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Locking up the isthmus: a catastrophic strategy

A number of Councillors who voted to withdraw the council’s Unitary Plan rezoning evidence on Wednesday referred to their supposed support of intensification “in the right locations”. Usually this appeared like code for “not in my ward”, especially by those on the isthmus. One of the main changes proposed in the rezoning was to “upzone” parts of the isthmus – in some areas to remedy “downzoning” that had occurred when putting together the Proposed Plan and in other areas because the zoning changes fitted with the criteria that had been signed off by the Council to guide such changes.

The map below (from here) shows reasonably clearly the location of upzoning, downzoning, no change and reclassified zoning between the Proposed Plan and the Council’s now withdrawn evidence. Areas shown in red are those where the residential zone was “upzoned” (that is, changed to a zone likely to enable more development).

upzoning-map

Interestingly orange indicates downzoning from what was in the Proposed Plan to what was in the Council evidence. It’s amusing that both George Wood and Chris Darby, who represent the North Shore, yesterday voted against suggested zoning changes that would most likely, on balance, have reduced development intensity within their ward.

So where does the absence of these zoning changes leave us in terms of providing the necessary development capacity for Auckland over the next 30 years? This has become a bit of a vexed question with all sorts of different numbers being bandied about. So I had a dig through the Council’s (soon to be withdrawn I suppose) evidence on the issue, particularly the quantitative work that has been done to assess how much capacity the plan enables as well as the likelihood of that capacity being taken up. This piece of evidence is useful because it reflects an analysis of capacity (both total and feasible) enabled by the changes to the residential zone provisions that were generally agreed at last year’s hearing, but has not yet analysed the impact of any changes to the location of zones.

Overall quite a lot of “feasible” capacity is enabled by the Unitary Plan, even without the zoning changes. The quantitative modelling work referenced in the Council’s evidence highlights between 200,000 and 250,000 dwellings could be reasonably expected to be built within the existing urban area over the next 30 years – with the range dependent on a number of quite complex assumptions. This is shown below (and compared against a previous iteration of the modelling that took place):

ACDC-model-output However, what’s really interesting are the maps that show in what parts of Auckland this ‘feasible capacity’ exists. I’ll take the ‘maximum percentage return’ option above to show this:

feasible-capacity

What is startling from the map above is just how little feasible capacity there is on the isthmus. Because of its high land values, redevelopment to houses appears to become infeasible, yet because there is not enough upzoning on the isthmus it is only possible to built terraced housing in a fairly small number of locations (shown in blue). The likely outcome of this is most new housing would be built in areas outside the isthmus and, by the look of it, most new housing would be standalone rather than terraced or apartments that are able to offer more affordable options.

Looking at this map what most startled me was how it related to another map of Auckland I’ve looked at recently – from the ATAP Foundation Report looking at change in job accessibility over the next 10 years:

atap-jobs-accessibility

One of the ATAP Foundation Report’s most notable findings from analysing the current transport plan – and this was specifically mentioned by Minister of Transport Simon Bridges when he launched the report – is the very poor relative performance of the west and south, compared to the isthmus and the north.

And the Unitary Plan has gone and put most of our future growth in these locations and essentially locked up the isthmus from future housing growth. This is a catastrophically bad strategy for the future of Auckland, putting the growth in areas which will have increasing difficulty in getting to work and shifting it away from areas with good and improving access by car and public transport. It could also call into question projects like Light Rail which while supposedly justified based on bus volumes, may need to compete for resource with projects focused on where the growth is occurring.

59 comments to Locking up the isthmus: a catastrophic strategy

  • Can see it now “You want us to agree to spend $1B + on LRT to serve an area that isn’t expanding?”

  • Guy

    I agree that locking out increased density is going to be a catastrophically bad move for Auckland, but you know what the call from Aucklanders will be, don’t you? They’ll be baying for “More roads!” and a second harbour road crossing (despite your blog comprehensively proving that this is not the answer). That’s why it makes me laugh when Len Brown aspires that Auckland should be one of the world’s most liveable cities. Never going to get there at this rate!

  • TheBigWheel

    As far as the isthmus is concerned, that orange and red map shows how half baked the intensification proposals were: the largest areas are around the periphery and/or remote from the RTN. Not insurmountable, but hardly ideal from a transport perspective, and why were those areas chosen ahead of the inner suburbs and those along the rail lines? Lots of crying about nimbyism kicking out the proposals but the real nimbyism had already (fatally IMO) weakened the PAUP. Also all those outlying areas are unsustainable disasters. Practically unfixable. Both the process and the outcome were far from ideal. Good riddance I say, and can we start again please? Yeah nah probably not, we’ll likely get something even worse, still at least aim high, rather than throw the toys out because something half baked gets knocked back. You may be surprised at how broad may be for a more appropriate geographical spread of intensification.

    • Brian

      The orange & red map shows up or downzoning from the notified plan to the evidence that was voted to be withdrawn. Not the difference between current plans and the notified plan.

      This is the death of Light Rail on the Isthmus. Without a doubt.

  • Paul Owen

    Looks like we have increasing number of problems headed our way…..

  • ‘density in the right areas’ is of course one of those perfectly reasonable assertions. Who isn’t in favour of that?

    The right areas of course being those on high capacity non-congestion inducing transport routes [quality Public Transport], and areas with sufficient demand and desirability to make development actually likely as it will be financially viable.

    This does not mean ‘where nice people can’t see it’ or not where ‘richer older whiter people live’ or ’20/30+km away’

    Further segregation of the city is undesirable from any point of view, but while that may not be the aim [sadly it expressly is for some] it will certainly be the result, with all the societal fractures and additional costs that this entails. Quite apart from the massive infrastructure costs and huge double-down on driving, carbon emissions and other negative externalities.

    Furthermore these costs will hit the rate and taxpayer, and the very same people unwilling to let in more people to share that burden will complain bitterly as their rates and taxes rise continually to cope with the high cost of this inefficient urban form they are insisting on.

  • Rob Mayo

    NZCID’s Stephen Selwood said yesterday that “Going higher in targeted locations, particularly around rail, provides the opportunity for urban regeneration in a way that is commercially viable and avoids the spread of medium density development across the city, which is the current focus of concern.” Could a focus of intensification along rail corridors be the way forward from the current process development debacle? Certainly Auckland needs real station-connected development. At bare minimum, all interchange stations should have retail, housing and office space either directly above or beside. Too much wasted space currently at Henderson, New Lynn, Morningside, Glen Innes, Panmure, Otahuhu, Middlemore, Manurewa and Manukau.

    • Early Commuter

      I agree here. We need proper apartment towers, not horrible in-fill or cheap-looking leaky terraces.
      Step one: buy Victoria Ave under the PWA, bulldoze, erect 16-storey blocks…

    • Brutus Iscariot

      Yep – i can’t understand why Panmure and GI train stations aren’t surrounded by terraced housing and apartments instead of the low quality, low value commercial buildings that are there currently.

      • P Vincent

        Completely agree Brutus. I live in Panmure and would love to see some reasonable quality apartments there. Apparently where the old Four Square is there are (were?) plans to build an apartment block for elderly Chinese.

      • TheBigWheel

        Agree, and there plenty more locations in the eastern suburbs where this would intuitively make a lot of sense, and have a fighting chance of delivering affordable, attractive places for people to live: first homers, downsizers, single occupants. Close to the train stations: Sylvia Park, Ellerslie, Greenlane, Remuera, even Orakei (notwithstanding the current hiatus) etc.. And along the bus corridors.

        I can’t imagine that 3-4 storeys plastered all over the burbs will cut it. Even if there are 1,000s of these they’ll still be way too expensive. Besides who wants to live way out in Glendowie? I don’t get the fixation with low rise. Concrete sprawl. Even Phil Goff’s in on the act: bulldoze Remuera Golf Course. Eco-terrorist! It’s miles from any decent transit. Nah, go for 12-18 storeys in the obvious places. There already are a couple of 12-14 storey towers on Remuera Road. They’re great. Build some more. At the top of my street would be nice. That’d give the shops and cafes around here a boost, drive more train and bus services.

    • peterc

      Because it’s almost always about the money. We can zone till the cows come home but without financial viability nothing will happen. We’re in a real bind here: land is so expensive – largely because of high demand – we can’t build enough ‘affordable’ dwellings to reduce this(and that’s never going to happen anyway; the Property Council would see to that). A Land Tax looks like the only really effective means of ensuring urban space is efficiently used.

    • The debate listening to Morning Report this morning has shifted back to the Metropolitan Centres and the transport corridors in regards to intensification.
      Now arguably the Council is being very underwhelming with the 10 Metros in how they can handle the load of intensification. This was evident in the 051 Centres Zones hearings last year.

      Given that
      1) The withdraw with the residential zones has happened
      2) Auckland Transport muck us around with poor quality developments like the Manukau Interchange right in the middle of the Manukau Metropolitan Centre

      We have a slight problem.

      It might be time for now for Council to turn their attention back to the Metropolitan Centres and be serious in setting them up to take a lot more intensification than currently envisaged.

  • Early Commuter

    Chin up, lads
    Now that the Council has withdrawn, there is still the distinct possibility the final, confirmed Unitary Plan will actually be denser than (a) the existing situation, (b) the PAUP, or (c) the out-of-scope version.

    The Councillors may have sown the wind and may end up reaping the whirlwind. Then they can blame the independent panel for the evil 3 storey houses stealing our children.

    • peterc

      Really sad prospects whereas we could have had our own good plan. Oh sorry, I forgot about stupidity, ignorance, selfishness, greed, opportunism etc, getting in the way of any sensible evidence-based decision making.

  • The anti-intensification mob keep telling me “Transportblog is scaremongering, all this does is delay some bad intensification, we support properly submitted and consulted good intensification in a few years”. Do they have any point at all?

    • You have to decode what they mean by ‘good intensification’? Listening to them all, especially NIMY-in-chief Burton, ‘good intensification’ is just elsewhere… over the hill out of site, and in practice non-existent.

      Scaremongering is what they are doing… 3 stories is ;high density high rise’?! They need to get out more.

      • I’m more talking about people like Peter Haynes, who argued that apartments won’t be affordable in Kohi or Westmere anyway so why build them. It’s the thick ideological bias against apartments, that people should have the right to ban them, that gets me.

        • This line is simply untrue, and is being used by every player in the NIMBY camp. Both Crone and Thomas this morning for example.

          Here’s how it works; new supply in above the median price bracket comes onto the market, like apartments on Gt Nth Rd, these are more expensive than edge city proto-slums, but less expensive that detached houses in the area, people can now move up into the area, releasing their current dwelling further out onto the market, in Sandringham, say, some else can now move up to there, and so on….

          New supply at every price point, but especially quantity of new supply for a ready market, improves affordability and access to the city [in the broadest terms]. Only adding supply at the bottom traps people in lower quality accommodation and increases the barriers to social and spatial mobility.

          This is just like the car market. Only the higher earners buy new cars, they sell their previous car, this releases more supply, and crucially raises the average quality of vehicles on the road, which is something everyone wants.

          Same with housing; adding more higher quality, better built dwellings in financially viable markets, ie where people want too live, improves the average standard of the housing stock, improves the lives of more people, improves the quality of the city.

          This ‘it can all happen elsewhere’ theme, is bullshit, and shows a naive misunderstanding of the economics housing supply, and callous disregard for others and society.

          • Angus Robertson

            + 1 – All regulation of a build it elsewhere theme is in callous disregard for others and society.

            But there is one more thing – the more we restrict supply of available sites on which to build, the more we increase the costs of building.

          • Jamie Walton

            + 2 -> the data/analysis/research from the U.S. that Matt cited a few days ago empirically demonstrates what Patrick says here, so not doing it is bad public policy.

  • Under no circumstances should areas no longer expected to grow expect to get new public infrastructure since we now have to invest a fortune in infrastructure in the northwest, south etc. No more LRT for the leafy isthmus, but maybe instead we skip the northwest busway and leap straight to LRT for that instead?

    • David B.

      Actually I don’t agree with that at all. Expansion of the frequent public transport network is needed for many reasons, not just for future growth but to catch up after decades of under-investment. We have a shared global responsibility to protect the climate and persisting with roads and buying more and more cars goes absolutely in the wrong direction.

      Don’t forget that yesterday’s fiasco is not the end of the matter. Auckland can’t hold back the tide of population increase and one way or another we’ll be accommodating a lot more people in our city, probably as indicated in the unitary plan. I guess if this shows anything it is that the super-city model is not working yet, and that we continue to have Councillors acting out of narrow self-interest rather than being able to see the bigger picture.

    • Nik

      I think that skipping straight to LRT for the NW corridor has merit, but if you were going to invest, it needs to be based on return/BCR and the electrification to Pukehoke is probably up there, along with LRT on the isthmus.

      Timing of projects will always be an issue, but I’m predicting a reinstatement of the entire Tram network, over time as PT continues it’s renaissance in Auckland.

  • Ben

    For the first time in a long time, I am hoping the government intervene in the current Auckland crisis.
    This government finally has its head screwed right regarding policies and projects that will benefit the majority rather than the minority.

    Enough with the compromises! Lets have greater intensification since the boomers rejected modest intensification.
    Veto out the useless Auckland Council and get Auckland heading the right direction.

    • peterc

      Good God, you actually trust those(mostly) guys to act for the greater good? Their track record on the Mainland is far from flash.

    • Àngus Robertson

      Not happening, John Key created the Super City he is never going to admit it is failing. It would take a real eruption before they intervened.

      • MFD

        I wouldn’t be so sure that they won’t intervene. Headline inflation is less than the Reserve Bank lower limit and yet they will not drop interest rates for fear of stoking housing markets. Meanwhile businesses are hurting due to an overvalued currency. The interventionist SHAs are ineffectual so more intervention would be highly likely were in not for an election looming.

  • Nik

    When looking at the accessible jobs charts, I see that those areas that are currently served by RTN have greater access. Those projects that are coming particularly CRL will have an affect, but I’d question whether this modelling is any better than the demand modelling.

    My hypothesis is that the poor modelling practices shown has spilled over in to these estimates and any increases in performance of the RTN, whether dwell times or network extensions will increase attractiveness of PT and drive further growth, increasing investment in the medium term.

  • Nicholas O'Kane

    So correct me if I’m wrong, but orange = less density than previously proposed, red = more. It appears that there are huge areas around Avondale/Blockhouse Bay for more density, while the main reductions occur in North Shore. Since there are more red than orange areas it seems to me like the planned changes are good, not bad? Also can the unitary plan be changed again after the elections to allow for more or less intensification. Given the council voted due to “out of scope” to remove changes increasing intensification due to lack of consultation, can these changes still go ahead when the consultation is done?

    • Cargill_Street

      IHP still has the power to make out of scope changes notwithstanding Council’s withdrawal of their evidence. Moreover, IHP may like to base their recommendations on other submitters’ evidence, such as that of HNZ, which seeks even greater development potential. However, any out of scope recommendations by the IHP are liable to appeal to the EnvC, provided certain tests are met.

      Two years following the UP being made operative, private and Council-led plan changes can be made to the UP just like any other District Plan or Regional Plan.

  • JimboJones

    I was lucky enough to buy a house on the isthmus when it was still affordable and I would love to see more intensification. I don’t particularly want a 3 story apartment block next door, but I understand the need for it and who am I to stop it happening. I definitely want all the other benefits of higher density- better pt, more cafes and pubs, etc.
    I made a submission on the plan asking for more density but I guess my councillor didn’t care. I know a lot of others like me who probably didn’t make a submission but see the need for more density. I sure hope at least some of these backward thinking councillors that are destroying the future of Auckland for a few extra votes end up getting voted out. And I hope this move backfires and the panel recommended blanket upzoning for the entire isthmus.

  • Al C

    The map may be a little misleading at the zoomed out scale. If you follow through to the pdf and zoom in, the map does not show as many downzoned properties as you would think based on the zoomed out view. The orange when zoomed out appears to result from some sort of shape boundaries being orange which disappear when zoomed in.

    It would be good if someone else can check this isn’t just my screen/computer.

  • nemisis

    Zoning is a clumsy method of getting intensification. Planners at council came up with a UP which would never work because it doesnt address change management. The planners took a run at this at Panmure years ago and failed miserably because they are white,liberals with degrees who do not have a clue about how to engage with communities. Top down planning has been a failure for many decades overseas and the issue is well researched and taught at universities. But do our planners ;learn ,NO, they just continue on with their mumbo jumbo planning speak ( Penny Pirrit is a classic ) and end up antagonizing and marginalizing the community. Its really no surprise that Council planners have stuffed up. What gets me is that when the process is done properly then property owners get on board. The anzac quarter in Takapuna is a good example of community engagement with the community getting on board. The key was to NOT use a planner. Some of us are fed up with the process and are just getting on with increasing the housing supply despite the planners and their side kick urban designers. There are plenty of options out there if you know where to look and how to do it. .

    • Max

      So giving people MORE FREEDOM on what to do with their land is top down and “clumsy”? The reality is that the people crowing loudest at not being engaged are the people who want to have a say over THEIR NEIGHBOURS LAND. And will never be happy unless they get that – spending more time trying to engage them / doing “better” or “more consulation” is far from a surefire way of improving things.

      Remember also that these people are the ones who voiciferously call for Council to have less staff and pay them less. Always the same.

      • nemisis

        So you think the present RMA system works. Top down means you do not take the people with you. Case proven. If you want intensification stop ranting and engage. It always works but guys like you never understand that. Leave to people who know how to do it properly ,not amateurs like planners and disaffected hotheads like yourself who has a tantrum when he doesnt get his way.

  • Ari

    This pisses me off so much. I’ll probably still be driving my car to work, but this decision will mean that young people will have no other choice, get locked out of property. I had a lively discussion with a several older men at/nearing retirement age and they were all against intensification even though they didn’t understand what it meant. And these were all well educated businessmen. So much misinformation. This close-minded, short-sighted, ignorant bunch of NIMBYs have just screwed over future generations. We get what we deserve I guess.

    • Jeremy

      Not all educated people are cut from the same cloth. I’ve have encountered people who I thought should be more competent than me but aren’t even when I spell things out to them. That’s why I sympathise with those on the council working with people you hate.

  • Angus Robertson

    Let’s test the nimby reserve.

    Sprawling the city outwards will pour thousands of single dwelling houses onto the market and drop the price of single dwelling “down-zoned” land like a stone. Will Nimbys be able to maintain the pretence of “maintaining character” if it means losing money? Probably not.

    If we allow sprawl nimbys will soon be begging for the rights to up-zone their property.

    • Max

      Sadly, that is not true. Being out in Kumeu does NOT appeal to many of us, and will become ever more impractical, as the needed transport investment simply cannot catch up with the distance and the traffic jams. Inner city house prices would stay high even if we added a hundred thousand houses in Kumeu and Drury in the next 2-3 years. As the real estate people say “Location, location, location”. The inner city suburbs are desirable for many more reasons than having stately old houses and big trees – instead, they are much closer to whether the CITY (as in, the urban part) is. That’s where people want to be – and, if they don’t want to be time AND money poor (due to the various costs of having to drive), where they need to be.

      So no, nimby’s are (correctly) not afraid that their house values will drop because of sprawl. They SHOULD be afraid of the social costs, increasing inequality, and the massive rates costs. But they tend to figure that as long as their areas are “safe”, they will need not fear (they can always ask for more gated communities and police), and being at the levers of power means that their roads will still get maintained anyway, even if in the future, we wont have enough money to fix potholes, let alone run buses, somewhere in the new suburban slums at the periphery.

      This is a bit of a dark scenario, but it is playing out in a lot of cities around the world. With increasing inequality already running rampant, such trends would only accelerate here too, if this is allowed to be turbocharged by a “protect the rich suburbs” zoning.

      • Angus Robertson

        Auckland’s median land cost is about $200,000 to $300,000 higher than the median land cost of Brisbane or Melbourne. Brisbane and Melbourne are bigger, richer and have a location desirability much higher than Auckland. The price for the best apartments in Brisbane or Melbourne are higher than Auckland. We are pricing on land scarcity and not location value, downward price pressures by increasing land supply are achievable. Auckland median land prices are similar to those of Sydney. Development in Auckland right now is anaemically slow, because the price of land is too high.

        Opening land in the Clevedon Valley will attract people from Flatbush, vacancies in Flatbush will attract people from Howick, and so on – all the way inwards. The primary customers for inner city land will be developers looking to create apartments, who will pay more for up-zoned land. Land in Mt Eden will indeed be worth much more than the land in Clevedon Valley, but it will be a lot less expensive than it is now.

        Nimbys will be faced with the ultimate choice, own down-zoned land at a low monetary value (but high character value) or high monetary value up-zoned land.

        • Kleefer

          I am much more concerned about the cost of housing in fringe areas like Papakura and Glen Eden than I am about the ridiculous prices in central Auckland. Most of my friends (late 20s) know they will never be able to buy on the isthmus but when they have to look to Meremere and Huntly for affordable homes it’s a sign things are getting out of hand. Intensification alone won’t improve affordability, it will just increase land rent in upzoned areas. I can’t believe people who claim to be economists don’t understand that reducing the cost of land on the fringe will reduce land prices in the city centre…

  • kelvin

    The land in inner suburbs are most suitable for intensification because of close distance to city. Making public transport very feasible.

    Because of high desirability, house are valued at 1-3 millions. Young people could not afford to buy a house in inner suburbs.

    Younger family are forced to buy in outer suburbs. That makes the demographic for inner suburb more toward older and wealthy people.

    Iconically because of their age, they were born in the baby boomer period, where they grew up with large backyards and are unwilling to give up their childhood memory.

    Unless the baby boomers are retired and downsized, I could not see their willingness to change.

    • Bryan

      It’s ironic is that while one lot of “oldies” is campaigning against intensification, another lot of oldies is driving that very intensification, with the booming demand for retirement apartment complexes (such as next to Parnell station, and within sight of AT’s Henderson offices).

      • Jeff T

        So they get intensified living next to rail corridors? Yeah, that’d be right.

        I understand it’s the Newmarket area bridge that’s holding up the opening of the Parnell station. I would hate to think it’s the building of that retirement village.

  • Tom

    What a total farce this process is. Council stuffed up severely years ago before the PAUP was notified. They had a useless evidence base – a capacity model that was totally flawed. Why are the same planners and consultants still there? The original capacity models were a huge part of the problem. Once the work was done properly late last year then surprise surprise we saw the problem that some of us knew existed all along. And then the council panicked.

    Also the rules have been poorly informed by development economics until it was far too late.

    I blame the staff and the consultants more than the politicians. It’s the job of the former to get the evidence base right and set out policy options to respond. That base was a mess and that I am afraid is what set up this whole disaster.

    And they can’t blame on lack of resources. The council has an army of hundreds of planners.

    Sack the council.

    • paddocks

      Wow what a good job the Super City is doing! Central Government created the Frankenstein monster, which still did not do what it what it was supposed to do. Now Central Govt is threatening to over-ride it. Take your seats (if you can find any!) and watch the farce.

  • julie.fairey@gmail.com

    This is pretty frustrating for a local board who wanted much of the intensification in the Dec 2015 changes, particularly the bits that added capacity around town centres and fixed the PAUP mistake of making a lot of current Res 6a into Single House when it should have been Mixed Housing Suburban.

    Now we face less investment than we need, not least LRT, and the continued slow death of our existing town centres while new ones are based around big box retail and large chains that don’t actually put much money into the local economy. Fellow Puketapapa Local Board member Michael Wood (disclaimer: also my husband) explains here: https://medium.com/@michaelwoodnz/the-process-and-politics-of-intensification-in-auckland-we-ve-played-it-badly-90e1d292718#.udmdpexg4

    For the western boards who supported intensification they already have some happening with their current rules and investment to match, although they wanted more from this.

    Those of us who are ex-Auckland City are faced with the invidious position of inheriting under maintained assets (eg Wesley Community Centre where the roof failed after only 10 years and we couldn’t go the installer or the manufacturer of the product because ACC cut the maintenance and voided the warranty), communities where rates have risen rather a lot in a short time because of huge capital value increases and years of artificially keeping ACC rates low, and pockets of deprivation just as deep (but not as wide) as the former Manukau City at a time when central government is cutting investment, particularly in migrant support (over 50% of Puketapapa’s population was born outside NZ).

  • Tom

    Can anyone shed any light on why council staff or consultants have not been sacked? The Paup was predicated on the notion that it enabled God only knows how many dwellings 400k? Then the expert panel found it was realistically what 60k?why haven’t there been sackings? These errors were not minor but rather major

  • Tom

    Thanks. But why was it so poor in the first place. Aussie has been doing sophisticated development capacity modelling for many years

  • Angus Rboertson

    Love the predicted property prices – $800,000+.

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