Monday, July 3, 2017

Devonport's Disappearing 8 inch Gun Fires!



A massive 19th Century cannon mounted on top of an Auckland volcanic cone was fired on Monday, 3 July 2017, at 11:15am. I was there to capture the event on video.....

Fun....very Devonport... unclear who was in charge... or what the countdown would be... or when it would even start...
The firing of the so-called Disappearing Gun on Devonport's Maunganuika North Head reserve was filmed for the documentary series Heritage Rescue on ChoiceTV. (All sorts of cameras and drones were called into action).
​The British Armstrong 8 Inch gun battery predates World War I and was mounted on top of the volcanic cone in the late 1800s out of fear of a Russian navy attack.
Another of the same model rests nearby on Mt Victoria. It shattered windows when it was fired for ceremonial purposes in 1915, researcher Justine Treadwell said.
Not sure how loud this was. A good bang, but not a big bang. 
See rest of reporting here on Stuff.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Auckland Redevelopment & America's Cup

So. We won the America's Cup and very quickly there needs to be discussion and agreement about how and where to host it. Part of this debate is where syndicates might be based, where visitors might stand, sit or go to view proceedings, where the actual racing might be held, and what sort of development is best.

Very quick off the mark have been statements that Hobson Wharf (or the Viaduct) be extended. Misinformed I think.

This aerial shows the waterfront area around Viaduct Harbour, which got redeveloped on the back of the America's Cup win in 1995. Top right is Princes Wharf which also got developed around the same time as Viaduct Harbour.

The shaded blue area is the area of Viaduct Harbour that was developed after America's Cup win 1995. (You can see a more precise planning map in this waterfront plan change posting.)  The mechanisms in place to plan and fund the Viaduct Harbour are of interest and relevance today. Back then an Identity called Infrastructure Auckland was set up. Among other things it owned the Port of Auckland Ltd, including a large chunk of Viaduct Harbour, and it had a big chunk of cash. A very careful plan change under Auckland City Council's control sought to balance a good mix of public open space, heritage retention, marine activities, residential development (the apartments down there came from this), and some space for America's Cup syndicates. (Some were located in other parts of the Auckland waterfront.). This redevelopment is of its time of course. Some of the open spaces were a bit pinched (like the pedestrian walk areas around the Viaduct Wharf. And others were grand but unsuccessful (eg Waitemata Plaza and Market Square). The idea that fishing industry could still locate inside the Viaduct Wharf area was quickly given short shrift by apartment residents grumpy about fish smells and fishy language early in the morning.

I won't go on about the Princes Wharf regeneration disaster here, as have at length elsewhere. For example here and here and here.

Stop Press (1/7/2017)  A reader has drawn my attention to discussion about the option of Viaduct being extended (an option which I didn't include in my original posting - so I've added it now.). That could be some variant of the yellow area extending beyond the structure which supports the Event Centre. It shares some of the problems that an extension to Hobson Wharf has: further reclamation of a very utilised piece of water space (think triathalons and dragon boat racing - events with very low environmental footprints); and problematic land transport access conflicting with Event Centre utilisation. It also suggests that Auckland's fishing fleet is a disposable industry - can be shifted at a planning whim. Auckland should not be treating that industry lightly - as it did when residents had it removed from the inner Viaduct. I think it is critical to the continuing success of Wynyard Quarter in particular that a good balance is struck between public amenity and open space; high quality architecture for commercial, accommodation and residential uses; protection of maritime heritage; support for fisheries and related cuisine; and of course provision for marine industry and sport.

 Hobson Wharf is shown by the yellow area in this aerial. The Maritime Museum is at its southern end. Princes Wharf is to the right. Most of the actual wharf area of Hobson Wharf is now taken up by the special museum building that holds boats associated with Sir Peter Blake's maritime history including an America's Cup wining boat.








Hobson Wharf extends to the left in the background. The glass fronted building sitting on the wharf is ther Sir Peter Blake Museum.

In my opinion, extending Hobson Wharf out into Waitemata Harbour beside Princes Wharf for Am Cup 2021 is inappropriate for a whole range of reasons. Recalling the objections to POAL's extension of Bledisloe Wharf - it would be hypocritical to fast track anything like that here. Yes - this might be a piled extension, but it would still alienate a very popular piece of waterspace. Secondly, I think that Auckland in particular (and many countries generally) find that reusing pier/wharf/jetty type structures when they become surplus to maritime requirements is very problematic. Look at the poor use Auckland is making of Queens Wharf for example. (You only have to look at Viaduct and Wynyard to see how much more useful and useable a piece of reclaimed land is - compared with a wharf structure). And thirdly, if America's Cup syndicates were loctaed on an extended Hobson Wharf their transport options would be terribly limited. This is a very constrained piece of coastline. With Quay Street and Hobson Street extension the main means of land access - and such traffic would have to navigate past Maritime Museum and Sir Peter Blake Museum etc. Perhaps there is a desire to rethink Sir Peter's Museum - if so - be public. But for all of the above reasons I think Hobson Wharf - or any combination of Hobson Wharf and Viaduct - should be rejected as an option.

The best option - in my opinion - is the end of Wynyard Quarter. Creative incorporation among the tanks is a great design solution. I agree with Mayor Goff's call for that area to be targetted by this regeneration opportunity, with the legacy being open space - probably complimented by some appropriate development. An empty open space will not be the best use of this opportunity - primarily because the best open spaces in these sorts of locations include some built edges both to shape the space, provide shelter and informal surveillance, and some amenity - be it ice-creams or coffee or playground equipment. It isn't necessary for syndicate development infrastructure to be permanent. These buildings can be relocateable. Viewing and gathering areas can be temporary too. The legacy of this sort of redevelopment can be useable and developeable waterfront land. There does not need to be talk of iconic structures. It will be enough that the event is located successfully in Auckland and Waitemata Harbour. And all syndicates will be adjacent to the marine suppliers and chandlery facilities that have remained and are locating in Wynyard Quarter. Much of that support infrastructure is there. As is the roading and pipe networks.

And as to the location of the racing itself, check out this race course posting I did after 2014....

Process and funding. It is worth reminding ourselves that early Am Cup developments, and the Rugby World Cup we just hosted were all "planned" by empowering legislation. Thus the lead planning agency was Central Government. That shouldn't happen here in 2021. But there is a problem the ready public cash that existed in 1995, and which has enabled such high quality urban regeneration in the Wynyard Quarter has been spent - and is no longer available as a funding option.

It should be recognised by all concerned that the main public financial beneficiary from an event like the America's Cup is NOT Auckland Council - it is Central Government (because of GST collected on all of the additional economic activities, because of increased economic activity - more employment - more taxes and so on). This is recognised in Australia. There, Federal and State Government funding is used to trigger and underpin urban regeneration projects. What Local Government can bring to the party is good planning, and some measure of private development as part of the whole package.

I think this particular project presents a political opportunity in an election year to set out mechanisms and expectations for Central Government involvement. It is a pity - thinking back to the Rugby World Cup - that the Labour Govt's offer of a $1 billion for a waterfront stadium wasn't taken up. Maybe that would have been the wrong thing to do. Now seems like the time for some sort of commitment from the Labour Party (say) to fund remediation works on Wynyard Quarter, and perhaps public works acquisition of key titles, in order to lay bare parts of the site for redevelopment. Auckland Council for its part would need - in my view to commit to an appropriate plan change for that part of Wynyard Quarter. The long term legacy would be redevelopment at least as good as what i there now - but with much more public open space. The short term opportunity would be a place to host Am Cup syndicates and viewing platforms.

Get foiling. Now's the time for 100% flytime.




No Room for Safe Cycling on Lake Road

There is room for fast lycra cycling on a modestly revamped Lake Road (between Deveonport and Takapuna - in Auckland). But there is neither room nor safety for safe cycling infrastructure needed for kids biking to school or casual commuter cycling.

I say this more in disappointment than because I'm grumpy. For a a few years now community groups have been working together and with Auckland Transport to come up with a reasonable plan to address the Lake Road congestion problem, and a plan that can accommodate some urban redevelopment and provide better urban transport amenity for the whole Devonport peninsula.

Throughout this process there have been calls from the old guard for a new arterial coastal road and route running parallel to Lake Road, built partly into Waitemata Harbour mangroves. Such a project would be very expensive and present huge consenting problems given its intrusion into the marine area, and its impact on perceived property rights. In my opinion its cost could not be justified in a cost benefit test - unless an immense amount of redevelopment was permitted within urban Devonport - development that would have a major impact on the heritage landscape that has evolved there over the past century and a half.

Options advanced by Auckland Transport are reported by Stuff here. And public opinions canvassed on video also by Stuff here (including mine).

When I reflect on my days chairing committees in local government (12 years worth), and remember my first leaflet (1998 - Lake Road needs to be fixed), I realise how hard it is to get the use of roads changed. Especially arterial roads. Advocates in the northern hemisphere talk about how easy it is - get some paint and change the markings - a suck it and see approach. But it doesn't come easy here.

The best example - in my opinion - of changed use of a roading corridor in Auckland's North Shore was Onewa Road. Long before I'd been elected, and before we had four city councils across Auckland, a Borough Council in Birkenhead decided that there should be a priority bus lane in Onewa Road. And they made it happen. Despite the opposition. That opposition continued unabated while I was a North Shore City Councillor - and it was spear-headed by the normally sensible Northcote Point Residents and Ratepayers grouping. They were openly hostile and made it very difficult for that buslane to be properly established as a T3.

Thanks to a majority of North Shore City Councillors remaining staunch, that T3 was put firmly in place and Auckland CBD bus commuters across Birkenhead and from Northcote enjoy a particularly reliable commuter bus service. This was enhanced when the Northern Busway was built.

At the time there would have been cyclists keen to have access to priority infrastructure. But that need was not on the radar during that period.

The same cannot be said for Lake Road in Devonport/Takapuna.

Applying the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number, community groups working together agreed that T2 buslane infrastructure was the top priority for Lake Road enhancements. I agree with that assessment. But I am a strong supporter of cycling. On my watch in North Shore Local Government a cycling strategy was produced which did call for a cycle lane on Lake Road. Interesting in hindsight. A few years later that cyclelane was implemented. It was highly controversial at the time. It did increase the amount of cycling. But Lake Road was always perceived as dangerous by school-children parents, and by casual commuter cyclists.

Other cycling infrastructure developed in local streets parallel to Lake Road and along coastal paths both East and West of Lake Road (which runs North/South). More and more children and casual recreational cyclists are using that infrastructure for pleasure, to get to school, and to access various destinations on the pensinsula.

An enhanced version of that option was generally supported by community groups in Devonport, rather than a dedicated cyclelane in Lake Road - especially when the cost of providing a dedicated cyclelane PLUS a T2 bus lane is factored into the planning process.

I am sympathetic to the aims and objectives of the high speed lycra clad cycling lobby that enjoys the use of Lake Road in peletons and for their enjoyment. But those aims and objectives need to be weighed alongside greater good aims and objectives, and they need to be considered against available funds. Their energetic advocacy for a dedicated (and generally perceived as unsafe) cyclelane in Lake Road runs the risk of preventing the T2 project going ahead. That outcome might be favoured by high speed cyclists because it means the current cyclelane can remain in place. However it would also mean that a long-waited and socially necessary T2 improvement which would enable the establishment of reliable Devonport/Takapuna bus services - would be put off again.

The modestly priced option to improve the Lake Road corridor is necessary now. It will deliver a T2 buslane which will benefit many residents. It can be funded because it is modestly priced. Safe cycling infrastructure which benefits casual and school cycling can be developed away from the arterial Lake Road corridor.

That is the priority for Devonport and Takapuna. Auckland Transport needs to be supported by local politicians to do the best for the most residents. That includes long awaited T2 enabled bus services, and appropriate safe cycle infrastructure for the broad demographic of casual urban cyclists.  
  

On Auckland Chamber CEO On Watercare Sale

In the Herald, on the 20th June, under the headline: "Michael Barnett: Council Could Unblock Cash Flow", The CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce suggests that Watercare should be privatised in some way, along with Ports of Auckland, to unleash capital to pay for growth. In this post, I paste Barnett's piece, and piece by piece, examine his suggestion:

Michael Barnett writes (and I respond)

"As an optimist, I have long believed that Auckland has the ingenuity and capability to solve most of the city's growth problems using its own resources.

It’s a happy place being an optimist, but my information is that “most of Auckland’s growth problems” are transport problems and these are at least 50% subsidised by Central Government and in the case of state highways 100%. Auckland has never had the capability of funding its growth.

So it has hardly been a surprise that the recent disclosure that Auckland Council is talking of selling the port company but retaining the land has been extended to a further question: Why not also sell Watercare?

Adding Watercare to the talk of selling the port company would provide the city with a $5 billion nest egg - more than enough to kick-start action on critically needed transport infrastructure. With assets of more than $8b and debts around $2b, a Watercare sell down has potential to generate a conservative $3-5b for Auckland Council.

Split the difference. Assume an investor would pay $4 billion for Watercare. Realistically they’d expect 7% earnings minimum or $300 million/annum. In the 2015/16 year, according to its Annual Report, Watercare generated $570 million. So at the Chamber's projected sale price, revenues available to Watercare would be halved – not factoring in here possible asset-stripping revenues that the investor might find.

The billion dollars a Ports of Auckland company sale could reap (with its land staying in Council ownership) plus Watercare's contribution would give Government the evidence it has been seeking, surely, that Council is looking seriously at what it has to do to fund its share of the city's huge infrastructure investment programme.

On how urgent and decisive Auckland Council can be in making such a decision, I suggest, depends on the pace of action to start a fast-track programme to sort Auckland's infrastructure problems.

At the end of the day, Auckland's destiny is in its own hands.

A joint sell down, would give Council a sizeable chunk of capital to bring to the table in setting up a special purpose partnership or (SPV) with central government to drive an accelerated programme to address Auckland's rapidly worsening transport crises.

In welcoming talk of a port company sell down, Prime Minister Bill English said he was pleased to see Council looking seriously at what it could do to fund its share of the city's infrastructure. Adding Watercare to the package would, I am sure, get the action response all Aucklanders are crying out for.

Lumping Watercare and the Port together into a package ignores the facts these two services are not like each other. It’s chalk and cheese. For a start most of what the port does could be re-located elsewhere (I’m not saying that should happen – just saying). But you can’t relocate Auckland’s water and wastewater services. Before we get too carried away here, let’s look at what Watercare says it does with the revenues it earns. Its 2015/16 report states where the $570 million revenues went: $77 million was debt servicing, $210 million operating exp, $216 million mainly depreciation (providing for planned future maintenance) – leaving a surplus of $67 million. Even if the debt was all cleared, that still only leaves a possible “profit” of $144 million – less than half what the Chamber’s investor would be happy with.

In last month's Budget, Finance Minister Steven Joyce clearly signalled the watching brief Government is keeping on the potential for further investment in the infrastructure for our growing economy by way of, as he put it, "greater use of partnerships between central and local government, and between government and the private sector."

I suggest both sell downs could be structured by way of a designer ownership process, with central government facilitating an outcome that keeps both in New Zealand ownership. Designer ownership might be the Government establishing a platform that enabled funds like ACC, NZ Super, iwi and New Zealand investors to invest.

Council would get a good price, and the sell down process can be done in a way that reinforces Council's continuing regulatory control of both assets and to ensure Aucklanders don't view it as sellout of our silverware.

This really is the rub. What would make Aucklanders feel that either of these sales was good for Auckland, and wasn’t selling the family silver? Put another way, what guarantees would there be, no matter how benevolent the new owner was, that service quality is maintained at the status quo at least, now and into the future. Or put another way, how might it be possible to get two pints of gold out of the single Watercare pint cup – a pint for the investor, and a pint to maintain the service.

At the end of the day, Auckland's destiny is in its own hands.

Watercare's latest Annual Report "our journey toward customer centricity" is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but it is sobering. Data provided by Watercare in Council's long term plan states that 2,200 kms of local wastewater network pipes are in average to poor condition - ie not good or very good - and 3,500 kms of local water network pipes are average to poor. Aucklanders understand the need to budget and provide for future maintenance. The Thames Water privatisation in London is sad example of private investor neglect.  

With Council and central government facilitating a SPV that delivers a designer ownership that secures each company's ownership firmly in New Zealand hands and under an independent board of control, Aucklanders would get the benefit of a win-win: First, we would have raised the funding required for a dramatically accelerated programme to reduce traffic congestion, boost public transport services and do key projects that have been sitting on Auckland's books in some cases for more than 20 years. The long-planned infrastructure 'catch-ups' could at last happen, and with smart investment we would give ourselves a chance of getting in front of the demand created by our population growth curve.

There is nothing but optimism behind this statement. If the last ten years have proved anything, that is private investor reluctance to invest in long term infrastructure. Why would that suddenly change with Watercare in private hands?

Second, a sale of both CCOs would give Council some debt-to-revenue freeboard by removing their capital requirements from Council's books, which I am advised could be as high as 25-30 per cent of Council's indebtedness.

Again, this is false economics. Yes, Watercare’s share of Council’s debt mountain would disappear, but Watercare’s own projections are that it would quickly rebuild to fund deferred maintenance and new growth infrastructure. And under private control any revenues would be prioritised to keep shareholders happy – not pipes in better than good condition.

Commercially, if both became listed companies (with Council possibly retaining a share holding), a market-led opportunity would be created for them to invest and expand without the constraint of impacting Council's books.

This sounds too good to be true. And one thing I have learned in Auckland. That is: if it sounds too good to be true, it’s almost certainly not true. Smells too much like golden geese and golden eggs. Watercare projects (Auckland Council Long-Term Plan 2015-2025) that the cost of wastewater treatment capex and opex will increase from $350 million/annum now, to $500 million in ten years. Water supply capex and opex will increase from $200 million/annum now to $350 million/annum over the same time.

Ports of Auckland would be released to grow to the scale it is likely to require to be a serious investment prospect to relocate, if and when the feasibility study on where that relocation might be to is completed.

We need only look at the success of Tauranga's port since it was partially privatised and listed some years ago. It has grown from a small provincial port to be NZ's largest, worth $2.2b, twice the value of Ports of Auckland.

Similarly, a commercialised Watercare would be better positioned to independently debt fund an accelerated and badly needed capital expenditure programme required to cope with Auckland's population and housing growth.

You can’t get two pints out of a one pint cup. Watercare is prevented from paying a dividend. Any surplus it generates today is ploughed back into debt reduction and borrowing to pay for growth and infrastructure maintenance. While revenues will increase, they don’t keep pace with increasing costs. There is no free lunch here.

A dramatically accelerated effort by Council and Government working together to address Auckland's critical transport issues is what we all want. Here's is a way to make it happen.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Future-Proof Sydney Streets and Downtown


This picture is the cross-section of a downtown Sydney street. George Street must've been in need of some TLC and the whole thing has been dug up and remade. So I did a bit of looking...

The City of Sydney website explains:
George Street will undergo one of the biggest transformations ever seen in Sydney when the light rail line is built. The City of Sydney has committed $220 million to the public domain elements of the project and is working closely with the NSW Government to create inviting public spaces where people want to live, shop, visit and do business. The main George Street strip will be pedestrianised between Hunter and Bathurst streets and footpaths will be widened. Existing driveway access for buildings will be maintained while roads travelling east and west will remain open to vehicles. Delivery vehicles and taxis servicing the Hilton will travel along George Street as normal. Greater space for pedestrians along the street will mean cafés and restaurants can introduce outdoor dining areas. The revamped George Street will become an easy way to travel between key attractions from The Rocks and Circular Quay to the city centre's retail heart and down to Chinatown. Light rail will also link hotels to the renewed Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre when it's completed
I was there for the Planning Institute of Australia Congress 2017, and kept passing this work on my way to conference. Such high quality and so detailed. I did wonder where the water pipes and wastewater pipes were - of course - as you do.

You can see it's made of reinforced concrete. Various layers.

You can see the light rail tracks on top.

And you can see the provision for signalling, cables, and conduits for Africa. Nobody talked about this stuff at conference, but this infrastructure work has an appearance of durability and quality about it that I've not seen anywhere in New Zealand.

But I'm happy to be corrected.

You can see a well put together concept design for the overall project here. Interestingly, the area in the image looks a bit like how Auckland's QEII Square could have looked had the extra space not been sold off.

Other downloads relating to the planning and activation of this important part of downtown Sydney can be seen here.

On Hosking On Immigration

A brief engagement with Hosking - because it provides an opportunity to discuss this developing argument and issue a bit more broadly....

Hosking (NZ Herald Opinion 11 May 2017) justifies permanent annual immigration inflows of 70,000 because “half are New Zealanders and Australians” and because they are needed to fill job vacancies. However his accompanying economic analysis misses the mark because he ignores two other inflows which are essential to an understanding of the nation’s simmering discontent. 

The first inflow he ignores are the 200,000 people who were issued temporary work visas in the year ending June 2016 - almost 30,000 more than the year before. While individual workers and students may come and go, the temporary overall resident population level has increased sharply putting further pressure on accommodation and transport infrastructure. Just because these guys are designated "temporary" doesn't mean they don't - as a whole - have similar demands as "permanent" immigrant.    

Professor Spoonley says New Zealand now has the highest inflow of workers and new residents of any OECD country. (Good on you - Mike - for including Spoonley in your opinion - albeit selectively.)

The second inflow which must be factored into any analysis of NZ’s changing economy is the unprecedented investment level of foreign capital finding safe haven in our relatively unregulated property market.

Immigration and foreign capital go together. Their combination is transforming cities like Brisbane, Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne. And Auckland. The differences lie in how these different countries are responding. The pent up demand for what these cities offer (including safety, security, high quality education, health services etc) among the burgeoning middle classes of India and China in particular is enormous. Even suggesting this demand can be met by increasing supply (of houses for example) is ridiculous. The pattern of NZ's immigration has changed as the world's wealth distribution has changed. Immigration from UK and Australia is steady, but actual demand from India and China has risen sharply and potential demand from those countries is gigantic.

It is easy to dismiss popular concern about immigration as xenophobia. However the absence of race riots in Auckland whose population now includes 40% born outside New Zealand suggests attitudes of tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity among locals. (Btw - similar statistics now describe the populations of Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne - far out-stripping the same measure in London.) 

What can’t and shouldn’t be ignored are the social consequences of a combination of unprecedented and sharp annual increases in NZ’s actual population and of unregulated foreign investment in property. This unmanaged combination might be good for the national economy and the property industry, but comes at a considerable cost to resident communities.

You can have too much of a good thing. 

Even Hosking might concede that.

City Planning: Learning from India

Prathima Manohar is the Founder of the think do-tank on livable cities “The Urban Vision” and is the co-Founder of the Urban innovation Incubator, “Urban Venture Labs”. Prathima holds a bachelors degree in Architecture. She was awarded Stanford University’s prestigious Draper Hills Fellowship bestowed to rising international stars who work on issues related to Democracy and Development in 2011. As an urbanist, she has worked on projects and researched on issues such as place making, affordable housing, participatory planning and green cities. Mumbai and Bangalore are cities she talks about. She has been a contributing columnist on architecture, urban development and design with India’s Leading News daily – The Times of India. She was among Global Honourees of 2009 CONSIUSA’s “Young Leaders Program” which recognizes emerging leaders under the age of 40, who have distinguished themselves and have demonstrated leadership qualities and potential in various careers.

I attended her keynote presentation at the Planning Institute of Australia Congress 2017 held in Sydney from 3rd to 5th May this year. Her abstract reads:
In many ways the social, economic and environmental future of our world is going to depend on the transition of an “India of villages “into an “India of cities”. This is a momentous time in India with an unparalleled level of focus on urban infrastructure and city development. Prime minister Modi has been using the strategy often called “Urban Renaissance” as a central theme for a wide array of economic and social reforms.This panel will highlight the major plans from building 100 Smart cities, The Urban Revival program- AMRUT, Make in India and Real Estate Regulatory Authority. Can these plans lead to structural transformation of India's built environment industry and the wider economy? The session will discuss the state of India Cities at the moment and highlight grass root level innovations towards building livable and inclusive cities.
Prathima's presentation contained advice and findings from various international studies, to underpin her main recommendations about the planning issues that need to be confronted.
Quality of Life indicators included the basics. Cities in India are playing catchup to Western standards of water and wastewater services, but up there, with those services, is the provision of parks and open space, and access to public transport.
This is Ghandi. Apparently his legacy was one of opposition to cities....
Like most fast growing cities, India has challenges with infrastructure investment, and who pays. There was a lot more on this topic, but I have chosen for this post, her 4 urban values conflict slides. These may encapsulate the political economy of urban planning in India, but they are just as true in Auckland.
Autocentric infrastructure Vs People Centric Infrastructure. The debate is not about cars vs public transport. It is about public roading space vs public people space. We haven't engaged with that dichotomy in Auckland. Deemed surplus public land or reserve land is being sold by Auckland Council for urban development. Some is also taken for roading projects. Places for people is the catch cry here. Problem is, the car is still king. Look at AT's main list of capital works, and NZ Transport Agency's focus on its State Highway "ladder rung" severing Onehunga.
Retirement Villages and other medium scale residential projects existing and proposed within Auckland's built environment, are planned separate developments. They might not all be ringed with moats and security fences, but they generally do not inter-relate with the surrounding urban environment whose residents can feel unwelcome. Given the option most investors will go for a gated community design - easier to build, easy to sell, new residents quit like security, seclusion and privacy. For a while anyway, until the isolation and limited access to amenity begins to pall. If we only rely on market forces to make these kinds of planning decisions then we should not be surprised how Auckland's redeveloped urban landscape turns out.

Shopping Malls with global brands Vs local street retail and shopping. Auckland has been happy to provide malls throughout the region - often at the expense of high street shopping. We all drive to them. Part of the autocentric equation.

I wrote a little about this here a few weeks ago. Global branding needs a mall at least to display its signage and locate. We probably need both configurations - but the balance in Auckland is very different from the balance in Wellington (for example).
Auckland might not have the same history as India, but we do have a history and we are home to the world's largest Polynesian population. We have an indigenous culture. Maori. But you wouldn't really know that walking in downtown Auckland and its waterfront. Again, very different from Wellington.

Research that was triggered from attending the PIA Congress drew me to explore measureable urban indicators specifying the delivery of minimum public good outcomes. I came across ISO 37120:2014 (Sustainable development of communities – Indicators for city services and quality of life), these contain, for example, measures we already know about like: square metres of public recreation space per capita; number of public transport trips per capita; green area per capita; the jobs/housing ratio.

While it might appear to Auckland Council, and to its Councillors, that Auckland's future urban form is finalised, and that the planning systems that are in place to deliver it are also finalised - with only a little bit of reflection you come to the conclusion that that's not good enough. 

Prathima remarked that what is happening to cities India, as their populations exert more and more democratic influence over urban outcomes - engaging with the urban values conflicts outlined above - they will be the shapers of global urban futures. They are going where we have yet to go. Better to engage with these really big conflicts sooner than later - and properly.

Faults in Unitary Plan: Rymans Changed

The continuing story of the Rymans development in Devonport, and of implementation issues associated with Auckland's Unitary Plan...

The story that I've told so far began with the Sept 27, 2016 posting Rymans Crams Reitirees into Devonport, and continued with the 18 Jan, 2017 posting First Test of Unitary Plan: Rymans Granted.

This decision was appealed by the specially formed Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society. This group had morphed from the resident group that established initially to engage with the urgent submission and hearing process precipitated by the original Ryman's application, the fact considerations by Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel were not taken into consideration by Rymans, and the typically short time available for residents to get organised.

The work involved in bringing an appeal like this, of building relationships with local architects, expert urban design witnesses, and planners, of identifying legal advocates and fund-raising to get an effective team mobilised is one thing. Quite another is the immense work of capacity and knowledge building that is needed within the local community, when a project of this scale and impact threatens local amenity and quality of life.

Little of this background is revealed in the press release they issued on the 12th of May 2017:

APPEAL OVER AND NEXT COURSE ALREADY SET BY ‘NEW BREED’ COMMUNITY GROUP 
A residents’ group’s appeal against Ryman Healthcare’s plans to build a huge retirement village in Devonport is over, subject to Environment Court approval.
All of the 300-strong Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society’s (DPPS) issues were satisfactorily resolved by Ryman in a court-led mediation process that lasted over a month.
The society lodged an appeal to the Environment Court in February 2017 after Auckland Council gave consent to Ryman for its six storey, 600 bed, 300 car park facility in Devonport.
The group cited poor design and unsuitable bulk in its appeal. DPPS chair Iain Rea says that within the constraints of an appeal to an already consented development, the society was pleased with the result. “We are still going to have Devonport’s biggest ever development on this site, but we have managed to mitigate some of the worst effects,” he says.
Rea says that the result is testament to the society’s organised and realistic approach and its deep community support. “We are a new breed of community group, and I think people understand and relate to our methods.”
Subsequent appellants to the appeal were the New Zealand Institute of Architects Auckland Branch and civic lobby group Urban Auckland whose support proved the gravity of the case. “All three groups took this case extremely seriously and Ryman fully engaged in mediation” says Rea.
“And the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed”.
The intensive development of five other precincts on the Devonport peninsula is afoot, and while the society fully understands and appreciates the implications of a growing population that includes an elderly population bulge, loose planning controls that allow poor quality design and inappropriate development to proliferate will be under scrutiny.
This is a very good result for the community, and for Devonport. These two images show the before and after mediation plans. This is "before":


The mediation process has resulted in significant design changes to the scale, height and configuration of the proposed buildings on the site. Most significant changes are at the western end of the site (buildings B02,B03 and B04), which results is a generous, sunny, sheltered, largely level internal courtyard and the reorientation of the main care building B01. The Ngataringa Road frontage has also been changed to improve streetscape, but as architects involved have noted, it is still a Ryman Village with its rather dated and clumsy architectural form and style, and the perimeter fence has no openings for pedestrian access to and from the site....


It remains a gated community - this is despite changes internationally and here in New Zealand where retirement communities are a much more integrated part of the urban environment - offering retirement lifestyle choices which are part of the wider community, rather than apart from it.

There is still water to flow under the bridge with this project, and hopefully Rymans will consider carefully what has happened, not least because I understand Rymans have purchased a development site at Hobsonville Point. The Hobsonville Land Development Company will want the best design to compliment what has already been achieved there, and won't support the rough and ready and rather careless approach that Rymans have demonstrated in Devonport.

But they did what they did in Devonport because they could.

As Rea notes in the DPS media release, “... the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed.”

Good planning provides for local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach. This did not happen here, and the responsibility for that rests firmly with Auckland Council. No amount of subsequent urban design sticking plaster will cure the fundamental failures that this episode exposes in Council's systems for handling applications that will result in urban intensification.

Few existing communities have the oversight and protection of something like the Hobsonville Land Development Company to maintain and ensure implementation of a coherent vision and spatial plan and gradual creation of interlinking and complete communities. Foreshadowed Urban Development Authorities could improve the planning situation - but this is unlikely if their main purpose is to accelerate and streamline intensive residential development.

Some might criticise me for too fondly remembering the past. But I rue the day that Devonport lost its local community board, and their role in assessing resource consent applications. Their knowledge of local communities and local geography were regularly applied to improve outcomes and to effectively integrate new buildings and developments into existing environments. That sort of planning work was abolished with amalgamation. But it could be re-introduced. Local Boards could be delegated roles and responsibilities in local planning. At the very least this would provide checks and balances and would re-introduce collaborative approaches to planning, and allow for the expression and influence of local aspirations. Urban designers and urban design panels are no substitute for this planning.

Auckland Council's Unitary Plan provides for intensification. However the absence of planning around implementation which incorporates local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach will, in future, inevitably lead to the construction of more gated and separate urban enclaves in Auckland - because that will be the easy option for developers. And they will be resisted by local communities, just as the Devonport Rymans project has been, putting people through the cost and pain of appealing, mediation and environment court proceedings. There is a better way.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Devonport's Disappearing 8 inch Gun Fires!



A massive 19th Century cannon mounted on top of an Auckland volcanic cone was fired on Monday, 3 July 2017, at 11:15am. I was there to capture the event on video.....

Fun....very Devonport... unclear who was in charge... or what the countdown would be... or when it would even start...
The firing of the so-called Disappearing Gun on Devonport's Maunganuika North Head reserve was filmed for the documentary series Heritage Rescue on ChoiceTV. (All sorts of cameras and drones were called into action).
​The British Armstrong 8 Inch gun battery predates World War I and was mounted on top of the volcanic cone in the late 1800s out of fear of a Russian navy attack.
Another of the same model rests nearby on Mt Victoria. It shattered windows when it was fired for ceremonial purposes in 1915, researcher Justine Treadwell said.
Not sure how loud this was. A good bang, but not a big bang. 
See rest of reporting here on Stuff.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Auckland Redevelopment & America's Cup

So. We won the America's Cup and very quickly there needs to be discussion and agreement about how and where to host it. Part of this debate is where syndicates might be based, where visitors might stand, sit or go to view proceedings, where the actual racing might be held, and what sort of development is best.

Very quick off the mark have been statements that Hobson Wharf (or the Viaduct) be extended. Misinformed I think.

This aerial shows the waterfront area around Viaduct Harbour, which got redeveloped on the back of the America's Cup win in 1995. Top right is Princes Wharf which also got developed around the same time as Viaduct Harbour.

The shaded blue area is the area of Viaduct Harbour that was developed after America's Cup win 1995. (You can see a more precise planning map in this waterfront plan change posting.)  The mechanisms in place to plan and fund the Viaduct Harbour are of interest and relevance today. Back then an Identity called Infrastructure Auckland was set up. Among other things it owned the Port of Auckland Ltd, including a large chunk of Viaduct Harbour, and it had a big chunk of cash. A very careful plan change under Auckland City Council's control sought to balance a good mix of public open space, heritage retention, marine activities, residential development (the apartments down there came from this), and some space for America's Cup syndicates. (Some were located in other parts of the Auckland waterfront.). This redevelopment is of its time of course. Some of the open spaces were a bit pinched (like the pedestrian walk areas around the Viaduct Wharf. And others were grand but unsuccessful (eg Waitemata Plaza and Market Square). The idea that fishing industry could still locate inside the Viaduct Wharf area was quickly given short shrift by apartment residents grumpy about fish smells and fishy language early in the morning.

I won't go on about the Princes Wharf regeneration disaster here, as have at length elsewhere. For example here and here and here.

Stop Press (1/7/2017)  A reader has drawn my attention to discussion about the option of Viaduct being extended (an option which I didn't include in my original posting - so I've added it now.). That could be some variant of the yellow area extending beyond the structure which supports the Event Centre. It shares some of the problems that an extension to Hobson Wharf has: further reclamation of a very utilised piece of water space (think triathalons and dragon boat racing - events with very low environmental footprints); and problematic land transport access conflicting with Event Centre utilisation. It also suggests that Auckland's fishing fleet is a disposable industry - can be shifted at a planning whim. Auckland should not be treating that industry lightly - as it did when residents had it removed from the inner Viaduct. I think it is critical to the continuing success of Wynyard Quarter in particular that a good balance is struck between public amenity and open space; high quality architecture for commercial, accommodation and residential uses; protection of maritime heritage; support for fisheries and related cuisine; and of course provision for marine industry and sport.

 Hobson Wharf is shown by the yellow area in this aerial. The Maritime Museum is at its southern end. Princes Wharf is to the right. Most of the actual wharf area of Hobson Wharf is now taken up by the special museum building that holds boats associated with Sir Peter Blake's maritime history including an America's Cup wining boat.








Hobson Wharf extends to the left in the background. The glass fronted building sitting on the wharf is ther Sir Peter Blake Museum.

In my opinion, extending Hobson Wharf out into Waitemata Harbour beside Princes Wharf for Am Cup 2021 is inappropriate for a whole range of reasons. Recalling the objections to POAL's extension of Bledisloe Wharf - it would be hypocritical to fast track anything like that here. Yes - this might be a piled extension, but it would still alienate a very popular piece of waterspace. Secondly, I think that Auckland in particular (and many countries generally) find that reusing pier/wharf/jetty type structures when they become surplus to maritime requirements is very problematic. Look at the poor use Auckland is making of Queens Wharf for example. (You only have to look at Viaduct and Wynyard to see how much more useful and useable a piece of reclaimed land is - compared with a wharf structure). And thirdly, if America's Cup syndicates were loctaed on an extended Hobson Wharf their transport options would be terribly limited. This is a very constrained piece of coastline. With Quay Street and Hobson Street extension the main means of land access - and such traffic would have to navigate past Maritime Museum and Sir Peter Blake Museum etc. Perhaps there is a desire to rethink Sir Peter's Museum - if so - be public. But for all of the above reasons I think Hobson Wharf - or any combination of Hobson Wharf and Viaduct - should be rejected as an option.

The best option - in my opinion - is the end of Wynyard Quarter. Creative incorporation among the tanks is a great design solution. I agree with Mayor Goff's call for that area to be targetted by this regeneration opportunity, with the legacy being open space - probably complimented by some appropriate development. An empty open space will not be the best use of this opportunity - primarily because the best open spaces in these sorts of locations include some built edges both to shape the space, provide shelter and informal surveillance, and some amenity - be it ice-creams or coffee or playground equipment. It isn't necessary for syndicate development infrastructure to be permanent. These buildings can be relocateable. Viewing and gathering areas can be temporary too. The legacy of this sort of redevelopment can be useable and developeable waterfront land. There does not need to be talk of iconic structures. It will be enough that the event is located successfully in Auckland and Waitemata Harbour. And all syndicates will be adjacent to the marine suppliers and chandlery facilities that have remained and are locating in Wynyard Quarter. Much of that support infrastructure is there. As is the roading and pipe networks.

And as to the location of the racing itself, check out this race course posting I did after 2014....

Process and funding. It is worth reminding ourselves that early Am Cup developments, and the Rugby World Cup we just hosted were all "planned" by empowering legislation. Thus the lead planning agency was Central Government. That shouldn't happen here in 2021. But there is a problem the ready public cash that existed in 1995, and which has enabled such high quality urban regeneration in the Wynyard Quarter has been spent - and is no longer available as a funding option.

It should be recognised by all concerned that the main public financial beneficiary from an event like the America's Cup is NOT Auckland Council - it is Central Government (because of GST collected on all of the additional economic activities, because of increased economic activity - more employment - more taxes and so on). This is recognised in Australia. There, Federal and State Government funding is used to trigger and underpin urban regeneration projects. What Local Government can bring to the party is good planning, and some measure of private development as part of the whole package.

I think this particular project presents a political opportunity in an election year to set out mechanisms and expectations for Central Government involvement. It is a pity - thinking back to the Rugby World Cup - that the Labour Govt's offer of a $1 billion for a waterfront stadium wasn't taken up. Maybe that would have been the wrong thing to do. Now seems like the time for some sort of commitment from the Labour Party (say) to fund remediation works on Wynyard Quarter, and perhaps public works acquisition of key titles, in order to lay bare parts of the site for redevelopment. Auckland Council for its part would need - in my view to commit to an appropriate plan change for that part of Wynyard Quarter. The long term legacy would be redevelopment at least as good as what i there now - but with much more public open space. The short term opportunity would be a place to host Am Cup syndicates and viewing platforms.

Get foiling. Now's the time for 100% flytime.




No Room for Safe Cycling on Lake Road

There is room for fast lycra cycling on a modestly revamped Lake Road (between Deveonport and Takapuna - in Auckland). But there is neither room nor safety for safe cycling infrastructure needed for kids biking to school or casual commuter cycling.

I say this more in disappointment than because I'm grumpy. For a a few years now community groups have been working together and with Auckland Transport to come up with a reasonable plan to address the Lake Road congestion problem, and a plan that can accommodate some urban redevelopment and provide better urban transport amenity for the whole Devonport peninsula.

Throughout this process there have been calls from the old guard for a new arterial coastal road and route running parallel to Lake Road, built partly into Waitemata Harbour mangroves. Such a project would be very expensive and present huge consenting problems given its intrusion into the marine area, and its impact on perceived property rights. In my opinion its cost could not be justified in a cost benefit test - unless an immense amount of redevelopment was permitted within urban Devonport - development that would have a major impact on the heritage landscape that has evolved there over the past century and a half.

Options advanced by Auckland Transport are reported by Stuff here. And public opinions canvassed on video also by Stuff here (including mine).

When I reflect on my days chairing committees in local government (12 years worth), and remember my first leaflet (1998 - Lake Road needs to be fixed), I realise how hard it is to get the use of roads changed. Especially arterial roads. Advocates in the northern hemisphere talk about how easy it is - get some paint and change the markings - a suck it and see approach. But it doesn't come easy here.

The best example - in my opinion - of changed use of a roading corridor in Auckland's North Shore was Onewa Road. Long before I'd been elected, and before we had four city councils across Auckland, a Borough Council in Birkenhead decided that there should be a priority bus lane in Onewa Road. And they made it happen. Despite the opposition. That opposition continued unabated while I was a North Shore City Councillor - and it was spear-headed by the normally sensible Northcote Point Residents and Ratepayers grouping. They were openly hostile and made it very difficult for that buslane to be properly established as a T3.

Thanks to a majority of North Shore City Councillors remaining staunch, that T3 was put firmly in place and Auckland CBD bus commuters across Birkenhead and from Northcote enjoy a particularly reliable commuter bus service. This was enhanced when the Northern Busway was built.

At the time there would have been cyclists keen to have access to priority infrastructure. But that need was not on the radar during that period.

The same cannot be said for Lake Road in Devonport/Takapuna.

Applying the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number, community groups working together agreed that T2 buslane infrastructure was the top priority for Lake Road enhancements. I agree with that assessment. But I am a strong supporter of cycling. On my watch in North Shore Local Government a cycling strategy was produced which did call for a cycle lane on Lake Road. Interesting in hindsight. A few years later that cyclelane was implemented. It was highly controversial at the time. It did increase the amount of cycling. But Lake Road was always perceived as dangerous by school-children parents, and by casual commuter cyclists.

Other cycling infrastructure developed in local streets parallel to Lake Road and along coastal paths both East and West of Lake Road (which runs North/South). More and more children and casual recreational cyclists are using that infrastructure for pleasure, to get to school, and to access various destinations on the pensinsula.

An enhanced version of that option was generally supported by community groups in Devonport, rather than a dedicated cyclelane in Lake Road - especially when the cost of providing a dedicated cyclelane PLUS a T2 bus lane is factored into the planning process.

I am sympathetic to the aims and objectives of the high speed lycra clad cycling lobby that enjoys the use of Lake Road in peletons and for their enjoyment. But those aims and objectives need to be weighed alongside greater good aims and objectives, and they need to be considered against available funds. Their energetic advocacy for a dedicated (and generally perceived as unsafe) cyclelane in Lake Road runs the risk of preventing the T2 project going ahead. That outcome might be favoured by high speed cyclists because it means the current cyclelane can remain in place. However it would also mean that a long-waited and socially necessary T2 improvement which would enable the establishment of reliable Devonport/Takapuna bus services - would be put off again.

The modestly priced option to improve the Lake Road corridor is necessary now. It will deliver a T2 buslane which will benefit many residents. It can be funded because it is modestly priced. Safe cycling infrastructure which benefits casual and school cycling can be developed away from the arterial Lake Road corridor.

That is the priority for Devonport and Takapuna. Auckland Transport needs to be supported by local politicians to do the best for the most residents. That includes long awaited T2 enabled bus services, and appropriate safe cycle infrastructure for the broad demographic of casual urban cyclists.  
  

On Auckland Chamber CEO On Watercare Sale

In the Herald, on the 20th June, under the headline: "Michael Barnett: Council Could Unblock Cash Flow", The CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce suggests that Watercare should be privatised in some way, along with Ports of Auckland, to unleash capital to pay for growth. In this post, I paste Barnett's piece, and piece by piece, examine his suggestion:

Michael Barnett writes (and I respond)

"As an optimist, I have long believed that Auckland has the ingenuity and capability to solve most of the city's growth problems using its own resources.

It’s a happy place being an optimist, but my information is that “most of Auckland’s growth problems” are transport problems and these are at least 50% subsidised by Central Government and in the case of state highways 100%. Auckland has never had the capability of funding its growth.

So it has hardly been a surprise that the recent disclosure that Auckland Council is talking of selling the port company but retaining the land has been extended to a further question: Why not also sell Watercare?

Adding Watercare to the talk of selling the port company would provide the city with a $5 billion nest egg - more than enough to kick-start action on critically needed transport infrastructure. With assets of more than $8b and debts around $2b, a Watercare sell down has potential to generate a conservative $3-5b for Auckland Council.

Split the difference. Assume an investor would pay $4 billion for Watercare. Realistically they’d expect 7% earnings minimum or $300 million/annum. In the 2015/16 year, according to its Annual Report, Watercare generated $570 million. So at the Chamber's projected sale price, revenues available to Watercare would be halved – not factoring in here possible asset-stripping revenues that the investor might find.

The billion dollars a Ports of Auckland company sale could reap (with its land staying in Council ownership) plus Watercare's contribution would give Government the evidence it has been seeking, surely, that Council is looking seriously at what it has to do to fund its share of the city's huge infrastructure investment programme.

On how urgent and decisive Auckland Council can be in making such a decision, I suggest, depends on the pace of action to start a fast-track programme to sort Auckland's infrastructure problems.

At the end of the day, Auckland's destiny is in its own hands.

A joint sell down, would give Council a sizeable chunk of capital to bring to the table in setting up a special purpose partnership or (SPV) with central government to drive an accelerated programme to address Auckland's rapidly worsening transport crises.

In welcoming talk of a port company sell down, Prime Minister Bill English said he was pleased to see Council looking seriously at what it could do to fund its share of the city's infrastructure. Adding Watercare to the package would, I am sure, get the action response all Aucklanders are crying out for.

Lumping Watercare and the Port together into a package ignores the facts these two services are not like each other. It’s chalk and cheese. For a start most of what the port does could be re-located elsewhere (I’m not saying that should happen – just saying). But you can’t relocate Auckland’s water and wastewater services. Before we get too carried away here, let’s look at what Watercare says it does with the revenues it earns. Its 2015/16 report states where the $570 million revenues went: $77 million was debt servicing, $210 million operating exp, $216 million mainly depreciation (providing for planned future maintenance) – leaving a surplus of $67 million. Even if the debt was all cleared, that still only leaves a possible “profit” of $144 million – less than half what the Chamber’s investor would be happy with.

In last month's Budget, Finance Minister Steven Joyce clearly signalled the watching brief Government is keeping on the potential for further investment in the infrastructure for our growing economy by way of, as he put it, "greater use of partnerships between central and local government, and between government and the private sector."

I suggest both sell downs could be structured by way of a designer ownership process, with central government facilitating an outcome that keeps both in New Zealand ownership. Designer ownership might be the Government establishing a platform that enabled funds like ACC, NZ Super, iwi and New Zealand investors to invest.

Council would get a good price, and the sell down process can be done in a way that reinforces Council's continuing regulatory control of both assets and to ensure Aucklanders don't view it as sellout of our silverware.

This really is the rub. What would make Aucklanders feel that either of these sales was good for Auckland, and wasn’t selling the family silver? Put another way, what guarantees would there be, no matter how benevolent the new owner was, that service quality is maintained at the status quo at least, now and into the future. Or put another way, how might it be possible to get two pints of gold out of the single Watercare pint cup – a pint for the investor, and a pint to maintain the service.

At the end of the day, Auckland's destiny is in its own hands.

Watercare's latest Annual Report "our journey toward customer centricity" is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but it is sobering. Data provided by Watercare in Council's long term plan states that 2,200 kms of local wastewater network pipes are in average to poor condition - ie not good or very good - and 3,500 kms of local water network pipes are average to poor. Aucklanders understand the need to budget and provide for future maintenance. The Thames Water privatisation in London is sad example of private investor neglect.  

With Council and central government facilitating a SPV that delivers a designer ownership that secures each company's ownership firmly in New Zealand hands and under an independent board of control, Aucklanders would get the benefit of a win-win: First, we would have raised the funding required for a dramatically accelerated programme to reduce traffic congestion, boost public transport services and do key projects that have been sitting on Auckland's books in some cases for more than 20 years. The long-planned infrastructure 'catch-ups' could at last happen, and with smart investment we would give ourselves a chance of getting in front of the demand created by our population growth curve.

There is nothing but optimism behind this statement. If the last ten years have proved anything, that is private investor reluctance to invest in long term infrastructure. Why would that suddenly change with Watercare in private hands?

Second, a sale of both CCOs would give Council some debt-to-revenue freeboard by removing their capital requirements from Council's books, which I am advised could be as high as 25-30 per cent of Council's indebtedness.

Again, this is false economics. Yes, Watercare’s share of Council’s debt mountain would disappear, but Watercare’s own projections are that it would quickly rebuild to fund deferred maintenance and new growth infrastructure. And under private control any revenues would be prioritised to keep shareholders happy – not pipes in better than good condition.

Commercially, if both became listed companies (with Council possibly retaining a share holding), a market-led opportunity would be created for them to invest and expand without the constraint of impacting Council's books.

This sounds too good to be true. And one thing I have learned in Auckland. That is: if it sounds too good to be true, it’s almost certainly not true. Smells too much like golden geese and golden eggs. Watercare projects (Auckland Council Long-Term Plan 2015-2025) that the cost of wastewater treatment capex and opex will increase from $350 million/annum now, to $500 million in ten years. Water supply capex and opex will increase from $200 million/annum now to $350 million/annum over the same time.

Ports of Auckland would be released to grow to the scale it is likely to require to be a serious investment prospect to relocate, if and when the feasibility study on where that relocation might be to is completed.

We need only look at the success of Tauranga's port since it was partially privatised and listed some years ago. It has grown from a small provincial port to be NZ's largest, worth $2.2b, twice the value of Ports of Auckland.

Similarly, a commercialised Watercare would be better positioned to independently debt fund an accelerated and badly needed capital expenditure programme required to cope with Auckland's population and housing growth.

You can’t get two pints out of a one pint cup. Watercare is prevented from paying a dividend. Any surplus it generates today is ploughed back into debt reduction and borrowing to pay for growth and infrastructure maintenance. While revenues will increase, they don’t keep pace with increasing costs. There is no free lunch here.

A dramatically accelerated effort by Council and Government working together to address Auckland's critical transport issues is what we all want. Here's is a way to make it happen.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Future-Proof Sydney Streets and Downtown


This picture is the cross-section of a downtown Sydney street. George Street must've been in need of some TLC and the whole thing has been dug up and remade. So I did a bit of looking...

The City of Sydney website explains:
George Street will undergo one of the biggest transformations ever seen in Sydney when the light rail line is built. The City of Sydney has committed $220 million to the public domain elements of the project and is working closely with the NSW Government to create inviting public spaces where people want to live, shop, visit and do business. The main George Street strip will be pedestrianised between Hunter and Bathurst streets and footpaths will be widened. Existing driveway access for buildings will be maintained while roads travelling east and west will remain open to vehicles. Delivery vehicles and taxis servicing the Hilton will travel along George Street as normal. Greater space for pedestrians along the street will mean cafés and restaurants can introduce outdoor dining areas. The revamped George Street will become an easy way to travel between key attractions from The Rocks and Circular Quay to the city centre's retail heart and down to Chinatown. Light rail will also link hotels to the renewed Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre when it's completed
I was there for the Planning Institute of Australia Congress 2017, and kept passing this work on my way to conference. Such high quality and so detailed. I did wonder where the water pipes and wastewater pipes were - of course - as you do.

You can see it's made of reinforced concrete. Various layers.

You can see the light rail tracks on top.

And you can see the provision for signalling, cables, and conduits for Africa. Nobody talked about this stuff at conference, but this infrastructure work has an appearance of durability and quality about it that I've not seen anywhere in New Zealand.

But I'm happy to be corrected.

You can see a well put together concept design for the overall project here. Interestingly, the area in the image looks a bit like how Auckland's QEII Square could have looked had the extra space not been sold off.

Other downloads relating to the planning and activation of this important part of downtown Sydney can be seen here.

On Hosking On Immigration

A brief engagement with Hosking - because it provides an opportunity to discuss this developing argument and issue a bit more broadly....

Hosking (NZ Herald Opinion 11 May 2017) justifies permanent annual immigration inflows of 70,000 because “half are New Zealanders and Australians” and because they are needed to fill job vacancies. However his accompanying economic analysis misses the mark because he ignores two other inflows which are essential to an understanding of the nation’s simmering discontent. 

The first inflow he ignores are the 200,000 people who were issued temporary work visas in the year ending June 2016 - almost 30,000 more than the year before. While individual workers and students may come and go, the temporary overall resident population level has increased sharply putting further pressure on accommodation and transport infrastructure. Just because these guys are designated "temporary" doesn't mean they don't - as a whole - have similar demands as "permanent" immigrant.    

Professor Spoonley says New Zealand now has the highest inflow of workers and new residents of any OECD country. (Good on you - Mike - for including Spoonley in your opinion - albeit selectively.)

The second inflow which must be factored into any analysis of NZ’s changing economy is the unprecedented investment level of foreign capital finding safe haven in our relatively unregulated property market.

Immigration and foreign capital go together. Their combination is transforming cities like Brisbane, Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne. And Auckland. The differences lie in how these different countries are responding. The pent up demand for what these cities offer (including safety, security, high quality education, health services etc) among the burgeoning middle classes of India and China in particular is enormous. Even suggesting this demand can be met by increasing supply (of houses for example) is ridiculous. The pattern of NZ's immigration has changed as the world's wealth distribution has changed. Immigration from UK and Australia is steady, but actual demand from India and China has risen sharply and potential demand from those countries is gigantic.

It is easy to dismiss popular concern about immigration as xenophobia. However the absence of race riots in Auckland whose population now includes 40% born outside New Zealand suggests attitudes of tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity among locals. (Btw - similar statistics now describe the populations of Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne - far out-stripping the same measure in London.) 

What can’t and shouldn’t be ignored are the social consequences of a combination of unprecedented and sharp annual increases in NZ’s actual population and of unregulated foreign investment in property. This unmanaged combination might be good for the national economy and the property industry, but comes at a considerable cost to resident communities.

You can have too much of a good thing. 

Even Hosking might concede that.

City Planning: Learning from India

Prathima Manohar is the Founder of the think do-tank on livable cities “The Urban Vision” and is the co-Founder of the Urban innovation Incubator, “Urban Venture Labs”. Prathima holds a bachelors degree in Architecture. She was awarded Stanford University’s prestigious Draper Hills Fellowship bestowed to rising international stars who work on issues related to Democracy and Development in 2011. As an urbanist, she has worked on projects and researched on issues such as place making, affordable housing, participatory planning and green cities. Mumbai and Bangalore are cities she talks about. She has been a contributing columnist on architecture, urban development and design with India’s Leading News daily – The Times of India. She was among Global Honourees of 2009 CONSIUSA’s “Young Leaders Program” which recognizes emerging leaders under the age of 40, who have distinguished themselves and have demonstrated leadership qualities and potential in various careers.

I attended her keynote presentation at the Planning Institute of Australia Congress 2017 held in Sydney from 3rd to 5th May this year. Her abstract reads:
In many ways the social, economic and environmental future of our world is going to depend on the transition of an “India of villages “into an “India of cities”. This is a momentous time in India with an unparalleled level of focus on urban infrastructure and city development. Prime minister Modi has been using the strategy often called “Urban Renaissance” as a central theme for a wide array of economic and social reforms.This panel will highlight the major plans from building 100 Smart cities, The Urban Revival program- AMRUT, Make in India and Real Estate Regulatory Authority. Can these plans lead to structural transformation of India's built environment industry and the wider economy? The session will discuss the state of India Cities at the moment and highlight grass root level innovations towards building livable and inclusive cities.
Prathima's presentation contained advice and findings from various international studies, to underpin her main recommendations about the planning issues that need to be confronted.
Quality of Life indicators included the basics. Cities in India are playing catchup to Western standards of water and wastewater services, but up there, with those services, is the provision of parks and open space, and access to public transport.
This is Ghandi. Apparently his legacy was one of opposition to cities....
Like most fast growing cities, India has challenges with infrastructure investment, and who pays. There was a lot more on this topic, but I have chosen for this post, her 4 urban values conflict slides. These may encapsulate the political economy of urban planning in India, but they are just as true in Auckland.
Autocentric infrastructure Vs People Centric Infrastructure. The debate is not about cars vs public transport. It is about public roading space vs public people space. We haven't engaged with that dichotomy in Auckland. Deemed surplus public land or reserve land is being sold by Auckland Council for urban development. Some is also taken for roading projects. Places for people is the catch cry here. Problem is, the car is still king. Look at AT's main list of capital works, and NZ Transport Agency's focus on its State Highway "ladder rung" severing Onehunga.
Retirement Villages and other medium scale residential projects existing and proposed within Auckland's built environment, are planned separate developments. They might not all be ringed with moats and security fences, but they generally do not inter-relate with the surrounding urban environment whose residents can feel unwelcome. Given the option most investors will go for a gated community design - easier to build, easy to sell, new residents quit like security, seclusion and privacy. For a while anyway, until the isolation and limited access to amenity begins to pall. If we only rely on market forces to make these kinds of planning decisions then we should not be surprised how Auckland's redeveloped urban landscape turns out.

Shopping Malls with global brands Vs local street retail and shopping. Auckland has been happy to provide malls throughout the region - often at the expense of high street shopping. We all drive to them. Part of the autocentric equation.

I wrote a little about this here a few weeks ago. Global branding needs a mall at least to display its signage and locate. We probably need both configurations - but the balance in Auckland is very different from the balance in Wellington (for example).
Auckland might not have the same history as India, but we do have a history and we are home to the world's largest Polynesian population. We have an indigenous culture. Maori. But you wouldn't really know that walking in downtown Auckland and its waterfront. Again, very different from Wellington.

Research that was triggered from attending the PIA Congress drew me to explore measureable urban indicators specifying the delivery of minimum public good outcomes. I came across ISO 37120:2014 (Sustainable development of communities – Indicators for city services and quality of life), these contain, for example, measures we already know about like: square metres of public recreation space per capita; number of public transport trips per capita; green area per capita; the jobs/housing ratio.

While it might appear to Auckland Council, and to its Councillors, that Auckland's future urban form is finalised, and that the planning systems that are in place to deliver it are also finalised - with only a little bit of reflection you come to the conclusion that that's not good enough. 

Prathima remarked that what is happening to cities India, as their populations exert more and more democratic influence over urban outcomes - engaging with the urban values conflicts outlined above - they will be the shapers of global urban futures. They are going where we have yet to go. Better to engage with these really big conflicts sooner than later - and properly.

Faults in Unitary Plan: Rymans Changed

The continuing story of the Rymans development in Devonport, and of implementation issues associated with Auckland's Unitary Plan...

The story that I've told so far began with the Sept 27, 2016 posting Rymans Crams Reitirees into Devonport, and continued with the 18 Jan, 2017 posting First Test of Unitary Plan: Rymans Granted.

This decision was appealed by the specially formed Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society. This group had morphed from the resident group that established initially to engage with the urgent submission and hearing process precipitated by the original Ryman's application, the fact considerations by Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel were not taken into consideration by Rymans, and the typically short time available for residents to get organised.

The work involved in bringing an appeal like this, of building relationships with local architects, expert urban design witnesses, and planners, of identifying legal advocates and fund-raising to get an effective team mobilised is one thing. Quite another is the immense work of capacity and knowledge building that is needed within the local community, when a project of this scale and impact threatens local amenity and quality of life.

Little of this background is revealed in the press release they issued on the 12th of May 2017:

APPEAL OVER AND NEXT COURSE ALREADY SET BY ‘NEW BREED’ COMMUNITY GROUP 
A residents’ group’s appeal against Ryman Healthcare’s plans to build a huge retirement village in Devonport is over, subject to Environment Court approval.
All of the 300-strong Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society’s (DPPS) issues were satisfactorily resolved by Ryman in a court-led mediation process that lasted over a month.
The society lodged an appeal to the Environment Court in February 2017 after Auckland Council gave consent to Ryman for its six storey, 600 bed, 300 car park facility in Devonport.
The group cited poor design and unsuitable bulk in its appeal. DPPS chair Iain Rea says that within the constraints of an appeal to an already consented development, the society was pleased with the result. “We are still going to have Devonport’s biggest ever development on this site, but we have managed to mitigate some of the worst effects,” he says.
Rea says that the result is testament to the society’s organised and realistic approach and its deep community support. “We are a new breed of community group, and I think people understand and relate to our methods.”
Subsequent appellants to the appeal were the New Zealand Institute of Architects Auckland Branch and civic lobby group Urban Auckland whose support proved the gravity of the case. “All three groups took this case extremely seriously and Ryman fully engaged in mediation” says Rea.
“And the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed”.
The intensive development of five other precincts on the Devonport peninsula is afoot, and while the society fully understands and appreciates the implications of a growing population that includes an elderly population bulge, loose planning controls that allow poor quality design and inappropriate development to proliferate will be under scrutiny.
This is a very good result for the community, and for Devonport. These two images show the before and after mediation plans. This is "before":


The mediation process has resulted in significant design changes to the scale, height and configuration of the proposed buildings on the site. Most significant changes are at the western end of the site (buildings B02,B03 and B04), which results is a generous, sunny, sheltered, largely level internal courtyard and the reorientation of the main care building B01. The Ngataringa Road frontage has also been changed to improve streetscape, but as architects involved have noted, it is still a Ryman Village with its rather dated and clumsy architectural form and style, and the perimeter fence has no openings for pedestrian access to and from the site....


It remains a gated community - this is despite changes internationally and here in New Zealand where retirement communities are a much more integrated part of the urban environment - offering retirement lifestyle choices which are part of the wider community, rather than apart from it.

There is still water to flow under the bridge with this project, and hopefully Rymans will consider carefully what has happened, not least because I understand Rymans have purchased a development site at Hobsonville Point. The Hobsonville Land Development Company will want the best design to compliment what has already been achieved there, and won't support the rough and ready and rather careless approach that Rymans have demonstrated in Devonport.

But they did what they did in Devonport because they could.

As Rea notes in the DPS media release, “... the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed.”

Good planning provides for local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach. This did not happen here, and the responsibility for that rests firmly with Auckland Council. No amount of subsequent urban design sticking plaster will cure the fundamental failures that this episode exposes in Council's systems for handling applications that will result in urban intensification.

Few existing communities have the oversight and protection of something like the Hobsonville Land Development Company to maintain and ensure implementation of a coherent vision and spatial plan and gradual creation of interlinking and complete communities. Foreshadowed Urban Development Authorities could improve the planning situation - but this is unlikely if their main purpose is to accelerate and streamline intensive residential development.

Some might criticise me for too fondly remembering the past. But I rue the day that Devonport lost its local community board, and their role in assessing resource consent applications. Their knowledge of local communities and local geography were regularly applied to improve outcomes and to effectively integrate new buildings and developments into existing environments. That sort of planning work was abolished with amalgamation. But it could be re-introduced. Local Boards could be delegated roles and responsibilities in local planning. At the very least this would provide checks and balances and would re-introduce collaborative approaches to planning, and allow for the expression and influence of local aspirations. Urban designers and urban design panels are no substitute for this planning.

Auckland Council's Unitary Plan provides for intensification. However the absence of planning around implementation which incorporates local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach will, in future, inevitably lead to the construction of more gated and separate urban enclaves in Auckland - because that will be the easy option for developers. And they will be resisted by local communities, just as the Devonport Rymans project has been, putting people through the cost and pain of appealing, mediation and environment court proceedings. There is a better way.