facilitate dispersed truck travel and car based suburban living, and spending public monies on rail projects to facilitate rail freight and compact urban living.
    Both of those things are market interventions and manipulations, both are proscriptive planning. The only difference (apart from the outcomes) is that one dressed in libertarian rhetoric of freedom, choice and self determination, while the other is slandered as socialist and authoritarian.

  • Cam

    Well summed up Patrick and Nick. This is not about letting something develop organically as Joyce asserts, it’s imposing libertarian ideal on the city.

  • James B

    Derek Smith (Monaco)
    10:31AM Tuesday, 30 Nov 2010
    “Once again Brian you have got this totally wrong. The majority of people do not want to live squashed up in apartments like battery hens. Having lived both in an apartment and in a typical N.Z. section & house there is no comparison – house on section are a million miles better.

    The reason that people overseas live in high density is that can not afford to live like Kiwis – they would dearly love to. Thus we should be celebrating the sprawl of Auckland not condemning it – and sprawl means roads the need for good roads/motorways.

    I bet most of the bureaucrats pushing intensive living do not live in apartments in fact would not be seen dead in one ! They are typical socialists ordering others how to live their lives while doing differently themselves

    Finally I find the the sheer arrogance of those here who condemn the Puhoi to Wellsford highway disgusting – the reason this is a national project is that it is absoluetly nothing to do with Auckland – it is an essential piece of infarstructure for the peoples of Rodney and Northland – it will beyond measure improve all aspects of their lives, their health, safety and their dire economy!”

    How’s this for comment of the year! Railing about living in chicken coops and where does he live? Monaco, one of the most densily populated areas in the world.

  • ingolfson

    It’s also a typical disconnetc between “it would be nice if” and “what is realistic?”. Auckland is GROWING. It can’t be a collection of same-same suburbias forever.

    We need more and betetr apartments – it took me a while to find the latter, but they exist, and can be built. I don’t have a garden, but I have a balcony with a lovely view of the harbour, and a park close by.

    • Matt L

      Not up by Symonds St and Khyber Pass is it? A couple of the buildings up there are really good with large apartments but being still close to town.

  • James B or Derek Smith, the point of improving the rail service throughout the city is to make it liveable for those who choose to live there and workable for those who choose to commute. There is no suggestion nor possibility of rounding up people who want and can afford to live in suburbia, exurbia, or the countryside, and forcing them into apartments.The argument for investment in good public transport is an argument for choice not against choice- real choice to live and work where ever you want. Of course nothing will destroy the desirability of countryside living than yet another four lane 2 billion dollar white elephant crashing through it. Investing only in the spread of suburbia into the lovely and productive countryside [home to many who choose it] does nothing for the quality of life that you so admire. Providing for those who choose the city as well is the best way to maintain the great kiwi lifestyle for more.

    Funny too, how many kiwis leave the ‘paradise’ of this spread out town to live in the ‘hell’ of NY, London, Berlin, or even Monaco… I wonder what’s missing, perhaps it can be a little dull here standing round the BBQ and cleaning the car?

    • James B

      I agree. I personally live in a townhouse/apartment with no garden but great views of the city and I love it. Now if I can only convince the landlord to sell it too me. I’d hate to live out in some sprawling subdivision like Albany or Flat Bush. I love being able to walk out my door and have a good pub, some nice restaurants and a 24 hour supermarket within a 5-10 minute walk. Yet I tried to convince some people of the joys of apartment living and they don’t get it. It’s not the apartment that counts it’s whats around it.

  • It doesn’t have to be apartment towers of course, there are a wide variety of options like low rise flats, townhouses, duplexes, and my personal favourite: the humble terrace. The irony is you could take any Victorian terrace from Sydney or Melbourne and proabably find a larger garden than you would in the new housing developments out at Flat Bush and the like. It’s almost laughable how they talk about greenery and lawns and wide open spaces given the reality of what happens in the burbs today.

  • Just like all those ghetto houses on Franklin Rd or througout Parnell, full of freedom hating socialists presumably….

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