Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Remembering My Grandfather


This bloke is my youngest brother, and the bloke looking over his shoulder is Constable Charles G. Smyth. He was our grand-father. And yesterday (22nd July) the new Boardroom at the NZ Police Trade Union offices (known as The NZ Police Association) was dedicated to him. We learned there that our grand-dad is the patron saint of the NZ Police Association.
Here's the boardroom. Family members standing around, and the Maori policeman giving the dedication and speech. (My daughter Emily, third from left, was among the great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren who also attended.)
On the wall is this picture and interpretation. I'm pasting here the Te Ara Encyclopedia entry on him here:

 "Charles Gordon Smyth was born in Oamaru, New Zealand, on 17 April 1883, the son of Irish parents William Smyth, a baker, and his wife, Jane Macaffee. Charles excelled in school and at sports. He worked for some years in his father's baking firm, then in 1912 entered the New Zealand Police Force Training Depot in Wellington. He was appointed a constable on 11 July that year, and after initial stationing in Wellington was transferred to Dunedin on 8 January 1913.

In March 1913 Commissioner of Police John Cullen rejected police concerns over pay, discipline and conditions. City-based constables, particularly in Auckland, risked offending against police regulations banning 'combinations' and planned their own union. Government and police authorities, troubled by current industrial conflict in New Zealand, attempted to prevent what they saw as the virus of socialism gaining any influence in the police force.

Charlie Smyth, as he was known, arrived in Auckland on transfer on 31 March 1913. There he allegedly told a superior he had requested the transfer in order to help form a union. At the trades hall on 11 April several dozen policemen were helped by trade unionist Arthur Rosser to launch the New Zealand Police Association. Smyth was selected as the Auckland branch secretary. As such he was prominent in drawing up the rules and platform of the new organisation and in liaising with police in other parts of the country.

On 25 April Cullen assembled the Auckland police staff and assured them that they had nothing to fear from discussing their grievances. Smyth was the main spokesman for the police unionists and protested when an angry Cullen ended the meeting by inviting dissatisfied constables to resign. The minister in charge of police, A. L. Herdman, and the commissioner then moved to make an example of Smyth whom they regarded as an 'insolent' ringleader. Smyth's role in the association was said to have forfeited him the trust of the Auckland sergeants and officers. On 30 April he was ordered to transfer at once to isolated and rainy Greymouth where police were traditionally posted as a punishment. His comrades gave him a handsome presentation and rousing send-off.

In June 1913 Smyth was given four days' notice of dismissal, an obvious invitation to resign. He chose to 'expose' the 'police oligarchy' by forcing Cullen to sack him and then appealing the dismissal. He had allegedly been guilty of abandoning his post when guarding timber on the wharf and of making a false entry in the station book to disguise this. Similar misdemeanours were normally punished with fines or reprimands, and Smyth had both a clean record and evidence to support his contention that he had genuinely mistaken the time. Herdman blackened the constable's name in Parliament and denied his dismissal was connected with his union activity. The appeal was dismissed.

The newspaper New Zealand Truth stated that 'though the dogs of war were let loose on Smythe [ sic ], the last has not been heard of him'. Backed by members of Parliament, newspapers and unions Smyth campaigned to clear his name. However, by 1914 his efforts and the Police Association itself had effectively failed. The governing Reform Party was even claiming that Smyth had deliberately entered the Police Force to subvert it and 'secure its adhesion to the Federation of Labour'.

By then Smyth had returned to the baking industry in Oamaru. There, on 15 September 1914, he married Rose Mason, a weaver. In Morven, where he set up a bakery after the First World War, the couple were pillars of the local community. Smyth served on committees, played tennis and did charitable works. He died of cancer in Christchurch on 17 November 1927, aged 44. Rose Smyth, who was left with five daughters aged five to twelve, died the following year.

Charlie Smyth remained a well-known name in police union circles, and was honoured – accidentally, it appears – when his image appeared on a stamp officially issued for the New Zealand Police centenary in 1986. He was a man ahead of his time, regarded as the patron saint of the modern New Zealand Police Association which was founded in 1936."


This information is summarised in the boardroom dedication. It was interesting to learn that he had drawn up a model rule book for the new trade union, and that has become the basis of the rules today. Not only a gentleman - but maybe a scholar.
As we left, his image followed us to the lifts. An interesting family occasion. If you've got this far, you might be interested in this Truth Newspaper article which is a fantastic read. 

And getting a little closer to the man, this exchange below is of letters from him, and criticising him, and even one from his father (my great grandfather) defending his dismissed son.

A personal explanation from Charles published in the Otago Daily Times, which also (scroll down) contains The Hon Herdman's, Minister of Justice, critical comments. This is a letter in the Oamaru Mail from Charles defending himself against the Minister's comments. Here is an example of a sub leader in the ODT attacking him, and an anonymous letter.

Here is Auckland Star's extracts of what he sent to would-be and current Police Association members.

And finally, a letter his dad wrote (scroll down - it's almost at the bottom of the column), in Charles Smyth's defence, in the Otago Daily Times.

Agreed: Radical Shift Needed in Auckland Planning

Geoff Cooper, Auckland council's Chief Economist, wrote an interesting and insightful opinion piece about the Unitary Plan in NZ Herald dated 10th July. The key things in it for me stem from his summary of the three key issues that are addressed by the Unitary Plan:

"...Auckland Council's proposed urban limit policy, the policies underlying a compact city and the political economy of urban policy..."

I suggest you read Cooper's piece for his comments about urban limit and  compact city policies. This is what he says about political economy:

"...the political economy plays a defining role in Auckland's urban policy. Housing choice was cut back significantly following community consultation. Improving housing affordability and creating greater housing choice require radically new models of planning. Reduced regulations could be exchanged for greater local amenity, improved levels of service, financial compensation or some combination..."

This is the first time I've seen these ideas discussed by Council staff at this level. In public anyway. I agree with Cooper. But I think he - and council - need to develop this thinking and provide implementation policies and tools that can embody this "radically new model of planning" - which, by the way, is the norm for urban development planning policy in OECD countries that have not been totally taken over by free-market rules.

I penned an OpEd piece for the NZ Business Herald engaging with Cooper's ideas. It hasn't found favour by the editors. Here it is:

Radical Changes Needed in Unitary Plan Political Economy

Auckland Council’s Chief Economist, Geoff Cooper, calls for “radically new models of planning” to improve housing choice and affordability in Auckland, and argues that housing choice was “cut back significantly following community consultation” over the draft Unitary Plan. Significantly, Cooper states that “the political economy plays a defining role in Auckland’s urban policy”.

I agree with him. But does he mean what I think he means with these words?

In the western world political economy is typically concerned with interactions between capital and politics and policy making. Urban political economy focuses on the relationship between local government and capital, both local and global.

A practical understanding of what these interactions and relationships might be in Auckland is assisted by asking a couple of questions: Who governs, and whose interests are being advanced?

More concrete questions include: Do the interests of capital dominate council thinking and exert undue influence in agenda setting and policy making. Are elected councillors and senior officers pawns of capital, or is the relationship more nuanced? For example, do the public’s desires for particular patterns of residential development, work locations, and entertainment preferences set the agenda for capital in a democratic, “invisible-hand” manner?

Cooper – correctly in my view – summarises the three matters that need to be weighed in analyzing the effectiveness of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (Auckland’s urban development policy) that is now out for submissions: its urban limit policy; its compact city policy; and its political economy policy.

Taking these one at a time, I agree that the proposed plan “vastly extends the urban limit”, but the associated political economy settings make it the most attractive or most economically rational choice for developers. At least three market failures are promoted by Auckland Council’ existing policy settings that will incentivise sprawl:
  • The first arises from a failure to take into account the social value of open space when land is converted to urban use. 
  •  The second arises from a failure on the part of individual commuters to recognize the social costs of congestion created by their use of the road network, which leads to excessive commuting times for everybody. 
  •  The third market failure arises from the failure of real estate developers to take into account all of the public infrastructure costs generated by their projects.

Additional to the second market failure is the social cost associated with having to travel large distances (compared with compact mixed use development) for life's basic needs including education, shopping, employment and entertainment. Thus, development appears artificially cheap from the developer’s point of view, encouraging excessive urban growth.

Auckland Council’s current compact city policy settings need a radical overhaul. Simplification and removal of regulatory red-tape loomed large on Auckland Council’s list of political objectives that have been delivered in its four unitary plan residential zones. Many economic efficiencies can be claimed from a compact city approach including more efficient use of existing infrastructure, and closer proximity for residents to amenities and employment. It’s a good plan. It’s been successful in other Western world cities. And it can be successful in Auckland. But only if its political economy is recognised and respected.

The Auckland public easily spotted that Auckland Council's combined policy of Special Housing Areas and upzoned urban neighbourhoods was primarily designed to make redevelopment of existing residential properties attractive to developers. Objections have come from existing residents concerned over impacts of taller buildings on their houses, worries about the capacity of existing infrastructure (roads and schools for example), and fears that the value of their homes might drop because of the perceived impact of intensification. All of these fears are well grounded and would have been foreseen had Auckland Council bothered to investigate the political economy of its compact city policies from the public’s point of view.

Council’s compact city policies need to include active community and area planning and investment to compensate for public concerns. Council stands back having created opportunity for the development market who will benefit from the set of market failures that will inevitably ensue:
  • The first arises from a failure to take into account the loss in value of the existing sense of community and neighbourhood amenity when urban land is converted from detached residential to intensive use. 
  • The second arises from a failure on the part of the first-off-the-block developments to pay for (compensate for) the loss of amenity their intensive project is responsible for, while benefiting from the premium of being first. 
  • The third market failure arises from the failure of real estate developers to take into account all of the public infrastructure costs generated by their projects.

These market failures must inevitably lead to conflict between existing residents and would-be developers. At present Council appears reluctant to recognise this problem, or to do anything about it. Other OECD countries have plenty of examples. These always include explicit public development agency intervention in neighbourhood redevelopment, to get the planning right for the new pattern of land uses, and to build needed infrastructure. Such public actions are either funded by the new development and by a contribution from uplift in property values, or from levies that are charged on greenfield development.

Policy shifts in these directions will begin to correct for current failures in Auckland’s urban political economy.


Council Should Do What it Says

There has been a little spike in public debate about Auckland Council's long term plan. This has been triggered by media stories about Council reports and Councillors comments.

Some of this led to Len Brown's opinion piece entitled "Let's Design Our Future Together", where he writes:

"Under any scenario, we will need to make big investments to meet the needs of our growing city. And we will need to continue our search for alternative sources of revenue, more innovative ways of leveraging our balance sheet in partnership with the private sector, and smarter ways to save money...."

There have been various other commentaries including an outrageously biased opinion piece from John Roughan entitled: "Auckland Should Not Lose Services" where he writes, giving advice to councillors ("its limp majority"):

"They should be asking hard questions of the mayor, such as, how has the Government managed to bring its books back to balance without reducing services people value? The nuts and bolts of public budgeting do not attract much press coverage. I didn't hear how the present Government is controlling its finances until I talked to Bill English for the book on John Key."

And a piece from David Shand, one of the commissioning architects for the SuperCity, entitled: "Auckland's Far From Going Broke",  where he writes:

"...The city needs access to revenue sources such as tolls and a regional petrol tax. Unfortunately this Government is unwilling to provide access to such revenue sources and removed Auckland's ability to levy a regional petrol tax which was given by the previous government. Addressing this infrastructure deficit is needed for Auckland to become the growth engine of the New Zealand economy (which it currently is not) and for it to fully achieve the objective of being a highly liveable city."

I agree with Shand about the regional petrol tax. But what I think is being missed in the debate are the growth assumption fundamentals of the Auckland Plan that are driving the growth infrastructure funding demands of the Long term Plan. So I wrote about those, but NZ Herald wasn't keen, so here it is for your interest:

Council Should Do What it Says

It is heartening to read the Mayoral reassurance that Council will not be closing a single swimming pool or library – though this promise would still be true if Council closed multiple facilities.

And while it might be true that Aucklanders have told Council they want progress, it won’t be true that ratepayers want progress at any cost, and it won’t be true that existing ratepayers are prepared to subsidise infrastructure built to meet urban growth demands elsewhere in Auckland.

Auckland Council are developing Auckland’s 10-year plan and 2015-2025 budget which will be put out for consultation early next year. It is the first Auckland Supercity budget to be based on The Auckland Plan adopted over two years ago on the 29th March 2012. To address growing public concern this long term budget needs to be very clear about who is paying for what.

In his direction setting paper to Council in March this year, the Mayor clearly signals his recognition that ratepayers have no appetite for large rate and debt increases. The Mayor called for a full review of “all Council budgets not just new proposals and savings targets”, and that the review needed to be coordinated across Council and Council Controlled Organisations to align “assumptions about growth, and infrastructure development to support that growth”.

While the Mayor notes that the plan will be the first to use The Auckland Plan as “the starting point, he states that “there will need to be a revisiting and updating of our assumptions around such issues as growth, interest rates, revenue from alternative funding mechanisms…”

Given the very high growth assumptions set out in The Auckland Plan and their growth infrastructure implications, ratepayers will expect the Mayor to follow through on his direction setting plan and properly review, revisit and update them. Currently The Auckland Plan states “Auckland Council believes it is prudent to base its future planning on the high-growth scenario, and unless otherwise stated, this model is used throughout the Auckland Plan. The high-growth model projects a population of 2.5 million in 2041”. The Auckland Plan also seeks to “Improve Auckland’s OECD ranking of cities (GDP per capita) of 69th place in 2011 by 20 places by 2031” and “Increase annual average real GDP growth from 3% p.a. in the last decade to 5% p.a. for the next 30 years.”

There are several big ticket growth items awaiting funding certainty. Like Watercare's Central Interceptor project, like several new roads and road capacity-increase projects which are the responsibility of Auckland Transport. And there's the Central Rail Link - which can't be built without Central Government's contribution.

Development Contributions do cover some of the costs of growth infrastructure. But they only make a contribution toward those costs. Auckland Council's current policy settings still presume that existing ratepayers will heavily subsidise growth infrastructure costs. There are economic arguments in support of that policy - such as that some Aucklanders get jobs building that infrastructure. But that does not justify overloading existing Auckland ratepayers with the costs of infrastructure they never asked for.

They have already paid for the infrastructure they need and use.

In order to satisfy a reasonable public need for budget transparency Council could provide typical household scenarios with different scenario settings. Could should provide information at the individual ratepayer level of the consequences of optional plans, policies and assumptions. This would tally up rates AND Watercare charges AND any other Council charges - so ratepayers can see the total funding impact of different budget options experienced across the region. This needs to be kept simple and comprehensive.

These scenarios need to include an assessment of the true costs to ratepayers - new ones and existing ones - of providing infrastructure for growth, and an explanation of how those costs are covered, and who pays.

In the end this assessment will explain who is gaining and who is losing out from Auckland Council's growth assumptions and policy settings, and will allow an informed Council evaluation of what is best for most ratepayers.

These assumptions need to be examined, challenged and revised by Councillors as part of the strategic review that is now underway. I see two options for change: either a further shift of costs of growth onto new development and away from existing ratepayers, a substantial deferral in the startup and delivery time of selected big ticket projects, or a mixture of both of these options.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reasoned Ratepayer Plea to Auckland Councillors


Dear Auckland Councillors,

It's that time again. Council's Long Term Planning cycle, and you've got to come up with a Draft Long Term Plan, put it out there for consultation, with the media spotlight and microscope looking on closely.

I think the scrutiny will be more thorough and more analytical than past years. Ratepayers are more aware of Council's debt level and of proposed rate increases than before, and there's been a lot more media debate and information about the costs of infrastructure proposals.

But there hasn't been enough scrutiny - yet - of the policy assumptions that are driving much of what Council does and is planning to do. Previously I wrote about Mayor Brown's request of officers for papers and advice that would enable councillors to examine and question The Auckland Plan's growth assumptions, and their consequences for the city's Long Term Plan. Media commentary so far doesn't indicate that this examination has occurred in Council yet. (BTW: You can hear my NewsTalk ZB chat about all this here (go to 8mins 50 secs), and completed here.)  But it needs to.

Why? Because under the Council's present policy settings ratepayers can't afford the Auckland Plan, and it's not equitable to require ratepayers to subsidise Auckland's economic growth.

In a nutshell, the Auckland Plan calls for two things: it calls for an annual economic growth rate equivalent to a 5% increase each year in the city's GDP; and it presumes the "high rate" scenario of population growth. By themselves these assumptions and aspirations might seem reasonable. But it's not until you look at HOW they will be implemented that you see the problems for ratepayers and for Auckland.

In the financial year ended June 30th, Council income was about $1.4 billion in rates, about $1.1 billion in fees and charges (iincluding Watercare revenues), $0.4 billion in grants and subsidies (mostly from Central Govt for transport), and $0.23 billion from other sources. About $3.1 billion income for the financial year all up.

While it's difficult to get a big picture feel from council's Annual Plan of how the money is spent, my experience in Local Government suggests that about 40% goes on transport, 30% goes on the 3 waters (water, wastewater and stormwater), and the rest is spent on other services (planning, parks, community services, leisure services, environmental protection, waste management and suchlike).

Now the big ticket-items foreshadowed in The Auckland Plan (new network infrastructure projects) need related capital and operational budgets inserted into this new 10 year Long Term Plan. This is deemed "essential growth infrastructure". Deemed "essential for Auckland's economic success..."

It should be remembered that there are some unusual additional costs that must now be carried by Council - for example its share of leaky building damage costs is around $100 million each year - or about 3% of total revenue.

But this is much less than the Council currently pays in interest on the debt it has accumulated since amalgamation. Auckland council debt as at 30 June 2014 stands at around $7 billion - of which about $1.5 billion relates to Watercare projects. In the last financial year Auckland Council spent close to a third of a billion dollars ($300,000,000) in interest to its lenders. This is equivalent to 10% of its overall revenue, or about 20% of its entire rating revenue. This was at an average loan rate of 5.66%. This interest rate is subject to change depending on circumstances beyond New Zealand's control.

The media chatter this week is largely around "how will we pay for essential infrastucture?", and "where do you think cuts should be made - should it be swimming pools, parks or libraries?", and "don't you think the Government should put money into Auckland like it is into Christchurch?" and suchlike. It is likely Council's media advisors can put a tick in their boxes - they are keeping the debate on track.

But what if you - Councillors - asked ratepayers whether they would prefer cuts in their local services (parks, libraries, waste management, plantings, gardens, community services), or whether they would prefer you to spend less of their rates on growth infrastructure projects - then I think you'd get a clear answer. Local council and community services are highly valued in a liveable city.

It's not that urban growth is a bad thing. By itself. But it becomes a bad thing, an unaffordable thing for existing ratepayers, if Auckland Council makes them subsidise the costs of growth infrastructure.

There are several big ticket growth items awaiting funding certainty. Like Watercare's Central Interceptor project, like several new roads and road capacity-increase projects which are the responsibility of Auckland Transport. And there's the Central Rail Link - which can't be built without Central Government's contribution.

Maybe Watercare knows something that the rest of us don't know, but I get the strong feeling that the reason it has been ratcheting up its connection fees, and giving strong warnings that water and wastewater rates are on their way up - is because Auckland Council is telling Watercare, "if you want the Central Interceptor, then fund it yourself. Don't expect Auckland Council to raise a ratepayer funded loan for it...."  But I don't know about that. Just a feeling. However. Councillors, don't think you can escape responsibility for Watercare charge increases by keeping rate increases down a bit. Watercare is your responsibility too. You govern it. No-one else does.

Development Contributions do cover some of the costs of growth infrastructure. But they only make a contribution toward those costs. Auckland Council's current policy settings still presume that existing ratepayers will heavily subsidise those costs. There are arguments in support of that policy - such as that some Aucklanders get jobs building that infrastructure. But that does not justify overloading existing Auckland ratepayers with growth infrastructure costs.

I think you would be assisted in your task if you asked officers for typical household scenarios with different policy settings. You should be provided with information at the individual ratepayer level of all the consequences of your plans, policies and assumptions. This would tally up rates AND Watercare charges AND any other Council charges - so you can see the total funding impact of your potential decisions on typical Auckland ratepayers across the region. You probably already get stuff like this, but I'd suggest you get officers to keep it simple and comprehensive so you can share it with the media and with the public.

If you feel educated and enlightened and empowered by information provided by your officers, then ratepayers will likely feel the same way.

These scenarios need to include an assessment of the true costs to ratepayers - new ones and existing ones - of providing infrastructure for growth, and an explanation of how those costs are covered, and who pays.

In the end this assessment comes down to an understanding of who is gaining and who is losing out from Auckland Council's current growth assumptions and policy settings, and allows an evaluation of what is best for most ratepayers.

It's not good enough to hide behind a 2.5% average rate increase either - given that inflation last year was less than 1%, and the first quarter of this year was 1.5% - despite the fact that some of your services are inflating ahead of this average.

My biggest policy concern with the growth pathway Auckland is headed down (as built into the Auckland Plan) is that because of the assumption that existing ratepayers will subsidise costs of growth infrastructure needed to accommodate new ratepayers, then the true costs of new accommodation will not be paid by those buying into Auckland. This inbuilt subsidy is causing property-market failure. Auckland's property market craziness is being partly driven by Auckland Council growth policies.

These need to be examined, challenged and revised by Councillors as part of the strategic review that is now underway. I see two policy options for change: either a further shift of costs of growth onto new development and away from existing ratepayers, or a substantial deferral in the startup and delivery time of big ticket projects, or perhaps a mixture of both of these options.

Don't be rushed into decisions.


Yours Sincerely,


Joel Cayford (Ratepayer)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Precinct Properties and Downtown 1

On Wednesday I attended two different meetings about possible public private initiatives on Auckland's downtown waterfront. The first was the public part of Waterfront Auckland's Board meeting where the Ferry Group presented their ideas for Queens Wharf and the Ferry Terminal (these have previously been canvassed in NZ Herald here and here). The meeting itself was also reported. I took extensive notes of the presentation which I thought contained some interesting ideas for Queens Wharf that certainly deserve further consideration - both publicly and by Council and Waterfront Auckland - but I'll report those thoughts later.

The second meeting I attended was a "Media Briefing" convened by Auckland Council Development Ctte Chair Penny Hulse assisted by Auckland Council Urban Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid. The purpose of the briefing was the Downtown West area - in particular the controversial Precinct Properties proposal which may or not incorporate Queen Elizabeth Square.

In attendance were reporters for Metro, Radio NZ (earlier report), Stuff, TransportBlog (and here), a TV1 reporter, and Bob Dey (earlier report). They have put up some useful reports from the meeting - transport blog are to be especially commended for including historic images and maps of Downtown Auckland. I was there in my capacity as a blogging commentator on Auckland planning issues.

There is trouble up road. The tip of the iceberg shows in Precinct Properties submissions to the Unitary Plan. And I'll introduce those at the end of this post. But first, a bit of introduction. What was the difference between these two Council meetings? And what appears to be happening...?

The Difference

There were many differences between the meetings. But I'll start with what's the same. Each of these public/private proposals involves publicly owned assets (Queens Wharf / Queen Elizabeth Square); each involves a private sector investor with adjacent investments (Ferry Group own the Ferry Building / Precinct Properties own the HSBC Building and Downtown Shopping); each investor is engaging with the relevant public entity (Waterfront Auckland / Auckland Council). What's different is the way in which public interests are being treated, the way in which the public is being involved, and the amount of information about the private sector proposals that is being shared with the public.

The Appearance

The Ferry Group proposal, as far as I understand it, was presented to the Mayor first, who liked it, and then it went to Waterfront Auckland, who were less impressed. But it's continuing to do the rounds. The Ferry Group want a leasehold interest on Queens Wharf deck space, they want to build a couple of Shed 10 like structures there with public space beneath (a little like what was proposed by Auckland Harbour Board when it constructed its HQ on Princes Wharf with three stories of clear space for pedestrian permeability below) and office and commercial activity above, and they want to build a more efficient ferry terminal. (There's more - but that's the guts of it. They propose that the northern end and the sunny side of the wharf would be permanent public space. But the proposal doesn't address transport requirements that well.) So it's on the table. A public offer. It is what it is.

The Precinct Properties proposal appears to be very different. It has the appearance of having been swallowed hook line and sinker by Auckland Council. And now Auckland Council is in the unfortunate position of having to sell it to Councillors, to the media (hence the briefing), and the public. But this is without showing anybody anything of the proposal. What we are seeing is a pile of post-decision justification.

I'll give you one example. At the media briefing Ludo spent quite a lot of time dissing QE Square. It appears Auckland Council has commissioned Urban Design advice which gives some positives but more negatives. Surprise surprise. We know it's not working well. But what highlights Ludo's lack of professional detachment was his selective use of an assessment of QE Square that was prepared by Ministry of Works planners in 1977.

Here are extracts Ludo quoted from the report:

What he could have done was to provide the context from the report, which looked also at Lower Queen Street and QE Square, and how what we see now came about. The report discusses how the redevelopment came about and the role of Auckland Harbour Board (which owned the land then)....

The Ministry of Works reviewer notes the emphasis on "economic" uses, and draws attention to the fine words that were in the original proposal....but which were not present when it was all done.... 

And what is relevant to what is proposed now, is the 1977 report's critique of the downtown shopping area's urban design contribution to the failure.... 

The department store was developed like a mall. It faces inwards. It does not activate the square by facing outward. This is a key contribution to the desolate feel of QE Square. Why didn't you tell the media that Ludo?

...and the 1977 critique goes on to draw attention to the absence of verandahs and shelter - the sort of amenity that is an essential part of pedestrian amenity...

Ludo, your credibility as an urban design champion is compromised by your selective use of information to support a position that appears to be consolidating, in Auckland Council, at the expense of the Auckland public. The winners in the scenario that appears to be emerging are the Council (money in the bank from the QE Square sale), and Precinct Properties (in control of an enlarged downtown/waterfront land-holding). The losers are the public of Auckland.

The Reality

So how can we find out what's planned by Precinct Properties? They can hide behind Auckland Council and its senior staff who have gone into bat for them. But what do they really want? A good place to look - I discover - is the Precinct Properties submission to the Unitary Plan dated 28 February this year.

The PAUP (Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan) currently has this provision:

So that's a quote from the Proposed Unitary Plan. You can see it sets out the requirements in the event that QE Square is reconfigured or replaced (how did this provision get in to the PAUP in the first place?) Anyway, what Precinct Properties want is for that provision to be deleted. To be removed from the plan. They submit that "there are other ways" to achieve a better street and open space network. But give no detail. Just want that provision deleted. What do you think about that, Ludo?

And there's a whole lot else. Other PAUP changes wanted by Precinct Properties are listed in the bullet-point summaries below. They relate to its proposals (which remain to be seen) for the redevelopment of Downtown West. (I have provided brief explanations in the brackets):
  • delete the policy: "require buildings to transition in height from the core central business district to the waterfront and neighbouring, lower scale precincts". (PP wants to go higher and be untroubled by public spaces and places, or more human scale adjacent precincts like the waterfront.)
  • relax the graduated Harbour Edge Height Control Plane between CBD and waterfront for Downtown West  (PP wants to go through that height control.)
  • remove the requirement for a formal Framework Plan for Downtown West (because PP reckon there are other ways of getting integrated development without going through the detail of a Framework Plan)
  • remove the requirement that new laneways have no or limited vehicle access to qualify for development bonus (because PP wants to free up these new streets for non-pedestrian traffic.)
  • remove the requirement that new laneways be publicly accessible 7 days a week, 24 hours day (because PP says this is not possible for safety, security and operational reasons.)
  • allow building demolition as a controlled activity (ie permitted without need for a consent or permit as presently proposed).
  • increase particular building height limits from 50 metres to 75 metres
  • remove requirement for a Design Statement for new development in accordance with the Auckland Design Manual (Man. What does Auckland's Urban Design Champion think of that submission! Like throwing the Auckland urban design bible out the window isn't it?)
  • remove the amenity yard beside No 1 Queen Street because it is unduly restrictive (this is where the glass box coffee shop is across Quay Street from the ferry building)
  • remove provisions requiring sustainable development standards of new buildings such as Green Star and Living Building Challenge
  • change the current policy: "provide for an interconnected network of high quality public open spaces which vary in form and function in highly accessible locations within the precinct that are activated" by the addition of the phrase: "as far as practicable".  (And that just about sums it up for PP. It wants to be let off the hook for most of the things that the unsuspecting public might want.)
I challenge any Auckland Councillor to stare at this list - which is not comprehensive - and not be afraid.
Be very afraid guys. Beware what you risk getting us into here.
And if you don't believe me, check out the submission here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Successful Cities have Successful Civic Places



For decades the significance of public urban places and their role in facilitating public life has been given low priority by those responsible for shaping Auckland. But that does not mean the desire for civic space has gone away. Public concern over Queen Elizabeth Square and Queens Wharf attests to that.

Public places in cities have significantly contributed to urban life throughout history. In the beginning, people came together for social reasons. Gradually public places assumed spiritual, civic and market functions. And later, combinations of social, economic and cultural life happened in city squares and streets, in places adjacent to the cathedral or civic buildings, on streets where people lived, and where shops and workshops were located.

But with the advent of the automobile, urban squares and streets became receptacles for the movement and storage of the car, endangering those places for social and civic activities. Planners and engineers prioritised private vehicle use over public pedestrian safety. While this trend was largely reversed in Europe, especially during the 1970s when cars were excluded from central parts of hundreds of cities and towns, the automobile is still an important presence and burden.

The measure today of how civilized a city is, of how successfully a city has provided city squares and streets for public life, is the volume of pedestrian traffic in its civic spaces. However civic success is not just about managing the motorcar skillfully, it is primarily about remembering and respecting the skills of public space management. 

Civic spaces are not successful by accident – though sometimes they are – they are caused and planned by careful and deliberate action. Successful civic spaces need constant curating to ensure the balance of activities and uses is optimized. Left alone they become places of neglect. Empty places for lonely statutes, empty experiences, and empty of people. Civic spaces in cities are about people and life and culture.

Here in Auckland we have a world class civic space – developing and being curated in front of our eyes – from Silo Park with its collection of heritage boats, cement silos for photo-exhibitions and art and interpretation, children’s playground and basketball hoops, piano-playing by passer’s by, civilised outdoor food and eateries adjacent, popular coffee and food bars there - whose economic livelihoods are guaranteed by the presence of the ASB headquarter building and its workers, plenty of places to sit and stare, and a working waterfront with fishing boats, ferries, and marine industry, with more to come.

How this contrasts with Auckland’s dreadful Queen Elizabeth Square, privatised civic spaces on Princes Wharf, threatened public spaces on Queens Wharf, and mismanagement of Quay Street.

You don’t have to look hard for an explanation for these civic failures because they have have one influence in common. They are Auckland’s legacy from the development activities of the Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) and its corporatized offspring known now as Ports of Auckland Limited (POAL).

In 1963 AHB owned the reclaimed land at the foot of Queen Street now occupied by the Downtown Shopping Centre, HSBC Tower and Queen Elizabeth Square which was the public by-product of a successful overseas development tender. Despite objections from the Auckland Architects Association which built a model of the scheme demonstrating the wind and shading effects of the twenty-storey tower formally known as Air New Zealand House, the scheme went ahead largely unchanged. It is ironic that AHB’s prospectus for tenderers stated that: “pedestrian amenity will be a prime objective”.

AHB’s plans for its distinctive octagonal headquarter building on the base of Princes Wharf included paving and pedestrianisation of Quay Street to Queen Street, and from Queen Elizabeth Square across and up Queens Wharf. They also emphasized pedestrian access onto Princes Wharf from Quay Street beneath its headquarters whose first floor was built three stories above the wharf. The plans were granted upon appeal, but subject to the pedestrian areas being constructed “contemporaneously”, and that the building was only to be used as AHB’s HQ. Construction began in 1983, but promised pedestrian amenity never eventuated. AHB moved out after a few years, sublet the building as commercial office-space, and infilled the lower floors of the building, blocking that pedestrian access off Quay Street and onto Princes Wharf.

The development approach adopted later by POAL for Princes Wharf exhibits the same pattern: early proposals included significant public space around the wharf and at the end and a central street shown populated with pedestrians, maritime museum, galleries, a theatre and other public attractions; much of this was gone from plans by the time construction commenced in 1998; and since then a steady sequence of infill and development has been encouraged shading the central street, blocking access to public spaces, and allowing largely uncontrolled parking and traffic movements.

Today POAL still holds property rights around the edges of Queens Wharf which affect its public use, even though the wharf is “owned” by Auckland Council and Central Government, and its grip on other central wharves and surplus waterfront reclaimed land is primarily about delivering on its “successful business” objective.


Auckland stands at a kind of cross roads now. I’m picking that Auckland wants North Wharf on Quay Street, Queens Wharf and Queen Elizabeth Square. It most certainly does not want another Aotea Square, and certainly not another Princes Wharf.

It is time for a successful city – not just a collection of successful businesses – and in significant part that is about developing and managing successful civic spaces.

PT Plan: Unaffordable for Auckland, Unavailable to Many

Len Brown has nailed his colours firmly to the mayoral mast in this, his second term of office, declaring, “My number one priority is to bring forward the start date for the Central Rail Link to 2016….”

Central Government has indicated support for the project (cautious support) but is firm on a start date of 2021, unless a number of public transport patronage targets are met which could bring the start date forward. Nevertheless, Mayor Brown in true little red hen fashion, is doing it himself. Auckland Council has already purchased properties worth $35 million along the route.

I write here as a former Chair of Transport (North Shore City for 3 years, Auckland Regional Council for 3 years), and as a strong supporter of public transport investment. While the Mayor’s determination is laudable, his lack of experience in city-building is on display, and the risks that arise from his actions and aspirations (presuming they are supported by councillors) will be borne by the city and its citizens – not by him or them. These risks include putting our few transport eggs into one basket thus ensuring good public transport services remain unavailable for decades to those outside that basket; hoisting Auckland’s debt level even higher and foisting debt repayment obligations on future generations; and tempting foreign investors into the scheme by sacrificing civic assets like Queen Elizabeth Square.

I am not the only commentator increasingly concerned by the Council’s fixation on this very expensive project. The pro-PT transportblog writes on May27th: “…the council are getting to a point where they are going to need to make some tough decisions on what projects they actually build. Carrying on trying to do everything simply isn’t possible so the council will need to prioritise what they do. This is something we’ve been saying for some time and is a basis to many of the things we advocate for including the CFN (Congestion Free Network) and walking and cycling….” (NB: Matt L comments that Transportblog believes the CRL is "the most important project".)

The City Rail Link (CRL) is a 3.5 kilometre rail tunnel under central Auckland that is projected to cost $2.8 billion to construct. Its route and construction method is illustrated in the image below which also shows the locations of the three proposed stations.



The CRL project will bring a number of benefits to Auckland. These are listed below:
1) To increase the capacity of Auckland’s rail network by turning Britomart into a through station and adding another rail entrance to the city centre from Mt Eden.
2) To ease the pressure on the city centre’s roading network by reducing the level of future increases in buses and cars.
3) To significantly reduce travel times on Auckland’s rail network.
4) To allow higher train frequencies to be operated on all lines of the Auckland rail network.
5) To provide sufficient capacity in the rail system for future extensions (eg rail to the airport, Avondale-Southdown line.) to be possible.
6) To stimulate business activity in the city centre and other rail served centres and generate agglomeration benefits including increased development density.
7) To stimulate higher intensity residential development around the rail network and reduce the need for Auckland to grow via urban sprawl.
8 ) To enable and support a more efficient and effective bus network.
9) To improve rail access in the city centre.
10) To allow trains to be routed through the city centre and offer one-seat rides between centres on different sides of Auckland.

However, the CRL is a massive project that improves just one of Auckland's transport networks – the rail network. It will have a huge impact on Auckland CBD during construction because of the cut and cover sections through Queen Elizabeth Square and up Lower Albert Street. It will offer major opportunities for land development – including the Downtown Precinct which abuts Queen Elizabeth Square. And it comes at enormous cost.
So it needs to be right. It is more important that it's planned right, than that construction gets started in 2016. And it is critically important that its construction takes its place in the queue with other important public transport network improvements.

This Auckland Transport map depicts the proposed Frequent Network which would/could have services running at least every 15 minutes 7am to 7pm 7 days a week. What it amounts to is a strategic re-organisation of Auckland bus routes in particular. It has largely been agreed after detailed consultation. Parts of the South Auckland network have already been improved.

The transport objective underpinning this plan is the establishment of frequent services right across Auckland. Not just on Rail and the Northern Busway (which you can see in black). NB: The proposed CRL is not shown on this map, but its route is more or less from Britomart, via K’Road to Mt Eden station (shown as the purple star).

Given the affordability of the CRL, the low hanging fruit public transport priority needs to be to deliver the frequency and promise that can be obtained from the new frequent bus sections of the network, which require modest investments in key sections (bus priority lanes, other priority measures such as priority signalling, some network interchange stations, extended lanes, corridor widening, and additional bus stops and shelters).

I understand that all of these bus network corridor improvements have been planned and await funding in a package of works that will cost about $200 million, but that this package is being stalled because of the perceived priority of the CRL. Under the mayor’s current direction, the CRL project is becoming a black hole. All consuming. Surely it's a priority for South Aucklanders to benefit from the promised frequent bus service.

The political problem that I see is that the pressure to "start CRL in 2016" (especially in a substantial way) threatens a tight public transport budget. And threatens to delay the rollout to wider Auckland region of frequent bus services that might not be "world class", but they will be a lot more reliable and attractive alternatives to car than the bus services available now. And the packages of work required a whole lot more affordable for Auckland Council than trying to get the CRL off the ground all by itself.
 
And as for the rail network and patronage targets, I am advised that the new electric trains don't just look good running on their newly electrified lines. They carry more passengers than the ones they replaced. In fact they carry on average about 50% more passengers per train set than the equivalent trains they replaced. What this means is that the existing rail network (without the CRL, but with electrification and the new trains) can carry about 50% more passengers/hour now than before. That's a significant increase in capacity which at the present rate of patronage increase will take some years to be taken up – allowing time for other public transport priorities.

Bearing that in mind, and the opportunity begging for improvements to bus corridors, surely it is the right thing to do to protect the budgets for those improvements and prioritise them, get them done over the next couple of years, complete the planning for CRL, and maybe go ahead with foundational tunnel works which will permit the Downtown Precinct development and Queen Elizabeth Square works to proceed without much delay. And plan to build the CRL in stages.

Which brings me to the proposed sale of Queen Elizabeth Square.


This picture is from the Britomart Railway station building. Queen Elizabeth Square is mainly taken up with a bus interchange and a small paved area with a few struggling Kauri trees. The proposed CRL starts here, runs under QE Square, and turns left up Albert Street. A single developer – Precinct Properties now owns the HSBC tower (in the centre of the picture, and the Downtown Shopping Centre to the left. Auckland Council officers have assessed the Square as being “windy, shaded and unattractive” and come up with a plan to sell the paved area to the developer for a $60 million contribution towards the CRL cost.

But here’s a better idea.


Auckland Council plans to replace the Britomart bus interchange with three smaller interchanges around the edges of the CBD.  This creates a wonderful opportunity for Auckland to transform Queen Elizabeth Square into a waterfront civic square across a pedestrianized Quay Street from Queens Wharf. The perfect place for a modern tram interconnecting the bus interchanges, Wynyard Quarter, Ferry Terminal, Central Railway Station, Queen Street, and Universities.

Then finish the CRL.

POAL: Old Dog, Old Tricks

Last set of postings included this one about part of the Unitary Plan submissions prepared by Regional Facilities Auckland. Gradually these submissions will receive attention from the independent commissioners, and from media, and other interested parties. 9,400 submissions have been received. Together they address some 93,600 different requests for change to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP).

Someone sent me a spreadsheet summary of submissions relating to Princes Wharf. I noticed in there that Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL) have submitted that the PAUP height limit for developments on Princes Wharf should be increased from 27 metres to 41 metres.

So I thought I'd have a look at POAL's submissions.

POAL's submission document is 453 pages long and has been prepared for POAL by its lawyers Russell McVeagh. It covers many issues, but its overalll thrust is summed up well by this introductory paragraph:
The submission argues against the PAUP's emphasis on environmental effects, and submits that the enabling of urban growth and economic wellbeing should come first. This sets the scene for much of the rest of POAL's submissions. Here I look at the one about Princes Wharf height controls.

At page 305, and POAL request for change number 397, is POAL's call for the height limit change. The submission also calls for a relaxation of view corridor controls. You can look it up if you want the detail, but I want to put in context.

Almost 20 years ago POAL issued an information memorandum offering the Princes Wharf "long leasehold interest for sale".


The document advises that Princes Wharf represents an "unparalleled opportunity for an investor/developer to acquire prime waterfront leasehold property..."

The document presented this cross section showing the height controls in place at the time. You can see that the 41 metre figure actually relates to the height of the Ports Headquarter building (the left of the graphic) above deck level. While the height of right hand section could go to 37 metres above deck level, sloping down to 27 metres about halfway, then 22 metres, then 14 metres. (In fact Scheme Change No.4 which became operative 22 November 1990 states: "The uppermost roof level of permanately occupied space shall not exceed 37m above deck level provided that this height shall be reduced to 27m if no hotel is located at the northern end of the wharf.")

While POAL's submission does reproduce the maximum height and building envelope diagram from Scheme Change No. 4, it has done so in a way that the detail is blurred, and the only height that is readable is the 41m height of its HQ building (which of course is no longer its HQ building, because POAL sold the commercial use rights many years ago.)

Archive documents clearly state that at the time of planning for Princes Wharf development, the precursor to POAL - Auckland Harbour Board - was at pains to ensure that the development sloped down near to the octagonal HQ building so that views from the HQ building would be protected.

It seems that now the HQ building is no occupied by POAL and its Board then its view corridors no longer need protection.

In terms of height controls it is entirely appropriate for the PAUP to at least replicate the controls that were put in place almost twenty years ago - this would ensure that there was very limited development potential left on Princes Wharf. At the time of the plan change being put in place Auckland Regional Authority argued that an overal height control of 25 metres would have been appropriate. Having a slightly more restrictive height control in the PAUP (it could be 22 metres rather than 27 metres) would not mean that over-height buildings need to be taken down - they enjoy existing use rights - but it would mean that no further development above the existing roof line could occur. This would protect Auckland's waterfront from excessive development.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Remembering My Grandfather


This bloke is my youngest brother, and the bloke looking over his shoulder is Constable Charles G. Smyth. He was our grand-father. And yesterday (22nd July) the new Boardroom at the NZ Police Trade Union offices (known as The NZ Police Association) was dedicated to him. We learned there that our grand-dad is the patron saint of the NZ Police Association.
Here's the boardroom. Family members standing around, and the Maori policeman giving the dedication and speech. (My daughter Emily, third from left, was among the great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren who also attended.)
On the wall is this picture and interpretation. I'm pasting here the Te Ara Encyclopedia entry on him here:

 "Charles Gordon Smyth was born in Oamaru, New Zealand, on 17 April 1883, the son of Irish parents William Smyth, a baker, and his wife, Jane Macaffee. Charles excelled in school and at sports. He worked for some years in his father's baking firm, then in 1912 entered the New Zealand Police Force Training Depot in Wellington. He was appointed a constable on 11 July that year, and after initial stationing in Wellington was transferred to Dunedin on 8 January 1913.

In March 1913 Commissioner of Police John Cullen rejected police concerns over pay, discipline and conditions. City-based constables, particularly in Auckland, risked offending against police regulations banning 'combinations' and planned their own union. Government and police authorities, troubled by current industrial conflict in New Zealand, attempted to prevent what they saw as the virus of socialism gaining any influence in the police force.

Charlie Smyth, as he was known, arrived in Auckland on transfer on 31 March 1913. There he allegedly told a superior he had requested the transfer in order to help form a union. At the trades hall on 11 April several dozen policemen were helped by trade unionist Arthur Rosser to launch the New Zealand Police Association. Smyth was selected as the Auckland branch secretary. As such he was prominent in drawing up the rules and platform of the new organisation and in liaising with police in other parts of the country.

On 25 April Cullen assembled the Auckland police staff and assured them that they had nothing to fear from discussing their grievances. Smyth was the main spokesman for the police unionists and protested when an angry Cullen ended the meeting by inviting dissatisfied constables to resign. The minister in charge of police, A. L. Herdman, and the commissioner then moved to make an example of Smyth whom they regarded as an 'insolent' ringleader. Smyth's role in the association was said to have forfeited him the trust of the Auckland sergeants and officers. On 30 April he was ordered to transfer at once to isolated and rainy Greymouth where police were traditionally posted as a punishment. His comrades gave him a handsome presentation and rousing send-off.

In June 1913 Smyth was given four days' notice of dismissal, an obvious invitation to resign. He chose to 'expose' the 'police oligarchy' by forcing Cullen to sack him and then appealing the dismissal. He had allegedly been guilty of abandoning his post when guarding timber on the wharf and of making a false entry in the station book to disguise this. Similar misdemeanours were normally punished with fines or reprimands, and Smyth had both a clean record and evidence to support his contention that he had genuinely mistaken the time. Herdman blackened the constable's name in Parliament and denied his dismissal was connected with his union activity. The appeal was dismissed.

The newspaper New Zealand Truth stated that 'though the dogs of war were let loose on Smythe [ sic ], the last has not been heard of him'. Backed by members of Parliament, newspapers and unions Smyth campaigned to clear his name. However, by 1914 his efforts and the Police Association itself had effectively failed. The governing Reform Party was even claiming that Smyth had deliberately entered the Police Force to subvert it and 'secure its adhesion to the Federation of Labour'.

By then Smyth had returned to the baking industry in Oamaru. There, on 15 September 1914, he married Rose Mason, a weaver. In Morven, where he set up a bakery after the First World War, the couple were pillars of the local community. Smyth served on committees, played tennis and did charitable works. He died of cancer in Christchurch on 17 November 1927, aged 44. Rose Smyth, who was left with five daughters aged five to twelve, died the following year.

Charlie Smyth remained a well-known name in police union circles, and was honoured – accidentally, it appears – when his image appeared on a stamp officially issued for the New Zealand Police centenary in 1986. He was a man ahead of his time, regarded as the patron saint of the modern New Zealand Police Association which was founded in 1936."


This information is summarised in the boardroom dedication. It was interesting to learn that he had drawn up a model rule book for the new trade union, and that has become the basis of the rules today. Not only a gentleman - but maybe a scholar.
As we left, his image followed us to the lifts. An interesting family occasion. If you've got this far, you might be interested in this Truth Newspaper article which is a fantastic read. 

And getting a little closer to the man, this exchange below is of letters from him, and criticising him, and even one from his father (my great grandfather) defending his dismissed son.

A personal explanation from Charles published in the Otago Daily Times, which also (scroll down) contains The Hon Herdman's, Minister of Justice, critical comments. This is a letter in the Oamaru Mail from Charles defending himself against the Minister's comments. Here is an example of a sub leader in the ODT attacking him, and an anonymous letter.

Here is Auckland Star's extracts of what he sent to would-be and current Police Association members.

And finally, a letter his dad wrote (scroll down - it's almost at the bottom of the column), in Charles Smyth's defence, in the Otago Daily Times.

Agreed: Radical Shift Needed in Auckland Planning

Geoff Cooper, Auckland council's Chief Economist, wrote an interesting and insightful opinion piece about the Unitary Plan in NZ Herald dated 10th July. The key things in it for me stem from his summary of the three key issues that are addressed by the Unitary Plan:

"...Auckland Council's proposed urban limit policy, the policies underlying a compact city and the political economy of urban policy..."

I suggest you read Cooper's piece for his comments about urban limit and  compact city policies. This is what he says about political economy:

"...the political economy plays a defining role in Auckland's urban policy. Housing choice was cut back significantly following community consultation. Improving housing affordability and creating greater housing choice require radically new models of planning. Reduced regulations could be exchanged for greater local amenity, improved levels of service, financial compensation or some combination..."

This is the first time I've seen these ideas discussed by Council staff at this level. In public anyway. I agree with Cooper. But I think he - and council - need to develop this thinking and provide implementation policies and tools that can embody this "radically new model of planning" - which, by the way, is the norm for urban development planning policy in OECD countries that have not been totally taken over by free-market rules.

I penned an OpEd piece for the NZ Business Herald engaging with Cooper's ideas. It hasn't found favour by the editors. Here it is:

Radical Changes Needed in Unitary Plan Political Economy

Auckland Council’s Chief Economist, Geoff Cooper, calls for “radically new models of planning” to improve housing choice and affordability in Auckland, and argues that housing choice was “cut back significantly following community consultation” over the draft Unitary Plan. Significantly, Cooper states that “the political economy plays a defining role in Auckland’s urban policy”.

I agree with him. But does he mean what I think he means with these words?

In the western world political economy is typically concerned with interactions between capital and politics and policy making. Urban political economy focuses on the relationship between local government and capital, both local and global.

A practical understanding of what these interactions and relationships might be in Auckland is assisted by asking a couple of questions: Who governs, and whose interests are being advanced?

More concrete questions include: Do the interests of capital dominate council thinking and exert undue influence in agenda setting and policy making. Are elected councillors and senior officers pawns of capital, or is the relationship more nuanced? For example, do the public’s desires for particular patterns of residential development, work locations, and entertainment preferences set the agenda for capital in a democratic, “invisible-hand” manner?

Cooper – correctly in my view – summarises the three matters that need to be weighed in analyzing the effectiveness of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (Auckland’s urban development policy) that is now out for submissions: its urban limit policy; its compact city policy; and its political economy policy.

Taking these one at a time, I agree that the proposed plan “vastly extends the urban limit”, but the associated political economy settings make it the most attractive or most economically rational choice for developers. At least three market failures are promoted by Auckland Council’ existing policy settings that will incentivise sprawl:
  • The first arises from a failure to take into account the social value of open space when land is converted to urban use. 
  •  The second arises from a failure on the part of individual commuters to recognize the social costs of congestion created by their use of the road network, which leads to excessive commuting times for everybody. 
  •  The third market failure arises from the failure of real estate developers to take into account all of the public infrastructure costs generated by their projects.

Additional to the second market failure is the social cost associated with having to travel large distances (compared with compact mixed use development) for life's basic needs including education, shopping, employment and entertainment. Thus, development appears artificially cheap from the developer’s point of view, encouraging excessive urban growth.

Auckland Council’s current compact city policy settings need a radical overhaul. Simplification and removal of regulatory red-tape loomed large on Auckland Council’s list of political objectives that have been delivered in its four unitary plan residential zones. Many economic efficiencies can be claimed from a compact city approach including more efficient use of existing infrastructure, and closer proximity for residents to amenities and employment. It’s a good plan. It’s been successful in other Western world cities. And it can be successful in Auckland. But only if its political economy is recognised and respected.

The Auckland public easily spotted that Auckland Council's combined policy of Special Housing Areas and upzoned urban neighbourhoods was primarily designed to make redevelopment of existing residential properties attractive to developers. Objections have come from existing residents concerned over impacts of taller buildings on their houses, worries about the capacity of existing infrastructure (roads and schools for example), and fears that the value of their homes might drop because of the perceived impact of intensification. All of these fears are well grounded and would have been foreseen had Auckland Council bothered to investigate the political economy of its compact city policies from the public’s point of view.

Council’s compact city policies need to include active community and area planning and investment to compensate for public concerns. Council stands back having created opportunity for the development market who will benefit from the set of market failures that will inevitably ensue:
  • The first arises from a failure to take into account the loss in value of the existing sense of community and neighbourhood amenity when urban land is converted from detached residential to intensive use. 
  • The second arises from a failure on the part of the first-off-the-block developments to pay for (compensate for) the loss of amenity their intensive project is responsible for, while benefiting from the premium of being first. 
  • The third market failure arises from the failure of real estate developers to take into account all of the public infrastructure costs generated by their projects.

These market failures must inevitably lead to conflict between existing residents and would-be developers. At present Council appears reluctant to recognise this problem, or to do anything about it. Other OECD countries have plenty of examples. These always include explicit public development agency intervention in neighbourhood redevelopment, to get the planning right for the new pattern of land uses, and to build needed infrastructure. Such public actions are either funded by the new development and by a contribution from uplift in property values, or from levies that are charged on greenfield development.

Policy shifts in these directions will begin to correct for current failures in Auckland’s urban political economy.


Council Should Do What it Says

There has been a little spike in public debate about Auckland Council's long term plan. This has been triggered by media stories about Council reports and Councillors comments.

Some of this led to Len Brown's opinion piece entitled "Let's Design Our Future Together", where he writes:

"Under any scenario, we will need to make big investments to meet the needs of our growing city. And we will need to continue our search for alternative sources of revenue, more innovative ways of leveraging our balance sheet in partnership with the private sector, and smarter ways to save money...."

There have been various other commentaries including an outrageously biased opinion piece from John Roughan entitled: "Auckland Should Not Lose Services" where he writes, giving advice to councillors ("its limp majority"):

"They should be asking hard questions of the mayor, such as, how has the Government managed to bring its books back to balance without reducing services people value? The nuts and bolts of public budgeting do not attract much press coverage. I didn't hear how the present Government is controlling its finances until I talked to Bill English for the book on John Key."

And a piece from David Shand, one of the commissioning architects for the SuperCity, entitled: "Auckland's Far From Going Broke",  where he writes:

"...The city needs access to revenue sources such as tolls and a regional petrol tax. Unfortunately this Government is unwilling to provide access to such revenue sources and removed Auckland's ability to levy a regional petrol tax which was given by the previous government. Addressing this infrastructure deficit is needed for Auckland to become the growth engine of the New Zealand economy (which it currently is not) and for it to fully achieve the objective of being a highly liveable city."

I agree with Shand about the regional petrol tax. But what I think is being missed in the debate are the growth assumption fundamentals of the Auckland Plan that are driving the growth infrastructure funding demands of the Long term Plan. So I wrote about those, but NZ Herald wasn't keen, so here it is for your interest:

Council Should Do What it Says

It is heartening to read the Mayoral reassurance that Council will not be closing a single swimming pool or library – though this promise would still be true if Council closed multiple facilities.

And while it might be true that Aucklanders have told Council they want progress, it won’t be true that ratepayers want progress at any cost, and it won’t be true that existing ratepayers are prepared to subsidise infrastructure built to meet urban growth demands elsewhere in Auckland.

Auckland Council are developing Auckland’s 10-year plan and 2015-2025 budget which will be put out for consultation early next year. It is the first Auckland Supercity budget to be based on The Auckland Plan adopted over two years ago on the 29th March 2012. To address growing public concern this long term budget needs to be very clear about who is paying for what.

In his direction setting paper to Council in March this year, the Mayor clearly signals his recognition that ratepayers have no appetite for large rate and debt increases. The Mayor called for a full review of “all Council budgets not just new proposals and savings targets”, and that the review needed to be coordinated across Council and Council Controlled Organisations to align “assumptions about growth, and infrastructure development to support that growth”.

While the Mayor notes that the plan will be the first to use The Auckland Plan as “the starting point, he states that “there will need to be a revisiting and updating of our assumptions around such issues as growth, interest rates, revenue from alternative funding mechanisms…”

Given the very high growth assumptions set out in The Auckland Plan and their growth infrastructure implications, ratepayers will expect the Mayor to follow through on his direction setting plan and properly review, revisit and update them. Currently The Auckland Plan states “Auckland Council believes it is prudent to base its future planning on the high-growth scenario, and unless otherwise stated, this model is used throughout the Auckland Plan. The high-growth model projects a population of 2.5 million in 2041”. The Auckland Plan also seeks to “Improve Auckland’s OECD ranking of cities (GDP per capita) of 69th place in 2011 by 20 places by 2031” and “Increase annual average real GDP growth from 3% p.a. in the last decade to 5% p.a. for the next 30 years.”

There are several big ticket growth items awaiting funding certainty. Like Watercare's Central Interceptor project, like several new roads and road capacity-increase projects which are the responsibility of Auckland Transport. And there's the Central Rail Link - which can't be built without Central Government's contribution.

Development Contributions do cover some of the costs of growth infrastructure. But they only make a contribution toward those costs. Auckland Council's current policy settings still presume that existing ratepayers will heavily subsidise growth infrastructure costs. There are economic arguments in support of that policy - such as that some Aucklanders get jobs building that infrastructure. But that does not justify overloading existing Auckland ratepayers with the costs of infrastructure they never asked for.

They have already paid for the infrastructure they need and use.

In order to satisfy a reasonable public need for budget transparency Council could provide typical household scenarios with different scenario settings. Could should provide information at the individual ratepayer level of the consequences of optional plans, policies and assumptions. This would tally up rates AND Watercare charges AND any other Council charges - so ratepayers can see the total funding impact of different budget options experienced across the region. This needs to be kept simple and comprehensive.

These scenarios need to include an assessment of the true costs to ratepayers - new ones and existing ones - of providing infrastructure for growth, and an explanation of how those costs are covered, and who pays.

In the end this assessment will explain who is gaining and who is losing out from Auckland Council's growth assumptions and policy settings, and will allow an informed Council evaluation of what is best for most ratepayers.

These assumptions need to be examined, challenged and revised by Councillors as part of the strategic review that is now underway. I see two options for change: either a further shift of costs of growth onto new development and away from existing ratepayers, a substantial deferral in the startup and delivery time of selected big ticket projects, or a mixture of both of these options.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reasoned Ratepayer Plea to Auckland Councillors


Dear Auckland Councillors,

It's that time again. Council's Long Term Planning cycle, and you've got to come up with a Draft Long Term Plan, put it out there for consultation, with the media spotlight and microscope looking on closely.

I think the scrutiny will be more thorough and more analytical than past years. Ratepayers are more aware of Council's debt level and of proposed rate increases than before, and there's been a lot more media debate and information about the costs of infrastructure proposals.

But there hasn't been enough scrutiny - yet - of the policy assumptions that are driving much of what Council does and is planning to do. Previously I wrote about Mayor Brown's request of officers for papers and advice that would enable councillors to examine and question The Auckland Plan's growth assumptions, and their consequences for the city's Long Term Plan. Media commentary so far doesn't indicate that this examination has occurred in Council yet. (BTW: You can hear my NewsTalk ZB chat about all this here (go to 8mins 50 secs), and completed here.)  But it needs to.

Why? Because under the Council's present policy settings ratepayers can't afford the Auckland Plan, and it's not equitable to require ratepayers to subsidise Auckland's economic growth.

In a nutshell, the Auckland Plan calls for two things: it calls for an annual economic growth rate equivalent to a 5% increase each year in the city's GDP; and it presumes the "high rate" scenario of population growth. By themselves these assumptions and aspirations might seem reasonable. But it's not until you look at HOW they will be implemented that you see the problems for ratepayers and for Auckland.

In the financial year ended June 30th, Council income was about $1.4 billion in rates, about $1.1 billion in fees and charges (iincluding Watercare revenues), $0.4 billion in grants and subsidies (mostly from Central Govt for transport), and $0.23 billion from other sources. About $3.1 billion income for the financial year all up.

While it's difficult to get a big picture feel from council's Annual Plan of how the money is spent, my experience in Local Government suggests that about 40% goes on transport, 30% goes on the 3 waters (water, wastewater and stormwater), and the rest is spent on other services (planning, parks, community services, leisure services, environmental protection, waste management and suchlike).

Now the big ticket-items foreshadowed in The Auckland Plan (new network infrastructure projects) need related capital and operational budgets inserted into this new 10 year Long Term Plan. This is deemed "essential growth infrastructure". Deemed "essential for Auckland's economic success..."

It should be remembered that there are some unusual additional costs that must now be carried by Council - for example its share of leaky building damage costs is around $100 million each year - or about 3% of total revenue.

But this is much less than the Council currently pays in interest on the debt it has accumulated since amalgamation. Auckland council debt as at 30 June 2014 stands at around $7 billion - of which about $1.5 billion relates to Watercare projects. In the last financial year Auckland Council spent close to a third of a billion dollars ($300,000,000) in interest to its lenders. This is equivalent to 10% of its overall revenue, or about 20% of its entire rating revenue. This was at an average loan rate of 5.66%. This interest rate is subject to change depending on circumstances beyond New Zealand's control.

The media chatter this week is largely around "how will we pay for essential infrastucture?", and "where do you think cuts should be made - should it be swimming pools, parks or libraries?", and "don't you think the Government should put money into Auckland like it is into Christchurch?" and suchlike. It is likely Council's media advisors can put a tick in their boxes - they are keeping the debate on track.

But what if you - Councillors - asked ratepayers whether they would prefer cuts in their local services (parks, libraries, waste management, plantings, gardens, community services), or whether they would prefer you to spend less of their rates on growth infrastructure projects - then I think you'd get a clear answer. Local council and community services are highly valued in a liveable city.

It's not that urban growth is a bad thing. By itself. But it becomes a bad thing, an unaffordable thing for existing ratepayers, if Auckland Council makes them subsidise the costs of growth infrastructure.

There are several big ticket growth items awaiting funding certainty. Like Watercare's Central Interceptor project, like several new roads and road capacity-increase projects which are the responsibility of Auckland Transport. And there's the Central Rail Link - which can't be built without Central Government's contribution.

Maybe Watercare knows something that the rest of us don't know, but I get the strong feeling that the reason it has been ratcheting up its connection fees, and giving strong warnings that water and wastewater rates are on their way up - is because Auckland Council is telling Watercare, "if you want the Central Interceptor, then fund it yourself. Don't expect Auckland Council to raise a ratepayer funded loan for it...."  But I don't know about that. Just a feeling. However. Councillors, don't think you can escape responsibility for Watercare charge increases by keeping rate increases down a bit. Watercare is your responsibility too. You govern it. No-one else does.

Development Contributions do cover some of the costs of growth infrastructure. But they only make a contribution toward those costs. Auckland Council's current policy settings still presume that existing ratepayers will heavily subsidise those costs. There are arguments in support of that policy - such as that some Aucklanders get jobs building that infrastructure. But that does not justify overloading existing Auckland ratepayers with growth infrastructure costs.

I think you would be assisted in your task if you asked officers for typical household scenarios with different policy settings. You should be provided with information at the individual ratepayer level of all the consequences of your plans, policies and assumptions. This would tally up rates AND Watercare charges AND any other Council charges - so you can see the total funding impact of your potential decisions on typical Auckland ratepayers across the region. You probably already get stuff like this, but I'd suggest you get officers to keep it simple and comprehensive so you can share it with the media and with the public.

If you feel educated and enlightened and empowered by information provided by your officers, then ratepayers will likely feel the same way.

These scenarios need to include an assessment of the true costs to ratepayers - new ones and existing ones - of providing infrastructure for growth, and an explanation of how those costs are covered, and who pays.

In the end this assessment comes down to an understanding of who is gaining and who is losing out from Auckland Council's current growth assumptions and policy settings, and allows an evaluation of what is best for most ratepayers.

It's not good enough to hide behind a 2.5% average rate increase either - given that inflation last year was less than 1%, and the first quarter of this year was 1.5% - despite the fact that some of your services are inflating ahead of this average.

My biggest policy concern with the growth pathway Auckland is headed down (as built into the Auckland Plan) is that because of the assumption that existing ratepayers will subsidise costs of growth infrastructure needed to accommodate new ratepayers, then the true costs of new accommodation will not be paid by those buying into Auckland. This inbuilt subsidy is causing property-market failure. Auckland's property market craziness is being partly driven by Auckland Council growth policies.

These need to be examined, challenged and revised by Councillors as part of the strategic review that is now underway. I see two policy options for change: either a further shift of costs of growth onto new development and away from existing ratepayers, or a substantial deferral in the startup and delivery time of big ticket projects, or perhaps a mixture of both of these options.

Don't be rushed into decisions.


Yours Sincerely,


Joel Cayford (Ratepayer)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Precinct Properties and Downtown 1

On Wednesday I attended two different meetings about possible public private initiatives on Auckland's downtown waterfront. The first was the public part of Waterfront Auckland's Board meeting where the Ferry Group presented their ideas for Queens Wharf and the Ferry Terminal (these have previously been canvassed in NZ Herald here and here). The meeting itself was also reported. I took extensive notes of the presentation which I thought contained some interesting ideas for Queens Wharf that certainly deserve further consideration - both publicly and by Council and Waterfront Auckland - but I'll report those thoughts later.

The second meeting I attended was a "Media Briefing" convened by Auckland Council Development Ctte Chair Penny Hulse assisted by Auckland Council Urban Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid. The purpose of the briefing was the Downtown West area - in particular the controversial Precinct Properties proposal which may or not incorporate Queen Elizabeth Square.

In attendance were reporters for Metro, Radio NZ (earlier report), Stuff, TransportBlog (and here), a TV1 reporter, and Bob Dey (earlier report). They have put up some useful reports from the meeting - transport blog are to be especially commended for including historic images and maps of Downtown Auckland. I was there in my capacity as a blogging commentator on Auckland planning issues.

There is trouble up road. The tip of the iceberg shows in Precinct Properties submissions to the Unitary Plan. And I'll introduce those at the end of this post. But first, a bit of introduction. What was the difference between these two Council meetings? And what appears to be happening...?

The Difference

There were many differences between the meetings. But I'll start with what's the same. Each of these public/private proposals involves publicly owned assets (Queens Wharf / Queen Elizabeth Square); each involves a private sector investor with adjacent investments (Ferry Group own the Ferry Building / Precinct Properties own the HSBC Building and Downtown Shopping); each investor is engaging with the relevant public entity (Waterfront Auckland / Auckland Council). What's different is the way in which public interests are being treated, the way in which the public is being involved, and the amount of information about the private sector proposals that is being shared with the public.

The Appearance

The Ferry Group proposal, as far as I understand it, was presented to the Mayor first, who liked it, and then it went to Waterfront Auckland, who were less impressed. But it's continuing to do the rounds. The Ferry Group want a leasehold interest on Queens Wharf deck space, they want to build a couple of Shed 10 like structures there with public space beneath (a little like what was proposed by Auckland Harbour Board when it constructed its HQ on Princes Wharf with three stories of clear space for pedestrian permeability below) and office and commercial activity above, and they want to build a more efficient ferry terminal. (There's more - but that's the guts of it. They propose that the northern end and the sunny side of the wharf would be permanent public space. But the proposal doesn't address transport requirements that well.) So it's on the table. A public offer. It is what it is.

The Precinct Properties proposal appears to be very different. It has the appearance of having been swallowed hook line and sinker by Auckland Council. And now Auckland Council is in the unfortunate position of having to sell it to Councillors, to the media (hence the briefing), and the public. But this is without showing anybody anything of the proposal. What we are seeing is a pile of post-decision justification.

I'll give you one example. At the media briefing Ludo spent quite a lot of time dissing QE Square. It appears Auckland Council has commissioned Urban Design advice which gives some positives but more negatives. Surprise surprise. We know it's not working well. But what highlights Ludo's lack of professional detachment was his selective use of an assessment of QE Square that was prepared by Ministry of Works planners in 1977.

Here are extracts Ludo quoted from the report:

What he could have done was to provide the context from the report, which looked also at Lower Queen Street and QE Square, and how what we see now came about. The report discusses how the redevelopment came about and the role of Auckland Harbour Board (which owned the land then)....

The Ministry of Works reviewer notes the emphasis on "economic" uses, and draws attention to the fine words that were in the original proposal....but which were not present when it was all done.... 

And what is relevant to what is proposed now, is the 1977 report's critique of the downtown shopping area's urban design contribution to the failure.... 

The department store was developed like a mall. It faces inwards. It does not activate the square by facing outward. This is a key contribution to the desolate feel of QE Square. Why didn't you tell the media that Ludo?

...and the 1977 critique goes on to draw attention to the absence of verandahs and shelter - the sort of amenity that is an essential part of pedestrian amenity...

Ludo, your credibility as an urban design champion is compromised by your selective use of information to support a position that appears to be consolidating, in Auckland Council, at the expense of the Auckland public. The winners in the scenario that appears to be emerging are the Council (money in the bank from the QE Square sale), and Precinct Properties (in control of an enlarged downtown/waterfront land-holding). The losers are the public of Auckland.

The Reality

So how can we find out what's planned by Precinct Properties? They can hide behind Auckland Council and its senior staff who have gone into bat for them. But what do they really want? A good place to look - I discover - is the Precinct Properties submission to the Unitary Plan dated 28 February this year.

The PAUP (Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan) currently has this provision:

So that's a quote from the Proposed Unitary Plan. You can see it sets out the requirements in the event that QE Square is reconfigured or replaced (how did this provision get in to the PAUP in the first place?) Anyway, what Precinct Properties want is for that provision to be deleted. To be removed from the plan. They submit that "there are other ways" to achieve a better street and open space network. But give no detail. Just want that provision deleted. What do you think about that, Ludo?

And there's a whole lot else. Other PAUP changes wanted by Precinct Properties are listed in the bullet-point summaries below. They relate to its proposals (which remain to be seen) for the redevelopment of Downtown West. (I have provided brief explanations in the brackets):
  • delete the policy: "require buildings to transition in height from the core central business district to the waterfront and neighbouring, lower scale precincts". (PP wants to go higher and be untroubled by public spaces and places, or more human scale adjacent precincts like the waterfront.)
  • relax the graduated Harbour Edge Height Control Plane between CBD and waterfront for Downtown West  (PP wants to go through that height control.)
  • remove the requirement for a formal Framework Plan for Downtown West (because PP reckon there are other ways of getting integrated development without going through the detail of a Framework Plan)
  • remove the requirement that new laneways have no or limited vehicle access to qualify for development bonus (because PP wants to free up these new streets for non-pedestrian traffic.)
  • remove the requirement that new laneways be publicly accessible 7 days a week, 24 hours day (because PP says this is not possible for safety, security and operational reasons.)
  • allow building demolition as a controlled activity (ie permitted without need for a consent or permit as presently proposed).
  • increase particular building height limits from 50 metres to 75 metres
  • remove requirement for a Design Statement for new development in accordance with the Auckland Design Manual (Man. What does Auckland's Urban Design Champion think of that submission! Like throwing the Auckland urban design bible out the window isn't it?)
  • remove the amenity yard beside No 1 Queen Street because it is unduly restrictive (this is where the glass box coffee shop is across Quay Street from the ferry building)
  • remove provisions requiring sustainable development standards of new buildings such as Green Star and Living Building Challenge
  • change the current policy: "provide for an interconnected network of high quality public open spaces which vary in form and function in highly accessible locations within the precinct that are activated" by the addition of the phrase: "as far as practicable".  (And that just about sums it up for PP. It wants to be let off the hook for most of the things that the unsuspecting public might want.)
I challenge any Auckland Councillor to stare at this list - which is not comprehensive - and not be afraid.
Be very afraid guys. Beware what you risk getting us into here.
And if you don't believe me, check out the submission here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Successful Cities have Successful Civic Places



For decades the significance of public urban places and their role in facilitating public life has been given low priority by those responsible for shaping Auckland. But that does not mean the desire for civic space has gone away. Public concern over Queen Elizabeth Square and Queens Wharf attests to that.

Public places in cities have significantly contributed to urban life throughout history. In the beginning, people came together for social reasons. Gradually public places assumed spiritual, civic and market functions. And later, combinations of social, economic and cultural life happened in city squares and streets, in places adjacent to the cathedral or civic buildings, on streets where people lived, and where shops and workshops were located.

But with the advent of the automobile, urban squares and streets became receptacles for the movement and storage of the car, endangering those places for social and civic activities. Planners and engineers prioritised private vehicle use over public pedestrian safety. While this trend was largely reversed in Europe, especially during the 1970s when cars were excluded from central parts of hundreds of cities and towns, the automobile is still an important presence and burden.

The measure today of how civilized a city is, of how successfully a city has provided city squares and streets for public life, is the volume of pedestrian traffic in its civic spaces. However civic success is not just about managing the motorcar skillfully, it is primarily about remembering and respecting the skills of public space management. 

Civic spaces are not successful by accident – though sometimes they are – they are caused and planned by careful and deliberate action. Successful civic spaces need constant curating to ensure the balance of activities and uses is optimized. Left alone they become places of neglect. Empty places for lonely statutes, empty experiences, and empty of people. Civic spaces in cities are about people and life and culture.

Here in Auckland we have a world class civic space – developing and being curated in front of our eyes – from Silo Park with its collection of heritage boats, cement silos for photo-exhibitions and art and interpretation, children’s playground and basketball hoops, piano-playing by passer’s by, civilised outdoor food and eateries adjacent, popular coffee and food bars there - whose economic livelihoods are guaranteed by the presence of the ASB headquarter building and its workers, plenty of places to sit and stare, and a working waterfront with fishing boats, ferries, and marine industry, with more to come.

How this contrasts with Auckland’s dreadful Queen Elizabeth Square, privatised civic spaces on Princes Wharf, threatened public spaces on Queens Wharf, and mismanagement of Quay Street.

You don’t have to look hard for an explanation for these civic failures because they have have one influence in common. They are Auckland’s legacy from the development activities of the Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) and its corporatized offspring known now as Ports of Auckland Limited (POAL).

In 1963 AHB owned the reclaimed land at the foot of Queen Street now occupied by the Downtown Shopping Centre, HSBC Tower and Queen Elizabeth Square which was the public by-product of a successful overseas development tender. Despite objections from the Auckland Architects Association which built a model of the scheme demonstrating the wind and shading effects of the twenty-storey tower formally known as Air New Zealand House, the scheme went ahead largely unchanged. It is ironic that AHB’s prospectus for tenderers stated that: “pedestrian amenity will be a prime objective”.

AHB’s plans for its distinctive octagonal headquarter building on the base of Princes Wharf included paving and pedestrianisation of Quay Street to Queen Street, and from Queen Elizabeth Square across and up Queens Wharf. They also emphasized pedestrian access onto Princes Wharf from Quay Street beneath its headquarters whose first floor was built three stories above the wharf. The plans were granted upon appeal, but subject to the pedestrian areas being constructed “contemporaneously”, and that the building was only to be used as AHB’s HQ. Construction began in 1983, but promised pedestrian amenity never eventuated. AHB moved out after a few years, sublet the building as commercial office-space, and infilled the lower floors of the building, blocking that pedestrian access off Quay Street and onto Princes Wharf.

The development approach adopted later by POAL for Princes Wharf exhibits the same pattern: early proposals included significant public space around the wharf and at the end and a central street shown populated with pedestrians, maritime museum, galleries, a theatre and other public attractions; much of this was gone from plans by the time construction commenced in 1998; and since then a steady sequence of infill and development has been encouraged shading the central street, blocking access to public spaces, and allowing largely uncontrolled parking and traffic movements.

Today POAL still holds property rights around the edges of Queens Wharf which affect its public use, even though the wharf is “owned” by Auckland Council and Central Government, and its grip on other central wharves and surplus waterfront reclaimed land is primarily about delivering on its “successful business” objective.


Auckland stands at a kind of cross roads now. I’m picking that Auckland wants North Wharf on Quay Street, Queens Wharf and Queen Elizabeth Square. It most certainly does not want another Aotea Square, and certainly not another Princes Wharf.

It is time for a successful city – not just a collection of successful businesses – and in significant part that is about developing and managing successful civic spaces.

PT Plan: Unaffordable for Auckland, Unavailable to Many

Len Brown has nailed his colours firmly to the mayoral mast in this, his second term of office, declaring, “My number one priority is to bring forward the start date for the Central Rail Link to 2016….”

Central Government has indicated support for the project (cautious support) but is firm on a start date of 2021, unless a number of public transport patronage targets are met which could bring the start date forward. Nevertheless, Mayor Brown in true little red hen fashion, is doing it himself. Auckland Council has already purchased properties worth $35 million along the route.

I write here as a former Chair of Transport (North Shore City for 3 years, Auckland Regional Council for 3 years), and as a strong supporter of public transport investment. While the Mayor’s determination is laudable, his lack of experience in city-building is on display, and the risks that arise from his actions and aspirations (presuming they are supported by councillors) will be borne by the city and its citizens – not by him or them. These risks include putting our few transport eggs into one basket thus ensuring good public transport services remain unavailable for decades to those outside that basket; hoisting Auckland’s debt level even higher and foisting debt repayment obligations on future generations; and tempting foreign investors into the scheme by sacrificing civic assets like Queen Elizabeth Square.

I am not the only commentator increasingly concerned by the Council’s fixation on this very expensive project. The pro-PT transportblog writes on May27th: “…the council are getting to a point where they are going to need to make some tough decisions on what projects they actually build. Carrying on trying to do everything simply isn’t possible so the council will need to prioritise what they do. This is something we’ve been saying for some time and is a basis to many of the things we advocate for including the CFN (Congestion Free Network) and walking and cycling….” (NB: Matt L comments that Transportblog believes the CRL is "the most important project".)

The City Rail Link (CRL) is a 3.5 kilometre rail tunnel under central Auckland that is projected to cost $2.8 billion to construct. Its route and construction method is illustrated in the image below which also shows the locations of the three proposed stations.



The CRL project will bring a number of benefits to Auckland. These are listed below:
1) To increase the capacity of Auckland’s rail network by turning Britomart into a through station and adding another rail entrance to the city centre from Mt Eden.
2) To ease the pressure on the city centre’s roading network by reducing the level of future increases in buses and cars.
3) To significantly reduce travel times on Auckland’s rail network.
4) To allow higher train frequencies to be operated on all lines of the Auckland rail network.
5) To provide sufficient capacity in the rail system for future extensions (eg rail to the airport, Avondale-Southdown line.) to be possible.
6) To stimulate business activity in the city centre and other rail served centres and generate agglomeration benefits including increased development density.
7) To stimulate higher intensity residential development around the rail network and reduce the need for Auckland to grow via urban sprawl.
8 ) To enable and support a more efficient and effective bus network.
9) To improve rail access in the city centre.
10) To allow trains to be routed through the city centre and offer one-seat rides between centres on different sides of Auckland.

However, the CRL is a massive project that improves just one of Auckland's transport networks – the rail network. It will have a huge impact on Auckland CBD during construction because of the cut and cover sections through Queen Elizabeth Square and up Lower Albert Street. It will offer major opportunities for land development – including the Downtown Precinct which abuts Queen Elizabeth Square. And it comes at enormous cost.
So it needs to be right. It is more important that it's planned right, than that construction gets started in 2016. And it is critically important that its construction takes its place in the queue with other important public transport network improvements.

This Auckland Transport map depicts the proposed Frequent Network which would/could have services running at least every 15 minutes 7am to 7pm 7 days a week. What it amounts to is a strategic re-organisation of Auckland bus routes in particular. It has largely been agreed after detailed consultation. Parts of the South Auckland network have already been improved.

The transport objective underpinning this plan is the establishment of frequent services right across Auckland. Not just on Rail and the Northern Busway (which you can see in black). NB: The proposed CRL is not shown on this map, but its route is more or less from Britomart, via K’Road to Mt Eden station (shown as the purple star).

Given the affordability of the CRL, the low hanging fruit public transport priority needs to be to deliver the frequency and promise that can be obtained from the new frequent bus sections of the network, which require modest investments in key sections (bus priority lanes, other priority measures such as priority signalling, some network interchange stations, extended lanes, corridor widening, and additional bus stops and shelters).

I understand that all of these bus network corridor improvements have been planned and await funding in a package of works that will cost about $200 million, but that this package is being stalled because of the perceived priority of the CRL. Under the mayor’s current direction, the CRL project is becoming a black hole. All consuming. Surely it's a priority for South Aucklanders to benefit from the promised frequent bus service.

The political problem that I see is that the pressure to "start CRL in 2016" (especially in a substantial way) threatens a tight public transport budget. And threatens to delay the rollout to wider Auckland region of frequent bus services that might not be "world class", but they will be a lot more reliable and attractive alternatives to car than the bus services available now. And the packages of work required a whole lot more affordable for Auckland Council than trying to get the CRL off the ground all by itself.
 
And as for the rail network and patronage targets, I am advised that the new electric trains don't just look good running on their newly electrified lines. They carry more passengers than the ones they replaced. In fact they carry on average about 50% more passengers per train set than the equivalent trains they replaced. What this means is that the existing rail network (without the CRL, but with electrification and the new trains) can carry about 50% more passengers/hour now than before. That's a significant increase in capacity which at the present rate of patronage increase will take some years to be taken up – allowing time for other public transport priorities.

Bearing that in mind, and the opportunity begging for improvements to bus corridors, surely it is the right thing to do to protect the budgets for those improvements and prioritise them, get them done over the next couple of years, complete the planning for CRL, and maybe go ahead with foundational tunnel works which will permit the Downtown Precinct development and Queen Elizabeth Square works to proceed without much delay. And plan to build the CRL in stages.

Which brings me to the proposed sale of Queen Elizabeth Square.


This picture is from the Britomart Railway station building. Queen Elizabeth Square is mainly taken up with a bus interchange and a small paved area with a few struggling Kauri trees. The proposed CRL starts here, runs under QE Square, and turns left up Albert Street. A single developer – Precinct Properties now owns the HSBC tower (in the centre of the picture, and the Downtown Shopping Centre to the left. Auckland Council officers have assessed the Square as being “windy, shaded and unattractive” and come up with a plan to sell the paved area to the developer for a $60 million contribution towards the CRL cost.

But here’s a better idea.


Auckland Council plans to replace the Britomart bus interchange with three smaller interchanges around the edges of the CBD.  This creates a wonderful opportunity for Auckland to transform Queen Elizabeth Square into a waterfront civic square across a pedestrianized Quay Street from Queens Wharf. The perfect place for a modern tram interconnecting the bus interchanges, Wynyard Quarter, Ferry Terminal, Central Railway Station, Queen Street, and Universities.

Then finish the CRL.

POAL: Old Dog, Old Tricks

Last set of postings included this one about part of the Unitary Plan submissions prepared by Regional Facilities Auckland. Gradually these submissions will receive attention from the independent commissioners, and from media, and other interested parties. 9,400 submissions have been received. Together they address some 93,600 different requests for change to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP).

Someone sent me a spreadsheet summary of submissions relating to Princes Wharf. I noticed in there that Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL) have submitted that the PAUP height limit for developments on Princes Wharf should be increased from 27 metres to 41 metres.

So I thought I'd have a look at POAL's submissions.

POAL's submission document is 453 pages long and has been prepared for POAL by its lawyers Russell McVeagh. It covers many issues, but its overalll thrust is summed up well by this introductory paragraph:
The submission argues against the PAUP's emphasis on environmental effects, and submits that the enabling of urban growth and economic wellbeing should come first. This sets the scene for much of the rest of POAL's submissions. Here I look at the one about Princes Wharf height controls.

At page 305, and POAL request for change number 397, is POAL's call for the height limit change. The submission also calls for a relaxation of view corridor controls. You can look it up if you want the detail, but I want to put in context.

Almost 20 years ago POAL issued an information memorandum offering the Princes Wharf "long leasehold interest for sale".


The document advises that Princes Wharf represents an "unparalleled opportunity for an investor/developer to acquire prime waterfront leasehold property..."

The document presented this cross section showing the height controls in place at the time. You can see that the 41 metre figure actually relates to the height of the Ports Headquarter building (the left of the graphic) above deck level. While the height of right hand section could go to 37 metres above deck level, sloping down to 27 metres about halfway, then 22 metres, then 14 metres. (In fact Scheme Change No.4 which became operative 22 November 1990 states: "The uppermost roof level of permanately occupied space shall not exceed 37m above deck level provided that this height shall be reduced to 27m if no hotel is located at the northern end of the wharf.")

While POAL's submission does reproduce the maximum height and building envelope diagram from Scheme Change No. 4, it has done so in a way that the detail is blurred, and the only height that is readable is the 41m height of its HQ building (which of course is no longer its HQ building, because POAL sold the commercial use rights many years ago.)

Archive documents clearly state that at the time of planning for Princes Wharf development, the precursor to POAL - Auckland Harbour Board - was at pains to ensure that the development sloped down near to the octagonal HQ building so that views from the HQ building would be protected.

It seems that now the HQ building is no occupied by POAL and its Board then its view corridors no longer need protection.

In terms of height controls it is entirely appropriate for the PAUP to at least replicate the controls that were put in place almost twenty years ago - this would ensure that there was very limited development potential left on Princes Wharf. At the time of the plan change being put in place Auckland Regional Authority argued that an overal height control of 25 metres would have been appropriate. Having a slightly more restrictive height control in the PAUP (it could be 22 metres rather than 27 metres) would not mean that over-height buildings need to be taken down - they enjoy existing use rights - but it would mean that no further development above the existing roof line could occur. This would protect Auckland's waterfront from excessive development.