Yesterday the first of many next steps for the Unitary Plan was taken as councillors discussed the issue of height in centres. Here’s a brief summary of what went on during the discussions:
Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said the workshop brought together local board Chairs and the Auckland Plan Committee members to talk through the principles governing heights in centres and give interim direction on how changes will be made to the draft plan.
“The political direction that came out of today’s workshop is that, while we all agree we need a range of heights across our centres, we would like to see greater refinement to allow for variety within a centre where it is appropriate.”
The direction-setting workshops, which will be held over June and July, reflect the main topics in the 22,700 pieces of feedback Aucklanders gave over 11 weeks of engagement.
“We have started with centre heights as our first topic, as they set the framework for the level of development in other parts of Auckland.
“Proposed height limits for Auckland’s metropolitan, town and local centres have been widely debated, with clear argument coming through from each side of the debate. Our challenge for heights is to get the balance right and I believe we can do that,” said the Deputy Mayor.
Work will now start to refine the principles relating to height in centres as directed. These will then be presented for discussion at the next Auckland Plan Committee.
While I’m sure there was plenty of messy debate behind the scenes, the outcome of this seems fairly sensible: just because a place is noted as a particular centre doesn’t mean it should have a uniform height limit. Just as every centre of the same type (for example Metropolitan Centres) shouldn’t necessarily have the same height limits.
This is something that I posted about back in early May – pointing out that even though Takapuna and Papakura (for example) are both Metropolitan Centres, they are fairly different in about every possible other way and there doesn’t seem to be a particularly compelling case for both centres to have the same height limit. In that example, it seems fairly obvious that parts of Takapuna would be suitable for heights of higher than 18 levels whereas such heights seem less likely to be suitable for Papakura – at least any time particularly soon.
The decision to look in more detail at a greater variety of heights within the centres also makes sense if you look at a place like Takapuna. There may be strong reasons to not want higher buildings to cast shadows over Takapuna Beach in the afternoon, meaning that the further you go west within the Metropolitan Centre zone the higher the height limit could be. I’m pretty sure the existing Sentinel Building is higher than 18 levels! So a sensible outcome for Takapuna may be lower height limits in some part of the Metropolitan Centre zone and higher limits in other parts – a more nuanced approach.
I do hope that the evolution of the Unitary Plan over the next few months follows a similar course – where the focus is on taking the bones of the plan (which seem pretty good) but applying a level of detail to ensure that it works at the local level. I do hope that overall the zoning will enable a similar level of capacity to be developed within the existing urban area – but perhaps with intensification concentrated to a slightly greater extent in the places where it really does make sense (the isthmus, along good PT corridors, near railway stations, around centres etc.) and wound back in the places where it doesn’t make sense (isolated parts of the North Shore).
A few suggestions are noted below:
- Bump up the height limit in parts of the Mixed Use zone where this will be appropriate. Morningside, Grafton and along Great North Road through Arch Hill seem like prime candidates to allow 6-8 levels rather than the current proposed 4.
- Split the Mixed Housing zone into two so that we can have a proper terraced housing zone and don’t need to propose intensification across such a wide part of Auckland.
- Allow higher height limits in some Metropolitan and Town Centres, but wind them back in others. Push up the role of Sunnynook as it’s near a busway station, but perhaps roll back in places far from the rapid transit network.
I do hope that this type of approach can enable the Unitary Plan to move forward in a way that perhaps eases the fears (sometimes unfortunately not very well founded and based on media scaremongering) without losing what the Plan seems to do really well in my opinion: enabling intensification but demanding high quality development.
Groups like Auckland2040 bemoaned three storey terraced houses as potential “highrise” slums that will end the world – if they are allowed near rich beach side suburbs of the North Shore or high amenity areas of the isthmus – have become a common theme since the consultation on the Unitary Plan began a few months ago. As the consultation period drew to a close they also adopted another tactic, questioning the population projections that the council is using. They question whether we will have 1 million people in the region in 30 years’ time and even went so far as to suggest their followers make the following statement in their submissions.
Re-evaluate the projected population growth used as a basis for the plan based upon census information and consider other ways of reducing population growth in Auckland rather than just accepting that the projected growth is an inevitable fact.
Now the council hasn’t just plucked a number randomly out of the air, they are using projections from Statistics NZ to guide the planning process. People familiar with the numbers – or who read some of the numerous posts we have done on the issue – will know that there are actually three sets of population projections for Auckland, a high growth scenario, a medium growth scenario and a low growth scenario. The council has also frequently pointed out that historically Auckland has tended to grow faster than predictions. Here are the current population projections for the region.
Now I’m not sure if this was pre planned or if it was a response to people questioning the projections but last week the council held one of their Auckland Conversations events to talk about the issue. The speakers were Len Brown, Chief Planning Officer Roger Blakeley and special guest Len Cook who was formerly the countries chief statistician and who has also performed a similar role in the UK. You can watch the full discussion from all three speakers here (you have to sign up to watch but it is free)
You can also follow the presentations separately if you want:
What I took from watching this is that the council is on the right track. They are planning for the highest projected population growth just in case it happens instead of planning for less and crossing their fingers and hoping the growth doesn’t occur. But even with this approach is still being questioned with the likes of Auckland2040 – who were at the event – seemingly thinking we should take the crossing our fingers approach. Yet Bernard Orsman from the NZ Herald who was also at the event seemed to present the information as if the mayor was desperately holding on to using the figure for some sort of political reason.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown is sticking with a projected population growth figure of one million more Aucklanders to justify controversial plans for apartments in the suburbs and urban sprawl in the countryside.
Last night, Mr Brown said Auckland’s history of exceeding high-growth projections made it prudent to provide for the high-growth scenario of a million more residents by 2041.
The figure of an extra one million people has been the basis for the council’s asking Aucklanders to adapt to a new way of life in the draft Unitary Plan that includes high-rise and small-size apartments in the suburbs and 160,000 homes outside the existing urban boundaries.
The council’s use of the high-growth projection has provoked debate about the figure and whether something should be done to slow the city’s population growth.
Mt Eden resident Alan Kemp is typical of many, having called the Unitary Plan a “rotten plan” based on bad numbers that allowed multi-storey buildings at odds with their surroundings.
This is how Radio NZ saw the talk which seemed much more balanced.
Or listen here.
The issue has come up again in the Herald this morning with another piece by Orsman regarding the use of high projections used for planning in the Auckland and Unitary plans vs the medium projections used in the planning of infrastructure.
The Auckland Council is talking up another one million residents in the city by 2041, but it is taking a prudent line when it comes to providing transport, water and other services.
The council has adopted a Statistics New Zealand’s high-growth scenario of a million more residents by 2041, but its water body is using a medium-growth scenario of 700,000 more residents.
The mismatch has raised questions, but council chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley says it is prudent to provide for the highest likely population growth and to be cautious to avoid over-investment.
He said the council required council bodies to be cautious about capital spending ahead of time to avoid high borrowing, interest and depreciation costs.
Underspending on infrastructure, he said, could be addressed through regular budget reviews and incremental increases to facilities, such as wastewater treatment plants.
During feedback on the draft Unitary Plan, concerns about a lack of infrastructure planning have been a hot topic at public meetings.
Councillor Cameron Brewer has called for an independent review of the most likely population growth, saying the council’s projections are out of kilter with the Government’s national infrastructure unit’s mid-range projections
I think that the point Blakeley makes is perhaps the most important in this entire debate, effectively we should be planning for the worst but investing for what is most likely. If the worst does happen then we can adjust our investment levels accordingly but if growth falls short then so will the amount of intensification. With Auckland’s having a history of under planning for growth, I’m actually surprised that we still have people – especially politicians – suggesting that we carry on that tradition. I guess it is because the politicians who have to deal with the mess under planning causes will almost certainly be different to those currently in office.
Lastly perhaps my favourite graph from the presentations is this one from Roger Blakeley’s presentation which shows the population changes between 1961 and 2011 by migration and natural increase. What is clear is that population increase from natural means is consistently increasing and now with the exception of a couple of years makes up the vast majority of the population increase.
Edit: and with almost perfect timing, the council has just put up this post on the issue which answers the question of:
Q1. What population growth projection do we use for the Unitary Plan, and why?
Q2. What population projection do we use for infrastructure planning, and why?
Q3. How do we monitor for changes in future population projections?
Brady Nixon, the Development Manager at Progressive Enterprises [yup, the supermarket biz] and the force behind the upcoming Vinegar Lane development in Ponsonby has written a very detailed response to key aspects of the Draft Unitary Plan. His approach is particularly interesting because it is grounded in market practicalities and focused on design quality outcomes through intensification. It is also good to see a discussion around the built environment with some visual sophistication. The fully illustrated PDF, Market Responsive Intensification, is available here.
The inspiration for his approach is an urban renewal project from the 1990s on some disused docks in Amsterdam, called Borneo Sporenburg:
At Borneo Sporenburg there are some 2500 separately titled four story dwellings with a pretty handy density of 100 units per hectare. The key to their appeal is the variety of appearance within a consistency of massing of the resultant blocks. This richly textured outcome is a result of each building being designed and built to the tastes of each owner rather than by one developer but all within a very tight master plan and a design control process.
There are also two larger more traditional blocks that throw the regularity of the pattern on each pier and a couple of fancy foot bridges. And of course all the joys of being right on the water, largely car free, and close to the centre of old Amsterdam. Focusing on the ‘row houses’ their defining characteristic is that each dwelling has a relatively small footprint and therefore the whole site offers a comparable density to apartment blocks but they can still be organised more like detached buildings with independent ownership rather than needing systems like Bodies Corporate to operate them. Furthermore by subdividing valuable land into small lots the cost barriers to entry come down, so this is a way to involve ordinary people in development and not just leave it to developers.
Which brings us to Auckland. Nixon argues that the market is more accustomed to ‘Fee Simple’ ownership structures than to more collective models such as renting or co-governing whole buildings.
He has two other observations from local market condition.
One, that we are a nation of small scale builders; our building industry is predominantly structured around putting up one dwelling at a time, with a straightforward builder-client relationship [or builder-architect-client] with relatively small amounts of venture capital . He claims that the proportion of single dwelling construction compared to higher volume builds is 80%. Therefore however the city is to grow then that change must be deliverable through this cottage industry model in order to happen.
Two. He argues that the resultant structures are more acceptable to those fearful of the idea of intensification. He asks:
Where communities oppose intensification the question is not do they oppose intensification but in what form do they oppose intensification?
Going on to use the example of his own development, Vinegar Lane, comparing his new fee simple individually designed but dense small footprint model with the previous developer controled monolith:
The solution engaged at Ponsonby is in fact denser than the previous Soho scheme. But it is lower in bulk, scale and height than what was proposed and it is able to be delivered within the framework of the Mixed Use Zone rules.
So all is good then? Nixon and others can happily offer this typology to the market, and if he is right that sites in developments like this should be lapped up, as indeed they have in Ponsonby?
Not so fast, there are a whole lot of road blocks in the way of this model in the DUP, most notably minimum lot size, but also set-backs, height in relation to boundary, and, of course, those great place killers; minimum parking regulations. In Nixon’s view the DUP primarily imagines two main routes to intensification; large scale apartment buildings, or infill in residential zones ['garden gobbling'].
The former he claims is often unworkable because of the difficulties of site amalgamation, insufficient numbers of well funded development companies, and a luke warm demand. The latter neither supplies sufficient increase in density nor protects popular old neighbourhoods so is arguably likely to be even less successful.
For the solution to this problem Nixon’s next inspiration is Tokyo, a city with high density but often not high rise, here’s an example:
But only if subdivision is possible, and other regulations that restrict these kind of tight typologies on appropriate sites are removed.
Vinegar Lane will supply about 110 units per hectare, comparable to Borneo Sporenburg, way above the 15-25 that new greenfields subdivisions offer, and even better than the densities of nearby Grey Lynn which is around 35-40.
The sites are all intentionally varied in size and the smallest is 72m^2. So you can see why Nixon sees the DUP’s minimum lot sizes of 200m^2 in urban zones to be a problem
Here’s what the DUP proposes for the very zones that are ideal for more intensive construction, Nixon’s commentary on the right:
Here’s another example, this time from Sydney:
So here is Nixon’s summary of his small footprint argument:
And below are his overall UP recommendations, which are probably best summed as saying that the Council should concentrate on Quality controls and be less proscriptive with Quantity ones. If a Quality city is sought then compact one will follow so long as the barriers to achieving this morphology can be removed for appropriate locations. I would love to see these types of buildings in all their variety going up along Great North Rd as well as apartments and other mixed use buildings. I’m sure the old light commercial parts of Onehunga would be enlivened by this sort of owner built environment.
And the key to achieving it allowing greater subdivision than is currently planned.
Earlier this year, Auckland Transport formally launched the process to obtain designation for the City Rail Link. Submissions closed back in March and those that submitted will know that commissioners have been appointed and the hearings for the notice of requirement (NOR) will be held in August. All up there were 258 submissions on the NOR and I have been keen to find out what was submitted. Last night, the council released the report that has been prepared for the commissioners that examines the various NOR documents as well as the issues raised by submissions and it gives a glimpse of where the key points of contention will be.
The report starts off explaining about the project, how it is proposed to be constructed and how it fits in with some of the existing plans. The report then goes on to note the principal issues that have been raised are.
The following principal matters raised by submitters are relevant across the geographic span of the CRL project:
- Impact on Built Heritage
- Impacts on the traffic network, both during construction and once the CRL is operational
- Pedestrian and vehicular access to property
- Noise effects, both during construction and once the CRL is operational
- Vibration / settlement effects associated with cut-and-cover and tunnel boring excavation methodologies
- Effects on property rights
- Social impact of displacement
- The proposed 20-year lapse date
Importantly it also notes that issues around funding and economic risk are out of scope for this process.
However, these factors need to be distinguished from decisions on the cost and economic viability or profitability of the CRL. In terms of the RMA, case law has confirmed that:
- Decisions on project funding and viability are business decisions, which the decision maker should not be drawn into making or second guessing.
- The cost, economic risk and profitability of a project are business / policy decisions for the promoter or developer of a project, and should not be challenged.
A key requirement of the RMA is that alternatives sites, routes and methods of undertaking the work be considered if certain conditions are met (which the CRL project does). The report then goes on to list some of the numerous studies that have been done on the project since 2004 before getting to the specific objections to the assessment of alternatives. Of these objections I found the one from the NZCID the most interesting as they have been suggesting for some time a route similar to what I discussed in this post. In the end though the authors of this report state that current case law indicates that AT only needs to show that they have assessed alternatives routes that meet the specified aim, which in this case is a rail line from Britomart to Mt Eden. In fact of all of the submissions that related to alternatives, only that by Precinct Properties which relates to the use of the Downtown Shopping Centre for a construction site is considered to need to be addressed.
The report then goes on to address the various issues mentioned above as well as others. Unsurprisingly construction noise seemed to raise the most concern from submitters with 46 submissions specifically commenting on it. I’m not going to summarise the rest of the issues and responses as much of it is highly technical (and would take a long time to read through) so after briefly skimming through them, I went to the end to see the issues that the authors say that AT still need to address before consent be granted. They are:
While I’m no expert, these issues don’t seem too catastrophic. Perhaps some of you planning experts can share some of your thoughts. While this report gives a glimpse at the issues, I’m very keen to see the summary of each submission which I imagine will show up some interesting views, particularly which submitters have explicitly stated either support of opposition to the project.
For those interested in local body politics, there was a great piece from Radio NZ’s Insight programme looking at the relationship between the Auckland Council and the Government. It is a bit long but at 30 minutes but well worth a listen.
Or listen here.
With the submission period for the Unitary Plan drawing to a close, there seems to be one last push by opponents going on. Tomorrow we should have our submission guidelines up along with some easy things you can do to submit but before then I thought it would be worthwhile looking at a couple of the developments over the last few days.
TVNZ have done a two part series on the plan but as usual with our media, seem to skip some crucial details. Here is the first part.
Let’s be clear, the only way the old ladies vege patch will be killed off is if she decides to do it herself. No one is going develop her land unless she does it or unless she sells it. This is also featured as one of the key myths that the council set out to bust in this blog post.
Myth 1: Your house could be taken off you and be demolished to make way for terraced housing and apartments.
Fact: Nobody will be forced to change their way of living. Auckland Council does not have the power to take your property from you. Nothing will ever change on your property unless you as the property owner decide to renovate, build or sell.
There are a couple of other points that seem to need constant reminding in this debate:
- Just because there is a height limit, it doesn’t mean that buildings will actually be built that high, remember that many places have no height limits now and we don’t see skyscrapers popping up.
- Development will only happen if there is demand for it.
It was pleasing however to see that the local business association seeing the benefits. They obviously realise that more people mean more businesses and services can be supported in the town centre which can help improve the liveability of an area. Panmure is also going to be fairly important transport wise with the AMETI busway and new train station going through.
There is a typical bit of scaremongering though, most of the city could already end up with three storey buildings under the current plans by developers getting resource consent, this is exactly the same as what is proposed in the unitary plan. The one thing I do agree with though is that it will be imperative that we have good design.
Following that first segment, yesterday was part two.
So Phil McDermott thinks intensification will put pressure on aging infrastructure but sprawling north and south won’t? Is he suggesting that these new developments won’t hook into the existing transport, water and waste water systems? I love how he also claims that people like us, who just want people to have more choices in how they live, are somehow limiting peoples opportunities.
Next up we have David Thornton from the group No More Rates. He claims to be pushing for sprawl based developing towns along a High Speed Rail network from Whangarei to Hamilton. But it might sound nice, it is really just a brain eating zombie idea, a bit like the ones Stu highlighted a few weeks back. First such a network would be astronomically expensive and based on international experience could easily top $30 billion. That is way beyond the affordability of the nation and odd that a group campaigning against rates would propose such an idea. It also just seems like a way of pushing all development out of Auckland and into Northland or the Waikato. To take that much load, cities like Hamilton and Whangarei would probably need more than quadruple their populations bringing with it much more massive change to those communities than what is proposed in Auckland.
More than just a zombie idea, it is also a complete red herring. The No More Rates group have frequently campaigned against rail projects, especially the CRL like this example from March where they push for sprawl based on expanding the motorways.
Gridlock should not be used to justify Central Rail Link.
Yesterday’s traffic gridlock should be a catalyst for a wider debate on how Auckland plans to cope with population growth.
Mayor Len Brown’s total preoccupation with the Central Rail Link is blinding him to the real alternative of expanding land supply to cater for both population increases and the provision of affordable housing.
The draft Auckland Unitary Plan, due to be released on 16th March, clearly shows that removing the current metropolitan urban limits will provide development land for up to 40% of the estimated population growth over the next 20 years.
However this expansion is delayed for many years, presumably to allow concentration on building medium and high rise apartment blocks all around the region.
The Auckland Council should make expansion beyond the present Metropolitan urban limits its first priority, rather than plunging ratepayers into the danger zone of huge debt and horrendous rate increases in the years ahead to pay for a rail link that many believe is unnecessary and financially unsustainable.
A move away from ‘intensification’ in favour of greenfields development, and expansion of satellite towns, would support the already planned extension of the northern motorway and the early completion of the western by-pass.
Add in a mostly government funded additional harbour crossing, and a much less costly solution is there for the taking.
Ratepayers in particular would be wise to consider this plan as an alternative to the rail dominated proposals in the draft Unitary Plan.
The assertions in this press release are astounding. So the City Rail Link at $1.8 billion is too expensive but a $5 billion additional harbour crossing is cost effective. They previously objected to the Unitary plan based on what they claim are rail dominated proposals but now object to it because it sprawl using an even more expensive rail proposal?
As mentioned previously we will get our submission guide up tomorrow but if you don’t want to wait, make sure you get your feedback in as from what I’m hearing, the groups completely opposing it are submitting a lot of feedback.
Every now and then I receive external confirmation of just how rapidly Auckland is transforming itself into a much better city. The latest and perhaps greatest – at least in terms of its global reach – reminder has come courtesy of the New York Times, which recently published this article titled “36 hours in Auckland“.
The introduction to the article is worth quoting in full:
Admittedly, few fly all the way to New Zealand just to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. Most aim to explore the otherworldly landscapes with which, thanks to the silver screen, this remote nation has become associated. But before delving into the cinematic beauty of the North Island countryside, discover the San Francisco-steep streets and regenerated neighborhoods of newly vibrant Auckland. This multicultural city, home to a third of all Kiwis, has recently welcomed a raft of bars, boutiques and restaurants that highlight locally made products, from excellent craft beer and wine to fashion and art. And none of it has anything to do with orcs or rings.
I think there are several interesting aspects to the introduction. The first is the reference to San Francisco, after which the article goes on to mention Seattle. Indeed, on my last trip to Seattle I was struck but how it felt like a bigger, bolder American version of Auckland. I think Seattle is a city Auckland should compare itself too, and try to emulate in some respects (perhaps not weather wise).
Another interesting aspect of the introduction is the mention of Auckland’s multi-cultural society. Speaking as an employer, I can say that Auckland’s cultural plurality is quite an important attribute when trying to attract skilled staff from overseas, which is something that I’ve recently had to do. In Auckland you can be comfortably “different”.
But the more interesting aspect of the introduction, I think, is the length to which it goes to challenge what it believes is the common understanding of New Zealand as a destination that does not normally include Auckland. I think this common definition of “destination NZ, but not Auckland” is real, understandable, and yet rapidly changing.
Its “real” because our tourism marketing has often emphasised our natural areas. It’s also ”understandable” because NZ does have outstanding natural features and landscapes. While I’m an ardent advocate for more liveable urban areas, I am equally passionate about NZ’s wild side. There are few things I enjoy more than travelling around NZ, and I suspect many other NZers feel similarly.
The focus on NZ’s natural qualities is also understandable, however, because NZ’s generally not done very well at creating pleasant cities and towns. Auckland has, historically at least, sat proudly on top of NZ’s dung heap of urban shame. But it seems that Auckland’s reputation is (finally) rapidly changing, and deservedly so.
A variety of decisions made by a variety of councils has resulted in urban places that are both good for people and fun for visitors. Streets are cleaner and many have been upgraded; public transport is much better; and we invested in civic facilities, such as Britomart, the Museum, and the Art Gallery (pictured below). This has not only created places to go and things to do, but in turn helped to stimulate private sector development in the surrounding areas.
And I suspect Auckland is only going to get better.
Right now we’re staring down the barrel of 5 years of transformative PT improvements, spearheaded by integrated ticketing, electrification, and the New Network. Meanwhile, Wynyard Quarter should gradually become a waterfront precinct of international quality. And in the background a steady programme of streetscape improvements should create more places where people want to stop, pause, and take a photo (thanks Auckland Council!).
Anyway, for now let’s just enjoy some external confirmation that the Auckland we know, and generally love, is headed in the right direction. Who knows – if we keep working hard and focus on being decent Aucklanders, then perhaps in a few years time the New York times will feel compelled to spend more than 36 hours in Auckland? Let’s hope so.
In yesterday’s post Matt covered this recent article by Brian Rudman.
The crux of the issue is that the National Government – under the guise of the Land Transport Management Amendment Bill – is proposing to remove Auckland Transport’s obligations to Auckland Council.
In the brave new world created by the LTMA Bill, Auckland Transport will have to develop a Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) that “is consistent with” the Government Policy Statement on Transport. In contrast, this RLTP need only to consider the regional transport objectives established by Auckland Council.
For those who are not used to Big Brother policy-speak, “consider” is what you do when you flip through a report looking at the pictures before turfing it in the recycling bin.
The relevant section of the Bill is shown below (page 15).
Hence, the Bill proposes to establish a clear policy hierarchy, where central government’s GPS has precedence over Auckland Council’s transport objectives. The change in hierarchy is subtle but oh so significant.
The Bill then goes on to explicitly remove Auckland Transport’s ability (established in the LGACA 2009, when Auckland Council was formed) to delegate responsibilities for developing the RLTP (either in part or in whole) to Auckland Council:
Consequential indeed. The intended (and practical) effect of the proposed legislative changes is that Auckland Transport becomes an implementation tool for the National Government, rather than one of the Auckland Council. On a superficial level this immediately renders the term “Council Controlled Organisation” (CCO) something of a misnomer – Auckland Transport may as well just merge with the Auckland offices of the MoT and NZTA and be done with it.
I think there are, however, deeper and more fundamental issues with the proposed legislative amendments. In my opinion, one of the primary issues with the LTMA Bill – as it is currently drafted – is the degree to which it undermines the (already tenuous) connection between taxation and representation. This connection has been a bedrock of conservative political thinking ever since the American War of Independence.
More specifically, the thinking behind the LTMA Bill fails to acknowledge that it is the people of Auckland who collectively pay for transport projects in our region, by way of user charges and local taxes (actually Auckland historically more than pays for its transport projects – to the benefit of other regions).
One might argue, then, that Central Government does not actually “fund” transport in Auckland in any meaningful sense – they simply distribute hypothecated fuel excise duties that are collected from users. It is actually Local Government that does most of the “funding” – insofar as the money they contribute is collected not from users but instead via taxes. The collection and application of these funds are subsequently open to normal democratic debate.
In my view, one of the fundamental tasks of the Central and Local Government agencies involved in funding transport is identifying projects that align with the preferences of the people who might use, or be impacted by, the transport system. In turn, I have not seen much evidence to suggest that Central Government is better placed to represent the preferences of these people. In fact most people view transport as one of the key functions of Local Government.
There is also no reason to expect that preferences are homogenous at the national level. People in Auckland, for example, are likely to have different transport preferences from people who live in Rangitikei. The former probably walk/cycle and use public transport considerably more than the latter.
Differences in preferences are one reason why certain types of people choose to live in cities, and vice versa in rural areas. Put simply, people will partly “self-select” their location based on how it reflects their transport preferences. This might imply that Local Government is actually better placed to understand transport needs than Central Government.
Moreover, in most parts of New Zealand the majority of travel demands are regional or local, rather than national. The last time I looked, approximately 90% of the vehicles using Auckland’s state highway network, for example, were associated with regional/local travel demands. Put simply, most of our travel occurs locally or regionally.
All this seems to suggest that Local Government should have quite a bit of say on how transport funds are applied.
The underlying principle being invoked here is called the principle of subsidiarity. This principle is embedded in European Law and seems to hold general appeal across the political spectrum, for quite understandable reasons. In short, the principle argues for governance functions to be devolved to the lowest possible level at which they can be delivered effectively and efficiently.
Last year the NZ Productivity Commission – instigated by the National Government – produced this issues paper on local government regulatory performance. The paper discussed – and generally extolled – the merits of subsidiarity. The section of their report titled “Factors that may be relevant in allocating regulatory roles” (pg. 28) contains this cutesy diagram:
What this illustrates is that the “local customised” approach to public policy more accurately reflects differences in the population’s underlying preferences. And that – put simply – makes the affected people better off. In contrast, the “one-size-fits-all” approach to setting transport policy, which is what the LTMA Bill proposes for Auckland, is likely to result in some people – especially those who use public transport and who walk/cycle – much less happy.
I’d suggest the National Government has a major problem on its hands, and one that is entirely of its own making. How do National reconcile the LTMA Bill with the concepts of taxation/representation, as well as the more general principle of subsidiarity? In my opinion you can’t; what is being proposed in the LTMA Bill is nothing less than a naked power grab.
I’m actually rather outraged by what is being proposed here. As an Aucklander who is interested in transport, I’d like all the National MPs in Auckland to front up and tell us why they think it’s appropriate for Central Government to place their transport agenda ahead of Auckland’s democratically elected councillors.
Can Aucklanders not decide for ourselves what sort of transport projects our rates and fuel excise duties should fund? Or does Nanny National always know best? And I have not even mentioned land use and transport integration, which is another strong argument for retaining Auckland Transport’s obligations to Auckland Council.
If you’re as concerned as I am by what is proposed in the LTMA Bill then I’d suggest you send your local National MP (listed below [source]) an email and let them know how you feel, or possibly just point them to this post. Go well.
I’m not sure whether it is driven out of selfishness or just a sheer lack of understanding but the opposition and reporting of the unitary plan now seems to be bordering on lunacy. Almost the entire concern about the unitary plan so far seems to have been in relation to height limits. First the focus was around the heights of apartments but opponents of the plan have now moved on to the height limits in the mixed housing zone. For these opponents even three stories seems to be scary so thanks to Google, I went for a look around some of their neighbourhood and look at what I found:
Looking around a few other suburbs we also have.
In all it took me only about 5-10 minutes to find these 3 storey houses and interestingly none of which appeared as if they were out of place in their local environment. Yet somehow try to build something the same height but as a group of terraced houses, or apartments and the development seems to become evil (some are taken from Trademe listings).
The same height limits that allow for the large houses in the first sets of photos are the ones that affect many of the terraced houses and apartments in the second set of photos.
But I wonder if these people actually realise what the existing height limits are? I suspect they don’t so I went and had a look. Here are the limits in residential areas for the former North Shore City Council:
188.8.131.52 Maximum Height
a) Residential 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 zones: 8 metres.
b) Residential 6 zone:
i) Intensive Housing on sites exceeding 1500m²: 9 metres.
ii) All other activities: 8 metres.
c) Special Height Restrictions:
i) RNZAF Airbases – refer to Rule 14.10.1.
ii) Mount Victoria and North Head – refer to Rule 8.4.3 and Rule 8.4.4.
iii) Dairy Flat Airfield – refer to District Plan Map 3.
iv) 94, 96 and 98 Mokoia Road (Lots 6, 7 and 8 DP 12148) – 9 metres.
By means of a Limited Discretionary activity application:
a) Residential 1, 2b, 2c, 3, 4, 5 and 7 zones: Up to 9 metres.
b) Residential 6 zone:
i) Intensive Housing: Up to 10 metres.
ii) All other activities: Up to 9 metres.
c) Residential 2A zone: Up to 11 metres.
Most properties on the shore sit under residential zone 4a so have a height limit of 8 metres with council officers having discretion to increase that to 9 metres. Seeing as in the unitary plan the mixed housing zone is the most common, what does it say about height?
Part 4 Rules»4.3 Zone rules»4.3.1 Residential zones»4. Development controls»4.3 Mixed Housing zone»4.3.1 Building height
Purpose: manage the scale of buildings to generally maintain the low-rise suburban residential character of the zone (two to three storeys).
1. Buildings must not exceed 8m in height.
So it is 8m as well or in other words for the majority of people on the shore, there is actually no change to height limits at all. Not that the scaremongers like Wood, Quax, Brewer and a host of local board members would tell you that. Unfortunately they have been assisted by the hopeless attempts at comms by the council. We said very early on that effort should have been put into showing what was allowed under current rules vs. what is proposed. For most people this would have shown that there was actually no change at all and therefore nothing to worry about which is a point that Brian Rudman also highlighted a few days ago.
Some you may recall that a month or so ago my colleague Jarrett Walker came to Auckland to talk about public transport. In this presentation, Jarrett discussed some of his work on Auckland’s new network. The general thrust of his talk was that improvements to Auckland’s bus network will play a crucial role in Auckland’s future public transport network. Highlight of the talk for me personally was Jarrett’s suggestion that we need to start thinking of buses as ”pedestrian fountains“. That’s a point to keep in mind the next time you look at pictures of Auckland’s city centre filled with people enjoying themselves; many of those people will have arrived by bus.
Jarrett also emphasised the often overlooked fact that even post-CRL, significant numbers of people will still be arriving in Auckland’s city centre by bus, especially from those areas which are not well-served by rail. For example, buses will still be required on Manukau Rd, Mt Eden Road, Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, and Jervois Rd, which are some of the densest parts of the region. The CRL does not make buses go away, even if it allows their role to change in some parts of the region, and that buses will continue to be an important part of Auckland’s public transport system for the foreseeable future.
For this reason Jarrett suggested that we start thinking about how buses can be integrated into the city in a way that enables them to move efficiently, without clogging up the roads and detracting from urban amenity. And that means – in my opinion – that we need better bus infrastructure, like what you find in more enlightened cities overseas. Indeed, even Vienna – which is a city known for its relatively dense metro and tram network – has a bus system that carries 120 million passengers per year. That’s more than twice the passengers currently using Auckland’s bus network. Basically, there is no conceivable (realistic) future for public transport in Auckland that does not involve making better use of our buses.
Jarrett really lays down an intellectual challenge to people that “hate buses”.
In his talk Jarrett also emphasised that the best bus routes almost always make the best tram routes. So if you are a person who want trams to be part of Auckland’s transport future (and I would count myself as one of these people), then the best thing you can do is support the development of a high-quality bus network supported by appropriately future-proofed infrastructure.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the presentation, albeit without audio/video (technical difficulties on the day meant this is unavailable). In my next post I’ll upload a copy of Jarrett’s talk at the public transport careers evening that was held at the University of Auckland (again apologies for the delay with getting this uploaded; I know some of you have been asking for it).
And for those of you who missed hearing Jarrett on his last visit, rest assured that we’re already working to bring him back to Auckland later this year.