Wednesday, January 18, 2017

First Test of Unitary Plan: Rymans Granted

The decision to grant the controversial Rymans Retirement Village in Devonport is a test case of the application of Auckland Unitary Plan provisions contained in its Mixed Housing Suburban Zone - particularly in relation to the intensification of Navy/Ngati Whatua land precincts.  

The hearing of the application by Ryman Healthcare Limited to build a retirement village in Devonport, Auckland (see my critical preliminary posting here) was undertaken on behalf of the Auckland Council by Independent Hearing Commissioners Kitt Littlejohn, Dave Serjeant and John Hill. The majority decision to grant the application (dated 13 January 2017) has just been released. The decision to grant the resource consent was made by Commissioners Littlejohn and Hill, as a majority of the Commissioners appointed to hear and determine the application. For reasons that are separately recorded in the decision, Commissioner Serjeant would have refused consent to the application.

Cross section of proposed development - from application

Photoshop of left-right expanse of proposed development from Mt Victoria


The application was publicly notified on 16 September 2016. A total of 392 submissions were received, with 73 in support, 14 neutral and 305 in opposition. Twenty-nine submissions were received late, of which 2 were in support, 2 were neutral and 25 were in opposition.

It is likely the decision will soon be available here (scroll down to "37 Ngataringa Road").

In my view the critical aspects/turning points in the decision include the following findings:
34. During the processing of the application the Council notified its decisions on the recommendations of the Independent Hearings Panel on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) under clause 10(5) of Schedule 1 of the RMA. Subsequently, on 15 November 2016, the Council gave notice pursuant to clause 20 of Schedule 1 of the RMA that those parts of the PAUP not challenged by appeals were now operative. These statutory changes to the planning framework for the assessment of the application have had the effect of amending rules which had immediate legal effect upon notification of the PAUP (which the application addressed on lodgement), making other rules (and associated objectives and policies) in the PAUP legally applicable (and most recently operative) to the application, and making obsolete other rules and provisions of legacy plans that applied at the date the application was lodged.

35. In advance of the hearing the Commissioners directed the reporting officer and applicant to confer and agree on the relevant rules and other policy provisions that applied to the application at the date the hearing commenced. A joint statement was filed and we have relied on it as describing the consent requirements and policy framework now applicable to this proposal. Most notably, the applicant and the reporting officer considered that rules that had earlier applied to the proposal that classified aspects of it as non-complying, had been superseded with the effect that the proposal was now classified as a fully discretionary activity. No party to the hearing contended otherwise and we have therefore proceeded with our assessment and determination of the application on that basis. (my bolding)

Thus the application has been considered in terms of the provisions of the Unitary Plan, making it one of the first. It is therefore significant. The next stages in the decision relate to the most contentious aspect namely the need for a land use consent for an integrated residential development in the Mixed Housing Suburban Zone (MHS) and also within the Devonport Peninsula Precinct (DPP). Both of these provisions have rules and policies which need to be complied with. These are all set out in the decision. The decision progresses:
49. The MHS zone standards are expressly varied for this site by virtue of the DPP provisions and therefore take precedence (OAUP Rule C1.6(4)). Of particular relevance is the standard in relation to building height, which in Precinct F (this site) is varied from the MHS zone permitted height of 8-9 metres to, depending on the location within the site (by reference to Precinct Plan), 8-9, 11-12 and 16-17 metres.
It transpires that the main heighjt control for the site is 16-17 metres, and because there are some exceedances of that control, the application becomes fully discretionary.

The written decision summarises the evidence provided by the applicant, by submitters, and by Council officers, and notes that the applicant's right of reply included two alternative proposals involving reductions in the height of buildings B02 and/or B04. Before deciding on the key issues, the decision report considers what is the permitted baseline for the site. This is interesting because there is nothing already there in Devonport, or in Ngataringa Road to use for a permitted baseline:
150. .... we do accept that the applicant’s “anticipated development” baseline (or the reporting officer’s ‘complying development’ concept) is something that we should have due regard to as a relevant matter...

and
152. In combination, the MHS zone and DPP rules classify an integrated residential development on this site that complies with the varied height and other related bulk and location standards in the DPP as a wholly restricted discretionary activity. Under the DPP provisions such an activity can be considered without public or limited notification, or the need to obtain written approval from affected parties, except in special circumstances (Rule I508.5 Notification). 
 (note here that the application does not comply with the height control - which makes it discretionary)
153. We find that this is an important indicator as to the OAUP’s approach to the management of effects on the environment at this location and the extent to which it has enabled development at this (and other) DPP locations. Put simply, subject to the specific assessment matters, we find that building development of the scale anticipated by the rules and standards must be considered to be consistent with the policy and objective framework of the DPP; after all, the former methods only exist to achieve the later provisions (in a plan hierarchy sense)....

and
155. Accordingly, in summary, we give weight to the effects on the environment that might result from development of the site in accordance with the applicant’s anticipated development scenario, which is based on a ‘compliant’ restricted discretionary (as far as land use is concerned) proposal....  we have no trouble in finding that the scale of the anticipated buildings and their enabled height on the site is considerable and that the differences between that anticipated scale of buildings and the scale of buildings for which consent is sought are comparatively small. We will bear these differences in mind when we look at the specific assessment matters that the OAUP provides us with when looking in particular at the design and external appearance of the proposed buildings.
The bold section is interesting. The words "enabled height" reference the development potential inherent in the increased height control permitted by the MHS and the DPP, and "comparatively small" is the decision's pivotal description of the height differences between what is permitted and what is proposed.

The decision report then moves on to consider the main issues in contention. These include: Construction effects; Effects on the Duder Brickworks; Effects on the coastal edge; Traffic and transport effects; Built form (external appearance, height, bulk and location) and related landscape, visual and urban design effects. In this post I concentrate on the last issue. The decision goes on:
173. The aspect of the proposal that was the focus of many at the hearing and also our own deliberations is the bulk, location and external appearance of the proposed retirement village buildings. We have been assisted in our analysis of these matters by the assessment criteria and matters for discretion for integrated residential development found generally in the MHS zone and specifically, for the scale of such development anticipated at this site, in the DPP. 
 Important DPP assessment criteria come into play and are referred to in the decision:
179. Assessment Criteria (I508.8.2.1) for such restricted discretionary activities are:
(1) Whether building height establishes an integrated built form that is in accordance with Policy I508.3(1)(a), (b) and (c) and also:
(a) is in keeping with the form and function of existing and proposed streets, lanes and open space;
and (b) ensuring a mix of building heights and a variation of built form when viewed from streets, public open space and residentially zoned areas and in particular, views of higher buildings should be broken up by buildings of a lesser height to reduce dominance and bulk....

The crucial finding then follows:
181. We find that the bulk, height and location of the proposed buildings establishes a built form on the site that avoids wider dominance or visual effects. Our assessment of the proposal from the most distant viewpoints we were provided is that although it will be noticeable as a large built form, it will still sit comfortably in the urban residential landscape when viewed from those elevated locations. It is assisted in this outcome by the extent of foreground vegetation to be retained, the fact that it does not dominate a ridgeline or the horizon, and that its architectural forms and appearance are not uncommon features in these views.

This finding is justified by further descriptive paragraphs including:
183. We observe here that the enabled greater building height for the site is the method chosen by the DPP provisions to achieve the policies against which the proposal is then to be assessed. Consequently, a finding that a building of a complying height did not achieve the policy would be illogical. Of course here we are assessing buildings that do not fully comply with the DPP height limits. But in relation to the assessment matter, we are not persuaded that the additional areas of height result, overall, in the development having wider adverse dominance and visual effects. As the montages and elevations of the alternative options offered by the applicant show, it is difficult to discern the difference at first glance.
I wonder whether this throw-away comment might come back to haunt! The reasoning in this paragraph may be why the decision does not engage with the Ryman offer to reduce the height of two of its higher buldings. At this point the decision engages with the dissenting assessment of Commissioner Serjeant.

186. Finally on this topic we turn to the key point of difference between ourselves and Commissioner Serjeant, whose dissenting reasons (set out later) we have had the benefit of reading in draft. We refer here to the assessment criteria which direct us to consider whether the building height establishes “an integrated built form” that ensures a mix of building heights and variation of built form when viewed from streets, public open space and residentially zoned areas with views of higher buildings being broken up by buildings of lesser height, thereby reducing dominance and bulk.

187. We consider that the proposed retirement village buildings do provide a mix of building heights and variation of built form when viewed from the outside in. Undoubtedly, the design of the buildings could have incorporated a greater mix of height and variation of built form. We accept the analysis of Commissioner Serjeant in this regard. However, we do not wish to be drawn into a debate on architectural design to achieve what are essentially qualitative criteria, particularly in circumstances where we are not satisfied on the evidence that requiring greater variation in height and built form is necessary to avoid or mitigate an adverse effect on the environment of the development. We also observe that the anticipated height and built form of a complying development on the site would not likely bring with it any greater variation than is currently proposed.
The decision report then proceeds to grant the orginal application subject to conditions, and concludes with Commissioner Serjeant's dissenting opinion and assessment, extracts now follow:
197. At the outset, it needs to be clear that the area of dissention lies only in relation to the bulk, location and design of the buildings, and even then only Buildings 2, 3 and 4. I consider that the adverse effects of these buildings and their inconsistency with the objectives and policies for the Devonport Peninsula Precinct are such that the application should be declined. The Precinct objectives, policies and related assessment criteria focus on both intensification and a quality built environment, and I consider that to fail in either of these matters is to fail overall....
203. ...the critical issue in this dissenting view is the performance of the application against the matters raised in 1508.8.2.1.1  (ed: DPP). In particular:
• Wider dominance and visual effects;
• The mix of building heights across Area 1 such that views of higher buildings should be broken up by buildings of lesser height to reduce dominance and bulk;
• The variation of built form when viewed from streets, public open space and residentially zoned areas.

207. Assoc Prof Bird was engaged as an independent urban design and visual assessment expert following the design process. His assessment utilised photo montages of the proposed development, and illustrations of “buildings built to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan decision [representing] the additional height permitted, enabled by the Devonport Peninsula Precinct”. The applicant’s evidence was that the proposed development had similar effects as to ‘permitted’ buildings. My view is that the images of the PAUP buildings cannot be relied on for a comparative assessment as the only buildings that are permitted on the site are those complying with the MHS height limit, with all buildings taking advantage of the DPP height limits requiring assessment under the criteria. As such it is not realistic to suggest that ‘complying’ buildings would look anything like what was depicted in terms of probable bulk and location (see for example the higher buildings in Drawing RC40A)....
208. .....viewpoints are particularly important, as viewpoints from public open space are an essential part of the criteria. Assoc Prof Bird came to the conclusion that the proposal will have ‘less than minor’ adverse visual, dominance or overlooking effects on its various receiving environments. That is clearly not the case from Viewpoints 7 and 8 in particular, and likely other viewpoints from the south such as Viewpoint 17 on Lake Road where the buildings appear as a continuous line of multi-storey buildings, which is not the outcome sought by the criteria.

In his conclusion, Commissioner Serjeant makes a number of points about the environmental and planning consequences of other integrated developments based on the decision's interpretation of the effects of the Unitary Plan provisions.
210. My conclusion is that the application should be declined. Unlike the majority decision, my finding is that the application fails on the facts in terms of its ability to meet the assessment criteria, and this failure is sufficient to decline that application given the strong focus on design issues in order to meet the DPP description. This application is the first to be tested against the provisions of the DPP that provide for the intensification of six areas, beyond that otherwise provided for by the underlying zoning. This intensification will generate significant change in each of these areas, subject to the assessment criteria referred to above (and likely no public input, given the non-notification provision). While acknowledging that this application is for a retirement village, and not a typical apartment development, it would be unfortunate if the interpretation of the DPP provisions were seen to support the proliferation of large bulky buildings that have little or no variation in built form and adopt an undifferentiated 16m height limit within Area 1. While the achievement of greater intensity is supported, this does not have to be at the expense of the existing environment or a quality outcome.
I believe this is a very important test case for the future of Auckland - particularly an Auckland that aims to be the most liveable.

Wharf State House Pretty Stately




Came across by ferry last week and spotted the unwrapped Parekowhai sculpture in the morning sun. Was quite struck. Even has copper guttering. Wrote about the idea here a couple of years ago - under the byline:

Keep Auckland Weird

Walked down the wharf to check it out. I think it will be quite an attractor - might as well have some useful interpretation explaining the state house background. Discovered a free yoga class underway.

When the chandelier gets inside should be spectacular. Especially at night. Wonder what the next piece of artwork might be for Auckland Central - and what will it mean?

 

Mixed MBIE Messages

It's interesting times for planning in New Zealand.

Since the Resource Management Act's (RMA) enactment in 1991 most national governance action around planning has been through the Ministry for Environment (MfE) and its Minister. This has been changing in the past few years - in part because of the affordable housing crisis.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has become more interested and involved in planning. Its messages make for interesting analysis. This post contains a little bit of that.

An MBIE Message about Housing Affordability

The Housing and Property section of MBIE's website has a statement which says:
...Local authorities impact on development and control land use through their Resource Management Act plans. 
Some urban areas in New Zealand are growing quickly, and the supply of space to meet housing needs isn’t keeping up with demand, so house prices in some areas are increasing much faster than incomes. 
The recent Productivity Commission inquiry into ‘Using land for housing’ found that local planning decisions are overly constraining the supply of space for housing. The Productivity Commission recommended that the Government prepare a national policy statement giving direction to local authorities to help address this. In August 2015, the Minister for the Environment and Building and Housing announced his intention to consult on the development of a proposed urban national policy statement. 
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment worked in partnership with Ministry for the Environment to develop a proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity. (bold added) 
 One of the criticisms of RMA implementation has been the absence or lack of the central government guidance that could have been provided through National Policy Statements (NPS). Five national policy statements are now in place:
  • National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity
  • National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management
  • National Policy Statement for Renewable Electricity Generation
  • National Policy Statement on Electricity Transmission
  • New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement
  • Work has been done on a proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity
 The involvement of MBIE in urban development plans and planning is interesting. An update on the website of the Resource Management Law Association (RMLA) states:
Update – National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity (NPS-UDC) 

During a meeting last week with the RMLA, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) shared their plans for supporting the implementation of the NPS-UDC as well as details of an implementation programme for 2017. The implementation programme comprises the following workstreams: 
  • Monitoring market indicators 
  • Housing and business development capacity assessments 
  • Responsive planning Consenting processes 
  • Future development strategies 
  • Monitoring and evaluation (i.e. monitoring the implementation of the NPS-UDC and evaluation of the effectiveness of the NPS-UDC) 
 Workstream teams are now developing the detail of their work programmes. This includes defining the support and guidance they will deliver, and how they will develop this. Timelines as always are tight, which means that councils will need to be working on their assessments, targets and future strategies ahead of when the guidance on these requirements is delivered in its final state. MfE’s workstreams will be looking at what can be done to help councils during this transitional period to give some confidence that they are on the right track. Their intention is to build on existing capacity and to close any gaps, rather than expecting local authorities to invest in sophisticated modelling from the outset. Market indicators and housing and business development capacity assessments 

The immediate focus is: 
  • developing market indicators, and technical guidance on how to use these (May 2017) 
  • guidance on housing and business development capacity assessments (June 2017) 
  • price efficiency indicators and related guidance (September 2017) 
 An advisory group has been set up for each of these workstreams and both groups met for the first time in the week beginning 12 December 2016. The advisory groups include a mix of council staff and consultants who have been brought on board for their specific technical expertise.

You can see how tight the timeframes are. They need to be because New Zealand's High Growth councils (Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Christchurch and Queenstown) will need to submit their housing and business capacity assessments with MfE/MBIE by December 2017.

Another MBIE Message about Housing Affordability

You can download MBIE's September 2015 issue of NZ Housing and Construction Quarterly here. The issue focuses on the housing markets in Auckland and Christchurch, with a particular focus on net migration into Auckland and how it affects the Auckland housing market. It starts:
The growth rate in both house values and rents in Auckland stabilised in December 2014. Since then the trend value in house values has grown steadily at 4% per quarter and the trend value in rents has grown at 2% per quarter. This means that while rents and house values in Auckland are still growing, the growth rates have not increased in six months.... It is important to bear in mind that this is a stabilisation of the growth rates in rents and house values, not a stabilisation of rents or house values themselves. Both house values and rents in Auckland are still growing rapidly by historical standards....
Then we get to the body of the report.

From MBIE's Housing & Construction Quarterly for September 2015
The text accompanying Figure 1 says:
Net migration into New Zealand, and into Auckland specifically, has increased sharply since 2013. This consists of increased permanent and long-term arrivals, as well as lower than usual permanent and long-term departures (Figure 1). A comparison of migration with growth in rents and house values shows some historical relationship between rents and net migration: rental growth peaked in mid-2002, at the same time net migration was at its height. A relationship is expected as an influx of migrants entering an area could be expected to affect demand for housing and therefore rents. While we do not have enough data to examine house value growth during the 2002 migration surge, we can compare how house value growth and rent growth changed around December 2012, when net migration started to increase rapidly. Prior to this time, changes in house values had closely followed growth in New Zealand gross domestic product (GDP); from late 2012 Auckland house values grew rapidly while quarterly real per capita GDP growth rates have stabilised or declined. There is a suggestion in the data of net migration and house values moving somewhat together between 2004 and 2010, but both series are also closely related to general economic conditions. In the latest cycle the upward movement in price growth that began in 2010 substantively preceded the upswing in net migration that began in 2013. It is clear that, at most, international migration is only one of many factors that influences house values and rents.
Figure 3 (above) compares quarterly changes and trends in house prices to June 2015. (This is interesting when you note the data available this week from QV - here - comparing residential house value trends, and annual increases, for the year ended December 2016: Wellington Area - 20.5%; Auckland Area - 12.2%; Christchurch City - 2.5%. Thus in the 18 months to December 2016 Wellington house values have rocketed, while Auckland's rate of increase has dropped significantly below Wellington's. What explains that? Certainly not the population growth cause cited in then first MBIE message - Infoshare has Wellington's average pop growth at 1.36% compared with Auckland's 2.2%.)


What MBIE has to say about this graph contains an important message:
This graph compares the historical growth of house prices with the difference between rental yield (annual rents divided by prices) and interest rates. The purpose is to compare the price of the housing asset with how well it is performing as an investment (by comparing cash flows to costs of borrowing). Auckland house price growth has been gradually rising over the last four years, while its rental yield has remained roughly constant. In the June 2015 quarter there is stronger growth in Auckland house prices, while its rental yield is now showing a clear decrease. This suggests that the demand for investment properties is being driven by expected future price increases and not by higher rental income.

Wow. Let's have some more data (and messages) like this please. Speaks the truth. Government's current emphasis on supply management rather than demand management tools to address housing price/affordability issues is not supported by the combination of these MBIE messages. 

 Message Post Script

The Wellington 

Other statistics present in the MBIE Housing and Construction Quarterly report include social housing statistics and construction and consenting data. Extremely useful.

Unfortunately, it seems the September 2015 issue was the last. MBIE's website states:
"MBIE has decided to review the NZHCQ to ensure it does the best job of sharing housing and construction data with the general public. While this review is under way, we will not be publishing the NZHCQ in December 2015 or March 2016. We will be releasing our new-look building and housing reporting in June 2016. In the meanwhile, you can find a range of tables on the rental bond data page...."
It appears that the "new look" reporting has yet to appear.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Costly Council Apron Strings

Here I am standing at the end of my Devonport street. I'm on the "apron" of the "T-intersection". It was relaid in hot mix by Council contractors about a month ago. Maintenance I guess.Took them several days. Between 10 and 15 high-vis clothed men on site. Lots of technology. Utes and about a hundred witches hats.

I'd driven over it for a few years and hadn't seen any problem with it. But I've learned that's often the case.

That's not my beef here.


These cones are still outside my front gate. I have phoned Council's hotline. They assure me they will be taken away in 10 working days. So it's likely they'll be gone by Christmas. They make the street a bit Christmasy though don't you think?

That's not my beef here either. (Nor is it with my neighbour across the street  hard at work, or his cat, or with the boat - this is Devonport after all.)
Between 1998 and 2004 I was Chair/Deputy Chair of North Shore City Council's Works and Environment Committee, and also on the Devonport Community Board. Street maintenance works like this apron were routinely done then too. A wise councillor told me then that anything the council did - road maintenance, mowing of lawns, sewer pipe repairs for example - would cost double what it would cost done by the private sector. Over time I came to understand why that was.

Public money and public assets on public land are different beasts to manage compared with what happens on private land with private infrastructure. There is consultation with local residents about timing, there is a need for annual budget planning that has to be consulted and agreed, and then, there was even consultation about whether the apron would be done in hot mix or chip seal.

But it's different again, and far more costly today, and you won't see an elected representative anywhere near the work. They are not involved anymore. They don't know what's happening in the urban environment where they have been elected to represent community interests. They're not there to watch over the wise use of ratepayer funds.

Council amalgamation and remote, arms length Council Controlled Organisations, are all part of the regional institutional change that is at the root of what is leading major local cultural change.

In the bad old days there were several "small contractors" who did this sort of road maintenance. Locally based operations, overseen by a local Council area manager. Usually the road section would be closed while it happened. Notices would advise of this, and residents would take slightly longer to get from "A" to "B". So there was no need for hundred of witches hats - but more importantly - there was no need for several men to be paid to direct the desultory traffic movements that happen in the back-blocks of Devonport. It was much cheaper.

I can hear the moans and complaints this posting will cause in AT (Auckland Transport) from here. They will say the work is being done to a higher standard. They will say that Devonport residents are being less disturbed by the work. They will say there are fewer safety risks. And most of that might be true. But that isn't the issue.

Not everybody is interested in the maintenance of their pipes, roads, libraries and parks. But you'd be surprised how many are. (One of my long standing memories visiting my daughter in Sapporo Japan, was to see that road works and pipe works were done by local pensioners and neighbours chatted with them on the way to the shops.) There is just a little more alienation of community involvement that happens when shared assets are maintained and managed remotely. A little more atomisation and separation. An emphasis on private lives. A loss of opportunity for community engagement. And at increased cost as well! Talk about a lose-lose outcome.

We are steadily losing through amalgamation parts of the institutional fabric that I associate with life and social development in New Zealand towns - socially connected urban communities.

Running On Empty

A few weeks ago I did the Alps to Oamaru cycle adventure, on part of John Key’s legacy cycleway infrastructure network. Rightly praised and highly popular. You can see a GoPro video I made about it here.

The best part was from Mt Cook to Lake Waitaki – through the McKenzie Country. But the rest of it is a downhill experience as the effects of another one of John Key’s legacy projects gets up your nose.

Intensive dairy farming enabled by central government assisted and encouraged irrigation, more than gets up your nose though. Through Kurow, Duntroon and Ngapara we cycled through cow pats and sheep manure and gear shift mechanisms got so clogged I had to poke the shit off.

Being an Oamaru boy, at Waikaki Boys High School, this landscape was my backyard. And later when I attended Canterbury University, my backyard extended to include much of the Canterbury Plains.

We had a family crib (bach) at Gemmell’s Crossing on the Kakanui River 8 miles from home. Even in the hottest summer you could jump off the bridge, or a willow tree rope swing. The river was deep, wide, clear, fast-flowing and glorious. Dad was a keen fly-fisherman.

Now it’s buggered.

Too much water being taken out of it, and from bores sucking down its feeder aquifers. For irrigation.

The soils that have naturally developed in the normally semi-arid climate (600mm of rain in an average year) don’t hold much water. Any extra goes through, some runs off on the underlying clays, some into the water table, and the rest into aquifers. That was when it did rain. Now centrally-pivoting irrigators have taken over. Inevitably, to get the grass growth needed, much of the land is over-irrigated.

So now any dissolved nitrates or any other chemicals or fertilisers, get washed into the river or into the aquifers. It’s not rain anymore that wets the ground and replenishes the groundwaters. It’s irrigation. And it’s washing through what clogged up my bike gears. Which is why what water we do see today in the Kakanui is green and weed-filled. Most people in New Zealand don’t know about the Kakanui River. More know about what’s happening to rivers in the Canterbury Plains.

Here’s some remarkable photo essays that Stuff has run recently on Canterbury’s braided Ashley and Selwyn Rivers.Community Mourns its Lost River; Selwyn is polluted and running dry; Trout get free ride to deeper water; 60% drop in river flow.

I talked to a Fish and Game Executive member about what’s happening. He’s angry of course. One thing he told me explains attitudes.

Apparently New Zealand’s Primary Industries Minister was in South Canterbury, talking to farmers. His memorable quote, when he talked about the rivers?

“Every drop that gets to the sea is water wasted….”

That’s the attitude of most - but not all - farmers. Seems to be the attitude of government Ministers.

The Minister of Environment writes: “good science and not slogans are at the heart of decision-making…” He’s grumpy at Fish and Game. He argues: “making every river swimmable is ‘not practical’…” And on Hastings and Havelock North: there’s “…’no evidence’ of dairy linked to gastro…”

Yet these are ministers in a government that sacked ECan Regional Councillors who, under advice from their water quality scientists, moved to restrict water-take permits in Canterbury for more dairy farming because of modelled nitrate pollution risks.

Seems like there’s science we like, and science we don’t.

Did you know that Fonterra gives itself a GST holiday on a proportion of the milk it buys from cooperative farmers? Payments for that milk are treated instead as a dividend and don’t generate GST revenues for central government. This is a subsidy to Fonterra farmers.

Nevertheless, in terms of central government revenues, Fonterra’s annual turnover (2015 year) of $18.8 bn (equivalent to almost a third of NZ government’s annual tax revenues) resulted in around $500 million in total tax payments (compare - by the way - with the $2.8bn GST collected annually from tourists). However these fiscal numbers don’t account for the total cost to New Zealand, or to the rest of the world for that matter, of the focus our country has on dairy farming.

Action photo of me at start of A2O taken by Emily Cayford

If you looked at my A2O video you will have seen the quality and clarity of rivers in Central Otago close to their source. Hard to value the losses that are being caused by dairy intensification.

The bald Fonterra numbers exclude or conceal externalities - external costs such as:
  • Loss of fresh water area and amenity for local population recreation (swimming, boating and fishing) 
  • Loss of biomass and diversity of freshwater ecosystems (eels and trout are at the end of a complex food-chain) 
  • Loss of cultural and geographical landscapes for regional parks, tourist attractions, and which are reminders of what physically shaped our human history and character
  • Loss of future tourist revenues - who wants to look at or bike through dairy factory farming?
  • Loss of dry-weather resilience because of reduced water volumes stored in underground aquifers 
  • Loss of global economic resilience because of focus and reliance on mono-culture agriculture 
  • Loss of rainforest land in Malaysia and Indonesia. Over 1.5 million hectares of palm plantations were planted to meet typical annual New Zealand imports of Palm Kernel processing products to supplement the pasture feed of the country’s dairy herd (2008 data). 
 (By the way, for a few Dairy facts and figures.)

Whose water is it anyway – especially the underground water? And whose landscape is it – particularly outstanding landscapes that intensive irrigation will change forever?

This is not a natural disturbance. Like an earthquake.

It is a disturbance borne of short-term economic planning which is slowly destroying what could be termed a kiwi birthright, core kiwi values, the essence of New Zealand. The institutions that enable this disturbance know their economic livelihoods, and of everyone who works for them, depend on the disturbance continuing, and understand it is part of their role to minimize and dismiss and deflect concern and criticism.

Fonterra, Dairy New Zealand, and Government Ministers all share this responsibility.

How long will New Zealanders let them get away with it – that is the question?

(Stop Press: Some are doing something about this now. You can read a useful article about what's happening in the McKenzie country in the current issue of the Listener magazine. And EDS - Environmental Defence Society - is mounting a legal challenge to the irrigation and land use changes that are happening. They are in court this month and need financial support. EDS were successful in a similar King Salmon challenge relating to aquaculture in the Marlborough Sounds. They are an effective organisation. I suggest you make a donation. Go here.)

Leviathan Part 1: Auckland

A different analysis of the social, political, economic and cultural forces shaping the western world is emerging post the 2008 "Global Financial Crisis" - a crisis which many have interpreted as the sign of a major cross-road in the progress of the neo-liberal project that economic efficiency requires a free market. This different analysis was developing in the USA before neo-liberalism really took off under Reagan, was dormant for a time, but is now coming back into focus to help explain Trump, Brexit and other similar behaviours and outcomes. Important writers include Galbraith, Weber, James Burnham, Samuel T. Francis and Jerry Woodruff. Hardly household names. Especially not here in New Zealand.

To kick this post off, a summary of the analysis is this: a new ruling social group has been developing over the past fifty years in the West. This is an increasingly powerful class of skilled professionals who are at the heart of and who guide the operations of an expansion of government power and bureaucracy, and the widespread emergence of mass organisations. It is argued that this is a change from times when a greater proportion of government and public functions were de-centralised, smaller and local, and where more economic activity was concentrated in the hands of private entrepreneurs, their families, and local communities.

It is argued that this increasingly influential and affluent social grouping has emerged as a managerial elite which is steadily displacing social and political institutions that had existed to reinforce and protect the interests of the large group of society who now feel increasingly alienated and by-passed. This managerial elite is remaking society by substituting its new world outlook.

But I get ahead of myself with such a summary. In this post I would like to briefly explore what this analysis has to say about Auckland today - especially since amalgamation - and the creation of a mass organisation (Auckland Council) whose form, function and behaviour, is so well analysed and anticipated.

Mass Organisation and Loss of Owner (Ratepayer) Control 

It is useful to note that the writers listed above are not easily dismissed as "left" or "right" in their views. So don't be put off by the fact that the early pages of texts examining the social changes I discuss here usually begin with a bit of Karl Marx and Adam Smith. For example, Samuel Francis writes:
Both Smith and Marx, contemplating the rudimentary forms of corporations of their time, perceived a natural conflict of interest between the owners or stockholders of a corporation and its managers. The owners are interested primarily in a profitable return on their investment, measured in the increased yield in their dividend. The managers, on the other hand, are interested in the wellbeing and particularly in the growth of the corporation itself, and they typically desire not to pay out higher yields to the owners but to reinvest corporate profits in an increased capacity for greater output and enlargement of facilities and operations. (Pg 22, Leviathan and its Enemies, Samuel T Francis)  

For "owner and stockholder" read "ratepayer", for "corporation" read "council", for "return on investment" read "minimise rates for essential public services".

In this next section, quoted from a few pages later, as Francis develops his argument, I have only swapped "Council" for "corporation", and "ratepayer" for "owner". You will get the picture:
...the dispersion of the mass of ratepayers, who lack the opportunity, the interest, or the ability to coordinate their voting power, tends to prevent most effective challenges to those who possess the skills to operate and direct the Council. But the decisive cause of the loss of control by the ratepayers to the managers is the sheer size, complexity, and technicality of the mass organisation and its activities. Whatever the legal rights of ratepayers.... they cannot... acquire the specialised technical skills that management of the mass organisation involves...(Pg 25, Leviathan and its Enemies, Samuel T Francis)

And here we could just as easily substitute "elected councillors" for "ratepayers", because councillors are the ratepayers' representatives in "control" of Auckland Council. The main thrust of this analysis is the problem presented to ratepayers and their representatives in any attempt to challenge or to control Auckland Council. Frances continues (and no swapping is needed):
Like the corporation, the mass state undertakes a wide range of diverse and highly technical activities in the economy, society, science and communications, in addition to its purely administrative and political functions. The latter also become increasingly specialised, technical and complex to the point where today academic degrees and entire schools of public administration exist and flourish.... in the state sector of mass society and in the mass corporation, actual power is distributed according to managerial skills and not by a formal equality of rights and votes or by legal ownership.  (Pg 45 and 47, Leviathan and its Enemies, Samuel T Francis) 
Another plank in the analysis is the relationship that exists between the mass state organisation and large private corporations. The myth of public and private separation is well and truly dismissed:
Mass organisations in the economy cannot operate - they cannot plan for mass production, financing, research, and marketing - without the cooperation of the state, and this cooperation serves the interests of the managerial elite in the state, since its role in the economy extends its power and functions. Thus the managerial elites of the mass corporations and the mass state do not resist, and, indeed, collaborate to promote, the fusion of the mass economy and the mass state.  (Pg 63, Leviathan and its Enemies, Samuel T Francis)

Nowhere do we see the truth of this more clearly than what is happening here in Auckland between the growth economy and Auckland Council with population growth and mass housing development, and where the "owners" of Auckland - existing ratepayers - have no control of their own environment, let alone Council managers in charge of enabling and facilitating this social transformation. (I suggest it is also evident between central government and the Fonterra Corporation; and between the emergency state in Christchurch and Fletcher Corporation - but those are other stories.)

I'll end this post with a brief account of another conceptual idea that is explored in this analysis of the massing of western society, and which is relevant to Auckland because of its size and growth. Mass state organisations (and mass corporations) act to break down social differentiations that impede or restrict mass production and mass consumption. A clear example of this in Auckland has been the replacement of a set of diverse District Plans, with a single Unitary Plan which envisages just 3 or 4 types of urban housing settlement. The main advocates for this simplification were from the property development economy. For them the diversity in planning across Auckland and the different housing and street typologies that have resulted in Devonport, Ponsonby, Waitakere, Albany, Freemans Bay, Flat Bush and Parnell for example, was intolerable. A more homogeneous system of urban planning was required. Distinct and local Community Board arms of the state were also intolerable, when viewed from the perspective of the professional management class, whose sophisticated and highly educated submissions easily trumped the local interest arguments mounted by those clinging to community and a particular and kiwi way of life.

The question then. Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?

A High Sea in Auckland

This year I gave students a lecture about sea level and storm surge plannning in New Zealand. This was partly informed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Environment's report Rising Seas: Certainty and Uncertainty. It was also informed by the recent South Dunedin flooding incident, and a lesser known one that affected Auckland on a fine Sunday, 23 January 2011.

At the time I took a few pictures in Devonport, and did a post about it.

The urban policy course provided an opportunity to talk with students about the various factors in play that day that caused the kind of coastal inundation recorded in the photos. Students explored various datasets, most of which are readily available.

First off all they checked out weatheronline for rainfall. It's available there for free for Auckland Airport. You can see that it did rain on the 23rd of January - but not a lot - about 15mm. It rained much more heavily around the 28th January, but there was no coastal flooding.
You can find this comprehensive weather information from timeanddate.com. At the bottom are the wind speeds and directions. Unusually the winds are strong South Easterlies until mid-day, around 33 kph. They would have been blowing straight up Waitemata Harbour (but they were also doing that the day before).
This one also come from weatheronline. It shows the atmospheric air pressure over Auckland. You can see that on the Sunday in question it dropped to 995 hectopascals. That's quite low, and has the effect of lifting sea levels, because higher pressures elsewhere push the sea down there, pushing it up where air pressure is lower.
And this is the really interesting graph students wre able to produce from Ports of Auckland tidal charts provided by POAL for the purpose of this course. This graph shows the sea levels at POAL wharves in Waitemata Harbour for the month of January, 2011. There are two high tides (and two low tides) each 24 hours. The sea level recorded at 23rd January is 4.129 metres - and you can see that the "normal" tidal level around that time was about 3.6 metres - a typical peak high tide level in a month.

Thus the sea level in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour was half a metre higher than normal on the 23rd of January 2011. What was the main cause?

Was it the rainfall? If you look at the rainfall graph you will note that heavy rain fell on the 28th January, but the sea level on the 28th January (counting 10 peaks after 23rd January peak) was only 3.1 metres. So, almost certainly not.

Was it the wind? There were strong winds the day before - but not as strong. So the wind would certainly have contributed, by pushing the sea up Waitemata Harbour.

Was it low air pressure? Check out the PCE's report for the physics of this. That report confirms the direct relationship that exists between low air pressure, and elevated sea levels. Often called a "storm surge". This is the name given to elevated sea levels in a storm where winds circulate around an area of low air pressure.

Big storms are associated with very low air pressure, and very elevated sea levels. Hurricane Katrina elevated the sea level at New Orleans by 7 metres. Hurricane Sandy elevated the sea level at New York by 2 metres. The storm that sunk the Wahine in 1968 was recorded as a low pressure weather system of 970 hectopascals (the lowest recorded around NZ) which elevated the sea level at Ports of Tauranga by 88 centimetres and caused widespread coastal flooding - quite apart from sinking the Wahine.

Tropical storm systems are moving further and further south with climate change, and the frequency of their arrival offshore of New Zealand is increasing. It is only a matter of time before air pressure and winds combine to increase the sea level in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour a metre above normal high tide.
Are we ready, what's the plan, and how much warning would we have?

How Fast are Tsunami Waves?

Like with earthquakes, despite being a physics nerd, it wasn’t until one happened where I lived, that I got interested in them, and wanted to understand them.

For example, let’s just say there had been a big shake 20 kilometres offshore from Kaikoura*. One that caused a chunky land uplift deep under the sea. How long would it take for the resulting tsunami wave to reach the coast if the depth of water was 1500 feet on average (500 metres)?

The physics is well understood. A tsunami wave is not like a surface wave caused by wind. It gets its energy because of the enormous pressures that exist deep under the sea. 

Tsunami wave speed = Square root (Water depth x Gravity)
                                = Sqrt (500 x 10)   (Gravity is more accurately 9.8 metres/second/second.)
                                = Sqrt (5000)   (approx)
                                = 70 metres/second    (approx)
                               = 250 kilometres/hour.   (roughly - the deeper the water, the faster the wave)

So it would take the first tsunami wave less than 5 minutes to hit the Kaikoura shoreline.  (In an earthquake there are usually several waves produced **). 5 minutes is a very short time, and if the average depth was 1000 metres the wave would take just over 3 minutes to hit.

That’s why it’s important to get tsunami warning systems right.

Otherwise they are useless.

* The Kaikoura Canyon is a submarine canyon situated 500 metres off the coast to the south-east of the Kaikoura peninsula. It is 60 km long, up to 1200 m deep, and is generally U-shaped. It is an active canyon that merges into a deep-ocean channel system that meanders for hundreds of kilometres across the deep ocean floor.
** You will have seen video footage of tsunami, and seen that they don't come ashore at anything like 250 kph. In fact they come ashore at more like 20 to 30 kph. So what happens? As the sea depth close to land gets shallower, tsunami waves that have been travelling at 100s of kilometres/hour and a hundred kilometres peak to peak only a metre high, get higher and closer and slower, as the energy of the deep water gets pushed up by the sloping sea floor. This is termed the "run up" phase.     

What happened at Fukishima, Japan? 

On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m. local time (05:46 Universal Time, or UTC), a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan. The epicenter was 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of the inland city of Sendai, and 373 kilometers (231 miles) northeast of Tokyo. The earthquake took place around 67 km (42 mi) from the nearest point on Japan's coastline, and initial estimates indicated the tsunami would have taken 10 to 30 minutes to reach the areas first affected, and then areas farther north and south based on the geography of the coastline.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency there were only about 4 minutes between the earthquake and the initial tsunami arrival at the observation buoy just off the coast of Kamaishi. Assuming the estimated arrival time is correct (i.e. it took another 5 minutes for the wave to travel from the buoy to the coast) that would give them somewhere between 9 to 24 minutes between the earthquake and the arrival of the first tsunami at the closest points and various points north and south.

One minute before the earthquake was felt in Tokyo, Japan’s Earthquake Early Warning system, which includes more than 1,000 seismometers, sent out warnings of impending strong shaking to millions. It is believed that the early warning by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) saved many lives. The warning for the general public was delivered about 8 seconds after the first P wave was detected, or about 31 seconds after the earthquake occurred.

Assuming that the earthquake time reported is the time at which the JMA became aware that there was an earthquake occurring (most likely/logical time to report in my opinion), taking into consideration that it takes them at least 3 minutes to issue a forecast AND assuming that this time is when people in the affected areas actually receive the tsunami warning, it leaves only 6 to 21 minutes for people to register the warning, to take action, and to get to high ground. And that was for an earthquake that occurred 67 kilometres offshore.

If New Zealand had its act together in the same way Japan did - ie 3 minutes to figure out what was happening, decide, and issue a warning to the Kaikoura sirens - and if the first wave hit in between 3 and 5 minutes.... well, go figure...


This gives the heights of tsunami recorded around Japan's coastline. Dark red and bright red mark the highest waves, and the closest points to the epicentre.

And for some of those locations, here are the timings of arrival of the biggest tsunami waves, after the actual earthquake that triggered them:

On 13 March 2011, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) published details of tsunami observations recorded around the coastline of Japan following the earthquake. These observations included tsunami maximum readings of over 3 m (9.8 ft) at the following locations and times on 11 March 2011, following the earthquake which remember was at 14:46 JST:

• 15:12 JST – off Kamaishi – 6.8 m (22 ft)   - (ie 26 minutes later with epicentre 67 kilometres away)
• 15:15 JST – Ōfunato – 3.2 m (10 ft) or higher
• 15:20 JST – Ishinomaki-shi Ayukawa – 3.3 m (11 ft) or higher
• 15:21 JST – Miyako – 4.0 m (13.1 ft) or higher
• 15:21 JST – Kamaishi – 4.1 m (13 ft) or higher
• 15:44 JST – Erimo-cho Shoya – 3.5 m (11 ft)
• 15:50 JST – Sōma – 7.3 m (24 ft) or higher
• 16:52 JST – Ōarai – 4.2 m (14 ft)

While the kiwi tsunami message of “If it’s long and strong, get gone” is a good one, we need to better educate our population and civil emergency people about what can happen, and we need better systems in place that the public can trust.

For example, I am aware that people living at Mangawhai Heads, at the top of the North Island, more than 10 metres above mean high water and more than 100 metres inland from the estuary, were woken by volunteers and told to move to higher ground after the Kaikoura earthquake which had occurred just after mid-night. They hadn’t heard the alarm either.

Otherwise it’s a bit like crying “wolf”.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

First Test of Unitary Plan: Rymans Granted

The decision to grant the controversial Rymans Retirement Village in Devonport is a test case of the application of Auckland Unitary Plan provisions contained in its Mixed Housing Suburban Zone - particularly in relation to the intensification of Navy/Ngati Whatua land precincts.  

The hearing of the application by Ryman Healthcare Limited to build a retirement village in Devonport, Auckland (see my critical preliminary posting here) was undertaken on behalf of the Auckland Council by Independent Hearing Commissioners Kitt Littlejohn, Dave Serjeant and John Hill. The majority decision to grant the application (dated 13 January 2017) has just been released. The decision to grant the resource consent was made by Commissioners Littlejohn and Hill, as a majority of the Commissioners appointed to hear and determine the application. For reasons that are separately recorded in the decision, Commissioner Serjeant would have refused consent to the application.

Cross section of proposed development - from application

Photoshop of left-right expanse of proposed development from Mt Victoria


The application was publicly notified on 16 September 2016. A total of 392 submissions were received, with 73 in support, 14 neutral and 305 in opposition. Twenty-nine submissions were received late, of which 2 were in support, 2 were neutral and 25 were in opposition.

It is likely the decision will soon be available here (scroll down to "37 Ngataringa Road").

In my view the critical aspects/turning points in the decision include the following findings:
34. During the processing of the application the Council notified its decisions on the recommendations of the Independent Hearings Panel on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) under clause 10(5) of Schedule 1 of the RMA. Subsequently, on 15 November 2016, the Council gave notice pursuant to clause 20 of Schedule 1 of the RMA that those parts of the PAUP not challenged by appeals were now operative. These statutory changes to the planning framework for the assessment of the application have had the effect of amending rules which had immediate legal effect upon notification of the PAUP (which the application addressed on lodgement), making other rules (and associated objectives and policies) in the PAUP legally applicable (and most recently operative) to the application, and making obsolete other rules and provisions of legacy plans that applied at the date the application was lodged.

35. In advance of the hearing the Commissioners directed the reporting officer and applicant to confer and agree on the relevant rules and other policy provisions that applied to the application at the date the hearing commenced. A joint statement was filed and we have relied on it as describing the consent requirements and policy framework now applicable to this proposal. Most notably, the applicant and the reporting officer considered that rules that had earlier applied to the proposal that classified aspects of it as non-complying, had been superseded with the effect that the proposal was now classified as a fully discretionary activity. No party to the hearing contended otherwise and we have therefore proceeded with our assessment and determination of the application on that basis. (my bolding)

Thus the application has been considered in terms of the provisions of the Unitary Plan, making it one of the first. It is therefore significant. The next stages in the decision relate to the most contentious aspect namely the need for a land use consent for an integrated residential development in the Mixed Housing Suburban Zone (MHS) and also within the Devonport Peninsula Precinct (DPP). Both of these provisions have rules and policies which need to be complied with. These are all set out in the decision. The decision progresses:
49. The MHS zone standards are expressly varied for this site by virtue of the DPP provisions and therefore take precedence (OAUP Rule C1.6(4)). Of particular relevance is the standard in relation to building height, which in Precinct F (this site) is varied from the MHS zone permitted height of 8-9 metres to, depending on the location within the site (by reference to Precinct Plan), 8-9, 11-12 and 16-17 metres.
It transpires that the main heighjt control for the site is 16-17 metres, and because there are some exceedances of that control, the application becomes fully discretionary.

The written decision summarises the evidence provided by the applicant, by submitters, and by Council officers, and notes that the applicant's right of reply included two alternative proposals involving reductions in the height of buildings B02 and/or B04. Before deciding on the key issues, the decision report considers what is the permitted baseline for the site. This is interesting because there is nothing already there in Devonport, or in Ngataringa Road to use for a permitted baseline:
150. .... we do accept that the applicant’s “anticipated development” baseline (or the reporting officer’s ‘complying development’ concept) is something that we should have due regard to as a relevant matter...

and
152. In combination, the MHS zone and DPP rules classify an integrated residential development on this site that complies with the varied height and other related bulk and location standards in the DPP as a wholly restricted discretionary activity. Under the DPP provisions such an activity can be considered without public or limited notification, or the need to obtain written approval from affected parties, except in special circumstances (Rule I508.5 Notification). 
 (note here that the application does not comply with the height control - which makes it discretionary)
153. We find that this is an important indicator as to the OAUP’s approach to the management of effects on the environment at this location and the extent to which it has enabled development at this (and other) DPP locations. Put simply, subject to the specific assessment matters, we find that building development of the scale anticipated by the rules and standards must be considered to be consistent with the policy and objective framework of the DPP; after all, the former methods only exist to achieve the later provisions (in a plan hierarchy sense)....

and
155. Accordingly, in summary, we give weight to the effects on the environment that might result from development of the site in accordance with the applicant’s anticipated development scenario, which is based on a ‘compliant’ restricted discretionary (as far as land use is concerned) proposal....  we have no trouble in finding that the scale of the anticipated buildings and their enabled height on the site is considerable and that the differences between that anticipated scale of buildings and the scale of buildings for which consent is sought are comparatively small. We will bear these differences in mind when we look at the specific assessment matters that the OAUP provides us with when looking in particular at the design and external appearance of the proposed buildings.
The bold section is interesting. The words "enabled height" reference the development potential inherent in the increased height control permitted by the MHS and the DPP, and "comparatively small" is the decision's pivotal description of the height differences between what is permitted and what is proposed.

The decision report then moves on to consider the main issues in contention. These include: Construction effects; Effects on the Duder Brickworks; Effects on the coastal edge; Traffic and transport effects; Built form (external appearance, height, bulk and location) and related landscape, visual and urban design effects. In this post I concentrate on the last issue. The decision goes on:
173. The aspect of the proposal that was the focus of many at the hearing and also our own deliberations is the bulk, location and external appearance of the proposed retirement village buildings. We have been assisted in our analysis of these matters by the assessment criteria and matters for discretion for integrated residential development found generally in the MHS zone and specifically, for the scale of such development anticipated at this site, in the DPP. 
 Important DPP assessment criteria come into play and are referred to in the decision:
179. Assessment Criteria (I508.8.2.1) for such restricted discretionary activities are:
(1) Whether building height establishes an integrated built form that is in accordance with Policy I508.3(1)(a), (b) and (c) and also:
(a) is in keeping with the form and function of existing and proposed streets, lanes and open space;
and (b) ensuring a mix of building heights and a variation of built form when viewed from streets, public open space and residentially zoned areas and in particular, views of higher buildings should be broken up by buildings of a lesser height to reduce dominance and bulk....

The crucial finding then follows:
181. We find that the bulk, height and location of the proposed buildings establishes a built form on the site that avoids wider dominance or visual effects. Our assessment of the proposal from the most distant viewpoints we were provided is that although it will be noticeable as a large built form, it will still sit comfortably in the urban residential landscape when viewed from those elevated locations. It is assisted in this outcome by the extent of foreground vegetation to be retained, the fact that it does not dominate a ridgeline or the horizon, and that its architectural forms and appearance are not uncommon features in these views.

This finding is justified by further descriptive paragraphs including:
183. We observe here that the enabled greater building height for the site is the method chosen by the DPP provisions to achieve the policies against which the proposal is then to be assessed. Consequently, a finding that a building of a complying height did not achieve the policy would be illogical. Of course here we are assessing buildings that do not fully comply with the DPP height limits. But in relation to the assessment matter, we are not persuaded that the additional areas of height result, overall, in the development having wider adverse dominance and visual effects. As the montages and elevations of the alternative options offered by the applicant show, it is difficult to discern the difference at first glance.
I wonder whether this throw-away comment might come back to haunt! The reasoning in this paragraph may be why the decision does not engage with the Ryman offer to reduce the height of two of its higher buldings. At this point the decision engages with the dissenting assessment of Commissioner Serjeant.

186. Finally on this topic we turn to the key point of difference between ourselves and Commissioner Serjeant, whose dissenting reasons (set out later) we have had the benefit of reading in draft. We refer here to the assessment criteria which direct us to consider whether the building height establishes “an integrated built form” that ensures a mix of building heights and variation of built form when viewed from streets, public open space and residentially zoned areas with views of higher buildings being broken up by buildings of lesser height, thereby reducing dominance and bulk.

187. We consider that the proposed retirement village buildings do provide a mix of building heights and variation of built form when viewed from the outside in. Undoubtedly, the design of the buildings could have incorporated a greater mix of height and variation of built form. We accept the analysis of Commissioner Serjeant in this regard. However, we do not wish to be drawn into a debate on architectural design to achieve what are essentially qualitative criteria, particularly in circumstances where we are not satisfied on the evidence that requiring greater variation in height and built form is necessary to avoid or mitigate an adverse effect on the environment of the development. We also observe that the anticipated height and built form of a complying development on the site would not likely bring with it any greater variation than is currently proposed.
The decision report then proceeds to grant the orginal application subject to conditions, and concludes with Commissioner Serjeant's dissenting opinion and assessment, extracts now follow:
197. At the outset, it needs to be clear that the area of dissention lies only in relation to the bulk, location and design of the buildings, and even then only Buildings 2, 3 and 4. I consider that the adverse effects of these buildings and their inconsistency with the objectives and policies for the Devonport Peninsula Precinct are such that the application should be declined. The Precinct objectives, policies and related assessment criteria focus on both intensification and a quality built environment, and I consider that to fail in either of these matters is to fail overall....
203. ...the critical issue in this dissenting view is the performance of the application against the matters raised in 1508.8.2.1.1  (ed: DPP). In particular:
• Wider dominance and visual effects;
• The mix of building heights across Area 1 such that views of higher buildings should be broken up by buildings of lesser height to reduce dominance and bulk;
• The variation of built form when viewed from streets, public open space and residentially zoned areas.

207. Assoc Prof Bird was engaged as an independent urban design and visual assessment expert following the design process. His assessment utilised photo montages of the proposed development, and illustrations of “buildings built to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan decision [representing] the additional height permitted, enabled by the Devonport Peninsula Precinct”. The applicant’s evidence was that the proposed development had similar effects as to ‘permitted’ buildings. My view is that the images of the PAUP buildings cannot be relied on for a comparative assessment as the only buildings that are permitted on the site are those complying with the MHS height limit, with all buildings taking advantage of the DPP height limits requiring assessment under the criteria. As such it is not realistic to suggest that ‘complying’ buildings would look anything like what was depicted in terms of probable bulk and location (see for example the higher buildings in Drawing RC40A)....
208. .....viewpoints are particularly important, as viewpoints from public open space are an essential part of the criteria. Assoc Prof Bird came to the conclusion that the proposal will have ‘less than minor’ adverse visual, dominance or overlooking effects on its various receiving environments. That is clearly not the case from Viewpoints 7 and 8 in particular, and likely other viewpoints from the south such as Viewpoint 17 on Lake Road where the buildings appear as a continuous line of multi-storey buildings, which is not the outcome sought by the criteria.

In his conclusion, Commissioner Serjeant makes a number of points about the environmental and planning consequences of other integrated developments based on the decision's interpretation of the effects of the Unitary Plan provisions.
210. My conclusion is that the application should be declined. Unlike the majority decision, my finding is that the application fails on the facts in terms of its ability to meet the assessment criteria, and this failure is sufficient to decline that application given the strong focus on design issues in order to meet the DPP description. This application is the first to be tested against the provisions of the DPP that provide for the intensification of six areas, beyond that otherwise provided for by the underlying zoning. This intensification will generate significant change in each of these areas, subject to the assessment criteria referred to above (and likely no public input, given the non-notification provision). While acknowledging that this application is for a retirement village, and not a typical apartment development, it would be unfortunate if the interpretation of the DPP provisions were seen to support the proliferation of large bulky buildings that have little or no variation in built form and adopt an undifferentiated 16m height limit within Area 1. While the achievement of greater intensity is supported, this does not have to be at the expense of the existing environment or a quality outcome.
I believe this is a very important test case for the future of Auckland - particularly an Auckland that aims to be the most liveable.

Wharf State House Pretty Stately




Came across by ferry last week and spotted the unwrapped Parekowhai sculpture in the morning sun. Was quite struck. Even has copper guttering. Wrote about the idea here a couple of years ago - under the byline:

Keep Auckland Weird

Walked down the wharf to check it out. I think it will be quite an attractor - might as well have some useful interpretation explaining the state house background. Discovered a free yoga class underway.

When the chandelier gets inside should be spectacular. Especially at night. Wonder what the next piece of artwork might be for Auckland Central - and what will it mean?

 

Mixed MBIE Messages

It's interesting times for planning in New Zealand.

Since the Resource Management Act's (RMA) enactment in 1991 most national governance action around planning has been through the Ministry for Environment (MfE) and its Minister. This has been changing in the past few years - in part because of the affordable housing crisis.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has become more interested and involved in planning. Its messages make for interesting analysis. This post contains a little bit of that.

An MBIE Message about Housing Affordability

The Housing and Property section of MBIE's website has a statement which says:
...Local authorities impact on development and control land use through their Resource Management Act plans. 
Some urban areas in New Zealand are growing quickly, and the supply of space to meet housing needs isn’t keeping up with demand, so house prices in some areas are increasing much faster than incomes. 
The recent Productivity Commission inquiry into ‘Using land for housing’ found that local planning decisions are overly constraining the supply of space for housing. The Productivity Commission recommended that the Government prepare a national policy statement giving direction to local authorities to help address this. In August 2015, the Minister for the Environment and Building and Housing announced his intention to consult on the development of a proposed urban national policy statement. 
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment worked in partnership with Ministry for the Environment to develop a proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity. (bold added) 
 One of the criticisms of RMA implementation has been the absence or lack of the central government guidance that could have been provided through National Policy Statements (NPS). Five national policy statements are now in place:
  • National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity
  • National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management
  • National Policy Statement for Renewable Electricity Generation
  • National Policy Statement on Electricity Transmission
  • New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement
  • Work has been done on a proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity
 The involvement of MBIE in urban development plans and planning is interesting. An update on the website of the Resource Management Law Association (RMLA) states:
Update – National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity (NPS-UDC) 

During a meeting last week with the RMLA, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) shared their plans for supporting the implementation of the NPS-UDC as well as details of an implementation programme for 2017. The implementation programme comprises the following workstreams: 
  • Monitoring market indicators 
  • Housing and business development capacity assessments 
  • Responsive planning Consenting processes 
  • Future development strategies 
  • Monitoring and evaluation (i.e. monitoring the implementation of the NPS-UDC and evaluation of the effectiveness of the NPS-UDC) 
 Workstream teams are now developing the detail of their work programmes. This includes defining the support and guidance they will deliver, and how they will develop this. Timelines as always are tight, which means that councils will need to be working on their assessments, targets and future strategies ahead of when the guidance on these requirements is delivered in its final state. MfE’s workstreams will be looking at what can be done to help councils during this transitional period to give some confidence that they are on the right track. Their intention is to build on existing capacity and to close any gaps, rather than expecting local authorities to invest in sophisticated modelling from the outset. Market indicators and housing and business development capacity assessments 

The immediate focus is: 
  • developing market indicators, and technical guidance on how to use these (May 2017) 
  • guidance on housing and business development capacity assessments (June 2017) 
  • price efficiency indicators and related guidance (September 2017) 
 An advisory group has been set up for each of these workstreams and both groups met for the first time in the week beginning 12 December 2016. The advisory groups include a mix of council staff and consultants who have been brought on board for their specific technical expertise.

You can see how tight the timeframes are. They need to be because New Zealand's High Growth councils (Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Christchurch and Queenstown) will need to submit their housing and business capacity assessments with MfE/MBIE by December 2017.

Another MBIE Message about Housing Affordability

You can download MBIE's September 2015 issue of NZ Housing and Construction Quarterly here. The issue focuses on the housing markets in Auckland and Christchurch, with a particular focus on net migration into Auckland and how it affects the Auckland housing market. It starts:
The growth rate in both house values and rents in Auckland stabilised in December 2014. Since then the trend value in house values has grown steadily at 4% per quarter and the trend value in rents has grown at 2% per quarter. This means that while rents and house values in Auckland are still growing, the growth rates have not increased in six months.... It is important to bear in mind that this is a stabilisation of the growth rates in rents and house values, not a stabilisation of rents or house values themselves. Both house values and rents in Auckland are still growing rapidly by historical standards....
Then we get to the body of the report.

From MBIE's Housing & Construction Quarterly for September 2015
The text accompanying Figure 1 says:
Net migration into New Zealand, and into Auckland specifically, has increased sharply since 2013. This consists of increased permanent and long-term arrivals, as well as lower than usual permanent and long-term departures (Figure 1). A comparison of migration with growth in rents and house values shows some historical relationship between rents and net migration: rental growth peaked in mid-2002, at the same time net migration was at its height. A relationship is expected as an influx of migrants entering an area could be expected to affect demand for housing and therefore rents. While we do not have enough data to examine house value growth during the 2002 migration surge, we can compare how house value growth and rent growth changed around December 2012, when net migration started to increase rapidly. Prior to this time, changes in house values had closely followed growth in New Zealand gross domestic product (GDP); from late 2012 Auckland house values grew rapidly while quarterly real per capita GDP growth rates have stabilised or declined. There is a suggestion in the data of net migration and house values moving somewhat together between 2004 and 2010, but both series are also closely related to general economic conditions. In the latest cycle the upward movement in price growth that began in 2010 substantively preceded the upswing in net migration that began in 2013. It is clear that, at most, international migration is only one of many factors that influences house values and rents.
Figure 3 (above) compares quarterly changes and trends in house prices to June 2015. (This is interesting when you note the data available this week from QV - here - comparing residential house value trends, and annual increases, for the year ended December 2016: Wellington Area - 20.5%; Auckland Area - 12.2%; Christchurch City - 2.5%. Thus in the 18 months to December 2016 Wellington house values have rocketed, while Auckland's rate of increase has dropped significantly below Wellington's. What explains that? Certainly not the population growth cause cited in then first MBIE message - Infoshare has Wellington's average pop growth at 1.36% compared with Auckland's 2.2%.)


What MBIE has to say about this graph contains an important message:
This graph compares the historical growth of house prices with the difference between rental yield (annual rents divided by prices) and interest rates. The purpose is to compare the price of the housing asset with how well it is performing as an investment (by comparing cash flows to costs of borrowing). Auckland house price growth has been gradually rising over the last four years, while its rental yield has remained roughly constant. In the June 2015 quarter there is stronger growth in Auckland house prices, while its rental yield is now showing a clear decrease. This suggests that the demand for investment properties is being driven by expected future price increases and not by higher rental income.

Wow. Let's have some more data (and messages) like this please. Speaks the truth. Government's current emphasis on supply management rather than demand management tools to address housing price/affordability issues is not supported by the combination of these MBIE messages. 

 Message Post Script

The Wellington 

Other statistics present in the MBIE Housing and Construction Quarterly report include social housing statistics and construction and consenting data. Extremely useful.

Unfortunately, it seems the September 2015 issue was the last. MBIE's website states:
"MBIE has decided to review the NZHCQ to ensure it does the best job of sharing housing and construction data with the general public. While this review is under way, we will not be publishing the NZHCQ in December 2015 or March 2016. We will be releasing our new-look building and housing reporting in June 2016. In the meanwhile, you can find a range of tables on the rental bond data page...."
It appears that the "new look" reporting has yet to appear.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Costly Council Apron Strings

Here I am standing at the end of my Devonport street. I'm on the "apron" of the "T-intersection". It was relaid in hot mix by Council contractors about a month ago. Maintenance I guess.Took them several days. Between 10 and 15 high-vis clothed men on site. Lots of technology. Utes and about a hundred witches hats.

I'd driven over it for a few years and hadn't seen any problem with it. But I've learned that's often the case.

That's not my beef here.


These cones are still outside my front gate. I have phoned Council's hotline. They assure me they will be taken away in 10 working days. So it's likely they'll be gone by Christmas. They make the street a bit Christmasy though don't you think?

That's not my beef here either. (Nor is it with my neighbour across the street  hard at work, or his cat, or with the boat - this is Devonport after all.)
Between 1998 and 2004 I was Chair/Deputy Chair of North Shore City Council's Works and Environment Committee, and also on the Devonport Community Board. Street maintenance works like this apron were routinely done then too. A wise councillor told me then that anything the council did - road maintenance, mowing of lawns, sewer pipe repairs for example - would cost double what it would cost done by the private sector. Over time I came to understand why that was.

Public money and public assets on public land are different beasts to manage compared with what happens on private land with private infrastructure. There is consultation with local residents about timing, there is a need for annual budget planning that has to be consulted and agreed, and then, there was even consultation about whether the apron would be done in hot mix or chip seal.

But it's different again, and far more costly today, and you won't see an elected representative anywhere near the work. They are not involved anymore. They don't know what's happening in the urban environment where they have been elected to represent community interests. They're not there to watch over the wise use of ratepayer funds.

Council amalgamation and remote, arms length Council Controlled Organisations, are all part of the regional institutional change that is at the root of what is leading major local cultural change.

In the bad old days there were several "small contractors" who did this sort of road maintenance. Locally based operations, overseen by a local Council area manager. Usually the road section would be closed while it happened. Notices would advise of this, and residents would take slightly longer to get from "A" to "B". So there was no need for hundred of witches hats - but more importantly - there was no need for several men to be paid to direct the desultory traffic movements that happen in the back-blocks of Devonport. It was much cheaper.

I can hear the moans and complaints this posting will cause in AT (Auckland Transport) from here. They will say the work is being done to a higher standard. They will say that Devonport residents are being less disturbed by the work. They will say there are fewer safety risks. And most of that might be true. But that isn't the issue.

Not everybody is interested in the maintenance of their pipes, roads, libraries and parks. But you'd be surprised how many are. (One of my long standing memories visiting my daughter in Sapporo Japan, was to see that road works and pipe works were done by local pensioners and neighbours chatted with them on the way to the shops.) There is just a little more alienation of community involvement that happens when shared assets are maintained and managed remotely. A little more atomisation and separation. An emphasis on private lives. A loss of opportunity for community engagement. And at increased cost as well! Talk about a lose-lose outcome.

We are steadily losing through amalgamation parts of the institutional fabric that I associate with life and social development in New Zealand towns - socially connected urban communities.

Running On Empty

A few weeks ago I did the Alps to Oamaru cycle adventure, on part of John Key’s legacy cycleway infrastructure network. Rightly praised and highly popular. You can see a GoPro video I made about it here.

The best part was from Mt Cook to Lake Waitaki – through the McKenzie Country. But the rest of it is a downhill experience as the effects of another one of John Key’s legacy projects gets up your nose.

Intensive dairy farming enabled by central government assisted and encouraged irrigation, more than gets up your nose though. Through Kurow, Duntroon and Ngapara we cycled through cow pats and sheep manure and gear shift mechanisms got so clogged I had to poke the shit off.

Being an Oamaru boy, at Waikaki Boys High School, this landscape was my backyard. And later when I attended Canterbury University, my backyard extended to include much of the Canterbury Plains.

We had a family crib (bach) at Gemmell’s Crossing on the Kakanui River 8 miles from home. Even in the hottest summer you could jump off the bridge, or a willow tree rope swing. The river was deep, wide, clear, fast-flowing and glorious. Dad was a keen fly-fisherman.

Now it’s buggered.

Too much water being taken out of it, and from bores sucking down its feeder aquifers. For irrigation.

The soils that have naturally developed in the normally semi-arid climate (600mm of rain in an average year) don’t hold much water. Any extra goes through, some runs off on the underlying clays, some into the water table, and the rest into aquifers. That was when it did rain. Now centrally-pivoting irrigators have taken over. Inevitably, to get the grass growth needed, much of the land is over-irrigated.

So now any dissolved nitrates or any other chemicals or fertilisers, get washed into the river or into the aquifers. It’s not rain anymore that wets the ground and replenishes the groundwaters. It’s irrigation. And it’s washing through what clogged up my bike gears. Which is why what water we do see today in the Kakanui is green and weed-filled. Most people in New Zealand don’t know about the Kakanui River. More know about what’s happening to rivers in the Canterbury Plains.

Here’s some remarkable photo essays that Stuff has run recently on Canterbury’s braided Ashley and Selwyn Rivers.Community Mourns its Lost River; Selwyn is polluted and running dry; Trout get free ride to deeper water; 60% drop in river flow.

I talked to a Fish and Game Executive member about what’s happening. He’s angry of course. One thing he told me explains attitudes.

Apparently New Zealand’s Primary Industries Minister was in South Canterbury, talking to farmers. His memorable quote, when he talked about the rivers?

“Every drop that gets to the sea is water wasted….”

That’s the attitude of most - but not all - farmers. Seems to be the attitude of government Ministers.

The Minister of Environment writes: “good science and not slogans are at the heart of decision-making…” He’s grumpy at Fish and Game. He argues: “making every river swimmable is ‘not practical’…” And on Hastings and Havelock North: there’s “…’no evidence’ of dairy linked to gastro…”

Yet these are ministers in a government that sacked ECan Regional Councillors who, under advice from their water quality scientists, moved to restrict water-take permits in Canterbury for more dairy farming because of modelled nitrate pollution risks.

Seems like there’s science we like, and science we don’t.

Did you know that Fonterra gives itself a GST holiday on a proportion of the milk it buys from cooperative farmers? Payments for that milk are treated instead as a dividend and don’t generate GST revenues for central government. This is a subsidy to Fonterra farmers.

Nevertheless, in terms of central government revenues, Fonterra’s annual turnover (2015 year) of $18.8 bn (equivalent to almost a third of NZ government’s annual tax revenues) resulted in around $500 million in total tax payments (compare - by the way - with the $2.8bn GST collected annually from tourists). However these fiscal numbers don’t account for the total cost to New Zealand, or to the rest of the world for that matter, of the focus our country has on dairy farming.

Action photo of me at start of A2O taken by Emily Cayford

If you looked at my A2O video you will have seen the quality and clarity of rivers in Central Otago close to their source. Hard to value the losses that are being caused by dairy intensification.

The bald Fonterra numbers exclude or conceal externalities - external costs such as:
  • Loss of fresh water area and amenity for local population recreation (swimming, boating and fishing) 
  • Loss of biomass and diversity of freshwater ecosystems (eels and trout are at the end of a complex food-chain) 
  • Loss of cultural and geographical landscapes for regional parks, tourist attractions, and which are reminders of what physically shaped our human history and character
  • Loss of future tourist revenues - who wants to look at or bike through dairy factory farming?
  • Loss of dry-weather resilience because of reduced water volumes stored in underground aquifers 
  • Loss of global economic resilience because of focus and reliance on mono-culture agriculture 
  • Loss of rainforest land in Malaysia and Indonesia. Over 1.5 million hectares of palm plantations were planted to meet typical annual New Zealand imports of Palm Kernel processing products to supplement the pasture feed of the country’s dairy herd (2008 data). 
 (By the way, for a few Dairy facts and figures.)

Whose water is it anyway – especially the underground water? And whose landscape is it – particularly outstanding landscapes that intensive irrigation will change forever?

This is not a natural disturbance. Like an earthquake.

It is a disturbance borne of short-term economic planning which is slowly destroying what could be termed a kiwi birthright, core kiwi values, the essence of New Zealand. The institutions that enable this disturbance know their economic livelihoods, and of everyone who works for them, depend on the disturbance continuing, and understand it is part of their role to minimize and dismiss and deflect concern and criticism.

Fonterra, Dairy New Zealand, and Government Ministers all share this responsibility.

How long will New Zealanders let them get away with it – that is the question?

(Stop Press: Some are doing something about this now. You can read a useful article about what's happening in the McKenzie country in the current issue of the Listener magazine. And EDS - Environmental Defence Society - is mounting a legal challenge to the irrigation and land use changes that are happening. They are in court this month and need financial support. EDS were successful in a similar King Salmon challenge relating to aquaculture in the Marlborough Sounds. They are an effective organisation. I suggest you make a donation. Go here.)

Leviathan Part 1: Auckland

A different analysis of the social, political, economic and cultural forces shaping the western world is emerging post the 2008 "Global Financial Crisis" - a crisis which many have interpreted as the sign of a major cross-road in the progress of the neo-liberal project that economic efficiency requires a free market. This different analysis was developing in the USA before neo-liberalism really took off under Reagan, was dormant for a time, but is now coming back into focus to help explain Trump, Brexit and other similar behaviours and outcomes. Important writers include Galbraith, Weber, James Burnham, Samuel T. Francis and Jerry Woodruff. Hardly household names. Especially not here in New Zealand.

To kick this post off, a summary of the analysis is this: a new ruling social group has been developing over the past fifty years in the West. This is an increasingly powerful class of skilled professionals who are at the heart of and who guide the operations of an expansion of government power and bureaucracy, and the widespread emergence of mass organisations. It is argued that this is a change from times when a greater proportion of government and public functions were de-centralised, smaller and local, and where more economic activity was concentrated in the hands of private entrepreneurs, their families, and local communities.

It is argued that this increasingly influential and affluent social grouping has emerged as a managerial elite which is steadily displacing social and political institutions that had existed to reinforce and protect the interests of the large group of society who now feel increasingly alienated and by-passed. This managerial elite is remaking society by substituting its new world outlook.

But I get ahead of myself with such a summary. In this post I would like to briefly explore what this analysis has to say about Auckland today - especially since amalgamation - and the creation of a mass organisation (Auckland Council) whose form, function and behaviour, is so well analysed and anticipated.

Mass Organisation and Loss of Owner (Ratepayer) Control 

It is useful to note that the writers listed above are not easily dismissed as "left" or "right" in their views. So don't be put off by the fact that the early pages of texts examining the social changes I discuss here usually begin with a bit of Karl Marx and Adam Smith. For example, Samuel Francis writes:
Both Smith and Marx, contemplating the rudimentary forms of corporations of their time, perceived a natural conflict of interest between the owners or stockholders of a corporation and its managers. The owners are interested primarily in a profitable return on their investment, measured in the increased yield in their dividend. The managers, on the other hand, are interested in the wellbeing and particularly in the growth of the corporation itself, and they typically desire not to pay out higher yields to the owners but to reinvest corporate profits in an increased capacity for greater output and enlargement of facilities and operations. (Pg 22, Leviathan and its Enemies, Samuel T Francis)  

For "owner and stockholder" read "ratepayer", for "corporation" read "council", for "return on investment" read "minimise rates for essential public services".

In this next section, quoted from a few pages later, as Francis develops his argument, I have only swapped "Council" for "corporation", and "ratepayer" for "owner". You will get the picture:
...the dispersion of the mass of ratepayers, who lack the opportunity, the interest, or the ability to coordinate their voting power, tends to prevent most effective challenges to those who possess the skills to operate and direct the Council. But the decisive cause of the loss of control by the ratepayers to the managers is the sheer size, complexity, and technicality of the mass organisation and its activities. Whatever the legal rights of ratepayers.... they cannot... acquire the specialised technical skills that management of the mass organisation involves...(Pg 25, Leviathan and its Enemies, Samuel T Francis)

And here we could just as easily substitute "elected councillors" for "ratepayers", because councillors are the ratepayers' representatives in "control" of Auckland Council. The main thrust of this analysis is the problem presented to ratepayers and their representatives in any attempt to challenge or to control Auckland Council. Frances continues (and no swapping is needed):
Like the corporation, the mass state undertakes a wide range of diverse and highly technical activities in the economy, society, science and communications, in addition to its purely administrative and political functions. The latter also become increasingly specialised, technical and complex to the point where today academic degrees and entire schools of public administration exist and flourish.... in the state sector of mass society and in the mass corporation, actual power is distributed according to managerial skills and not by a formal equality of rights and votes or by legal ownership.  (Pg 45 and 47, Leviathan and its Enemies, Samuel T Francis) 
Another plank in the analysis is the relationship that exists between the mass state organisation and large private corporations. The myth of public and private separation is well and truly dismissed:
Mass organisations in the economy cannot operate - they cannot plan for mass production, financing, research, and marketing - without the cooperation of the state, and this cooperation serves the interests of the managerial elite in the state, since its role in the economy extends its power and functions. Thus the managerial elites of the mass corporations and the mass state do not resist, and, indeed, collaborate to promote, the fusion of the mass economy and the mass state.  (Pg 63, Leviathan and its Enemies, Samuel T Francis)

Nowhere do we see the truth of this more clearly than what is happening here in Auckland between the growth economy and Auckland Council with population growth and mass housing development, and where the "owners" of Auckland - existing ratepayers - have no control of their own environment, let alone Council managers in charge of enabling and facilitating this social transformation. (I suggest it is also evident between central government and the Fonterra Corporation; and between the emergency state in Christchurch and Fletcher Corporation - but those are other stories.)

I'll end this post with a brief account of another conceptual idea that is explored in this analysis of the massing of western society, and which is relevant to Auckland because of its size and growth. Mass state organisations (and mass corporations) act to break down social differentiations that impede or restrict mass production and mass consumption. A clear example of this in Auckland has been the replacement of a set of diverse District Plans, with a single Unitary Plan which envisages just 3 or 4 types of urban housing settlement. The main advocates for this simplification were from the property development economy. For them the diversity in planning across Auckland and the different housing and street typologies that have resulted in Devonport, Ponsonby, Waitakere, Albany, Freemans Bay, Flat Bush and Parnell for example, was intolerable. A more homogeneous system of urban planning was required. Distinct and local Community Board arms of the state were also intolerable, when viewed from the perspective of the professional management class, whose sophisticated and highly educated submissions easily trumped the local interest arguments mounted by those clinging to community and a particular and kiwi way of life.

The question then. Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?

A High Sea in Auckland

This year I gave students a lecture about sea level and storm surge plannning in New Zealand. This was partly informed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Environment's report Rising Seas: Certainty and Uncertainty. It was also informed by the recent South Dunedin flooding incident, and a lesser known one that affected Auckland on a fine Sunday, 23 January 2011.

At the time I took a few pictures in Devonport, and did a post about it.

The urban policy course provided an opportunity to talk with students about the various factors in play that day that caused the kind of coastal inundation recorded in the photos. Students explored various datasets, most of which are readily available.

First off all they checked out weatheronline for rainfall. It's available there for free for Auckland Airport. You can see that it did rain on the 23rd of January - but not a lot - about 15mm. It rained much more heavily around the 28th January, but there was no coastal flooding.
You can find this comprehensive weather information from timeanddate.com. At the bottom are the wind speeds and directions. Unusually the winds are strong South Easterlies until mid-day, around 33 kph. They would have been blowing straight up Waitemata Harbour (but they were also doing that the day before).
This one also come from weatheronline. It shows the atmospheric air pressure over Auckland. You can see that on the Sunday in question it dropped to 995 hectopascals. That's quite low, and has the effect of lifting sea levels, because higher pressures elsewhere push the sea down there, pushing it up where air pressure is lower.
And this is the really interesting graph students wre able to produce from Ports of Auckland tidal charts provided by POAL for the purpose of this course. This graph shows the sea levels at POAL wharves in Waitemata Harbour for the month of January, 2011. There are two high tides (and two low tides) each 24 hours. The sea level recorded at 23rd January is 4.129 metres - and you can see that the "normal" tidal level around that time was about 3.6 metres - a typical peak high tide level in a month.

Thus the sea level in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour was half a metre higher than normal on the 23rd of January 2011. What was the main cause?

Was it the rainfall? If you look at the rainfall graph you will note that heavy rain fell on the 28th January, but the sea level on the 28th January (counting 10 peaks after 23rd January peak) was only 3.1 metres. So, almost certainly not.

Was it the wind? There were strong winds the day before - but not as strong. So the wind would certainly have contributed, by pushing the sea up Waitemata Harbour.

Was it low air pressure? Check out the PCE's report for the physics of this. That report confirms the direct relationship that exists between low air pressure, and elevated sea levels. Often called a "storm surge". This is the name given to elevated sea levels in a storm where winds circulate around an area of low air pressure.

Big storms are associated with very low air pressure, and very elevated sea levels. Hurricane Katrina elevated the sea level at New Orleans by 7 metres. Hurricane Sandy elevated the sea level at New York by 2 metres. The storm that sunk the Wahine in 1968 was recorded as a low pressure weather system of 970 hectopascals (the lowest recorded around NZ) which elevated the sea level at Ports of Tauranga by 88 centimetres and caused widespread coastal flooding - quite apart from sinking the Wahine.

Tropical storm systems are moving further and further south with climate change, and the frequency of their arrival offshore of New Zealand is increasing. It is only a matter of time before air pressure and winds combine to increase the sea level in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour a metre above normal high tide.
Are we ready, what's the plan, and how much warning would we have?

How Fast are Tsunami Waves?

Like with earthquakes, despite being a physics nerd, it wasn’t until one happened where I lived, that I got interested in them, and wanted to understand them.

For example, let’s just say there had been a big shake 20 kilometres offshore from Kaikoura*. One that caused a chunky land uplift deep under the sea. How long would it take for the resulting tsunami wave to reach the coast if the depth of water was 1500 feet on average (500 metres)?

The physics is well understood. A tsunami wave is not like a surface wave caused by wind. It gets its energy because of the enormous pressures that exist deep under the sea. 

Tsunami wave speed = Square root (Water depth x Gravity)
                                = Sqrt (500 x 10)   (Gravity is more accurately 9.8 metres/second/second.)
                                = Sqrt (5000)   (approx)
                                = 70 metres/second    (approx)
                               = 250 kilometres/hour.   (roughly - the deeper the water, the faster the wave)

So it would take the first tsunami wave less than 5 minutes to hit the Kaikoura shoreline.  (In an earthquake there are usually several waves produced **). 5 minutes is a very short time, and if the average depth was 1000 metres the wave would take just over 3 minutes to hit.

That’s why it’s important to get tsunami warning systems right.

Otherwise they are useless.

* The Kaikoura Canyon is a submarine canyon situated 500 metres off the coast to the south-east of the Kaikoura peninsula. It is 60 km long, up to 1200 m deep, and is generally U-shaped. It is an active canyon that merges into a deep-ocean channel system that meanders for hundreds of kilometres across the deep ocean floor.
** You will have seen video footage of tsunami, and seen that they don't come ashore at anything like 250 kph. In fact they come ashore at more like 20 to 30 kph. So what happens? As the sea depth close to land gets shallower, tsunami waves that have been travelling at 100s of kilometres/hour and a hundred kilometres peak to peak only a metre high, get higher and closer and slower, as the energy of the deep water gets pushed up by the sloping sea floor. This is termed the "run up" phase.     

What happened at Fukishima, Japan? 

On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m. local time (05:46 Universal Time, or UTC), a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan. The epicenter was 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of the inland city of Sendai, and 373 kilometers (231 miles) northeast of Tokyo. The earthquake took place around 67 km (42 mi) from the nearest point on Japan's coastline, and initial estimates indicated the tsunami would have taken 10 to 30 minutes to reach the areas first affected, and then areas farther north and south based on the geography of the coastline.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency there were only about 4 minutes between the earthquake and the initial tsunami arrival at the observation buoy just off the coast of Kamaishi. Assuming the estimated arrival time is correct (i.e. it took another 5 minutes for the wave to travel from the buoy to the coast) that would give them somewhere between 9 to 24 minutes between the earthquake and the arrival of the first tsunami at the closest points and various points north and south.

One minute before the earthquake was felt in Tokyo, Japan’s Earthquake Early Warning system, which includes more than 1,000 seismometers, sent out warnings of impending strong shaking to millions. It is believed that the early warning by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) saved many lives. The warning for the general public was delivered about 8 seconds after the first P wave was detected, or about 31 seconds after the earthquake occurred.

Assuming that the earthquake time reported is the time at which the JMA became aware that there was an earthquake occurring (most likely/logical time to report in my opinion), taking into consideration that it takes them at least 3 minutes to issue a forecast AND assuming that this time is when people in the affected areas actually receive the tsunami warning, it leaves only 6 to 21 minutes for people to register the warning, to take action, and to get to high ground. And that was for an earthquake that occurred 67 kilometres offshore.

If New Zealand had its act together in the same way Japan did - ie 3 minutes to figure out what was happening, decide, and issue a warning to the Kaikoura sirens - and if the first wave hit in between 3 and 5 minutes.... well, go figure...


This gives the heights of tsunami recorded around Japan's coastline. Dark red and bright red mark the highest waves, and the closest points to the epicentre.

And for some of those locations, here are the timings of arrival of the biggest tsunami waves, after the actual earthquake that triggered them:

On 13 March 2011, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) published details of tsunami observations recorded around the coastline of Japan following the earthquake. These observations included tsunami maximum readings of over 3 m (9.8 ft) at the following locations and times on 11 March 2011, following the earthquake which remember was at 14:46 JST:

• 15:12 JST – off Kamaishi – 6.8 m (22 ft)   - (ie 26 minutes later with epicentre 67 kilometres away)
• 15:15 JST – Ōfunato – 3.2 m (10 ft) or higher
• 15:20 JST – Ishinomaki-shi Ayukawa – 3.3 m (11 ft) or higher
• 15:21 JST – Miyako – 4.0 m (13.1 ft) or higher
• 15:21 JST – Kamaishi – 4.1 m (13 ft) or higher
• 15:44 JST – Erimo-cho Shoya – 3.5 m (11 ft)
• 15:50 JST – Sōma – 7.3 m (24 ft) or higher
• 16:52 JST – Ōarai – 4.2 m (14 ft)

While the kiwi tsunami message of “If it’s long and strong, get gone” is a good one, we need to better educate our population and civil emergency people about what can happen, and we need better systems in place that the public can trust.

For example, I am aware that people living at Mangawhai Heads, at the top of the North Island, more than 10 metres above mean high water and more than 100 metres inland from the estuary, were woken by volunteers and told to move to higher ground after the Kaikoura earthquake which had occurred just after mid-night. They hadn’t heard the alarm either.

Otherwise it’s a bit like crying “wolf”.