Things to consider this election

Amalgamating Auckland under a single council was always going to be a big task and the first 5½ years of it have seen the council needing to make some fairly big decisions. Many of these big decisions have helped set Auckland on the path to becoming a great city and I’d argue could not have been achieved without the amalgamation. Examples include:

  • The 30 year vision for the region called The Auckland Plan
  • The still ongoing Unitary Plan which is effectively the rulebook to enable much of the Auckland Plan
  • Agreeing to the City Rail Link with the government
  • A single region wide rating system so that your rates are assessed the same way regardless of whether you live in Henderson, Hillsborough or Howick.
  • The Long Term Plan which included an interim transport levy that was mostly directed to improving public and active transport.

Local body elections are just 6 months away and along with a new mayor, we’re bound to see a lot of tightly contested seats on the council. It would be easy to think that all of the big stuff has happened and the make up of the next council won’t be as important as the two we’ve had so far. That would be a wrong assumption and in fact there are likely to be a number of big issues that will come up during the next term. So as more and more people emerge to stand for council, I thought it would be good to have a look at some of these.

It’s also worth noting that local body politicians have shown time and time again that they don’t tend to conform to the traditional left/right split in politics. Some councillors have frequently voted against the ideology of the side of politics they’re associated with. As such, when it comes time to vote it’s worth thinking about how the individuals will vote on the actual topics rather than what side of the political fence they supposedly sit on.

So here are some of the key decisions the council will likely need to make in its next term.

Light Rail

As I understand it, Auckland Transport’ plan to install light rail on some streets continues to bubble along behind the scenes as they work though all of the technical issues that needs to be done before the idea can move to the next phase. I suspect that during the next council term a decision will need to be made as to whether the council support and more importantly will provide the funding needed to support the project moving forward.

Will candidates support the introduction of light rail to Auckland?

Town Hall LRT_800

Updating the Auckland Plan

The Auckland Plan is the 30 year vision for the city and the intention was always that it would be reviewed after six years which will be in 2018. Undoubtedly the Auckland Plan could be improved – especially around transport – and given almost everything the council does needs to be about working to achieve the goals in the plan it’s crucial we get any changes as part of the update right. Enough councillors opposing it could see the vision for Auckland wound back with more emphasis placed on sprawl and car centric transport polices, winding back some of the gains and improvements made in recent years.

Do candidates support the Auckland Plan and/or what changes would they support?

Unitary Plan environment court appeals,

The Independent Hearings Panel are due to provide their recommendations for the Unitary Plan in July and it will then be up to the current council to accept or reject them. Given the level of discussion that has occurred in recent times and that by the time the council votes, councillors will be deep in electioneering mode I suspect we’ll see many of the most controversial aspects, such as height limits, rejected. Rejecting the IHPs recommendations will open up those aspects of the Unitary Plan to environment court appeals. If that happens the next council will need to decide how they deal with the appeals.

What are candidates views on the Unitary Plan?

 

Transport Funding – there are two elements to this.

Extending the transport levy

During the Long Term Plan discussion last year, the council presented two transport options, a build almost nothing plan or a build everything plan that required significant extra funding. The council also proposed two ways to raise the extra funding needed (fuel taxes or road pricing). As both options needed government support which was not forthcoming, the council in the end agreed to a transport levy of $99 for households and $159 for businesses. Over the three years of the transport levy it is enough to raise over $500 million to be spent on an Interim Transport Programme. Importantly councillors also required that the majority of the additional funding enabled by the transport levy was directed to public and active transport.

interim-programme

In 2018 the transport levy expires and council will once again need to make a decision about how to fund improvements to our transport system. I believe that extending the transport levy will be the easiest way to raise some or even all of any additional funding needed and if done in conjunction with continuing to prioritise good transport projects could lead to very good outcomes for the region.

What are candidates’ views on extending the transport levy and/or how will we pay for future projects?

Road Pricing

As Auckland continues to develop the level of discussion around road pricing is only set to increase. While to date the focus of the road pricing discussion has been on revenue gathering to pay for some of the mega-projects being planned, I think it will shift to being more about being used to manage demand over time. In fact, using it as a demand management tool is something being considered as part of a wider range of options in the ATAP process.

Will candidates be supportive of a proper road pricing discussion and would they support the introduction of proper road pricing?

 

Of course there are bound to be a number of other big decisions over the coming 3-year council term and at the end of the day it comes down to who you trust to vote in a way you agree with one these key issues?

Rodney Hide’s bizarre rail rant

Rail has been on a roll recently, electrification has vastly improved the quality of our trains, patronage has been soaring – sustaining over 20% per year on year growth and as of January was at 15.5 million trips. Added to that the first stage of the City Rail Link is now under way and of course most recently the government got on board with starting the main works in 2018. With so much positive news it can be easy to forget that there are still some fighting very hard (thankfully unsuccessfully) against these changes.

This was highlighted well by former ACT leader Rodney Hide the other day who pulled out some of the most clichéd, bizarre and contradictory arguments for reasons why we shouldn’t be building rail. If you didn’t know he seriously believed what he was saying you’d swear it was comedy. Listen to it yourself below but some of the comments include:

  • Trains are a 19th century technology that are “hopeless at moving people around in cities” and “not suitable, not designed for shifting people” – I look forward to Rodney’s campaign to re-educate so many cities all across the world. Even in the context of Auckland it is clearly not true given the rapid growth as soon as a half decent service was provided.
  • That “since the 70’s “they stopped work on completing the motorway network, so it’s never been completed and the idea there was to congest the roads so that people would be forced on to trains” – perhaps he would like to explain what the $4 billion that’s has been/is being spent the Western Ring Route is all about then.
  • That it’s all an evil scheme by planners to try and control people’s lives rather than letting people choose how they live and travel – because people can obviously choose to live next to train stations and catch trains that don’t exist.
  • He used to catch a train because it was a convenient way to get from Newmarket to the city yet he doesn’t think it makes sense to make it convenient for a greater number of people.
  • Why invest in PT anyway when driverless cars will save us all. Will also be great because will be “privately owned and privately run” – Of course that’s exactly what happened with PT in the early 90’s something we’re only just recovering from now.

Perhaps someone needs to show Rodney what’s been happening with rail patronage which will be close to 16 million a year by now.

2016-01 - Rail Patronage

Interestingly he didn’t make any of these criticisms just a month an a half ago when praising Len Brown and to a lesser extent John Key, for getting the project over the line. One of ironies of course is that without the amalgamation of the councils, for which he was responsible, it’s likely the CRL would never have been signed off.

Mayoral Candidates views on transport

The two current main contenders for the Auckland mayoralty are still yet to release any policy but they are starting to make more noise. At a business association meeting in East Tamaki yesterday they talked transport with both leaving a lot to be desired.

Phil Goff

He repeated his vision for light rail in parts of the city.

“The City Rail Link will double heavy rail capacity, but that only benefits the south and west, while other parts of Auckland don’t get that,” he says.

Goff says he wants to explore public-private partnerships and city bonds as a means to fund large infrastructure projects.

He says rates alone should not be relied on to fund projects, which would mean an opportunity for public-private partnerships and an element of “user pays”.

“There’s no money put aside [for light rail]…but the cost of not doing anything is more,” he says.

He says up to $3 billion in productivity is being lost in the city’s congestion.

On funding, Goff says city bonds would be an option to share the cost over generations.

He’d also ensure the council would be unified and prepared when presenting a plan to Government for support on projects.

The biggest issue with Goff’s statements are his claims about cost of congestion are rising faster than rail patronage, having doubled in the last month or so from the more frequently quoted $1-1.5 billion. But even that isn’t correct as highlighted by this research a few years ago which showed those upper limits of congestion are based on assuming roads should operate in complete free flow conditions 24/7 – which in reality would mean a massive overbuilding of capacity. Using a more relevant metric that focuses on network utilisation results in a cost of just $250 million.

We also know that congestion hasn’t actually got much worse in recent years. The recent ATAP foundation report showed that travel time delay has been fairly stable and has even declined in the AM peak.

ATAP - Travel Time Delay

Victoria Crone

Crone favoured an “aligned” approach to her transport plan – that includes investing in all transport modes across the entire region.

She would follow other international cities in investigating innovations like driverless vehicles.

During her speaking period, Crone questioned why the AMETI project isn’t more of a priority for completion.

She also questioned why more park and ride facilities aren’t in use across the city alongside buses, trains and ferries.

“Without park and rides you’re capping the number of people that will use that service,” she says.

However, Crone says the challenge would be on funding the projects.

She is intent on bringing Auckland Council spending under control, including promising to open the books to shed light on how it is spending money.

“The private partnerships [for transport projects] and the Government – the taxpayer – shouldn’t be putting money into a system that’s wasted,” she says.

Crone hit out at the CBD cycleways being constructed when other areas like Rodney are still waiting on sealed footpaths.

I agree with Crone that AMETI should be a higher priority. AT need to hurry up and get on with it but many of her other comments show a lack of understanding of transport issues and seem more aligned with common over the barbecue type generalisations or contradictions.

AMETI Buslane - Pakuranga Rd

AT need to get on with the AMETI busway

One is the assumption that a lot more park n ride is needed to get more people using PT. Research has shown that adding P&R will often see many existing users change how they get to a station so the actual parking capacity gained much less what is built. It’s also not cheap, even simple P&Rs like the new one at Swanson can cost as much as $18,000 per carpark and if they’re buildings or underground the cost goes up even more. Spending $100 million might add as few as 5,000 carparks and assuming they were all new users it would be equivalent of around 2.5 million trips per year which is around 3% of current patronage. Also if driverless cars do become common soon like she hopes then P&R probably won’t be needed at all.

But it’s the last comment that’s the strangest and shows a lack of understanding of even how transport is funded. Already thousands of people per day are using the new cycleways being built in the city and those are being funded by the council, NZTA and the government through its urban cycleway fund. The NZTA and UCF funding isn’t something that can be diverted to other projects – and if council didn’t put up their share it would go somewhere else. Even if the funding could be diverted likely the last place it would go would be to rural footpaths

 

At the end of the day it might not matter who the mayor is and what their personal transport vision is. The ATAP process currently under way and due to wrap up in August has been about creating alignment in transport between Auckland and the Government – at least at a broad level. This is likely to limit any

Should council investment follow where growth occurs?

A couple of days ago Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse raised a point that I’ve suggested from time to time for years, that the council’s investment should match the areas experiencing the most growth. It was part of an article in which she also decried the argument used by some in the recent Unitary Plan debate that suburbs close to the city should not have any change as they are “aspirational suburbs”, something she calls distasteful.

“Not only is more money being spent in these suburbs closer to the CBD, there’s also an expectation that there is not going to be much growth in them,” Hulse says.

“And as someone who lives out west – that really strikes me as being fundamentally not right.”

Zoning along the main transport corridors and close to town centres should be equal “whether it’s Remuera or Glendowie or Glen Eden”, she says.

Hulse says the concept of “aspirational suburbs” has been a recurring theme over the past few months.

Residents of inner-city suburbs have espoused the view that their suburbs “should pretty much stay as they are because they are leafy and beautiful and that people out west and down south should simply accept that their suburbs aren’t as worthy of preservation”.

….

“And there’s a certain amount of prejudice creeping into this discussion, which I find distasteful.

“Their preference is that the west is probably of less importance, and to save some of the ‘lovely suburbs’ in their area, the west should just suck it up and grow more.

“Now if the south and the west were also going to accept the bulk of the expensive infrastructure investment, like light rail which is being promoted in places like Dominion Rd and through the Eden-Albert area, then maybe this would be a more equable discussion.”

It’s an interesting point and as mentioned above, one I’ve suggested before. Population growth across Auckland needs to be supported by a range of physical/social infrastructure and more services. Whether that be better public transport and bike lanes, improvements to our streets, water supply, parks, community centres or a range or other things, the growing population needs to be supported. And in an environment where there is a great desire to reduce rates or keep rises to a minimum that means we have to get better at prioritising what we invest in.

So let’s look at a few examples, below are the zoning maps in the Unitary Plan as it was when notified. If you had $400 million to spend would you do so on a single road to create an additional connection to a peninsula where almost no growth is allowed to occur or would you spend it the area/s that aren’t scared of change and as such have been zoned to allow a lot more people to live in them. In case you need a reminder the darker yellow/orange areas are Terraced House and Apartment zones while the dark peachy colour is the mixed housing urban zone. By comparison the Whangaparaoa Peninsula is almost exclusively a single house zone. That means unless someone is holding vacant sections, the look of the peninsula isn’t going to change much any time soon.

PAUP maps - West vs Whangapararoa

If local politicians knew there wouldn’t be any investment in improvements – or at least much more limited investment I wonder how that would change perceptions on the housing debate?

Of course as usual it would never quite be that simple. I suspect that whatever sense of entitlement that exists around housing will also exist around council investment too and there would be a lot of complaints about paying rates and “not getting anything in return”

There are also other complicating factors, such as where investment is needed due to the impact somewhere else. Auckland Transport’s plans for light rail are a good example of this. They have suggested up to four routes on the isthmus though some of the most hostile anti-change areas in Auckland. As I understand it, one of the key reasons for looking at light rail is the limited space within which buses are already struggling. In that case the primary beneficiary might be someone who lives on/near one of the four isthmus routes who would have better transport options but it may mean that city dwellers and visitors also have big benefits from reduced bus and car volume, noise, pollution, congestion etc.

All up it’s an interesting idea and one that might have merit in some form but it also isn’t likely to be practical for all situations. What do you think, should the focus as much investment as possible on the areas that allow for growth?

The consultation problem: Who submits on the plan? [Repost]

In light of the recent debate over whether the Unitary Plan hearings process is sufficiently democratic, this is an appropriate time to revisit a post I wrote last year on the demographics of consultation feedback. Essentially, local governments don’t hear from all their citizens equally – submissions are weighted towards older, whiter, and probably wealthier people. This is a critical issue for local democracy. As the Productivity Commission wrote last year:

Some existing residents – especially homeowners – benefit from restrictions on the supply of new housing, as these help keep up house values. The Commission has identified a “democratic deficit”, where homeowners have a disproportionate influence in local council processes, including elections and consultation. This creates a “wedge” between local and national interests.

On with the post.

Auckland Council is currently [in March 2015] consulting with residents on its 2015-2025 Long Term Plan (LTP). This is an important document, as it sets out the Council’s budget over the next ten years. This is a period in which Auckland has to make some tough choices, including whether it should raise more money to pay for an expanded transport plan. (The City Rail Link, a key project for the city, is expected to start regardless, but it’s going to be harder to pay for other public transport infrastructure without additional money.)

If you haven’t yet submitted, I’d encourage you to do so via the Council’s online submission form. Or, if you want a more straightforward way to submit Generation Zero has released their submission guide following up their alternative LTP. You can read their plan at fixourcity.co.nz. [Note: submissions closed a year ago; don’t bother!]

The other week, Matt put up a post summarising the data on who had submitted on the LTP as of 19 February. (More data was published on 1 March.) He highlighted a few interesting aspects of the feedback, including what submitters were highlighting as priorities for spending. There is a big desire for more spending on public transport and cycling, which is great to see.

The most striking data was on the demographics of the submitters. Simply put: Council isn’t getting feedback from a representative set of Aucklanders. Some groups are systematically underrepresented, while others are massively overrepresented.

To illustrate this point, I compared the demographics of LTP submitters with Auckland’s actual demographics from the 2013 Census. Here’s the summary table:

LTP submitter demographics vs Auckland demographics

As you can see, there are some groups that show up in large numbers to have their say:

  • Men – 49% of Auckland’s population, but 62% of LTP submitters to date
  • NZ Europeans – overrepresented in LTP submissions by 50%
  • People aged 55 or older – overrepresented by 80% or more in LTP submissions

Other groups are underrepresented by comparable margins:

  • Maori, Pasifika and Asian people – underrepresented by 62%, 81%, and 73%, respectively
  • People aged under 25 – underrepresented by 70% or more.

In other words, Auckland is a young, multicultural city where young people and non-European people don’t have much of a say in Council feedback.

Here’s another view of the data on the age of submitters versus the age of Aucklanders as a whole. The age profile of LTP submitters is almost the inverse of the age profile for the whole population!

LTP submitters and Auckland age structure chart

This poses some serious challenges for Auckland Council (and other local governments, probably). Councils rely heavily upon submission and consultation processes to help inform their decisions about what to build and how to write urban planning rules. It’s not the sole input to decisions – which sometimes causes some people to kvetch that Auckland Council’s not listening to them – but it is an important one.

If the demographics of submitters are biased, we can’t necessarily rely upon consultation feedback as a guide to what the public wants. If half of Auckland is under the age of 35, and almost half are Maori, Pasifika and Asian, while most submitters are middle aged to retired and disproportionately white, should we trust the data? And what could we do instead to gather more representative data?

Fortunately, Auckland Council does seem to be using a few alternative approaches to getting feedback on the LTP. This includes an independent phone survey of 4,200 Aucklanders selected to be demographically representative. Depending upon how they ask the questions, this may be a more valuable source of insight into actual Aucklanders’ preferences than the standard consultation forms.

The Council is also running a series of meetings, recognising that some people prefer to talk about the issues rather than fill in an online form. In a comment on Matt’s post, Ben Ross reported back on the discussion at an LTP meeting in the Otara-Papatoetoe local board:

the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board Have Your Say Sessions in which the Pacific (and Maori) people were VERY vocal in making their thoughts known.

I was the sole white person there at the Otara-Papatoetoe LB session last night (didnt bother me one bit) and their views were consistent:
Low UAGC
Better east west transport links especially from Otara to Wiri and the Airport
Upgrade of Otara Town Centre
And socio-economics was a big concern as well

It is definitely good that Auckland Council’s using a few different mechanisms to get feedback on the LTP – provided that it’s all weighted up and reported together. But even if it puts the effort into getting a meaningfully representative set of views on the LTP, it probably isn’t doing the same thing in the multifarious consultations it does on smaller issues.

I don’t have a good solution to this – although I have a few ideas. What are your thoughts?

Leadership needed in Unitary Plan Decision Today

So once again we reach that point in the roller-coaster ride that has been the Unitary Plan were we have no idea what will happen. Councillors will vote today on whether to withdraw the council’s submission on zoning and remove their ability to be involved in the hearings process over it – it’s frankly absurd we’re even in this position. Without going over everything again, I thought I would highlight a few good comments and articles recently about what’s happening.

Yesterday Simon Wilson from Metro Magazine wrote an open letter to councillors calling on them to show leadership. He notes that while the process has been messy, backing away now would undermine all of the work over many years.

We get it. It’s pretty tough, being a city councillor right now – at least, if you’re a councillor who has supported the Auckland Plan (AP) and its vision for a liveable city, and you’re standing for re-election. But you have to do better than we’ve seen from you – all of you – in the last three months.

….

However, as you go about fixing this, please, please, do not indulge in rhetoric – or take any material steps – to undermine the whole Unitary Plan. Remember, despite the noise of protest right now, we already know that most Aucklanders want the city to grow up as well as out, especially in town centres and along transport corridors.

There were a number of Op-eds over at the herald

This one by Jason Krupp from the NZ Institute talked about the impact of preventing young people from being involved in the housing market.

Research by the Grattan Institute clearly shows that locking young people out of the housing market saps productive capacity.

That is because it restricts their access to the inner city services nexus, which is vital to increasing human capital.

And he also raises the issue of the impact of density constraints on house prices.

Research shows lifting density constraints tends to decrease capital value but increase land value and residents are better off on a net basis.

Another study examined the housing market in the San Francisco metropolitan area in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was characterised by artificially restricted supply and high house prices. As a result, demand for housing was weak and home ownership rates low – a situation strikingly similar to Auckland today.

When the US economy contracted in 1990 the most restrictive property markets were hit hardest. In California, San Francisco and Marin County saw prices fall by 3 per cent and 5.3 per cent in a year, while less supply-constrained areas further north saw only a 0.4 per cent dip.

Phil Eaton from the Property Council and who held no punches in a press release on the matter last week has continued in the same vein in this piece. Phil might represent commercial developments but it’s quite refreshing to see parts of our business community so unequivocal on issues like sprawl and the high costs it imposes.

We now have many decades of indecision and lack of master planning to make up for.

This unfortunate period has given us suburbs without appropriate infrastructure, the wrong housing typologies for what most people need (mostly too big), a shortfall of close to 50,000 dwellings and insane house price escalation.

We are only just getting the planning in place for a connected public transport system. We must start now, not next year or the year after. No more backward steps. There seems to be a lack of acknowledgment that in the next 15 years we need to fit a city the size of Wellington into Auckland.

Visualise a map of Auckland, then increase its geographical coverage by a third and you will see the sort of trouble we will be in if we do not create options for smart, intensive housing.

Imagine the motorways that will be required to get people from home to work because of sprawl. Efficient housing and public transport will not be feasible with massive urban sprawl. We will all pay for that inefficiency.

….

The councillors who have come out against density proposals are aiding the Nimby mentality of baby-boomers who will leave behind an intergenerational legacy of social injustice and inequality.

There will never be Auckland suburbs covered in ghetto apartments. Fewer than 6 per cent of suburbs will have apartments with more than three storeys.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse was a bit more subdued in saying:

And we already know current plans cannot supply the 400,000 extra houses needed to accommodate one million more people over 30 years. Issues about natural justice and property rights have been raised but I am equally concerned about social justice and the rights of tens of thousands of people who don’t own property.

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub coined the term “Generation Rent” and the Property Council of New Zealand, community housing providers and this publication have all called for solutions that increase housing supply, choice and affordability. It’s an issue too important to play politics; this must be a cross-party and an all-of-Auckland approach.

She also noted that the government are calling for much more intensification than the council is.

The Ministry for the Environment’s submission, endorsed by the Cabinet, calls for zoning of higher densities in areas that are market-attractive – areas, frankly, where zoning is most controversial.

This is interesting when you consider what the outcomes could be should the councillors vote to withdraw the evidence. She made this comment on twitter last night.

The government through the the likes of the Minister for the Envrionment, Housing New Zealand and other ministries have called for significantly more intensification to be allowed in the Unitary Plan and in the areas where there is currently the most opposition. The council withdrawing their evidence and position leaves the hearings panel much more open to views of other submitters. That likely gives more weight to the likes of the government submissions. There would be quite some irony – and perhaps not such a bad outcome – if by withdrawing their evidence the councillors opposing the plan ended up enabling even greater intensification than they’re opposing now. As Penny says, this would be a bit of an own goal. It also goes to the heart of this debate, do the councillors want the council being involved in the process or having the process happen to them.

There’s another even scarier scenario. Given the importance addressing housing supply in Auckland is to the national economy, if councillors start to block the Unitary Plan could the government start to think about replacing the council with commissioners as they’ve done to Environment Canterbury? I suspect it would be too politically fraught but it wouldn’t surprise me if the thought was starting to cross their mind.

Puketāpapa Local Board Chair Julie Fairey put together this good and simple illustration of one area in her area showing what is allowed currently under the existing Operative Distract Plan, under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan and under the changes in the December submission. As you can see in many cases the zoning is still lower than what is currently allowed.

Julie Fairey - UP Changes

I wonder what the outcome would have been if the council had been more clear and the Herald more responsible in its reporting about how what was proposed compared to what actually existed. Instead the Herald has been more interested in manufacturing controversy by showing pictures of apartment towers next to single houses when talking about changes that allow for more two and three storey dwellings.

On the other side of the debate the was this absurd piece from ACT MP David Seymour containing many of the fallacies we’ve come to see from those pushing for unfettered sprawl. Included in there is Demographias use of average density to portray Auckland as denser than New York

Auckland is already denser than New York, and most American and Australian cities.  The 1.6 million people in Manhattan may live cheek-by-jowl, but not the other 20 million inhabiting the wider urban area.

This was addressed to a degree by Thomas Lumley at Statschat and another good post on the issue is from Nick here a few years ago. In short it is explained by this image. Each dot represents a set number of dwellings and each box has the same number of dots in it. That means that overall they have the same level of density but they would both feel like very different cities to live in.

patterns-of-density

In the end it seems Seymour didn’t like living in an apartment so no one else should. It’s always funny when politicians claim to be about letting people make their own decisions and letting the market decide then then turn around and advocate for restricting options and dictating what can be done.

 

I hope sanity prevails today and the councillors don’t put the future of Auckland at risk. I guess only time will tell now.

Unitary Plan rezoning: fact-checking vs fears

Over the last week the Unitary Plan has blown up again as a political issue. As I wrote on Tuesday, some groups – most notably anti-housing supply lobby group Auckland 2040 and some councillors – have criticised the Council over its submission to the impending “rezoning hearings” on the Unitary Plan.

Council’s proposal is hardly radical with 78% of Auckland still limited to no more than two storeys and a further 17% limited to 3 storeys but it has enraged some people who see it as undemocratic.

PAUP zoning changes - Dec 15 2

The problem, opponents say, is that people don’t have an opportunity to submit on the rezoning:

Members of the Auckland 2040 community group accused the council of being “devious” and “hijacking the democratic process”, which several residents and ratepayers groups said would change the character of their suburbs.

Now, it’s certainly true that people who didn’t originally submit on the Unitary Plan won’t be able to make further submissions to the hearings process. However, most of the criticisms made by opponents of rezoning fall short of the mark.

In order to understand why, let’s take a look at the process to date.

What is the hearings process?

Many of the people criticising Council over its rezoning proposal seem to think that its rezoning proposal will automatically result in three-storey high-rise apartments near them. That’s not the case.

To understand why, it’s first important to understand the process that the Unitary Plan has followed/will take:

  • First, Council developed a draft Unitary Plan and asked for feedback from Aucklanders.
  • On the basis of this feedback, they downzoned a lot of the city and then “notified” the Unitary Plan, opening it up to formal submissions.
  • After notification, an Independent Hearings Panel was appointed by Council and Government to review the plan and hear submitters using a slightly streamlined process created by the government. That’s still ongoing and it’s the panels job to weigh up  the submissions and evidence.
  • The Panel will complete its review in July and send a recommended, final version of the Plan back to Council.
  • Council will then have 20 days to take a vote on whether to adopt the Panel’s version or not. The parts they accept will come into effect, if they don’t agree on some areas then those will be subject to the normal environment court process, in other words regulatory uncertainty will continue

If you want to know more about the Independent Hearings Panel, you can go take a look at their website.

What is Auckland Council’s role in the hearings?

When the Unitary Plan is adopted, Auckland Council will be responsible for administering it, and reviewing and changing it from time to time.

But up until that point, Council is in the same position as all other submitters on the plan: It can submit evidence and proposed rules and zoning maps to the hearings panel, and have those weighed up against proposals put forward by other submitters.

As I’ve pointed out before the panel could reject the council’s evidence and zoning changes outright. Alternatively they could decide they don’t go far enough and beef the zoning up further.

 

That’s an important point that is being lost in the discussion – the Panel, not Council, is responsible for weighing up the evidence and making decisions.

How far can the hearings panel go?

The Panel haven’t issued any final decisions yet – they seem to be holding off until they’ve heard all the evidence. But they have issued some “interim guidance” intended to give submitters an idea of what they expect from the Unitary Plan.

For example, their interim guidance on volcanic viewshafts, which Stu took a look at last year, basically told the Council to go back and do more analysis to show that viewshafts were actually a good idea. Similarly, the Panel’s interim guidance on rezoning indicates that they are expecting to make some changes to enable more housing supply and reduce the burden of restrictive zoning:

IHP best practice approaches to rezoning

The Panel have quite broad latitude to recommend changes to the Unitary Plan. The Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010, which set up the Panel, states the following:

Scope of recommendations

(4) The Hearings Panel must make recommendations on any provision included in the proposed plan under clause 4(5) or (6) of Schedule 1 of the RMA (which relates to designations and heritage orders), as applied by section 123.

(5) However, the Hearings Panel—

(a) is not limited to making recommendations only within the scope of the submissions made on the proposed plan; and

(b) may make recommendations on any other matters relating to the proposed plan identified by the Panel or any other person during the Hearing.

In other words, if they decided that it would be best to rezone all of Auckland for midrise apartment blocks, they could recommend that. They probably won’t, but they could.

What is “out of scope” for the hearings?

One of the key piliars of criticism that has emerged has come from the council proposing “out of scope” changes to zoning that weren’t requested by submitters. The council called changes they made where there hadn’t been specific piece of evidence about an exact property “out of scope”. However, it’s not clear that the changes actually are “out of scope” as several submitters have requested broad rezoning to improve housing choice and affordability.

A full list of submission points is available here. Two helpful commenters – Matthew W and Frank McRae – pointed us towards some specific submissions that asked for rezoning, e.g.:

5478-57 Generation Zero Not Supplied RPS Urban growth B2.1 Providing for growth in a quality compact urban form Upzone across the urban area where this supports the Regional Policy Statement aims of intensifying near centres and in areas accessible to high quality public transport.

The non-profit community housing provider CORT has submitted asking for significantly more upzoning to enable more affordable housing (submission point 4381).

Specifically they have asked for:

– a significant reduction to the extent of the single house zone.
– increase the extent of the mixed housing urban zone to 70% of residential areas
– increase the extent of the THAB zone to 10% of residential areas

The new zealand property council has also submitted requesting greater density generally.

Also, in January Housing New Zealand put in a legal submission pointing out that the Government’s submissions did ask for quite a bit of rezoning:

HNZ rezoning legal submission

In other words, it’s not clear that anything that Council proposed is actually “out of scope”. In fact, arbitrarily refusing to consider rezoning in some areas would be unfair to submitters like Generation Zero, CORT, and the Government who are requesting broad rezoning. They have a democratic right to be heard.

For the record here is the submission from the Minister for the Environment referenced above. In it she is very critical of the down-zoning that occurred following the draft plan.

Amy Adams - UP

Where to from here?

To summarise:

  • The Unitary Plan is under review by an Independent Hearings Panel, who will issue their recommendations in July.
  • The fact that Auckland Council has put in a submission that suggests rezoning some areas does not mean that it is going to happen – the Panel will decide.
  • The Panel has the ability to recommend quite broad changes to the Plan, including changes that were not specifically requested by submitters.
  • In any case, some submitters have asked for broad rezoning throughout the city – meaning that Auckland 2040’s claim that the Council’s proposal is “out of scope” is not true.

In this context, it’s best if people – Councillors included – stop panicking about the possibility of rezoning. It’s simply not appropriate to try to hijack an independent hearings process midway through. Doing so would run roughshod over the rights of the people who did submit on time and in good faith that their views would be heard.

Mayor Len Brown has called for an extraordinary meeting next Wednesday for the council to decide on their position. We will obviously be watching this with great interest.

The Unitary Plan Roller-Coaster

Since first talked about back in 2013, the Unitary Plan has been like a roller-coaster ride. There’s been the hope and anticipation for a better future for Auckland as the cart climbs a steep hill followed by that brief micro second of confusion before you realise you’re falling as groups opposing housing pipped up and were egged on further by one sided reporting from the Herald. Then came the twists and turns of the debate before that feeling of weightlessness as you go through a loop waiting for the councillors to make a decision. After catching your breath for a second there was then the smaller and less intense second stage as the process was repeated. Then just as you thought the ride might be coming to an end it throws a few last unexpected twists and turns at you. And that’s where are now, right in the middle of latest saga the Unitary Plan has seen.

The current issue stems back to December when the council released its evidence and updated residential zonings as part of the hearing process. I wrote at the time.

As part of the hearings process the council are allowed to make a final submission in response to the issues raised by the public. They say they are currently confirming their position on a range of topics and one of those is zoning. Taking into account a range of factors, the council is suggesting some changes to the zones in the plan that determine what can be built where. It’s these changes which have had the Herald and a number of councillors worked up. The factors include

  • the submissions and evidence
  • the interim guidance on some topics from the hearings panel – such as on viewshafts and heritage controls
  • further analysis of the zones i.e. fixing inconsistencies
  • amended infrastructure plans such as the addition of light rail on the isthmus

This doesn’t mean that the Unitary plan is being changed just that the council are saying that based on the evidence and updated information they think some changes should be made. The independent panel hearing the Unitary Plan could rejected them outright or go completely the other way and say they don’t go far enough then recommend significant increases.

Overall the changes weren’t all that much. Those that did move generally only changed by a small amount and combined 78% of all residential areas were still limited to two storeys while a further 17% was limited to three storeys.

PAUP zoning changes - Dec 15 2

The Herald through Bernard Orsman along with groups opposing housing have even gone the absurd level of calling three storeys ‘high-rise’. One of the funny things of it all is that in suburbs where most of the opposition originates the size and scale of buildings that the opposition groups oppose are quite prevalent, just as single houses which they seem quite happy with.

Six Sisters John St

According to those opposing the Unitary Plan, these are high-rise and shouldn’t be allowed.

What’s changed recently is following a meeting in Kohimarama – and I suspect a lot of lobbying of councillors over the summer break – supposedly a majority of councillors want to withdraw the councils evidence.

Auckland Council’s proposal to rezone thousands of homes for more intensive housing and apartments has lost the support of a majority of councillors, with councillor Sir John Walker today speaking out against the changes.

“If the mayor wants my vote we are going to have to come to a compromise,” said Sir John, who did not spell out what that solution would be.

“I’m on the residents’ side. I don’t want to see high rise buildings towering over Auckland.

“I don’t trust the town planners. They present one thing and change their mind and do another,” said the Olympic gold medallist.

Sir John said he supported calls to withdraw the changes, which see large swathes of suburban Auckland rezoned for multi-storey buildings, terraced housing and apartments in the council’s latest submission to the Unitary Plan.

Under the “out of scope” changes to zoning, meaning no residents asked for them in the proposed Unitary Plan, there is no formal right of reply for affected property owners.

Sir John’s position means 11 of the 21 councillors want the council to withdraw the out of scope changes from the Unitary Plan process.

The other 10 are Cameron Brewer, Cathy Casey, Chris Fletcher, Denise Krum, Mike Lee, Dick Quax, Sharon Stewart, Wayne Walker, John Watson and George Wood.

It seems that there’s also a degree of personal preference clouding decision making with Sir John also saying

Eight years ago he sold up and moved to a lifestyle block in Bombay “where you can’t build a single house”.

Sir John said the city should stick with low rise housing.

Why ruin the city with three-storey apartments? They might not be very high but I wouldn’t want to live next door to one

Now the majority claimed by Orsman is just on paper and the council haven’t actually formally voted to withdraw their evidence. We’ve also seen Orsman claim a lot of times in the past that the Unitary Plan was in the balance only to be easily passed by the council when they actually voted. To withdraw their own evidence would be incredibly stupid in my view as it would remove them from debate leaving it just up to what others had submitted and there were a lot of submissions calling for much more development to be allowed.

There were some very good responses to all of this yesterday which are worth covering.

Todd Niall at Radio NZ wrote this excellent piece pointing out that the Unitary Plan is a blueprint for the next 30 years and that the council need to take account all of those who will be living here in 30 years, not just those making the most noise now.

The debate and political anxiety comes as the deliberations near the end – the 30-year development blueprint for Auckland, the Unitary Plan, is due to be finalised by September.

It will eventually reshape much of Auckland’s residential landscape, with more of it looking increasingly city-like and less suburban – more multi-level and less like any other New Zealand city.

The heightened discussion poses a challenge for Auckland councillors. Should they heed the cries of the loudest of their constituents, or the ambitions of the quietest?

In short, who should have the dominant voice in shaping the future Auckland ?

The Herald got in on the act in its editorial.

It is too easy to panic politicians in election year, particularly in local body elections where the turnouts are usually low. It is easy to fill a public hall on local issues that are close to people’s homes and may affect their property values, and it is easy for individual politicians to be persuaded that a packed hall represents a popular uprising.

….

Plenty of us live next door to a double storey house without concern. But one more storey has the citizens in revolt, or so too many council members fear.

Let’s acknowledge the courage of those who are willing to defend the revised Unitary Plan and see it through. It may be easy enough for the mayor who is not seeking re-election, but not easy for Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse or council members Arthur Anae, Bill Cashmore, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Alf Filipaina and Calum Penrose. They have kept their nerve and put the city’s housing needs before their electoral safety.

If only they’d taken this stance all along we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we are right now. Alas I suspect we’ll back to business as usual with scaremonger articles soon.

The Property Council which is a lobby group for developers held no punches in it’s press release over the issue. Good on them.

Property Council is appalled with Auckland councillors who have withdrawn their support to rezone Auckland suburbs with the capacity for more housing and apartments.

Auckland Branch President Phil Eaton says soaring house prices are creating systemic social injustice, inequity and major economic risk.

“Let’s be absolutely clear about this. The councillors who have withdrawn their support to rezone and upzone suburbs to allow for more houses have done so at the expense of Aucklanders, because they want to come back after the local elections.

“Now, Baby Boomers have essentially locked an entire generation out of their own homes. Young people and families will never be able to work and live in Auckland, and ‘Generation Rent’ is the
legacy these councillors will leave behind.

…..

“Local politicians must ditch their “Not in My Election Year” mentality and do what is right by all Aucklanders, not just some.”

Scaremongering by local politicians has residents believing their suburbs will be covered in high-rise apartments, when realistically less than 6% of suburbs will have apartments with more than three storeys: up just 1% from the previous version of the PAUP.

So where does that leave us. Councillor George Wood posted this the other day showing a briefing on Thursday.

UP Councillor Briefing Feb 16

We’ll be waiting to see what happens following Thursday. This is one roller-coaster I’d be happy not to ride again.

Auckland 2025- the Last Decade in Review- Part 2

It’s the last day of 2025 so it is a good time to run through the events of the last ten years in Auckland. A decade of profound transformation for New Zealand’s largest city. A coming of age.

This is Part 2 of a 2 Part scenario. Part 1 here.

Global megatrends mean local megachange, and Auckland is fortunate to have been well placed and nimble enough to largely come out on the positive side of these forces. We have seen the global trends of the first decade and a half of the 21C accelerate over the last decade, particularly:

  • Migration: Internationally another great age of people movement is clearly underway.
  • Urbanisation: Both the developing world and the OECD nations have continued to urbanise and cities have become the economic force of our age.
  • De-Carbonisation: The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions everywhere and in every way has been an increasing issue.

Aotea Station - Victoria Entrance

Transport- the city shaper

CRL, LRT, Road Pricing, Carbon Tax, AMETI, Harbour Crossing battles, electric buses and ferries, the de-carring of the city, the Bike Boom. Transport, along with the housing reset, really has been the story of last decade

The momentum gained from the Alignment Process between the Council and the Government at the beginning of this decade helped lead to the doubling of PT trips to around now 160m per annum. This is around about 80 trips per capita, which is still at the low end internationally, so there is clearly still plenty of growth to come.

The big news was of course the long awaited opening of the CRL. The rail network was straining at the leash, the delivery of additional trains helped of course, but the critical limit at Britomart made for overcrowding issues and unmet latent demand, pax was struggling up against the 30m mark, and that was really only made possible by strenuous measures to shift movement to off peak trips by improving frequencies and span, and discounting fares. Ridership is now again growing at a meteoric rate, as expected, jumping 25% over the last two years to well over 40 million annual trips. It’s been like a dam bursting. Night trains, trams, and buses are proving popular too.

But perhaps even more important has been the uplift to communities connected to the rail system, especially along the Western Line. Places as diverse as Morningside, Avondale, and Glen Eden are buzzing with new building, business and activity as a result of the new accessibility and the freer rules around parking and density. And more than this it already clear that the greatest change brought about by the CRL has been a reinvention of the very idea of Auckland into a sophisticated multifaceted Metro-City of diverse but connected communities that is truly fresh and transformational. Of course this has not gone unnoticed around the world with Auckland now firmly on the must-include list of those breathless taste-setting magazine and blog sites that busy them selves with such issues. Auckland really is competing with much bigger and better placed cities now that the quality of its built environment is catching up with that of its natural one, and the great diverse quality of our society. No-one misses the old car-drenched City Centre; young people can barely believe what it used to be like. The continued tourism boom is a very real testament to this, especially the data showing constantly rising length of visitors’ stay in the city before out to see the beautiful rest of the country.

The recent completion of LRT-1: Dominion Rd right through the now gloriously car-free Queen St is also profoundly popular, like the CRL now it is open and booming, complaints around construction disruption and from the small number of drive-everywhere diehards has withered away and, like with the CRL, now it’s hard to find anyone who claims to have been against it; success has a million mothers. No wonder the plan to extend this system across the harbour and to the Shore has proved unstoppable and after an intense debate between tunnel or bridge, is now in the detailed design stage. The extreme cost, limited utility, and appalling environmental effects of the old road crossing plans having been shelved for now. Of course they may be revived but that is only likely once the whole of the fleet has been converted to EVs, a change that is underway, but that is taking longer than many hoped Even though the recent Carbon Tax is of course speeding that transition up.

Queen St LRT_800

Now that Light Rail from downtown to Albany [and Takapuna] is about to be underway the debate about the RTN to the Airport is getting more intense. The prospect of a LR line spanning Airport to Albany is of course proving popular north of the harbour, balanced by those that see the clear utility of connecting the power of CRL and the rest of the booming rail network through Mangere to this important anchor. Especially as the popularity of the first LRT line means the current vehicles are already often full without this longer extension. Resolving this is urgent however as everyone including government agrees connecting the country’s gateway with an RTN is urgent, and is agreed it will be the next major infrastructure work after the Light Rail Harbour Crossing in Auckland. The urban motorway building age is now firmly behind us.

And now that NZTA has taken over ownership of the nation’s rail lines making this one agency now truly responsible for all land transport and not just roads, a funding mechanism without arbitrary mode constraints has been created. The change to GPS-based time variable road charging and the transformation of the old Fuel Excise to a Carbon Tax has secured income to the National land Transport Fund. While also improving the price signals to all users of our transport systems, resulting in a sizeable increase in efficiency, especially the noticeable drop-off in peak time driving demand. I guess there really were a whole lot of journeys clogging our roads last decade that could easily be taken on another mode, or another time, or even not at all!

The transformation of the busy bus fleet to electric vehicles is gaining pace, and all the more urgent as the completion of the AMETI busway and the upgrade of the North-Western bus shoulders to busway status from Pt Chevalier west has driven the continued growth of bus numbers. Not building a dedicated Busway as part of the massive Western Ring Route works has now achieved ‘what were they thinking‘ status as people can’t believe the politicians,  planners, and engineers were so stupid not to have built it when they had an easy opportunity to do so. It is now being worked on urgently to provide quality transit options to the rapidly growing areas of the North West. The only current issue now is when the busiest routes can be added to the Light Rail network, or converted to E-buses.

Skypath Consent - Observation Deck

As in so many cities across the world the bike boom has of course been both sustained and welcome, squabbles over street space notwithstanding. Cycling and walking now make up more than 20% mode-share in morning peak to the City Centre, greatly straining cycleways and footpaths. Happily now shared paths are a thing of the past and both Active modes are being supported with their own routes. E-bikes are everywhere now, and there’s even a kiwi designed brand on the market. And of course the SkyPath is insanely popular and world-famous, like the Highline many cities globally are looking to copy this approach and attach similar additions to existing bridges. The duplication on the west side is now underway as well, the only debate being whether to separate pedestrians and cyclists as they do in Sydney, or to keep both as mixed-use but one-way. Property prices in Northcote are now matching St Marys Bay, as this new access especially to the hospitality centre of Wynyard Quarter proves just so valuable.

The Urban Cycleway Fund started by the Government in 2014 proved immensely successful and popular leading to successive governments extending and expanding on it. The completion of the trunk and city centre routes proved vital in building ridership and support for quality bike infrastructure to be expanded across the wider city and out through suburbs. The big issue is now many of our existing core routes are struggling with the demand and transport agencies are busy working to widen or duplicate them.

The ride-share business is of course booming, with the carshare free parking spaces and regulations to include them in all new developments with parking proving an important incentive. Uber, Lyft, and the expanding rental market is growing the proportion car journeys in non-privately owned vehicles. Car and licence ownership per capita continues to slide. Driverless technology has advanced impressively but the prospect of fully autonomous vehicles having run of our streets is proving to be endlessly stuck in legal tangles. The transition to Electric Vehicles is also taking longer to occur than many hoped, as the old fleet shows surprising persistence. Interestingly it is the fleet operators that are driving most of the demand in this area, especially truck and bus operators. The trial of freight lanes on the motorways also looks likely to be the most cost effective way to both increase safety and efficiency in the important freight and delivery sector, and prepare for higher degrees of automation of these machines.

The expanded ferry services across the harbour are also proving popular, especially with the new wharf at Wynyard Pt, as is the new private water-taxi business, giving anyone near a jetty or wharf a lift uber-like, just a tap of the App away.

WIRI DEPOT JULY 15_6623

Conclusion: Auckland 2025

The trials of growth and of becoming such a clearly desirable place to live continue to be the biggest problems for Auckland, issues of inclusivity, of access to the city for all in the broadest social sense are the major problems that balance an otherwise healthily diverse and largely socially mobile community, offering a considerably increased range of options for living, working, and playing in this changing century. It is riding the global shift to the urban services based economy, and proving adept at adapting to the technological and social pressures of our age. Auckland is becoming one of the most dynamic, successful, and beautiful small cities of the world. Auckland offers great access to the now more protected countryside, is still of course is made up of relatively low rise suburbia formed last century, now augmented better connected and more intense local centres, and the buzz of the vertical and newly peopled and vibrant Centre City. As has happen periodically in its short history, Auckland has taken another sudden jump and changed character, and in this case very much for the better: The sleepy seaside city has awaken, to take its singular place on the edge of the Pacific century.

NB: This ‘History of the Next Ten Years’ is a scenario, not a prediction, a possible future, perhaps even a probable one, but that depends on decisions and made now and in the near future…discuss…

‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’

 

Transport discussions in Parliament this week

This week in Parliament the government have been using patsy questions to talk up their recent transport announcements about the City Rail Link and East-West Link. Both are entertaining in their own ways.

On Wednesday there was almost a bit surreal when Transport Minister Simon Bridges got asked a series of patsy questions by Botany MP and former councillor Jami-Lee-Ross about the CRL. This extended to a couple of questions from other members in the house. What I found most interesting is watching Bridges now defend the decision to allow construction to start in 2018 after he and his predecessors spent so many years defending why they wouldn’t make that a decision.

While we’re far from fans of the project, Bridges quip to Peters about Puhoi to Wellsford was at least funny.

On Thursday Jami-Lee Ross started another patsy to the minister, this time about the East-West Link. It was all a pretty staid affair until Green MP Julie Anne Genter jumped in highlighting that some of the other options for the project were cheaper and had better economic outcomes – something we highlighted here. I think she saved the best line till last.