Update on new downtown public spaces

As part of the works for the City Rail Link, Queen Elizabeth Square will be completely dug up however as we know it won’t be replaced, instead the square has been sold to Precinct Properties and will be developed. In its place the current road area of Queen St between Customs and Quay Streets – with the exception of a small access to Galway St and from Tyler St – will be created.

Lower Queen St Event Space

The council have also said the proceeds of the sale of QE Square would be used to go towards at least two of three new public spaces proposed along the waterfront and that the spaces should be delivered by 2018. An update to the council’s Auckland City Centre Advisory Board a few weeks ago gives an update on that with some useful information about what we’ll get. The three potential public spaces are

  1. new/improved space west of Queens Wharf on the water’s edge at the foot of Lower Albert Street
  2. improved space around the historic ferry building and at the base of Queens Wharf
  3. new/improved space east of Queens Wharf in the Admiralty Steps area.

Proposed Downtown Public Spaces


Of the spaces the third is tied up in what is currently the operational area for the port so relies on the outcome of study into the ports future. That means the two spaces being focused on are 1 and 2. The report says that within the ferry basin the plan will deliver a total public space of 4,700m² of which 2,100m² will be brand new space. To put that in comparison the area being lost from QE Square is about 1,800m². As you can see that will obviously require some changes to the current ferry piers.

Proposed Downtown Public Spaces - new space

The report highlights a few major issues related to budgets.

  • The council won’t receive the money from Precinct for QE Square till at least February 2018 which is about 6 months later than when they estimate they need to start construction and of course money is needed immediately for design, planning and consenting works.
  • A pre-requisite for the works is the seismic upgrade to the Quay St seawall however that isn’t budgeted to occur till after 2020.
  • It requires redevelopment of the downtown ferry terminal however that isn’t currently budgeted for in the 10 year Long Term Plan.

The minutes aren’t available to confirm what was agreed however the City Centre Integration team were looking for an agreement in principle to use funding from the CBD targeted rate to progress the investigation and design of project.


Slip Lanes be gone

The council is hailing the fact that just over one quarter of the slip lanes in the city centre have been removed over the last few years. This is excellent news for pedestrians as it will make many intersections much safer.

Pedestrian safety and access in the city centre has taken another step forward with the removal of three ‘free left turns’ at intersections as part of the upgrade of Beach Road.

More than a quarter of the turns (11 out of 40) have now been removed from the city centre since 2012, when the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) advocated their removal. A free left turn is one where traffic is regulated by lights when going straight or turning right, but vehicles can turn left without a signal.

Local Board chair Shale Chambers says: “These turns can make crossing a road unsafe and unpleasant for people on foot, especially for younger or vulnerable pedestrians, so it’s great to see this progress in such a short space of time.

“The city centre is rapidly becoming a much more pleasant place to walk, with these improvements adding to the creation of a laneway circuit. This helps the centre buzz, which in turn attracts people and – crucially – business investment. “

The completion of stage 2 of the Beach Road project removed the free left turns at the intersections with Britomart Place and Tangihua Street. The first stage of the Beach Road upgrade removed two others, while more have been removed along Mayoral Drive and at the bottom of Albert Street.

Council design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid says “Free left turns tend to create over-sized intersections that encourage vehicles to travel too fast, compromising pedestrian safety. Instead, the focus needs to be on creating a vibrant and pleasant walking, shopping or browsing environment, where people can walk with confidence.

“Rather than being anti-car, removing these slip lanes can be a win for everyone. If people can cross more quickly, this can also reduce waiting times for cars.”

The remaining 29 include four along Symonds Street, eight along the Grafton Gully and five surrounding Victoria Park.

Here’s a map of the status of all slip lanes in Auckland. It’s worth noting that this only includes ones where there is a free left turn, so situations like the intersection on Nelson St and Fanshawe St where the slip lanes are signalised are not counted.

City Centre Free Left Turns 2015

Here’s one example of slip lanes that have been removed. This is the intersection of Beach Rd and Tangihua St, and with the slip lanes traffic would travel at speed through the slip lanes.

Beach - Tangihua St slip lanes

And now that the Beach Rd project has removed the slip lanes.

Beach - Tangihua St slip lanes gone

One of the reasons slip lanes are so dangerous is that they can shift drivers’ focus away from what’s in front of them, and instead they focus on what traffic may be coming from the right to see if they can get through the lane without stopping. Depending on the situation, that could result in them speeding up to get ahead of approaching traffic or braking sharply to avoid a crash, but almost always the last thing on their mind will be the person on the left who may be trying to cross the road. This isn’t surprising, as if you’re in a metal box you’re much more at risk from other metal boxes than you are from squishy humans.

There are a few questions from this, including how long until we can get the rest of the slip lanes removed, why aren’t we removing them from suburbs all across Auckland, and why are we still letting engineers design them into projects?

The Aotea Framework

Transforming an entire city centre is no quick and easy task. In 2012 the council adopted the fantastic City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) which laid out the vision for Auckland’s city centre over a 30 year period and identified a huge number of potential projects. The Council’s City Centre Integration Team (CCIG) which is made up of staff from across the wider council family have been tasked with turning that vision in to a reality. As such they are creating frameworks for a number of areas within the city centre which are intended to bridge the gap between the strategies and reality. Almost exactly a year ago we saw the first of these frameworks – The Downtown Framework – emerged looking at the area north of Customs St. Now it’s the turn for the core of the city centre – Aotea.

The area surrounding Aotea Square is home to some of Auckland’s most prominent art, civic and cultural and entertainment buildings – many of which have played a big role in the cities heritage. The map below highlights some of these

Key Destations

The core of the plan seems to focus on the area within the solid red line on the map above the wider framework area looking at how the Aotea Precinct interfaces with the other frameworks that will be developed over time.

One of the big drivers for change over the coming decades will be the huge level of public transport investment that will be going in which will make it easier for significantly more people get to or pass through the area as part of their journey. The key PT projects are highlighted below and Aotea will be one of the best connected locations in Auckland.

Aotea Framework Proposed Transport Investment

In addition to the big transport investments is a recognition of the need to improve walking and cycling connections. Just where those will be are better shown on some of the detail below.

Within the area four general areas have been identified as having development opportunities and all around the edge of the precinct with Mayoral Dr and Albert St. They are shown below

Aotea Framework Development Opportunities



Site A: Aotea Station/West Bledisloe

Once the CRL has been finished this is likely to be one of the hottest pieces of land in Auckland. Currently it’s a carpark for which the entrance combined with the entrance to the Civic Carpark it totals up six lanes of driveway that pedestrians need to cross. As the document correctly says “this prominent site fails to contribute to the public realm quality of the area or the growth node ambitions”.

The framework is proposing two new buildings plus the CRL entrance could go on the site with new lanes between the buildings and alongside the western edge of the Bledisloe building. The document says developing the site could provide up to 28,000m² of lettable space.

Site B: Aotea Centre

This site has already been in the news this week as one of the Council’s CCO’s want to re-clad the building in bronze coloured stainless steel. In addition there is talk of expanding the building itself to provide more studio space and practice rooms. The aspect most interesting to me is the creation of a new pedestrian link direct from the Cook St/Mayoral Dr intersection through the centre and into Aotea Square.

Site C: Civic Administration Building and Surrounds

The Civic building was originally meant to have additional wings on its western and eastern sides but they were never built. That has left a lot of space surrounding the Civic building with potential for development.

Aotea Framework Possible Civic Building redevelopment

Site D: South Town Hall

Ever since Mayoral Dr was ploughed through the area in the 70’s this area has been a carpark. The desire is to better improve connections between Aotea Square and Myers Park so it is proposed to build a courtyard along with a 5-8 storey building. The courtyard will tie in with plans to improve the Mayoral Dr underpass which are expected to be completed mid to late next year. With the courtyard there would be a series of linked public spaces all the way from K Rd though to Victoria St. The council also own the site up to the corner of Mayoral Dr and Queen. They suggest either another building could go there or something else like Spanish-style steps up to Queen St.

Aotea Framework Possible Future Waihorotiu Square

The map below shows the potential development of the area along with some of the new pedestrian/cycle links that have been proposed. Through all of them you can see there is a desire to finally start activating the edge of Mayoral Dr, something that’s long overdue and likely to help in over time making Mayoral Dr less of the mini expressway it acts like.


Aotea Framework Possible Indicative Redevelopment Scenario 2

Consultation on the draft framework is open till 22 October.

Square and Hall Upgrade

A road no longer runs though it – that’s just one of the things we’ll be able to say about Freyberg Square if the council’s proposal to upgrade it and the adjacent Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall goes ahead. This is great news as both the square and the hall are well used despite being a bit run down, an upgrade on both are well overdue.

I think it is also good that both the hall and the square are being upgraded at the same time and integrated together. The upgrade to the ground hall will see the ground floor become a flexible community space. Combined with the removal of the road which clumsily bisects the square and which offers little to the overall transport network the works should enable the area to perform much better as a people space.

The work will also tie in nicely with the fantastically upgraded O’Connell St by way of extending the shared space south partly though Courthouse Lane. This section of Courthouse lane itself will further be changed by only allowing traffic to travel uphill towards Albert Park meaning we will no longer see cars travelling at speed downhill. It should also mean a reduction of vehicles that need to travel down O’Connell St as currently O’Connell St is the only option for drivers who come down Chancery St. Of course all this work will once again serve to highlight how poor the environment in High St is.

In total the upgrade is expected to cost around $7 million with it being paid for by the Waitemata Local Board and the City Centre Targeted Rate.

Here’s are the overarching design objectives for the projects

  • the design of Freyberg Square as a world-class place that is a distinctive, safe and popular destination, where locals and visitors choose to frequent and linger
  • creating a community facility within the central city with greater user flexibility
  • providing greater pedestrian priority and connectivity and a more usable and child-friendly public realm
  • providing better pedestrian connectivity between Freyberg Square and the surrounding network of streets
  • creating a high quality, attractive and durable public open space that contributes to a sustainable and maintainable city centre
  • designing an improved integration between Freyberg Square and the Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall, to create a vibrant inner city hub which will become the community and cultural heart of the city
  • enhancing and redeveloping the Pioneer Women’s building while maintaining the heritage of the building and meeting current seismic and building codes
  • creating a versatile and fully accessible community centre that can be configured to accommodate a greater number of uses and users
  • honouring Ellen Melville and pioneering women of New Zealand, and continuing to honour Lord Freyberg

And some images of what’s proposed (click to enlarge)

Aerial perspective view of Pioneer Women’s & Ellen Melville Hall and Freyberg Square showing the removal of the Freyberg Place roadway to create an integrated public space and community hall. Concrete seating terraces and steps extend up the bank towards the Metropolis, interspersed with native tree and shrub plantings and an interactive water feature, creating a destination public space in the city.

Freyberg Square Proposed Design

Plan view of the Pioneer Women’s & Ellen Melville Hall and Freyberg Square showing the removal of the Freyberg Place roadway to create a fully pedestrianised public space with seamless integration between the upgraded community hall and square. Stone paving, public seating and native street trees create a pedestrian prioritised environment in Courthouse Lane, with vehicular traffic restricted to one-way traffic up-hill towards Albert Park.

Freyberg Square Proposed Design - Plan

This view from Courthouse Lane shows the re-instated verandah and relocated glazing line set back 3 metres from the columns, which honours the heritage of the building and better connects the building with Freyberg Square. The entrance is reinstated under the verandah, providing a more generous and welcoming foyer. The original brick wall is re-instated, reflecting the heritage of the original design.

Ellen Melville Hall Upgrade 1

This view over Freyberg Square shows how the removal of Freyberg Place roadway and the upgraded building will enhance the interface with Freyberg Square, creating a visual and permeable connection allowing the building to flow out in to the square and activities in the square to flow in to the building. There placement of the building’s current blue glass to a cast glass similar to that used originally, combined with the use of a lighter, warmer material palette will create a more inviting community facility.

Ellen Melville Hall Upgrade 2

This view shows how the proposed ‘Urban Living Room’ will help integrate the building in to the local context, encouraging activation of the spaces and interest in the community facilities available. This flexible ground floor community space can be re-configured to suit various activities such as conferences, market stalls and art exhibitions.

Ellen Melville Hall Upgrade 3

Overall it looks like a great upgrade that appears to really add to the area. Your move High St retailers.

The consultation is open to Sunday 27 September and there are details on the consultation page about public sessions on the plans that are available.

The next batch of Special Housing Areas

The council yesterday announced the seventh tranche of special housing areas and for the first time, all are redevelopments of existing sites within the urban area. They say that all up this could allow for up to 1,600 new dwellings in Auckland – if they actually get built. So here are the new SHA’s along with the previous ones announced.

SHAs 1-7

Bute Road, Browns Bay

The site at 4 Bute Road, Browns Bay will be developed for retail at ground level with four levels of apartments above, comprising 54 residential units plus accompanying car parking.
The residential units are a mix of one-bedroom (77m2) inclusive of balconies and two-bedrooms (88m2) inclusive of balconies.

The relocation of the former New World supermarket has allowed for the development.

The proposed scheme has been developed in close liaison with local real estate agents who have identified significant demand, particularly from older residents seeking to downsize and remain in the suburb.

Bute Rd SHA

College Hill, Ponsonby

Mansons TCLM Ltd plans to develop 99 College Hill, Freemans Bay into approximately 40-50 new homes over two-to-three years. The proposed residential development will consist of apartment style dwellings, to supplement the current shortages, including a combination of two-bedroom units and larger three-bedroom units.

The site is zoned a combination of Mixed Use and Single House zone under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Mansons TCLM Ltd has been progressing a consent for the development of the land. This will include earthworks, construction of a basement level and development of the residential units and associated areas.

Mansons TCLM Ltd intends to complete the entire development and have it ready for habitation by late 2017.

College Hill SHA

This one is interesting as one half of the site has mixed use zoning while the other half is listed as single house zone.

Corner Cornwall Park Avenue and Great South Road, Greenlane

Golden Key Development (NZ) Ltd plans to develop 65 new apartments at 115 Great South Road, Greenlane.

The development will include one- and two-bedroom units. The land is zoned Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Golden Key Development is progressing the preparation of the resource consent for the apartment development, which it plans to complete by January 2018.

Cornwall Park Ave SHA

Great South Road, Manurewa

DJI Limited plan to develop 309-311 Great South Road for approximately 24 two-bedroom apartments over two years.

The affordable homes within the development will be priced between $450,000 and $500,000.

Some of the features of the site include the Te Mahia Railway Station – 200 metres away, Beaumonts Park – 700 metres away, Manurewa South School – 15-20 minute walk, and the Manukau Golf Club – 400 metres away.

The land is zoned Mixed Use Zone under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

DJI Limited has been progressing a consent for the initial development of the land. It plans to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by late 2017, with the entire development completed by mid-2018.

Gt South Rd Manurewa SHA

But will any of the residents use the station?

James Road, Manurewa

DJI Limited plans to develop 9 and 11 James Road, Manurewa into approximately 39 new dwellings over two years.

There will be a mix of housing types, matched to current shortages, including smaller one-bedroom units and larger two- and three-bedroom units. Half of the units will be built as affordable homes; these will be priced at between $450,000 and $500,000.

The land, which is currently occupied by homes, is zoned Terraced Housing and Apartment Building under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. The site features a train station less than a 3 minute walk away, a bus stop 50 metres away, schools 250 metres away, a hospital 1 kilometre away, and a shopping centre (groceries, gas stations, food outlets) in close walking distance.

DJI Limited intends to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by the last quarter of 2016, with the entire development completed by mid-2017.

James Rd Manurewa SHA

Kingdon Street, Newmarket

New Investments Limited plans to develop 10 Kingdon Street, Newmarket for approximately 60 new apartments over two years.

The development will provide a mix of apartment types, matched to current shortages, including smaller one-bedroom units and larger two-and-three bedroom homes. The affordable homes within the development will be priced at between $325,000 and $350,000.

The Kingdon Street property is well located in a desirable part of Auckland, with innumerable state and private schools nearby, and Auckland University being a neighbour. The development is well located to amenities including parks and reserves. It is well serviced by bus and train transport, providing easy access into the CBD for workers.

The land is currently largely undeveloped with a 2-storey retail building on half the site. It is zoned Mixed Use under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

New Investments has been progressing a consent application for the initial development of the land. This will include ground floor retail, two levels of car parks, as well as residential apartments. It intends to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by August 2017.

Kingdon St SHA

Kirkbride Road, Mangere

Austin Management Limited plans to develop 8 Kirkbride Road, Mangere Bridge for approximately 54 new residential sites.

The development will provide a mix of housing types, matched to current shortages, including larger three-and-four bedroom homes. The affordable homes within the development will be priced at between $480,000 and $550,000.

The land is currently zoned Mixed Housing Suburban and Single House under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Austin Management plans to lodge a qualifying development consent application as soon as practicable to enable the redevelopment of the site. It intends to ready the first residential sections for houses to be established on them by spring 2016. Associated house plans will be established by the end of 2016.

Kirkbride Rd SHA

Layard Street, Avondale

Redevelopment of the former Avondale Returned Services Association site and adjoining land will soon commence to provide for more than 150 new dwellings, townhouses and terraced homes of various sizes and configurations.

The development, located between 1 and 7 Layard Street, Avondale, will be known as Rosebank Ridge in recognition of the elevation and views offered by the site.

It will feature a mix of housing types matched to current shortages including smaller one-bedroom units and larger three- and four-bedroom terraced homes. The apartments, terraces and townhouses will be affordable and likely to be priced between $350,000 and $800,000.

The building’s design will assist in the growth and rejuvenation of the Avondale precinct. The developer is currently progressing with a resource consent application.

It is hoped the development will be in part complete and ready for occupation by December 2016.

Layard St SHA

With a number of other developments planned for Avondale the area is going to see a lot of growth in the next few years

Pacific Events Centre Drive, Manukau

Gaze Property Partnerships plans to develop 834 Great South Road and 10 Pacific Events Centre Drive, Manukau into more than 800 news homes including retirement living, potential student accommodation and/or hotels.

The development, called 8 Pacific, will comprise a comprehensively master-planned area of 9.2 hectares. It’ll provide a mix of housing types, matched to meet current shortages and affordable housing requirements, from smaller 2-bedroom terraces, townhouses and apartments through to larger 4+ bedroom homes.

The development is well placed next to the Manukau CBD, well serviced by public transport and servicing infrastructure is already in place. There is significant nearby employment opportunities including the growing Wiri industrial area, the new Wero Whitewater Park and Vodafone Events Centre directly to the north. As well as the parks, reserves and a community hub to be included in the development, being in close proximity to the Auckland Botanic Gardens and the national cycleway will provide strong community and open space amenity.

The land is currently vacant. Construction is targeted to commence as early as possible in the 2016 earthworks season.

Gaze has already lodged resource consent for total land development along with Stage 1 of housing to include 18 apartments and 20 terraced and townhouses. This will include earthworks, roads, parks, a community hub and around 12 super lots for subsequent subdivision and development.

Beyond the land development, Gaze intends to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by the end of 2017. The entire subdivision development will be complete within 2–3 years and housing will continue to be delivered rapidly after that.

Pacific Events Centre Dr SHA

Sunnybrae Road, Hillcrest

Sampati Holdings Ltd plans to develop 3 Sunnybrae Road, Hillcrest over three years.

The site will yield approximately 125 new homes, which will be part of a larger new urban village of commercial and residential that will occur over the next decade.

The affordable homes within the first stage of the development will be priced at around $455,000. The development will provide a mix of housing types, including one-, two- and three-bedroom homes. The development is adjacent to major recreation areas, near good public transport links and has many education facilities within an easy walk.

The land, which is currently being used as a car park, is zoned Mixed Housing Urban under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Sampati Holdings has been steadily progressing the required documentation for the resource consent with the intention to have the first residential housing ready for habitation within 18 months.

Sunnybrae Rd SHA

Takanini Road, Takanini

Glenora Developments Ltd plans to develop 62 to 66 Takanini Road, Takanini for approximately 125 new homes over the three years.

The affordable homes within the first stage of the development, known as Glenora Park Village, will be priced from $350,000 upwards. The development will provide a mix of housing types, including terraced homes and walk-up apartments, and comprise one-, two- and three-bedroom homes.

The development is adjacent to a major shopping centre, near good public transport links and an easy walk from a railway station, schools, a major park and recreation facilities. The land, which currently has a vacant factory with a large yard, is zoned Town Centre under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Glenora Developments has been steadily progressing the required documentation for a resource consent application and intends to have the first residential housing ready for habitation within 18 months.

Takanini Rd Takanini SHA


The future cost of Auckland’s sprawl

Auckland needs to be able to accommodate up to 1 million more people over the next 30 years, that’s a lot of growth and means the city needs around 400,000 more dwellings. The Auckland Plan set the high level strategy of having up to 70% of that growth occur within the existing urban area while up to 40% would be outside that. The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) identified large swathes of land outside the existing urban boundaries for future urban land – some of which is already being developed as Special Housing Areas.

The council is now consulting on a Draft Future Urban Land Supply Strategy which will show how that release of land will actually occur over a 30 year period including specifying where and when bulk infrastructure will be built. They say specifically it will

  • help to inform Auckland Council infrastructure asset planning and management and its infrastructure funding priorities and sequencing. It will feed directly into the Council’s future Long-term Plans and the Annual Plans
  • help to inform central government, such as the Ministry of Education, with medium to long-terms projections, location and investment decisions
  • help to inform private sector infrastructure providers with forward planning and investment decisions

Overall this seems like a good idea, concentrating development in areas where it is able to be accommodated rather than developing land completely ad-hoc which could create funding issues for the council and other infrastructure providers. As the document points out, a consequences of ad-hoc development could be that it sucks up enough resources that it affects the ability to improve the rest of the region. What is most interesting about the strategy is this comment:

The analysis done for this Strategy is of sufficient scale and specificity to broadly determine bulk infrastructure requirements.

In other words this is more than just drawing some lines on a map and pulling out the colouring in pencils. The council have actually put work into determining just what bulk infrastructure will be needed to enable the predicted future growth and the result is actually quite scary and raises the question of just how affordable any new dwellings will be – more on this soon. It’s also important to remember that the bulk infrastructure talked about is really just the core of the networks provided by the council and other agencies. In addition to it developers would need to add all of the local infrastructure such as the local street and water networks.

The PAUP identified six large general areas and a few small standalone areas where future urban growth would occur. This covers about 11,000 hectares which they say could accommodate around 110,000 dwellings. The six main areas are:

  • Warkworth
  • Silverdale, Wainui East, Dairy Flat
  • Kumeu, Huapai, Riverhead
  • Whenuapai, Redhills
  • Takanini, Opaheke, Drury, Karaka
  • Pukekohe, Pareta,

The strategy splits up the areas into five year intervals based on a suite of principles. The map below shows these areas along with the key bulk infrastructure they need.

Future Urban Land Stategy - July 2015


As mentioned above, the part of the strategy that is most interesting is the high level costs to provide the bulk infrastructure which is done to a decade level. The table below shows this along with how many dwellings each time interval delivers. In total the council have estimated that around $13.7 billion of bulk infrastructure is needed over the 30 year period, this is made up of

  • Transport – $6,700 million
  • Water -$2,250 million
  • Wastewater – $2,200 million
  • Other – $2,500 million

These cost are further broken down by decade along with the number dwellings expected in the table below.

Future Urban Land Stategy - Costs - July 2015

Breaking that down we have

  • 1st Decade – $111k to $140k per dwelling
  • 2nd Decade – $179k to $234k per dwelling
  • 3rd decade – $93k to $120k per dwelling

Those seem like some crazy high costs, especially if you consider them on a per house basis. Next imagine what the land prices for these new sections would have to be to cover the costs if the council were able to pass the full costs. Combine that with the costs to the developer of providing the local infrastructure and these areas are not going to be cheap, losing one of the supposed advantages of greenfield developments.  The reality is only some of these costs are likely to be passed on meaning that existing ratepayers will effectively be subsidising this greenfield growth.

This outcome actually that much of a surprise, research as part of the Auckland Plan looked at potential growth scenarios and found sprawly land use patterns were the most expensive outcomes for the council due to the need to provide so much new infrastructure.

Of course none of this to say that intensification isn’t without its costs however many often those costs are ones which would still be needed for the sprawl development too.

Consultation on the draft strategy closes on 17 August.

Ponsonby Rd Public Realm

Ponsonby Rd has pretty serious pretensions to being Auckland’s premier shopping and cafe strip, and it sure does attract very high volumes of people. However the amenity for these people is very poor. Both in terms of its form but also in terms of its upkeep. Overall I think its fair to say that like many places in Auckland pedestrians are clearly low on the radar for those who have been charged with forming and maintaining this street. Certainly compared to the constant and loving attention AT gives the roadway the footpaths are in a shocking state [see below]. At many times of any day there are as many or more people on the footpaths than in vehicles, yet both the quantity and quality of the public realm that is afforded to people not in cars is more than suboptimal.


Yet there’s lots that’s great here and with just a few well executed tweaks and it could be really fantastic. The street is among the best forms of public realm there is; and it is clear the goods and services on offer here and the opportunity for a good old fashioned paseo or passeggiata along this natural sunny ridge attracts all sorts, young and old, and at all times of the day and night. Ponsonby Rd has such great natural attributes and a near constant activation; the dull moments like the bank and fire station or parking lots aren’t too bad or too long. And anyway are likely to be improved. The length of it is worth walking; from K and Gt North all the way to Jervois and College Hill.

But despite these attractors the pedestrian realm is fractured and perilous. Any attempt to use the footpath, and let’s not forget that is the only way to access the shops and cafes, involves a constant yielding to fellow citizens in vehicles. And not just at the crossings of the narrow side streets but also on the many moments where the footpath itself is also a vehicle crossings. Frankly it is outrageous that the previous Council ever allowed a fast food business to run a drive-in facility that crosses the pavement twice across such a busy pedestrian place. And don’t start me on the terrible informal extra road they’ve allowed opposite the top of Franklin.

Ponsonby Rd- lot 3

The Richmond/Picton intersection; we believe all modes would benefit from this returning to a Barnes Dance pattern. Certainly it would be safer and better for pedestrians.

Above: The Richmond/Picton intersection; we believe all modes would benefit from this returning to a Barnes Dance pattern. Certainly it would be safer and better for pedestrians.

And a great city walk is a powerful thing, commercially, socially: as an attractor for local business, it is the ‘public playroom’ for residents and visitors alike. I’m not advocating for more land here, just for the quality of what’s already available to be better connected, defined, and available for people doing that most valuable thing: walking.

The prime opportunity is for this public realm to be stitched together across the various interuptions. Firstly for each of the minor cross streets to have their priority reversed and become extensions of the Ponsonby Rd footpath by raising the surface up to footpath level in a continuous line. This would clearly communicate to drivers the need to proceed with great care when turning, and to yield, as some already do, to the more vulnerable pedestrian. Some of the wider cross streets like Vermont are already narrowed and planted with good trees, but continuous blacktop invites fast and careless driving by some impatient or inobservant drivers. This can be fixed, as can the crossings at the major intersections.

So a group of us have got together to outline a number of improvements we would like AT and AC properly investigate along this well trod path.

1. Raised pedestrian tables on the minor side streets inline with the footpath.

2. Reinstating the Barnes Dance at the Richmond/Picton intersection with Ponsonby Rd

3. Ped crossings at the existing refuges at the mid blocks.

4. Enforce the existing 40kph speed limit.

5. Ban U turns.

6. Implement the Ponsonby Rd plan

There’s a petition here: http://www.actionstation.org.nz/ponsonby-for-people

And I would like to add; complete the return of the London Plane trees along the length of the street so we will get fully a joined up architecture of these great street trees along the route.

Add your thoughts on these or other possible improvements and feel free to nominate other streets that you think would benefit from this sort of upgrade. And note this post is deliberately focussed on the pedestrian realm as the cycling, traffic lane, and PT issues are covered in the masterplan, but also so the pedestrian realm can be discussed in its own right.

How might the RMA amendments and the Auckland Plan impact on the Unitary Plan?

The advertisement below is from the last local government elections. Here Councillor Denise Krum rallies against the draft Unitary Plan, especially the degree to which it enables “intensification”. Denise’s advertisement claims the draft Unitary Plan is “too intense” and will “change our streets forever”. Instead, Denise advocates for greater restrictions on the degree to which property owners can develop their property in the urban area, and more expansion of the city. Denise was subsequently elected.

Denise Krum

Denise is particularly critical of 3 storey height limits, and goes to the trouble of hoisting herself up (some might say by her own petard) in a scissor-lift so as to highlight differences in building heights.

From this advertisement it seems clear Denise does not support the draft Unitary Plan and instead considers restrictions on intensification as being necessary to preserve community well-being. It is notable the advertisement does not contain any references to any research or surveys which support the positions Denise adopts on these issues. Is it too much for me to expect political advertising to include references to evidence supporting the positions being advanced? Perhaps.

When it comes to planning, however, evidence matters. Recent 2013 amendments to the RMA increased the burden of proof with regards to S32 reports, especially in terms of the economic analysis that should be undertaken to support proposed policy provisions. For those who are not familiar with planning jargon, a “S32 report” attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of proposed policies in comparison to potential alternatives. The 2013 RMA amendments requires S32 analysis to identify, and where practicable quantify, the economic benefits and costs of proposed policies. Some smarty-pants lawyers had this to say about the RMA amendments at last year’s NZPI conference (source):

“Arguably the most significant and material change is an expansion and detailed elucidation of the reference to “benefits and costs”, in the context of assessing efficiency and effectiveness … Post 2013s 32(2) requires, in much more detail, the following:

An assessment under subsection (1)(b)(ii) must—

(a) identify and assess the benefits and costs of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects that are anticipated from the implementation of the provisions, including the opportunities for—

(i) economic growth that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and

(ii) employment that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and

(b) if practicable, quantity the benefits and costs referred to in paragraph (a).

The task of complying with these requirements is not insignificant. A systematic approach will need to be taken in preparing s32 reports to ensure that they are compliant and address environmental, economic, social and cultural effects, including opportunities for economic growth and employment.”

Ever since the RMA amendments came into force I have pondered how they might impact on the proposed Unitary Plan, especially with regards to density controls? I have also been wondering how the strategic direction established in the Auckland Plan, which I think was developed under the auspices of the LGAAA, would be relevant to the Unitary Plan?

My interest was further piqued when councillors, such as Denise, dramatically reduced the level of intensification that could occur in metropolitan Auckland, since which time house prices have soared. The differences between the draft and the proposed Unitary Plans is highlighted in the map below. Areas of red show areas where down-zoning occurred, which includes most of the isthmus. These are the areas where property prices are high (and increasing), i.e. where market-driven intensification seems most likely to occur.

Down zoning

From this it seems fair to say that proposed Unitary Plan imposes tighter density controls. The question is whether these controls are supported by economic evidence that meets the requirements of the (amended) RMA? And, moreover, how apparent tensions between the strategic direction of the Auckland Plan and the approach adopted in the proposed Unitary Plan would play out in a hearing context?

The economic costs of density controls are relatively intuitive: They forgo and/or displace land use development. This means we get less of it, especially in higher In terms of the economic benefits of density controls, those who are opposing intensification, such as Denise, will need to present evidence to show that levels of density which are common-place elsewhere, e.g. cities in Australia and Europe, will cause significant harm to communities should they be replicated in Auckland.

I’m skeptical as to whether this evidence exists. Most of the research I’ve read, such as this review by UNSW for Queensland Health, finds no conclusive evidence that higher density development has negative impacts on well-being. In fact, there’s evidence it’s beneficial to many outcomes, such as childrens levels of physical activity and obesity rates. So much for the meme that children need a big backyard to stay fit and healthy!

In my experience living in Auckland and overseas, buildings of approximately 6 storeys seem to have relatively negligible negative impacts on well-being and/or amenity. The photos below illustrate two buildings from Amsterdam and Auckland, but I could have easily added many more photos of multi-storey buildings from Brisbane, Sydney, and Stockholm. While there are large differences in style, I find both buildings quite attractive (the first photo is used under license from myself; the second photo belongs to Ockham).

Amsterdam nightmare

_CM15340 crop-600-600-450-450-crop

For these reasons, I have been somewhat heartened to read the interim guidance on view shafts that was issued by the Commissioners who are overseeing the Unitary Plan hearings process. In this guidance the Commissioners note “the objectives, policies and rules in relation to viewshafts do not meet the s32 requirements of the Act” for several reasons, most notably “amendments were made to s32 in 2013 to require employment and economic growth opportunities (including lost opportunities) to be taken into account and these post-date many if not all of the legacy plans.” The Commissioners go on to note the “PAUP is the first substantive planning process to propose increased levels of intensification to achieve a quality compact city so it is appropriate that the viewshafts are now re-evaluated within that strategic context” and more importantly “… if it is possible to quantify those costs of the viewshaft provisions, then that would assist in decision …

I want to emphasise from the outset that I don’t have a strong view on the relative merits of view shafts. This post is less concerned with the nitty-gritty of viewshafts than it is with understanding how the 2013 RMA amendments and the Auckland Plan may impact on the Unitary Plan, most notably:

  • First, the presence of planning provisions in legacy plans is not strong evidence (in of itself) that those provisions should be retained in the Unitary Plan, mainly because the legacy plans pre-date both the 2013 amendments and the Auckland Plan. Hence, they have not been tested under the current legislative and strategic context.
  • Second, the Commissioners appear to consider that the strategic context provided by the (non-statutory) Auckland Plan, in addition to the Regional Policy Statement, is relevant to the provisions of the Unitary Plan, especially with regards to the development of a quality compact urban form.
  • Third, in light of the 2013 RMA amendments the Commissioners appear to place a higher expectation on economic analysis, especially where proposed provisions do not appear to align with the aforementioned strategic direction of the Auckland Plan.

The Commissioners thus seem to be attempting to strike a balance between strategic outcomes and economic analysis, and do not seem to be placing too much weight on legacy plans. This is heartening because, frankly, the legacy district plans contained many provisions that are of dubious value. Moreover, where provisions proposed in the Unitary Plan run contrary to the Council’s stated strategic direction, then there seems to be an expectation from the Commissioners that this misalignment is supported by robust economic analysis.

Of course, whether this preliminary guidance on view shafts is indicative of the Commissioners’ ultimate position and/or whether it apples to other topics, e.g. minimum parking requirements, is something that will only become clear in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Professional and personal disclaimer: The views expressed in this post represent the theoretical and philosophical musings of a not quite defunct economist. This economist is not a planner nor is he a lawyer (so don’t expect to be able to sue me for much money). The views expressed herein should not be construed to represent the views of my colleagues, clients, friends, or pets. They do represent the views of my Mum, whom I love very much. Nor do they necessarily represent my own views in the future – at which point my views may have changed in response to further evidence and information. 

SkyPath: Councillor v Advocate

Brewer v Reynolds


NBR Radio

In which Councillor Cameron Brewer tries extremely hard to find a possible cost to ratepayers in a privately funded and user pays addition to our transport networks, while ignoring the real cost of $13m to ratepayers for a free-to-use walking and cycle project in his ward [just one example].

Here at transportblog we are very keen on value for money for all publicly funded projects, which means every single transport project in the land. Except one. The SkyPath. To campaign that this project is some kind of burden on ‘the poor suburban ratepayer’ is so silly as to be beyond parody.

Ratepayers’ watchdogs play a potentially valuable role. But they need to be coherent and consistent, oh and factually accurate. Especially when they are taking a ratepayers salary to do it. Here Brewer is complaining about a user pays route but ignoring the fully subsidised one that happens to run through his ward. So either he really has no idea what’s going on or is being more than a little deceitful in order to score some kind of political point.

Don’t get me wrong, I am entirely in favour of both the taxpayer and ratepayer funding of the Eastern Connections route, but also think the SkyPath should be so funded. And it is also clear which route costs ratepayers more. A certain $13 million versus a possible future liability.

Basically the people of Auckland are getting a huge bargain with the SkyPath. Either it costs nothing, or a much lower sum than it would if funded like every road, bus lane, train station, or cycleway in the city. And this doesn’t even begin to calculate the years of free work contributed by those who have made it happen. And all to make up for what is essentially an institutional failure in transport provision. SkyPath is listed as the region’s most import Active route yet our current institutions weren’t able to get started on it themselves, somehow.

Perhaps it really is time Councillor Brewer took his financial expertise into the private sector…?

More on the National Land Transport Programme

Last week the latest iteration of the National Land Transport Programme was announced. This is largely a business as usual plan, dominated by the big spend on a few massive state highways projects. However there are a few things to be celebrated, especially for cycling, and even more in the language and thinking in the supporting documents. This was repeated at the launch too, especially in the words of NZTA CEO and AT Board representative Geoff Dangerfield, and NZTA Auckland/Northland Regional Director Ernst Zöllner.


The high level aims are all strong and commendable. The focus on ‘economic growth and productivity, safety, and value for money’ are incontestably valuable. If they were to add ‘resilience, energy security, and environmental performance’  it would probably be a perfect list. But of course this is really set by the Government Policy Statement.

Dangerfield was his usual clear and persuasive self, setting a high level context and skilfully bating away questions. Zöllner was particularly articulate about both the dynamic nature of the situation in Auckland and the unformed quality of Auckland’s PT networks; especially the incomplete nature of the core Rapid Transit Network. Both noted the strong growth of PT ridership numbers, which will see a rise in the PT opex spend.

Here’s what the agency says about the Transit and Active modes, in the Providing Transport Choices document:

NZTA The role of PT.
NZTA Economic Growth through PT

All incontestable good sense, and exactly the sort of points regular readers here would recognise, especially the emphasis on the value of the high quality own-right-of-way Congestion Free networks of rail and dedicated busways.

People using public transport on high-quality public transport services with a dedicated right of way, like the Auckland Northern Busway or metropolitan rail networks, can now enjoy fast, efficient journeys on comfortable modern buses and electric trains, while freeing up road space for other people and freight.

There remains, however, some considerable daylight between this analysis and the actual projects being funded. This is especially the case with the comparatively tiny sum of $176m for Public Transport Capital Works in Auckland out of a total $4.2 billion spend over the three year period in the region [~4%] and $13.9 billion nationally. This sum [half of which is from the Council’s Transport Levy] will bring much vital kit, like the Otahuhu, Manukau City, and Te Atatu bus interchanges. But is a long way from fixing those big gaps in the RTN network. In response to my questions on this they quite reasonably countered that some funding for bus capex is in other budgets, notably under the AMETI programme, as part of the North Western massive highway works, and the Northern Busway extensions.

However the two Busway sums do not result in the construction of even one metre of additional RTN. For the Northern Busway the previous minister deleted construction of the proposed extension from the accelerated motorway package [a loan to be met from future NLTF], so all we are left with is ‘future proofing’ and no one can ride on a busway that has only been future proofed for. On the Northwestern we do get the improvement of bus shoulder lanes and a station at Te Atatu; but no RTN. AMETI is the best of the bunch, but that’s only if the proposed BRT does happen instead of the place-ruining flyover that appeals more to some entitled voices there.

Then we come to the great problem that the National Land Transport Fund is barred from investing in rail infrastructure yet Auckland is now showing the huge value of using this separate network for moving increasing numbers of people completely outside of traffic congestion. And some RTN routes are clearly best served by rail. Just as well the Council has the courage to just get on with the CRL first stage by itself so at least this vital gap at the heart of the RTN is getting a start.

The case for near term investment in PT and especially for completing the RTN can be summarised thus:

  • current demand growth of 20+% on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network,
  • the RTN is showing improved operating cost effectiveness as it grows,
  • the strongly voiced value the agency sees in quality PT networks especially their positive effects on traffic congestion and economic growth,
  • the well known relationship between what is invested in and what then grows in use plus the positive externalities of increased PT use,
  • and the observed sub-optimal nature of the city’s current PT networks in both quality and extent, ie the clear opportunities for improvement.
So despite the good work being undertaken by many in all our transport agencies: NZTA, AT, and MoT, there seem to be structural problems that are leading to important opportunities being missed in our only city of scale. It is this context that I wrote to NZTA Auckland and Northland Director Ernst Zöllner with concerns about two specific projects that embody these issues. As this post is already quite long I will run the letter tomorrow morning in a follow-up post…