ATAP Interim Report

Yesterday, the second Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) report was released, with the third and final report due in August. ATAP is the council and government working together to come up with an agreed transport plan for Auckland, one that ultimately performs better than what is currently planned.

The first Foundation Report was about agreeing on the assumptions they would use (such as land use, growth rates etc), and looked at how the currently planned transport projects would perform in the future based on these assumptions. There was a lot of interesting information, but ultimately the report found that by 2046 the outcomes weren’t great, and highlighted that we need to improve our plans or face even greater congestion.

Now we have the Interim Report (2.1MB), which explains the outcomes and thinking so far from the work to look at how our transport plans could be better. The work so far includes looking at a range of transport interventions to see how what impact they have.

So far the media have focused on one very specific outcome of this interim report – road pricing – but there are a lot of other important points that needs to be covered. Perhaps more than anything, the important thing from ATAP so far is that it hints at thr old business saying of ‘joined up thinking’. That’s because it doesn’t just take a “build more stuff” approach, but looks at a mix of building stuff and also managing demand. So let’s go through what I thought were some of the key and interesting points found in the Interim Report.

Revenue Assumptions

While the purpose of ATAP is to come up with a better and aligned transport plan, it’s also important to consider how much that might cost. To that end, the ATAP team have taken a stab at how much money might be available to spend in the future. Investment in transport in Auckland has been much higher over the last decade, as the city has gone into catch-up mode, however they’ve projected that level of investment forward based on a couple of options. Continuing the current investment:

  • as a share of Auckland’s projected GDP – currently estimated at over 2.5%
  • on the same per capita basis.

Because productivity is expected to improve over time, the share of GDP measure results in a lot more transport spending and over a 30-year period results in total difference of around $23 billion. The two approaches are shown below, with the current expected spending also shown as far as is currently budgeted (10 years). The lump in current investment is the result of a heap of big projects on the books including CRL, East-West link, Puhoi to Warkworth etc.

ATAP - Interim Report - Revenue

Testing Alternative Packages

ATAP have tested alternative scenarios and condensed these down to two packages as shown below.

ATAP - Interim Report - Test Packages

These have then been modelled, to see how they perform relative to the Auckland Plan Transport Network from the Foundation Report. The outcome isn’t great, and they say that while there can be some improvements made in some areas, they are not to the level that would be needed to make a material difference. The colours on the graphs match the colours above.

ATAP - Interim Report - Package Modelling

The graphs above are at a regional level, but at a sub-regional level, things can be quite different. The Foundation Report highlighted big issues with accessibility from the South and West.

The big improvement in the Northwest for PT is the result of building the Northwest Busway, highlighting once again just how stupid it is that the NZTA aren’t building it right now as part of their motorway widening.

ATAP - Interim Report - Package Modelling - South + west

The report also gives a lot of backing to Auckland Transport’s plans for light rail – although without actually mentioning it. It talks about how a number of bus corridors to the city centre (North Shore, Northwest and Isthmus) will be subject to significant capacity issues unless something is done. The example given is of Symonds St showing that by 2045 it is well over capacity.

ATAP - Interim Report - Symonds St

The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing gets a specific mention too, which is unsurprising because as currently planned, it’s by far the single biggest transport project ever planned in New Zealand. What is surprising, though, is that ATAP seems to pour a bit of cold water on the road-building side, saying that it doesn’t improve congestion and seeming to suggest that perhaps a PT-only crossing might be more appropriate.

Improving access to and from the North Shore

  • The bridge and its approaches are a pinch-point on the transport network, particularly during the evening peak in both directions.
  • An additional crossing significantly improves accessibility to/from the North Shore, but does not appear to substantially improve congestion results.
  • Projected growth in public transport demand appears likely to trigger the need for a new crossing within the next 30 years. There is potential for a shared road/PT crossing, but the costs and benefits of different options require further analysis.

High cost of potential solutions

  • Because any new crossing will be tunnelled, there is a significant opportunity cost arising from this investment. Fully understanding key drivers, alternatives, cost and benefits will be crucial before any investment decisions are made.
  • It makes sense to protect the route for a new harbour crossing in a way that integrates potential future roading and public transport requirements.

The congestion issue is highlighted in these results, showing it is just as bad or actually worse.

ATAP - Interim Report - AWHC

New Opportunities

New opportunities represent some of the potential changes that could be made to the system but which are not currently in plans. It’s possible that they might not all become reality, but they were included in a bid to see what impact they could potentially have.

Part of ATAP’s terms of reference was to look at the impact of road pricing as a demand management tool. While the media have picked this up as “motorway tolling”, the outcome ATAP is talking about is quite a different beast. In essence motorway tolling was about raising as much money as possible and trying to do that efficiently. Road pricing for demand management is primarily about trying to get more efficient use of the road resource we have. ATAP is talking about pricing roads regardless of whether they are motorways or local roads, across the entire region i.e. a network-wide solution.

Their hypothetical solution looked at having varying charges between 3c and 40c per kilometre depending on time of day, location and the type of network the travel occurs within. As a comparison, a rough estimate suggests current fuel taxes are about 6c per kilometre now. An example of how the pricing could differ is shown below.

ATAP - Interim Report - Road Pricing Differences

This would still need some infrastructure investment, particularly on PT to give people options and these were included into a fourth package for modelling. As you can see, this fourth package (in blue below) performs significantly better than the other packages above when it comes to congestion.

ATAP - Interim Report - Manage Demand

This initial work suggests that the package of ‘road pricing plus extra public transport investment’ makes a massive difference, for both congestion and accessibility as shown in the two images above. ATAP says more work is needed to determine the exact impact, but it seems that road pricing is likely to have a major role in Auckland in the future. This has also now been confirmed by Simon Bridges, whose predecessors were very negative about earlier tolling ideas. This is a significant change and a welcome one.

In addition, ATAP also considered the impacts of technology, such as higher occupancy vehicles, most likely through ride-sharing and connected vehicles. They say the results are encouraging but also warn they likely reflect a best case scenario. Furthermore, as they don’t include any potential impact on overall travel demand (which could be significant), those savings could disappear.

ATAP - Interim Report - technology

Emerging strategic approach

ATAP say they asked the question of Should we build more or should we address demand? Ultimately, they suggest the outcome is likely going to be a mix of infrastructure and demand management. They highlight that there are likely diminishing returns on infrastructure, since it is increasingly expensive to provide to the existing urban area, so building our way out isn’t an option. This is an issue being faced all over the world.

All of the work above leads to the high level strategy ATAP will take – which is not all that different to what we’ve seen suggested before in various documents.

ATAP - Interim Report - Emerging Stragetic Approach

Overall, ATAP seems to be on the right track with the approach they’re taking. With the government, the council and all of the relevant agencies working together, it’s likely we’ll end up with a lot more agreement on transport in Auckland than we’ve had in the past. Have you read the document, if so what are your thoughts?

Is a “lack of land supply” the Council’s fault?

Over the weekend Bill English was interviewed on “The Nation” about the budget and how it contained very little to respond to Auckland’s housing crisis. The Minister seemed very keen shift housing discussion away from the budget, instead laying the blame on the Council (well one that hasn’t existed for 6 years).

Bill English - The Nation May-16

Yes, but we don’t make the decisions, Lisa. Auckland City Council make the decisions. Even the government can’t build a house in Auckland unless Auckland City Council frees up the land, provides the subdivision consent, processes all the consents, provides the building consent and allows the house to be occupied…

…This kind of takes us back to where I started here — the people in the cars, the first-home buyers who are locked out of the Auckland market, Auckland infrastructure. People will look at this and think that you are effectively asking those people to hold tight for at least another year so that you can afford to give tax cuts.

No, that’s not the case. For instance, for the cases that have been in the media around living in the cars, a lot of those are a bit more complex than people might realise. But in any case, we have more money than we can spend on places, on houses for people in serious housing need in Auckland. The problem isn’t money; there’s enough of that. The problem is getting enough houses. Even though Auckland City is actually completing 40 houses every working day, it’s still not enough. And that’s why in the next few months we’ve got to work hard with the Auckland City Council to get more houses, because the government can’t just magic up houses; they have to be built by real people on real land. And that’s controlled by the Auckland City Council…

…Okay, well, just let’s look at some of those figures. I mean, experts can’t agree exactly, but they think that we’re down about between 20,000 and 50,000 houses in Auckland — we’re short of those — and that we need to build about 13,000 a year to play catch-up. We’re not building 13,000 a year, so the supply must be getting worse.

Well, and that’s in the hands of the Auckland City Council, who are the people with the legal and community responsibility to get more land available so that more houses can be built faster. We’ve been through this in Christchurch. You can ramp up the construction workforce. You can change the planning rules. In Christchurch, house prices are flat to slightly falling, despite the fact that two or three years ago there was very substantial demand. And I might say the same kind of stories about it. Now, there was a lot of tension at the time in Christchurch as the system cranked up supply to meet the strong demand.

The thing is you point the finger at the council there, but the council has been very clear about the fact it needs help with infrastructure. it says it needs 3 billion in the next 10 years for infrastructure. Where do you think that money’s coming from? Because the council’s nudging its debt ceiling. It can’t rate people off their properties. So where is the money coming from?

Well, fundamentally, that’s Auckland’s issue to deal with. We are certainly contributing. I mean, right now we’re in intensive negotiation for a contribution of over $1 billion from the taxpayer to an Auckland City Council transport project called the Central Rail Link. Now, in the normal course of events, they would pay for that. We’re negotiating where taxpayers will pay for that. That’s a significant reduction in the burden on the council, and it allows them to pay for other infrastructure.

Minister, isn’t it central government’s responsibility to assist with that infrastructure?

No, fundamentally it isn’t. It is the council’s responsibility. That’s the deal. They get to decide on how their city is planned, and they get to pay for the development. And for a lot of the people living outside Auckland and inside Auckland, there are real benefits from growth. And part of the puzzle here is that as more people turn up in Auckland and as incomes rise, growth is good. The council benefits from that, and so do ratepayers. And so they’ve just got to work out a better alignment between the funding and the growth.

A lot of blame laid on the Council (and also a weird interpretation of what’s happening with the City Rail Link as usually government has paid for 100% of rail infrastructure projects, it’s actually odd that the Council is paying around 50%, but that’s a whole different debate!)

This “blame the Council” game is also popular with a number of supposedly informed commentators:


But is this a fair criticism? Is the Council holding back land supply and slowing down the construction of desperately needed new housing? This is worth looking at a bit further.

One of the reasons the government amalgamated the eight previous and often bickering councils that governed Auckland and set the newly formed single council the task of coming up with a 30 year vision for Auckland (The Auckland Plan) and bringing together all of various plans and civic functions of Auckland.

Where the Unitary Plan provided the vision, the main tool at the Council’s disposal to enable or restrict land supply is through the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. Compared to the old plans that governed development and use of land, the Unitary Plan enables around 11,000 hectares of additional “Future Urban zoned” land to be developed. At a broad 60/40 split between growth inside and outside the old urban limits, and at a high population growth rate, this is enough land for around 30 years of greenfield land. As I explained in this recent post, it is a really really big amount of land. This is not the plans of the previous councils and addressing issues like land supply was exactly why the government amalgamated the council in the first place.

So the Council has certainly outlined its intention to enable a lot more greenfield development to occur in the future. In a basic sense, the amount of “land supply” has gone up a lot. Let’s leave aside the question of whether this is enough “Future Urban” land and focus for now on the criticism that the Council has been far too slow to increase land supply. There’s actually a decent amount of evidence to show huge hurdles have been cleared to speed this process up. For example:

  • Government made changes to the RMA to allow the Unitary Plan hearings to be fast-tracked in at least half the time the process would normally take – although it’s worth noting that the Council originally requested that the plan would be granted immediate effect upon notification and which the government rejected.
  • Special Housing Areas were established that essentially brought forward the Unitary Plan (in its proposed version) and created a fast-tracked consenting process

In some cases Special Housing Areas were rejected by the Council, which could be seen as a way of slowing down land supply. However, in the main these occurred because of transport problems on the State Highway network, which is owned and operated by the Government through NZTA.

Of course the Council is not blameless when it comes to decisions it has made to increase housing supply and improve affordability. In February this year the Council made a completely stupid decision to withdraw its evidence from rezoning hearings because a majority of the councillors were worried about three storey buildings in suburban areas, areas with existing infrastructure where new development could happen tomorrow if the planning rules allowed it. As expected that proved completely pointless as other submitters such as Housing NZ were still allowed to use the Council’s evidence.

Overall it’s hard to see what more the Council could have done over the past few years to speed up the supply of greenfield land. The fact is that developing this land takes a long time – not just to go through the RMA processes but also to get that land serviced with infrastructure and ready to build. Even with all the money in the world, a major wastewater pipe or new road takes a number of years to build and greenfield growth often can’t occur without it (no point building new houses if the taps don’t work and the toilet doesn’t flush). It’s time that politicians and supposedly informed commentators realised this.

Fort St

Fort St before

 

FORT ST_8012

 

Skypath a step closer

Some great news yesterday that Skypath has cleared another hurdle with it passing wind tunnel testing.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

The $33 million SkyPath cycling and walking attachment to the Auckland Harbour Bridge just got a step closer following wind tunnel testing not finding any significant issues with the proposed structure.

In a progress report to Auckland Council, it’s revealed the testing was completed last month and consultants for the New Zealand Transport Agency are reviewing the results.

The SkyPath project will present the findings at a Governing Body meeting on Wednesday.

Opponents to the project have used the lack of testing as one of the reasons it should not go ahead.

However, Wednesday’s meeting agenda reports the wind tunnel testing did not identify any significant concerns and that NZTA’s consultants are currently reviewing the results and advise “it has not identified any significant issues”.

One of those opposing was of course North Shore Councillor George Wood who on Thursday was trying to scaremonger by invoking the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse.

The update was part of a report to the council’s governing body next week where the council will decide whether they can enter into a public private partnership once all issues such as consent are resolved.

Next week Auckland Council’s Governing Body will decide whether the chief executive can enter into a public-private partnership to progress the SkyPath project, once all matters are resolved.

If the governing body agrees to progress SkyPath under the recommended public-private partnership option, it would be the first partnership of its kind for significant infrastructure in Auckland considered by the council.

The partnership would mean that the construction, operation and maintenance of SkyPath would be funded by the private sector for the contract period.

This approach would mean there is an admission charge for all users of SkyPath.

The council would provide a limited underwrite of the revenue, and assumption of ownership rights and obligations at the end of a contract period.

The private sector would manage the project costs, and the underwrite is a guarantee on a revenue stream that underpins the project.

The council would not be providing a return on capital for the private sector.

The great news is that if everything goes to plan, the project could be open fairly soon

Mr Woodward said if everything goes to plan, the path could be open by next summer.

Can’t wait

Submit on Transport Networks for Auckland’s Future Urban Areas

Today is the last day to submit on the consultation by Auckland Transport and the NZTA on what the call Transport for Future Urban Growth. Around two Hamilton’s worth of people/homes are expected to be added to Auckland’s fringes in the North, Northwest and South over the next 30 years as part of the council’s Future Urban Land Supply Strategy. To accommodate that there will need to be significant public investment all forms of infrastructure and the two transport agencies say they are trying to work out what high level transport infrastructure will be needed now so it can be used as part of their planning and funding processes.

If you haven’t already I’d suggest putting a submission in. At a high level my views

  1. It’s good that the networks generally have strong PT components in the three main areas of North, Northwest and South. The place shaping role of rapid transit is critical in these areas and early investment must go on rapid transit. If we don’t we’ll be encouraging these areas to develop in ways that make it much harder to retrofit good quality PT later and this new growth will be very auto-centric as a result.
  2. The roading networks are over the top and unnecessarily excessive. Peripheral areas are never going to have perfect transport conditions but it seems like the networks are aiming for that.

One thing this process does is highlight just how expensive greenfield development can be. Suggestions are that just these high level projects could cost around $8 billion all up or about $70,000 per dwelling and that doesn’t take into account the cost of local roads or other infrastructure that is needed to support development.

 

Below is a copy of my earlier post on the consultation (although the videos are new)

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

Consultation closes at 4pm today.

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.