An Auckland Urban Redevelopment Agency?

Details are starting to emerge from the Council’s review of its Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) to see if any changes need to be made to them. The CCOs were set up in 2010 by the government as part of the super city changes to manage many of the council’s functions. The CCOs are:

  • Auckland Council Investments Limited
  • Auckland Council Property Limited
  • Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Limited
  • Auckland Transport
  • Auckland Waterfront Development Agency Limited (Waterfront Auckland)
  • Regional Facilities Auckland
  • Watercare Services Limited

We’re not likely to see many changes to Auckland Transport or Watercare as their existence is enshrined in legislation however the other CCOs are not.

One change I’ve long liked the idea of is to merge Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Property Limited (ACPL) to create a region wide urban development agency. Waterfront Auckland has been the driver behind the spectacular and internationally award winning redevelopment of the Wynyard Quarter while ACPL manages almost 1200 properties around the region worth over $1 billion. They say part of their role is to facilitate development that supports the council’s broader place shaping and housing development objectives however on the surface it doesn’t appear that much has happened in this regard. A combined agency that is able to harness some of the knowledge and skills that Waterfront Auckland have built up and leverage that across the region would be extremely useful.

Wynyard Central

Density done well coming to Wynyard

I know many others who have expressed this view too and it appears this might be exactly what will happen.

The Auckland Council is considering merging its waterfront agency and property company as it focuses on how to improve run down main streets.

The new development agency is the biggest change being considered in a year-long review of council-controlled organisations, which has so far continued behind closed doors.

Council chief executive Stephen Town has provided a glimpse into the review, which will run for a further month.

Mr Town said the council had looked at similar re-generation agencies in Australia, which put existing council property into joint ventures, with the private sector or government.

“In some parts of Auckland we’ve got very large land holdings clustered in town centres,” he said.

“It’s not inconceivable to see $500 million to $1.5 billion developments occurring over 10 years.”

The council is loathe to name possible redevelopment centres at this stage. However there are obvious candidates.

On the same day as the council unveiled the agency proposal, members of Avondale Community Action appealed to the Auckland Development Committee to re-vitalise their neglected town centre.

Avondale includes vacant private sites in the middle of the town centre, run down council-owned facilities, and Housing New Zealand property ripe for redevelopment. Other long-established centres in decline include Mt Albert, Otahuhu and Papatoetoe.

Mr Town said the work though could begin in earnest before then, under existing council structures. He said the development agency would likely begin life inheriting a portfolio of surplus council property, but would be expected to enhance council finances, rather than be a burden on them.

If an Urban Development Agency is formed, it is expected to result in cuts to management within the existing Waterfront Agency, and Auckland Council Properties Limited. That has yet to be explored.

If it goes ahead the biggest risk is what kind of culture comes through and that will likely be determined by how the merger occurs. In my view it would be better to put the property acquisition and management experience into the Waterfront Auckland structure rather than to put the urban design, planning and development experience into the ACPL structure.

Overall a well run urban redevelopment agency would be a huge asset to the council that would enable some of the visions highlighted in the Auckland Plan to become a reality.

Wynyard Quarter Residential 1

 

A Tamaki TOD?

Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:

Town centre could rise around new rail station

Tamaki Site

Colin Taylor writes:

One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.

The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.

Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.

The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.

This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.

Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.

“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.

“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.

“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”

Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.

“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”

However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.

“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”

This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].

But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.

So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.

  • A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
  • A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
  • A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
  • A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.

With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.

Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.

However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.

Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].

And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.

Orakei Bay Village – To P&R or not to P&R?

Some of you who have been living in Auckland over the last decade might recall the long-running saga that is the Orakei Bay Village.

When the project was first mooted around a decade ago, it was met with furious local opposition. Thankfully the proposal has now progressed to a “point” where new houses may actually be delivered. Stage 1 is illustrated below (sourced from here); as you can see it’s a reasonably pleasant spot to develop some houses, shops, and some new recreational facilities.

Orakei_Hero_with_no_labels

Not only is the development situated on the edge of Hobson Bay, it is also accessible to Orakei Station in the Eastern Line, which is barely 8 minutes by train to Britomart, something the developers are keen to point out. The merits of the development itself, however, are not the topic of this post.

Instead, in this post I want to explore the merits of providing park and ride at Orakei Station. Some of you may also know that Orakei Station currently provides about 178 park and ride spaces. In the above photo you can see the park and ride spaces shown in the bottom right hand corner. Their presence in close proximity to medium to high density housing looked to me to be somewhat anomalous.

In this previous post I explored some of the merits of P&R and discussed the conditions where P&R might work well. Since that post was written AT has released a draft parking discussion document, which provides more specific criteria to guide future investment in park and ride. The key section is illustrated below (p. 44).

Capture

Below I’ve undertaken a brief evaluation of Orakei Point’s suitability for park and ride compared to the most pertinent policy points outlined in AT’s parking discussion document:

  • Wider PT accessibility. This location will be well-served by all-day bus connections. The all-day network released with AT’s Regional Public Transport Plan shows how both Orakei and the adjacent Meadowbank station will be accessible from local bus services. Indeed, to access Orakei you have to drive past these bus stops. For this reason, providing park and ride at Orakei is likely to undermine local bus services.
  • Local congestion around the station. Traffic congestion was frequently put forward by local residents as a reason to decline the proposed plan change for Orakei Point. Their opposition suggests the local area does experience traffic congestion, which is of course likely to be exacerbated by the provision of park and ride.
  • Congestion upstream of the station. While there is congestion upstream of the station, the city centre is so close that the resulting congestion relief provided by a park and ride at Orakei would appear to be fairly small, at least compared to other potential park and ride locations located further away from the city centre (where land is also cheaper).
  • Land use controls of the area surrounding the station. The recent plan change means that this location is now suitable for high-density development, as evident from the above image. This suggests that park and ride might not be the highest and best use of this land.
  • Public transport fare zones. Orakei is only one stage to Britomart. This in turn means that providing park and ride in this location may encourage people drive to the train at Orakei as a way of avoiding paying a higher fare for travelling from further out. In this way, park and ride at Orakei might undermine revenue (although of course the zone structure may change in the future).

When evaluated against AT’s five main park and ride investment criteria, Orakei Point does not appear to be a suitable location for park and ride. Perhaps the only criteria where there is doubt relates to the potential congestion relief benefits of the P&R. We can, however, do some quick calculations to quantify whether this argument has any merit.

Auckland Council’s GIS viewer suggests land at Orakei Point is valued at approximately $900 per sqm. If we use this land value and assume 30 sqm per car-park, then we get $25,000 per car-park. Let’s round that up to $30k per car-park to allow for some capital depreciation/operating costs. Using this figure within a standard discounted cash-flow model (i.e. 8% discount rate; 30 year lifetime) then we can calculate that a benefit stream of approximately $2,500 per car-park p.a. is required to yield a benefit cost ratio of 1, i.e. to reach economic break-even point.

Now we need to asses the congestion reduction that might follow from providing park and ride in this location.

If we assume vehicles using the Orakei park and ride would otherwise travel to the city centre (i.e. somewhere in the vicinity of Britomart) via Kepa Road and Orakei Drive, then each avoided vehicle trip will save about 5km of driving, or 10km per return trip. If we then annualise this distance by assuming 220 days p.a., then we find that each vehicle diverted to using the park and ride as opposed to driving to the city centre would save about 2,200 vehicle km p.a.

This previous post, however, presented evidence on some of the diversion effects of park and ride. Research in the Netherlands found that only 25% of park and ride users would otherwise drive for their entire journey in the in the absence of park and ride. Instead, many park and ride users were “diverted” from alternative options, such that park and rides caused a net increase in driving in many locations. Post-opening surveys of the Northern Express also found large diversion rates, with only 50% of park and ride users responding that they previously drove to the city centre.

This diversion effect can be incorporated into our calculations by factoring down the vehicle kilometre savings down, by say 50%. This suggests that 1,100 vehicle kilometres p.a. are removed from the road network for every park and ride space provided. If we divide the annual cost ($2,500) by the annual benefit (1,100km), then we find that the cost of removing this travel from the road network is $2.26 per vehicle kilometre. This means that each kilometre removed from the road network by providing park and ride at Orakei has to generate $2.26 in congestion reduction benefits to make the investment worthwhile.

Personally, this seems like an implausibly high congestion reduction benefit to attribute to removing vehicle travel from the road network.

To put it in context, the average journey to work trip by car in Auckland is approximately 10km. Using this per kilometre rate, removing the average journey to work trip by car would generate approximately $23 in congestion savings. And even this relatively high congestion reduction benefit would result in a benefit-cost ratio of only 1.0, i.e. an extremely marginal investment from NZTA’s perspective.

Of course, there may be other benefits from providing park and ride. However, there’s also additional costs.

Remember that some of the people diverted to using the P&R would have otherwise used park and ride elsewhere and/or used a connecting bus. Providing park and ride at Orakei therefore might be expected to increase the congestion generated by these journeys compared to an alternative scenario in which park and ride was not provided at Orakei Point.

Finally, there’s also the longer term land use displacement effect. This reflects how choosing to provide park and ride in this location would tend to reduce the intensity of residential development that could be accommodated at the site. Some of the residents displaced by providing park and ride will likely choose to live further out from the city, in locations where they are even more likely to drive.

In conclusion, based on this back of the envelope assessment Orakei Point does not seem to be a suitable location for park and ride.

That’s not to say, however, that park and ride in other locations might not be worthwhile. Indeed, if we consider our simple benefit-cost analysis then investment in park and ride would seem to make the most sense where: 1) land values are low; 2) vehicle trip distances and long; and 3) it does not compete with non-car access modes.

Public continue to want better PT

This week the council released the results of a survey into the public’s priorities for the region and once again transport came out on top.

The majority of Aucklanders say better public transport, less traffic congestion, and more affordable and quality housing are the top priorities for the region.

The results are part of an annual survey measuring what Aucklanders want from their council and how they feel Auckland Council is performing.

The annual survey is a valuable tool to help the council gauge the concerns and priorities of its residents, and to identify where the council needs to improve its services, activities and communication.

The latest council-Colmar Brunton survey was concluded in September 2013 and measures a range of factors, including perception and attitudes towards council’s performance, and what Aucklanders want from their council.

When asked what Auckland needed to focus on to become the world’s most liveable city, 61 per cent of respondents said improved public transport, 54 per cent said reduced traffic congestion, and 44 per cent said more affordable and quality housing.

You can find the full results of the survey here. It took place last year and in total over 3000 people took part with a margin of error of 1.8%. One thing I’m not sure of is why the results took so long to be released.

Here’s the full list of responses that gave the answers above.

AKL council priorities 2013 - Key Priority areas

The top two answers are extremely similar which highlights the desire with which people want to see transport improved. Of course one of the advantages of investing in PT is that while it won’t reduce congestion directly (due to induced demand) it can reduce the number of people exposed to congestion as there are options to avoid it.

The results are also similar to a lot of other polls. A few months ago a poll from Stuff saw huge support for investing in PT

Stuff Poll - Govt Focus

A NZ Herald poll last year showed 54.6% of respondents think PT is the best way to improve Auckland’s traffic problems

Also earlier last year a UMR poll showed large support nationwide for better PT.

UMR Road vs PT poll

 

Of course what we’re getting in funding is quite different with a huge amount of funding being poured into roading projects while PT projects struggle.

On a separate note, also from the survey there was a number of questions related to the council’s sub brands. What surprised me was not so much the results but just how many sub brands the council has.

AKL council priorities 2013 - Council Brands

Where to now for transport in Auckland?

In some respects Saturday night’s election result changes nothing from a transport perspective. It seems as though the government that will be formed over the next three years will be remarkably similar to that we’ve had for the past three years and there’s certainly no indication of a change in direction for transport policy from what we’ve had over the past six years. However, this has some important implications:

  • It’s almost certain that Puhoi-Warkworth will be built, with construction likely to start before the 2017 election and the project built/funded as a PPP.
  • There will continue to be a lot of discussion around the timing of City Rail Link and whether the Council or Government budges from their preferred start date.
  • Progress on any alternative funding mechanisms to close the so called “funding gap” for transport seems pretty unlikely. This is despite the fact some government departments have also being doing their own investigations on alternative funding sources due to lower than expected revenues into the National Land Transport Fund.
  • There is likely to be more money for cycling projects thanks to the $100 million for urban cycleways around the country over four years

Cam discussed Puhoi-Warkworth in his post yesterday, so in this post I’m going to focus on the CRL and alternative funding, particularly what the election results means for these two key (although not necessarily connected) issues.

Starting with the CRL, a start on the project as a whole anytime in the next three years now seems fairly unlikely. This means hopes of completing the project by 2021 are probably slim unless the Council can talk government into a very big change of position. The Council is keen to progress talks with government about the timing and funding of CRL, but it seems likely that these talks will focus on funding of the section underneath the downtown shopping centre:

Although the council wants to start CRL by 2016, the previous Government indicated no funding before 2020 unless certain rail patronage and employment targets were met. But [Penny] Hulse remains confident of middle ground.

“We’ve been working well with the Government over the last three years and we don’t expect that to change. The start time and funding are things we need to talk to the Government about,” she said.

This section is particularly important as it is key to delivering not just the redevelopment of the downtown shopping centre site but also a whole raft of projects that are part of the Downtown Framework including making things better for buses on Customs St.

I’m still confident the rail patronage targets set by the government – that patronage will track towards hitting 20 million journeys per year by 2020 – will be met or even exceeded, plus of course there’s still another election in 2017 between now and the government’s current preferred start date. But it seems prudent, for now at least, for the Council to just get on with building the section under the downtown shopping mall – like I said in this previous post. Once CRL is started, it will be much easier to “complete” and the section underneath the downtown shopping centre will make constructing the rest of the project much easier – especially if they can get the bit under Customs Street built as part of this first stage:

So I don’t really think Saturday’s election results change things much for the CRL. I would imagine that the main focus to negotiations over CRL between government and the Council is likely to be around whether the government stumps up with half the cost of the first stage of the project or whether they force Council to fund the whole thing – like has happened so far. I think it would be quite a good look for the government to provide CRL with some financial support for the first stage, to show that it’s serious about believing in the CRL project and to show that it values redevelopment of the city centre.

In relation to alternative transport funding, this might be a bigger hurdle to resolve as the government has been pretty clear on its position previously – no congestion charging and no additional tolls on existing motorways. To some extent this may not be an issue, as I highlighted a few weeks back the “baseline transport programme” (what can be afforded without additional funding with 2.5-3.5% rates increases over the next decade) doesn’t actually look too bad, at least in terms of what big projects are in (CRL, AMETI, new bus network stuff etc.) and out (Penlink). The devil may come in the details of what projects can be afforded when and how much additional walking and cycling funding is available, but at least for now it doesn’t seem like the end of the world if there’s no progress on alternative funding schemes in the next three years. Unless you’re a Penlink supporter, of course!

In saying that it also seems government agencies are becoming increasingly interesting in the issue of alternative funding as a way to provide certainty to the revenues flowing into the National Land Transport Fund (the account that collects all of the transport taxes). It may be a few years away yet but I get the feeling the noise surrounding alternative funding sources is just going to get louder and louder so we’re likely on a course to needing a nationwide discussion about them. When this happens the work put in by the council on the matter is likely to come in quite handy.

The last main issue relates to cycling improvements. From a transport point of view this was one of the highlights of election campaign as every major party (and most of the minor ones) all agreed on the need to spend considerably more on walking and cycling than currently happens. For their part National promised to spend $100 million over four years on urban cycleways. Based on Auckland’s share of the urban population that could see it receiving over $40 million over the four years which would represent an approximate doubling in spending. In saying that a lot will hinge on just how much the council agree to in the Long Term Plan. With the government now seemingly on board with cycling there is a risk the council will try to use the enlarged cycling pot as a chance to cut back on some of the council’s spend. Instead the opposite needs to happen and they need to at least double funding to go on top of whatever the government plan to provide.

So overall, aside from the fact we’re near certain to waste three-quarters of the billion dollars plus whatever the PPP costs on Puhoi to Warkworth, I don’t think the election results is too much of an issue for advancing key transport issues in the next few years. It does mean the slower delivery of CRL, but that’s not unexpected and may help ensure key bus infrastructure for the new network can be completed in time. There’s a certain irony that the government’s dislike for alternative transport funding options probably means a delay to Penlink, a project I understand the local National MP has pushed strongly for, but that project’s a waste of money anyway.

Lastly it was disappointing that despite many requests the first time we got to meet transport minister Gerry Brownlee was at the election debate night. I will also be keeping an eye out to see if we get a new transport minister and whoever it is, I hope they become open to meeting with us this term.

O’Connell St officially opened, time to close it again?

On Friday evening the new O’Connell St shared space was officially opened. The street is by far the best shared space created in Auckland to date, thanks in large part to the historic buildings in the area which feel like they’ve been brought to life after peeling back the layers of vehicle dominated neglect. This has also been helped by the council having included lighting of the buildings as part of the project – a first for our shared space projects.

The street was closed to vehicles for the opening but what was particularly fantastic was seeing so many people out and enjoying the food and drink being put on by the local businesses. The people (along with the light cubes and band) took the space to another level that also sucked in passers-by eager to join in and enjoy the space, even if they were just making their way home. It did make me wonder if this is the most people the street has had in it – at least in the last 50-60 years.

O'Connell Opening

And here are the light cubes which provided colour and placemaking. Later in the evening, after many of the people attending the opening had left, people out in the city also made use of them.

O'Connell Opening Cubes

It really feels like an intimate people space and it’s one I think we’ll see evolve over the coming years, as I’m predicting a lot more restaurants and bars will open out to the street. While I realise the street has only just opened up again, what the experience from the opening really highlighted to me was the need for us to close the street down to traffic often (arguably it shouldn’t have reopened at all but that’s a discussion for another day). Perhaps the council/AT could start by closing it from around 11am on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays which allows time for deliveries in the mornings but then hands the street over to people and the retailers.

One of the fantastic things about O’Connell St, compared to many others, is how easy it would be to shut it down for vehicles. There is only one entrance to the street and even for this event just a single “road closed” sign and a few road cones was all that was needed. On top of that there’s not a single vehicle entrance for the entire length of the street – a rarity in Auckland – which means that other that other than deliveries there’s not a single need for any vehicles to even be in the street.

O'Connell Opening CRoad Closed sign

While on the subject of O’Connell St there are a few other things that spring to mind.

  • It really highlights how much High St is dominated by cars. It makes me wonder if the majority of retailers and building owners who gave in to the cadre of parking obsessed neighbours are ruing the decision.
  • One of the great things about O’Connell St is the view down the street to Commerce St and the harbour. It highlights how important it is that when the old Auckland Star site is eventually developed – hopefully not as just a carpark – that it retains some elements of this.
  • We need to remember that we almost got this street very very wrong. The original plan was to retain a kerb defined carriageway and a handful of the parking spots with just slightly wider and nicer paving. Without many parked cars it would have been a racetrack and the upgrade a disaster. We were amongst many who pushed back on this and urged the council to reconsider. It’s also worth noting that the council originally said the street was too narrow to develop a shared space. With the outcome that’s been achieved I don’t think anyone would say the original plan was the right one.
  • In my opinion the Nikaus in Queen St are often dwarfed by the size of the road, however in O’Connell St I think they work fantastically and add beautifully to the buildings.

In other news it appears the issues of lots of cars continuing to park in the street could be over:

All up despite being one of the oldest streets in Auckland, O’Connell St feels like a new fantastic addition to the city which perhaps highlights just how sad and forgotten it had become. Well done to all involved in the upgrade and thanks to the retailers who put up with the disruption while construction occurred.

The Pullman Hotel – Pulled into line?

Greetings from Barcelona, where I’m currently winding up a 3 week European holiday that has also taken me to Amsterdam, Paris, and Porto. But my thoughts on those cities will have to wait for another day, because right now I want to engage in some bloated, tapas-filled celebration of a more local achievement.

That’s right – our wee TransportBlog community can notch up another sweet (albeit small) civic success on our train belts (NB: Some of our earlier successes are documented here and here).

First some background. Some of our longer time readers may remember this post from approximately 18 months ago, in which I ranted and rallied against a metal post that had been rather brutally plonked smack in the middle of a narrow footpath, as illustrated below. I live and work in the area and this metal post was, frankly, a small but constant pain in the ass head whenever I stumbled home blind drunk from many and varied soirees.

Pullman post gone

 

And just take a look at it now (NB: Photo taken by Kent Lundberg – urbanist extraordinaire and fellow MRCagney worker bee). Note this photo has been taken looking south, i.e. opposite direction from the previous photo.

photo

Boo yah – begone ye post! And look at all those happy pedestrians; no longer do they have to swerve around the plywood box inconveniently placed in their way. Instead they can move freely, and glower at oncoming pedestrians without obstruction.

More seriously though: This is just one more small example of the sorts of positive transport outcomes that can be driven by an educated, informed, and pro-active community – such as that which TransportBlog has – over a number of years – sought to cultivate.

Of course credit needs to go to Auckland Council and/Auckland Transport for taking this issue up with the Pullman. I believe, from my not-so-secret contacts with democratically elected representatives, that Christopher Dempsey of the Waitemata Local Board also deserves mention for pursuing the issue.

In terms of the Pullman Hotel, I think it’s a crying shame you took so long to come to the civic party and acknowledge that you, or the Hotel’s previous owners, had clearly erred in placing this metal post in the footpath. Personally, I believe that “law” is a minimum morality and that their references to having consent for the aforementioned pole were a dereliction of duty to the community in which their Hotel operates.

But now that it’s been put right, I hereby declare that my Company’s embargo on your services has been lifted. Not that I’ll be using it anytime soon, preferring instead the wonderful travel opportunities opened up by the likes of AirBnb (NB: I hope to cover how this so-called “sharing economy” website is revolutionising how we travel and in turn how we utilise our housing stock in a subsequent post).

In spite of this sweet success, there is one obvious outstanding question: What’s the next priority for Auckland’s long-suffering pedestrians? Speak now; the AT/AC God’s may just be listening.

 

 

4th batch of Special Housing Areas Announced

Yesterday the council and government announced the next batch of Special Housing Areas. These are the areas that are able to use a fast tracked consenting processes and for which the Unitary Plan rules (with a few conditions) come in to effect immediately. The intention is that by the faster consents will lead to developers building more dwellings and therefore helping address housing affordability however it also seems like some developers are just pushing for their land to be an SHA so they can sell it for an easier profit. All up there are 17 new SHAs bringing the total to 80 across the region. The Council say the new SHAs represent capacity for 8,000 new dwellings and that all SHAs combined have a potential of 41,500 dwellings. Below is a map of the new SHAs.

Tranche 4 Map

The first thing I noticed is that a decent proportion seem to be brownfield sites which is good however on closer inspection the greenfield sites while fewer in number still represent the majority of dwellings proposed. For example the massive Redhills SHA in the Northwest represents about 3500 dwellings which is almost half of all the new dwellings these SHAs cover. The council’s site has the details and maps of each of the specific SHAs but here’s a quick summary

  • Akoranga Drive, Northcote – 107 dwellings however it appears this is a retirement village.
  • Barrack Road, Mt Wellington – 40 dwellings – These are within walking distance of the Panmure Station which is good.
  • Bellfield Road, Papakura – 350 dwellings, this is the former Papakura Golf Course
  • Bunnythorpe Road, Papakura – 10 dwellings
  • Coates Avenue, Orakei – 14 dwellings
  • East Coast Road, Pine Hill – 39 apartments
  • Enfield Street, Mt Eden – 64 apartments over two buildings however interestingly these seem to fall outside the SHA rules by being 5 storeys.
  • Corner Great North Road and Walsall Street, Avondale – 36 dwellings
  • Harbourside Drive, Hingaia – 200 to 300 new dwellings
  • Mokoia Road, Birkenhead – 31 apartments
  • Morrin Street, Ellerslie – 138 units in a retirement village
  • Racecourse Parade, Avondale – 15 dwellings, this land is owned by the council under Auckland Council Properties Limited who will be looking for a developer to come up with ideas for the site.
  • Redhills (Fred Taylor Drive) – Stage 1, Whenuapai – 3,500 dwellings over 10 years.
  • St Lukes Road, Mt Albert – 107 apartments
  • Takapuna Strategic SHA – this is a Strategic SHA where the rules apply to a large area in the hope that it will encourage land owners to develop. It is thought it could deliver 350 dwellings.
  • Tamaki Regeneration Area – 1,200 to 1,500 dwellings
  • West Hoe Heights, Orewa – 400 to 800 dwellings

Of the SHAs above three in particular are very large greenfield developments that are likely to be the same type of sprawl we’ve seen so many times already. For the calculations below I’ve assumed about 20% of the land will be used for road access or public space.

Bellfield Road, Papakura – at almost 27ha the 350 dwellings would mean section sizes in excess of 600m². It’s currently zoned as Future Urban.

Bellfield Rd SHA

Redhills (Fred Taylor Drive) – Stage 1, Whenuapai - this is just the first 200ha of a 600ha development and the 3,500 dwellings equate to sections of approx 450m² each. It’s currently zoned Future Urban

Redhills Stage 1 SHA

West Hoe Heights, Orewa - even larger at over 37ha, the 400-800 new dwellings would be on sites somewhere between 375m² and 750m². It’s currently zoned single house which means sections of a minimum of 500m².

West Hoe Heights SHA

Lastly as here’s a map showing all of the announced SHAs

Special Housing Areas 1 2 3 4

NW Busway update

Along with information about the Downtown open space options, the agenda for the councils Development Committee (19 MB) contains an update on the Northwestern Busway. This seems like especially good timing considering the NW busway is something that has been suggested would be cut as part of the next Long Term Plan.

The busway is currently listed in the Integrated Transport Programme as being built sometime between 2021 and 2031 however the report highlights that it is likely to be needed sooner than that. This is primarily a result of the council’s decision to allow for a lot of greenfield growth in the Northwest. They say that up to 80,000 dwellings could be in the area by 2041 which would equate to over 200,000 residents and that’s just the greenfield growth. On top of this the local board for the area (Henderson-Massey) were perhaps the most progressive of all boards when it came to the Unitary Plan and pushed for many areas to be up zoned above what was originally in the plans. This will likely see a lot more people also in Te Atatu and other locations near the SH16 corridor.

NW Development area

In addition to the residential growth the council expects that up to 60,000 jobs will be in the area by 2041. While that’s a lot it’s nowhere near the amount of people who would be in the area so most people are likely to still need to travel for employment or study and that will put huge pressure on transport networks. All of which means that the busway is likely to be needed even sooner that the current plans suggest. It’s also correctly noted that the North West is quite a distinct corridor to that served by the rail network.

The report notes that modelling suggests that by 2041 there will be 30,000 trips across all modes from West Auckland to the city centre and fringe areas in the morning peak alone. That’s an absolutely massive number and as a comparison only around 20,000 are expected from the North Shore.

The NZTA is currently building upgraded shoulder lanes between Te Atatu Rd and Waterview which will come in to use in 2016 and apparently the NZTA will also build bus shoulders between Lincoln Rd and Westgate by 2018. However it is expected a full busway will be needed and AT believe the best place for that to happen is on the Southern side. The graphic below shows the busway as proposed and the shoulder lanes planed for SH16 in the meantime. It also shows bus lanes on eventually on SH18 as well.

Busway schematic

Based on this the busway would be almost 7km which is similar in length to what the Northern Busway is. One difference to the Northern Busway though is the number of stations, many of which would likely be similar to Sunnynook and provide for local access rather than being large interchange stations (those are likely to be Te Atatu, Lincoln Rd and Massey North). Speaking of Te Atatu it appears to confirm that any future bus interchange would be on the South Western side of the interchange.

The ITP has the project listed at $376 million however AT say they are now working on a business case to understand the full costs and benefits of the busway.

I think it’s great that the busway is being progressed but I can’t help but feel like we missed a golden opportunity to get it implemented as part of the SH16 project.

Getting better public space downtown

The Auckland Development Committee meets on Thursday and one of the items on the agenda (19mb) is an evaluation of Downtown Public Space which is related to the potential sale of Queen Elizabeth Square. Council officers have recommended that approval should be given to sell the square based on the outcome of an options evaluation study has been completed which looks at alternative options. It also references a report from Jan Gehl’s company which has assessed the square and made suggestions what could be done to improve it.

The report from Gehl and Associates say that the square has some good things about it – like its size – but also has some significant issues. These include

  • It has poor climatic conditions, in particular that it’s windswept due to tall buildings in immediate vicinity which also cause it to be overshadowed for most of the day.
  • That there’s a lack of activation by the surrounding frontages.
  • That it’s unintegrated from Queen St due to the bus shelters that exist.

The note that to fix the space we would need to

  • Demolish the HSBC building
  • Redevelop the buildings and provide active frontages
  • Reconfigure the bus interchange

The Council have said buying and demolishing the HSBC building would cost approximately $100 million. Gehl and Associates also made the comment “if other open space options exist within the area it would be worthwhile exploring how they could offer something that is more valuable and attractive than the current QE Square.

The options evaluation report which was by Reset Urban Design starts by looking at the history of the square along its attributes. One of the ones that stands out most for me is that the space is sunny at lunchtime for only 25% of the year. Overall when looking at the existing square it notes the following pros and cons of it.

The positive attributes include:

  • It is next to a major pedestrian route – adjacent to Lower Queen Street
  • At approximately 2000 sq metres, it is a sizable space
  • It is opposite the CPO (Britomart Transport Centre) building

The negative attributes include:

  • It does not support objectives of connectivity and permeability in relation to the public open space network in the downtown area
  • It creates a gap in the building edge on the western side of Queen Street – the main city to harbour link
  • It is subdivided from the adjacent space of Lower Queen Street and does little to support this space
  • It is a residual space that has become the forecourt to a private shopping mall development with poor building edges – it is not a destination
  • Its original reason for being is usurped; it has become a ‘side show’ to the nearby waterfront and does little to enhance the link with the waterfront
  • There is minimal mana whenua or heritage value
  • It has a poor environment – being both windy and in shade for the majority of the day
  • It doesn’t meet the open space/recreation needs of residents, workers or visitors

It then looks at some potential options which are shown below

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Options

They’ve then compared each of these options against the criteria set out in the Auckland Design Manual.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - ADM Analysis

It’s pretty clear the options that perform the best are numbers 2, 6, 7 & 8 which are looked at in more detail.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Possible open space

The options looked at hint at the direction council and it’s agencies are heading towards and represent some big changes that could come to this area of the city in the future.

Lower Queen St

The bus interchange would be moved to Albert St and linked to Britomart by 24/7 lane. There would still be some buses accessing the area although they would be restricted to just accessing or exiting from Galway and Tyler St. That would leave the area out the front of Britomart as well as half of the existing street to be turned into a pedestrian area that would be bigger than QE2 square is now. The new development which Precinct would build would then have active street frontages and it notes the section on QE2 square space would be a maximum of three storeys. I personally think it would be fantastic to have the area directly outside of Britomart as an open space.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Lower Queen St

Admiralty Steps

This is the section of waterfront to the east of Queens Wharf (C above). It would need to be brought of the Ports of Auckland and the intention would be to create an urban beach including access to the water.

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Admiralty Steps

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Admiralty Steps visualisation

Lower Albert St

Creating a wide promenade and people space between Queens Wharf and Princes Wharf. It would mean the ferries currently in the area would have to move more to Queens Wharf (more on that below).

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Lower Albert St

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Lower Albert St visualisation

Base of Queens Wharf

The existing ferry terminal (not the Ferry Building) would be removed. A wide promenade would be extended out from the Ferry building. It suggests ferry operations would be moved further up Queens Wharf

Downtown Open Space Options Report - Queens Wharf base

The council suggest that large parts of the Lower Queen St space would be paid for by the CRL project which will have to put large parts of the area back together after the tunnels are dug. The three waterfront options are being considered together and it’s proposed that the delivery of them is tied in with the Quay St upgrade. They say the sale of the square should be able to cover at least two of the three waterfront options.

So all up we have multiple reports from different companies saying that the existing square isn’t ideal and short of buying and demolishing the HSBC building will always be suboptimal. To compensate for the sale the suggestion is for a series of projects which would improve open space in the area for people. It still seems like quite early in the piece but personally I would much prefer what’s suggested above to an upgraded existing QE2 Square.