One of the papers that went to the Auckland Transport board yesterday was an update on what is happening in the North West with the large greenfield developments of Westgate, Hobsonville and Hobsonville Point that were initially planned by the former Waitakare City Council. The summary shows that ratepayers are having to invest over $100 million just on transport infrastructure to support these developments and that won’t include any on-going operational costs or the costs of other social infrastructure like schools or the library going in the new Westgate town centre. Of that 77% of the money is for new roads in and around the Westgate development.
The North West Transformation is a Council project aimed at facilitating growth in Auckland’s northwest. Council’s strategy for achieving the required growth was to establish a number of partnership agreements with various developers.
In the case of roads and public transport infrastructure, Council’s budget and delivery responsibilities have been assigned to Auckland Transport. Under this arrangement Auckland Transport is required to invest $110m between 2012 and 2022 to provide new roads, upgrade existing and expand public transport infrastructure to accommodate the planned growth. Auckland Transport invested $17m last year and has programmed $12m for this year.
All up the plans are meant to create 20,000 new jobs and 5,500 new dwellings across the three areas which are shown below.
I’m just going to look at the Westgate development which is where huge amounts of ratepayer money is going to build new roads and community facilities as part of a town centre. This one of the reasons why the council has earmarked the area as a metropolitan centre in the Auckland Plan. I think the old WCC actually did a decent job of trying to make a proper town centre by imposing requirements like that buildings must open out onto the street with any parking located behind the buildings in a bid to create a more traditional mainstreet. This is quite different to what exists in places like the existing Westgate town centre, Albany, Botany or other new car centric developments. The still it has the large big box stuff but at least it was required to be further away.
However I get the feeling that the wheels might already starting to be coming off. As you can see in the image below both Pak’n Save and Bunnings appear to be setting up shop outside of the planned development area and as they appear to be going in quicker, my fear is they will start to draw focus away and other development away from the town centre.
The list of key developers in the paper suggests why as there are a number of land owners all with competing interests.
- New Zealand Retail and Property Group (NZRPG) – owners and managers of the existing Westgate centre and one of the primary developers for the new town centre.
- DNZ – has recently acquired part of NZRPG’s interest in the development and will now be building the new shopping mall that is a key element of the new town centre.
- Midgley Family – own a significant part of the Precinct C land and will be selling/developing the land they own in that precinct. They have already sold part of their land interest to the National Trading Company (NTC) who will be building a Pak and Save supermarket on the site.
- Garelja Family – own a significant area of land that is zoned as Employment Special Area and intend to develop the land in conjunction with NZRPG.
Will ever see the centre as envisioned in this video?
And lastly in all of this there is very little mention about actually integrating PT infrastructure. There was originally planned to be a bus station in the middle of the town centre but AT finally realised it was a stupid idea to put it on a shared space town square but since then there has been no information about it.
Transport infrastructure generally helps to connect our communities with the rest of the city, making life easier. However in some cases, like with motorways and surface rail lines, it can also sever that connection by making it extremely difficult to get around without a car. Thankfully last week, for one community in the North West, that severance was reduced due to the opening of the Westgate pedestrian and cycle bridge which has taken roughly a year to build. Locals were clearly not keen on the previous option of a detour up to Hobsonville Rd, and many would simply run across the motorway. Sadly, in 2004 a schoolboy was struck and killed by a vehicle attempting this treacherous crossing.
The location of the new bridge is shown below:
I went to check it out yesterday – here’s what the finished product looks like from the Western (Westgate) side:
On the bridge itself (and it’s wider than it appears in this photo):
Due to the the height of the eastern side and the need for accessibility to people with bikes or wheel chairs, the bridge needed to be curved to decrease the gradient. In case anyone is worried, I didn’t find it much of a detour at all and in fact can see local kids (including the adult versions) finding it quite fun to race down on their bikes:
Looking at the bridge from the Eastern side:
All up it is a very nice bridge so congratulations to the NZTA and everyone else involved for making this happen.
Perhaps timed to the opening of the new Hobsonville ferry, the Auckland Council has released a video showing a fly-through of current plans for the North West:
There are some aspects of the new Westgate development that I really like. In the town centre it is great to see that there are no setbacks from the road, that car parking is primarily at the back of the buildings yet pedestrian access is from the front, and the shared space town square is pretty neat. This should hopefully give the area a much more traditional town centre feel. On the downside it seems like a shame that some decent dedicated cycling infrastructure wasn’t put in place, and perhaps the biggest disappointment is that the ‘Large Format Retail’ and ‘Employment’ precincts will have more in common with other recent, more auto-dependant developments.
I have been getting a few emails lately from people who catch the express buses from Westgate or Kumeu to town about an issue with the bus lanes, or lack of them as a result of the new bits of motorway that opened last year. There are two issues, the first is that the onramp itself was not built with a shoulder on it, despite the previous layout having one. This means that buses are getting held up in general traffic, waiting for around 5 minutes every day where as previously buses could use the shoulder to bypass much of the traffic. You can see the difference between the old and new layout in the image below.
The second issue is perhaps even worse as not only does it hold buses and bus users up, it rubs their nose in it. As part of the previously mentioned motorway works, an extra lane was added close to Westgate as well as a wide shoulder that can be used by buses however it doesn’t yet extend all the way to Royal Rd and won’t do so for perhaps another decade until that section of motorway is also upgraded. Even though there is quite a decent lenth of the shoulder already installed that buses could use, they aren’t allowed to. This means that often buses are getting delayed by 5-10 minutes as they sit in the general traffic lanes just like everyone else.
The shoulder clearly visible to the south of the interchange
And here is an image from a reader showing the traffic, you can just see the bus shoulder in the background
A typical morning at Westgate
So NZTA, while it looks like it would be expensive to change the layout of the onramp, at least let the buses use the shoulder or is it all part of an attempt to to make buses unattractive to help justify more motorway works?