How Councillors voted on the Unitary Plan

At 5pm on Friday the Unitary Plan was officially notified with this notice appearing in the NZ Herald.

NZ Herald Notification notice

The documents that were made available at 5pm included the final version of the plan the Council finished agreeing to earlier in the week. Also available from then were the minutes from that council meeting and so while we wait to see if there are any appeals, I trawled through the minutes to see which way the Mayor and Councillors voted on key issues and tried to put that information into a table. This includes both votes where a division was called and the Mayor and Councillors individually stated their position and votes where the resolution was passed but someone wanted their dissent noted.

A couple on notes about the tables.

  • While most of it was fairly straight forward to follow, it can get a bit confusing when some votes are delayed or especially in the case of item 6.14.1 (which covers the zoning maps) it can be hard to follow who was at the table, who wasn’t and who couldn’t participate due to conflicts of interest.
  • I don’t intend on posting all of the results as some of them are fairly boring technical matters where everyone agreed so I’ll just focus on a few key areas. You can click on the images for a bigger version.
  • The outcomes as to whether a vote was good or bad is based on my judgment call based on what we’ve discussed in the past or the result that will make it easier to deliver more housing. On some votes you may disagree with how I’ve scored it.
  • Green = Good, Red = Bad, C = Conflict of Interest and blank means they weren’t at the table.
  • I’ve only included a small explanation of the items voted on but have also included the page number the vote appeared on in the minutes should you wish to scroll through to see more information.

First up a number of hot topics including heritage and viewshafts

Final UP - Voting Table 1

Here are some of the items related to the City Centre and business zones. We were supporters of deleting the minimum dwelling sizes so most Councillors get marked down for voting to keep them.

Final UP - Voting Table 2

And here are some of the residential zones. One odd observation is that Cameron Brewer supported keeping minimum dwelling sizes in the City Centre but opposed keeping them in the general residential zones.

Final UP - Voting Table 3

There are obviously a lot more votes and as mentioned, many are fairly boring.

One of the reasons for pulling the data together was also to see which Councillors were the most or least supportive. The graph below counts the total number of red boxes from the tables above and the rest of the results. As you can see there was clearly one Councillor whose name came up more than others. To be fair not all votes are necessarily equal, especially some of the dissents which can be for fairly minor things but I think it is interesting none the less.

Final UP - Votes Against

What do you think of the results?

Unitary Plan Passed

So they did it, the council actually passed a reasonably good Unitary Plan, a feat that just six months ago seemed so unlikely. This represents a fairly historic moment for Auckland as for the first time, the region will have a single set of planning rules that enable the city to grow and are also aligned with the policies and goals of the region.

Plan Passed

The Unitary Plan would easily be the largest planning exercise in New Zealand’s history, representing around four years of work for the council, the public and the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP). While planning matters can often seem fairly dull, documents like the Unitary Plan have such far reaching implications that getting a decent plan as a base to build off was important and it appears that the council has largely done that. It also means any future work can focus on smoothing out some of the remaining rough edges rather than having to make wholesale fixes.

One quite notable feature at this end of debate on the Unitary Plan has been the lack of opposition to it from groups like Auckland 2040 who have fought the plan all the way along. It now appears that their opposition to the plan peaked in February. Perhaps it was the optics of fighting against enabling housing in the middle of a housing crisis, perhaps it was because their leader – Richard Burton – was overseas or perhaps it was just they realised was pretty good.

 

Councillors started debating the recommendations from the IHP and the council officer’s responses to those recommendations on Wednesday and positively they seemed to do it in decent humour, something that can’t be said for all council debates. The meeting had budgeted to take till this coming Thursday but in a fairly surprising move the Councillors were able to move through the agenda relatively well and most of the thorny issues were wrapped up by Friday leaving the last few issues till today. 

Over the last four years, some Councillors have been fantastic and perhaps none deserves larger praise than Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse who has guided the process all the way along. A number of other Councillors have also been strong supporters all the way through.

Interestingly during this most recent debate another surprise hero emerged and it was none other than Dick Quax who had many wondering if they had woken up in an alternate universe. He argued and voted positively on many of the topics up for discussion and I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering why its taken so long to see this side of him. Conversely the single worst performer was Mike Lee who opposed almost all measures to provide more housing, voting against them time after time.

A week ago we highlighted some of the key issues the council officers did/didn’t agree with the IHP and recommended the council change or reject them. I had hoped to break down and analyse the various votes but unfortunately the minutes containing the voting records aren’t available yet (and I didn’t have the time to trawl through the hours upon hours of video from the meeting). At a high level they:

  • Deleted the Sites and Places of Value to the Mana Whenua overlay
  • Deleted the blanket pre-1944 heritage overlay, the special character and overlay still exists though.
  • Rejected the watering down of language around ensuring land-use transport integration.
  • Agreed to shift the Rural Urban Boundary to the District Plan, enabling it to be changed via private plan changes.
  • Agreed to remove the requirement for a minimum number of “affordable” dwellings in a development.
  • Lowered the number of dwellings that can be built on a site as of right, above which requires a resource consent, from four to two.
  • Feared the shoebox and voted to keep minimum dwelling sizes.
  • Doubled the height limit in Newmarket to 72.5m
  • Agreed with the recommended zoning, with a few exceptions, this includes at some last minute hot spots at Okura and Crater Hill
  • Didn’t agree with the IHP or the officers and removed the minimum parking requirements for retail from centres. This was a surprise and fantastic outcome

 

The final Unitary Plan will be formally notified on Friday and there will be a window of 20 working days for limited appeals. I suspect one of the most likely appeals will be from the large retailers to try and reinstate the IHPs position of keeping minimum parking requirements in centres for retail businesses – something the retailers argued for at the hearings panel but which is primarily about making it harder for small businesses to compete with them.

Thank you to everyone, who has helped advocate alongside us for a good Unitary Plan, especially our friends at Generation Zero who have put in a huge amount of hard work in support of a better city.

Thank you also to the all of the council staff who have worked so hard to make this plan a reality. They deserve a celebration for effort they’ve put in but of course if they do there’ll be the usual negative voices complaining about spending ratepayers money.

Lastly, well done and thank you to the Mayor and Councillors for finally passing the plan. With better rules in place it also means the focus for improving housing also now shifts back to the government.

Auckland 2016 Election Lists

The deadline for the 2016 local body elections was yesterday and last night the Auckland Council released the list of confirmed candidates. The council say 447 candidates have put their hands up for the 170 positions available for Mayor, Councillor and Local Board member. This is down on previous years with there being 470 in 2013 and 545 in 2010. Below are the 17 candidates for Mayor

Auckland 2016 Mayoral Candidates 2

In past years we’ve had some colourful candidates for mayor such as David Willmott under the ticket of Roads First and who could forget Emmett Hussey, especially his campaign vehicle. I wonder if there is anyone this time that can fill that role.

On to the Councillors, with three steeping we’re guaranteed to see some change at the council table and obviously there’s the potential for more depending on how the elections go. I won’t list all of the names but here are a couple of quick observations in no particular order

  • Franklin Councillor Bill Cashmore has been re-elected un-opposed. Bill has been one of the better councillors so it will be good to see him back around the council table.
  • At the last election, Cameron Brewer in Orakei plus Dick Quax and Sharon Stewart in Howick were all elected unopposed. This time Brewer is stepping down (but he’s standing for the Rodney Local Board) and there are four candidates in Orakei. Further east in Howick there are ten candidates standing including both Quax and Stewart.
  • The North Shore has the most candidates with 12 putting their names forward. Chris Darby is standing again but George Wood is not but instead is standing for the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board with five other candidates under a ticket called Team George Wood.
  • Candidates in the Manukau ward have a 50% chance of getting elected with just four people putting their hands up for the job including current councillor Alf Filipaina. The other Manukau councillor, Arthur Anae is stepping down.
  • Further south in the Manurewa-Papakura ward the candidates have an even better chance of being elected with just three people putting their hands up including current councillors Calum Penrose and John Walker.
  • We already knew the Waitemata Ward would be an interesting seat with Mike Lee and Bill Ralston duking it out and they will be joined by just one other in the form of local board member Rob Thomas.

I put together this quick graph of the number of candidates in each ward compared to the number of seats.

Auckland 2016 Council Candidates & Seats

I’m not going to both looking the numerous local boards so you’ll have to have a look at the list if you want to see who’s standing in your area.

I’m sure it’s bound to be an interesting election. Voting opens on September 16 and goes through to October 8.

Next Steps for the Unitary Plan

It’s nearly two weeks since the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) recommendations on the Unitary Plan were revealed. Tomorrow the council start a week and a half of likely quite tedious deliberations and formal decisions on those recommendations. A quick reminder about the implication of the Council’s different decisions:

  • If the Council approves an IHP recommendation (and as long as that recommendation was not out of scope) then it becomes part of the Unitary Plan and can only be appealed on points of law to the High Court.
  • If the Council rejects an IHP recommendation, it must suggest an alternative which becomes part of the Unitary Plan. However, any relevant submitter can appeal the Council’s decision to the Environment Court.

So there’s quite a big incentive for the Council to accept the IHP’s recommendations as this is the fastest and easiest way to make the Unitary Plan operative.

Therefore, it is a bit surprising to read in the upcoming (massive 618 page) agenda item for the Council’s decision on the Unitary Plan, quite a number of the IHP recommendations are proposed to be rejected by Council staff. Here’s a summary, although you have to read through the whole massive agenda to see what the exact issues where rejection is proposed:

up-summary

Some of the major IHP recommendations Council staff propose rejecting are:

  • Removal of schedule of Maori heritage items
  • Loosening of rural subdivision controls
  • Loosening the language around ensuring land-use transport integration
  • Removing reference to the Auckland Plan’s “70/40” growth split between brownfield and greenfield growth
  • Loosening of where commercial growth can occur
  • Removing a precinct plan from locations like Wynyard Quarter and Takapuna that would have reduced the amount of development allowed there
  • Removing minimum dwelling sizes
  • Imposing a height in relation to boundary to the Mixed Use zone
  • Removing a mandatory consenting requirement for fewer than five dwellings (up from three in the notified plan)
  • Zoning Crater Hill (near the Airport) for development
  • A lack of more detailed transport requirements linked to live-zoning Redhills near Westgate and Wainui near Silverdale
  • A graduated approach to parking maximums in the city centre

There are also a whole pile of more detailed “technical” issues where the Council proposes rejecting some or all of the IHP recommendation to fix up minor issues, errors or to provide greater clarification.

It’s also interesting to see what the staff recommend accepting:

  • Removing the Pre-1944 Building Demolition Control
  • Shifting the Rural Urban Boundary to the District Plan – the “soft RUB” that can be changed through private plan changes
  • The stupid IHP recommendation of applying parking minimums in centres for retail and other business activities
  • Removing a requirement to provide a proportion of affordable housing as part of a new development
  • Removing a number of urban design controls and requirements
  • The zoning maps (aside from a few very minor changes in rural areas)

All together, if the councillors agree with all the areas where rejection is proposed there’s a pretty large number of provisions that could end up being appealed to the environment court – making it difficult for the Unitary Plan to become properly operative. That’s not to suggest the council staff don’t have a point – in a number of situations they do.

Probably the two most disappointing suggested rejections are related to minimum dwelling sizes and mandatory consenting requirements for fewer than five dwellings. Both of these rejections seem based more on illogical fears of intensification, rather than actual evidence and could make it much more difficult to provide the variety of new housing that Auckland needs. My guess is that with council officers making these particular recommendations, that councillors will jump on the opportunity to wind some aspects like these back.

The Council meeting starts on tomorrow and could go for some time…

Unitary Plan Recommendations Revealed

Yesterday the council released the recommendations from the Independent Hearing Panel (IHP) for the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) and as expected when there are over 1000 pages of recommendations there’s a lot to talk about, way too much for one post. As we also expected there is a mix of outcomes, some are good and others not so good. An overview of the changes is provided in this 123 page report which is what I’ll mainly focus on for this post.

First up the council had a couple of big wins with the IHP agreeing with many of their high level objectives for managing growth, such as:

  1. Affirming the Auckland Plan’s development strategy of a quality compact urban form focussed on a hierarchy of business centres plus main transport nodes and corridors.
  2. Concentrating residential intensification and employment opportunities in and around existing centres, transport nodes and corridors so as to encourage consolidation of them while:
    • a. allowing for some future growth outside existing centres along transport corridors where demand is not well served by existing centres; and
    • b. enabling the establishment of new centres in greenfield areas after structure planning.
  3. Retaining the Rural Urban Boundary (together with a substantial area of land zoned Future Urban Zone inside it) as a means of managing large-scale growth and infrastructure planning (this last point has a bit of a catch though which I’ll cover off later.)

That means the IHP didn’t just throw everything out and start from scratch but have made changes that address many of the shortcomings from the notified plan and the biggest of these is that the notified plan simply didn’t allow for enough growth. In this regard the IHPs recommendations are said to lie somewhere between what the council originally notified and what submitters like Housing NZ were after which was much more widespread upzoning across the region.

One of the areas they haven’t changed are the residential zones themselves. There are still the main urban zones of Single House (SH), Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS), Mixed Housing Urban (MHU) and Terraced Housing and Apartment Building (THAB) and many of the rules for the zones, such as height limits, remain the same. One big change is the removal of density provisions on the MHS so it matches the MHU and THAB zones – although there are various development standards and levels at which resource consents apply. Importantly where each zone is applied has also changed, one example being that the council walkable catchments for higher density zones of 200-400m while the IHP have recommended it be doubled to 400-800m. It is those and other amendments which are behind the changes in development capacity.

The level of development capacity has been a crucial issue for the IHP. They have agreed with the high side predictions of need to provide around 400,000 dwellings over the next 30 years and that for planning purposes it’s better to err on that high side. In short better to allow too many dwellings to be built than not enough. To this end they also say:

It became apparent early in the hearings that in the development of the proposed Unitary Plan the Council had relied on the theoretical capacity enabled by the Unitary Plan, rather than on a measure of capacity that takes into account physical and commercial feasibility, which the Panel refers to as ‘feasible enabled capacity. Feasible enabled residential capacity means the total quantum of development that appears commercially feasible to supply, given the opportunities enabled by the recommended Unitary Plan, current costs to undertake development, and current prices for dwellings. The modelling of this capacity at this stage is not capable of identifying the likely timing of supply.

When you look at the PAUP in this regard there becomes a huge issue with it estimated to only be able to provide 213k dwellings, well short of the 400k needed. Through the changes they’ve made they estimate that the feasible enabled residential capacity has almost doubled, going from 213k to 422k. As you can also see, the biggest two changes have come from within existing residential areas and within centres and mixed use areas.

Recomended UP - Change in Feasible Capacity

The impact of the changes can be seen on the two maps below showing what was feasible under the PAUP on the left and what is feasible under these recommendations. As you can clearly see there is a lot more development that has been enabled – although it seems more still could have been done on the isthmus.

Recomended UP - PAUP vs Recomended Feasible Capacity

You may recall the Auckland Plan development strategy had a 70:40 split, up to 60-70% of development occurring within the existing urban area and 30-40% occurring on greenfield land. Yet thanks to council getting scared of the noisy groups opposing housing, the PAUP as effectively flipped those numbers around. While the IHP have recommended that spatial distribution be deleted, the changes above have helped to return the Unitary Plan to that level. This is shown below.

Recomended UP - Distribution of Capacity

The table below is based on some early analysis by council on the recommendations showing how much land was included in PAUP vs what is in the recommendation. As you can see there are some quite significant differences.

Recomended UP - Zoning ha Changes

As mentioned earlier, the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) stays but it has been changed significantly, both in scale and how it will work in future. One key change is the IHP say the exact location of it should be decided at the district plan level. That means it could be changed in the future through private plan changes. That makes it a soft boundary and as I mentioned yesterday, could make it more difficult to plan big infrastructure projects.

Lastly just to quickly touch on one of the points I raised yesterday that I haven’t already covered, parking rules. The IHP have retained parking maximums in the City Centre Zone while the other Centre zones, the Business, Mixed Use and THAB zones and the Centre Fringe Office Control area have neither minimums or maximums with the main exception being for retail and commercial services activities where a minimum of 1 space per 30m² has been recommended. This is a big win for the major retailers who wanted minimums for anti-competitive reasons, making it harder for small businesses particularly in town centres to afford to compete. Outside of the zones mentioned previously, all other areas will have minimums applied.

In another post I’ll look at comparing the maps of the proposed plan and what has now been recommended.

The council are due to start formally debating the plan on August 10 and have that wrapped up on August 18 so the plan can be formalised. If they don’t agree with an IHP recommendation they can’t just reject it and instead have to provide an alternative solution and produce a cost benefit ratio for it. Overall the recommendations represent a vast improvement to the Unitary Plan and while not everything is what we hoped for, there was always going to need to be some compromises. After dragging on for about four years now, the finish line is in sight and it seems to me that councillors should just be encouraged to pass the plan as it is.

Unitary Plan: what to look out for

So today’s the big day that the independent hearings panel’s recommendations on the Unitary Plan get unveiled. It’s not exaggerating to say that this is a hugely important document as the rules and controls included in the plan determine what is allowed to be built and where.

The Unitary Plan is a monumentally huge plan, running over 9000 pages apparently and with very complicated overlapping controls relating to zones, overlays, precincts, development controls, urban boundaries and so on. However, 95% of the plan is probably of little interest to most people and won’t be what the big debates over the next few weeks will centre on. So let’s run through what I think are the big issues and what you should look out for when the plan is released at 1:30 this afternoon. In a rough order of importance:

  • Zoning in the central isthmus and around major public transport corridors
  • The location and nature of the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB)
  • Height limits in centres
  • Parking rules
  • Residential development controls

Let’s go through each in turn.

Zoning in the central isthmus

The biggest disappointment with the Proposed Unitary Plan was how little upzoning occurred in the parts of Auckland that have the best transport options and are market attractive to higher density development – namely the central isthmus. This was a direct contradiction from the Auckland Plan’s development strategy, which highlighted the isthmus as a key location for growth:

ap-paup

Since the Unitary Plan was notified in 2013 the importance of upzoning this area has increased further, with Auckland Transport announcing plans to build light-rail along some of the key arterial roads to ease bus congestion in the city. Ensuring the planning rules in this part of Auckland enable a lot of redevelopment into terraced houses, townhouses and apartments is crucial to the question of whether light-rail should go ahead or not.

The ATAP interim report highlighted a shortfall of 50,000 dwellings on the isthmus in the Unitary Plan compared to the Auckland Plan so we’re not talking about a little tinkering here and there with the upzoning. We’re talking significant change from what was in the proposed plan.

My best guess is that the IHP will recommend more upzoning in the isthmus, but probably not enough to close the 50,000 dwelling shortfall. It will then be really interesting to see how the politicians respond and whether the councillors representing this part of Auckland actually want to do something bold to improve housing affordability or not.

The Rural Urban Boundary

A lot of discussion about how the Unitary Plan can help bring down houses prices has focused on the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB) and the supply of greenfield land. As I explained back in May, much of this talk misunderstands what the RUB is – which is a long-term line that separates land likely to be urbanised at some point over the next 30 years compared to land intended to stay rural in the long-term. Changing the location of the RUB isn’t the main way to make more greenfield development happen: there’s already an area of about two Hamilton’s of greenfield land inside the RUB and the key is being able to service it with (expensive) infrastructure. But the chatter continues and it will be interesting to see both where the IHP recommends the RUB goes, as well as whether it’s a “hard RUB” (only able to be changed by the Council, giving greater certainty to infrastructure providers about where development might happen and allowing them to invest with confidence) or a “soft RUB” (able to be changed by anyone through a private plan change, removing certainty for infrastructure providers and making their investments much more risky).

I’m not very optimistic about this one, as it seems likely the IHP will recommend a soft RUB, which could actually delay greenfield development by making infrastructure investment far more difficult to plan and a much riskier proposition.

Height Limits in Centres

The Unitary Plan has a pretty sophisticated hierarchy of centres, from the City Centre right down to the tiniest little neighbourhood centre. Generally these areas are the focus for a lot of future growth and a real mix of uses: allowing retail, offices and apartments to be built. The real test will be in relation to the height limits of these centres and whether they allow enough redevelopment potential for it to be viable and for a good chunk of Auckland’s future growth to be located in areas where people can do many of their daily tasks without having to travel far at all.

I think there might be some improvements in the IHP’s recommendations but this will be strongly linked to where the panel land on the volcanic viewshafts as it is these view protection restrictions that limit heights in many of the most important centres for redevelopment (Newton, Newmarket, Mt Eden etc.)

Parking Rules

We’ve been going on about the evils of minimum parking requirements for years and the Unitary Plan takes some good steps towards eliminating or lowering these stupid rules. The council’s closing statement to the hearing on parking suggested the main area of contention was whether minimums should apply in major centres, with some major retailers arguing for them for anti-competitive reasons because they were worried that people visiting the area would park in their carparks. Importantly, the council’s position on residential parking minimums shifted from the proposed plan so that nowhere will more than a single space be required per dwelling (and in a lot of zones, no parking at all will be required).

I’m pretty confident of a good outcome here and a major step forward in reducing the evils of parking minimums. There’s always a chance the IHP might have read Donald Shoup and get rid of parking controls altogether.

Residential Development Controls

Before the Unitary Plan was notified in 2013 this is where most of the controversy was focused: on the detailed rules and regulations that governed height limits, density controls, setback requirements and many other restrictions in the residential zones. However, in the hearings this became less of an issue as most of the major submitters came to an agreement with the council to relax density controls and instead focus on controls that affect the building envelope (height, site coverage etc.) In general this is a step in the right direction, as it is density controls (how many square metres of land per unit) which really undermine the provision of affordable housing as they force larger house sizes to maximise profitability.

Without reading through the screeds of detail it looks like a reasonably good outcome is likely here. However, this section really just lays out the rules relating to each zone: how the zones are distributed is a whole different question and will inevitably be the focus of so much discussion going forward.

Council unanimously approves Skypath

It was a fantastic day for transport in Auckland yesterday with the council’s Finance and Performance committee voting to support the project Skypath and doing so unanimously. Yes even long time opponent George Wood eventually agreed to support the project. It was decision that took over five hours to reach after listening to supporters and opponents of the project including our friends at Bike Auckland and Generation Zero.

Skypath Consent - Observation Deck

 

The council agreed to the recommendations from the agenda (below) with two amendments from Cathy Casey, that the council support children under 5 using Skypath for free and that dogs on leashes be allowed subject to negotiations with NZTA and health and safety regulations.

That the Finance and Performance Committee recommend to the Governing Body that it:

a) agree to proceed with the SkyPath project and that the hybrid Public Private Partnership proposal is the preferred procurement option to deliver SkyPath.

b) authorise the Chief Executive to enter into all necessary agreements in relation to the SkyPath proposal, subject to minimal financial impacts, and to take any other actions in the Chief Executive’s delegation to facilitate the progress of the project.

c) agree to make appropriate provision for the project in the 2017/18 Annual Plan and the 2018/28 Long-term Plan.

I wasn’t able to be there, but thankfully this is one of the meetings that the council live stream and publish on YouTube. If you’re interested you can watch the various parts of the meeting here.

Barb Cuthbert from Bike Auckland spoke passionately about the project, from about 5 minutes in the first video

One of the funnier interactions of the day involved our friend Niko from Generation Zero. I thought his presentation was strong and effective, on top of which he handled the questions from councillors masterfully, and in particular George Wood and Cameron Brewer. A couple of highlights included:

  • George Wood saying to Niko that he’d love to actually meet the people who supported Skypath in Northcote, to which Chris Darby quipped that they’ve been emailing him.
  • Shortly after Wood asked Niko if he’d read the NRA submission to which Niko replied only briefly. Wood then followed that asking if he agreed they had some grounds for concerns leading to one of the replies of the day of No I don’t, that’s why I stopped reading”

There were plenty of other funny or noteworthy moments – such as the guy who referenced a truck falling off a cook straight ferry as a health and safety issue for Skypath.

Then there were the comments from councillors themselves. There were a lot of good comments from so many of them which was pleasing to see but also hard to include everything. So I’ll leave it with a few points from George Wood’s speech that I did agree with

  1. That Skypath should connect directly to Seapath. Where I probably differ from him is that I think it should do that as well as connect to Northcote Point.
  2. That the NZTA should be funding the full thing. In my view it’s crazy that such a vital piece of transport infrastructure needs to be proposed and funded by a private company because our transport organisations in the past simply ignored cycling. In perhaps a bit of irony, had the private company not been funding this, there is a good chance it would have been included in the Urban Cycleway Funding projects.

 

Here’s what the council had to say in their press release following the decision.

Auckland’s SkyPath project has been given the go-ahead to be delivered through a public private partnership, after a unanimous decision at today’s Finance and Performance Committee.
Auckland Council’s Governing Body will formalise the decision at their next meeting on Thursday 28 July.

Mayor Len Brown says SkyPath is a uniting project that brings Auckland together.

“In a short space of time we have made Auckland a cycle city – and this is the vital link for walkers and cyclists.”

The partnership with H.R.L Morrison and Co’s Public Infrastructure Partnership Fund (the PIP Fund) is set to be the first of its kind for significant infrastructure in Auckland by the council.
The public private partnership means construction, operation and maintenance of SkyPath would be financed and delivered by the PIP Fund for the contract period and there would be an admission charge for users of SkyPath.

The council would then provide a limited underwrite of the revenue. This means if minimum revenue streams from fares and sponsorship etc are not met, council will need to top-up funds to meet a pre-agreed amount. In turn, if profits reach a certain level, council and the Auckland Harbour Bridge Pathway Trust will receive a share in these.
Auckland Council would also receive ownership rights and obligations at the end of the contract period.

Lastly, with this meeting, one thing that stands out to me is just how long it took. As mentioned it took over five hours of sometimes intense debate for councillors to agree on a critical project for the region being built by a private developer and for which the council have a very limited exposure to. Yet this same council will hand wave through a $2 billion roading project like the East West Link with barely a question or concern.

Still, lets celebrate a fantastic result and thank you to all who have helped make it happen. Now we just need to wait for the envrionment court appeal to be sorted and lets get this thing built.

Council to decide on Skypath funding this week

The council will decide on Thursday if they will go ahead with a funding arrangement for Skypath.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

An item (Page 21) at the council’s Finance and Performance Committee gives an update on the project, much of which will be nothing new to those who have been following it. This includes that progress has been made on a number of areas such as that the wind tunnel testing requested by the NZTA found no significant concerns and that progress has been made on connections to Skypath with projects such as Seapath having been consulted on and getting strong public support.

Seapath March-16 Route

Seapath Proposed Route

The second item (Page 25) is the key one though and looking to get agreement from the councillors to move forward with the project. It has the following recommendations to councillors.

That the Finance and Performance Committee recommend to the Governing Body that it:

a) agree to proceed with the SkyPath project and that the hybrid Public Private Partnership proposal is the preferred procurement option to deliver SkyPath.

b) authorise the Chief Executive to enter into all necessary agreements in relation to the SkyPath proposal, subject to minimal financial impacts, and to take any other actions in the Chief Executive’s delegation to facilitate the progress of the project.

c) agree to make appropriate provision for the project in the 2017/18 Annual Plan and the 2018/28 Long-term Plan.

The council have been working with the private backers of the project (the PIP Fund) for a few years now to investigate options for financing the project. The preferred approach is for the PIP Fund is to build it as a PPP in which the council underwrites revenues up to a certain level.

The PIP Fund’s PPP proposal is to finance, design, build, maintain and operate SkyPath as a user pays facility for 25 years, after which it “reverts” to Council ownership. In return:

  • Council would underwrite actual revenues to a pre-agreed dollar amount in the “base case” (the agreed financial model that sets out the cost envelope), and have a share of upside profits above a specific threshold.
  • The PIP Fund’s returns depend on it managing its costs and performance within the parameters of the fixed base case. Any cost overruns are the PIP Fund’s responsibility.

That this private project will likely have a portion of its revenue underwritten by the council has long been one of the key arguments for those opposing it. They claim it will be a failure from not enough people using it – lumping costs on ratepayers while simultaneously claiming it will be so popular the local streets in Northcote will be overrun by people on bikes

Unfortunately the attached reports have blacked out the exact details of costs, revenues, thresholds etc so we can’t see just what those are. But unless something drastic has changed, it is still likely to represent a good deal for Auckland even if the council has to honour the underwriting. The last we saw the project was expected to cost $33 million, a significant sum but since the government came to the cycleway funding party with the Urban Cycleway Fund, there are already projects underway that cost more and are not likely to be used as much. One such example is the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr shared path. This is not to say the GI to Tamaki Dr project is bad, it’s a great project in its own right but that when it comes to benefits, it simply can’t compete with opening up a walking and cycling connection between the North Shore and the city.

In the past the council have been largely very supportive of the project – or at least supportive of investigating it. Only two councillors have consistently voted against it being George Wood, whose constituents stand to benefit the most from the project, and Sharon Stewart. In addition Cameron Brewer and Dick Quax also voted against providing some extra funding to the investigations. Given his ardent opposition to the project, George is almost certainly going to continue to try and fight the project.

While the council will be making a decision this week on whether to financially support the project, we might be still waiting for some time to the outcome of the Environment Court Appeal. It is currently expected that the hearing for it will happen in October or November. In saying that we learned recently that one of those appealing the project had pulled out citing the costs of fighting the project. I’m guessing they more likely realised that it was a fight they wouldn’t win.

Meanwhile, the Herne Bay Residents Association Incorporated has withdrawn its appeal because it believes the project is not feasible so will not “see the light of day”. Therefore, its efforts were “a waste of time and money”.

The group’s co-chair Christine Cavanagh said as a responsible organisation it did not intend to waste residents’ money on an “unnecessary appeal” that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Northcote Residents Association are still fighting though and are appealing to the public for cash to help them do that. As of writing this post they’d raised almost $9,500 but that is a long way from the potential hundreds of thousands their Herne Bay brethren suspect will be needed. They’ve also sent this out in response to Auckland Transport looking at implementing a residents parking scheme which would prevent people from driving to the bridge and then using Skypath, one of the key arguments the residents have used against the project.

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.