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Mighty River Rail: A Fresh Future?

Looking at a number of separate but current issues got me thinking about the possibility of the return of passenger services on the existing rail lines through the Waikato. These include:

  • The potential appeal of well connected and well designed satellite towns.
  • The difficulty of retaining vitality and that appeal in many existing country towns.
  • New challenges and opportunities for a number of Waikato towns caused by the rerouting of SH1.
  • Population growth pressures on Hamilton and Auckland and the poor quality of recent ex-urban spread.
  • The existing rail lines and legacy stations in the Waikato.
  • The coming availability of Auckland’s current diesel passenger trains.

Starting with the last point I would like to stress that I am not proposing a Hamilton-Britomart intercity service. This idea has a great many practical problems in particular the crowded condition of both Britomart Station and the Auckland network, it is simply too hard to fit additional services through the Auckland network without more track and the CRL to free up station space at Britomart; so no time soon. But also the fact that the market for such a direct service is unproven and likely not large, especially as it would not be competitive with buses using the motorway for price or speed. The billions being spent in the Waikato countryside is speeding the road route there and even if the Auckland network can jam up at anytime for any number of reasons [I spent a loathsome hour getting from Otahuhu to the city on SH1 last week], it still will be hard for the existing rail route to be competitive. At least until such a time as it could run reliably and directly through the Auckland network at speed.

No I have another suggestion that is to embrace the available resource of the line by going instead for coverage and local connectivity. But it starts in Auckland still. The plan is for Auckland’s new electric trains only to reach as far south as Papakura so a few of the current diesel trains will remain as a shuttle service from that station south to Pukekohe. This system will be in place in late next year and Papakura station has been upgraded to facilitate its operation as a transfer point between the two rail systems.

So the first idea is simply to extend the coming southern shuttle between Pukekohe and Papakura south to connect with the towns of the northern Waikato already on the line. Even just extending those services south to Tuakau, the next town on the route to Hamilton, and then to the growing town of Pokeno would cost very little and offer an opportunity to test the idea. But I’m sure the people of Ngauawahia and Te Kauwhata would be pretty keen on the service too going on information from previous intercity proposals, and if a service goes that far it would be crazy not to continue into Hamilton. It would then have anchors* at both ends and not just be an appendage of Auckland’s system. On one hand then it would just be extending the Pukekohe catchment and on the other offering those country towns the chance to redevelop the areas around their stations as well as an additional way to travel within the wider region. Politically and financially it would require the Waikato Regional Council to work with AT and agree on the details. Let’s assume that’s not impossible.

As the line to Pukekohe is likely to be electrified and intermediate stations added this service could then terminate there instead of Papakura and become a much more intra-Waikato one, still linking into the big and frequent Auckland network at that network’s southernmost point for further connectivity. So the possibility arises to take the service south to all the points on the line to Hamilton and even beyond, so say:

  • Pukekohe
  • Tuakau [apparently has .5mil budget set aside for a station]
  • Pokeno
  • Te Kauwhata
  • Huntly
  • Ngaruawahia
  • Te Rapa [new station at The Base mall]
  • Frankton [Existing Station]
  • Hamilton City [The surprisingly already extant underground central city station]
  • Claudelands [new station Hamilton East]

No new track. Simply station and safety upgrades or reinstatements of legacy stations and two new at grade stations in Hamilton.

Ngruawahia Stion

By not trying to race between the two big city centres the added stops become an advantage rather than a disadvantage. It would be as much about travel between any points on the line as end to end and be a tool for regional placemaking. And of course there then is the option to include Te Awamutu to the south, and Morrinsville and Cambridge to the east for more of a pan-Waikato network.

The Waikato District Council could slowly build up a programme using the onetime opportunity of Auckland’s Diesel units in much the same way that Auckland did with Perth’s, assuming it works sufficiently. It’s a low risk chance to grow something new in the Waikato in part taking advantage of Auckland’s proximity by plugging into that bigger network but really focussing on its own region. Particularly to do something for the towns along the route.

Below is a strangely nostalgic map from NZTA designed to promote their massive programme of highway building through the Waikato countryside all this decade; trying to make costly heavy engineering seem all cosy and approachable like something in a kid’s book [particularly 1960s- just like the whole RoNS idea].

Curves.ai

Other than the attempt at cute and the apparent use of the current SH1 entirely by cyclists in the future [!], the key thing this map tells us is that pretty much all the towns on the current route are about to become bypassed. So in as much as they rely on passing traffic for business and vitality that game is up, or soon will be. But also of course in as much as their centres are severed and made unliveable by the heavy traffic speeding through them there is an opportunity too for these places. The scale of the works is more apparent in this version:

Waikato Expressway

Waikato Expressway

A reinvention for the likes of Huntly and Ngaruawhaia is going to be required, but this work usually never happens when NZTA leaves town, although surely there is an opportunity and a need to reorient these places from being focussed around the traffic that used to race through them. It will be up to the local communities and the District Council to unlock the possibilities made available by SH1 going. The chance to restitch their mainstreets back together, calm the remaining traffic; in short make place; to build a new identity and economy in these communities. Could the return of a rail service linking these places, anchored by the two big metropolises, have a role in this? The currently unused stations could certainly be a focus for redevelopment, cafes, information centres, markets etc. A focus for the rediscovery of place and character.

The rail line is less direct than the new road precisely because it connects all these old towns like pearls on a string; so I suggest don’t fight that essential characteristic of the route, use it for local interconnection and not as an attempt to imitate the highway which will soon completely bypass these towns as it expressly designed to avoid them to better serve interregional movement.

North Waikato Line

Above is a rough outline from Papakura south. It is clear that Tuakau and Pokeno could easily be served as Pukekohe extensions, then there is a bigger jump to the old towns south of Pokeno to Hamilton which would make it much more than an extension of the Pukekohe service. And finally a possible third stage east and south of Hamilton out to Morrinsville, Cambridge, and TeAwamutu. So three stages:

Waikato Line

The first stage should gain support from those advocating country living. We are often told that Satellite Towns are a great way to get the best of all worlds; right in the country, but with the social hub of a village centre, and connection to the employment, education, and action of the big city. But to get this the detail matters enormously. Quality of place takes work; those three boxes all need to be properly ticked. Here, I suggest, is a mechanism to help achieve this work.

For example look how they are marketing the spreading little north Waikato town of Pokeno:

Pokeno

Note the mention of rail right in the same sentence as the state highways as a selling point for Pokeno, yet there is no rail service, and no plan for one either. I agree it would be great if there was. Not least because it would give the town an opportunity to develop as a real Satellite Town, not just a piece of displaced sprawl as it seems to be becoming now. The station and surrounding amenity could become a village centre of the kind at the heart of the successful country Satellite Towns around overseas cities.

The TVOne report linked to on the website above is worth a look. It is a good showcase of the often confused thinking, particularly by those that consider themselves experts, on the issues of urban form and the role of transport infrastructure in shaping those forms.

Here’s a quick look at the easily available Hamilton City Stations. Hamilton being the other anchor* of this line.

Hamilton City Stations

The triangle is the existing Hamilton Station at Frankton, the rectangle is Hamilton’s big secret, the country’s first underground urban station, never used. And the line a rough position for an East Hamilton station, around Claudelands, with good residential walkup and next to the Claudelands Convention Centre. These are about a kilometre apart. There is a good opportunity to add a station at the back of The Base at Te Rapa, and a more difficult option for one between that and these three city stops perhaps at Forest Lake Rd. Although the surrendering of rail land for a duplicate highway through there has squeezed the corridor and added to the severance both of which would make this more difficult and expensive. So it goes. However this little urban network alone could be quite useful; Claudelands to The Base certainly looks handy, nicely balancing Ngaruawahia to the city say.

While it is the case that the forces associated with the massive road build currently taking place in the Waikato have been strongly opposed to any rail revival in the region I think for them to continue that now this would be to misunderstand the potential and the purpose of this project. As conceived here it is complimentary to the huge highway system. It is to serve those communities left behind by the Expressway; to help them develop into stronger entities in their own right. To help mitigate the shock of the departure of the highway and to take advantage of the new possibilities that must be found for these places. This project is no threat to the vast sums being spent on highways.

This is a very different argument than that for improvement and extension of the Auckland network for which there certainly is growing demand of significant scale, but I can imagine local people getting behind such a proposal. So a good first step would to hear their views here and if supported then to work towards getting some real analysis done. After all this is not a detailed proposal more a bit of free thinking. After the low hanging fruit [and admittedly Auckland centred] first stage I concede it gets trickier:

  • What sort of frequency would be required for a meaningful service?
  • Could such a frequency be justified by the ridership?
  • How to set the ticket price to stimulate uptake but also help fund operations?
  • How do you balance economic value of place and social quality against financial costs?
  • Is this the best stopping pattern?
  • Are the trains available? Suitable? Affordable?
  • Will KiwiRail be cooperative?

And finally is this the kind of thing that the people of the Waikato want?

Thanks to Jon Reeves and CBT for additional information

* Anchoring. Here is Jarrett Walker:

“So transit planners are always looking to anchor their lines.  Anchoring means designing a line so that it ends at a major destination, so that there will be lots of people on the vehicle all the way to the end of the line.  A line with strong anchors at each end will have more uniform high ridership over the whole length of the line, and a much more efficient use of capacity overall.”

ACT Party spokespeople tragically born missing sense of irony

There are many great contradictions in politics, and there’s never enough time to explain them all. Certainly one of the greatest contradictions, though, has to be what some people associated with the ACT party have to say about intensification. The supposed ‘free market party’ seems quite scared of landowners’ rights to develop their land in the way they see fit – something you’d think would be more likely from the Conservative party.

Quoting a recent speech by David Seymour, the new ACT candidate for Epsom:

The people of Epsom do not want more traffic jams and a city closing in on them under Len Brown’s intensification plan.The funny thing about Epsom is that it was built well before modern urban planning.  Nobody planned the organic mix of streets between Mt Eden and Dominion roads.  The character villas were not part of a grand plan.  Ditto the crescents backing onto Cornwall Park, the historic Parnell Village, or roads that wind over the slopes of Remuera.

Len Brown and the central planners can’t stand the thought of a spontaneous urban form.  They must make their mark with apartment towers all over the electorate.

If irony were made of strawberries, we’d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now (thanks, South Park). One of the major barriers to intensification is the zoning restrictions in inner-city suburbs, and yet David is appealing to his audience’s fear of an “organic mix” or “spontaneous urban form” arising in Epsom. Perish the thought.

Dick Quax, former ACT parliamentarian turned councillor, is also a chap who spends quite a bit of time raising concerns about intensification.

Don Brash, former ACT Party leader, has also gotten a lot of mileage arguing that we should remove urban limits, and conspicuously ignoring the restrictions which exist inside those limits. When pushed, he points out that he doesn’t have a problem with intensification… but that’s certainly not the message he’s chosen to focus on publicly.

As some of the other bloggers have pointed out before, the usual left-wing/ right-wing divisions that occur at central government level seem to break down, or behave in unexpected ways, when you get to the local government level. And I’d call this is one of the unexpected ways.

People at the supposed ‘right wing’ end of the spectrum often go on about the need to remove planning restrictions at the city’s edge, and how that will help housing affordability. They sing a different tune when confronted about restrictions inside the city boundaries. This ranges from the kind of rhetoric used by David Seymour above, to the more nuanced views held by Don Brash (but which he certainly isn’t at pains to publicise).

And yet, when urban economist Edward Glaeser was asked which the bigger problem for Auckland housing affordability was – urban limits or zoning restrictions in existing areas – he pointed the finger at zoning restrictions. Hmmm.

On the other hand, Penny Webster, another Auckland Councillor and former MP for ACT, has tended to vote with Len Brown on most issues, so it’s dangerous to generalise between different people. The general impression that we get from people most closely (and most currently) associated with the ACT party itself, though, is that intensification is a bogeyman to be feared, and – from David Seymour above – that it occurs because of council planning, not in spite of it. I leave it to you to consider whether, if we removed all planning restrictions  in both the inner suburbs and at the city fringes, Epsom and Remuera would stay the same with no intensification occurring.

What if we really were doing “social engineering”?

An article on Planetizen a few months back highlights an issue often missed in the debates over roads versus public transport or sprawl versus intensification – the fact that for the last century most government spending and policy has supported car use and lower density development. Yet this is seemingly often ignored by those moaning about how planners are supposedly  ’forcing’ people into dense living environments while transport planners are supposedly ‘forcing’ people onto public transport.

Michael Lewyn, the post’s author, asks an interesting hypothetical question to set up his argument that really public investment and policy (essentially public sector intervention) has for an incredibly long time been tilted towards urban form and transport outcomes epitomised by car dependent urban sprawl:

After reading yet more blather about the “war on cars” or “density-pushing planners” I recently had a thought: what if government really did favor transit and compact development as aggressively as they had favored sprawl in the 20th century?  How different would planning and transportation rules be?…

For example, in the first half of the 20th century, government at all levels spent public money on roads for automobiles, while giving limited or no support to streetcars (which at first were private).  As transit providers began to lose money, government took them over, and the federal government started to support public transit in the 1960s.  Today, the federal government spends about four times as much on highways as on public transit.   As a result of these policies, many cities have weak public transit systems, while many people and jobs have moved to suburbs served by highways.

This cartoon from Andy Singer springs to mind (he has a heap of other great cartoons on many of the issues we talk about on the blog)

Public Investment - Wasteful Subsidy

Some examples are then outlined to give us a bit of an idea about how extremely pro public transport and urban intensification policies would need to go in order to truly counter-balance what has existed for around a century in the USA (and in New Zealand). For transport funding:

So if government completely reversed course in the 21st century, it would reverse funding ratios: that is, spend half a century spending several times as much on public transit as on highways, and then spent another half century completely defunding highways (much as it ignored transit in the early and mid-20th century). 

For how mortgages for greenfield development were subsidised:

In the 1950s, government heavily subsidized suburbia, through Federal Housing Administration (FHA) lending criteria that favored suburbs.  For example, FHA refused to subsidize mortgages in racially diverse urban neighborhoods, and favored new single-family homes (which tended to be in suburbs) over renovating existing homes- a policy that encouraged middle-class homeowners to move to suburbs.  So to completely reverse course, the FHA would have to spend a couple of decades refusing to insure mortgages in any neighborhood built after the New Deal, while subsidizing mortgages in older neighborhoods. 

For density controls:

Since the 1920s, most American zoning codes have mandated that huge swaths of land be limited to low-density residential use, ensuring that many Americans do not live within walking distance of public transit.  To truly reverse this policy, government would have to spend the 21st century mandating that new development be at densities sufficient to support transit, and would require a mix of residential and commercial uses to the extent possible.

And how about parking?

Since the 1950s, most zoning codes have also required that commercial landowners and multifamily dwellings provide visitors with parking lots and garages, thus effectively subsidizing driving by making parking more abundant.  And because zoning codes also required buildings to be set back from the street, these parking lots were usually in front of buildings, thus ensuring that pedestrians must waste time walking through ugly parking lots in order to reach their destinations.  To reverse this policy over the next 60 years, government would have to establish maximum parking requirements (as a few cities have in fact done) and require buildings to be in front of sidewalks so pedestrians could reach them more easily.

Of course this is just a series of hypothetical questions, which highlight that many of the changes to land-use and transport planning that we promote on this blog: things like removing parking minimums, removing/lessening controls that limit development density and promoting a better balance between public transport and road spending are really pretty mild and attempt to shift planning policy and transport spending back much more towards a ‘neutral’ situation. If we really were promoting bias towards intensification instead of sprawl, public transport instead of road spending, that was to the same extent (but opposite direction of course) as what has happened in the past century – we’d have to be WAY more extreme.

Transport costs & housing affordability: part 2

Last week’s post about how considering transport costs is an important consideration when really understanding housing affordability has led to a fairly epic comments thread. This is perhaps because many sprawl advocates are so used to hammering the “sprawl is the only way to improve housing affordability” line that they feel quite threatened by a more comprehensive analysis of the situation.

To summarise many of the points made by blog authors within the comments thread:

  • The research validly highlights that transport costs rise as you get further from the centre of Auckland and this counter-balances – to some extent – the higher housing prices experienced in some inner areas.
  • We think it’s highly hypocritical for people to bang on about the need to remove urban limits while maintaining strong support for the majority of planning rules that limit development potential in already urbanised areas. Councillors such as Dick Quax and Cameron Brewer are particularly bad when it comes to this hypocrisy – surely height limits, building setback requirements, parking minimums, density controls and the like are just as much “social engineering” as urban limits.
  • In places where sprawl has resulted in affordable housing (Texan cities are often given as the example) there has been huge (billions upon billions) spending on highways and other infrastructure to support that growth. Hardly the ‘market outcome’ that the proponents suggest.

We have supported urban limits in documents such as the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan. In fact we support stronger control over the release of greenfield land in the Unitary Plan compared to what’s currently proposed. The reasons for this are obviously multi-faceted but basically come down to the significant public cost of providing new areas with sufficient transport, water, wastewater, stormwater, schools, parks, medical facilities etc. With so much public investment required to make new development areas liveable, quality communities it’s critical for there to be a carefully staged plan of what areas will be developed when. Not having an urban limit makes this process extremely difficult and potentially undermines the efficiency of public investment because you often see “leap frog” development or a mismatch between where development happens and where public investment has occurred.

Putting that never-ending debate aside though and returning to the issue of how transport costs change our understanding of housing affordability, there are some additional maps in both the journal article referenced in our original post and in the thesis the article is based upon, which provide interesting further information. Please note that we have been asked by the thesis author Kerry Mattingly to not publish the thesis online.

The first interesting map looks at the proportion of household income that is spent on rent across different parts of Auckland. The author provides a number of reasons for using rent rather than mortgage repayments, which appear sound and supported by previous academic studies.

rent-proportion-incomePerhaps what’s most interesting about this map is the lack of a clear pattern, with proportions being high in some areas (North Shore, southeast and parts of the isthmus) but low in other ‘patches’ – generally areas that appear to correspond to concentrations of Housing New Zealand property.

One map that does show a clear pattern is the mean annual commuter variable cost – which broadly tracks the amount of money each household annually spends on commuting.

annual-commuting-costEven though the methodology for preparing this map obviously didn’t assume everyone worked in the city centre, we still get a clear pattern that indicates the further you live from the city centre the more you spend on transport. Relatively employment-rich South Auckland sees lower commuting costs than employment poor west Auckland, but still generally not as low as the commuting costs for the inner isthmus.

The upshot of comparing these two maps is simply that when you add transport into the mix, the true ‘affordability’ of different areas changes quite significantly. That’s perhaps best illustrated in this third map – which shows how much (as a percentage of housing cost) transport adds onto the cost of living in a certain area.

transport-increases-costsThis map is a little bit challenging to interpret initially, but basically it shows what proportion of housing cost would need to be added on to reflect the additional cost of commuting in that area. For most of the inner isthmus it’s less than a quarter of the housing cost that’s added on – so the housing costs make up most of the “combined housing and transport cost” that would be faced by someone living here. For areas further out – particularly it seems in the south (despite its relatively large number of jobs) – the proportion is much higher, often meaning that someone may need to add half again to the cost of housing to truly recognise the combined housing and transport cost of that area.

As a final point, I’ve overlaid (just roughly) the approximate location of land zoned future urban in the proposed Unitary Plan on top of the map above (excluding Warkworth as it was too far north to fit for me).

transport-increases-costs-addFUZThe concerning conclusion from the map above is that most of the land we’re proposing to urbanise over the coming years lies in areas where transport costs will be a huge added burden. In essence, even if the additional greenfield land does provide cheaper housing costs (and the high costs of Flat Bush give reasonable reason to be skeptical of that outcome), that ‘gain’ will probably be significantly undone by the high transport costs experienced by those living in these new parts of Auckland.

 

 

Including travel costs changes housing affordability

When it comes to the debate around sprawl, intensification and housing affordability one of the most persistent arguments for opening up more greenfield land is that land costs at the edge of town are much cheaper and therefore opening it up for development can help in making houses more affordable. We’ve long argued that the looking at the costs of housing alone is only telling one part of the story and that we really should also be taking transport costs into account.

An article in the herald yesterday highlighted that a study on exactly that based on Auckland that had just been published (you’ll need to purchase the paper to be able to read it). The herald writes about it.

Migrating to the outer suburbs may not be the affordable dream many Aucklanders believe, according to a new study which lays bare the true cost of commuting.

Researchers have for the first time created a detailed picture of housing affordability in New Zealand’s largest city when commuting costs are factored in, with surprising results.

One calculation showed that the most affordable homes could even be found in some inner areas of the city.

“When you take into account that people in outlying areas are so much more dependent on automobiles than people in inner-city neighbourhoods, transport costs should play a role in what locations we consider to be affordable or not,” study co-author Kerry Mattingly said.

and

The researchers created two separate income-based indicators to measure combined commuting and housing affordability across different suburbs of Auckland.

This stands in stark contrast to measures considering housing costs in isolation, which show affordability generally improves with distance from the centre of the city.

One of the indicators, which they said presented a more accurate picture of how affordable an area would be for a typical family to live in, found the most affordable areas were found in the lower central, inner-west and inner-south of Auckland.

Areas close to employment hubs appeared relatively more affordable using the measure due to modest expenditure on commuting.

In some peripheral areas, average annual commuting costs could be five times the amount shouldered by those living in many central Auckland neighbourhoods.

The study highlights that there’s no point in just building a heap more housing out on the urban fringe as that alone won’t make housing more affordable primarily due to people having to drive further. To me this result is completely unsurprising and shows we need to be much smarter about how we develop out city if affordability is something that people are actually concerned about.

Amazingly I have seen some people suggest that without having read it, the study is flawed because it focuses only on people travelling to the CBD however actually reading through the paper shows that this completely false. Using the 2006 census data the researchers looked at individual area units within Auckland, where the people within them were travelling to for work and what mode they used. That means someone travelling to the CBD is treated exactly the same as someone travelling to a different part of Auckland.

Yet despite how detailed the researchers have been there are a still factors that haven’t been taken into account that would likely further impact on affordability. For example parking costs aren’t taken into account and the calculations only take into account the distance travelled, not the time travelled. Both of these are likely to further favour areas where there good PT, walking and cycling connections.

Here’s one of the maps showing housing affordability compared to median income however once again you’ll need to buy the paper to see all of them.

Housing Affordability and Transport costs

Lastly

“If you just look at housing costs alone, outlying areas appear really affordable and it initially seems to make sense to say, hey, let’s open up greenfield sites on the urban periphery and develop here,” Mr Mattingly said. “But when you include these broader costs, they are not as affordable as they seem.”

He said the results went against the traditional notion of “drive ’til you qualify”.

When wider social impacts such as increased pollution were taken into account, low-density, urban-fringe expansion was even less ideal, he said.

While increasing the supply of housing may well help to lower the cost of housing, Mr Mattingly said it was the way in which supply was improved that was important.

“In particular, the location and density of residential development will have strong implications for associated transportation costs, combined housing and transport affordability, and long-term environmental sustainability.”

Policy-makers needed to consider the relationship between housing and transport, and strike a balance between an adequate supply of land for development and intensification.

It’s certainly an interesting paper and something I’ve wanted to see more data on for a while so thank to the authors for doing this. The timing is also good being just before the unitary plan submissions close.

Possibilities on Ponsonby Road

This is 254 Ponsonby Rd.

254 Ponsonby Rd

254 Ponsonby Rd

A low rise and rather miserable example of provincial modernity currently home to a large car park and drive-through, the food retailer Nosh, and a Liquor King.

PONSONBY RD_5066

254 P Rd in context

254 P Rd in context

Just another piece of dross-scape left over from the great auto-age. But what is important about this piece of commercial property is that we own it. We the people that is. The Council bought the site in 2006 for, I believe, around 7.5mil, with the idea that it is a good place for some kind of public space.

It’s ours!: So what should we do with it? There are a few options outlined in the Ponsonby Rd Masterplan here. Discussed in a previous post here.

A small group of very local residents are determined that it must be a public park in its entirety and are running a media campaign to this end which is being reported like this: Battle for Suburb’s Future.

And I kind of agree, this is a bit of a test case about Ponsonby Rd’s future. If this site is deactivated down to simply grass and trees making what would surely be Auckland’s most expensive park per square metre then the idea of Ponsonby Rd being any kind of centre of urban vitality and intensity will have suffered another blow. And the opportunity to patch a gap in the continuity of the streetscape will be missed.

The main argument for this being gardened at public expense is a rough calculation that Ponsonby has proportionately less parkland than other areas. Is this a valid metric for land use decisions?, looks like a crazy bit of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo to me. Areas are different, I would hope and expect to see more parkland in outer suburbs and more intensive urban land use in inner city areas. Doesn’t Ponsonby self-describe as a funky inner city area quite unlike most or even all of the rest of Auckland? Do we really want to level it out so that it’s the same as everywhere else? Street culture can only develop from intensity of activity; for Ponsonby to retain its vitality it needs to build up not water down its land use to suburban levels.

Most would agree that city open space is great and hip inner city retail and dinning areas need it too, but living in the area I already enjoy Western Park, Grey Lynn Park, Cox’s Bay Park, Victoria Park and the nearby Tole Reserve [part of which is shown above], but I certainly didn’t come to here all those decades ago because of its supply of open space. Quite the reverse, what is unique and valuable about the area is its built intensity as described in this previous post. We have raised three kids in the area and never once experienced a lack of parks or swings and slides. Vermont St has a park, so does Brown…

But even if we agree that the main problem faced by Ponsonby Rd is a lack of open space [which certainly isn't clear], then we have to ask if this is the best place for it? To answer that we need to ask what sort of open space is ideal for urban centres like Ponsonby Rd? And what is the best use of public money to meet these ends. I agree that Ponsonby Rd’s physical qualities are poor and need investment but this looks awfully like all our eggs in one very expensive basket and with a very questionable result. How about improving the quality of the entire streetscape of this strip? The street, surely that is locus of the public realm in urban places. More trees along the the length of the street [those that are already there are great], raised pedestrian tables on side streets, fine grained and activated ‘laneway’ types of public space, narrowing the tops of streets like Mackelvie St, these sorts of things strike me as much more valuable than one bland plot of inactivity.

Because it is on one of Auckland’s premier shopping streets the land is valuable and potentially generates a healthy rate income for the city. The latest figures we can find is a capital value of 7.5million and the current rundown building pays 57,800 in rates pa. So there is a tremendous opportunity here to fund a whole lot of public realm improvements in the area as well as getting much better use of this site by redeveloping it rather than just making and maintaining a park on this site.

254 Ponsonby Rd

254 Ponsonby Rd

In considering what should happen here it’s important to note that the site has two distinct qualities in terms of its adjacent properties: commercial neighbours up at the Ponsonby Rd end and residential ones down at its western end. Furthermore its Ponsonby Rd face has real public realm responsibilities that the current building certainly completely ignores. So even if it was to be developed to its maximum extent the scale of structures at the bottom end of the site would be governed by those residential neighbours and the top end by its. Especially in terms of massing, height, and proximity to boundaries.

So it’s impossible to put a tower block on it even if that were desirable, but it does give us the opportunity to fix one the many ‘broken teeth’ in the line of commercial buildings on the strip. I, for one, would really like to see a structure at the Ponsonby Rd end of this site at least of a comparable volume to the adjacent Edwardian shops, right up to the footpath to repair the continuity of the built edge. Preferably separated from that building with a narrow laneway down to another running between O’Neill and Tole Sts and a properly urban courtyard towards the middle of the site connecting to all three streets . The western end is ideal for residential at a similar density as its neighbours [and how hypocritical would the neighbours be to complain of that?]. So the protected centre of the site would be public space with connections to existing streets and opportunities for sophisticated paved courtyards and planted, all served by retail.

This would enable commercial activity to continue on the site, it would create a more fine grained public realm, continue the built wall edge to the Ponsonby Rd footpath, with cover from the elements and for pedestrians and the bus stop, remove the awful vehicle crossing currently at the top of the site, and of course release to the city a whole lot of capital and future rating income to make improvements all along Ponsonby Rd’s length or perhaps to concentrate that effort somewhere better nearby.

Ponsonby Rd with St Johns

Ponsonby Rd with St Johns

And I think there is a somewhere else that would make for a much cleverer use of these public funds, including some really much better open space. And it’s just across the road: St Johns:

St Johns Ponsonby

St Johns Ponsonby

Built in 1882 this timber ‘carpenter’s gothic’ Gothic Revival methodist church is desperately in need of love. Its spire makes it the tallest building on Ponsonby Rd yet somehow it is easy to overlook. It has a Category 2 listing with Historic Places, yet I seriously doubt that the church, no matter how much they love this building, have the resources to maintain it. Maybe it is still used richly by the church but if so this happens very subtly, and certainly doesn’t happen in any public way involving the local community. It seems like it needs a new use in order to justify maintenance let alone restoration. It is fenced off from Ponsonby Rd and has a bunch of very unfortunate additions on its sides and rear and sits in a sea of tarmac on a fantastic site gently tipping towards the city, offering fabulous views, especially at dusk. Instead of a formless park on the 254 site we could have this restored and repurposed Victorian building sitting in an urban space like the new one surrounding St Patricks in the city.

PONSONBY RD_5037

PONSONBY_5088

PONSONBY RD_5042

Its latest valuation is 3.94mil and pays just 207.80 in rates [presumably just for the carparks occupied by local businesses]. I have no idea if the church would be happy to sell, or if there is a way it could still serve them along with new uses but I do know that Ponsonby Rd lacks any theatrical venue [despite its artistic reputation] or other kinds of performance or public meeting space. By taking this on we could get not only a historic building of extremely high value, but also the funds to at least begin to restore it, reconnect it to both the street and the community, a new venue for all sorts of activities, and new open space of value [especially if the additions are removed]. Furthermore this is on the northern and more residential side of the street, so the open space ca be added without causing a break in the activation of the streetscape on the commercial side of the strip.

Ponsonby Rd St Johns

This idea looks like a huge win/win to me. Financially, certainly, but also in terms of built heritage, public amenity, and it means open space without de-intensifying this urban centre.

I have no idea if the St Johns idea is possible, so it certainly isn’t a case of the Nosh site or St Johns but I do think we need to be creative with opportunities like this. It is, after all very easy to be in favour of preserving our built heritage but it is much more powerful to come up with a means to actually do so. Which essentially means finding vibrant new uses for valuable old buildings.

I understand the concern the direct neighbours will have about any change to the 254 site, especially because it is in public ownership, but having people in houses just like them next door and a whole lot of retail options at the main street end of the site is almost certainly a better outcome than a vapid and windswept public park with all the informal nighttime recreational activities that this will attract, and clearly is better than the car park they currently have now. But also they are not the only ones affected by what happens on this site. The Ponsonby Rd frontage in particular is something owned by us all.

There are a lot of pressures on the whole Ponsonby area, a lot of competing claims and different points of view. And fair enough, but the number of sites for development has already been shrunk to a narrow strip along the ridge so to reduce this further is to undermine the very source of Ponsonby’s identity and success; it’s intensity.

 

 

 

Can construction profiles help communities understand the impact of new buildings?

During the unitary plan debate last year I felt there was a lot of unjustified scaremongering about the height and bulk of buildings that the plan allowed for. Even if the Unitary Plan is passed I suspect we will still hear howls of protest from some people who over estimate just how much impact proposed developments greater than a single storey might make. One way to help solve this could be a planning policy from Switzerland known as a Bauprofile (construction profile). This is described by The Guardian.

Clusters of spindly antennae poke up from rooftops and strange boxy frames project from walls. In the distance, a line of balloons hangs improbably in the air, describing a perfect square. This surreal panorama of rods and wires, which form the ghostly apparition of an alternative skyline, is a common sight in any Swiss city, where planning policy requires the erection of the profile of a building before it is granted permission to be built.

and

Constructed from metal rods or wooden poles, fixed in place by wire guy ropes, the Swiss baugespanne or bauprofile are usually erected for a month, outlining the full height of the proposed development, with protruding markers to indicate the angle of the roof and direction of the walls. For taller buildings, tethered balloons can be used, and helicopters have even been employed to hover at a specified height for the tallest towers. Underground structures are not let off the hook either, usually having to be marked with wooden stakes at their corners.

Here’s some examples of what they look like.

This one is one I found from the blog Urbanizit

The idea is about to be trialled in the UK however I wonder if it is something we should be thinking about too. I don’t necessarily think it should be something required for all construction – although it doesn’t seem overly onerous – but perhaps it could be a useful tool for especially contentious developments to help locals understand what is proposed. I suspect for many projects it would show proposed developments are not something to fear and may help get buy-in from locals on the project or at least less opposition.

What do you think; could it help address issues with those campaigning for no change in our suburbs?

Summer in the City, and a look ahead.

A view from new Britomart bar and restaurant Ostro that seems to perfectly express the contradictory current phase in Auckland City’s development.

OSTRO_5788

What a great scene:

Sitting here amidst the sophistication of the latest addition to the our reborn downtown with all the perfectly prepared kai moana you could want, reassuringly expensive wines from every viticultured corner of the country, the cruise liners slipping around North Head, and the sculptural forms of the gantry cranes lined up and waiting patiently in the late afternoon sun like a row of giant robotic footmen, it is hard not to marvel at how lovely Auckland can be and at how far it has come recently.

Britomart is surely the best example of a Transport Orientated Development around, showing not just what can be achieved by coordinating land use and Transit investment well, but also just what a great resource there is in our urban centres if only we redevelop them properly. Central Auckland is really beginning to show extraordinary promise for what quite recently was an very dreary place, and it is not difficult to predict that these improvements are only going to accelerate over the years ahead. It’s like we’ve suddenly discovered that the city is by the sea.

With the successes of Britomart, both the train station itself and the redevelopment of the commercial buildings above; the Shared Spaces, which now surely will spread [not least down into the Britomart block itself]; and the first phases of Wynyard Quarter, the quality of Auckland’s City Centre is poised to explode in vitality, desirability, and productivity.

The next phase should be even more dramatic:  The transformation of big city streets into more interesting and specialised uses; Victoria hosting a Linear Park on half its width uniting the two parks on either side of the city, Victoria and Albert; Wellesley a Transit corridor, efficiently bringing thousands of bus riders into the heart of the city: Queen and Quay, downscaling and becoming more pedestrian and place focussed [Quay also an important cycle route], Fanshaw and Customs moving ever more people both in more efficient bus systems and, like Mayoral, focussing of carrying general traffic across town.

Along with the big build at Wynyard, the city will also get new towers at Downtown and on the corner of Victoria and Albert, along with the apartment building boom that is already underway all over the city.

This is no guess about the future but rather the continuation of what has already begun; the latest census revealed that central Auckland’s residential population grew 46.5% between 2006-13 by far the greatest growth in the whole country. Vacant commercial floor space is drying up and demand is rising. Like all over the western world, inner city living and working is not just back, it’s hot. Auckland is already surfing the urbanising zeitgiest well.

Interestingly both the the new towers mentioned above will sit on top of the City Rail Link that in 2015 will begin to be constructed at least for the section below the new Downtown Centre. And as is clear from the growth listed above that the city will urgently need this resource in order to bring, circulate, and disperse back out to the city’s extremities all the people that will work, live, and recreate in this transforming city.

Because if there is one uniting theme to all of this improvement it is the increase in the numbers of people entering the City without a corresponding increase in the numbers of cars- if not their actual decrease. All  the growth in number of those entering the Central City this century has been on the improved Transit systems, especially rail and the buses of the Northern Busway, but also ferries and cycling and walking. This has to continue if not accelerate, because the place quality improvements require a reduction in the domination of place by vehicles, or at least are impossible to achieve while the city is swamped in cars. Essentially there is a very simple equation observable in urban renewal:

More People + Fewer Cars = Better City

So in order to achieve this the city needs to be attractive and accessible to people and efficient and productive for business. How are these aims best achieved at the planning and investment level? It seems very clear all across the world that there are three investments that have proven to consistently achieve these outcomes in urban development, whether it’s London, or, Barcelona, or Shanghai, or Amsterdam, or Portland, or Bilboa, or Sydney or Brisbane, or Wellington or where-ever, these are every city’s best best:

  • repurposed mixed use Waterfronts with
  • dynamic Public Spaces and Activities served by
  • high quality Public Transit + Walking + Cycling amenity

The last to efficiently bring and circulate large numbers of people in ways that do not adversely affect place, in fact ideally enhance it, the second to attract, entertain, and retain residents, workers, and businesses, and the first because the whole new venture is so much more desirable and therefore valuable if it’s by the sea, a lake, or along a river, making the investment much more likely to be viable. But the essential component is that these all have to come together in a centre in order for the attractions and vitality to double up on themselves, for these improvements to agglomerate.*

[*There are three other investments that cities often try to use as springboards for improvement but that all have much more fraught outcomes around the world: Casinos, Stadia, and Convention Centres, and all have a common theme; they usually have the same big blank walled city-blocking form, intermittent use, and internalised programmes- and are often built on an auto-dependent model with vast parking garages and motorway like access routes right up to them; both highly anti-urban place ruining systems.]

So it is clear both that Auckland is largely on the right track and that there are enormous challenges ahead. Wynyard Quarter is not being built in the best order, in the way that Britomart has been: Ideally you built at least the bones of the High Quality Transit system first, Wynyard is going to quickly have to get better and more permanent Transit systems in place as the building sites currently used as car parks start to get built on and these will at least at first have to be bus systems- the only near term way of moving high volumes of people- and surely they will have to get those buses working in a trainlike way, ie with stations more than stops, while working towards upgrading some bus routes to a modern light rail system.

The problem of funding the City Rail Link needs to be addressed in 2014, which on the one hand means either changing the government or changing the government’s mind, as well as working out an efficient way for the Council to fund its share of the capital cost too. Increasingly I think this could be around a PPP for the three new stations as there will be changes in land value to be captured there.

Then there is the related issue of the accommodating hundreds of buses in the city, the CRL will in time limit the need to endlessly grow the numbers of buses on city streets but even once it’s open there will still be a need for a lot of buses in the city, especially from the North Shore. Hopefully the new plans for concentrating these onto specific routes and speeding their passage through the city will be done well and make a huge difference. But also I think it’s vital that the quality of the buses themselves are improved, that they aren’t walled off with blocking advertising and that their exhaust and noise standards are improved radically, ideally that emissions are eliminated all together. Therefore the electrification of all our urban transport systems should be a matter of higher priority. Electricity is, after all, our great local resource and so much better for the increasingly contested city streets for everyone.

All of which brings us back to the image:

OSTRO_5788

Also clearly visible here are hundreds and hundreds of new cars, well at least new to NZ , freshly off-loaded and ready for our streets and roads. So if [leaving aside the issue of whether this is the best use of these warves], as I predict, these vehicles will increasingly be less and less welcome on the streets of the City Centre then where are they headed? Out to the suburbs and the exurbs I suppose; the more dispersed the living the more ideal the car becomes. Auckland is becoming a Mullet City. It is surely getting more and more bi-level like the famous westie haircut: Increasingly urbane, more European in form, more walkable, ridable and lively in the centre. But still largely auto-dependent, low rise, dispersed and spread out, more American-new-city in form, the further out you go.

To some degree this is inevitable, and is in the very nature of cities, but I hope this doesn’t become too extreme, Auckland could develop a number of great and happily more intense metropolitan centres. So I hope it’s more blurred than this, but the latest version of the Draft Unitary Plan doesn’t inspire confidence. Councillors facing reelection and a vocal anti-change lobby greatly reduced the areas that can enjoy the great gift of the city; the ‘power of nearness’, intensity, and if it stays like this then growth and intensity will be concentrated into just a few areas, and in particular the Centre. This will reinforce a contrasting bi-level city. This form is increasingly apparent globally as The Great Inversion unfolds and City Centres and Inner Suburbs become more desirable and therefore expensive, and as this partly reflects differences in transport value of place, or relative inaccessibility, so the provision of affordable transport options throughout the wider city is critical to ameliorating this tendency [the existing reach of the rail network will become increasingly valuable for equalising access; especially after it is more essential to Auckland once the CRL is operational and the New Bus Network is integrated with it with new interchange stations].

But then there are many ways the suburbs can improve. Auckland’s older tram built suburbs are already relatively dense, are pleasantly leafy and walkable [remnant pathways linking through to old tram stops are sign of this], and have enough old shops and mixed commercial parts to give them great bones. Many simply need improvements in Transit service and cycling amenity to become really good; work for the rest of this decade. Then if we can get the Unitary Plan to allow some decent mixed use density in the centres that serve these suburbs many may find their own neighbourhood pretty well has everything they need as well as being well connected to the big City and other Centres. The newer further out sprawl-burbs are more difficult to bring into this century, but simply calming residential streets and serving those missing modes will go along way to repairing those urban form monocultures.

All of this is to say that 2013 has been great for Auckland’s urban quality and I’m confident 2014 will see this accelerate. So thanks for visiting the site and have a wonderful summer: In the City or as far away as you can get [a perfect use for our cars]…

XMAS 2013_01

 

 

Density Delusions

One of the saddest and most frustrating parts of the Unitary Plan deliberations being held at the moment is the misinformation about density controls and their effects. Phrases such as “unlimited density” create images of high-rise apartment buildings in suburban areas or tiny “chicken coop” sausage flats squeezed onto small suburban sites.

Both of which are simply not possible. Not because some fluffy urban design assessment criteria will stop such things – but because of hard rules like maximums height limits, maximums site coverage controls, minimum dwelling sizes, private open space requirements and more. If we take a look at the residential rules of the Unitary Plan from prior to the Councillors’ changes throughout last week and yesterday (I have been asking the council for a list of all of the changes agreed to but they are ignoring my requests) we find out that a so-called unlimited density development in the different parts of the Mixed Housing zone would have the following development controls applied (as well as requiring a resource consent to even apply to build more than four units and requiring a large site to start with!)

  • A building height limit of 8 metres
  • Height in relation to boundary rules requiring heights of no more than 3m plus 1m for every metre back from the boundary the part of the building is located.
  • Yard controls, including a (stupid in my opinion) front yard requirement of 4m.
  • A maximum impervious area control of 60 per cent (i.e. building or paving can’t exceed 60% of the site).
  • A maximum building coverage of 40% for sites 400m² or more or 50% for sites less than 400m².
  • A requirement to landscape at least 30% of a site, including covering at least 10% of the site in plants or shrubs (including a further requirement for at least one large tree!)
  • Outlook spaces of at least 6m by 4m from each main living room, from the principal bedroom of at least 3m by 3m and from other rooms of at least 1m by 1m.
  • Building separation requirements, including a requirement for separation from main living rooms of 15m.
  • At outdoor living space of at least 40 square metres, including dimension requirements.
  • Minimum amounts of glazing in the main living area, bedrooms and out to the street.
  • Maximum garage size and impact on the front façade including additional set back controls.
  • Maximum building length restrictions.
  • Minimum dwelling size requirements of at least 40 square metres for studios and 45 square metres for one bedroom apartments.
  • Minimum dimension requirements for living rooms and even bedrooms.

Most of these rules have some logic and good intentions sitting behind them and are an attempt to ensure that development is of a sufficient quality. But, importantly, all the rules will limit the development density which can occur on a site – at least indirectly. What all these controls really do (aside from the minimum dwelling size and to a lesser extent the minimum dimension requirements) is influence the bulk, location, scale and layout of development – how the development will be perceived from the outside world. What density controls do, over and above these other controls, is basically determine how a building envelop is ‘sliced and diced’ into different dwellings.

Density controls have been pretty common throughout Auckland’s planning documents for the past few decades – with the result being this:

What stands out in the image above is the monotony of this urban form. Each site is roughly the same size, each dwelling takes up roughly the same amount of land on the site, each place is basically the same.

  • Large houses on 400-500 square metre sites.
  • None of them with particularly large backyards.
  • No variety of building types.

Importantly, these areas also lack the provision of any affordable housing – because the only thing being built are huge standalone houses. And the reason why the only things being built are huge standalone houses is because the density controls mean a minimum amount of land needs to be set aside for each dwelling, leading to effectively a minimum size of house in order for the developer to make a profit and therefore a minimum sale price that’s often well north of $500,000.

The frustrating thing about density rules is that the urban form above does not necessarily result in more greenspace or less building bulk or a more spacious urban environment. Those aesthetic outcomes are controlled through the use of regulations like height, site coverage, yard controls and the like.

Sadly, yesterday the Council effectively banned the provision of affordable housing in the widespread Mixed Housing Suburban zone by requiring a density controls to be applied for all developments in that zone. Supposedly they did it to protect the character of the suburbs, but as explained above, density rules don’t affect the bulk, scale and location of development.

Unitary Plan into the final stages

Over the last few months we have tried to hold off discussing the unitary plan too much while the council worked through the feedback. Today the council will start the process of going through the changes to the plan so that it can finalised and ultimately notified so we will be having a look at some of the changes and how they might affect some of the outcomes of the overall plan.

We are going to start today with the residential zones. We had already seen a couple of fairly positive developments that have occurred over the intervening time period since the consultation period finished. In particular that the issues around building height had largely resolved by using a more fine grained approach. Another major concern was the extent of the mixed house zone. Some of this related to building height fears while a lot of it related to just straight out fear of change and a lack of understanding about what plans already existed. Once again a more fine grained approach has been adopted with the zone being split in two – like we and others had suggested in our feedback.  The split mixed housing zones are now known the Mixed Housing Suburban Zone and the Mixed Housing Urban Zone.

The key reason for proposing that the zone be split is that it appears that it was trying to do the job of two zones but doing each badly. In particular it squeezed out the options of a three storey terraced house – a building typology that has the potential to enable a lot of intensification without the negative issues that result from height discussions. The split zones address this by more specifically targeting parts of Auckland. There are two key differences between the two mixed housing zones which relate to building height and building density. The differences in these are shown below.

Original Mixed House Zone

  • Building height limit of 8m or can go to 10m with resource consent.
  • One dwelling per 300m² net site area where up to four dwellings are proposed
  • No density limits where there are more than five dwellings and certain conditions are met.

Mixed Housing Suburban Zone

  • Building height limit of 8m (two storeys)
  • Allows for one dwelling per 400m² net site area or
  • One dwelling per 300m² net site where certain conditions are met.
  • No density limits where there are more than five dwellings proposed and set conditions are met.

Mixed Housing Urban Zone

  • Allows for a high limit of 10m (three storeys)
  • Allows for one dwelling per 300m² net site area or
  • One dwelling per 250m² net site where certain conditions are met.
  • No density limits where there are more than five dwellings proposed and set conditions are met.

As you can see, the key differences in height and density are that the suburban zone retains the height limits but has larger sites (i.e. less dense) whereas the urban zone retains the site size but allows greater height (i.e. more dense). Sadly none of the changes seem to allow for the type of small scale subdivision talked about in this post from Patrick.

One of the key problems with this approach of splitting the zones though comes down to balancing where each of the zones are located. If you put too much of the suburban zone in place and not enough of the urban zone in then you reduce the overall capacity of an area meaning potentially growth has to go elsewhere or more greenfield land is required. Put too much of the urban zone in and you upset all of the silly groups like Auckland 2040 who will then fight the plan tooth and nail potentially delaying it for years.

As part of that balancing act the unlimited density controls when very specific conditions are met become even more important as a bit of a safety valve allowing for higher density when a development passes design controls that address key issues with intensification. But now even that that is under attack.

A controversial proposal to allow developers to build unlimited density housing in much of suburban Auckland is set to be rejected by Auckland councillors this week.

Councillor Ann Hartley is unhappy with the latest rules drawn up by council planners for the mixed housing zone, which caused the greatest alarm in public feedback on the draft Unitary Plan.

The latest rules allow for unlimited density in the zone, which has been split into two subzones – a three-storey height limit close to town centres and a two-storey height limit in the suburbs.

Ms Hartley was happy with the unlimited density rule in the so-called mixed housing urban zone, but said allowing unlimited density in the mixed housing suburban zone was unacceptable and undermined what councillors wanted.

She has drawn up 18 amendments to the rules for the mixed housing suburban zone for a three-day meeting of the Auckland Plan committee from tomorrow to wrap up the Unitary Plan for notification.

“I believe I have support to carry the amendments,” said Ms Hartley, a member of Mayor Len Brown’s inner circle.

As mentioned the whole purpose of the various design controls required to be completed to meet the criteria for unlimited density are there to ensure the various issues are fully addressed. Of course being an Orsman article about the unitary plan the 2040 group get plenty of space.

Richard Burton, spokesman for the Auckland 2040 movement set up to oppose haphazard development, supported the two subzones when they were proposed last month but said the devil would be in the detail.

Yesterday, Mr Burton said the planners were hijacking the process by trying to set the same unlimited density rules for both subzones.

He said the planners’ argument for providing enough capacity for growth was wrong because there was a lot of potential in more intensified zones around town centres.

As Richard says, the devil is in the detail. We know that the various local boards and councillors have been having numerous workshops to look at where each of the zones should sit but we will have to wait till new versions of the maps come out to see just how balanced they might be. However we can get a bit of an idea from this document. The maps show where some of the conflicts still exist between planners and local boards however the first one gives a good overview of much of the isthmus. It appears that the mixed housing urban zone has retained the beige colour from the original unitary plan maps while the suburban zone has a light yellow colour.

Unitary Plan Proposed New Zones

Compare that with what was originally proposed.

Unitary Plan Proposed Old Zones

You can see that within the isthmus there is almost no mixed housing urban zone with almost the entire previous mixed housing zone being converted to either the suburban zone or the single house zone. Some of the THAB zones appear to have been made slightly bigger but not but much and definitely not by enough to offset the reduction in zoning from using the suburban zone everywhere. Interestingly the only place you can really see any change in the other direction is in my local board, Henderson-Massey where you can see some quite substantial extensions to the THAB zone, especially on the Te Atatu Peninsula. Perhaps they are the only board to remember that this is a 30 year plan and that zoning for higher density doesn’t mean it will suddenly appear overnight.

These maps make it even more important that intensification is allowed through the unlimited density provisions if the right conditions are met. Without those provisions it will be impossible for Auckland to cater for the projected number of people the plan is meant to be designed for meaning even more growth will have to happen in greenfield land. Seriously if Anne Hartley and any other councillor that vote to remove this clause they should really give themselves an uppercut. Hell they and the local boards (Henderson-Massey excluded) should probably do that anyway for the shameful mapping exercise above.

Further it seems I’m not the only one concerned about this sudden lurch to a fear of change based on this press release from the NZ Institute of Architects.

NZIA Cautions Against Dilution of Draft Unitary Plan

As Auckland councillors head into a three-day meeting on the draft Unitary Plan the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) urges them to carefully consider the effect of any decisions that will dilute rules allowing for a more intensely populated city.

“We believe most Aucklanders agree with the Council’s position that growth largely within the existing urban boundary and around existing centres is far more desirable and sustainable than the alternative, which is a costly sprawl across the isthmus and into the countryside,” says Richard Goldie, chair of the NZIA’s Auckland branch.

“The Council has been careful to limit building heights in the mixed housing zone, with the trade-off being the possibility of more intensive use of building sites within the zone,” Goldie says.

“We think this strikes the right balance between a popular preference for lower buildings and the acknowledged need for more housing.”

The Council has put huge effort into producing the draft Unitary Plan, Goldie says, and rather than compromise its intent Councillors might be better to turn their attention to the issue of the quality of buildings within the mixed housing zone’s two ‘sub-zones’ – the mixed housing urban zone and mixed housing suburban zone.

“Community concerns about density are often really concerns about building quality. Auckland has many examples of well-designed and well-built medium-density housing, but unfortunately there is also a legacy of too many poorly planned apartment complexes.”

“The challenge for the Council, and for the construction sector – developers, architects and contractors – is to convince Aucklanders that intensive development does not mean mediocre buildings.”

“Work on intensification should go hand-in-hand with work on improving the quality of building design and construction,” Goldie says. “We think this should be a focus of Councillors’ attention.”

“The pressing issue for Auckland and for its Council is not how much building will be allowed in the mixed housing zone, but what standards are expected.”

We will be watching with interest what happens to the proposed residential zones.