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Cut projects or Increase Funding

The issue of how we fund transport projects has been in the news a lot recently with discussions of the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). The Herald have been running a campaign basically suggesting the council finances are perilous and almost saying are bankrupt and trying to shift a lot of the blame on to the City Rail Link. The part about the council’s finances being in trouble was well debunked the other day by David Shand who was a member of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and chaired the 2007 Independent Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates.

Aucklanders should have an informed debate about the state of the city finances, given the $1.4 billion of rates collected annually and the total assets of some $40 billion managed by the council. However, the debate has not been well served by Herald articles which blithely use terms such as “spending spree”, “spending beyond its means” and “crisis point”.

This has led to the usual spate of letters from aggrieved ratepayers who are only too willing to believe that the council’s finances are in a “mess” and that we may be facing “bankruptcy”. There is no “crisis” in the city’s finances at the moment but there are major issues to be addressed.

He goes on to discuss 6 key points about the council’s finances and the heralds coverage and afterwards he notes:

While there has been no spending spree, the city’s finances are not in a mess and we are not presently at risk of bankruptcy, there are some big financial issues to be addressed.

The Herald has referred in the past to the “infrastructure deficit” Auckland faces over the next 30 years based both on coping with future expansion and addressing the past neglect of infrastructure expenditure.

 

The real problem is the sheer amount of projects the council has on the books from legacy councils. Many of the projects are good and critically needed – like the City Rail Link – while others like Penlink are at the other end of the spectrum. As a result there are two separate but combined issues at play when it comes to the next LTP. We need to:

  1. Make sure we’re building the right stuff – that means we need to review every project to see if it’s actually worthwhile building as what we don’t build can be just as important as what we do.
  2. If there is an funding deficit we need to work out how we address that which will likely mean new funding sources need to be found.

Ultimately the solution is likely to be a bit of a combination of the two however unfortunately in ways similar to the density debate with the Unitary Plan talk only seems to coalesce around one option. Len Brown falls in to the second camp of wanting to find new funding sources but not wanting to make some hard decisions about what should be funded and he reiterated that again yesterday when speaking at the annual conference of the Road Transport Forum.

Auckland needs to work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the Government if it’s to find a way out of a massive budget deficit and fund its much needed transport plans, Mayor Len Brown says.

The city was gearing up for “one of the most important funding debates Auckland has ever seen, and maybe even the nation”, he said today.

It needed to find $300 million-$400 million a year to fill a $12 billion funding gap, which would mean the difference “between steady-as-you-go typical Auckland or whether or not we’re going to seriously invest in infrastructure to deal with the shortfall and to deal with the growth coming at us to build this city as a real economic powerhouse”.

And

“Bluntly, we need to decide do we want a transport package based on current funding sources, which is not at all appealing and won’t deliver the city that we’re aspiring to and we know we need. Or do we find new sources of funding and deliver the transport programme Aucklanders asked for through the Auckland plan and in successive elections.

“Current funding sources would deliver us a transport system that’s half-way there. We need to be bold, innovative.”

funding-gap-analysis

Funding Gap from Keep Auckland Moving

A similar story was told by the Head of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) which is a lobby group for the construction and infrastructure financing industry’s.

Note: we’ve also pointed out in the past the odd situation where the Council are a paid up member of a group who exists to lobby the council to spend more. Also the councils outgoing CFO happens to be on the board.

Head of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, Stephen Selwood, said the investment plans for Auckland’s public transport and roads are not great and the city must move quickly to avoid massive congestion within 30 years.

He believes a motorway charging regime is the best option for raising money to cover the $300-400 million annual cost of developing Auckland’s roads and public transport. He said users should pay about $3 a trip.

Mr Selwood told the Road Transport Forum’s annual conference on Thursday that he favours motorway tolls rather than the ring road option used in London.

He said a toll would also help clear congested roads by encouraging some commuters onto public transport while others would car pool.

But Mr Sellwood warned that authorities need to move in the next two to three years or Auckland will face much bigger congestion problems by 2040.

Stephen Selwood has been pushing this idea for some time now. Personally I’m  not opposed to using road pricing, in fact quite the opposite in that if done right it could be quite useful for managing demand however there are a number of problems with what Selwood keeps pushing.

  • Tolling only the motorways is likely to push a lot of trips that currently use the motorway on to local roads which aren’t tolled likely putting a lot more pressure on them. It’s also those local roads that carry the bulk of our bus services so there could be quite a substantial impact to PT reliability.
  • Would our PT system be able to cope with such an increase in demand. Even with the new network and new electric trains there isn’t likely to be enough spare capacity to be able to cope if significant numbers of people suddenly change modes. If we decide to go down the path of road pricing then we really need a concerted effort to get our PT improvements rolled through faster to help in giving us that capacity.
  • Perhaps most importantly is impact road pricing might have on travel demand. The likely result is that traffic volumes (on motorways at least) are likely to fall as people shift to PT or reducing the amount of travel they do. This could be significant as reducing traffic also reduces/removes the justification for many of the roading projects currently on the plans. With those roading upgrades no longer needed it reduces the overall amount we have to spend upgrading our roads and there reduces the funding deficit. There’s a bit of an irony about an infrastructure lobby group pushing a solution that will end up reducing the amount of infrastructure we need – not that they’re probably thinking that far ahead.

I think all three problems have solutions or provide us with good opportunities. Rolling out the new bus network supported by a large network of bus lanes could keep local roads flowing and as well as providing more attractive services.  Before introducing such a charging scheme effort can be made to increase the size of the bus fleet and get started on projects like the City Rail Link while the changes in travel behaviour as a result of tolls can help us work out exactly what projects are needed.

How the Unitary Plan Changed

There’s just under a week left to go if you want to make a further submission on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP).

Further submissions to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan close on 22 July 2014.

These are limited to being either in support or opposition to changes to the plan, as requested in the over 9,400 original submissions which contained requests for nearly 100,000 changes.

Only people or entities with an interest greater than the general public or who represent a matter of public interest can make a further submission.

For more information on who can make a further submission see here.

One of the big disappointments with the Unitary Plan process was the way the councillors and local boards shirked their responsibility and gave in to a vocal group of complainers. That ended up seeing large swathes of the city have its zoning downgraded, in some cases to less than what was allowed for by the existing district plans created by the old councils in the pre super city era. In saying that some local boards were actually smart and went the other way increasing the zoning across large areas, this is particularly evident with the local boards in the West.

To highlight the changes reader Steve D has put together this map showing how the zoning changed between the Draft Unitary Plan and the formal PAUP that was put out for consultation. In the map below the key changes are shown as:

  • Greeen have been up-zoned
  • Red have been down-zoned
  • Orange is new future urban land.

One thing to note is that in the Draft Unitary Plan there was a Mixed Housing Zone. In the PAUP that was split in to two separate zones, Mixed Housing Suburban (MHS) and Mixed Housing Urban (MHU). There were a number of differences between the two and one of the biggest was height limits with the Suburban zone allowing for two storeys and the Urban zone allowing for three. Where a section has gone from Mixed hosing to MHU then it’s considered as being up-zoned while going  to MHS is down-zoned.

Unitary Plan changes from draft to proposed version on Koordinates

What you noticed quite strongly is the amount of down-zoning on the North Shore and large parts of the Isthmus with larger swathes of up-zoning in the West, South and East. Also with hall that future growth in the North West and South the Northwest Busway and rail electrification to Pukekohe are going to be essential

Thanks to Steve for putting this together.

Designing Quay St

Some of the big improvements needed in the CBD seem to be finally starting to move along. First there was the announcement that AT will be doing some more detailed design work on the CRL at the northern end and yesterday the council announced they’re starting the process to get the design for Quay St nailed down.

Auckland Council is seeking proposals from designers to assist with the future redevelopment of Quay Street.

Quay Street has been earmarked for change under the City Centre Master Plan – a blueprint for the future use of the central city.

The council is issuing a request for expressions of interest from design consultants.

Concept designs for development of Quay Street will be considered by the Auckland Development Committee, and Aucklanders will have an opportunity to have their say before designs are finalised.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a great waterfront and city centre, and we need the best designers working with us as we develop our proposals to transform this area,” Deputy Mayor and Auckland Development Committee Chair Penny Hulse said.

City Centre integration general manager Rick Walden, said the project was at a very early stage. “As options are developed we will be seeking input from the wider community.”

The council aims to complete the appointment of a design team in November.

This follows work done last year on draft concept designs for the area and one of the images from that work is below

Quay St Concept

There’s not a huge amount to go on from that image but from what I can gather it appears the concept has

  • Shared space intersections
  • Two lanes of traffic each way and no separate turning lanes at intersections
  • A central planted median with Trees
  • Slightly widened footpaths
  • No parking
  • No Cycle Lanes

My understanding is that the design contract will cover from Hobson St potentially all the way through to Tangihua St.

Of course already some Councillors aren’t happy. Cameron Brewer is asking where the cars will go and Mike Lee is suggesting we have to build an insanely expensive tunnel for them.

Quay St - Mike Lee

It’s amazing and disappointing that both of these two only seem to think we should upgrade our city and make it more pedestrian friendly as long as we somehow keep drivers happy.

This is obviously a project we’re going to be focusing on very closely.

Auckland’s Chief Economist speaks up for future generations – Auckland needs to grow “up and out”

Auckland Council’s Chief Economist Geoff Cooper was in the paper on Thursday with a few interesting arguments about urban planning. The article is refreshing because in it Cooper challenges a few of the many sacred cows in the debate over growth and housing affordability.

In particular, Cooper discusses the “up versus out” narrative that has been wrapped around Auckland’s urban growth. In recent months, for example, both the New Zealand Initiative and consultancy NZIER have published research papers arguing that Auckland should open up greenfield land to improve housing affordability.

Cooper argues that these analyses have failed to notice the fact that the proposed Unitary Plan already does this:

Despite this complexity, discussion on Auckland’s urban policy is often reduced to “up” (intensification) or “out” (sprawl).

This simplification overlooks three key issues — Auckland Council’s proposed urban limit policy, the policies underlying a compact city, and the political economy of urban policy.

The proposed plan vastly extends the urban limit, aiming for an average of seven years infrastructure-ready land supply available at all times. Once implemented, around 20 per cent more urban zoned land will be available.

This is enough for up to 76,000 new dwellings (roughly equivalent to all of Hamilton).

Calls for more land supply miss the solutions being implemented.

In my view, a policy of greenfields growth could result in not insubstantial economic costs. These risks are discussed in a range of new studies,evidence which present evidence suggesting outlying locations are not necessarily more affordable once transport costs are taken into account (often difficult to do in advance). So while house prices might be cheaper, the costs of getting around can offset those savings. Not to mention the external costs of congestion wider society must bear from more development in peripheral urban locations.

On the other hand, Cooper also critiques debates over residential intensification. He points out that removing *restrictions* on urban intensification development, so as to enable more compact and diverse forms of housing, doesn’t amount to “forcing intensification upon communities”, as some have claimed. Instead, the Unitary Plan tends to remove barriers that prevent people from living at higher densities in locations that provide the attributes they seek, such as amenity and accessibility. Cooper comments:

Proposed policies for a compact city are also misunderstood.

Compact living policies are about creating choices, by reducing existing regulations that stop people living in higher density areas, when they want to.

The inherited planning framework by Auckland Council is heavily biased towards the “quarter acre section” through rigid regulations. This creates a push for urban sprawl.

The city’s rules prevent the supply of housing people want in the areas they want to live in – close to the city, with good transport and other amenities.

These preferences are clearly shown in soaring house prices on Auckland’s isthmus.

The draft plan was designed to create greater housing choice. But this has been scaled back significantly during public consultation.

Residents want to preserve their lot, but it comes at a cost to future Aucklanders. New height limits have been introduced in many suburbs, while existing height limits have been tightened, as have density constraints which means it will be harder to gain access to attractive suburbs.

The important thing Cooper highlights here is how policies that restrict housing  supply in desirable areas come with a significant cost. There’s a wide range of international evidence suggesting restrictive planning regulations, such as minimum parking regulations, density controls, and building height limits, tend to raise the cost of housing. A 2002 paper by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko, for example, found American cities with more restrictive zoning were less affordable:

The bulk of the evidence marshaled in this paper suggests that zoning, and other land use controls, are more responsible for high prices where we see them. There is a huge gap between the price of land implied by the gap between home prices and construction costs and the price of land implied by the price differences between homes on 10,000 square feet and homes on 15,000 square feet. Measures of zoning strictness are highly correlated with high prices… [I]f policy advocates are interested in reducing housing costs, they would do well to start with zoning reform.

New evidence from Auckland suggests that our planning regulations may have a similar effect, driving up housing costs above construction costs. While the proposed Unitary Plan loosens some regulations, it arguably doesn’t go far enough to truly improve housing choice and housing affordability. Indeed, in some locations it proposes much more onerous regulations than exist under existing district plans, such as on minimum size requirements for apartment. Such requirements have the potential to exacerbate housing costs for the households that can least afford it.

Finally, Cooper also highlights the sometimes perverse nature of the political economy of urban planning. As many people have pointed out, planning regulations have significant effects on intergenerational equity. While restrictive regulations might be good for existing homeowners, they’re extremely bad for new homeowners – and by extension future generations.

It seems fairly obvious to me that if a city is systematically unwilling to allow new housing supply to be built in desirable, accessible areas, then skilled young people will increasingly face a Hobson’s choice: Either pay too much for housing in an accessible place, or pay too much for transport in a cheaper fringe location. And in the long run, we can expect these people to choose another city to live in. Indeed, unaffordable cities place will tend to be disadvantaged in the increasingly global competition for skilled young labour. In this other recent article Cooper actually makes this very point: Auckland competes for people, business, and capital more with Brisbane. Sydney and Melbourne than with other places in New Zealand.

Unfortunately our political system seems especially bad at solving the intergenerational problems even though this is arguably one of its core functions.

This Government’s inability/unwillingness to make headway on carbon emissions being the prime example. As a young Aucklander with many Kiwi friends living overseas. I am fairly sure that the people who will benefit from better housing policy are, for the most part, not voting in elections or going along to consultation meetings. Many more may have not even been born yet. It is these voices that are so often not heard, nor even acknowledged, in the debates on the Unitary Plan.

Responsibility for this issue lies jointly with our political representatives and mainstream media outlets, who tend to lack the courage to push back on even the most blatant self-interested objections to urban development.

Ultimately I think it’s really useful to have Auckland Council’s Chief Economist speaking out on these issues and highlighting that Auckland needs to both grow “up and out”. Now it’d be nice if more people at a central  government level started to champion the same issues.

SHA’s and Transport Investment

A few days ago I looked in depth into the locations of the Special Housing Areas that have been released so far, allowing for over 33,000 new houses. The locations of these are not spread evenly around the city, or evenly amongst the greenfield areas. Therefore this should cause the council and Auckland Transport to rethink some of their priorities for transport investment. Firstly this should give further impetus to the need for some important Congestion Free network projects, which will benefit existing areas and new developing areas.

There are nearly 9,000 dwellings to be built to the North-West of the city, in areas like Kumeu. This area is currently hopelessly served by public transport. For example it takes nearly 1.5 hours to get the bus into town at peak times, and on weekends it is not much better as bus operates a hopelessly windy route, diverting through Henderson on the way from Westgate to the City! The extra development planned adds extra emphasis to the case for the North-Western Busway, which would provide a very quick link from the North-West into the city. While some would call for a diesel rail shuttle to be provided, this has been investigated by Auckland Transport but found to be poor value for money. The busway would result in a much higher frequency and much faster services than the rail shuttle, which would take over an hour. The proposed frequent bus network only shows 15 minute frequency to Westgate, however the scale of development should mean the frequent service should soon be extended to Kumeu and Huapai. The developments in this area are likely to be low density, so sites for several park and ride stations need to be investigated. These types fringe areas are the right type of areas to expand park and ride, not valuable urban sites. The busway would not just benefit new developments, but also existing suburbs along the North-Western like Massey and Te Atatu.

NW and UH busways

This 9000 houses also covers areas like Hobsonville and Whenuapai. Again the only route between the North-West and the North-Shore is an infrequent and wandering service that takes well over an hour for a 20 minute car journey. The new network offers some improvement, with a slightly more direct service, however still designed for local traffic rather than trips between West Auckland and the North Shore. This is where the Upper Harbour busway we proposed in our Congestion Free Network comes in. This will also be useful for people living in the Kumeu and Westgate areas as not all these people will be working or want to travel to the CBD, so quality links to centres in the North Shore are important too. Again the form of development is likely to mean that several busway stations with park and ride will also be required at the major motorway interchanges.

Through the southern corridor over 4800 dwellings will be built. 2200 of these are in the Addison area, which hugely strengthens the case for the Addison station that has long been proposed to serve that growing area. Another 1800 of these are in the Franklin area, which further builds the case to ensure the electrification extension to Pukekohe proceeds soon. 1000 of these are at a totally new greenfield site as Wesley, north of Paerata. As this is 5km north of Pukekohe a new station at Paerata/Wesley should proceed here with some urgency.

The 5000 dwellings to be built in the Flat Bush area will further add to congestion is the already car dependent south-eastern suburbs. While Flat Bush is in an awkward location in relation to potential rapid transit routes, the Te Irirangi Drive busway would help connect residents to the closest centre of Manukau with its brand new station and tertiary institute, and also to the mall at Botany.


Eastern busways

 

The need to invest in transport projects which benefit these areas, should also show the need to rethink lower value projects across the city. First of all there are less than 900 dwellings north of the existing urban area at Albany, and these are at Silverdale. Note that means there are none on Whangaparoa Peninsular, Warkworth or Wellsford. First on the deferral list should be Penlink, which has a very high cost, high environmental impacts and low economic and transport benefits. It is difficult to see why this project should proceed when there is little growth in the area. A few extra ferries to the city seem like a much better idea to improve transport for people of this area. Deferring Penlink would free up $200 million to spend on much more high value projects. The lack of new development north of Orewa is yet further ammunition against the need for the Puhoi – Warkworth Highway to proceed. The $760 million required for the project should be reallocated by the government to serve areas of Auckland that are actually growing, rather than further delaying or canceling important infrastructure like busways. Across the city there are various other low value roading projects than should be deferred or downsized to free up money for more transformational public transport investment.

Where are the Special Housing Areas?

We now have had 3 tranches of the government Special Housing Areas announced over the past year. The first tranche in October 2013, second in December 2013 and the third in May 2014In brief these are defined areas that allow developments to be fast tracked through special consenting procedures, and the zones and rules from the Proposed Unitary Plan are applied. So far there are 63 individual SHA’s, collectively allowing 33,486 houses. The latest monitoring report shows that 18 of these developments have received a Resource Consent, 4 more applying for a Resource Consent, and another 36 at various pre-application stages.

Consented SHA's However the location and typology of these houses really matters for a variety of reasons. While fringe housing may appear cheaper, once transport costs are taken into account this is not always the case. Housing in existing areas also utilise existing infrastructure and public transport, while this must be added from scratch in fringe areas. Then of course there is market demand and changing trends, over the last few years prices have appreciated most rapidly in the inner suburbs, though this is now starting to spill out all over the isthmus.

Therefore I have looked at the SHA’s using several different measures. Firstly a classification that looks at the type of development land. ‘Brownfield’ means inside the existing built up area. “Greenfield - within the MUL” are developments that are within the Auckland Regional Council’s urban limits. They are new developments from bare land, however will adjoin the existing urban area. Importantly these areas have undergone substantial planning, such as for infrastructure, as there has been an expectation that these sites will be developed within the near future. “Greenfield – outside the MUL” is land that is within the Rural Urban boundary in the Unitary Plan, however outside the MUL. The only planning that has gone on in these areas would be broad brush work during drafting of the Unitary Plan.

Brownfield 13,261 39.6%
Greenfield- within MUL 10,411 31.1%
Greenfield – outside MUL 9,814 29.3%
TOTAL 33,486

The Auckland Plan set a goal of up to 70% of development to be infill, and up to 40% greenfield. However crucially the plan set the current MUL as the boundary from which to measure from, so these greenfield developments are counted as infill! Therefore this is spot on with the Auckland Plan target, though not really the long term intent of where growth should be.

Within the Brownfield developments, these can be further classified into Strategic, Housing NZ led, and private or community led. Strategic areas were identified only in the 3rd tranche. These were wider scale areas that did not have any specific developer interest, however were identified by the council as being well suited for future development and having good existing infrastructure. A large amount of the SHA’s identified in the 2nd and 3rd tranches were led by Housing NZ, which were redevelopments of areas of state housing into higher intensity. However this only leave 3037 developments led by the private sector inside the existing urban area, which is only 9% of the total.

Strategic 3,037 22.9%
Housing NZ 6,418 48.4%
Private/Community 3,806 28.7%
13,261

It is useful to look at the general geographic area of each of the SHA’s, so to do this I have looked at which former council area they would have fallen in.

Auckland City 5,235 15.6%
Franklin District 1,834 5.5%
Manukau City 7,523 22.5%
North Shore 1,535 4.6%
Papakura 4,770 14.2%
Rodney 3,183 9.5%
Waitakere 9,406 28.1%
TOTAL 33,486

This shows up some interesting aspects about the locations of the SHA’s. Very few are in North Shore City, while over a quarter of them are in Waitakere. Also only 16% are in the former Auckland City area which seems to be have the highest housing demand. This area also has the best access to jobs and tertiary education so increasing housing here needs to be a high priority.

Within the Greenfield developments I have looked further into the locations, and classified into general geographic areas.

North-West (ie Kumeu, Westgate, Hobsonville) 8,950 44.3%
North (north of Albany) 876 4.3%
Southern Corridor (Takanini, Papakura, Pukekohe) 4,834 23.9%
South-East (Flat-Bush) 5,045 24.9%
South-West (Mangere) 520 2.6%
20,225

Once again the large number of developments in the North-West really stands out, while there is only a small number to the north of the city. While this does not cover all the development underway, is does give a good idea where major development will occur over the next 5 years and more.

Another tranche of SHA’s are currently under consideration by the Council’s Housing Project Office, with the timeline as follows.

SHA processWhile their is no opportunity for direct public input, both local board members and councillors have substantial say over which areas get approved. Local board members are able to scrutinize local projects, and all SHA’s have to pass votes in the Auckland Development Committee and the Governing Body.

Looking at the numbers above there seem to be enough sections approved outside the MUL for the time being, but not nearly enough in areas of high demand. Therefore it would be great to see the 4th tranche being focussed on existing urban areas, with nothing outside the MUL.

The locations of these developments should help shape where infrastructure and transport investment is focussed coming into the next Long Term Plan. Areas of little growth should see projects move down the priority list, and sometimes disappear from the 10 year plan altogether. The speed of development in land outside the MUL is likely to cause the council and other infrastructure providers some issues. The effects of these SHA’s will be the subject of my next post.

Looking back at the existing LTP

Yesterday it emerged that the council is taking a knife to its next Long Term Plan and potentially start cutting projects completely in a bid to keep rates down. One comment that came through clearly yesterday was that the council will have to be careful what projects they cut because if they cut the wrong ones, like many of the PT and walking/cycling projects they should also cut the worlds most liveable city slogan too. Below is a press release from the council on the subject, the key point being that the public won’t get to hear what’s planned till late August.

The next phase in Auckland Council’s Long-term Plan (LTP) process is underway as elected representatives and officials meet to consider what the council should do during the next 10 years and how to fund it.

In March, Mayor Len Brown set the direction for a full review of the budgets and work plans of Auckland Council and its CCOs, and today’s workshop provides an overview of the sorts of things to be considered as Auckland plans for significant growth over the next decade.

“We need to make some tough choices to find the right balance between progress and affordability. Today we begin the conversation about how much we spend, when we spend it and what we spend it on to ensure Auckland’s communities and economy continue to prosper and the city remains a great place to live for all Aucklanders,” says Len Brown.

“In the months ahead, we’ll be asking Aucklanders about which major investments are the most important and affordable over the next decade to deliver Auckland’s vision to become the world’s most liveable city.”

The LTP is reviewed every three years. The next 11 months will see an extensive consultation process involving the council, its CCOs and the people of Auckland. The revised LTP 2015-2025 is due for adoption June 2015.

“Aucklanders want progress, especially on affordable housing and transport, but we know there is no appetite for large increases in debt and rates, so the next phase we begin today challenges us to find the trade-offs over the coming months to ensure increases are sustainable while still delivering on our promises – we can’t afford to do it all.”

Auckland’s first LTP in 2012 was based on the new council’s objectives but was still working with numbers carried over through amalgamation from the legacy councils.

This LTP provides the united Auckland Council with its first opportunity to realign those budgets and develop a 10-year programme of work based on a single plan and vision for Auckland.

Auckland Council Chief Executive Stephen Town says:

“The current LTP contains carry over numbers from the legacy councils and projects an average rates rise of 4.9% for each of the remaining years until 2022. To limit rate rises to between 2.5% to 3.5%, we need to be innovative and bold in looking at alternative revenue sources, reprioritising spending and finding cost savings to achieve our financial targets and take the pressure off households.”

“Auckland’s AA credit rating is testament to the careful and responsible approach we have applied to financial management. But we don’t have a blank cheque book to fund Auckland’s growth, and so we need to be clear about the priorities in the Auckland Plan.”

The LTP covers everything we do and how we pay for it – from collecting rubbish, building cycleways, delivering community services to investing in technology and innovation to ensure Auckland is a competitive global city for investment.

Detailed workshops will be held throughout July and August to help inform the Mayor’s Proposal for what activities should be prioritised, how to reduce total spend to keep rates low and alternative sources of funding for the 2015-2025 plan.

The Mayor’s Proposal will be presented in late August, and will then go out for public consultation so Aucklanders can have their say on shaping Auckland’s future.

The Long Term Plans is a 10 year budget but it gets reviewed every three years. In this post I’m just going to highlight what transport spending is planned in the current LTP which covers the period from 2012 to 2022. In particular I’m going to focus on the 2015 – 2022 parts as that’s what the council will likely be making substantial changes too.

When it comes to transport the current LTP is split into three sections:

  • Public transport and travel demand management
  • Roads and footpaths
  • Parking and enforcement

They can be summarised below (note: these are just the costs and ignore revenues and and money from other sources e.g. the NZTA or government)

LTP 2012-22 All headlines 3

 

 

Delving deeper each section can be broken down as below

Public transport and travel demand management

The one thing that stands out the most is that rail OPEX is expected to jump substantially which is primarily related to running more services, post electrification and then from 2020 for the CRL. We do know that the new electric trains cost about half as much in maintenance and fuel costs as the current trains and that Auckland Transport is about to go out to tender for a new rail contract from 2016 onwards. Those two things will hopefully combine to reduce those costs.

Rail costs feature strongly on the CAPEX side too which is comprised mostly of the costs for electrification and the City Rail Link. One thing not covered is the bus infrastructure that will be needed to support the new network which hadn’t been created – at least not publicly.

LTP 2012-22 - PT

Roads and footpaths

On the CAPEX side there are a couple of really large projects in the form of AMETI, Penlink and the Mill Rd corridor however most of the ones on the list are arterial upgrades that are/were expected to cost around $30 million each.

LTP 2012-22 - Roads and Footpaths 2

 

 

Parking and Enforcement

LTP 2012-22 - Parking and Enforcement

Note: you can see a list of all the projects that were included in the figures above in this old post.

I suspect that until plans are released in August that there will end up being a lot of rumours flying around about just what projects are going to be funded and which ones won’t. The herald yesterday suggested some projects that might be cut include:

  • Electrification to Pukekohe which will be essential to the proposed greenfield development in the area.
  • Penlink
  • A 20% cut in the already meagre cycling budget
  • A North Western Busway – something the NZTA should really be building as part of the Western Ring Route project and that is going to be needed to support the greenfield growth in the North West.

To me this also process is also going to highlight one of the glaring inconsistencies in how we fund transport. Local projects have to go through years of debate and cuts to get them to starting line but when it comes to state highways we have the government who can just come in and build stuff even if it isn’t what the city wants or needs. I imagine our funding priorities would be quite different if the city was able to choose how to spend the money we’re pouring into state highways.

Council pulling out the knife

The council today are starting to get serious about the next Long Term Plan (LTP) which will shape the councils spending for the next decade. We’ve long criticised them for blindly holding on to legacy projects from before we had a single council and it appears a key feature of this LTP is that they will finally start making some difficult decisions over which projects to keep. I’ve had it suggested that this will see blood on the floor as they wield the knife cutting out projects.

Just what projects and services get cut is being discussed today in a closed session of councillors.

Aucklanders will be given clear choices, including tolls and congestion charges, to pay for big transport projects in a black budget being partly unveiled today.

The Herald understands the new 10-year budget will slash up to $2.8 billion of new spending at Auckland Council to put the brakes on soaring debt and rates.

Nothing will be spared from a review of council services, even the $2.86 billion city rail link, which has no funding certainty.

Budgets for services like new libraries, swimming pools and playing fields are under the microscope.

Councillors, local board members, council agency staff and directors, and members of the Maori Statutory Board will be taken through the first draft of the new 10-year budget today.

They will be told the post-Super City spending spree is over, replaced by a new era of “prudent financial management” and “affordability”.

It will be interesting to see just what projects get cut. I suspect the CRL will still go ahead but perhaps with the K Rd and Newton stations delayed along with some of the other aspects like extra trains. Either way it’s something we will keep a close eye on.

Bledisloe Lane being upgraded

The Council have announced a long needed upgrade to Bledisloe Lane is about to start. The lane runs between Welleslety St and Aotea Square and often feels dark, dingy and cramped due to the really low roof and lack of natural light. Here’s what it looks like now.

Bledisloe Lane Upgrade Now

Here’s the press release.

Work has started on the upgrade of Bledisloe Lane to deliver an improved city centre laneway and enhanced access to Bledisloe House.

A popular thoroughfare for inner city workers, theatre-goers and tourists, the lane which connects Wellesley Street to Aotea Square has often been criticised for its dark recesses and gloomy, dated appearance.

The upgrade will transform the lane into a brighter and safer connection with new paving, a new glass canopy and façade to Bledisloe House at ground level and includes an upgraded pocket park on Wellesley Street. The existing canopy which significantly limits natural light will be removed in stages between June and September.

The upgrade also aligns with the relocation of the council’s Customer Service Centre from the Civic Building to the ground floor of Bledisloe House later this year. The introduction of new value-added interactions such as self-service kiosks, combined with the new location on the popular walking route, is set to deliver a new standard of service delivery for the centre.

Both projects share the vision of enhancing the public’s experience of Bledisloe Lane.

Auckland Council design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid says the upgrade is one of the many council projects realising the City Centre Masterplan vision to create a vibrant, better connected city centre that showcases Auckland as the world’s most liveable city.

He says Bledisloe Lane is a hugely important segment of what is described as the city centre pedestrian laneway circuit running from Aotea Square to the Waterfront.

“Currently the lane is well used, but its poor design quality does not encourage pedestrians to linger and enjoy the space,” says Mr Campbell-Reid.

“This situation does not fit well with the creative vibrant nature and potential of the Aotea Quarter cultural and entertainment precinct, or the kind of experience we want our Service Centre customers to have.

“Our plans to redevelop the lane, introduce a new service centre and redesign the Wellesley Street pocket park will transform the pedestrian experience”.

The design also considers future upgrades to Wellesley Street and the proposed site of the Aotea City Rail Link Station on Albert Street.

To expedite the construction works and ensure public safety the lane will be closed to pedestrians from late June to late September. Intermittent access will be allowed depending on construction occurring that day however customer access to New Zealand Post, Metro Centre and Bledisloe House main entrance will be maintained throughout construction.

The lane upgrade is expected to be complete later in the year.

All up the upgrade is costing $4 million and has be budgeted for in the current Long Term Plan. Like the shared spaces and other CBD upgrades in recent times, a lot of the money for it will be coming directly from the special CBD targeted rate paid by CBD businesses. Here are a couple of images of what it is expected to look like once it’s been finished.

Bledisloe Lane Upgrade 1

Bledisloe Lane Upgrade 2

I look forward to this being completed.

Downtown: Little Queen St

This is a quick post on the Downtown site. Precinct Properties, the owner of the Mall and the two existing towers [Zurich Hse + HSBC Building] between Lower Queen St and Lower Albert St, are expected to lodge a resource consent in a couple of months for a total rebuild of this site. We expect this proposal to include:

  • a 36 story tower on the south west corner, opposite the Customs Hse
  • 3 story retail precinct in between the three towers
  • an unknown quantity or location of carparking
  • the reinstatement of streets, or ‘street-like’ ground level public realm through the site instead of QE II Square.

Other significant and related issues:

  • Construction is expected to begin next year [2015] and will include the tunnels for the City Rail Link through the site, regardless of the government’s position on this project. Council funding is secured for this.
  • Buses will be removed from Lower Queen St and moved at least in part to Lower Albert St. Lower Queen will become a vehicle free pedestrian space at least for the length in front of Britomart Station.

We are told to expect both a new east/west street connecting the Piazza in front of Britomart to the buses on Lower Albert and a north/south street between Quay and Customs. The later is a reinstatement of a previously existing street called Little Queen, and is what I am focussing on in this post.

In 1966 10 highly detail topographical maps were produced from arial photographs of Auckland City, now in the Auckland Libraries Collection [where the black and white images in this post are also from]. These maps are a fantastic source of detailed information on 1960s Auckland; here is a close-up of the Downtown site before the current 1970s mall was built there, the CPO turned Britomart Station is bottom centre between Calway [sic; should be Galway] and Tyler:

Little Queen St 1966

So running between the Ferry Building and the Customs House was Little Queen St. The Harbour Board owned all the reclaimed land in the vicinity of the port and, like POAL today, it was focused on making more of it, either out of the sea, or in this case, it contrived to invent real estate out of a public road in order to ‘rationalise’ that resource. Presumably the trade off then with the city and the citizens was how we came to get the most dreary public space in the city: QE II square, proving for ever that not all open space is equal, especially urban open space.

Little Queen St 1973

The east side looking towards the sea and Ferry Building [and one person].

Little Queen St Esat 1070-75

The same side from a higher angle with a couple of humans and more than 10 buses. The street is pretty wide, wider it seems than its Melbourne namesakes; Little Collins and Little Bourke. Or perhaps just emptier?

Quay and Little Queen 1965

Quay St from the Ferry Building looking towards Lower Queen [The still extant Endeans building on the left and the Cupola of Britomart poking above], Little Queen on the right. 1965. Plenty of tarmac.

The history of this site is fascinating* as it is a clear example of the failures of mid twentieth century modernist urban master planning. But the outcome we are familiar with now isn’t simply a matter of design fashion but also the demographic, social, and commercial landscape of the period; the spirit of the times.

montgomery ward huntington beach ca 1966 pleasantfamilyshopping

The 1960s and 70s were at the height of the ‘flight from the centre’ period, a time of anti-urban idealisation of the new decentralised suburban life. A then sexy new Californian dream of a car centred complete life away from the tired old city centre: Living, shopping, and working without bothering with the old fashioned, degraded city. Clean, convenient, new. Supported and subsidised by Central and Local government policy in a myriad of ways, especially in transport spending in Auckland once Robbie’s Rail was killed. This lack of confidence in the city and disregard for the existing urban built environment was the dominant theme of the time so I guess it is of no surprise that the outcome of that Downtown redevelopment is suboptimal.

There was vocal opposition to the design we now have when it was proposed, in particular the shading of the new Square by the now HSBC building was, correctly, predicted to be severely limiting, and for years it struggled commercially [although more recently I believe it was one of  previous owner Westfield's better performers, and their only property without onsite and free parking], the site now clearly offers its new owners a huge opportunity but only if completely redesigned and rebuilt. And that opportunity is simply people. The return of people in concentrations to a now more exciting and busy city environment that only good public transport and dense land habitation can provide.

In this regard then, it is essential that the quality of the new work; both the architectural form of the new buildings and the relations between these buildings; the negative space between, these new streets, are of the highest standard, and provide real public spaces, unlike the faux public space of the suburban mall, or the formlessness and inauthenticity of the current QE II square. And in this the challenge is greater than at Britomart as there are no pre-sprawl era buildings to revive to give structure, scale, and continuity, and still the blocking mass of the HSBC building [which covers the northern end of the old Little Queen St] as well as a new tower to accommodate. Precinct and their architects have a great deal to balance but they know if they get it right all else will follow: The people.

A critical difference now is that these new projects are not for and by people that see little value in the city, a place only fit for escape. In that sense they are building for a new age, and one that offers the chance at least of the return of those powerful but difficult to summon qualities of great cities and great city places: Enchantment, mystery, possibility.

No pressure then.

 

* There is a totally absorbing history of the lead up to the downtown development in the Architecture New Zealand 2. 21013 by architect Dennis Smith. Highly recommended. Shows various schemes, perfectly of their time, and all completely dominated by car parking.

UPDATE: The kind folks at Architecture Now have put Dennis’ great article online now: http://architecturenow.co.nz/articles/a-short-history-of-the-sixties-downtown/