Coming soon: the new and improved Development Tracker

Next week, we’re launching our new, improved, updated Development Tracker page. You’ll notice a few changes when the new page goes live. One, it’s more user friendly, with a wider range of information, and it’s now laid out in table form. Two, we’ve extended it from just looking at aparments and terrace developments, to looking at major hotel, retail, office and retirement village projects as well. Three, we’ve added other cities – the Tracker now covers the whole of the country, as well as Auckland.

DT screenshot whole NZ

Lastly, it will be called the “RCG Development Tracker”, and is being sponsored by RCG Ltd. They are “property, architecture, design and research experts” who “create commercially successful environments”. I should disclose that I’m an employee of, and a shareholder in, RCG.

We’ve utilised sponsorships for events in the past, such as our film nights, but this is the first time we’ve had sponsorship on the blog itself. As such, I want to explain why we’re doing it now.

The main reason is that sponsorship funding, from this and potentially other activities in the future, will help us to do more with the blog. We’ve got quite a lot planned for 2015, which we’ll announce later on. However, the current funding will probably be used for something fairly mundane, such as a website redesign or server hosting. We’ll also run events this year as we have in the past.

Secondly, the main thing we’re limited by is time. All of the authors involved at TransportBlog are volunteers, and we’re producing a lot of great content, in my opinion, with a growing list of contributors including moat recently Peter Nunns, while Matt L continues to do an amazing job as the blog’s main author. Matt and Patrick also do a lot of stuff behind the scenes, and spend time on meetings and talking to other stakeholders – things which we want to build on this year. The Development Tracker page is one of those things that was a great idea, but fell by the wayside a little without anyone having the time to update and improve it. The sponsorship means I can write and update the content required during my work hours.

RCG’s involvement with the blog is limited to sponsoring the Development Tracker, and they do not have any influence over our editorial direction. As per our About page, “the opinions expressed in posts are solely the opinions of the individuals writing, at a particular point in time. They are not the opinions of… any other organisations with which the authors are affiliated or of the employers of the authors”.

The plan is that I’ll update the Development Tracker page regularly, and do a post once a month summarising the updates, commenting on development trends and so on. This will be timed for near the start of the month, coming out shortly after the date Statistics New Zealand release information on building consents.

The first of these monthly posts will go up next week. Hope you enjoy it and checking out the new page!

2014 – A Year in Review Part 4 – Everything else

In this fourth post reviewing the 2014 I’ll look at the topics not already covered.

Central Government Election

2014 was dominated – either directly or indirectly by the central government elections which is not surprising considering how much impact the government has on transport and urban policy. In the end National had a fairly comfortable win which means not much change from a political point of view although as mentioned in Tuesdays post, they have now committed more money to cycling which is helpful.

New Transport Minister

Related to the election, Prime Minister John Key reshuffled his cabinet around and we now have a new Minister of Transport in Simon Bridges. We are hoping to be able to meet Simon and will keep trying in 2015. So far there seems little sign of a change in position between him and his predecessor Gerry Brownlee, although he has taken a notable liking to the idea of self-driving cars.

Government Policy Statement

The Government Policy Statement – which dominates transport planning and spending in the country – was released and showed little change on its predecessors. It will still see the majority of money for transport spend on new and improved state highways of which most of that is earmarked for the hand-picked RoNS projects.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Graph

Council Long Term Plan

Next year the council must sign off a new 10 year budget – the Long Term Plan – and the mayor’s proposal emerged this year. It’s had a few minor changes by the council but effectively sees rates increases capped at 3.5%. One of the hardest hit areas from this has been transport which has had funding slashed. This has left us in a sticky mess where the funding available enables means many key projects – such as interchanges that are fundamental to enable key changes such as the new bus network are unfunded.

Tied in with this has been a separate stream of work looking at alternative funding methods to plug a funding gap previously identified and looking closely at options of tolling motorways or additional rates. The utterly terrible situation with the basic transport package very much seems like a way to force Aucklander’s to agree to additional funding rather than addressing the elephant in the room of the insane state highway spending by the government. The LTP goes out to consultation in a few weeks and it will likely dominate a lot of discussion in the first half of this year.

Great International Visitors

  • This year we’ve had some great visitors as part of the council’s Auckland Conversations talks. This includes
  • Janette Sadik Kahn
  • The Brunrlett’s
  • Brent Toderian (again)
  • Professor Peter Newman
  • Gordon Price (again)
  • and many others.

Special Housing Areas

During 2014 two new tranches of Special Housing Areas were announced considerably increasing the number across Auckland. These are the areas where the Unitary Plan rules come into effect immediately and the council uses a fast tracked consenting process. Despite them all there has been little progress on actually building houses in most of them and it seems a lot of developers who pushed to receive SHA status did so just for some capital gains.

Special Housing Areas 1 2 3 4

Auckland Construction Boom

In 2014 it seems like the Auckland construction scene burst back to life after a few quiet years with a huge number of projects announced. These were primarily residential projects such as apartments. The biggest of the lot is likely to be the NDG Auckland Centre for which a 209m high tower is proposed on the empty site bordering Albert St/Victoria St/Elliot St. The tower and retail podium will link directly into the Aotea station on the CRL

NDG Centre 1

Stuart’s 100

Earlier this year our friend and urban designer Stuart Houghton set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. We have been running these throughout the second half of the year – with some still to go. There have been some fantastic ideas and conversations that have resulted from this work. Thanks Stuart for your contributions to making Auckland better.

Day_1

Blog

Lastly it’s been another fantastic year for the blog with more and more people reading it, something we really appreciate. I’d also like to thanks my fellow bloggers and everyone else who has helped contribute this year. All up including this post there we’ve published 908 posts, had over 33,100 comments. According to Google Analytics we’ve had over 900,000 visitors and have serve up over 1.7 million page views which is up about 20% on 2013. In total 65% of our readers are from Auckland and 82% are from NZ.

I hope you all have a great 2015.

Tomorrow I’ll look at what we can expect for 2015 plus a few predictions

Inner suburban development, then and now

One of the last vacant lots in Mount Eden is currently under development. It’s a big section on the corner of Mount Eden Rd and Kelly St – formerly occupied by what seemed to be a slightly feral orchard. It’s large enough to fit three or four old-style Mount Eden villas with generous backyards, or several blocks of walk-up apartments with space for shared vegetable gardens (and possibly even garages)

While I liked having the empty lot and the trees in the neighbourhood, I thought that development could have been a great opportunity to contribute to Kelly St’s unique character. Here’s a picture of what’s across the road: an elegant art deco building on the corner, built out to the site boundaries and joined up to a row of cool brick buildings hosting various businesses.

20141022_182554

But the developers didn’t (or couldn’t) build something in a similar style. Here’s what’s going up across the street. It’s completely uninspiring, completely out of step with the rest of the neighbourhood, and completely within the rules.

What the Kelly St site is getting is a dull cul-de-sac with eight or ten two storey boxes. They have the superficial aspects of a traditional Kiwi home – the pitched roof, the setbacks from the edge of the site, and, of course, the two-car garage out the front – but they’re packed in densely with no yards to speak of.  As I’ve written before, this should not be surprising, as when land is expensive people try to use it efficiently. But it is a bit disappointing.

20141022_182547

Aesthetic judgments are slippery and subjective, but I think most people would prefer more buildings like the ones in the first picture, and fewer buildings like the ones in the second picture. My question is: What can we do to get good buildings to happen more often?

The case for free-market urbanism

In the National Review, a conservative American magazine, Reihan Salam takes a look at the confused state of the American debate over intensification. His article, entitled “The Great Suburbia Debate” criticises the position taken by Joel Kotkin, a long-time campaigner for low-density suburban development. He writes:

Though I’m an admirer of Kotkin, and though I can’t speak for every conservative who has made the case for denser development, he gets a number of important things wrong…

For example, Kotkin claims that “some conservatives” (again, no names) have been “lured by their own class prejudice” into turning against market forces. “In reality,” Kotkin writes, “imposing Draconian planning is not even necessary for the growth of density.” Of course, this is exactly the argument that Edward Glaeser makes in The Triumph of the City, a manifesto for the pro-market, pro-density right. “In places that have both liberal planning regimes and economic growth, such as Houston and Dallas,” he observes, “there has been a more rapid increase in multifamily housing than in cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York.” Indeed, this is why many conservatives, myself included, have explicitly argued that cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles should look to the liberal planning regimes of Houston and Dallas as a model. (To be clear, by “liberal” planning regimes, Kotkin means less-restrictive, more market-oriented planning regimes, and so do I.)

The global cities that manage to be both highly productive and affordable, like Tokyo and Toronto, tend to have liberal planning regimes, which allow for rapid growth of housing stock, and in particular of the multifamily housing stock. These regions are characterized by rapid housing development in the suburbs and in the urban core, and their “suburbs” tend to be more urban than low-density suburbs in the U.S. governed by stringent planning regimes that tightly restrict multifamily development. When Glaeser makes the case for density, he does so not by calling for “imposing draconian planning” on cities and towns. Rather, he explicitly calls for the relaxation of land-use regulation.

[…]

Kotkin relies heavily on the work of Wendell Cox, a transportation consultant who seems to believe that denser development is necessarily a product of central planning. In desirable regions, however, less restrictive planning regimes will naturally lead to higher densities, as property owners will naturally seek to maximize the value of their investments. Restrictive land-use regulations tend to limit density, not impose it on unwilling landowners.

Salam’s article is excellent and I recommend reading it in full. I pulled out these excerpts as they highlight a few essential facts that often go missing from the debate over urban policy:

  • Denser development cannot be imposed by fiat – it will happen if and only if there is market demand for it (as there often is in places that are accessible to jobs and amenities). If nobody wants to buy apartments, then no apartments will get built!
  • Urban planners can’t simply require people to build at higher densities – but they can limit density to below what the market wants.
  • The rising demand for higher density development isn’t a market distortion, but evidence that the market is working.
MERCHANT Q

The market’s been at work in New Lynn (see also: Transportblog’s development tracker)

In short, we must interpret rising population densities as the result of many individual decisions rather than the whim of an urban planner. My research shows that population densities are rising rapidly in Auckland and several other large NZ cities, which suggests that we’re voting heavily for density with our feet and our wallets. This is, as Salam suggests, a natural outcome of market forces and should be accepted with equanimity. We should recognise this demand where it exists and make complementary public investments in walking and cycling facilities and public transport.

Lastly, I’d note that people from all across the political spectrum should be able to appreciate cities. As Jane Jacobs observed in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a good urban neighbourhood demonstrates many of the virtues that conservatives celebrate, such as small business ownership, a close-knit community that watches out for itself, and independent-minded civil society (often battling against big government bureaucracy in the form of overreaching traffic engineers).

Jane Jacobs campaigned against this Pharaonic act of bureaucratic hubris (Source)

Jane Jacobs campaigned against this Pharaonic act of bureaucratic hubris (Source)

As a result, we often see centre-right mayors implementing good urban policies. Big-city mayors such as New York’s Michael Bloomberg, London’s Boris Johnson, and Buenos Aires’ Mauricio Macri have been right at the forefront of the movement for better cities. They’ve realised that better cities are more prosperous, and that it’s possible to improve a city by improving the choices available to people.

Three Kings Quarry Development

Fletcher Residential have lodged two plan changes with the council to develop the Three Kings Quarry.

Fletcher Residential has lodged two private plan change applications with Auckland Council for the redevelopment of Three Kings Quarry. These applications outline two ways to transform the area into a new urban precinct.

The quarry is located at the southern end of Mt Eden Road, eight kilometres from Auckland’s central business district. New links will be created to connect the development’s housing precincts with Three Kings town centre and the volcanic cone
Te Tatua a Riukiuta Maunga (Big King).

The Three Kings development promotes housing diversity with a range of high quality dwellings including two-to-three storey terrace homes, three-to-four storey apartments and 10-storey cascading apartments set against the quarry slope.

Fletcher Residential’s preferred plan change application involves exchanging land to better utilise surrounding Crown land. This will create significant recreational space with two sports fields, a Town Square connecting the precinct to the Three Kings town centre, a convention centre and the historic Three Kings Oval.

The second plan change appears to be a backup should they not be able to exchange land and contains the same residential development however they say it has less extensive community spaces and sports fields than the preferred proposal.

Below is the location of the Quarry along Mt Eden Rd and what it looks like at the moment. At its deepest it is over 3o below the level of Mt Eden Rd.

Quarry Now and Location

Fletcher’s estimate their plans will deliver 1,200-1,500 dwellings which would equate to 2,500 to 3,500 extra residents. They’ve also launched a site for the development showing some concept images of what it would be look like. Below are some of those along with how they describe the development (so warning marketing speak).

A clear view ahead

Urban design has been carefully considered to incorporate multiple vistas of Te Tatua-a-Riukiuta / Big King. Street level views and improved access will restore Te Tatua-a-Riukiuta / Big King’s position as a key feature of Auckland, and by doing so give the site a strong sense of location and connection with the wider city.

One of a family

Designated viewing areas will let residents greet the morning or usher out the evening with views to Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) to the east and Maungawhau (Mt Eden) to the north.

1. Regenerated native bush will extend Big King’s footprint for greater connection between neighbourhood and nature.

2. Enhanced pathways will be created to open up Big King for recreational access.

3. Key sightlines to Big King as well as to neighbouring volcanic cones will be preserved.

Three Kings Plan 1

Around the edge of the quarry are meant to be a series of cascading apartments up to 10 storeys high against the Quarry wall. I would certainly hope there’s publicly accessible lifts to help provide good connectivity between the development and the road. It also seems odd to me that the housing would go in the northern part which would likely to be the most shaded part while the sports fields would be in the south which is also the area closes to the town centre.

Fresh air living

Interconnected open spaces encourage outdoor activities – both relaxed and active. Two new sand-carpeted sports fields connected to the Big King Reserve will be created for year-round activity, and significant areas of passive open space will be provided for relaxation and reflection.

Human scale

Pedestrian trails, boardwalks, ramps, stairways and a proposed elevated walkway to Te Tatua-a-Riukiuta / Big King enable exploration by foot and reduce the need for motorised transport throughout the area.

A natural fit

Stepped apartments will cascade down the quarry slopes to both transform and complement the existing landscape. Living spaces are to the front, with car parking hidden behind, preserving front door access to parkland and walkways.

1. 7.5 hectares of high-quality open spaces enable a wide variety of recreational activities.

2. Key pedestrian linkages will be provided to and through the site.

3. Contemporary urban design provides for an active interface between residences and park spaces.

Three Kings Concept 1

Three Kings Concept 2

Viva variety

A diverse mix of people and cultures will come together to create an integrated urban community. With residences on the doorstep of a thriving town centre, meeting and mingling will be a part of daily life.

A vibrant heart

Residents and visitors alike will find plenty to see and do in the town square – a vibrant gathering place that puts people at the centre, and draws on the energy of the surrounding retail, recreational and residential areas.

Home for all

A blend of retirees, young families, solo dwellers and working professionals living side-by-side. With a balanced mix of terrace houses and apartments, the new area will cater to a wide range of lifestyles and life stages.

1. When completed, 1200—1500 dwellings will become home to 2500—3500 people.

2. Located just 6.5 km from the heart of Auckland, the area will attract a diverse mix of cultures and lifestyles.

3. An activated town square will foster a lively retail scene.

Three Kings Concept 3

Three Kings Concept 4

Multiple connections

Situated in the heart of an already thriving suburb, the proposed development offers access to nearby amenities that make life easy: Three Kings School, a major supermarket, shops and services, and public transport.

Out and about

Shows, live music, book readings, community classes and more are just a short walk away at the Fickling Centre and the Mount Roskill Library. Special care will be taken to ensure the new site is closely linked to these popular civic facilities.

A sense of flow

Movement of people is a key element of community. With a series of walkways, stairs and potentially a public lift, the town square is designed to connect the existing suburb to amenities and open spaces within the development.

1. Opening up space for shared and public use is a key component of the overall design.

2. A ‘village within a city’ will be created by integrating retail, recreational and residential spaces.

3. Residents will be able to make use of existing amenities in the surrounding area.

Three Kings Concept 5

I know some in the community aren’t happy about the proposal as they were keen to see the giant hole filled in before being developed while I also understand the local board are keen for the local community to have more say on the shape of the development so I’m sure there will be a lot more discussion from them over the coming weeks and months.

Special Housing Areas a con?

Last year the government and the Auckland Council announced a housing accord that would designate areas within Auckland as Special Housing Areas in which the council would offer a fast tracked consenting process for developers subject to certain conditions. It was touted as a way to address the increasing cost of building new houses in response to rapidly escalating house prices. It also came not long after the government had been talking about smashing Auckland’s urban limits leaving many to fear it was just a vehicle to encourage sprawl and line the pockets of land bankers. So far three tranches of special housing areas have been announced – Tranche 1, Tranche 2, Tranche 3 - and while they have started to shift towards more urban redevelopment sites, many of the initial locations for developments we would often associate with traditional sprawl including locations in Kumeu, Flat Bush, Papakura, Pukekohe and Silverdale.

Special Housing Areas 1, 2 & 3

It’s now starting to appear that not all that was promised about the SHA’s is happening in reality and that instead property owners and developers are using the process to increase the value of their sites before flicking them off to someone else – colour me surprised. The Manukau Courier reports:

Are the first cracks appearing in the much-trumpeted plan to solve Auckland’s housing crisis?

Developers at four of the 63 Special Housing Areas (SHAs) across the city have pulled out of the new fast-track consent process, the Auckland Council confirms.

And planning consultant Jon Maplesden, who has clients within SHAs, says he knows of several more developers who are unhappy and others who are “just not even bothering with it”.

Their reasons include frustration with infrastructure provision and the cost of providing the stipulated “affordable” housing.

Developers are opting out at the Murphy’s Rd site in Flat Bush with capacity for 275 houses; Addison in Takanini, 500 houses; Anselmi Ridge in Pukekohe, 150 houses; and the Millwater section of Silverdale North, 472 houses.

and

Maplesden says some landowners haven’t applied for SHA status to build houses but to add value to the land.

“There’s a number of them that I know are trying hard to sell them.”

The council confirms the land in the Albany Highway SHA has been sold.

Housing developments in Takanini and Pukekohe are being built by McConnell Property and its plans were already well advanced before the areas were designated as SHAs, marketing manager Jo Anderson says.

“To redesign would be further time and cost to do so. On these multi-stage developments, the local staff had been involved in the development for a number of years and stages, so for consistency we preferred to have those personnel also process any new resource consent applications.”

Maplesden says developers who apply for fast-track consent for, say, 500 houses, won’t be building all of those houses at once. Historically there are “very few” projects that have built at a rate of more than 100 houses per year, he says.

“No developer, not even Fletchers, can afford to do a 500-lot development all at once.”

So a 3000-dwelling SHA could take 30 years to complete, he says.

Wow so land owners are using the SHA process to increase the value of their land before flicking it off for likely a nice bit of profit – well colour me surprised. To me the issue of land owners on the city’s fringe only slowly releasing land is an issue that has been largely ignored by many who promote opening up greenfield land. We can unleash the limits as much as we like but if the people owning the land only release it one little bit at a time to ensure they get a high price for it then there’s not much that the council or the government can do about it short of getting into the land banking business themselves.

With not many new SHA developments seemingly getting off the ground – other than those where an SHA was applied to an already underway development like Hobsonville Point – it’s shaping up that the whole idea of the SHA’s could end up a significant failure that only served to line the pockets of a few land bankers.

Apartment Design Competition Winner Announced

The winner of the apartment design competition was announced today as S3 Architects.

s3arch

There will be 25 apartments on just a 325m² site – something that in some parts of Auckland is smaller than the minimum lot size for a single house. They also say the intention is to have commercial tenancies on the ground floor but I’m not holding my breath for that part just yet.

Interestingly Mike Lee has called the design “cheap and shoddy” as well as saying

But councillor Mike Lee said such apartments were not big enough for families and its exterior was ugly and not appropriate.

“I can just see this getting mouldy. If we’re going to have highrise, they need to make it durable,” Lee said.

So this will get mouldy but a wooden “heritage station” located in a damp valley in Parnell won’t? It has to be one of the weakest arguments I’ve heard against having intensification.

Top 5 chosen in Apartment Design Competion

Back in May when the last group of special housing areas were announced the Council also announced that they would be holding an apartment building design competition in conjunction with Ockham Residential – builders of The Issac and a number of other developments – who would then build the winning design.

“This competition will be open to an architect, or architectural practice that will compete to design and document a high-quality medium density residential housing development on the land. Architects will be offered the chance to propose medium density housing prototypes that illustrate the possibilities and advantages of urban living, in recognition of the excellent opportunity that the Accord offers to create more modern housing options in Auckland,” Mr Brown says.

The competition will open on 21 May with details soon to be posted on the NZIA website at www.nzia.co.nz.

The is a small 321 m² site at 11 Akepiro St in Kingsland and is bounded by the Western railway line and near the pseudo motorway like Dominion Rd Flyover – although the latter is partially blocked by three large Norfolk Pines.

Ockham Competition Site

The judges have picked out the top five designs out of the 64 entries – all of which are on display at the Auckland Art Gallery from today till Tuesday. The top five are below

arkfinal

Matthews & Matthews Architects.

s3arch

S3 Architects.

gunns

Waterfall Gunns Lowe Architects.

leuschke

Leuschke Group.

sexton

Andrew Sexton Architecture.

Just by looking at the pictures I’m not sure exactly which one is my favourite although I’m leaning towards the top two. Obviously there are other factors that need to be taken into account too, like the layout of the apartments themselves.

As you can expect not everyone is happy though with anti-intensification group Auckland 2040 ranting about them in the Herald the other day.

But Richard Burton of anti-intensification lobby group Auckland 2040 doubted the scheme would work and said the council had only acted because it was suffering a public backlash against the Unitary Plan.

and

Mr Burton said he doubted Auckland would get masses of stylish units and fears monolithic blocks rising in low-rise suburban neighbourhoods.

“The council asking for trust is like a crocodile smile. Auckland is replete with badly designed apartments and to suddenly say ‘trust us, we’re only going to get high-quality designs’ flies in the face of Auckland’s history.”

Quite why a group set up on the North Shore to try and lock the area into some kind of suburban dark age is commenting on development in a mixed use area that already contains a number of apartment buildings I don’t quite know. I also find it insulting that a group made up of people who for the most part won’t be alive in 2040 are telling those who will be how they should live. That’s not to say they shouldn’t have a say but far more weight should be placed on the opinions of those who will have to live the positive and negative consequences of how the city develops.

Development opportunities after CRL: Will Newton become a second Newmarket?

A couple of weeks ago Auckland Council quietly released a new version of its Capacity for Growth Study. The CFG study is an important and interesting document – it models the potential for future residential and business development under current or proposed planning rules. In other words, if you want to figure out what’s possible under the proposed Unitary Plan, take a look at the CFG study.

For example, the CFG study identifies opportunities for future residential development for throughout the Auckland region. Based on a detailed analysis of planning rules, property parcels, and existing buildings, it finds that Auckland could add up to 38,000 new dwellings on vacant lots within the urban boundaries and another 58,000 dwellings through infill development:

Capacty for growth

The CFG study also presents maps showing development potential in each local board – which is helpful for all us visual learners. Here’s the map of development potential in the city centre. The coloured areas represent vacant or partly vacant plots of land that could be developed under the proposed Unitary Plan:

Capacty for growth CBD map

One of the most interesting things about the CFG study is that it lets us get a sense of the development capacity around the three CRL stations – Aotea, K Road, and Newton. As a reminder, here’s a map of the three stations:

Alignment Map

The CFG study really highlights the potential of Newton Station – there is a lot of vacant or underused land that could be redeveloped to a high standard. Here’s a zoomed-in map of the area around Newton and K Road Stations. The Newton station catchment is, roughly, the area immediately to the south of the white motorway cordon:

Capacty for growth Newton map

The dark blue plots represent vacant lots that could be developed, while the light blue represents lots with the potential for additional buildings. Compared to the map of the full city centre area, you’ll see that Newton has more development potential than almost anywhere else around the city centre. Certainly more than K Road, which is mainly built out at this point. It helps that the area’s zoning under the proposed Unitary Plan allows for medium-height development of 8 story buildings.

The Capacity for Growth study shows that Newton Station will really be a game-changer for the area. The CRL will put Newton on the map – and once connected directly to the rail network, perhaps with an associated bus interchange, it could easily become a second Newmarket.

The CRL and City Centre Office Shortages

When the government finally announced they would support the CRL – but starting in 2020 – they listed two targets that would need to be on track to being met to bring construction forward.

  1. Rail Patronage to double to 20 million
  2. CBD employment to increase by 25%

We’ve written about both of these a number of times before. I personally think it’s quite possible that we will reach the 20 million patronage target early, especially if we can continue the current growth of over 12% per annum. The harder target – and dodgier one – is to increase CBD employment by 25%. It’s more dodgy as it appears to be being used as an indicator of travel demand but there are many other factors that might increase demand for rail e.g. increases in parking prices and the number of students.

An article in the Herald on Tuesday highlights just how hard the employment growth number will be.

Auckland businesses are squeezed for office space, and the central city is experiencing its most critical shortages of commercial real estate on record.

So rents could be about to shoot up fast.

Chris Dibble, Colliers International’s national research manager, said latest analysis of vacancy rates surprised him because it showed that an area less than the size of a soccer field was available to lease.

“We knew it was going to be low, but not this low. The prime sector for premium and A-grade vacancy rates in Auckland CBD is just 1.4 per cent, beating our expectations of 2 per cent. It was 4.7 per cent six months ago and the 20-year average is 8.2 per cent,” he found.

“The vacant space aggregates to just 6116sq m, less than a soccer field and unprecedented in our records which began 20 years ago,” Dibble said.

“Auckland CBD property houses some of the most productive businesses in New Zealand and with little space available for expansion, we are stalling the potential growth of the country at a critical time in the cycle.

“In a market that needs to attract quality staff through quality environments, the lack of available space and developments nearing completion means we will stumble just as we were making headwinds in what has been a tough slog for many. There are only 11 prime buildings with vacant space available. Only eight buildings can accommodate more than 20 staff (currently 11 per cent of the overall CBD market).

“Only seven are able to accommodate less than 20 staff. Tenants who haven’t found suitable accommodation will have to forgo quality or wait until early 2016 for a slight reprieve from spec builds such as Mansons TCLM’s development or Goodman Group.

In effect CBD job growth – which has been strong in the last few years – is going to dry up simply because there’s not much office space left and there’s not a huge amount to come on stream any time soon. Office space will get a bit of a bump from the Precinct Properties redevelopment of the Downtown Mall site but that won’t come on stream till 2019. That development though will see at least the first part of the CRL constructed as it absolutely has to happen at the same time as the redevelopment seeing as it passes through the basement.