Thursday, February 15, 2018

Team NZ Threaten America's Cup Success


Yesterday was a good day for Auckland's waterfront.

The perspective image above was available from MBIE's website. Part of a joint release from Minister David Parker and Auckland's Mayor Goff after they had reached an agreement in the course of this very Auckland tussle over the next development of Auckland's waterfront.

The key changes from the option which Auckland Council and Panuku and Team New Zealand have wanted (which mainly required a large extension of Halsey and Hobson Wharves and the relocation of the fishing industry and the Sealink ferry), include that a smaller extension of Halsey is required housing two syndicate bases (instead of 4), and that Stolthaven have agreed to exit a section of Wynyard Point so that four syndicate bases can be located there (includes one on the soujthern end of Wynyard Wharf). So that's real progress for those stakeholders advocating for protection of views and for this event to be an opportunity to release and develop some of the public space potential on Wynyard Point.

It still leaves the fishing fleet and Sealink Ferry - and the working waterfront character of Wynyard Quarter - in limbo and in jeopardy. Though none of the plans available from MBIE nor the media release from Minister Parker speak about those economic and environmental matters. The Minister's release begins like this:


I include here a section of MBIE's advice on the merits of the economic benefit assessment prepared for the event by Market Economics:
The economic evaluation does not capture any of the broader benefits associated with hosting an event of this scale, including showcasing New Zealand to international audiences (and associated reputation impacts), high performance sport outcomes, and participation and engagement of New Zealanders that may have “feel good” effects (increasing national identity and pride). 
The study does not account for environmental impacts and is confined to the economic benefit only. It makes no assumptions around location or whether there are any incursions into the harbour or not. It does not, therefore, take account of any loss of value from reducing the available harbour space. Any investment decisions will take into account a broader range of considerations than just the economic, including environmental, social and cultural values. 
The study is consistent with Treasury guidelines for studies of this kind. This is one input into the discussions between government, Auckland Council and ETNZ. Any decision needs to stack up for ETNZ, and the New Zealand ratepayers and taxpayers.
MBIE and the Minister appreciate the big picture here - that it is not just about economic outcomes.

The NZ Herald and Stuff carry stories about the "deep upset" of Team New Zealand about the joint move of Minister Parker and Mayor Goff. Meanwhile the clock ticks on the resource consent application lodged by Panuku (with Auckland Council's agreement), which is in two parts: one for the big wharf extension favoured by Team New Zealand, and the other for the relocation of the fishing industry and the Sealink Ferry - both of which assume a plan change allowing the relocation to occur on land that is presently designated public open space and which forms part of the proposed Headland Park.

Many people - including me, including everyone I know who is advocating for the waterfront - love the America's Cup event and all the excitement and innovation and drama that goes with it. What is required here is broad planning perspective on the future of Auckland's waterfront assets and space. How to accommodate everything. What is at risk here is an unbalanced approach.

Team New Zealand (TNZ) has been robust and rigorous in getting what it wants. But as I understand it there's a lot of concern behind the scenes with Team NZ's decisions. For example, I understand that because TNZ has adopted a highly complex and technically difficult yacht design for the regatta - which is proving very expensive to enter now - only three syndicates have put their hats in the ring. This is causing ripples throughout the yachting industry because it means fewer boats to build, and fewer syndicate customers buying the services available from our marine industry. It will also limit the drama of the regatta itself and of the challenge regatta.

This factor will be very evident to TNZ which will be under the pump to get other costs of entry minimised - such as syndicate bases. The more public money that is pumped into syndicate base construction and the provision of sponsor super-yacht berthage, the less it will cost syndicates to participate. Thus, the public subsidy that TNZ has been banking on, is becoming more and more important to TNZ, as potential syndicates start to crunch the numbers, figure out how much it will cost them to mount a credible challenge, and wobble on the starting line.

Auckland and NZ need to support TNZ, but not at any cost.

If, due to circumstances completely outside Government and Council control, there are only 3 or 4 syndicates involved in the AC36 event, then these can all be hosted on the Wynyard Point land that is now available because of the deal with Stolthaven. Advocates for this regatta all want an integrated village. The 4 bases on Wynyard Point will deliver that outcome - without taking over the entire Auckland waterfront. (There is no justification for giving Team New Zealand its own piece of wharf and waterfront in perpetuity - like Auckland did for Ports of Auckland Ltd back in the day).

The fishing fleet would not need to be relocated. The original vision of a working waterfront celebrating Auckland's maritime heritage would remain. And a great AC36 event would be accommodated and hosted on land set aside in perpetuity for the hosting of future such events.

That would be a win win win win outcome.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Some Waterfront Ovations

Walking along Queens Wharf on Thursday...

Ovation of the Seas taxis loading up as Kea heads to Deveonport

Taxis unload at Viaduct. Busy scene with fishing boats. Views beyond. (All threatened by Panuku America's Cup plans.)

Away from it all at the end of Tankfarm, Western Reclamation

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Panuku Steals Waterfront Park Land

Auckland's public waterfront heritage and legacy is being sliced and diced for development by the very organisations set up to protect it. Councillors appear to have been misled by selective information, and by a sequence of decisions that have hidden the big picture....

Major shifts are proposed and planned by Panuku at Auckland's waterfront to accommodate America's Cup syndicate bases in expensive buildings at a highly prized location as near as possible to downtown Auckland, and as close as possible to Auckland's very fine bars and restaurants. While this might be great for the syndicates it comes at enormous public cost.

Much has already been made public of the loss from the Wynyard Quarter of harbour views and  fishing industry that will result from locating syndicate sheds on extended Halsey and Hobson Wharf structures. But the public is much less aware of the consequences of locating the fishing industry and Great Barrier ferry service to the western side of tankfarm land facing Westhaven Marina.

This image is a representation of a possible outcome for the headland park based on plans prepared prior to the amalgamation of local government in Auckland in 2010. The planning maps currently provide for this outcome once the storage tanks have been removed. The green axis up Daldy Street is clearly visible, leading to the proposed park space, which was intended to be North and West facing, with residential buildings on the eastern side onto Brigham Street.
 
This image provides a comparison. It is an image dated 2010 - before much of the regeneration that was happening then in the Wynyard Quarter part of this waterfront regeneration project.
This image is copied from Teara Encyclopedia where it is captioned: "this is the 2007 plan for the redevelopment of the Tank Farm. It will be linked to the Viaduct Basin and Victoria Park by pedestrian promenades...."

You can see that the artist's image above is based on the allocation of land that is captured in this image which was prepared by Sea + City, set up by Auckland Regional Council to lead the planning and development of the regenerated Western Reclamation. Those plans are all now incorporated into Auckland City's Unitary Plan maps and documents. Until now, no attempt has been made to change the direction or outcomes envisaged in that work to plan this part of Auckland's waterfront.

Winning the America's Cup has changed all that - it appears.

While the reports this year (after winning the America's Cup in June 2017) to Auckland Council are less than clear on Panuku's motivation to suddenly change the plans for Headland Park, their purpose is clearly to provide space to relocate the fishing industry and the ferry - thus making room for America's Cup syndicate bases on Halsey Wharf. (I note here that the Auckland CBD Advisory Group did not support Panuku's proposed changes to Tank farm planning, and asked instead for an explanation of their rationale...).

In September 2017, Auckland Council's planning committee was persuaded to adopt a plan to change Headland Park alignment. The map councillors were shown is this:

Here's how the image is captioned on Council's website: "The Planning Committee voted on 5 September 2017 to progress to the next stage of the development to enhance Auckland’s city centre and waterfront. A package of proposed projects that will also help cater for the increasing number of people arriving into Auckland includes plans for a new ferry terminal and new public space along the water’s edge. The plan builds on several years of successful planning along Auckland’s waterfront and integrates a public transport programme that will accommodate Auckland’s significant growth..."
The critical part of this "refresh" map is what happened to Headland Park. As far as I am aware, reading the documents that accompany the decision, no mention is made in that report of the need to accommodate the fishing fleet and ferry on Headland Park. It talks about the need to align the green space with Daldy Linear Park - even though - as the images above clearly show - the old designs achieve that objective.

This map, though, shows the real purpose. That is the location of the fishing fleet and ferry terminal just south of the headland portion of park, facing west, with new wharf structures...


Maps and diagrams that accompany the Panuku resource consent application for the relocation of the fishing feel and Sealink ferry, contain further detail...

Diagram accompanying Panuku resource consent application. One of the proposed building development sites occupying what is shown as Headland Park Open Space on the planning maps, is proposed instead as fishing and Sealink ferry base. Two wharves are proposed. Dredging is necessary etc etc
Councillors were advised in September, when they voted in support of "Headland Park Re-alignment", (which I don't believe was explained as being needed as part of the big Panuku plan to locate the America's Cup syndicates where the fishing fleet had been...), that a "future plan change would be needed".

You bet your bottom dollar it will be needed. What Panuku is proposing, at a stroke, is to take public land for a fishing and ferry base. What it is proposing is to put the left over, re-aligned public space, into the shade of residential tower blocks.

I don't think so.

Wynyard Quarter - RIP ?


Do Auckland Councillors really want to destroy Wynyard Quarter to make way for America's Cup syndicates and their super yacht followers when a sensible alternative exists?

Many of us sweated political blood so that Auckland could have a slice of waterfront it could be proud of and enjoy.

Along the way I have taken photos to record what was there and to fight for its retention and incorporation into our regenerated waterfront. So we would retain our maritime heritage and working waterfront feel.

This sequence of images tells some of that story...

North Wharf and Net Shed in 29 June 2006. This was around the time Auckland Regional Council and Auckland Regional Holdings took what was known as the Western Reclamation from Ports of Auckland and into public ownership. I didn't know much about this area of Auckland then. But mates told me how they loved this area, the Sanfords fish market and a few eating places. They also expressed their concern over how much damage might the ARC do to a precious place like this. 

29 June 2006: A few hundred metres along North Wharf you come to Wynyard Wharf - fenced off at this time for security reasons. A fishing boat and the Sealink ferry servicing Great Barrier Island. 

29 June 2006: Slices of fishing life on Halsey Wharf 
24 May 2008: One of the Sanfords buildings with its fish market and one or two eateries. 
2 May 2008: And here's the northern end of the Western Reclamation. The tankfarm edge that faces north. I'd never been there before. A few others had discovered it though....

2 May 2008: Auckland's Asian tourist visitors love it. Bus load after bus load came while I was there. Great views of the Waitemata Harbour. 

2 May 2008: Far more visitors down here than locals.

2 May 2008:  Here's the photo they came for.

10 June 2008: I came down a few days later, as the sun set, managed to sneak down the western edge of Western Reclamation (if you check out the fisherman above, you can see the way...), I walked about as far as Panuku is proposing to relocate the current fishing industry and Sealink Ferry, and these were the kinds of views you get....

2 May 2008: Back to the chronology of regeneration. The Net Shed begins to get a cleanup. The nets get moved. Sea + City - Auckland's regeneration agency at the time - is allocated a large budget for the project. Key staff explained to councillors that priority would be given to "every old piece of wood, every rusty rail, every bit of rust would be carefully retained"....

2 May 2008: It was an uncomfortable time for heritage advocates. No question about that! What would be left behind.... 

2 May 2008: For a short while the nets found a home on Wynyard Wharf.
2011: Wynyard Quarter opens. Old bollards retained, timbers, tyres...

2011: People come down to the dawn unveiling and official opening.

2011: The Viaduct Event Centre is a glowing backdrop. Offering viewpoints.

2011: At the opening Auckland's classic boat fleet shows off its sleek lines. Super yachts take a back seat. In the background you can see the fishing fleet. beyond that Devonport's Mount Victoria and beyond that Rangitoto. (How special is that view...?)

2011: Take the public walkway up the side of Viaduct Events Centre, look over the fishing fleet, Halsey Wharf... 

2011: Such a view from there (see below artist impressions if proposed America's Cup sheds built here). Love the light.

21 August 2011: The Net Shed in all its glory. Not many nets anymore. And it's undergone a few transformations.
21 August 2011: ...but just across North Wharf from the net shed there is the fishing industry. Event Centre backdrop. Fishing boats. POAL HQ building in background. Ferry terminal beyond. Pretty special.
Now - Future - Really?:  These images are part of Panuku's draft resource consent application to build America's Cup bases on an extended Halsey Wharf and to remove the fishing fleet and Sealink ferry from the area. The top set are from the corner of the Viaduct Event Centre viewing area looking north-east. The middle set are from the middle of North Wharf looking north. The bottom set might be from the lifting bridge or Te Whero.
The sequence of images above does not portray the lost opportunities that are inherent in Panuku's proposals for the fishing fleet and ferry relocation. Those proposals put at risk the kind of public spaces and experiences that can be had when the Wynyard Quarter Headland Park is established in accordance with the original vision. See this blog posting for more on that.

Do we want to see Wynyard Quarter destroyed in the interests of hosting and accommodating America's Cup syndicate bases? I don't think so. Thank you Brian Rudman for your piece in NZ Herald today.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Fishing Industry Takes Priority Over America's Cup Event

I am deeply concerned that Panuku and Auckland Council appear to be on a mission to reverse a long standing urban design and public policy that the Auckland fishing industry be a central part of Auckland's Wynyard Quarter and waterfront.

This issue - in my opinion - is very high among the issues that are central to the current debate over how Auckland might host the America's Cup event in 2021.

No doubt there will be a war of words in the next few months over what the urban design priorities should be for Wynyard Quarter, and what previous planning documents mean. Panuku and others will be prepared to argue that black is white, and will wheel in urban design experts prepared to argue the case in support of building a bunch of syndicate sheds on Hobson and Halsey wharves and relocating the fishing industry to free up space for America's Cup related infrastructure.

I was an ARC Councillor during the critical period 2004 to 2010 when the Western Reclamation came into public ownership (through Auckland Regional Holdings and Sea + City all owned and governed by ARC), when the Urban Design Framework Wynyard Quarter was adopted in 2007, when the Wynyard Quarter Precinct Plan 1 dated July 2009 was adopted, when plan changes were incorporated into the Auckland Plan Coastal and the Auckland City Isthmus plan - huge public processes - all of which were designed to incorporate into statutory planning documents the objectives of the original Urban Design Framework 2007.

That framework has received national and international recognition. I won't set out all of the accolades it has received. However one of the citations from the NZ Institute of Architects reads:
The framework for the urban design of Wynyard Quarter reveals an appreciation of the exciting possibilities of this maritime precinct and a mature understanding of the realities of Auckland development. Benefitting from a design rather than a planning approach, the framework represents a qualitative advance in the thinking about the occupation and use of the Auckland waterfront. Based on clearly articulated design principles, intended to be sufficiently robust to both sustain and survive development, the framework is already being fleshed out with well-considered landscaping and architecture. This is an auspicious beginning for an important precinct.
What would be an equally auspicious end, or change in direction, would be an outcome led by Panuku and Auckland Council that resulted in the fishing industry being displaced away from Wynyard by the destructive changes proposed in order to host a yachting event.

A few years ago I became aware of various policy shifts underway that appeared to threaten the fishing industry's presence in Wynyard Quarter. At the time I did some work on this and you can see the resulting 2014 post here. Have a look. There is a lot of useful information there...

Panuku and Auckland Council have recently released a whole bunch of planning documents which are casually described as a "refresh" of the waterfront planning. These haven't had any public input. They appear to lubricate the way for a profound change to Auckland's waterfront, enabling a significant increase in superyacht berthage, the relocation of the fishing industry, the development of Te Whero, the construction of substantial buildings to house America's Cup syndicates... the list goes on.

What these new documents (which fall woefully short of standards associated with credible public planning) don't do is prioritise public open space and views out over the waterspace. They de-emphasise the gritty working waterfront feel and maritime heritage protection that was so central to the original Urban Design Framework.

Councillors who have signed up to them should be raising questions about them now. In particular they should be demanding detailed financial information about the revenue streams that are projected from all of the new and additional activities Panuku's proposals will generate, and the costs of those activities, and they should be demanding better information about the losses in intangibles (or uncosted) benefits the public will suffer.

Just because some of what is currently available to the public at Wynyard Quarter is priceless, doesn't mean it has no value. So often we don't know what we've got till it's gone.

America's Cup: Councillors misled by Council

The big picture of an America's Cup regatta is made up of images like these. They make up what we remember of Bermuda.

Pictures like these and memories of the fun had watching and sharing and discussing tactics and innovations are enriching for many. We want more.

But what price are we prepared to pay, and can we be manipulated into giving away other things by focussing us on the possibility we might be denied hosting rights. There's no denying the public pressure that has been applied by Emirates Team NZ (ETNZ) and its lobbyists. However councillors are used to that sort of thing and can usually be relied upon to make good decisions that properly balance the various stakeholder interests. Councillors are reliant upon officers and officials to provide good information in order to make good decisions. They should not be forced into decisions that are influenced by biased or selective information.

In my opinion, the hosting option favoured by Panuku and ETNZ, and which necessitates expansions to Halsey and Hobson wharves, was an inevitable result of the information presented and decision process councillors were subject to. More about that in future.

A fundamental assumption behind the option supported by Panuku is that event related syndicate structures and infrastructure be permanent or semi-permanent. Reports made available to councillors don't adequately examine what I could call the Bermuda option, where syndicates are provided access to coastal land - remediated or not, and rights to build temporary structures on the basis those structures are removed after the event.

That option would have opened up the opportunity of using Wynyard Point and Tankfarm land. Councillors should have been provided Panuku's financial planning and assumptions for its proposal. Councillors should have been advised of the associated revenue streams for its proposals to expand wharves, build more super yacht berthing facilities, construct substantial buildings along the waterfront which will be used for much of their lives by interests who are not America's Cup syndicates. They should also have been informed about costs of relocation of fishing industry, and the implications of that relocation for longer term plans on Wynyard point.

The information presented to Councillors was highly selective. Councillors are now put in the unenviable position of making sequential decisions. This is in danger of becoming an incremental process where councillors lose control. They are not given the big picture.

A good example of that is the nature of the resource consent that is actually being sought by Panuku for its preferred option.

I've read the report that councillors had before them on the 14th December, and considered the presentation provided by Panuku. Then I read the planning report that accompanies Panuku's resource consent application. Deep within that it states that the term of the consent required for the visiting syndicate bases is 10 years from late 2018. This is apparently to provide for these bases as temporary bases for the AC36 event in 2021 and to ensure that they are “able to remain for AC37 should ETNZ be victorious in their defence of the AC36 Cup challenge…”

Nowhere in the report is it explained that a 10 year consent would be sought, based on the dubious assumption that ETNZ will win two America's Cup events in a row. Councillors only voted in relation to the 2021 event. That's what is in their minuted decision. Councillors did not vote for TWO events. But this is what Panuku is applying for.

I think this is outrageous. It explains why the application is for long lasting and durable buildings. If consents are granted like this, Auckland’s Halsey and Wynyard wharves would be occupied for ten years by huge buildings that would – at best - be used for America’s Cup purposes for about a year. And at worst they'd only be used for six months for the 2021 event.

The application - which also provides for the relocation of the fishing industry and Sealink ferry - is an integrated one (big picture!), but councillors were selectively informed. They didn't get any detail. They didn't get any planning information about previous publicly debated decisions about how Wynyard Quarter should be developed as a people place and working waterfront, nor how those decisions would be jeopardised by the Panuku option.

Councillors are being drawn into a process over which they have little control. It's time they took control and began asking questions about what is happening behind the scenes.

Panuku's Consideration of Bermuda

This posting is about the hosting of the America's Cup event in Bermuda. It provides an insight into an approachto hosting  that can be adopted by a country that decides to have the best event possible, but with minimum impact on the local community and its amenities.

While I accept that Oracle chose Bermuda, and that a future syndicate might not choose Bermuda again, there is never any certainty as to which syndicate will win any America's Cup regatta, nor where a winning syndicate will choose to locate any future regatta.

If you read the report and minutes of Auckland Council's governing body December 14th meeting where Councillors decided to run with the Halsey and Hobson wharf extension option to host the 2021 America's Cup defence syndicate hosting, you will see that Council delegated decision-making for the necessary resource consenting to Phil Goff (the Mayor) and Stephen Town (CEO). Council CCO Panuku has been involved in the background providing information and advice for some time. Panuku has been given responsibility for preparing the necessary resource consent documents. It appears the application will be notified at the end of this month. The documents are available here. Further documents relating to consents needed to enable the relocation of Sealink and fishing industry are available here.


This picture shows a major part of the America's Cup village in Bermuda. It's on a reclamation that had been built as part of the US military base infrastructure that once dominated Bermuda. There's a very interesting history of that occupation and use including maps and pictures here.

You can see an Emirates Team NZ (ETNZ) boat at the right of the picture in the water adjacent to the ETNZ syndicate base.

An account is given of ETNZ's perspective and experience of this America's Cup base in Panuku's "Consideration of Alternatives" report here (this is an attachment to this summary) which is part of the suite of documents accompanying the resource consent application.

The ETNZ comment about Bermuda (compared with other America's Cup village experiences) is described in these terms:

Key themes that emerged from ETNZ feedback included: 
• This was the best venue for sailing but was a poor village as it was hard for people to access (a long way from main population areas) (Figure 5);
• For this reason the super yachts didn’t like being based at the AC village as there were limited local amenities;
• Teams were required to build their own bases, which was challenging due to all materials needing to be imported into Bermuda and local trade being expensive. They were provided a hard stand and services for the construction of their base; but had to remove it at the end of the regatta as part of the deal; and
• ETNZ’s base was on an Island which made it more challenging to build, but ended up being one of the best bases as it was right next to the spectator zone.

There are a number of points for Auckland - not just ETNZ - in these comments:

Super yacht accommodation is a significant consideration for syndicates who want to provide attractive berthage for their sponsors. While that might be important to syndicates, it is not a priority for the Auckland public. Super yacht berthage fees are one of Panuku's revenue streams. It is clearly in Panuku's interests to increase the capacity of Auckland wharfspace and allow more super yachts to berth close to Auckland's CBD. Again - while that might be in Panuku's interest, or in the interests of sporting events and their sponsors, waterfront space and access is a public amenity and asset. Any activity which reduces the quality and quantity of the public waterfront experience will inevitably be contested.

It is important to note that the Bermuda authorities provided access by syndicates to previously industrial land. I note that this ex-military land was previously occupied by storage facilities and tanks and weaponary and will likely be contaminated and unremediated. This did not prevent the location of temporary syndicate base structures, which had to be removed once the regatta was over. Auckland's waterfront is already the site of a temporary structure built to host an event - that is the plastic structure on Queens Wharf. New Zealand has a history of accommodating events of all kinds and designing, constructing and removing temporary structures of all shapes and sizes to host and accommodate events. Hirepool - for example - can build a marquee the size of Eden Park. It is one of many suppliers in New Zealand who design, engineer and construct temporary buildings with suitable walls, access and entry facilities to accommodate events. It seems to me that the Bermuda experience is a suitable model for Auckland located on Wynyard Quarter tank farm land.

Despite Auckland Councillors voting in 14th December explicitly in relation to the hosting of a single America's Cup regatta in 2021, which would have pointed directly at the option of temporary buildings and structures, those delegated authority have chosen to instead seek consent for structures appropriate for hosting TWO sequential America's Cup regattas. While that choice might have an economic rationale viewed from Panuku's and Auckland Council's corporate points of view - it clearly has enormous impact on the waterfront because instead of temporary single event based structures being constructed, it will lead to structures that are in existence for at least ten years (and possibly more given the option of applying for consent extensions.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MMC Housing: Auckland's Next Building Crisis?

We all remember Auckland's leaky building crisis. Newspapers are still carrying stories as cases wind their way through the courts. This site is a succinct and easy read on the topic.

Unfortunately, another housing crisis appears to be quietly developing in Auckland. The issue of housing affordability has increased interest, and investment, in the construction of what used to be known as prefabricated buildings, or buildings with prefabricated elements, or using modern methods such as panel walls to reduce construction costs. These are generically houses built using MMC (Modern Methods of Construction).

In the early hours of September 1st this year, an uncomplete apartment building at Hobsonville Point went up in flames and despite the presence of 14 fire fighting appliances, it was very quickly reduced to its framing. It is likely the presence of so many units was essential to ensure the fire did not spread to adjacent units. In fact the major prefabricated elements in this case were the party wall sections made from reinforced concrete. These did prevent the fire from burning adjacent buildings. Media reports at the time suggest that the cause of the fire may have been a timber drying fan left operating.

Interestingly, some of the media comments are from nearby residents who were surprised they hadn't even heard the fire engines arrive. They talk glowingly of the high standard of sound insulation in the houses at Hobsonville Point. What they don't talk about though is how safe and secure the medium density houses there - including apartments two, three or four high - are in the event of fire.

So why is this important?

Priory Hall is a controversial apartment project built less than 10 years ago in Dublin. Hundreds of occupants were evicted when it was found to be unsafe. Fire risk was huge. Now media reports suggest that HUNDREDS of apartment blocks built during the boom around the country could be as dangerous as Priory Hall. It appears many could be made safe with "remedial" work. One of the most common fire-safety issues in the structures is the failure to "compartmentalise" apartments, common areas and other rooms where fires might start. In many apartment blocks examined since the Priory Hall evictions, inspectors have found very similar problems around the failure to fire-proof the "risers" – the channels going up the buildings from the plant in underground car parks that handles heating, water and electricity and telecoms wiring.

The Priory Hall saga predates the awful events at Grenfell Tower in London. That enquiry is still proceeding, but anecdotal evidence indicates the presence of vertical channels up the sides of the building that very quickly funneled flames away from the starting point, and fueled it further because construction materials were flammable above a certain temperature.

But the issues with MMC housing in New Zealand don't end with them being a potential fire risk. They include: NZ's MMC building inspection regime, standards and compliance (noting that much of the fabric of an MMC building is glued behind panels which restrict inspection); the perception that MMC assembly does not require skilled workers; the ability of NZ's tiny MMC industry to consistently meet quality and supply needs; and whether MMC homes can be maintained and renovated cost-effectively in the long term - adopting a whole of life costing approach; and whether the resale value of an MMC home will hold up in the medium term.

There are all sorts of technical terms used now: Off-site Construction, Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), Modular, Unitised, Volumetric, Panelised, Kit of Parts, and Flat Pack. System-Built is another term used in the USA. Let’s set the scene by outlining what we might think of as the Construction Method Continuum. At one end of this continuum is entirely on-site construction. In New Zealand we think of this starting with foundations, then up goes the timber framing from sawn 4x2 timbers, roof timbers, tiling or corrugated iron, then exterior wall materials (could be brick or weatherboard), window frames go in etc.

Fast forward, and at the opposite extreme of the Construction Method Continuum lies wholly off-site prefabricated construction, delivered to site for connection to services. As an obvious example we might think of the ubiquitous office sheds so familiar on building sites, characterised by utilitarian design and basic creature comforts. Being robust, portable, reusable and economical, they have proven to be particularly well suited to these temporary applications.

In between these two examples, the continuum encompasses an array of almost limitless degrees of prefabrication, some of which are already commonplace in modern construction. Increasingly, practical, robust and scalable prefabrication options are being added:
  • Modular services units for an otherwise conventionally constructed office tower. These units are pre-installed with the requisite electrical, hydraulic and mechanical components and are transported to the site once the building core is complete and lifted by crane into the risers designed specifically to accommodate them. 
  • Built up and fully fitted bathroom or kitchen pods for delivery to apartment buildings and hospitals, where they are lifted onto each floor of the building, located in place, and connected to pre-designated services points. 
  • Flat-pack floor, wall and roof panels delivered to project sites for rapid assembly into completed buildings (typically by a team from the manufacturer). 
  • Complete modular homes lifted by crane into position and fully finished apartment modules which are trucked to site and lifted by crane and stacked into place on otherwise conventional base building elements (which may include lift core, stairs, car park and podium as required).
 The National House Building Association has been established in the UK in 2006. The NHBA Foundation "provides high quality research and practical guidance to support the house-building industry as it addresses the challenges of delivering 21st century new homes...." NHBC is the UK’s leading independent standard setter and provider of warranty and insurance for new homes. In a report surveying the building and housing industry about the use of MMC methods in the UK which was published in 2016, among the findings the NHBC states:
  • One of the key attractions driving the use of MMC is the perceived ability to build more quickly. While house builders reported that faster construction is being realised in practice, housing associations were less convinced; they did, however, believe that a weathertight envelope was achieved quicker with the use of MMC.
  • It was also felt widely that MMC would have a role to play in improving the quality of construction and overcoming current shortages in the availability of skilled labour. For those already using MMC these perceived advantages were being realised in practice.
  • There is some evidence of MMC leading to a reduction in costs and improved profitability, with 44% of house builders and 27% of housing associations pointing to benefits such as reduced preliminary costs, improved cash flow and faster sales revenues.
  • Most participants expect the role of MMC to grow or remain static over the next 3 years; only 3% expected it to decline. Over half expected the use of panelised systems, in particular, to increase during that period. Drivers to increased use include overcoming skills shortages, faster build, increasing output and improving build quality.

In the fine print, we read: "The main reason for considering use of MMC is to achieve a faster build programme...the top three other reasons for considering MMC include improving build quality, tackling the skills shortage, and improving health and safety." The "tackling skills shortages" reason is particularly interesting with its suggestion that work on site is regarded as unskilled by comparison with traditional building. Again the fineprint on reasons from the industry (building and housing associations) for concern about volumetric and pod systems is interesting:
  • Risk of unfamiliar systems and public perception (41%) 
  • Expensive (26%) 
  • Insufficient capacity in supply chain (12%) 
  • Market prefers traditional buildings and methods (12%) 

The report notes the relative success of MMC methods in Japan compared with the UK, particularly in addressing supply and quality issues, and suggests the reason Japan has a better record than the UK is because Japan has been doing it for longer, and because the market for the MMC buildings has been much greater. This observation raises the obvious question for New Zealand - are we too small to do this well? Before I reach the final challenge, it is sobering to read advice to home buyers in the USA, under the heading: "9 reasons to choose a new home over a resale". Here's a flavour:
  • "There is a lot of flexibility for [new home buyers] to kind of put their personal signature on the product," says Patrick Costello, president of Forty West Builders. "Those kind of things you can't do with a used house—it's just not possible."
  • "The most recent International Energy Conservation Code came out in 2009 [and] required roughly 17 percent more efficiency than the codes of three years prior," he says. "So using that as sort of a gauge to how newer homes should perform from an efficiency standpoint compared to older homes, it's pretty clear that just as homes meet code, they are going to be more efficient."
  • The more energy-efficient mechanics of the house also help reduce utility bills for new home buyers, Morrow says. Newly-constructed homes often include green systems and appliances—like high efficiency stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, water heaters, furnaces, or air conditioning units—that homes built years ago might not
  • "People will buy [previously-owned] houses and then the carpet needs to be replaced or it needs to be repainted, or it needs new appliances, or the flooring is shot," Gilligan says. "When they buy a new home in today's market, it really is new."
  • "You buy a used house you don't know what you are getting, you might have to do a lot of maintenance," Costello says. "We are trying to look down the road and make things as easy as possible for the homeowner so they can enjoy living there and not have to be saddled with maintenance."
  • “A new home is generally fully warrantied by the builder for a minimum of a year and most of all the other components are warrantied for extended periods,” says Jack McCabe. So if your roof starts leaking or the heater breaks during the warranty period, your builder will pick up the tab for the repairs. “When you buy a resale home, even if you have a home inspection done, it still does not turn up hidden defects that you don’t find out about a lot of times for two years,” McCabe says.
  • Newly constructed homes often include fire safety features that may not be present in properties built years ago, Gilligan says. "We use fire retardant in our carpeting and in our insulation," he says. In addition, all newly constructed homes are required to include hard-wired smoke detectors.
  • Buyers may be able to squeeze more concessions out of a home building company than an individual seller. That's because individual sellers often have an emotional attachment to their property that can blind them to its true value. "People usually think that their home is worth more money than it is," McCabe says. At the same time, builders often have greater financial wherewithal to absorb a loss on a sale than individuals.
  • "New home builders, in many cases the larger ones, have their own mortgage companies or they will offer paying points or closing costs and buy down certain rates for you," McCabe says. "The seller of a resale home is generally not going to do that for the buyer."

Got a wry grin after reading that lot?

Now for the final point. It was an architect who has worked on MMC projects across Auckland, who alerted me to the problems described in this post. He reckons it will dwarf leaky building, and will take a similar time to surface and become a national disgrace. He has noticed that very little in an MMC house can be taken apart. No screws or nails in construction. Just glue. Everything's glued together. Especially the panels. If a leak is discovered, or a wiring issue, or new cable or new pipe needs to be fitted, it's a major maintenance problem. If a window needs to be moved, or a door. Again. It's ma major. He sees that the kiwi approach to gradual maintenance and small renovations just won't be possible. The costs will be prohibitive. Nothing will be simple. And all that assumes that there are no problems or future fire risks hidden in the glued panels.

I'm unsure who is ultimately responsible for protecting the interests of MMC home buyers in New Zealand. But given Auckland Council and Central Government are advocating the construction of affordable homes "at pace" across Auckland, it is essential that appropriate regulation is in place to protect the health and safety of new home owners. It is almost as important that their investments in MMC housing are as secure and as safe and reliable over the long term as an investment in a conventional home. And if it is not as safe and secure, then there is a public duty to ensure that buyers of such homes are properly informed of any different risks.  Given the state's enthusiasm for affordable housing this should not be a case of buyer beware.

Don't let this issue be just another example of market failure in NZ's housing market.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Team NZ Threaten America's Cup Success


Yesterday was a good day for Auckland's waterfront.

The perspective image above was available from MBIE's website. Part of a joint release from Minister David Parker and Auckland's Mayor Goff after they had reached an agreement in the course of this very Auckland tussle over the next development of Auckland's waterfront.

The key changes from the option which Auckland Council and Panuku and Team New Zealand have wanted (which mainly required a large extension of Halsey and Hobson Wharves and the relocation of the fishing industry and the Sealink ferry), include that a smaller extension of Halsey is required housing two syndicate bases (instead of 4), and that Stolthaven have agreed to exit a section of Wynyard Point so that four syndicate bases can be located there (includes one on the soujthern end of Wynyard Wharf). So that's real progress for those stakeholders advocating for protection of views and for this event to be an opportunity to release and develop some of the public space potential on Wynyard Point.

It still leaves the fishing fleet and Sealink Ferry - and the working waterfront character of Wynyard Quarter - in limbo and in jeopardy. Though none of the plans available from MBIE nor the media release from Minister Parker speak about those economic and environmental matters. The Minister's release begins like this:


I include here a section of MBIE's advice on the merits of the economic benefit assessment prepared for the event by Market Economics:
The economic evaluation does not capture any of the broader benefits associated with hosting an event of this scale, including showcasing New Zealand to international audiences (and associated reputation impacts), high performance sport outcomes, and participation and engagement of New Zealanders that may have “feel good” effects (increasing national identity and pride). 
The study does not account for environmental impacts and is confined to the economic benefit only. It makes no assumptions around location or whether there are any incursions into the harbour or not. It does not, therefore, take account of any loss of value from reducing the available harbour space. Any investment decisions will take into account a broader range of considerations than just the economic, including environmental, social and cultural values. 
The study is consistent with Treasury guidelines for studies of this kind. This is one input into the discussions between government, Auckland Council and ETNZ. Any decision needs to stack up for ETNZ, and the New Zealand ratepayers and taxpayers.
MBIE and the Minister appreciate the big picture here - that it is not just about economic outcomes.

The NZ Herald and Stuff carry stories about the "deep upset" of Team New Zealand about the joint move of Minister Parker and Mayor Goff. Meanwhile the clock ticks on the resource consent application lodged by Panuku (with Auckland Council's agreement), which is in two parts: one for the big wharf extension favoured by Team New Zealand, and the other for the relocation of the fishing industry and the Sealink Ferry - both of which assume a plan change allowing the relocation to occur on land that is presently designated public open space and which forms part of the proposed Headland Park.

Many people - including me, including everyone I know who is advocating for the waterfront - love the America's Cup event and all the excitement and innovation and drama that goes with it. What is required here is broad planning perspective on the future of Auckland's waterfront assets and space. How to accommodate everything. What is at risk here is an unbalanced approach.

Team New Zealand (TNZ) has been robust and rigorous in getting what it wants. But as I understand it there's a lot of concern behind the scenes with Team NZ's decisions. For example, I understand that because TNZ has adopted a highly complex and technically difficult yacht design for the regatta - which is proving very expensive to enter now - only three syndicates have put their hats in the ring. This is causing ripples throughout the yachting industry because it means fewer boats to build, and fewer syndicate customers buying the services available from our marine industry. It will also limit the drama of the regatta itself and of the challenge regatta.

This factor will be very evident to TNZ which will be under the pump to get other costs of entry minimised - such as syndicate bases. The more public money that is pumped into syndicate base construction and the provision of sponsor super-yacht berthage, the less it will cost syndicates to participate. Thus, the public subsidy that TNZ has been banking on, is becoming more and more important to TNZ, as potential syndicates start to crunch the numbers, figure out how much it will cost them to mount a credible challenge, and wobble on the starting line.

Auckland and NZ need to support TNZ, but not at any cost.

If, due to circumstances completely outside Government and Council control, there are only 3 or 4 syndicates involved in the AC36 event, then these can all be hosted on the Wynyard Point land that is now available because of the deal with Stolthaven. Advocates for this regatta all want an integrated village. The 4 bases on Wynyard Point will deliver that outcome - without taking over the entire Auckland waterfront. (There is no justification for giving Team New Zealand its own piece of wharf and waterfront in perpetuity - like Auckland did for Ports of Auckland Ltd back in the day).

The fishing fleet would not need to be relocated. The original vision of a working waterfront celebrating Auckland's maritime heritage would remain. And a great AC36 event would be accommodated and hosted on land set aside in perpetuity for the hosting of future such events.

That would be a win win win win outcome.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Some Waterfront Ovations

Walking along Queens Wharf on Thursday...

Ovation of the Seas taxis loading up as Kea heads to Deveonport

Taxis unload at Viaduct. Busy scene with fishing boats. Views beyond. (All threatened by Panuku America's Cup plans.)

Away from it all at the end of Tankfarm, Western Reclamation

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Panuku Steals Waterfront Park Land

Auckland's public waterfront heritage and legacy is being sliced and diced for development by the very organisations set up to protect it. Councillors appear to have been misled by selective information, and by a sequence of decisions that have hidden the big picture....

Major shifts are proposed and planned by Panuku at Auckland's waterfront to accommodate America's Cup syndicate bases in expensive buildings at a highly prized location as near as possible to downtown Auckland, and as close as possible to Auckland's very fine bars and restaurants. While this might be great for the syndicates it comes at enormous public cost.

Much has already been made public of the loss from the Wynyard Quarter of harbour views and  fishing industry that will result from locating syndicate sheds on extended Halsey and Hobson Wharf structures. But the public is much less aware of the consequences of locating the fishing industry and Great Barrier ferry service to the western side of tankfarm land facing Westhaven Marina.

This image is a representation of a possible outcome for the headland park based on plans prepared prior to the amalgamation of local government in Auckland in 2010. The planning maps currently provide for this outcome once the storage tanks have been removed. The green axis up Daldy Street is clearly visible, leading to the proposed park space, which was intended to be North and West facing, with residential buildings on the eastern side onto Brigham Street.
 
This image provides a comparison. It is an image dated 2010 - before much of the regeneration that was happening then in the Wynyard Quarter part of this waterfront regeneration project.
This image is copied from Teara Encyclopedia where it is captioned: "this is the 2007 plan for the redevelopment of the Tank Farm. It will be linked to the Viaduct Basin and Victoria Park by pedestrian promenades...."

You can see that the artist's image above is based on the allocation of land that is captured in this image which was prepared by Sea + City, set up by Auckland Regional Council to lead the planning and development of the regenerated Western Reclamation. Those plans are all now incorporated into Auckland City's Unitary Plan maps and documents. Until now, no attempt has been made to change the direction or outcomes envisaged in that work to plan this part of Auckland's waterfront.

Winning the America's Cup has changed all that - it appears.

While the reports this year (after winning the America's Cup in June 2017) to Auckland Council are less than clear on Panuku's motivation to suddenly change the plans for Headland Park, their purpose is clearly to provide space to relocate the fishing industry and the ferry - thus making room for America's Cup syndicate bases on Halsey Wharf. (I note here that the Auckland CBD Advisory Group did not support Panuku's proposed changes to Tank farm planning, and asked instead for an explanation of their rationale...).

In September 2017, Auckland Council's planning committee was persuaded to adopt a plan to change Headland Park alignment. The map councillors were shown is this:

Here's how the image is captioned on Council's website: "The Planning Committee voted on 5 September 2017 to progress to the next stage of the development to enhance Auckland’s city centre and waterfront. A package of proposed projects that will also help cater for the increasing number of people arriving into Auckland includes plans for a new ferry terminal and new public space along the water’s edge. The plan builds on several years of successful planning along Auckland’s waterfront and integrates a public transport programme that will accommodate Auckland’s significant growth..."
The critical part of this "refresh" map is what happened to Headland Park. As far as I am aware, reading the documents that accompany the decision, no mention is made in that report of the need to accommodate the fishing fleet and ferry on Headland Park. It talks about the need to align the green space with Daldy Linear Park - even though - as the images above clearly show - the old designs achieve that objective.

This map, though, shows the real purpose. That is the location of the fishing fleet and ferry terminal just south of the headland portion of park, facing west, with new wharf structures...


Maps and diagrams that accompany the Panuku resource consent application for the relocation of the fishing feel and Sealink ferry, contain further detail...

Diagram accompanying Panuku resource consent application. One of the proposed building development sites occupying what is shown as Headland Park Open Space on the planning maps, is proposed instead as fishing and Sealink ferry base. Two wharves are proposed. Dredging is necessary etc etc
Councillors were advised in September, when they voted in support of "Headland Park Re-alignment", (which I don't believe was explained as being needed as part of the big Panuku plan to locate the America's Cup syndicates where the fishing fleet had been...), that a "future plan change would be needed".

You bet your bottom dollar it will be needed. What Panuku is proposing, at a stroke, is to take public land for a fishing and ferry base. What it is proposing is to put the left over, re-aligned public space, into the shade of residential tower blocks.

I don't think so.

Wynyard Quarter - RIP ?


Do Auckland Councillors really want to destroy Wynyard Quarter to make way for America's Cup syndicates and their super yacht followers when a sensible alternative exists?

Many of us sweated political blood so that Auckland could have a slice of waterfront it could be proud of and enjoy.

Along the way I have taken photos to record what was there and to fight for its retention and incorporation into our regenerated waterfront. So we would retain our maritime heritage and working waterfront feel.

This sequence of images tells some of that story...

North Wharf and Net Shed in 29 June 2006. This was around the time Auckland Regional Council and Auckland Regional Holdings took what was known as the Western Reclamation from Ports of Auckland and into public ownership. I didn't know much about this area of Auckland then. But mates told me how they loved this area, the Sanfords fish market and a few eating places. They also expressed their concern over how much damage might the ARC do to a precious place like this. 

29 June 2006: A few hundred metres along North Wharf you come to Wynyard Wharf - fenced off at this time for security reasons. A fishing boat and the Sealink ferry servicing Great Barrier Island. 

29 June 2006: Slices of fishing life on Halsey Wharf 
24 May 2008: One of the Sanfords buildings with its fish market and one or two eateries. 
2 May 2008: And here's the northern end of the Western Reclamation. The tankfarm edge that faces north. I'd never been there before. A few others had discovered it though....

2 May 2008: Auckland's Asian tourist visitors love it. Bus load after bus load came while I was there. Great views of the Waitemata Harbour. 

2 May 2008: Far more visitors down here than locals.

2 May 2008:  Here's the photo they came for.

10 June 2008: I came down a few days later, as the sun set, managed to sneak down the western edge of Western Reclamation (if you check out the fisherman above, you can see the way...), I walked about as far as Panuku is proposing to relocate the current fishing industry and Sealink Ferry, and these were the kinds of views you get....

2 May 2008: Back to the chronology of regeneration. The Net Shed begins to get a cleanup. The nets get moved. Sea + City - Auckland's regeneration agency at the time - is allocated a large budget for the project. Key staff explained to councillors that priority would be given to "every old piece of wood, every rusty rail, every bit of rust would be carefully retained"....

2 May 2008: It was an uncomfortable time for heritage advocates. No question about that! What would be left behind.... 

2 May 2008: For a short while the nets found a home on Wynyard Wharf.
2011: Wynyard Quarter opens. Old bollards retained, timbers, tyres...

2011: People come down to the dawn unveiling and official opening.

2011: The Viaduct Event Centre is a glowing backdrop. Offering viewpoints.

2011: At the opening Auckland's classic boat fleet shows off its sleek lines. Super yachts take a back seat. In the background you can see the fishing fleet. beyond that Devonport's Mount Victoria and beyond that Rangitoto. (How special is that view...?)

2011: Take the public walkway up the side of Viaduct Events Centre, look over the fishing fleet, Halsey Wharf... 

2011: Such a view from there (see below artist impressions if proposed America's Cup sheds built here). Love the light.

21 August 2011: The Net Shed in all its glory. Not many nets anymore. And it's undergone a few transformations.
21 August 2011: ...but just across North Wharf from the net shed there is the fishing industry. Event Centre backdrop. Fishing boats. POAL HQ building in background. Ferry terminal beyond. Pretty special.
Now - Future - Really?:  These images are part of Panuku's draft resource consent application to build America's Cup bases on an extended Halsey Wharf and to remove the fishing fleet and Sealink ferry from the area. The top set are from the corner of the Viaduct Event Centre viewing area looking north-east. The middle set are from the middle of North Wharf looking north. The bottom set might be from the lifting bridge or Te Whero.
The sequence of images above does not portray the lost opportunities that are inherent in Panuku's proposals for the fishing fleet and ferry relocation. Those proposals put at risk the kind of public spaces and experiences that can be had when the Wynyard Quarter Headland Park is established in accordance with the original vision. See this blog posting for more on that.

Do we want to see Wynyard Quarter destroyed in the interests of hosting and accommodating America's Cup syndicate bases? I don't think so. Thank you Brian Rudman for your piece in NZ Herald today.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Fishing Industry Takes Priority Over America's Cup Event

I am deeply concerned that Panuku and Auckland Council appear to be on a mission to reverse a long standing urban design and public policy that the Auckland fishing industry be a central part of Auckland's Wynyard Quarter and waterfront.

This issue - in my opinion - is very high among the issues that are central to the current debate over how Auckland might host the America's Cup event in 2021.

No doubt there will be a war of words in the next few months over what the urban design priorities should be for Wynyard Quarter, and what previous planning documents mean. Panuku and others will be prepared to argue that black is white, and will wheel in urban design experts prepared to argue the case in support of building a bunch of syndicate sheds on Hobson and Halsey wharves and relocating the fishing industry to free up space for America's Cup related infrastructure.

I was an ARC Councillor during the critical period 2004 to 2010 when the Western Reclamation came into public ownership (through Auckland Regional Holdings and Sea + City all owned and governed by ARC), when the Urban Design Framework Wynyard Quarter was adopted in 2007, when the Wynyard Quarter Precinct Plan 1 dated July 2009 was adopted, when plan changes were incorporated into the Auckland Plan Coastal and the Auckland City Isthmus plan - huge public processes - all of which were designed to incorporate into statutory planning documents the objectives of the original Urban Design Framework 2007.

That framework has received national and international recognition. I won't set out all of the accolades it has received. However one of the citations from the NZ Institute of Architects reads:
The framework for the urban design of Wynyard Quarter reveals an appreciation of the exciting possibilities of this maritime precinct and a mature understanding of the realities of Auckland development. Benefitting from a design rather than a planning approach, the framework represents a qualitative advance in the thinking about the occupation and use of the Auckland waterfront. Based on clearly articulated design principles, intended to be sufficiently robust to both sustain and survive development, the framework is already being fleshed out with well-considered landscaping and architecture. This is an auspicious beginning for an important precinct.
What would be an equally auspicious end, or change in direction, would be an outcome led by Panuku and Auckland Council that resulted in the fishing industry being displaced away from Wynyard by the destructive changes proposed in order to host a yachting event.

A few years ago I became aware of various policy shifts underway that appeared to threaten the fishing industry's presence in Wynyard Quarter. At the time I did some work on this and you can see the resulting 2014 post here. Have a look. There is a lot of useful information there...

Panuku and Auckland Council have recently released a whole bunch of planning documents which are casually described as a "refresh" of the waterfront planning. These haven't had any public input. They appear to lubricate the way for a profound change to Auckland's waterfront, enabling a significant increase in superyacht berthage, the relocation of the fishing industry, the development of Te Whero, the construction of substantial buildings to house America's Cup syndicates... the list goes on.

What these new documents (which fall woefully short of standards associated with credible public planning) don't do is prioritise public open space and views out over the waterspace. They de-emphasise the gritty working waterfront feel and maritime heritage protection that was so central to the original Urban Design Framework.

Councillors who have signed up to them should be raising questions about them now. In particular they should be demanding detailed financial information about the revenue streams that are projected from all of the new and additional activities Panuku's proposals will generate, and the costs of those activities, and they should be demanding better information about the losses in intangibles (or uncosted) benefits the public will suffer.

Just because some of what is currently available to the public at Wynyard Quarter is priceless, doesn't mean it has no value. So often we don't know what we've got till it's gone.

America's Cup: Councillors misled by Council

The big picture of an America's Cup regatta is made up of images like these. They make up what we remember of Bermuda.

Pictures like these and memories of the fun had watching and sharing and discussing tactics and innovations are enriching for many. We want more.

But what price are we prepared to pay, and can we be manipulated into giving away other things by focussing us on the possibility we might be denied hosting rights. There's no denying the public pressure that has been applied by Emirates Team NZ (ETNZ) and its lobbyists. However councillors are used to that sort of thing and can usually be relied upon to make good decisions that properly balance the various stakeholder interests. Councillors are reliant upon officers and officials to provide good information in order to make good decisions. They should not be forced into decisions that are influenced by biased or selective information.

In my opinion, the hosting option favoured by Panuku and ETNZ, and which necessitates expansions to Halsey and Hobson wharves, was an inevitable result of the information presented and decision process councillors were subject to. More about that in future.

A fundamental assumption behind the option supported by Panuku is that event related syndicate structures and infrastructure be permanent or semi-permanent. Reports made available to councillors don't adequately examine what I could call the Bermuda option, where syndicates are provided access to coastal land - remediated or not, and rights to build temporary structures on the basis those structures are removed after the event.

That option would have opened up the opportunity of using Wynyard Point and Tankfarm land. Councillors should have been provided Panuku's financial planning and assumptions for its proposal. Councillors should have been advised of the associated revenue streams for its proposals to expand wharves, build more super yacht berthing facilities, construct substantial buildings along the waterfront which will be used for much of their lives by interests who are not America's Cup syndicates. They should also have been informed about costs of relocation of fishing industry, and the implications of that relocation for longer term plans on Wynyard point.

The information presented to Councillors was highly selective. Councillors are now put in the unenviable position of making sequential decisions. This is in danger of becoming an incremental process where councillors lose control. They are not given the big picture.

A good example of that is the nature of the resource consent that is actually being sought by Panuku for its preferred option.

I've read the report that councillors had before them on the 14th December, and considered the presentation provided by Panuku. Then I read the planning report that accompanies Panuku's resource consent application. Deep within that it states that the term of the consent required for the visiting syndicate bases is 10 years from late 2018. This is apparently to provide for these bases as temporary bases for the AC36 event in 2021 and to ensure that they are “able to remain for AC37 should ETNZ be victorious in their defence of the AC36 Cup challenge…”

Nowhere in the report is it explained that a 10 year consent would be sought, based on the dubious assumption that ETNZ will win two America's Cup events in a row. Councillors only voted in relation to the 2021 event. That's what is in their minuted decision. Councillors did not vote for TWO events. But this is what Panuku is applying for.

I think this is outrageous. It explains why the application is for long lasting and durable buildings. If consents are granted like this, Auckland’s Halsey and Wynyard wharves would be occupied for ten years by huge buildings that would – at best - be used for America’s Cup purposes for about a year. And at worst they'd only be used for six months for the 2021 event.

The application - which also provides for the relocation of the fishing industry and Sealink ferry - is an integrated one (big picture!), but councillors were selectively informed. They didn't get any detail. They didn't get any planning information about previous publicly debated decisions about how Wynyard Quarter should be developed as a people place and working waterfront, nor how those decisions would be jeopardised by the Panuku option.

Councillors are being drawn into a process over which they have little control. It's time they took control and began asking questions about what is happening behind the scenes.

Panuku's Consideration of Bermuda

This posting is about the hosting of the America's Cup event in Bermuda. It provides an insight into an approachto hosting  that can be adopted by a country that decides to have the best event possible, but with minimum impact on the local community and its amenities.

While I accept that Oracle chose Bermuda, and that a future syndicate might not choose Bermuda again, there is never any certainty as to which syndicate will win any America's Cup regatta, nor where a winning syndicate will choose to locate any future regatta.

If you read the report and minutes of Auckland Council's governing body December 14th meeting where Councillors decided to run with the Halsey and Hobson wharf extension option to host the 2021 America's Cup defence syndicate hosting, you will see that Council delegated decision-making for the necessary resource consenting to Phil Goff (the Mayor) and Stephen Town (CEO). Council CCO Panuku has been involved in the background providing information and advice for some time. Panuku has been given responsibility for preparing the necessary resource consent documents. It appears the application will be notified at the end of this month. The documents are available here. Further documents relating to consents needed to enable the relocation of Sealink and fishing industry are available here.


This picture shows a major part of the America's Cup village in Bermuda. It's on a reclamation that had been built as part of the US military base infrastructure that once dominated Bermuda. There's a very interesting history of that occupation and use including maps and pictures here.

You can see an Emirates Team NZ (ETNZ) boat at the right of the picture in the water adjacent to the ETNZ syndicate base.

An account is given of ETNZ's perspective and experience of this America's Cup base in Panuku's "Consideration of Alternatives" report here (this is an attachment to this summary) which is part of the suite of documents accompanying the resource consent application.

The ETNZ comment about Bermuda (compared with other America's Cup village experiences) is described in these terms:

Key themes that emerged from ETNZ feedback included: 
• This was the best venue for sailing but was a poor village as it was hard for people to access (a long way from main population areas) (Figure 5);
• For this reason the super yachts didn’t like being based at the AC village as there were limited local amenities;
• Teams were required to build their own bases, which was challenging due to all materials needing to be imported into Bermuda and local trade being expensive. They were provided a hard stand and services for the construction of their base; but had to remove it at the end of the regatta as part of the deal; and
• ETNZ’s base was on an Island which made it more challenging to build, but ended up being one of the best bases as it was right next to the spectator zone.

There are a number of points for Auckland - not just ETNZ - in these comments:

Super yacht accommodation is a significant consideration for syndicates who want to provide attractive berthage for their sponsors. While that might be important to syndicates, it is not a priority for the Auckland public. Super yacht berthage fees are one of Panuku's revenue streams. It is clearly in Panuku's interests to increase the capacity of Auckland wharfspace and allow more super yachts to berth close to Auckland's CBD. Again - while that might be in Panuku's interest, or in the interests of sporting events and their sponsors, waterfront space and access is a public amenity and asset. Any activity which reduces the quality and quantity of the public waterfront experience will inevitably be contested.

It is important to note that the Bermuda authorities provided access by syndicates to previously industrial land. I note that this ex-military land was previously occupied by storage facilities and tanks and weaponary and will likely be contaminated and unremediated. This did not prevent the location of temporary syndicate base structures, which had to be removed once the regatta was over. Auckland's waterfront is already the site of a temporary structure built to host an event - that is the plastic structure on Queens Wharf. New Zealand has a history of accommodating events of all kinds and designing, constructing and removing temporary structures of all shapes and sizes to host and accommodate events. Hirepool - for example - can build a marquee the size of Eden Park. It is one of many suppliers in New Zealand who design, engineer and construct temporary buildings with suitable walls, access and entry facilities to accommodate events. It seems to me that the Bermuda experience is a suitable model for Auckland located on Wynyard Quarter tank farm land.

Despite Auckland Councillors voting in 14th December explicitly in relation to the hosting of a single America's Cup regatta in 2021, which would have pointed directly at the option of temporary buildings and structures, those delegated authority have chosen to instead seek consent for structures appropriate for hosting TWO sequential America's Cup regattas. While that choice might have an economic rationale viewed from Panuku's and Auckland Council's corporate points of view - it clearly has enormous impact on the waterfront because instead of temporary single event based structures being constructed, it will lead to structures that are in existence for at least ten years (and possibly more given the option of applying for consent extensions.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MMC Housing: Auckland's Next Building Crisis?

We all remember Auckland's leaky building crisis. Newspapers are still carrying stories as cases wind their way through the courts. This site is a succinct and easy read on the topic.

Unfortunately, another housing crisis appears to be quietly developing in Auckland. The issue of housing affordability has increased interest, and investment, in the construction of what used to be known as prefabricated buildings, or buildings with prefabricated elements, or using modern methods such as panel walls to reduce construction costs. These are generically houses built using MMC (Modern Methods of Construction).

In the early hours of September 1st this year, an uncomplete apartment building at Hobsonville Point went up in flames and despite the presence of 14 fire fighting appliances, it was very quickly reduced to its framing. It is likely the presence of so many units was essential to ensure the fire did not spread to adjacent units. In fact the major prefabricated elements in this case were the party wall sections made from reinforced concrete. These did prevent the fire from burning adjacent buildings. Media reports at the time suggest that the cause of the fire may have been a timber drying fan left operating.

Interestingly, some of the media comments are from nearby residents who were surprised they hadn't even heard the fire engines arrive. They talk glowingly of the high standard of sound insulation in the houses at Hobsonville Point. What they don't talk about though is how safe and secure the medium density houses there - including apartments two, three or four high - are in the event of fire.

So why is this important?

Priory Hall is a controversial apartment project built less than 10 years ago in Dublin. Hundreds of occupants were evicted when it was found to be unsafe. Fire risk was huge. Now media reports suggest that HUNDREDS of apartment blocks built during the boom around the country could be as dangerous as Priory Hall. It appears many could be made safe with "remedial" work. One of the most common fire-safety issues in the structures is the failure to "compartmentalise" apartments, common areas and other rooms where fires might start. In many apartment blocks examined since the Priory Hall evictions, inspectors have found very similar problems around the failure to fire-proof the "risers" – the channels going up the buildings from the plant in underground car parks that handles heating, water and electricity and telecoms wiring.

The Priory Hall saga predates the awful events at Grenfell Tower in London. That enquiry is still proceeding, but anecdotal evidence indicates the presence of vertical channels up the sides of the building that very quickly funneled flames away from the starting point, and fueled it further because construction materials were flammable above a certain temperature.

But the issues with MMC housing in New Zealand don't end with them being a potential fire risk. They include: NZ's MMC building inspection regime, standards and compliance (noting that much of the fabric of an MMC building is glued behind panels which restrict inspection); the perception that MMC assembly does not require skilled workers; the ability of NZ's tiny MMC industry to consistently meet quality and supply needs; and whether MMC homes can be maintained and renovated cost-effectively in the long term - adopting a whole of life costing approach; and whether the resale value of an MMC home will hold up in the medium term.

There are all sorts of technical terms used now: Off-site Construction, Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), Modular, Unitised, Volumetric, Panelised, Kit of Parts, and Flat Pack. System-Built is another term used in the USA. Let’s set the scene by outlining what we might think of as the Construction Method Continuum. At one end of this continuum is entirely on-site construction. In New Zealand we think of this starting with foundations, then up goes the timber framing from sawn 4x2 timbers, roof timbers, tiling or corrugated iron, then exterior wall materials (could be brick or weatherboard), window frames go in etc.

Fast forward, and at the opposite extreme of the Construction Method Continuum lies wholly off-site prefabricated construction, delivered to site for connection to services. As an obvious example we might think of the ubiquitous office sheds so familiar on building sites, characterised by utilitarian design and basic creature comforts. Being robust, portable, reusable and economical, they have proven to be particularly well suited to these temporary applications.

In between these two examples, the continuum encompasses an array of almost limitless degrees of prefabrication, some of which are already commonplace in modern construction. Increasingly, practical, robust and scalable prefabrication options are being added:
  • Modular services units for an otherwise conventionally constructed office tower. These units are pre-installed with the requisite electrical, hydraulic and mechanical components and are transported to the site once the building core is complete and lifted by crane into the risers designed specifically to accommodate them. 
  • Built up and fully fitted bathroom or kitchen pods for delivery to apartment buildings and hospitals, where they are lifted onto each floor of the building, located in place, and connected to pre-designated services points. 
  • Flat-pack floor, wall and roof panels delivered to project sites for rapid assembly into completed buildings (typically by a team from the manufacturer). 
  • Complete modular homes lifted by crane into position and fully finished apartment modules which are trucked to site and lifted by crane and stacked into place on otherwise conventional base building elements (which may include lift core, stairs, car park and podium as required).
 The National House Building Association has been established in the UK in 2006. The NHBA Foundation "provides high quality research and practical guidance to support the house-building industry as it addresses the challenges of delivering 21st century new homes...." NHBC is the UK’s leading independent standard setter and provider of warranty and insurance for new homes. In a report surveying the building and housing industry about the use of MMC methods in the UK which was published in 2016, among the findings the NHBC states:
  • One of the key attractions driving the use of MMC is the perceived ability to build more quickly. While house builders reported that faster construction is being realised in practice, housing associations were less convinced; they did, however, believe that a weathertight envelope was achieved quicker with the use of MMC.
  • It was also felt widely that MMC would have a role to play in improving the quality of construction and overcoming current shortages in the availability of skilled labour. For those already using MMC these perceived advantages were being realised in practice.
  • There is some evidence of MMC leading to a reduction in costs and improved profitability, with 44% of house builders and 27% of housing associations pointing to benefits such as reduced preliminary costs, improved cash flow and faster sales revenues.
  • Most participants expect the role of MMC to grow or remain static over the next 3 years; only 3% expected it to decline. Over half expected the use of panelised systems, in particular, to increase during that period. Drivers to increased use include overcoming skills shortages, faster build, increasing output and improving build quality.

In the fine print, we read: "The main reason for considering use of MMC is to achieve a faster build programme...the top three other reasons for considering MMC include improving build quality, tackling the skills shortage, and improving health and safety." The "tackling skills shortages" reason is particularly interesting with its suggestion that work on site is regarded as unskilled by comparison with traditional building. Again the fineprint on reasons from the industry (building and housing associations) for concern about volumetric and pod systems is interesting:
  • Risk of unfamiliar systems and public perception (41%) 
  • Expensive (26%) 
  • Insufficient capacity in supply chain (12%) 
  • Market prefers traditional buildings and methods (12%) 

The report notes the relative success of MMC methods in Japan compared with the UK, particularly in addressing supply and quality issues, and suggests the reason Japan has a better record than the UK is because Japan has been doing it for longer, and because the market for the MMC buildings has been much greater. This observation raises the obvious question for New Zealand - are we too small to do this well? Before I reach the final challenge, it is sobering to read advice to home buyers in the USA, under the heading: "9 reasons to choose a new home over a resale". Here's a flavour:
  • "There is a lot of flexibility for [new home buyers] to kind of put their personal signature on the product," says Patrick Costello, president of Forty West Builders. "Those kind of things you can't do with a used house—it's just not possible."
  • "The most recent International Energy Conservation Code came out in 2009 [and] required roughly 17 percent more efficiency than the codes of three years prior," he says. "So using that as sort of a gauge to how newer homes should perform from an efficiency standpoint compared to older homes, it's pretty clear that just as homes meet code, they are going to be more efficient."
  • The more energy-efficient mechanics of the house also help reduce utility bills for new home buyers, Morrow says. Newly-constructed homes often include green systems and appliances—like high efficiency stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, water heaters, furnaces, or air conditioning units—that homes built years ago might not
  • "People will buy [previously-owned] houses and then the carpet needs to be replaced or it needs to be repainted, or it needs new appliances, or the flooring is shot," Gilligan says. "When they buy a new home in today's market, it really is new."
  • "You buy a used house you don't know what you are getting, you might have to do a lot of maintenance," Costello says. "We are trying to look down the road and make things as easy as possible for the homeowner so they can enjoy living there and not have to be saddled with maintenance."
  • “A new home is generally fully warrantied by the builder for a minimum of a year and most of all the other components are warrantied for extended periods,” says Jack McCabe. So if your roof starts leaking or the heater breaks during the warranty period, your builder will pick up the tab for the repairs. “When you buy a resale home, even if you have a home inspection done, it still does not turn up hidden defects that you don’t find out about a lot of times for two years,” McCabe says.
  • Newly constructed homes often include fire safety features that may not be present in properties built years ago, Gilligan says. "We use fire retardant in our carpeting and in our insulation," he says. In addition, all newly constructed homes are required to include hard-wired smoke detectors.
  • Buyers may be able to squeeze more concessions out of a home building company than an individual seller. That's because individual sellers often have an emotional attachment to their property that can blind them to its true value. "People usually think that their home is worth more money than it is," McCabe says. At the same time, builders often have greater financial wherewithal to absorb a loss on a sale than individuals.
  • "New home builders, in many cases the larger ones, have their own mortgage companies or they will offer paying points or closing costs and buy down certain rates for you," McCabe says. "The seller of a resale home is generally not going to do that for the buyer."

Got a wry grin after reading that lot?

Now for the final point. It was an architect who has worked on MMC projects across Auckland, who alerted me to the problems described in this post. He reckons it will dwarf leaky building, and will take a similar time to surface and become a national disgrace. He has noticed that very little in an MMC house can be taken apart. No screws or nails in construction. Just glue. Everything's glued together. Especially the panels. If a leak is discovered, or a wiring issue, or new cable or new pipe needs to be fitted, it's a major maintenance problem. If a window needs to be moved, or a door. Again. It's ma major. He sees that the kiwi approach to gradual maintenance and small renovations just won't be possible. The costs will be prohibitive. Nothing will be simple. And all that assumes that there are no problems or future fire risks hidden in the glued panels.

I'm unsure who is ultimately responsible for protecting the interests of MMC home buyers in New Zealand. But given Auckland Council and Central Government are advocating the construction of affordable homes "at pace" across Auckland, it is essential that appropriate regulation is in place to protect the health and safety of new home owners. It is almost as important that their investments in MMC housing are as secure and as safe and reliable over the long term as an investment in a conventional home. And if it is not as safe and secure, then there is a public duty to ensure that buyers of such homes are properly informed of any different risks.  Given the state's enthusiasm for affordable housing this should not be a case of buyer beware.

Don't let this issue be just another example of market failure in NZ's housing market.