A delay to the CRL?

The Herald reported yesterday that an increasing number of councillors are thinking of voting to delay the City Rail Link to 2020.

The $2.4 billion City Rail Link could be deferred until 2020 because of mounting concerns by councillors about its impact on rates, debt and big cuts to community services.

A number of councillors are having second thoughts about an early start on the rail project and support deferring work until the Government comes on board with funding in 2020.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has locked $2.2 billion into a new 10-year budget to begin work on the 3.5km underground rail link in 2016 and completed by 2021.

On Wednesday, all 20 councillors and the mayor will debate the budget and make decisions on the rail project for public consultation.

The issue stems from the fact local boards and the council have promised a huge number of projects over the years, many of which originated in pre supercity days. Cuts and deferrals to some of these projects combined with efficiency savings as a result of having a single council had already brought projected rate increases down to around 4.9%. To take things further Len Brown’s plan for rates was to limit rates rises at 2.5% to 3.5%. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you have a programme of spending that requires a 4.9% rates increase but you limit the increase at 2.5 to 3.5% that you will have to cut some projects somewhere. For transport those cuts mean a very reduced transport spend and the tables below show the extent of a 30 year transport programme (not including state highways) with that limited rates increase.

committed-projects

 

basic-network-projects

On top of that there were many cuts to other areas of the council’s budgets including a lot of funding for local board projects, something which angered most, if not all of the local boards.

That has contributed to some councillors now supporting delaying the CRL.

Labour councillor Ross Clow was the first centre-left councillor to break ranks with Mr Brown last Thursday on the flagship rail link and call for it to be deferred until the National Government’s 2020 start date.

He said the budget was gutting suburban areas such as Avondale, which had been waiting 30 years for a new town centre, in favour of “pet projects” like the City Rail Link.

“Mr Mayor you have been up there twice in the last few months telling them they are going to get this and that, yet your proposal has absolutely nothing in the budget,” said Mr Clow.

Albany councillor John Watson is another pro-link councillor having second thoughts.

Circumstances had changed dramatically with huge cuts to community services and projects, he said, citing a $20 million project to widen Whangaparaoa Rd.

“Nothing has been signalled on the horizon and that’s totally unacceptable,” Mr Watson said.

On the side of delaying the CRL there seem to be two general groups, the haters and the opportunists.

The haters are those who primarily for ideological reasons either don’t like Len and/or don’t like the CRL/rail. This group includes the likes of Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. Those in this group are unlikely to ever support the CRL although if they’re still around when it opens I’m sure they will happily take some of the credit for its success.

More of a concern are the opportunists who have arisen primarily due to the funding discussions. Some of them look at the cost if the CRL and mistakenly think that by deferring it, it will suddenly mean a heap of money will be available that they can use to fund projects in their local area. Alternatively some know the importance of the CRL and are trying to use it as leverage to get concessions out of the mayor, again for local projects. In many ways this is one of the big issues with having all councillors elected from wards rather than having some elected at large like the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance suggested. I’m aware some have taken this stance in the hope that it will put pressure on the government to stump up with funding but if anything it will do the opposite. Effectively what these councillors are doing is using the CRL to play a game of chicken with an oncoming train.

The whole situation has shades of Robbies Rail to it. Back in the 1970’s mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson’s plans for a regional rail system were cancelled by the government after support for it was undermined by similar parochial local body politicians and planners.

I part I think some of the issue with this comes from the poor job Auckland Transport have done in really explaining the region wide benefits the CRL provides. That there are councillors and local board members who have a rail line passing through their area opposing the project because they think there are no benefits to their communities is a testimony to the fact it hasn’t been explained well enough. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes is needed to look at how the project is communicated to both the politicians and the public. The video below is probably the best effort AT have made with their comms but it relies on people actually watching it fully to get any info.

Before people get too concerned there are a couple of important things to note. The Herald note that most of the group that supports deferring the CRL do support work on the first section which will be tied in with the redevelopment of the Downtown Mall. That will see the tunnel dug from Britomart to as far as Wyndham St and is crucial if many of the other Downtown projects are to go ahead. By the time we’re getting towards needing to get started on the remainder of the tunnel – likely around 2016/17 – we will have had another 2-3 years of strong patronage growth on the back of the current tranche of PT projects and as the pressure mounts on transport capacity it is likely to leave little choice for both the council and government but to invest in the CRL.

The second thing to note is that by delaying the CRL it won’t actually free up money to build the local projects these councillors are hoping for. While debt will be needed to fund construction the council capitalise the interest until the project is complete and the region starts benefiting from the investment (those interest costs are already built into the overall project cost). What that means is there is no impact on council finances until the projects opens which isn’t likely to be till 2021/22.

 

While the project will definitely go ahead at some point in time a speed bump imposed by local politicians is far from ideal. I would suggest that it would be a good idea to email all councillors expressing your support for the project to go ahead and be open by 2021/22 along with the regional benefits it provides. It doesn’t have to be a big email and rather than provide a template it’s best if it comes from you in your own words.

Rail vs Driverless Cars

A few days ago there were two major transport stories, the first was about a new record for rail patronage and the other topic was about the government looking to make it easier for driverless cars to be on New Zealands roads.

The prospect of cars travelling New Zealand highways with no one behind the wheel is moving closer says new Transport Minister Simon Bridges. Officials are reviewing legislation allowing for the testing of umanned autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Mr Bridges has pledged to work with environmental interests while also pursuing the Government’s road building programme.

Mr Bridges said he was committed to “a balanced approach” and ongoing investment roads were important even from a green perspective, “over time as we move to electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles”.

Mr Bridges said the Government was not doing a great deal to accommodate autonomous vehicle technology, “but I don’t think there’s any doubt that if you look at what’s going on internationally, maybe not in the next couple of years, but over time we will see driverless vehicles and that will have implications, like for example less congestion because vehicles can travel closer together”.

We’ve discussed driverless cars a bit in the past so I’m going to try and not rehash those arguments too much. What I do want to touch on is the odd relationship between them and rail. By that I mean opponents of rail investment often like to claim that rail is an old technology – despite the fact that modern rail systems involve some very sophisticated tech – and that we should instead look to the future which they see as being driverless cars. Of course some rail systems have been driverless for decades.

One of those opponents of rail investment is Phil McDermott who runs the ironically named Cities Matter blog which argues for low density and auto centric cities. He was a guest on Radio NZs The Panel talking about both rail and driverless cars however his contradictions were huge and probably about 0.8 on the David Seymour scale. The section on The Panel starts from ~11:15 and McDermott comes in from ~14:10

or listen here

He starts off by dragging up the old cliché that trains run on fixed routes but that roads allow for flexibility and then says that if the city develops as expected that people will be travelling across the city between centres. Of course everyone traipsing across town to dispersed centres is something we’ve been doing for decades and has only led to more and more congestion. The intention of the Auckland Plan is to focus growth in and around the central city, a handful of major metropolitan centres and a wider range of local town centres which are all linked by high quality public transport. It’s that public transport network, of which rail is an integrated part, that will be key to moving a huge volume of people around and doing so free of congestion.

Auckland Plan - Development Strategy

Here are some of the other points and contradictions he made.

  • Trains in Auckland are full by the time they get to the CBD but that we shouldn’t build the CRL as he thinks the trains won’t carry a lot of people. You really have to wonder what’s going on in his brain as it works through that logic.
  • That the CRL doesn’t do enough for the transport system despite the fact it doubles the capacity of it.
  • That we shouldn’t have intensification near rail lines as somehow it creates a high marginal cost for each extra trip however later he says if we want rail to work in NZ he says we need lots of cars on the road with people driving to stations with big park n ride facilities.
  • That road building is ok because in his view the marginal costs are low which of course conveniently ignores that we’ve exhausted all the easy road building options and are now faced with massive costs for projects, often for not much gain in capacity or mobility.
  • That driverless cars will increase car use and that it will make congestion worse, but it’s all ok because they might not be as polluting as our current fleet.

Many of the views he expressed are downright odd and I get the impression that what people like McDermott are really after is to preserve the status quo which they likely currently benefit from. Some might wonder why bother to even discuss the interview but unfortunately we still see the likes of Phil trotted out on a regular basis.

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.