What Is Happening With Airport Rail?

As the Herald reported yesterday, it looks as if Auckland Transport have really dropped the ball in getting a designation in place for rail to Mangere and Auckland Airport – what should be called the “South Western Line”. It is worth emphasizing that the main point of any rapid transit project in the south west is not so much to provide air travellers with a rail link, but to provide the more than 20,000 workers at the airport with a decent alternative, and also benefit the residents of Mangere and South Auckland who probably have the worst public transportation services in the entire region.

Some years back, a cross-stakeholder South-Western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) study was commissioned to look at the rapid transit options. It was supposed to be making progress towards a designation, and for some time we have been wondering how the study was progressing.

This week, through a LGOIMA request, we finally got our hands on a copy of what has turned out to be an interim, and final report. Unfortunately, Auckland Transport instructed consultants GHD to cut the three phase study short in September of last year.

Phase Three of the study was supposed to “focus on developing documentation to support route protection. This would have entailed developing a draft Notice of Requirement and/or easement documentation for future-proofing of the preferred route. Within the airport designation, it was anticipated that an easement would be agreed and included in the current Auckland Airport Masterplan.”

However, the study was cut short with the following reasons given:

SMART Scheme Assessment Report

There is no explanation as to why the plans listed have a higher priority than designating rail to the airport. Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have to be the party responsible for driving the rapid transit designation process through, but instead they’ve more or less said “Ugh – too hard!” and sat on their hands.

Fast forward a year later, and things have now come to a head as the NZTA are wanting to push through the Kirkbride Road grade separation project, which will turn SH20A and SH20 into a continuous motorway. There is currently no provision for a rail corridor in any of the draft plans, and it is my understanding that the NZTA are waiting on a clear direction from Auckland Transport on where the rapid transit corridor will run.

The interim SMART report supported an earlier study from 2011 which concluded that a rail loop through South Auckland remains the technically preferred strategic option (I’ll have the detail on a later post) yet no progress has been made in designating the rail corridor.

Most worryingly of all, it looks as if Auckland Transport is now re-litigating the decision for heavy rail and is considering light rail instead for the corridor between Onehunga and the Airport. There are currently no public details on any of the following factors:

  • How much would the light rail rolling stock cost, what would the capacity be and where would the rolling stock be housed?
  • How much slower would light rail be, compared to a heavy rail solution?
  • How much cheaper could a light rail route be, bearing in mind that Sydney’s light rail is now likely to cost $2.2bn – about the same per kilometre as heavy rail between Onehunga and the airport?

So many questions. So few answers.

Aussie apartment boom: the national picture

It’s not something you hear much about in New Zealand, but Australia is currently in the middle of a major apartment boom. The number of dwelling approvals – what we would call building consents here – for attached dwellings is at an all-time high.* 86,000 attached dwellings were approved in the last year – compared with 5,800 in New Zealand.

Aussie dwelling approvals

One of the things I find interesting about this graph is that Australian construction, for all its ups and downs, has actually been fairly stable over time. There’s the odd slowdown, but generally this is a country that has churned out around 160,000 new homes a year for the last 30 years.

Anyway, that’s an aside; on to New Zealand. Here are the equivalent figures for Aotearoa:

NZ building consents

It’s not just the number of apartments being built in Australia which is booming; it’s also the proportion of new dwellings that they make up. This is also close to an all-time high, at almost 45% across Australia. That compares to 24% for New Zealand. The graph below shows the percentage of new dwellings which are attached, for both countries:

attached proportions Oz NZ

In Australia, attached dwellings usually made up 20-something percent of all approvals through the 1980s, and 30% to 35% through the 2000s. It’s only in the last few years that the percentage has climbed above 40%.

For New Zealand, the data doesn’t go back as far – and I’m a bit sceptical about its coverage in the early ’90s as well – but in the last twenty years we’ve usually fluctuated between 20% and 30%, dropping a bit lower than that in the post-GFC period.

In the next post, I’ll look at the data for individual cities.

* Technically, the Australian approvals are for “dwellings excluding houses”. That covers apartments, terraces and so on. This is generally similar to the definition used by Statistics New Zealand here, where they use the term “apartments” to refer to “consents that have 10 or more new attached dwellings”. I’ve used customised data from Statistics NZ so as to include all the attached dwellings in the 0-9 dwellings range as well.

This analysis was initially put together for a company newsletter here.

Stuart’s 100 #44: Express Lunches

44: Express Lunches

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What if Auckland had better express lunch options?

One thing that has always surprised me is the paucity of good and fast lunch options in the city centre. Trying to get a good, freshly prepared food, and pronto with it, seems a remarkably rare commodity given there are 90,000 odd workers in the city centre. It can often seem easier to grab a great sandwich or salad out in the suburbs. Why is that?