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CRL design being progressed

Auckland Transport have said that they are focusing efforts to design the northern end of the CRL from Wyndham St to Britomart.

Design of the Britomart end of the City Rail Link is being progressed with Auckland Transport asking the construction industry to register its interest in the work.

The focus of the design work will be on the downtown section of the City Rail Link, from Britomart through Queen, Customs and Albert Streets to Wyndham Street.

It is the area that most affects other planned and proposed inner city development by Auckland Council and private developers.

“It’s a sensible next step to get design certainty for the part of the CRL that will most affect everyone else’s plans in the city. It is also important to have the design advanced so any consents can be identified and applied for,” says AT Chief Executive David Warburton.

Auckland Council Chief Executive Stephen Town says “this next step is important as it will ensure the sequencing of city centre improvements is well planned over the next 3 years.

Auckland Transport wants to be in a position to progress work in the downtown area so other city development can proceed without unnecessary delay, once CRL construction funding is approved.

Dr Warburton says engaging early with the construction industry in this way is routine on major projects to ensure a cost effective design that minimises adverse effects.

It’s basically the section shown below (although without needing to take all of the Downtown Mall site like originally thought)

CRL Downtown site

Precinct Properties want to develop the Downtown Mall site and they have already agreed to build the tunnel under the site at the same time, this saved AT from having to purchase the whole site. It makes complete sense to then also join in that part of the tunnel to Britomart and to get it at least under the Customs St/Albert St intersection. The reason for that is there are a lot of plans in the area that will hinge on the CRL being completed so that they don’t have to be redone in the future. This includes:

  • The upgrade to Quay St to be a more pedestrian friendly area.
  • Changes to Customs St to accommodate the new bus network and some of the traffic from Quay St.
  • Potential changes to Lower Queen St and QE2 square

 

AT have also said they are likely to have some new images available in a month or so relating to station designs which will be exciting to see.

The CRL is about capacity

I’ve been noticing in recent times an increasing number of people questioning the need for the City Rail Link. I’m not sure what’s causing it but it might be that Auckland Transport have been remarkably quiet on the project for the last six months or so. With this post I thought I would highlight some of the key reasons why the project is needed and it’s all related to capacity.

It’s commonly mentioned by those that oppose the CRL that the CBD is only 15% of all regional employment. What’s not mentioned is that 15% represents ~100,000 jobs. While the 15% figure is true it ignores a couple of key points.

  1. City Centre employment has grew by about over 20,000 jobs between 2000 and 2013
  2. The numbers are based on a fairly narrow definition of the CBD. Expanding that to include the city fringe areas which are also likely to be directly affected by the CRL means the total number of jobs in the central city is 24% (~153,000).
  3. At ~100,000 jobs the level of employment in the CBD is still significantly larger than any other single area in the region. The second largest number of jobs is the massive commercial area covering Onehunga, Penrose, Ellerslie and Mt Wellington which combined has 60,000 jobs. Areas like the airport (including around Ascot/Montgomerie Rd), Manukau/Wiri, East Tamaki, Albany and Wairau/Smales Farm each only contain between 20,0o0 and 30,000 jobs.
  4. In addition to the CBD, employment areas all along the rail network would benefit from the greater frequencies the CRL would deliver.
  5. Employment isn’t the only thing that happens in the CBD, there are also 40,000-50,000 students at the two universities plus more at other education institutions.

Both employment and tertiary student numbers are expected to grow significantly in the future. AT say that by 2041 employment in the city and fringe areas is expected to increase to over 200,000 and student numbers to around 72,000.

City Centre Employment to 2013

That’s a lot of growth but why do we need it in the CBD, why not encourage it to other parts of the region?

Despite decades of anti CBD policies one of the key reasons the CBD is the size it is, is simply because of its location – it’s central. A large part of that is simply its historical location and how the city has subsequently developed but it means it’s an area that has relatively equal access from the North, South, East and West. That means employers in the CBD have a much larger pool of potential talent to choose from than ones in say Albany or Manukau.

Auckland is home to 60% of the top 200 companies in the country and a many of them based in the CBD due to the reasons just mentioned as well as to gain the benefits of agglomeration. It is why even companies like Fonterra who make their money from the rural sector have their head office functions in the Auckland CBD. The types of roles found in the CBD also means those workers tend to earn on average 27% more than workers in other parts of the region. So yes we could encourage or even require those new jobs to be elsewhere in the region but it’s because of the factors mentioned that growing the CBD is something that can help improve our economy further in the long term.

However if we are to enable that growth to happen we need the capacity so that people are able to get to the city centre and that’s where the problems begin. The roading network is already at capacity at peak times and the costs to increase that capacity from now onwards by any substantial margin are likely to be astronomical. Over the long term there is also likely to be less road space in the CBD to handle traffic thanks to the focus on making the city a more pedestrian friendly area. In short we will have to find a different way of getting more people the city centre and that’s where PT comes in.

Thankfully we’ve already been seeing significant change when it comes to PT use and the city centre. Since 2001 the number of people entering the CBD by car in the morning peak has actually decreased while the number entering via PT has increased substantially and resulted in an increase overall in people arriving in the CBD.

modalshift-2001-2012

Over the coming years we will see further enhancements that will deliver greater capacity and frequency to the CBD (and other places). This comes from a combination the New Network and electric trains both of which should help to revolutionise travel in Auckland.

But why not just use buses?

The New Network greatly simplifies the regions bus routes and provides more capacity in many locations. However over time an increasing issue is going to be bus congestion and it’s predicted that on Symonds St alone there would need to be over 250 buses per hour in the peaks. In short we would end up with a wall of buses situation and that’s not what anyone wants to see. The map below shows where the most congested parts of the central city are expected to be by ~2041 if we don’t build the CRL .

Bus Network Congestion

The City Centre Future Access Study looked at a huge range of bus solutions to solve the capacity problems but found none were as good as the CRL – although it did say some improvements were needed to surface buses.

While the road networks are at capacity the one network we have that has plenty of capacity just waiting to be unlocked is the rail network. The problem is that despite an estimated 40% increase in train capacity from the new electric trains it simply won’t be enough long term. It’s expected that the strong patronage growth we’re seeing will continue and will be aided further by the new network which sees more buses interchanging with the rail network. While the services we have might be run to capacity the rail network itself is far from capacity and is being held back its own constraints. The tunnel leading into Britomart acts like a funnel limiting how many services we can run. It has long been said the maximum number of services we could run is 20 per hour made up of 6 per hour per direction from the west, south and east and two per hour to Onehunga. We’re already very close to that mark and have been for some time. Other options for expanding Britomart or the approach tunnel have been investigated but are also quite costly and don’t give the advantages of delivering people further into the city centre.

So a large part of the CRL project is not so much about making the rail network better but simply about providing the capacity to allow the CBD to grow. The other options for increasing capacity are more costly or aren’t able to deliver enough extra people to the CBD to allow the growth to happen..

Appeals against the CRL

At the beginning of March the commissioners hearing the notice of requirement (NOR) to enable the route to be designated recommended the NOR be approved. A few weeks later Auckland Transport accepted all of the associated recommendations meaning that for the first time a rail route through the CBD had been designated despite such an idea having been talked about at numerous times over the previous 90 or so years.

Grimshaw Aotea Station - changed version

While the route is now designated it was never going to be the end of the matter as there was still the option for people/companies unhappy with the outcome to appeal to the Environment Court. Any appeals had to be received by the 19 May and five have been received. The one I most expected to appeal was Mediaworks as they seemed to make the most noise during the NOR process on the basis of concern from both the construction and operation of the tunnels which will be in very close proximity to their studios. In addition to Mediaworks appeals have also been lodged from:

  • Samson Corporation Ltd and Sterling Nominees Ltd
  • Tram Lease Ltd and CJM Investments Ltd
  • Precinct Properties Ltd
  • Stamford Plaza

Each one is slightly different but from my quick reading here’s an overview of the issues raised in each appeal.

Mediaworks

Mediaworks are extremely concerned about the issue of noise and vibration that might result from the construction and operation of the CRL which they say could impact on their business. To address these problems they want lower sound and vibration limits imposed along with constant monitoring rather than 6 monthly as currently consented for. In terms of operation noise/vibration they effectively want to be able to shut down the CRL if the limit is breached.

In addition to the noise and vibration issues Mediaworks also appear to be concerned about the traffic on nearby New North Rd and that the NOR allows Auckland Transport to temporarily narrow access to their carpark to a single lane.

I suspect that of all the appeals that this is the one that will have the most time spent on it.

Samson Corporation Ltd and Sterling Nominees Ltd

These two companies – which are both owned by the same person – have two main concerns. The first is with the designation lapse period which has been set at 15 years whereas the statutory default period is only 5 years. They argue that a 10 year lapse period would be better, especially as AT say they want to build the project within that time frame. They suggest that leaving it at the longer period “invites unnecessary uncertainty and planning blight”. Their second issue is that they want compensation to their businesses for the disruption for any lost custom.

Tram Lease Ltd and CJM Investments Ltd

Like the companies above, Tram Lease Ltd are also concerned about the “Planing Blight” that might occur from having such a long time frame. Their main concern however appears to regarding parking and access to their land at 32 Normanby Rd both during and post construction. This is because Normanby Rd will be grade separated as part of the CRL project which is likely to impact how they can access their site and how much parking it has. They want the requirements amended so AT have to reinstate all the parking that currently exists along with full access to the site. CMJ Investments Ltd is one of the tenants on the site and are supporting the appeal.

CRL - Tram Lease site

Precinct Properties Ltd

Precinct say that AT included a number of the conditions they originally sought in the final decision but not all of them and that is why they are appealing. They don’t want the Downtown Shopping Centre site, lower Queen St, QEII Square and/or Lower Albert St used as building site. They say they generally support AT’s construction noise criteria but are concerned about excessive noise and vibration from construction. They also say they support AT’s rail criteria but want tighter vibration limits and a requirement that AT investigate and remedy any exceedance of this.

Stamford Plaza

Stamford Plaza were one of the submitters who fought the designation the most. They say they are they are concerned about the impact from construction of noise, vibration, hours of operation as well as pedestrian and vehicle access to their site. They say their guests “require standard of overall amenity and quiet enjoyment during both daytime and night-time hours. They want stricter noise/vibration limits and more monitoring to occur, reduced hours of construction but also a limit on how long construction can take place outside their site. I’m not sure how you could reduce noise/vibration, reduce the hours of operation yet still get the project completed faster.

In addition they also want 18 months advanced notice of construction starting as they say they have to give advanced notice to their some of their guests and they want compensation for lost business.

I’m no expert but all up it seems like that with the exception of Mediaworks most of this is simply posturing for a better deal. I’m not sure when the case will be heard in the environment court but hopefully it would be this year some time so as not to hold up the project should funding be found.

 

Photo of the day: Aotea Station?

Is this what the Aotea station could look like? The image is from Grimshaw Architects who are one of the companies working on the reference design for the CRL.

 

Grimshaw Aotea Station - changed version

Also appropriate was yesterdays cartoon in the herald

Brownlee CRL Cartoon

CRL Notice of Requirement recommended by commissioners

The CRL has been approved by the planning commissioners hearing the notice of requirement. I haven’t had a chance to look through the documents about the decision and won’t fit a little while yet so let me know if there’s anything interesting in them.

 Auckland Transport has today welcomed a unanimous recommendation by independent planning commissioners that the land required to build, operate and maintain the City Rail Link (CRL) be set aside for the project.

The five commissioners, who heard AT’s planning application for the CRL, have recommended that the designation for the land be confirmed, subject to conditions that address issues raised by submitters.

The commissioners say they accepted the CRL would result in significant overall benefits to the people and economy of Auckland. “There was no evidence to challenge the benefits of the project and most submitters in opposition accepted the merits of the project.”

AT Chief Executive, David Warburton, says the recommendation and related conditions would now be considered by Auckland Transport. AT has 30 working days to confirm, amend or withdraw the notices.

There was overwhelming support for the CRL and many of those who submitted in opposition to ensure their particular interests were addressed, also voiced their support for the project.

David Warburton says when a decision is made, all affected landowners and submitters will be informed of the result. Submitters will have 15 working days to appeal the decision to the Environment Court.

The documents are here.

More details on the Elliott Tower

Since it was announced just under two weeks ago there has been a lot of interest in the  proposal to build a massive tower on the empty site that is bounded by Elliott St, Victoria St and Albert St yet there has been very few details released about the building. The tower had previously been consented back in 2007 but the new owner of the site wanted to make some changes. Reader Steve D lodged an OIA request for the new resource consent documents that has just been approved. Those documents provide quite a bit of interesting information, some new images of the building, some good aspects to the building and some not so good ones.

Here are a few new images of what it will look like, there are more in this document.

NDG Centre 1

NDG Centre 2

NDG Centre 3

NDG Centre 4

The good news is that the building will have direct access to the Aotea CRL station and like I suggested in this post, it will be diagonally across the site which will be needed because of the annoying slip lane beside Albert St. It also looks like the building will be accessed off the proposed exit into the Victoria St Linear Park.

NDG Centre CRL LinkIt’s been reported that there will be 300 carparks in the building in six basement levels. that carpark will be accessed from the slip lane off Albert St and gets through the building to the basement on that white box on the right hand side of the image above. What’s more is that number of carparks is actually less than what  was originally consented when the tower proposal which was 481.

The biggest concern is that like the other hotels on Albert St, there will be a large Porte Cochere. When combined with the entrance to the slip lane it’s potentially going to make things quite challenging for pedestrians walking along Albert St. It appears that the plan is to retain the existing footpath on Albert St while also having one through the Porte Cochere. In the image below you can see this and the entrance to the slip lane and carpark.

NDG Centre Porte Cochere

Steve D has also been looking through some of the info and pulled out a couple of interesting/concerning bits like that to minimise the impact of trucks on city streets for the 30 months of construction, it’s expected that most will access the site via the Elliott St shared space. In my opinion this is insane. The current city centre plans call for reducing the width of Victoria St with a linear park. Why not get started on narrowing it down and use the space intended on it for trucks. The linear park could then be constructed at the same time/as the building is nearing completion.

There will also be space for bikes in the carpark along with changing rooms/showers although it appears it will likely be residents only.

This building is definitely going to change the area considerably.

The Future of K Rd and Newton

Do you live near Karangahape Road or Newton or have a strong interest in the area? The local board are holding some ideas evenings to help come up with some plans for the two area which are likely to see significant change after the City Rail Link is built.

K Rd Area plan invite

Newton Area Plan invite

Steven Joyce on the CRL in Parliament

Julie Anne Genter questioned Steven Joyce in Parliament today about the City Rail Link. Perhaps the most laughable comment is when Joyce claims they are speeding up the project, not slowing it down. If they were speeding it up then at the very least they would be looking to have it started at the same time the council is wanting for it to happen.

Massive CBD tower announced

One of the reasons Lens suggestion of a $250 million kick start to the CRL is so interesting is that there are a heap of large private sector projects underway along the cut and cover portion of the route and it there is likely to be a lot of value working in with them as they are being built rather than waiting till they finish construction only to dig up the road in front of them for a few more years.

Today Len Brown has announced one of the biggest of these projects with the news that the Elliott Tower has gained resource consent approval from the council (the previous plan for the site had consent however the new owners have made a few alterations). I had heard that this project had been going on quietly in the background so it’s nice to finally be out in the public..

Plans for New Zealand’s tallest skyscaper, to rise in the heart of Auckland, have been unveiled today.

A $350 million 52-level 209m skyscraper has been announced for a CBD site left vacant since the 1980s when Chase Corporation demolished the Royal International Hotel.

Chinese developer New Development Group is to build the tower, known now as NDG Auckland Centre, on the site of a carpark and bungy jump bounded by Elliot St, Albert St and Victoria St.

Auckland Council has granted resource consent for the giant which will only be dwarfed by the 328m Sky Tower. A building consent is still pending.

And here is the image the herald have. If anyone has a higher quality image of what it will look like then please let me know.

Elliot Tower

This adds to a big list of developments that are being lined up in the CBD and particularly along or very close to the CRL route.

“It’s also an example of the major commercial opportunities created by the City Rail Link project. To date the private sector has confirmed more than a billion dollars of new investments along the proposed route, including Precinct Properties’ downtown retail and office development ($300m+) the NZ International Convention Centre ($400m+) and Elliott Towers ($350m+),” he said.

To add to that there are also two or three apartment towers planned along Albert St including this one and a few more on the same block.

When you think about all of the projects planned, spending $250 million to get infrastructure in place to work in with those buildings at the same time appears a pretty good idea. You also have to wonder if Len has been holding this announcement up his sleeve in case his initial suggestion got turned down (which it did). This will definitely add pressure to the government to support the kick start idea.

Len trying to kick-start the CRL

News today that Len Brown is pushing for an earlier start on part of the CRL.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is offering $250 million of the city’s money to kick-start the $2.86 billion underground rail project before the Government starts contributing.

He has told Prime Minister John Key his council will pay for an “early works” programme from next year to get the project out of its starting blocks at Britomart and under much of Albert St.

The council, through Auckland Transport, has already spent more than $100 million on property purchases and other route preparation work, and has included $193 million for the “transformational” project in its draft budget for 2014-15.

This is exactly what I have predicted might happen for some time and I first suggested it might have been a good idea back in July last year when it was announced that Precinct Properties were planning to get started on redeveloping the Downtown Shopping Centre and that they would build the section of tunnel under their site at the same time. The reasons the council/AT might want to carry on with the CRL work are simple in that there are a huge amount of public and private sector projects, both announced and unannounced that are currently being worked on. All of them would benefit from the construction of the most disruptive elements of the CRL being completed earlier. It’s the private sector ones that Len is rightly focusing on as they are the ones most likely to get the governments attention.

In his letter to Mr Key, he listed a string of private sector projects likely to be affected by construction of the 3.5km rail link from Britomart to Mt Eden.

They included a $300 million-plus redevelopment of the Downtown shopping centre above the route, and the convention centre which Sky City intends building for the Government in return for being allowed to install extra gambling machines.

Mr Brown said an early start to the rail project would minimise disruption and provide “a more effective and investment-friendly approach to the overall development of Auckland’s CBD”.

Precinct Properties wants to start rebuilding the Downtown centre next year into a possible 41-storey tower. It will co-ordinate foundation work with excavations for a “cut and cover” section of two rail tunnels between Britomart and a new underground station near Aotea Square.

Mr Brown said Aucklanders had shown overwhelming support for the rail project, and the private sector was making investment plans around it.

“We are saying to the Government, there is a big head of wind coming in behind this project from the private sector, and do we want to hold them up while we continue to dally, or do we want to move.”

As mentioned earlier it is more than just Precinct Properties that have plans in motion, many of which aren’t public knowledge yet and I doubt none of the private developers want to have just completed a massive investment and have their gleaming new buildings almost inaccessible due to the CRL construction just getting under way. I wonder how many jobs all of the planned projects would enable and interestingly how much they would contribute towards achieving the government’s condition of a 25% increase in CBD employment to agree to an early start to the project as a whole.

There are also a number of council projects dependant (or at least very much affected) by the need for the CBD parts of the CRL to be completed. These include:

  • Quay St Upgrade – Quay St will probably need to be available to handle Customs St traffic while the tunnel is built under the Customs St/Albert St intersection.
  • Customs St – We’re likely to need a proper bus priority on Customs St but that can’t happen until the CRL tunnel disruption has been completed.
  • Victoria St Linear Park – Again while some parts of it can be built without the CRL, some of the key parts can only happen once the CRL has been built under Victoria St
  • Wellesley St – The Victoria St linear park will reduce Victoria St to one lane each way and so all buses through the middle of the CBD are likely to shift to Wellesley St which will require proper bus priority, probably even a full busway.

There are a number of other potential street upgrades in the CBD that will be on hold they will be needed to help handle the disruption caused by the CRL construction. We know Len really likes focussing on the big projects but the reality is that without the most disruptive elements of the CRL construction being completed then many of the smaller but vital projects to make Auckland a more liveable city simply can’t happen.

So the interesting question is how much will $250 million get us? Well because much of the property acquisition and design has already taken place then it will get us quite a bit really. Here are the project costs from the original business case in 2010 (so they are bound to be slightly different now).

crl-costs

It can be a bit hard to read but the Britomart to Aotea section of cut and cover tunnel is costed at just ~$81 million while the Aotea station itself is costed at ~$138 million, about $220 million all up (not including rails or other fit out costs). It’s these two parts of the project that will be most disruption to the CBD and $250 million would get them out of the way. Here in orange the section that AT have been seeking a surface designation for to allow for the cut and cover tunnels (as opposed to a sub-strata designation where the bored tunnels will be in blue to the upper right hand part of the image).

CRL Cut and Cover section

And here’s how the cut and cover section would be built.

I’m not sure if this would allow for the Aotea Station to be used by trains or not. If it did it might crucially allow for a couple of extra services on the network during peak times giving some crucial extra capacity earlier than planned.

It will be interesting to see how the government responds.