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Electric Trains from Manukau from tomorrow

Electric trains start rolling out on the Manukau line from tomorrow however unlike the Onehugna Line not all services will switch over at once with them only starting on off peak services before being introduced over the course of a month to peak services too.

The roll-out of electric trains in Auckland steps up next week with the introduction of the new trains on the Manukau Line.

Initially electric trains will run on some off-peak services, they will be introduced to all services over the next month.

Auckland Transport’s Chief Operations Officer Greg Edmonds says the new trains have been very popular since their introduction on the Onehunga Line in April but with any transition we should be prepared for “teething problems.”

“We want to ensure our customers who use the trains to Manukau are getting a reliable service so we will be gradually increasing the number of electric trains over the next month.”

Meanwhile, testing continues across the rail network following an intermittent power fault which saw some Onehunga services affected. Mr Edmonds stresses there are no safety issues associated with the fault.

From memory this is actually slightly ahead of schedule which is good.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

Photo by Patrick Reynolds

I’m sure those on the eastern line can’t wait for them to roll out as I frequently get reports of people having to wait for 2 or 3 trains before being able to get on board at peak times. At this stage AT are just rolling out the EMUs on to the existing timetable however there is hopefully going to be a timetable improvement in the coming months that will boost the number of services from Manukau.

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New Zealand’s population growth highest in a decade

New estimates from Statistics NZ based show New Zealand’s population is growing at the fastest rate for over a decade

New Zealand’s population is growing at its fastest rate for over a decade, according to new estimates released by Statistics New Zealand today.

The country’s population grew by 67,800 people, or 1.5 percent, in the year to 30 June 2014. This came from natural increase (births minus deaths) of 29,500 and net migration (arrivals minus departures) of 38,300. New Zealand’s estimated resident population was 4.51 million at 30 June 2014.

“This is the first release of population estimates using results from the 2013 Census and Post-enumeration Survey,” population statistics manager Vina Cullum said.

The estimates are the best available indication of how many people currently live in New Zealand because they include people missed by the census, including those who were temporarily overseas on census night.

New population estimates at the earlier date of 30 June 2013 are also available for broad ethnic groups, and we have revised population estimates for subnational areas.

“These estimates confirm increases in all ethnic populations since 2006. Even the broad European ethnic population has grown to 3.31 million despite its older age structure,” Ms Cullum said.

The June 2013 estimates put the Māori ethnic population at 692,000, the broad Asian population at 541,000, and broad Pacific population at 344,000. An estimated 53,000 people identify with Middle Eastern, Latin American, or African ethnicities.

Population growth was 1.5% over the last year compared with an average for the 2006-2013 period of 0.8%. The graph below shows the change in population over the last decade.

NZ Population Change 1992 - 2014

One of the big factors has been a strong increase in net migration

NZ Net Migration 1992 - 2014

Traditionally the majority of that net migration increase ends up in Auckland so it will be interesting to see if that trend continues when the regional information is released later this year.

Find out more about the new Otahuhu interchange

AT are holding an open day tomorrow about the new Otahuhu Bus/Train interchange they plan to implement as part of the new network for South Auckland. Detail of it are below.

A new bus-train interchange sited at the existing Otahuhu Train Station is on track to begin construction later this year with completion targeted for the middle of next year. The new interchange is expected to transform the way people travel in South Auckland.

Detailed design information for the Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange will be on display at a community event this Saturday at the Otahuhu Town Hall between 10am and 1.30pm. This new transport facility will be a critical hub in the delivery of a new integrated public transport network in South Auckland.

There will be plenty of fun with spot prizes, giveaways, food and entertainment and an opportunity to meet the project team who will take the interchange through to completion. This is a celebration of Otahuhu and the connecting of its people and places.

Feedback from local people has been important in the design process, we want locals to come and see how the interchange design has changed since consultation began last December.

Passenger comfort, safety, ease of accessibility and convenience were areas you asked us to consider for the final design.

Key features include continuous cover along bus and rail platforms, an elevated and enclosed concourse connecting the existing rail platform with new bus platforms, multiple pedestrian access options, escalators, lifts and stairs, WiFi, CCTV, kiss and ride and bicycle parking/storage. The facility will be built to accessible standards, including provision of limited parking for disabled users.

The community also sought assurance that getting to the new interchange would be simple and efficient for those travelling from the town centre.

New on street bus stop facilities will be built on Avenue Road replacing the existing Otahuhu bus station. New, modern bus shelters will also be constructed on Mason Avenue to serve the new Otahuhu Recreation Precinct with regular and frequent bus services connecting the interchange with the new town centre bus stops.

Otahuhu interchange

The design certainly looks like it’s changed a bit from the earlier concept images (which is to be expected).

Otahuhu proposed 1

Precinct Properties update

Precinct Properties have just released their annual results, and there are some interesting updates on the Downtown Shopping Centre and other projects.

Downtown Shopping Centre

According to Precinct, they’ve completed the master plan for the development, although this hasn’t been publicly released as far as I’m aware. They say:

The completion of the Downtown Shopping Centre masterplan was a milestone for the project and the company alike… Precinct now has a more comprehensive understanding of this unrivalled opportunity and has been able to better ascertain the scale, scope and overall cost of realising its potential.
As a result it has also revised its expectation for development spend estimates to between $400 and $500 million, reflecting a scheme that will maximise the opportunities offered by the site. This revised guidance compares with $300 to $350 million provided last year and comes after increasing the potential area to be developed.

That’s an encouraging sign, and Precinct now think they’ll end up with around 20,000 square metres of retail NLA (net leasable area), and 35,000 square metres of office NLA. The total gross floor area of the building will be around 71,000 square metres.

Additionally, Precinct’s negotiations with the council to enable CRL tunnels through the site are “significantly advanced”. They go on to say that “while a final agreement has not yet been signed, both parties are committed in principle to a solution whereby construction of the tunnels for Auckland Council will occur as part of the Downtown Shopping Centre redevelopment”.

As for the next steps:

Following masterplanning Precinct has entered the concept design phase. A select group of leading global architects was invited to submit proposals for this phase. Following a series of workshops and presentations NH Architecture from Melbourne was appointed as the retail architect and Woods Bagot based out of San Francisco was appointed as the commercial architect. Local New Zealand architecture firm Warren and Mahoney will ensure the integration of these schemes.

In their actual annual results presentation, which is a bit bullet pointy, they add:

  • Intention to restore Downtown and lower Queen Street as the heart of Auckland City
  • Leverage public transport as the site is bordered by rail, ferry and bus services
  • Precinct will have 5 office towers with around 12,000 workers amongst 130,000sqm of office space
  • Retail will knit the precinct together and provide;
    • Amenity for office users
    • Major city centre retail for Auckland
    • Access for public transport

In regards to the “5 office towers” bit, note that Precinct also owns  Zurich House and HSBC House, essentially the entire block that the Downtown Shopping Centre sits on, except for the council-owned Queen Elizabeth II Square. Across the road, they also own the AMP Centre and the PwC building. No doubt this will allow for some more wide-ranging master planning.

Precinct landholdings

Source: Precinct Properties 2013 annual results
Precinct have also given an indicative timeframe for the development. They aim to lodge their resource consent in December this year, and from then on it’s:

  • Project commitment Q4 2015
  • Commencement Q1 2016
  • Retail completion Q4 2018
  • Office completion Q2 2019

Wynyard Central

Precinct also talked a bit about their involvement in the Wynyard Quarter, although we’ve covered most of this previously.

In the period Precinct entered into a development agreement with Waterfront Auckland. This provides the opportunity to develop the commercial office property within Wynyard Central at Wynyard Quarter in Auckland. The 46,000 sqm of gross floor area is expected to be built over 5 stages and several years.
Precinct is making good progress on the design and commercials for the first stage of Wynyard Central. This site provides Precinct with the last remaining commercial waterfront development site and complements the Downtown Shopping Centre opportunity.

They do mention, though, that the first stage will involve around $50 million of spending, with the project getting underway in the second quarter of 2015 and wrapping up in the third quarter of 2016.

Wynyard Quarter - Precinct impression 1

CEO Interview

Lastly, Anne Gibson, the Property Editor at the Herald, recently did a video interview with the CEO of Precinct Properties, Scott Pritchard. Here are a couple of interesting quotes from the interview:

“We think that the way Auckland is going… there’s a significant growth in the number of CBD-based employees… we’ve seen vacancy levels reduce quite radically”

“Getting density into cities is what makes cities so great”

“We’ve seen 10,000 new workers come into Auckland’s CBD in the last three years, which is an enormous amount of people, that need desks. And so… the vacant space of a few years ago has truly been absorbed, and I think if it continues, we’re going to be short on space”

These are a lot of the things we discuss on the blog, and it’s great to hear them coming from the CEO of a major property company.

City Rail Link is key to Auckland’s future

A few weeks ago I wrote a brief post talking about how the CBD employment targets the government has set for the City Rail Link and how they will be basically impossible to achieve due to a shortage of office space. I’ve also talked about both the office target and patronage targets a number of time in the past.

Last week Jason Krupp from the NZ Initiative wrote an opinion piece for Stuff talking about us and how the targets are justified and questioning the need for the CRL.

Recently, Transportblog.co.nz bemoaned the fact that Auckland CBD was running out of office space.

The pro-transit and compact city advocacy group is concerned because central government is insisting that certain rail usage and CBD employment targets be met before it co-funds the $2.9 billion City Rail Project.

These targets include the doubling of rail patronage to 20 million trips a year, and lifting the number of people employed in the CBD by 25 per cent (or 22,000 jobs) if the city wants the project to start in 2020.

The problem is that while the first target might just be achievable (there were 11.4 million rail passenger trips for the year ending June 2014, up from 10 million in the previous year), the second is more doubtful.

Transportblog.co.nz (and Auckland Council) seem to be suggesting the employment target is unreachable without the City Rail Link. After all, who would want to construct an office building if you can’t fill it with productive workers?

It is a persuasive argument, but it doesn’t quite stack up when you look at the complexities of transit investments and the track record of transit projects.

It goes on discuss some of these points and a few others in more detail. Seeing as he was specifically addressing us with his op-ed piece we felt we deserved a right of reply which Stuff have published. The piece was put together by our three musketeers economists John, Peter and Stu. Due to word limits on Stuff it’s difficult to even get half of what we want to say in an op-ed but what we did say is below.

At TransportBlog, we want Auckland to be a more connected, vibrant, and prosperous city.

So it came as a surprise when Jason Krupp of the New Zealand Initiative authored an opinion piece criticising our analysis of the need for the City Rail Link (CRL).

Mr Krupp suggests that Auckland should delay or perhaps even cancel the CRL. We disagree: the CRL is critical infrastructure which has already been subjected to considerable scrutiny, especially when compared to most other major transport projects in New Zealand’s history.

Construction on the CRL needs to get underway in 2016 lest Auckland’s growth is stifled.

Auckland’s transport future will be rather different to its past.

Auckland is competing for human and monetary capital with cities that benefit from efficient public transport networks.

The four largest cities across the ditch – Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane – all built CRL equivalents decades ago.

Because those cities unlocked more capacity from their rail networks, they can move more passengers free of congestion.

Rail networks in Perth and Brisbane – cities less dense and not much larger than Auckland – each carry more than 50 million passengers a year.

We should take a lead from what’s worked in Australian cities, which benefit from better mobility and easier access to jobs and services.

Mr Krupp incorrectly suggests that there is a debate over whether the CRL should happen at all. Fortunately, all major parties now agree that the CRL is necessary – but they disagree on the start date. Auckland Council and the major opposition parties have publicly committed to a 2016 start for construction.

A National-led government, on the other hand, would fund the CRL no earlier than 2020 unless two targets are achieved first.

The Government proposes to delay the CRL unless rail patronage reaches 20 million trips a year by 2018 and employment in Auckland’s city centre grows by 25 per cent by 2017.

We are concerned about the arbitrary nature of these targets. The employment target, for example, ignores the role the city centre plays in meeting growth in residents, tertiary students, and visitors.

It’s also unclear why targets have been set for the CRL but not for other major transport projects.

The Government’s criteria also seem to avoid more obvious “value-for-money” targets, such as the benefit-cost ratio.

Nonetheless, we believe that Auckland is capable of achieving the Government’s patronage target, although it’s a stretch.

Since the development of Britomart, Auckland’s rail patronage has grown at double-digit rates, rising from around 2 million annual trips to almost 12 million in a little over a decade.

There’s no reason we can’t meet or exceed that performance over the next decade given the ongoing introduction of electric trains; a better, more frequent bus network; and integrated ticketing.

Auckland’s revitalisation of public transport has been one of its major success stories over the last decade.

Investments in new infrastructure and services have paid off: Britomart, the Northern Busway, the Onehunga Line, and the new Panmure station have all outstripped initial projections. Britomart surpassed its forecasts more than a decade early.

The CRL is a sensible response to proven demand for rail services.

Without completing the “missing link” between Britomart and the Western Line, we will soon hit a capacity constraint – full trains, too many buses in the city centre, increasingly congested roads and reduced economic development.

On the other hand, the Government’s employment target for the CRL is unrealistic to the point of being nonsensical. Simply put, a 25 per cent increase in city centre employment by 2017 is physically impossible.

A recent independent report by PwC found that the central city won’t have enough office space to house these extra employees, given current low office vacancy rates and the time lag in developing new offices.

Moreover, much of the development required to get close to this target is contingent on the CRL. The redevelopment of the Downtown Mall, for example, won’t proceed without it.

Which begs the question: is this target reasonable, or is it simply a delaying tactic?

The Government’s targets and much of the media coverage on the CRL give the impression that the project will only benefit the central city. That’s patently not the case.

Auckland has 120 kilometres of rail lines that move people to and from Manukau, Newmarket, New Lynn, Middlemore, and many other stations as well as to Britomart.

Building the CRL will enable Auckland Transport to increase the speed and frequency of services across the entire network, and possibly expand rail to the North Shore and the Airport.

Carrying on without the CRL would be like building the motorway network without the Central Motorway Junction. It just wouldn’t make sense.

As firm believers in evidence-based policy, we welcome the degree of scrutiny on the CRL. The evidence compiled by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and central government is not only comprehensive, but also unprecedented when compared with other transport projects such as the expensive Roads of National Significance programme.

But now, the facts are in: it’s time to build the City Rail Link.

I know Jason has some more thoughts in reply to our piece and I’ve encouraged him make those thoughts known in the comments on this post so everyone can see them and join in the discussion.

Convention Centre Design released

Yesterday SkyCity released some new details and new images of the approved concept design for the controversial New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC).  The new details are in the form of a new 300 bed hotel along with a new pedestrian laneway between Hobson St and Nelson St but first details about the convention centre itself.

“The design includes flexible, innovative convention and exhibition space. Spread over four levels the facility will contain a public atrium entrance, multiple day meeting rooms and a dedicated multi-use plenary theatre able to accommodate 3,000 people for convention and entertainment events. The exhibition floor will be the size of Eden Park’s rugby pitch with a 9 metre high stud and the ability to accommodate two Dreamliner 787
aeroplanes side by side,” says Mr Jamieson.

“In addition, the master plan for the Hobson Nelson Street site will also include a 300 room 5 star hotel and pedestrian laneway both of which will benefit from the increased visitation generated by the NZICC.”

“The success factor of a convention centre is its integration into the city fabric and its ability to deliver an authentic experience for the visitor. The NZICC concept has been developed so the building plays a role in a living, breathing precinct that Aucklanders will be encouraged to use and enjoy. The design of a large plaza entry off Hobson Street, leading to a through site laneway, will provide social, retail and hospitality experiences
for Aucklanders and visitors alike. With the laneway, hotel and plaza, the NZICC will have a significant differentiated offering for the international business events market.”

The NZICC will enhance the rejuvenation of the western edge of the CBD and will provide a catalyst for further visitor and entertainment development in Victoria Quarter and SKYCITY’s Federal Street. Auckland businesses of all sizes will benefit from increased high-value visitation. It will reinforce Auckland’s reputation as a leading, vibrant, international city.

With a total gross floor area (GFA) of 85,000 m2, the NZICC is understood to be the biggest building project undertaken in Auckland since 1997 when the Sky Tower was constructed.

Convention Centre August 2014

A couple of things you can see from this angle.

  • The building is huge and boxy – but that’s not exactly a surprise.
  • There’s a huge vehicle entrance of Nelson St, I wonder how that will work with the proposed cycleway which will be on that side.
  • That laneway looks long, straight and boring, especially as it appears like it will be next to a very high and imposing wall.
  • They are keeping the facade of the building on the corner of Nelson St and Wellesley St
  • No sign of the Victoria St Linear Park in the image which would see much less traffic on Victoria St (can kind of forgive the artist for that one though.

What they don’t say in the press release is about how many carparks there will be. In earlier documents they say the Government would require the centre to have 900 spaces, way more than the 280 that would be the maximum under the parking requirements for the CBD (down to 200 in the Unitary Plan).

Included in that press release was this image of what I assume is part of the laneway and which looks dull and uninviting, especially with that massive blank wall.

Convention Centre Laneway

And detail on the hotel and laneway.

The hotel will be 5 star accommodation offering 300 beds, bringing the total number of beds available within the SKYCITY Entertainment Precinct to nearly 1000. It will be linked by an air bridge to the rest of the SKYCITY, enabling guests to enjoy the best in New Zealand dining, bars, entertainment and the unique Sky Tower experience within a short, covered walk from their hotel room.

“We are also creating a pedestrian laneway adjacent to the new SKYCITY hotel,” Mr Morrison says. “This laneway will be a contemporary version of the historic Vulcan Lane with bars, restaurants and boutique shopping at street level. It will provide a pedestrian walkway linking Hobson and Nelson Streets for Aucklanders and visitors to use and enjoy.”

Design of the hotel and laneway is a collaboration between Warren and Mahoney and Moller Architects. Principal and Executive Director of Warren and Mahoney, John Coop, says we are designing a diverse and exciting place for tourists to visit and for the local community to use.

“The new SKYCITY hotel is a landmark opportunity to create a truly international modern hotel within central city. In Auckland, most of our current four and five star hotels are from a previous era; they are constructed of very solid brick masonry or concrete, and while they may have been successfully upgraded, still reflect the past. With a completely new build hotel, we have an opportunity to use modern technologies and contemporary design and planning methods in the room and fixture design. In a beautifully integrated project, we will create lightness in the way the space feels and capitalise on beautiful
views towards the harbour and urban landscape.”

That laneway with its blank walls, stairs and dark colours will be nothing like a contemporary Vulcan Lane. It also ignores that laneways need to be inviting and useful as both a destination but more importantly lead somewhere interesting. In the case of Vulcan Lane it links O’Connell St, High St and Queen St together and has huge pedestrian volumes. This laneway will link the largely dead Nelson St traffic sewer with the only slightly less dead Hobson St traffic sewer. Even if someone was walking east-west across the city I fail to see why they would detour to use this lane which would then require them to walk back to Victoria/Nelson St’s or use the airbridge and have to walk through the casino. Particularly on Victoria most people would likely just stick to the linear park once that’s built. Here’s an image from the Hobson St side also showing the hotel and two airbridges.

Convention Centre Laneway From Hobson

And here’s an image looking south from the vehicle entrance to the bus terminal, a place where there currently isn’t even a footpath unlike what’s shown. Again you can see that airbridge which is designed to try and keep people firmly within the walls of SkyCity’s property

Convention Centre from Hobson St

Overall the whole thing seems bland and unimpressive, much like the justification for the project in the first place.

Census 2013: Auckland Travel Patterns

The Ministry of Transport has released a detailed and interesting look into some of the results coming out of the 2013 Census Journey to Work question. Both the executive summary and the full report are worth a read. As we’ve noted before, the 2013 census results confirm a shift in the way Aucklanders are travelling, with much stronger growth in public transport than in driving (especially in percentage terms). Interestingly, even within people travelling to work via private vehicle, there is a big difference between those who drove themselves (which increased and roughly maintained its modeshare) and those who were passengers (which declined fairly dramatically). This is shown in the graph below:

modeshare-change-percent

I’m struggling a bit to explain why private vehicle passengers has declined to significantly – perhaps they are the ones who are shifting mode to public transport to a greater extent than drivers?

The report compares Auckland’s mode-splits with a number of Australian cities, highlighting quite an interesting trend that although our public transport use is generally lower than those cities, our active transport modeshare is often higher:

australian-modeshare-comparisonsQuite a lot of the report is analysis of different parts of Auckland, comparing travel patterns and modes for the CBD, CBD fringe area (called other central), inner urban (isthmus and lower North Shore), outer urban and rural areas. The graph below is a fairly nifty way of representing the overall share of Auckland’s trips that start and end in these different areas:

origin-destination-graphThe Outer Urban area is reasonably “self-contained” in its trips, with a very large share of trips originating in Outer Urban areas also being destined for those areas. The CBD is a strong destination for Inner Urban areas, along with employment in other parts of those Inner Urban locations.

Looking closer at the CBD, the report analyses where people who work there are coming from, showing a strong focus on the isthmus and the lower North Shore – the “Inner Urban” areas highlighted above:

cbd-bound-modeshareIt is worth noting the difference between the west and the south in the map above – both areas reasonably equidistant from the city centre, but with the south having much more local employment and therefore much less of an employment connection with the CBD. One would expect, post City Rail Link, for the west to be even more strongly connected and also for the south to begin to benefit from improved city centre access and the employment opportunities that will provide.

Another interesting part of the report is the comparison between different local board areas, which unsurprisingly show some pretty dramatically different modal splits:

local-board-modeshare

Waitemata Local Board obviously stands out from the rest, with a private vehicle modeshare of below 50% and a very high proportion of people walking or cycling to work. Clearly Waitemata benefits from having so many jobs located within the local board area, as well as the increasing number of people who live in the city centre unsurprisingly having a very high ‘walk to work’ share. Another point of interest is how work from home varies by Local Board – higher in rural and richer areas and very low in parts of South Auckland. I guess this reflects most ‘work from home’ jobs being either rural in nature or well-paid professional work.

One of the clearest patterns highlighted in the report is the relationship between residential location and trip length, with journeys to work getting longer and longer as you live further away from the city centre – even though only a relatively small proportion of Auckland’s jobs are actually located in the city centre:

trip-length-by-originThis finding is unsurprising and a core part of why urban sprawl concerns us so much, because people living in far flung parts of Auckland need to travel a very long way to work – which is both expensive and places a lot of pressure on the transport network. It’s also clear that West Aucklanders are stuck with long commutes more so than most other parts of the city – highlighting once again the huge benefit City Rail Link will bring to the west as well as the need to increase the level of employment available in that part of Auckland.

Flipping the above map around, to instead focus on length of journey by destination reveals a much less clear pattern and some interesting anomalies – people who work at the airport have to travel a very long way to get there (rail to the airport will be very useful for them!) while people who work in the Howick/Botany area seem to have very short commutes, maybe highlighting the extent to which that area is disconnected and isolated from the rest of Auckland (only people who live in the area are prepared to work there):

trip-length-by-destination

Looking at private vehicle modeshare by point of origin highlights clearly the more and less car dependent parts of Auckland. The inner areas are doing pretty well here while the northwest and the southeast (in particular) are the most car dependent parts of Auckland. Hopefully the AMETI and Northwest busways will change this in the future:

car-modeshare-by-origin

Bus modeshare is highest on the North Shore and the Central Isthmus – reflecting locations where high quality bus service and infrastructure is available:

bus-modeshare-by-originFor rail, a key analysis relates to the question of “for trips heading to the CBD from a particular area, what proportion of those trips are carried by train”. The south does pretty well in this respect, reflecting that it’s a pretty long car journey from Papakura or Pukekohe right through into town:

rail-to-cbd-modeshareLooking at the above map it’s quite telling to see how along the inner parts of the Western Line, rail is capturing a pretty low proportion of CBD-bound trips – I imagine due to the very long an convoluted path the train takes via Newmarket. With the City Rail Link in place there’s some huge growth potential in these areas for much higher levels of train use as there’s a pretty huge untapped market at the moment.

Looking at overall public transport modeshare, the dominance of the isthmus is quite clear. This is a large reason why we were so frustrated to see intensification on the isthmus watered down in the Unitary Plan to such a great extent last year.

overall-pt-modeshareThere are a myriad of other fascinating maps and graphs within the report, but they can wait for a future post. Perhaps commenters might have a think about what they think might be behind a few of the results above – particularly:

  • Why might private vehicle passenger trips have decreased so significantly compared to all other modes of getting to work?
  • What impact might CRL, Airport Rail, AMETI and other major projects have on these patterns over the coming decades?
  • What’s up with Stonefields? – its travel patterns are much more like an ex-urban piece of sprawl than a fairly dense inner-urban suburb.

Stuart’s 100 #12: Auckland’s “Missing” Urban Neighbourhoods

12: Auckland’s “Missing” Urban Neighbourhoods

Day_12_Missing_Neighbourhoods

What if Auckland’s “missing” urban neighbourhoods re-emerged as real places?

Auckland is growing up fast. In central Auckland, this can be seen in the emerging new destinations (Britomart, Wynyard Quarter for example) and many smaller changes all over the place that are contributing to a city centre and fringe neighbourhoods that are much richer and interesting places to live, work and visit.

That said, there are still many streets in and around the city centre and fringe where great potential to become good people-focused places is thwarted by the dominance of their traffic movement functions. Often, this has been reinforced by poor quality building development that contributes little to the adjacent public realm of the street.

Some of these stretches might be considered ‘missing neighbourhoods’ with an untapped potential to emerge as great urban places if we can pay more attention to supporting their place-making qualities as well as traffic movement. Take a look at Wakefield Street, Wellington Street, Upper Symonds Street or Khyber Pass. Ought we not look to these areas to support more development and activity to support future growth?

 

Questions about Helensville SHA

We have had concerns about a number of the Special Housing Areas that have been announced. A month ago I looked in depth into the locations and types of SHA’s. I found nearly 10,000 dwellings have been announced outside the urban limits, which will put huge pressure on infrastructure and council budgets. This is in addition to another 10,000 greenfield dwellings inside the existing limits. The total lack of public transport in many of these areas is probably the biggest worry, and projects such as the North-Western busway will need to be brought forward soon to avoid some areas becoming very car dependent. However these areas will also need substantial infrastructure investment in trunk water and sewer mains, as well as social infrastructure.

The individual development that concerned us most was at Helensville, which was part of Tranche 3 and announced in May. While this was only 60 dwellings, it seemed totally opposed to Auckland Council strategy. In the Auckland Plan it was not identified as a satellite town, but a rural/coastal town and therefore only limited development was expected.

Helensville also lacks jobs, with a 30km commute even to the closest major shopping centre at Westgate. The 2013 Census says there were 1077 jobs in Helensville, with a resident population of 2643. It is hard to foresee the number of jobs rising by over 100 to meet the needs of the new residents. To add to this public transport is rather hopeless with only 10 buses a day on weekdays, which take 1.5 hours to get to the city. While people may not wish to travel to the CBD, would still take over an 1 hour to get the nearest job centers in Henderson. On Saturdays it takes 2 hours to the city, and on Sundays their is no service at all!

1 Helensville bus

Therefore we thought some questions needed to be asked about why the SHA was approved, so we decided to send a LGOIMA request asking for information presented on the SHA, and minutes of the meetings where it was discussed.

The information we received was both fascinating and concerning. First there were a number of slides about the development that we presented to council members. SHA’s were first considered by a workshop on March 5. Then they went to the Auckland Development Committee (whole of council) on April 2 and April 14.

2 issues

So we have a large number of issues outlined. The area lacked potable water and wastewater connections (note WSL is Watercare), flooding, and their would be little demand.

3 issues

It is now wonder that when the development was presented to the council workshop on April 14, Helensville was not recommended to be an SHA.

The minutes of the April 14 meeting show that the councillors agreed with the recommendation and the SHA was included on the list to be declined. The minutes do show that local councillor Penny Webster was noted as a dissenting voice.

After the initial council vote, the SHA’s then go to the Governing Body for final signoff, which was on May 1. The initial motion moved was that same as that passed by the Development Committee several weeks earlier. However an amendment was put up by Cr Penny Webster to reintroduce a portion of the Helensville SHA.

4 Helensville votes

The motion passed 15 votes to 6. The division is quite interesting, with the mayor and an interesting mix of councillors voting against. The minutes of the meeting do not show any evidence that any extra material was presented to the meeting that suggested the Housing Office has changed their mind. Note the development was smaller, going down from 300 houses to 60. However it will still need council services extending and cause 100’s of extra trips along SH 16.

This is rather concerning as it looks like the Helensville SHA was approved despite official advice that is should be denied. Unfortunately we do not have the minutes of the earlier meetings to see if any other SHA’s were agreed to against official advice, however these minutes show that it just requires a simple majority vote.

The potential for more of this can be seen in the same May Governing Body minutes where Dick Quax tried to add in a development along Point View Drive, which is a rural area adjacent to Botany. This had also been denied at earlier stages of the process.

5 Point View Dr votes

Interestingly the minutes include the full list of potential Trance 3 developments that were rejected by the Housing Project Office and turned down by the committees. This does show that there is some rigour in the process, however would be interested to know how many were turned down because of infrastructure and planning issues, and how many encountered local board or councillor NIMBY issues.

6 denied SHAs 7 denied SHAs

The fourth Tranche of SHA’s will be considered in the private session of the Auckland Development Committee on Thursday. With some light now shed on the process, I’m hoping councillors will be extra careful when passing further housing areas outside the urban area. Would be great to see no more SHA’s outside the urban limits, given the investment already required by council to deal with the 10,000 already passed. While the session is private, you can still email your local councillor general thoughts about SHA’s beforehand, their contact details are on the council website here. 

*Update: Interestingly the part owners of the Helensville SHA (the Kidds, Directors and Shareholders of Hounslow Holdings) have long been lobbying for more growth in Helensville. See these 2013 articles “Fighting to Grow (Rodney Times)” and “Plan lacks up vs out costings (NZ Herald)”. However the articles also show the wastewater treatment plans is a serious issue in terms of growth. The herald article includes this quote:

The main handicap has been the capacity of the existing water and wastewater system. Watercare is spending $5 million upgrading the wastewater treatment plant but has no plans to upgrade it for growth until 2020.

This is further evidence that the SHA should have not been allowed to go ahead.

Special Housing Areas a con?

Last year the government and the Auckland Council announced a housing accord that would designate areas within Auckland as Special Housing Areas in which the council would offer a fast tracked consenting process for developers subject to certain conditions. It was touted as a way to address the increasing cost of building new houses in response to rapidly escalating house prices. It also came not long after the government had been talking about smashing Auckland’s urban limits leaving many to fear it was just a vehicle to encourage sprawl and line the pockets of land bankers. So far three tranches of special housing areas have been announced - Tranche 1, Tranche 2, Tranche 3 - and while they have started to shift towards more urban redevelopment sites, many of the initial locations for developments we would often associate with traditional sprawl including locations in Kumeu, Flat Bush, Papakura, Pukekohe and Silverdale.

Special Housing Areas 1, 2 & 3

It’s now starting to appear that not all that was promised about the SHA’s is happening in reality and that instead property owners and developers are using the process to increase the value of their sites before flicking them off to someone else – colour me surprised. The Manukau Courier reports:

Are the first cracks appearing in the much-trumpeted plan to solve Auckland’s housing crisis?

Developers at four of the 63 Special Housing Areas (SHAs) across the city have pulled out of the new fast-track consent process, the Auckland Council confirms.

And planning consultant Jon Maplesden, who has clients within SHAs, says he knows of several more developers who are unhappy and others who are “just not even bothering with it”.

Their reasons include frustration with infrastructure provision and the cost of providing the stipulated “affordable” housing.

Developers are opting out at the Murphy’s Rd site in Flat Bush with capacity for 275 houses; Addison in Takanini, 500 houses; Anselmi Ridge in Pukekohe, 150 houses; and the Millwater section of Silverdale North, 472 houses.

and

Maplesden says some landowners haven’t applied for SHA status to build houses but to add value to the land.

“There’s a number of them that I know are trying hard to sell them.”

The council confirms the land in the Albany Highway SHA has been sold.

Housing developments in Takanini and Pukekohe are being built by McConnell Property and its plans were already well advanced before the areas were designated as SHAs, marketing manager Jo Anderson says.

“To redesign would be further time and cost to do so. On these multi-stage developments, the local staff had been involved in the development for a number of years and stages, so for consistency we preferred to have those personnel also process any new resource consent applications.”

Maplesden says developers who apply for fast-track consent for, say, 500 houses, won’t be building all of those houses at once. Historically there are “very few” projects that have built at a rate of more than 100 houses per year, he says.

“No developer, not even Fletchers, can afford to do a 500-lot development all at once.”

So a 3000-dwelling SHA could take 30 years to complete, he says.

Wow so land owners are using the SHA process to increase the value of their land before flicking it off for likely a nice bit of profit – well colour me surprised. To me the issue of land owners on the city’s fringe only slowly releasing land is an issue that has been largely ignored by many who promote opening up greenfield land. We can unleash the limits as much as we like but if the people owning the land only release it one little bit at a time to ensure they get a high price for it then there’s not much that the council or the government can do about it short of getting into the land banking business themselves.

With not many new SHA developments seemingly getting off the ground – other than those where an SHA was applied to an already underway development like Hobsonville Point – it’s shaping up that the whole idea of the SHA’s could end up a significant failure that only served to line the pockets of a few land bankers.