Draft Preferred future urban networks

Yesterday we saw the feedback on the first consultation from the Transport for Urban Growth piece of work that AT/NZTA are currently undertaking. Now the next more detailed round of consultation has started and they’ve released their draft preferred transport networks. By in large the networks are very close to including most of what was initially consulted on. One thing that they haven’t given any indication on is what the timing will

The websites for each of the three main areas also gives a little bit of information as to how they’ve responded to the feedback received and for each of the key areas there is also a more detailed map which is on the AT website. In all of the maps below the mode/intervention uses the same colour scheme, Red = Rail, Green = Bus, Blue = Road, Gold = Safety improvements.

South

In the south it’s good to see AT specifically mention electrification to Pukekohe as that was something no mention was made of in the earlier consultation. It’s something we can only hope gets the go ahead soon as it seems fairly critical to some of the other parts of the plan for the South including a bunch of new stations and better services. On the roads the massive Mill Rd corridor is set to march on all the way to Pukekohe. The biggest omission from compared to the first consultation seems to be an east-west route from Pukekohe to SH1.

In this transport network, a key focus is increasing access to public transport, with more capacity and a well-connected rapid transit network at its heart. This would include electric trains to Pukekohe, express trains, new stations and rapid transit links, for example between the airport, Manukau, Flat Bush and Botany and a high frequency bus route between Drury and Manukau.

The plan focuses on great access to jobs, town centres and recreation within south Auckland and links to the wider region.

Another key focus for the south would be an extension of the Mill Road corridor from Manukau to Papakura and Drury. This would help improve safety, provide improved access to new growth areas and provide an additional north-south route. Connected to the Mill Road corridor is a new route to Pukekohe to improve safety or reduce congestion on SH22. An interchange with SH1 will also be further investigated at Drury South.

We’ve also identified further work is needed on how better connections between Waikato and Auckland can be provided.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - South

North

The North looks like a much bigger roads fest compared to the with almost all of the proposed roads from the earlier consultation included in this consultation. For PT the busway will be the heart of the system in the area and s being both physically extended by going to Grand Dr but also and with more stations too.

At the heart of the network is the extension of the rapid transit network (RTN) by linking Albany to Dairy Flat, Silverdale, Wainui and Grand Drive.

Additional stations along the RTN would become hubs for extended public transport services into the growth areas and Orewa, providing fast and efficient access to employment, town centres and residential areas.

Dedicated walking and cycling networks linking to public transport hubs would provide a range of options to get to work or for leisure. New and upgraded arterial roads running both eastwest and north-south would improve connections and safety through the area as well.

Capacity would also be increased on State Highway 1 (SH1). An interchange incorporating both Dairy Flat and Penlink will be investigated to see if it would alleviate access from bottlenecks at Silverdale further north.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - North

Northwest

Like the others it appears that almost all of projects from the earlier consultation have made it through to this round. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is AT say they’ll do some more to look at the costs and benefits of extending rail to Huapai – although the website also suggests it could be compared to electric rail.

A key focus of the draft network is on providing high capacity public transport networks to move people efficiently and reliably between the places they want to go. This includes a rapid transport network (RTN) adjacent to the SH16 and SH18 to and from Kumeu, Westgate through to the city and the North Shore. Park and ride facilities are also identified to provide access to these services.

Further investigations are proposed on the extension of electric trains to Huapai to assess benefits and costs. Initial work shows a RTN along SH16 will have faster journey times and serve a wider catchment.

Another key focus is improving the safety and capacity of SH16 north of Westgate and the major arterials that intersect it. To help address congestion as the area grows and keep the Kumeu and Huapai centres as safe, local community-focused environments, an alternative through-route to SH16 is proposed.

A direct motorway to motorway connection between SH16 and SH18, improvements to Brigham Creek Road, and upgrade to the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway and arterial road networks in Whenuapai and Red Hills are also identified. The feasibility of a range of different types of interchanges at Northside Drive and Squadron Drive will also be investigated. Dedicated walking and cycling paths connecting to public transport and existing cycle routes also feature.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - Northwest

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?

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?

Unitary Plan Roosting Chickens

The council’s decision to withdraw their [not really] out of scope changes is already seeing it’s chickens starting to come home to roost. As Radio NZ’s Todd Niall reported yesterday

Auckland Council has withdrawn staff from crucial hearings on the city’s future, saying its hands are tied by political revolt.

Few of the council’s planning staff and expert witnesses are to appear at the Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel, which is set to begin considering future zonings tomorrow.

The withdrawal follows an unprecedented defeat for council leadership 10 days ago, when councillors overthrew some higher-density housing proposals already before the panel – by a vote of 13 to 8.

In legal advice prior to the vote, councillors were told they should not withdraw any evidence and that doing so would have significant legal consequences.

….

Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town wrote to councillors and the chairs of the local boards, explaining the withdrawal.

Mr Town said the only exception would be if the panel itself called council staff, or if other submitters sought to cross-examine them.

While council staff would be unable to argue in person over the housing zonings that a majority of councillors opposed, the written arguments remained before the panel and could be argued by others.

On Thursday, Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel chair Judge David Kirkpatrick told a packed hearing room that it would not be removing any evidence already before it, nor would the panel refuse to call any witnesses.

Thanks to the decisions of councillors under the fake pretence of process, they’ve now turned the whole process into a farce and an even bigger process mess. Instead of representing the views of the city and its people, the council are now sitting on the side lines and not representing anyone. Those 13 councillors shot their own feet at point blank range.

Areas shown in red are those where the residential zone was “upzoned”

Areas shown in red are those where the residential zone was “upzoned”

Perhaps they might claim it was an unintended consequence but the outcome is exactly what they were warned would happen. Below is the independent legal advice Radio NZ reference that the council received over the matter. It is pretty unequivocal that the councillors should not have voted to withdraw evidence.

Despite this councillors like George Wood and mayoral candidates like Mark Thomas continue to believe that council staff should be able to merrily turn up and pretend the evidence, the panels interim guidance as well as other factors simply didn’t happen. Here’s George Wood on Morning Report yesterday.

or listen here.

While most of this recent Unitary Plan episode has been frustrating, one the positive in recent days has been MP David Shearer injecting himself into the debate. First with this comment

Then this excellent piece.

There’s an old saying that Auckland is great at planning – for yesterday’s needs.

So I was disappointed at last week’s decision by Auckland Council to reject the plan for greater housing density in Auckland City. It betrayed short-term thinking and a lack of vision by our city leaders, and will leave our city about 200,000 homes short of what we will need by 2040.

….

High density is nothing to fear. It’s bad design we need to guard against.

It’s bad design that has frightened some Aucklanders off the high-density living our city so desperately needs. Look at the Scene One, Scene Two and Scene Three apartments at the bottom of the city: they’re ugly, towering examples of where we’ve got it wrong.

…..

So the need for higher housing density in Auckland is clear. It’s obvious. Let’s get on with it.

And instead of fighting what Auckland so desperately needs, we should embrace density and henceforth put our energies into insisting on good planning, thoughtful rules about building envelopes and heights, robust restrictions that protect privacy and light and – always- quality materials that will further beautify our city and stand the test of time.

This is good to see from an MP whose electorate contains some of those most opposed to change. It’s a shame other MPs have been so silent about it – perhaps like their council colleagues out of fear of angry property owners resistant to change.

TFUG: North-west

The third and final consultation on Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG) has kicked off today and this time it’s the turn of the North-west. The intention of this work is to start working out what major transport infrastructure is going to be needed to support around 110,000 houses on undeveloped land in three main areas on the edge of Auckland. The first consultation was in the South and last week they kicked off the consultation for the North.

In the Northwest they expect that over the next 30 years there’ll be around 30,000 new homes housing 75,000 people. There’ll also be around 13,000 new jobs which suggests the area will continue to have very high commuter flows.

The development is expected to mainly be in two clusters, one around Westgate/Whenuapai/Hobsonville and a second around Huapai/Kumeu. This is shown below along with some of the transport projects already being planned

TFUG Committed projects - Northwest Auckland

 

One question I continue to have is why AT are thinking of widening Hobsonville Rd when we’ve just built a parallel motorway. As someone who travels the road regularly (when riding home like I’ll be doing this afternoon) the road is has fairly light traffic volumes and is certainly not a priority to widen.

The main transport issues are listed as:

  • Safety of State Highway 16
  • Communities along State Highway 16, such as Kumeu and Huapai, have only single road access in and out, limiting travel options
  • Severance caused by State Highway 16 and the rail corridor
  • No rapid public transport connections between the north west and large employment areas.

When it comes to the list of potential options for the North-west there are quite a few.

TFUG Potential Network - Northwest

  1. Alternative corridor parallel to SH16.
  2. Extend commuter rail services to Huapai.
  3. Improved east-west connections to Redhills.
  4. Extend the northwestern busway to Kumeu/Huapai (and future proof for light rail).
  5. Direct north west to North Shore connection between SH16 and SH18.
  6. Improved connections to Coatesville, Riverhead and North Shore.
  7. Westgate to Albany busway.
  8. Increased frequencies on Hobsonville and West Harbour ferry services.
  9. Improve safety and/or capacity on SH16.
  10. New north-south connection.
  11. Whenuapai new connections.

There are immediately a few quite interesting aspects but I’ll cover them further below as they are looked at in more detail in options for the individual areas.

In the Red Hills/Westgate/Whenuapai area a lot of growth is already under way. They say the housing is sequenced to happen around Whenuapai from 2017-2021 while the housing around the area around Red Hills will be between 2022-2026.

AT/NZTA say planning is already underway for the NW busway as far as Westgate but they also want to know whether it should be carried on to Kumeu (yes) or done via just bus lanes. They also want to know if a busway or bus priority should go over SH18 to Constellation.

NZTA also obviously want to give better north/east motorway connections which weren’t built as part of the motorway works finished about 5 years ago.  It would be interesting to see just how much those connections will cost.

TFUG Potential Network - Northwest - Whenuapai

Looking further northwest at Huapai/Kumeu there are a few additional options. Along with the busway/bus priority there’s also the possibility of upgrading the existing rail line from Swanson. I think the busway/light rail wins hands down as the rail line is simply too indirect and not many travel from the area to stations along the western line – a trend that isn’t likely to change. Even without a full busway, improving services is something AT could be putting in place fairly quickly if they wanted. I also suspect that getting SH16 out of the Huapai/Kumeu town centre is almost certainly going to be needed as the area develops.

There is also a question as to whether SH16 should be improved through the town centre or if the town centre should be bypassed by a new road. If the goal is to make the area more like a town centre – like I think we should be aiming for – then a bypass is going to be a better option.

TFUG Potential Network - Northwest - Huapai-Kumeu

This consultation is open for two weeks while the consultation for the North finishes next week. Following this consultation, the team/s working on it will come up with a suggested package of projects for further consultation in April.

 

A brief explanation of what just happened with the Unitary Plan

Over the past week Transportblog has published several posts on the brouhaha (or is that kerfuffle?) about Auckland Council’s position on Unitary Plan rezoning.

However, we haven’t really taken a higher-altitude view on the issue. So here’s a quick summary.

The underlying issue is that Auckland’s home prices are really, really high, and rising rapidly. Rents are also rising faster than incomes. That’s great news for people who already own homes, but terrible for everyone who doesn’t.

The housing affordability crisis is particularly bad for young people and low-income households, who may be renting or trying to save up to buy a home. These people directly bear the costs of rising prices.

Home prices are high and rising because Auckland isn’t building enough homes. If there isn’t enough housing to meet demand, prices must rise until some people give up and go away. This may mean living in overcrowded flats, living in unheated garages, staying in abusive relationships to stay housed, or simply packing up and leaving Auckland.

Residential zoning rules determine how many homes can be built in the city. The Unitary Plan originally proposed by Auckland Council applies low-density residential zoning to much of the city, including many of the areas of highest demand. This means that few new homes can be built in Auckland.

On Wednesday, Auckland Council voted against considering changes to zoning to enable more homes to be built in areas that are accessible to jobs, education, and transport.

The most likely outcome of this is that Auckland will continue to build too few homes and prices will continue rising. The social ills caused by that dynamic – poverty and unhealthy housing, crimped opportunities for young people, unsustainable levels of car-dependent sprawl, and high rates of outward migration among the young – will also continue.

TFUG: North

Last week Auckland Transport and the NZTA kicked off consultation they call Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG). This is looking at what high level strategic transport networks may be needed over the next 30 years to support over two Hamilton’s worth of population outside the existing urban area – concentrated in three areas, North (including Warkworth), Northwest and South. All up they think these transport networks could cost in excess of $10 billion. There’s more on the process in the original post linked above.

The consultation is lasting over four weeks with each of the three areas getting two weeks – that means you only have one week left to submit on the proposals for the South. Today starts the consultation for the North. The Dairy Flat-Millwater area is expected to get 30,000 new dwellings and 13,000 new jobs.

The future urban strategy basically sees a whole lot of development to the west of the motorway as shown below in the light yellow (residential) and light blue (commercial)

Transport issues in the Dairy Flat-Millwater area are listed as:

  • Maintaining State Highway efficiency for inter-regional travel
  • Significant transport infrastructure will need to be planned, designated and built to support these new communities, which could take up to 20 years to be in place
  • Ensuring the transport sector works closely with other utilities designating and building at the same time
  • Developing a significant public transport network to service commuters and local employment opportunities.

The potential network for the Dairy Flat-Millwater area is shown below and as you can see it’s potentially quite busy.

They ask if there should be a new north-south route and/or if there should be improvements to Dairy Flat Rd and East Coast Rd. At the very least upgrading East Coast Rd seems a bit odd when all of the development is to the west of the motorway.

They also want to know about extending the busway (and future proofed for light rail). They ask two questions, should it be extended to Orewa (yes) and should it run along SH1 like the rest of the Northern Busway or should it divert into the development area to the west of the motorway. The latter might provide greater walking and cycling coverage but would also slow down bus trips, a good old fashion trade-off between speed and coverage.

Linking the north-south routes they want to know where east-west routes should be included too. Some potential ones include

  • Wainui Road connection
  • Millwater South connection
  • Pine Valley Road connection
  • Spur Road connection
  • Wilks Road/Kahikatea Flat Rd Flat Road connection
  • Penlink western connection
  • Bawden Road connection

Lastly they want to know about SH1 and whether there should be a focus on adding capacity or on providing better access to or from it.

TFUG Potential Network - Dairy Flat-Millwater

Along with the Dairy Flat-Millwater area the North consultation also includes Warkworth where about 7,900 new dwellings and 4,000 new jobs are expected.

The government are obviously committed to building Puhoi to Warkworth and the issues are around what impacts that has on transport within Warkworth. Along with that is ensuring SH1 works well and that there are alternative local roads

Potential options include

  • The Matakana Link Rd which is intended to run from the end of the motorway and avoid traffic heading to holiday spots from having to go through Warkworth. I understand the NZTA want this completed at the same time as the motorway.
  • The Western Corridor which was meant to be a bypass of Warkworth till the government plucked the motorway out of thin air as a priority.
  • New east-west routes
  • Potential Park & Ride and bus services to further turn Warkworth into a satellite commuter town.

TFUG Potential Network - Warkworth

What do you think should be the priorities for transport in these new greenfield areas in the North?

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.

ATAP Foundation Report

For many years now one of the biggest areas of difference between the government and the council has been in the area of transport. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the City Rail Link where the government dismissed the project for years until it became politically untenable to continue doing. Even when government agencies and the council/AT worked together – like on the City Centre Future Access Study – the two sides couldn’t agree even on some of the basics.

While the government changed its position of support for the CRL back in 2013, the two were still worlds apart on the future of Auckland’s transport system during the Long Term Plan debate last year, most notably over the issue of how to pay for future projects.

In August last year there started to be a light at the end of the tunnel – and it wasn’t a train coming through the CRL. The council and government signed a Terms of Reference for what they called the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) which over the course of a year would look at trying to come to an agreement on a broad 30-year plan for transport in the region.

On Friday Transport Minister Simon Bridges and Mayor Len Brown released first of three reports ATAP will produce over the course of the work – the Foundation Report. Before going into that I must say I was quite impressed with the speeches, especially that of Bridges who I thought covered some of the issues very well. He even talked about trying to take the politics out of transport as much as possible and ultimately that is what ATAP is about.

ATAP - Foundation Report Launch Simon Bridges

The Foundation Report is essentially all of the agencies involved agreeing on the assumptions and evidence they will use to assess how effective potential solutions will be. This is important as by having an agreed set of inputs to the process they should avoid the disputes of the past were each side ended up with widely different results. It also helps to define just where the focus on solutions needs to be.

Now that they’ve agreed on the how Auckland will change over 30 years the next step they are taking is to come up with and model a range of transport packages (combinations of
transport projects, services and policies). This will be used to try and find the ultimate package they end up recommending. Having picked the low hanging transport fruit they note that solutions from here on out get much more challenging and expensive – although I’d argue they haven’t quite finished picking all of the low hanging PT and cycling fruit just yet.

I haven’t had a chance to read all 64 pages of the report but at first glance it appears to cover many of the issues we’ve been highlighting for years which great to see.

Current State

Starting off with Auckland’s Geography they note the impacts on the city’s urban form caused by the harbours which has resulted in development stretching out considerably giving it the appearance of being lower density than it actually is. They also make this observation which succinctly covers why:

Auckland’s geography presents a number of major transport challenges and opportunities. Infrastructure and demand are focused into a small number of narrow corridors, leading to congested pinch points across the transport network. Conversely, this concentration of demand should be well suited to supporting high capacity public transport systems – although Auckland’s relatively dispersed employment creates challenges for the efficient provision of public transport.

I guess another way you could say this is, we have a geography which through its multiple pinch points is almost uniquely suited to high capacity public transport solutions but we stuffed it up by spreading employment too thinly – which of course we did in the belief it would reduce congestion.

Moving on to how Auckland has been performing recently. Over the last decade or so Auckland has had significant investment in transport which in part is starting to catch up on decades of underinvestment. Since 2003 the regions population has grown by about 300,000 yet they say travel time surveys show that AM peak congestion has actually fallen, PM peak is fairly stable while there’s a slight upward trend in interpeak congestion. They do note that this is at a regional level and some areas may have more localised congestion issues. They also say travel time variability has increased.

ATAP - Travel Time Delay

They also note that people at an individual level are driving less but that had been offset by population increases however even the total vehicle travel has flat-lined recently.

ATAP - Road Travel Demand

PT use has also improved but as we talk about that regularly I don’t think I need to cover it again.

Comparing Auckland to the key Australian cities they note that on average we have less congestion all of them with the exception of Perth. Where we do struggle is with travel time reliability and particularly in the afternoon peak. Of course with the exception of Adelaide, Auckland is smaller than all of these cities.

ATAP - Congestion

Future Trends

ATAP are using Stats NZ medium growth projection which out to 2043 sees an additional 700,000 people living in the region. They also expect another 250,000 jobs in Auckland with the sector seeing the most growth being business services. The maps below show where the growth for both metrics is expected to occur. The darker the colour the more it is expected to change. The shaded areas are the future urban areas.

ATAP - Population growth to 2046

One of the concerns they’ve identified is that a significant amount of the population growth is expected to be over 20km from the city centre while much of the employment growth will be closer to the centre.

ATAP - Land Use Projection

Again they seem to be suggesting that road focused solutions are going to struggle.

These projected household and employment growth trends will place significant pressure on the transport network through longer trip lengths, especially to major centres. The low level of growth in local employment is also likely to make improvements in employment access by car more challenging, as trips lengthen and become relatively more focused towards major centres with constrained access. Furthermore, the high value of land in major centres presents a key challenge of providing significant people-moving capacity without using extensive amounts of space.

Despite this they’ve tried to predict the future vehicle travel demand which they think will increase substantially over the next 30 years. They say the demand growth is largely in line with population growth so effectively represents a flat-lining of per capita car travel.

ATAP - Land Use Projection

ATAP is also considering the impact of technology changes. They make no predictions about what will happen but do say that the next stages of the project will look at them in more detail and the impact they would have on the options they assess.

Evaluation Objectives

To assess how well the transport packages work they’ve created five high level objectives and under each is one or more measures and KPIs. The objectives are:

  • Improve access to employment and labour
  • Improve congestion results
  • Increase public transport mode share
  • Increased financial costs deliver net user benefits
  • Ensure value for money

In addition to the objectives they’ll also be assessing the packages against some other outcomes. Again there are one or more measures and KPI’s under these outcomes.

  • Support access to housing
  • Minimise harm
  • Maintain existing assets
  • Social inclusion and equity
  • Network resilience
Understanding the Problem

To get a base case, ATAP have assessed how the plan used in the Long Term Plan performed. As you may recall this was a build everything plan and had the following major projects completed in over the three decades

ATAP - APTN major projects

So here’s how it performed.

Over the 30 years the proportion of jobs able to be accessed by a car within 30 minutes declines while the number of jobs accessibly by PT in 45 minutes increases but the rate of that increase reduces after 2026. The report doesn’t say why they assess cars and PT using different travel times.

ATAP - APTN jobs accessible

This is shown more visually in the maps below.

Out to 2026, despite the investment in the Western Ring Route jobs accessibly by car decline most significantly in West Auckland while PT improvements are mostly in Central Auckland and the North Shore.

ATAP - APTN jobs accessible map 2026

At the end of the 30-year period it’s the North Shore that benefits most with the most improvements in both car and PT results. The Northwest Busway obviously has quite an impact too.

ATAP - APTN jobs accessible map 2046

In all scenarios West Auckland (as opposed to the North West) and South Auckland don’t fare all that well compared to other parts of Auckland. They note that this is something they’ll need to address through the ATAP process.

Overall congestion is expected to get worse for cars with the biggest impact being off peak. For PT though the increase in the Rapid Transit network or use of bus lanes means that PT trips suffering from road congestion will improve.

ATAP - Severe Congestion

PT modeshare is expected to increase from 7% to 15% over the 30 years. Combined with walking and cycling driving modeshare is expected to continue to decline. Taking out active modes and PT modeshare rises from 13% to 29% across the region but will obviously be much higher in some areas like the city centre.

ATAP - PT Modeshare

Maps showing PT modeshare changes are similar to the ones above showing the most change happening on the isthmus, North Shore and Northwest with little change in the west and south. They note that rail service levels used in the models for the West and South are not likely to be good enough. They note:

Overall, the APTN analysis highlights that public transport mode share growth needs to make a greater contribution to reducing congestion, particularly for long trips where people using private vehicles are utilising highly congested motorway corridors

Overall it’s an interesting report and given the constraints on the road network – i.e. there isn’t any space for new or much wider ones – suggests they’ll need to significantly improve what is planned for PT if they want to get better transport outcomes for Auckland. Getting more people on PT will be the best thing for those that need to drive.

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.