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Stuart’s 100 #3: Plane Tree Avenues

Stuart Houghton’s 100 ideas for Auckland continues

3: Plane Tree Avenues

Day 3

Franklin Road, with its historic plane trees, is one of the most loved streets in Auckland. What if plane tree avenues defined all the major city fringe streets?

This could be interpreted more broadly, that a programme of street tree planting could be part of a wider programme of works to enhance these streets that play a key role for walking and cycling between the city centre and city fringe.

The post touched a nerve with some around natives versus exotic trees. This taps into some deep-rooted parts of the New Zealand psyche at this point in history. It would be great if we could find a way to have a mature and broad-based discussion about what all this might mean for planting trees in the highly modified urban environments of our cities.

Franklin_Road_Credit_Craig_Flickr_stream_10240761194_c0e14a455e_o

Franklin Rd, Freemans Bay: photo credit Craig Flickr photostream (https://www.flickr.com/photos/craigsyd

Jervois-Tram-and-Trees

Jervois Rd before the removal of both the trams and the London Planes in 1949. Photo: Graham Stewart

 

July 14 AT Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport Board is meeting today and as usual I’ve had a look through the papers to see if there is anything interesting. Below is the collection of items or comments that caught my eye.

The rest of this year is going to see a lot of debate about long term plans emerge

Auckland Transport’s 30-year Integrated Transport Programme, the 10-year Regional Land Transport Plan and the Transport content of Auckland Council’s 10-year Long Term Plan, must all be adopted (as draft for public consultation) by December 2014.

The next steps in the consultation process, as endorsed by the Board in February 2014, are:

  • Submissions process timed to align with Auckland Council, in Jan/Feb 2015
  • Online consultation, also in Jan/Feb 2015
  • Replace formal Hearings with more informal Transport Conversations in March 2015

The last bullet point is quite interesting, does that represent a reduction in the public being able to have a say in the future development of transport in the city?

On the key projects there are a few interesting comments these include

  • For the Lincoln Rd upgrade – In response to public consultation, an additional analysis of cycle facility options is underway - this is good as the cycling facilities that were suggested as part of this mega road widening were pitiful and didn’t even meet the engineering standards AT are implementing.
  • The name for the East West Link has been changed to East West Connections as - The word “link” created confusion with people incorrectly assuming that the programme was one project on one road and consequently was changed to “connections” to better reflect that this programme will comprise several projects to improve the transport network across the area. – I find this one particularly interesting given the constant ongoing confusion we see around the City Rail Link which is really about improving the entire regional rail network. Even the mayor still calls it a loop at times giving the impression it’s just about trains going around in circles. Perhaps it’s time to change the name of the CRL to actually reflect what the project is doing.
  • With the electric trains CAF are building them faster than expected and are currently 4 ahead of schedule. AT are saying we will start seeing the trains on the Manukau and eastern lines in August when from memory that wasn’t meant to happen till September or October. On the performance of the EMUs AT say that the punctuality in June returned to above the average for the network and changes to the signalling system to allow faster running is under testing.
  • At Panmure the new station as seen the number of people using the station surge. A press release out today shows the numbers even higher than in the report with usage of the station up 73% on the same time last year and up 57% since the station opened in January. It’s seen the station rise from the 18th busiest in 2013 to 10th. As a further comparison AT say that in 2003 only around 100 people used the then Panmure station (in a slightly different location), now an average of 1116 are using it daily. We’ve also had anecdotal evidence that entire busloads of people from eastern suburbs are transferring to trains at the station for a faster ride to town.

Each month AT now give updates on spending on Road Corridor Maintenance. It’s mostly a fairly dull part that gets skipped over however I did notice some interesting comments in relation to why the spend in the Central and West areas were below forecast. In the Central area AT spent $67.8 million vs a budget of $73.3 million and in the West they spent $29.6 million out of a budget of 32.7 million. In both cases they said the difference was due to a reduced level of expenditure on consultants (although for central it also was the result of deferring work on Orakei Rd). Other parts of the region ended up on or ahead of forecast though which negated the savings.

On Public transport they say

  • HOP card usage is up over 60% for buses and at 75% for trains and this is of course before the fare changes from early July kicked in which should drive that even higher.
  • They say bus on time performance is improving with the changes to timetables that they have been making and that this is based on results measured from AT’s real time tracking systems. They say that from July they will be measuring bus punctuality based on these measures rather than the tinpot dictator style self reporting by operators that they have relied on for years.
  • They say that to the 4 July there were almost 12,000 subscriptions to the free WiFI at train and busway stations and ferry wharfs.

Of course as usual it’s the closed session that has all of the really interesting information including

  • An update on the CRL
  • An update of the next ITP
  • An update on the disposal of the diesel trains
  • City Centre Access options

Stuart’s 100: #1 Transforming the Motorway Ring

Urban designer Stuart Houghton has set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. He is Tweeting them here: @HoughtonSd 

Discussing this project with Stuart he said that I see the city is getting better and better and growing up fast, but everywhere I look as I move about the city I am struck by ideas big and small for how Auckland could be improved. I see this as a positive thing.” 

We agree.

In this task he has been inspired by Jan Gehl the Danish urbanist who famously said:

“How nice it is to wake up each morning in a city that is a little bit better than it was before”

Stuart has kindly agreed to allow us to run them here over the next 100 week days, here’s #1, enjoy:

1 Transforming the Motorway Ring

Day_1

I had to start my 100 ideas with this one; my urban design master’s thesis from 2009. The starting point was sitting in London panning across Auckland in Google Earth with my tutor, and his simple observation on the wastefulness of such a huge area of otherwise high value land being taken up exclusively by the motorways.

Stuart's 100 #1

The project basically asks: Wouldn’t it be great if rather than a massive barrier that shackles the city centre, the CMJ was actually a positive shaping force, becoming an urban and social connector?

Pages from FINAL_workshop_presentation_RevA_110308-2

I proposed retaining but reducing the capacity of the motorway lanes, and through a combination of tunnelling and capping enable other uses to take place over the motorway. This could join with the waterfront to create a continuous ring of public space. Along with the historical north-south Queen Street axis, these could become three major public space armatures around which the city grows and develops for the next 100 years.

This might seem far out. But it needn’t be a grand vision. In many ways, projects like the Grafton Gully Cycleway are already grafting new uses to the motorway ring. Potential projects like the Nelson St off ramp, and the idea of a Grafton Gully Boulevard as posted by Kent and Nick a few weeks back can all work towards this.

Pages from FINAL_workshop_presentation_RevA_110308-2_b

 

Pages from FINAL_workshop_presentation_RevA_110308-4

 

 

The CRL and City Centre Office Shortages

When the government finally announced they would support the CRL – but starting in 2020 – they listed two targets that would need to be on track to being met to bring construction forward.

  1. Rail Patronage to double to 20 million
  2. CBD employment to increase by 25%

We’ve written about both of these a number of times before. I personally think it’s quite possible that we will reach the 20 million patronage target early, especially if we can continue the current growth of over 12% per annum. The harder target – and dodgier one – is to increase CBD employment by 25%. It’s more dodgy as it appears to be being used as an indicator of travel demand but there are many other factors that might increase demand for rail e.g. increases in parking prices and the number of students.

An article in the Herald on Tuesday highlights just how hard the employment growth number will be.

Auckland businesses are squeezed for office space, and the central city is experiencing its most critical shortages of commercial real estate on record.

So rents could be about to shoot up fast.

Chris Dibble, Colliers International’s national research manager, said latest analysis of vacancy rates surprised him because it showed that an area less than the size of a soccer field was available to lease.

“We knew it was going to be low, but not this low. The prime sector for premium and A-grade vacancy rates in Auckland CBD is just 1.4 per cent, beating our expectations of 2 per cent. It was 4.7 per cent six months ago and the 20-year average is 8.2 per cent,” he found.

“The vacant space aggregates to just 6116sq m, less than a soccer field and unprecedented in our records which began 20 years ago,” Dibble said.

“Auckland CBD property houses some of the most productive businesses in New Zealand and with little space available for expansion, we are stalling the potential growth of the country at a critical time in the cycle.

“In a market that needs to attract quality staff through quality environments, the lack of available space and developments nearing completion means we will stumble just as we were making headwinds in what has been a tough slog for many. There are only 11 prime buildings with vacant space available. Only eight buildings can accommodate more than 20 staff (currently 11 per cent of the overall CBD market).

“Only seven are able to accommodate less than 20 staff. Tenants who haven’t found suitable accommodation will have to forgo quality or wait until early 2016 for a slight reprieve from spec builds such as Mansons TCLM’s development or Goodman Group.

In effect CBD job growth – which has been strong in the last few years – is going to dry up simply because there’s not much office space left and there’s not a huge amount to come on stream any time soon. Office space will get a bit of a bump from the Precinct Properties redevelopment of the Downtown Mall site but that won’t come on stream till 2019. That development though will see at least the first part of the CRL constructed as it absolutely has to happen at the same time as the redevelopment seeing as it passes through the basement.

Basin Bridge Bowled

In stunning news yesterday the Board of Inquiry hearing the case for the Basin Bridge bowled out the NZTA by declined consent for the project.  This is what it would have looked like had it been approved:

All up the bridge would have been 265m long and carved a slice out of Wellington’s urban fabric at a time when other cities around the world are starting to pull these kinds of structures down – and finding it doesn’t cause traffic chaos.

The independent Board of Inquiry delegated to hear and decide the Basin Bridge Proposal of National Significance has released its draft report and decision.

The Board by majority decision (3 to 1), has cancelled the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Notice of Requirement and declined its resource consent applications for the construction, operation and maintenance of State Highway 1 in Wellington City between Paterson Street and Buckle Street/Taranaki Street.

The draft report and decision is available on the EPA website here: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx

A total of 215 submissions were received, and evidence was heard from 69 witnesses and representations by a further 74 submitters.

The applicant and other parties now have 20 days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report.

The Board will provide its final decision to the EPA by 30 August 2014.

Basin Bridge Image 1

This is quite a setback for both the NZTA and the government as the project is a key part of the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) programme and the Board of Inquiry (BoI) process was specifically set up to try and streamline the consent process for large projects. One of the key changes the government made in creating the BoI process was that appeals against can be made to the High Court on points of law only, and any decision cannot be overturned by the Minister. The outcome of this is that it’s meant agencies have had to do much more work upfront as there’s no second chance if they get it wrong. This led to the process taking longer to ensure all I’s were dotted and all T’s crossed and that extra length of time along with the risk of getting it wrong is one of the reasons Auckland Transport went with the traditional consenting method for the CRL.

But the NZTA clearly got this one wrong and have paid the price by not getting consent. This has effectively sent them back to square one and a flyover option is now off the table.

Basin Bridge Image 2

The report on the BoI’s findings runs to almost 600 pages so naturally I haven’t had time to go through it all yet however I here are some points I picked up on about their decision which starts from page 444 (page 453 of the PDF).

  • That while the project would improve the cities transport system that it would do so at the expense of heritage, landscape, visual amenity, open space and overall amenity.
  • They are uncertain how the plan would have actually accommodated for Bus Rapid Transit as proposed in the Spine Study.
  • That the quantum of transport benefits were substantially less than what the NZTA originally said in lodging the NoR as they included transport benefits from other projects.
  • That while North/South buses would be sped up, that the modelling doesn’t show any impact effect of this on modal change.
  • That while there are some improvements for cyclists it’s mostly in the form of shared paths which will introduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists.
  • That the dominance of the bridge would cause severe adverse affects on the local area and the mitigation measures proposed would do little to reduce that. They also found the new building proposed for the Basin Reserve would exacerbate this.

Perhaps some of the most damming criticism is in relation to the consideration of alternatives. The board say that despite there having been 73 different options considered since 2001 that the methodology wasn’t transparent and replicable. They say that weightings were applied to some criteria at different stages of the process but that it wasn’t clear how criteria were weighted and the reason for any weighting. They say that in their view it was incumbent on the NZTA to ensure it adequately considered alternative options, particularly those with potentially reduced adverse effects. This simply was not done. Of course you may remember that the issue around alternatives was one of the critical issues highlighted in the independent review the BoI arranged.

I think the issue of the inadequacy of the assessment of alternatives is particularly important as that has been a key criticism of the Puhoi to Warkworth route, a decision on which is due back shortly.

Basin Bridge Image 4

Interestingly not all of the commissioners on the panel believed that the consent should be declined. Commissioner David McMahon voted to the project saying that in his mind the benefits outweighed the impacts of the project will have. His reasoning for doing so are also in the report.

The big question now is what next. The NZTA has to go back to the drawing board to find or progress some alternative options but how will the government react. As of the time of writing this post I still hadn’t seen any response from the government despite this putting a huge dent in the RoNS programme.

Overall this is a fantastic result for Wellington and congratulations to all those like Save the Basin who put huge amounts effort in to fighting this project.

Taskforce to Tackle Loopy Rules

The National Party have announced that if they’re re-elected they’ll form a taskforce to tackle loopy rules and regulations.

Local Government Minister Paula Bennett today announced the establishment of a new Taskforce to rid New Zealand of loopy rules and regulations.

“The Rules Reduction Taskforce in partnership with local government will work closely with the public to weed out pedantic and unnecessary rules that frustrate property owners and councils alike.

“We’ve seen rules and regulations brought in over decades that were well intentioned but end up being confusing, onerous and costly while failing to deliver any real benefit for the property owner or the wider public,” says Mrs Bennett.

The Taskforce will be up and running in October. As well as central and local government experts, it will include specialists from the building and trades sector.

“Anyone doing building work knows just how frustrating and costly the bureaucracy can get. We want to hear from property owners, builders, tradespeople and businesses on rules and regulations that are crying out for sensible change.

“There will be a website where people can send us examples of loopy rules and the Taskforce will hear submissions from the public on areas ripe for change.

“We have rules dictating all sorts of weird and wonderful things from signage over cake stalls to where your shower curtains need to be positioned.

“In another example, a property owner trying to replace a 130 year old fence discovered some of it was on a scenic reserve and they faced having to buy or lease the land.

“While there’s always a degree of rationale behind these rules, the Taskforce will be charged with identifying what should stay and what should go so people can get on with the job of building, renovating or event planning without have to wade through a morass of unnecessary rules,” says Mrs Bennett.

Fantastic, how about they start with some that will have the most impact. That would mean starting with

  • Minimum Parking Requirements
  • Minimum Lot Sizes
  • Minimum Dwelling Sizes
  • Minimum Bedroom sizes
  • Minimum Setbacks
  • Restrictive Height Limits
  • Blanket heritage protection for everything old
  • Minimum Rear Yard Sizes
  • Minimum numbers and size of tress per site

Of course during the debate on the Unitary Plan National Party MPs and aligned councillors fought hard to not only keep these loopy rules and regulations but in many cases to make t hem worse.

How the Unitary Plan Changed

There’s just under a week left to go if you want to make a further submission on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP).

Further submissions to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan close on 22 July 2014.

These are limited to being either in support or opposition to changes to the plan, as requested in the over 9,400 original submissions which contained requests for nearly 100,000 changes.

Only people or entities with an interest greater than the general public or who represent a matter of public interest can make a further submission.

For more information on who can make a further submission see here.

One of the big disappointments with the Unitary Plan process was the way the councillors and local boards shirked their responsibility and gave in to a vocal group of complainers. That ended up seeing large swathes of the city have its zoning downgraded, in some cases to less than what was allowed for by the existing district plans created by the old councils in the pre super city era. In saying that some local boards were actually smart and went the other way increasing the zoning across large areas, this is particularly evident with the local boards in the West.

To highlight the changes reader Steve D has put together this map showing how the zoning changed between the Draft Unitary Plan and the formal PAUP that was put out for consultation. In the map below the key changes are shown as:

  • Greeen have been up-zoned
  • Red have been down-zoned
  • Orange is new future urban land.

One thing to note is that in the Draft Unitary Plan there was a Mixed Housing Zone. In the PAUP that was split in to two separate zones, Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS) and Mixed Housing Urban (MHU). There were a number of differences between the two and one of the biggest was height limits with the Suburban zone allowing for two storeys and the Urban zone allowing for three. Where a section has gone from Mixed hosing to MHU then it’s considered as being up-zoned while going  to MHS is down-zoned.

Unitary Plan changes from draft to proposed version on Koordinates

What you noticed quite strongly is the amount of down-zoning on the North Shore and large parts of the Isthmus with larger swathes of up-zoning in the West, South and East. Also with hall that future growth in the North West and South the Northwest Busway and rail electrification to Pukekohe are going to be essential

Thanks to Steve for putting this together.

NZTA and OPUS Travel Survey

The NZTA and OPUS are conducting a travel survey looking at the travel patterns of New Zealanders and in particular looking at future anticipated changes in travel patterns in the future. While the survey is open to anyone they are focusing primarily on those who are in the 15-35 age bracket. By filling it in you can also win $1,000 worth of vouchers.

How do you want to be able to travel in the future? The NZTA and Opus are currently conducting an online survey which needs your opinions to inform upcoming transport infrastructure investment reviews.

All respondents to this approximately 20 minute long survey can enter a prize draw for $1000 worth of vouchers* of the winners choosing. Note that there is a particular focus on those aged 15-35 years, however, anyone can participate as the perspectives of a cross-section of New Zealanders are desired.

If you are interested in participating or would like further information about the survey, please click here before Monday the 4th of August 2014. Please also feel free to share this link with anyone else you think may like to participate.

It should be interesting to see what the outcomes of the survey are.

How should we value the future?

Transport networks and urban planning can have extremely long-lived effects on society, the economy, and the environment. The government’s decision to invest in an electrified commuter rail network for Wellington in the 1930s led to an early form of transit-oriented development in the region. Wellington’s post-war urban growth has been concentrated in areas served by rail lines – providing the region with long-lasting benefits.

800px-WellingtonRailMap

Source: Wikipedia

In Auckland, of course, things were very different. After the role that rail played in Auckland’s early development, successive governments decided to:

And, of course, these years of refusal were coupled with a decision in the 1950s to invest heavily in a motorway network for the region. The Master Transportation Plan of the era contains some truly awe-inspiring concept designs, including an elevated Quay St motorway that would have doomed any chance of Auckland’s recent waterfront revival:

1950s Transportation Master Plan Quay St

Leaving aside a few extremely white elephants, many elements of the plan are quite familiar to modern Aucklanders. The Southern and Northwestern Motorways and the Harbour Bridge were built, kicking off development booms in Manukau, the North Shore, and West Auckland. In a 2010 Policy Quarterly article, Andrew Coleman assessed the effects of motorway development in Auckland and the US, concluding that:

transport infrastructure choices can have long-term and potentially irreversible effects on city form. A city that chooses to invest in roads rather than public transport infrastructure to improve its transport system is likely to reduce the efficiency of any subsequent public transport investments, by causing population and employment in the city to disperse widely over space. When making decisions to build roads, therefore, the city planners need to take into account the way roads affect the operation of subsequent transport infrastructure investment choices.

So it’s worth asking: Are we valuing future outcomes in the right way? In economese, this means asking about our “rate of time preference”, or the degree to which we value present-day outcomes over future outcomes.

A 2011 NZIER paper by Chris Parker provides a fairly accessible introduction to this topic. (Transportblog reviewed the paper when it originally came out.) Parker highlights how much of an effect different discount rates can have on our decisions about the future. As Figure 1 below shows, an 8% discount rate – recommended by the NZ Treasury – means that we place no weight on outcomes that occur 40 years in the future. (To put that in perspective, the average New Zealander lives twice as long as that. I certainly expect to be alive in 40 years!) A 3% discount rate, by comparison, means that we place a much higher value on outcomes that far in the future.

NZIER discount rate comparison

Last July, NZTA decided to lower its discount rate from 8% to 6%. This change means that transport evaluations now place a slightly greater weight on future outcomes than before. However, as NZTA’s documentation showed, we still discount the future to a much greater extent than countries like Germany (3% discount rate) and the UK (1% to 3.5%).

NZTA’s new discount rate might still be too high to properly account for the long-lived effect of infrastructure development on urban form. As we’ve seen, Auckland and Wellington are still benefitting from, or coping with, with the effects of investment decisions made 60 to 80 years in the past. Under current evaluation procedures, we wouldn’t have considered such long-lasting effects.

A new research paper by economists at the University of Chicago and New York University suggests that people place significant value on outcomes that occur dozens or even hundreds of years hence. The authors measure long-term discount rates using an innovative method that relies upon observing differences between the prices for freehold and leasehold houses in the UK and Singapore:

In Giglio, Maggiori and Stroebel (2014), we provide direct estimates of households’ discount rates for payments very far in the future, by studying the valuation of very long (but finite) assets. We exploit a unique feature of residential housing markets in the UK and Singapore, where property ownership takes the form of either very long-term leaseholds or freeholds. Leaseholds are temporary, pre-paid, and tradable ownership contracts with maturities ranging from 99 to 999 years, while freeholds are perpetual ownership contracts. The price discount for very long-term leaseholds relative to prices for otherwise similar properties that are traded as freeholds is informative about the implied discount rates of agents trading these housing assets. This allows us to gather information on discount rates much beyond the usual horizon of 20-30 years spanned by bond markets.

This analysis suggests that long-run discount rates are significantly lower than those we use for project evaluation – in the range of 2.6%. In other words, people making significant financial decisions today place some value on outcomes for future generations that they will never meet:

We use these estimated price discounts to back out the implied discount rate that households use to value cash flows to housing that arise more than 100 years from now. We find the discount rate for very long-run housing cash flows to be about 2.6% per year. Interestingly, we find similar implied discount rates in both the UK and in Singapore – two countries with very different institutional settings.

The authors suggest that their findings have implications for intergenerational fiscal policy and climate change policy. They’re also likely to have implications for the way we evaluate transport projects. Today’s planners should take care to preserve and improve transport options for future generations, rather than “locking in” a particular urban form.

Finally, with that in mind, it’s worth recalling the findings of the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study, which compared options for improving transport capacity to Auckland’s growing city centre. In Section 7 of the Technical Report, the authors found that when a longer evaluation period (60 years vs. 30 years) and a lower discount rate (5.7% vs. 8%) were used, the benefit-to-cost ratio of the City Rail Link almost doubled. In other words, the CRL looks even more valuable for Auckland if we take a longer-term view.

If our great-grandparents had decided to invest in Auckland’s rail system in the 1930s, we’d still be thanking them for it. Because they didn’t, though, we’re just getting around to electrifying Auckland’s rail network and still debating whether to build the CRL to unlock greater frequencies across the entire network. It is essential that we take a longer-term view on transport investments than we have previously done.

So, what’s your discount rate?

Auckland’s Chief Economist speaks up for future generations – Auckland needs to grow “up and out”

Auckland Council’s Chief Economist Geoff Cooper was in the paper on Thursday with a few interesting arguments about urban planning. The article is refreshing because in it Cooper challenges a few of the many sacred cows in the debate over growth and housing affordability.

In particular, Cooper discusses the “up versus out” narrative that has been wrapped around Auckland’s urban growth. In recent months, for example, both the New Zealand Initiative and consultancy NZIER have published research papers arguing that Auckland should open up greenfield land to improve housing affordability.

Cooper argues that these analyses have failed to notice the fact that the proposed Unitary Plan already does this:

Despite this complexity, discussion on Auckland’s urban policy is often reduced to “up” (intensification) or “out” (sprawl).

This simplification overlooks three key issues — Auckland Council’s proposed urban limit policy, the policies underlying a compact city, and the political economy of urban policy.

The proposed plan vastly extends the urban limit, aiming for an average of seven years infrastructure-ready land supply available at all times. Once implemented, around 20 per cent more urban zoned land will be available.

This is enough for up to 76,000 new dwellings (roughly equivalent to all of Hamilton).

Calls for more land supply miss the solutions being implemented.

In my view, a policy of greenfields growth could result in not insubstantial economic costs. These risks are discussed in a range of new studies,evidence which present evidence suggesting outlying locations are not necessarily more affordable once transport costs are taken into account (often difficult to do in advance). So while house prices might be cheaper, the costs of getting around can offset those savings. Not to mention the external costs of congestion wider society must bear from more development in peripheral urban locations.

On the other hand, Cooper also critiques debates over residential intensification. He points out that removing *restrictions* on urban intensification development, so as to enable more compact and diverse forms of housing, doesn’t amount to “forcing intensification upon communities”, as some have claimed. Instead, the Unitary Plan tends to remove barriers that prevent people from living at higher densities in locations that provide the attributes they seek, such as amenity and accessibility. Cooper comments:

Proposed policies for a compact city are also misunderstood.

Compact living policies are about creating choices, by reducing existing regulations that stop people living in higher density areas, when they want to.

The inherited planning framework by Auckland Council is heavily biased towards the “quarter acre section” through rigid regulations. This creates a push for urban sprawl.

The city’s rules prevent the supply of housing people want in the areas they want to live in – close to the city, with good transport and other amenities.

These preferences are clearly shown in soaring house prices on Auckland’s isthmus.

The draft plan was designed to create greater housing choice. But this has been scaled back significantly during public consultation.

Residents want to preserve their lot, but it comes at a cost to future Aucklanders. New height limits have been introduced in many suburbs, while existing height limits have been tightened, as have density constraints which means it will be harder to gain access to attractive suburbs.

The important thing Cooper highlights here is how policies that restrict housing  supply in desirable areas come with a significant cost. There’s a wide range of international evidence suggesting restrictive planning regulations, such as minimum parking regulations, density controls, and building height limits, tend to raise the cost of housing. A 2002 paper by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko, for example, found American cities with more restrictive zoning were less affordable:

The bulk of the evidence marshaled in this paper suggests that zoning, and other land use controls, are more responsible for high prices where we see them. There is a huge gap between the price of land implied by the gap between home prices and construction costs and the price of land implied by the price differences between homes on 10,000 square feet and homes on 15,000 square feet. Measures of zoning strictness are highly correlated with high prices… [I]f policy advocates are interested in reducing housing costs, they would do well to start with zoning reform.

New evidence from Auckland suggests that our planning regulations may have a similar effect, driving up housing costs above construction costs. While the proposed Unitary Plan loosens some regulations, it arguably doesn’t go far enough to truly improve housing choice and housing affordability. Indeed, in some locations it proposes much more onerous regulations than exist under existing district plans, such as on minimum size requirements for apartment. Such requirements have the potential to exacerbate housing costs for the households that can least afford it.

Finally, Cooper also highlights the sometimes perverse nature of the political economy of urban planning. As many people have pointed out, planning regulations have significant effects on intergenerational equity. While restrictive regulations might be good for existing homeowners, they’re extremely bad for new homeowners – and by extension future generations.

It seems fairly obvious to me that if a city is systematically unwilling to allow new housing supply to be built in desirable, accessible areas, then skilled young people will increasingly face a Hobson’s choice: Either pay too much for housing in an accessible place, or pay too much for transport in a cheaper fringe location. And in the long run, we can expect these people to choose another city to live in. Indeed, unaffordable cities place will tend to be disadvantaged in the increasingly global competition for skilled young labour. In this other recent article Cooper actually makes this very point: Auckland competes for people, business, and capital more with Brisbane. Sydney and Melbourne than with other places in New Zealand.

Unfortunately our political system seems especially bad at solving the intergenerational problems even though this is arguably one of its core functions.

This Government’s inability/unwillingness to make headway on carbon emissions being the prime example. As a young Aucklander with many Kiwi friends living overseas. I am fairly sure that the people who will benefit from better housing policy are, for the most part, not voting in elections or going along to consultation meetings. Many more may have not even been born yet. It is these voices that are so often not heard, nor even acknowledged, in the debates on the Unitary Plan.

Responsibility for this issue lies jointly with our political representatives and mainstream media outlets, who tend to lack the courage to push back on even the most blatant self-interested objections to urban development.

Ultimately I think it’s really useful to have Auckland Council’s Chief Economist speaking out on these issues and highlighting that Auckland needs to both grow “up and out”. Now it’d be nice if more people at a central  government level started to champion the same issues.