Sunday, July 24, 2016

Joy to read: CBD Advisory Group statement

The Environment Court hearing which examined the Auckland Council's statutory processes that would allow the divestment of Auckland's civic Queen Elizabeth Square and its transformation into high end retail shops fronting Lower Queen Street and the heritage CPO, teased out statements that merit publication.

An outstanding example is the careful and detailed work of the Auckland CBD Residents Advisory Group Inc. The Court heard from its acting Chair - Tim Hannah - that the incorporated society has been in existence since 2004, that no fee is required for membership, has a board of 5, an active membership of around 30, and a circulation list for its newsletter of 500.

Here is its statement, given after lunch on day 4 of the hearing, in full:
1. My earlier submission to the Court (volume 3, tab 47) aimed to convey a view of City Centre residents on the proposed Plan Change which envisages the sacrifice of Queen Elizabeth Square (QES), by its location a unique area of public space.

2. We took into account the expert evidence submitted by Auckland Council and Precinct Properties. Members of our Residents’ Advisory Group Executive Committee (RAG ExCo) have reviewed rebuttal evidence submitted since then. We remain very strongly supportive of the Auckland Architecture Association appeal against the Plan Change.

3. For the record the City Centre is the area falling within the urban motorway system and the harbour edge. Not just a business district but with high residential density –higher than Sydney or Melbourne.

4. Future expected residential growth is significant, by any measure. Within some 70m of this Court, 386 apartments will be completed in the next 18 months, mostly pre-sold for occupation. More families, more infants and children, more pets, more locals meeting up with out-of-town friends visiting the City Centre by rail or bus. A growing, liveable city needs every public space it has and more in Auckland’s case. Indeed this is the stated view of the Council -in its City Centre MasterPlan of 2012.

5. Until now, City Centre residents have not, we believe had proper opportunity to say whether we agree specifically with the sacrifice for all time of QES, a significant and reasonably substantial public space, located centrally at the City’s transport hub. Or if so, agree that only a modest part of the sale proceeds go in mitigation to waterfront development –of an area that much of is already in the public domain. Or agree that a substantial balance go to the CRL project, which should and is claimed to be, budgeted for in its own right, not paid for in this way.

6. Yes there was an on-line survey on current and future open-space provision downtown and consultation with the WLB and, with a selected focus, with iwi. But that specific question in all its significant elements has not been put.

7. But we do note a related public consultation -a survey in 2015 of local passers-by, as to their preferences for development of downtown public spaces. It is a sad irony that this highlighted hospitality and retail as lowest priority preferences. Yet this is precisely Precinct Properties’ proposed outcome of the sale of QES.

8. My earlier statement (paragraphs 4.11-14) canvassed a few different ideas that occurred to us, albeit amateurs, for redevelopment of QES both to rescue and enhance it and to recognise its scope to complement the new LQS project.

9. Council and Precinct Properties’ experts and officials’ rebuttal evidence very largely goes to some length to discount redevelopment of QES as at all worthwhile, almost even impossible. Rebuttal evidence especially target ideas for family-friendly facility type options which we advanced among others, civic or recreation-focussed.

10. It is a particular disappointment that Council officials now disavow the great emphasis they gave in the City Centre MasterPlan (2012) to “giving priority to children and young people…developing a strategic action plan that puts children and young people first”. Not more retail and hospitality outlets, one might footnote.

11. That Plan notes that “currently there is little to encourage parents to raise their children in the City centre or bring them to visit...more playgrounds and places for play will attract children and young people to visit and live in the city”.

12. So what about somewhere very central, relatively secure and congenial, often sheltered from the sun and not so exposed, removed from the hustle and bustle, where, for example, a parent who comes downtown or into town with a pushchair or young child could sit especially to await a friend or partner working in one of the many offices and entreprises in the city centre, or coming into it from elsewhere. QES fits this reasonable prescription extremely well. And offers other opportunities. Unlike LQS as proposed, the smaller area squeezed between major bus lanes and with busy east-west pedestrian flow.

13. At least in comparison with Mr McIndoe for Precinct Properties (vol.1 page 762 paragraph 4.11) who said earlier that the space was of “irretrievably poor quality”, Mr Falconer for the Council offered a glimmer of encouragement, however grudging: ”..an enhanced outcome for QES, even including a playground, will create at best some recreational value in a space set back from the hustle and bustle of LQS and apart from the nearby waterfront” (Vol. 1 page 503 paragraph 6.5).

14. To our regret he immediately reverts to support the Council waterfront development, which is of course unable to offer the same advantages, is simply not central, hardly adjacent, is across a busy road and moreover quite exposed.

15. Incidentally, Mr Johnston for Precinct Properties (page 762 in Vol.1 12.2) tells us that he does not consider the heart of the city as an appropriate place for “tranquillity, contemplation or isolation”. This is most distressing quite dystopian advice to thousands of our residents. Fortunately quite out of sync with Council’s aspiration for a ‘liveable’ city centre. I’m sure like me, many here have valued spaces in hearts of cities elsewhere where one can just sit and contemplate life passing by, in relative tranquillity and isolation, aside from the hustle and bustle. We hope the Court may ignore Mr Johnston’s view. Even perhaps that Precinct Properties may not support it.

16. Turning to the proposed waterfront development, Your Honour and Commissioners, the RAG Executive Committee has not taken a position against this. On the other hand, we do not quite share the self-gratifying feeling of shock and awe echoing round Council chambers at this alternative they are offering.

17. For Mr Falconer (vol.1 page 503 paragraph 6.5), QES doesn’t stack up against the “pleasures of viewing the wider harbour, observing the movement of watercraft, promenading, dining and recreating (sic) in the sunny environment of the waterfront”. Well, you can effectively do all that now; the new development will scarcely lift a veil on the wider harbour and not everyone wants to be out in the sun anyway. Then Mr Vinall, also for the Council, also disparages QES and its possibilities, mostly because he ‘doesn’t interpret’ it as fitting the old District Plan definition of a ”premier civic space” (vol.1 page 577 paragraphs 6.2-6.3). Plan provisions have now apparently become decisive.

18. But to move on, as noted we do not dismiss the Council’s proposed harbour development as such, just the sacrifice of QES to enable it to proceed. It’s not even a good partial trade-off, in our view. We are also sceptical –at least, about related aspects of the overall transaction. Our reservations were discussed in my initial statement, paragraphs 4.15-18.

19. To sum up, the Group recognises that its lay contribution stands in some isolation from others, from the many experts and officials involved in this hearing. But there are of course differences between them. We have sought to point to discontinuities and considerations relevant to city centre residents’ concerns, those specifically of the neighbours to QES. The Auckland Architecture Association speaks well for these.

20. We are strongly convinced of the civic and public amenity value to be secured for CC residents by the Square’s retention and redevelopment both in its own right and to complement and add value to the adjacent linear Lower Queen St public space. We believe our views may resonate with many of the non-locals who will visit or pass through this special central point in Auckland.

21. Your Honour and Commissioners, the Group’s decision to join this appeal as an S274 party was not taken lightly. Quite the contrary. Much debated among Executive Committee and some other members whether we should, indeed could, do so. Involvement has been a considerable challenge. But development and maintenance of public space has been a continuing priority focus by the Group since its inception in 2006. We ask that a city centre residents’ perspective can be given some weight in your deliberations, please.

Timothy Hannah
Interim Chair, CBD Residents’ Advisory Group
c/ The Secretary, CBD Residents’ Advisory Group Inc.
4c/22 Emily Place, Auckland 1010
Secretary: Mr Adam Parkinson


NPS CBA Rule: 3 Houses need 10 Lots

Submissions to the proposed National Policy Statement Urban Development Capacity were due ten days ago or so. It will - of course - be interesting to see what emerges, though the import of that policy initiative is somewhat dwarfed by the public debate that has developed (Grimes, Brash ANZ Bank CEO etc).

Nevertheless, incremental changes will occur, and one hopes these might avoid chaos and catastrophic collapse which will ultimately affect people with little and low incomes far more than the wealthy and even the banks if we are to believe the commentary.

It fell to my lot to do some detailed policy analysis of the proposed NPS. This took me into the 200 page Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) of policy options prepared for MfE by a consortium of consultancies (including Covec, MR Cagney etc). This was a close typed and rather daunting document, which contained findings I'd like to share with you in this posting.

The announcement of the proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity was followed by two significant central government statements relating to urban development. The Prime Minister announced the availability of $1 billion to fund growth related infrastructure (this announcement has been further qualified by the Minister of Environment that this fund could be allocated to the Huapai area of North Auckland). The second statement suggested the establishment of a government run Urban Development Agency in Auckland, with the further suggestion that the agency might have the power to compulsorily purchase land that has been land-banked and is being with-held from development.

It would have been appropriate to incorporate these ideas into the proposed Urban Development NPS. This would have provided an opportunity to consider each of the proposals, and how they inter-relate, in an integrated way, and have led to much more effective national guidance. But I digress, the CBA...

Infrastructure

Most commentators and analysts argue there is a fundamental disconnect between the Local Government Act and the RMA (and the LTMA) when it comes to infrastructure funding and planning. This is one of the key areas that should have been addressed in the National Policy Statement. The NPS presented an excellent opportunity for that. In fact this issue is addressed in the ‘risk of unintended consequences’ section (8.5) of the CBA of policy options for an NPS-UDC (CBA), which states:
....there may be unintended consequences associated with the infrastructure planning, provision, and funding implications of objectives and policies in the NPS-UDC. These risks arise from the fact that infrastructure planning and RMA planning is governed by separate legislative frameworks, and also from the fact that some costs of providing and using infrastructure are not fully borne by users.

And at 8.5.1 the CBA considers these risks further:
“making land available for urban development without accompanying infrastructure is not likely to increase the supply of land and housing actually available for sale… such zoning does not increase effective supply, and is likely to have no impact on market dynamics… consequently infrastructure may need to be provided for land that has been zoned in excess of current demand”.
The CBA discusses the need to take account of the fact that some land capacity might be deemed uneconomic for development (by the market), and that more land should to be available than is actually needed (to allow for some competition), leading to a situation where,
 “the infrastructure requirements and costs may… double… raising questions about over who will fund such infrastructure provision”.
So, to deliver national policy statement developable urban land aims and to comply using the mechanisms and methods set out in the NPS – will require TLAs to find some way of funding infrastructure for more land than is actually needed at any point in time. This runs counter to any notion of a the good-enough and just-in-time approach practiced by most New Zealand TLAs, and in any case will be wasteful of scarce public funds. The NPS needed tools for fund raising and cost recovery, and that incentivise development of available land (eg the PM's idea of compulsory purchase - without it the NPS lacks teeth and credibility. I suggest that many of the reporting provisions in the NPS simply give the Minister a stick to hit councils with - and little else.)

Land banking

The CBA contains advice which is of considerable concern. S.8.2.2.3 states,
“analysis suggests that there may be large differences between plan-enabled capacity or market-feasible capacity and the development that actually occurs”

(emphasis not added), and suggests a rule of thumb (CBA words - not mine),
“it appears necessary to provide plan-enabled capacity for three to ten dwellings in order to enable a single dwelling to be developed over a ten year period.” 
 This is a startling and deeply concerning finding. The CBA provides explanation as to why this might be the case for brownfield redevelopment, but it also notes,
“greenfield capacity can still be taken up relatively slowly as developers may stage construction to avoid reducing prices”, 
 citing UK development reviews that found evidence,
“that developers voluntarily ‘withhold’ new supply if other suppliers in nearby locations are also building”. 
 I am surprised that these revelations survived the scrutiny that a government document like this must've been through. However at least this information is now public and from an extremely credible source. The CBA policy advice for dealing with this problem by requiring TLAs to provide a 10% - 15% over-supply of capacity is inefficient, wasteful and may not be enough by itself. (NB: the proposed NPS goes further and adopts an over-supply of 20% capacity in its definition of ‘sufficient capacity’.)  The NPS does not provide national guidance on policy to avoid land banking. Methods and powers need to be made available to local government to give it the confidence to release land that is supported with publicly funded infrastructure.

Give us strength.

Update After Day 5 QE Square Court Hearing

This posting contains a few highlights from the 5 day hearing.

In fact, the court hearing is not quite over, after 5 days and over 2000 pages of evidence and annexures. On Wednesday next week the court will hear the closing submissions for Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Precinct Properties - these apparently deal with new matters that have arisen during the hearing. One of arose from questions from Judge Newhook about the kinds of conditions or requirements the Court might be able to impose relating to the certainty (budget and delivery for example) of the proposed waterfront spaces that have been offered in exchange for QE Square - should it be sold. In effect the Court is seeking - perhaps case law or other authorities - guiding potential decision-making - so the Court can have some authority over the Council and AT - in regard to decisions that are based on Council resolutions, and on which the future of proposed waterfront public spaces at Queens Wharf and across Quay Street from PWC building depend. That will be interesting. And because there may be new materials introduced in those submissions, Counsel for Auckland Architectural Association Inc and Urban Auckland Inc have been offered the opportunity to reply to those on the Monday following. Which will bring this comprehensive and engrossing hearing to an end. The court has indicated it will aim to produce its decision 3 or 4 weeks after that.

Can Auckland reply on Council decisions?

As mentioned above, this question kept coming up from the bench. Right from day 1 Judge Newhook raised questions about the certainty of funding for proosed waterfront spaces. He wanted to know how the court might enforce those commitments, because it's finished when it's made its decisions. Counsel for AT and Council suggested that perhaps the court might impose conditions regarding timing. I'd say, given my experience of the relationship between RMA and LAG, good luck with that. As commissioner hearing council consent applications for emergency wastewater discharges under the RMA, we were endlessly advised we were unable to do anything or decide anything that required new Council spending that had not been through the LGA and Annual Plan public processes of consultataion and decision. But you never know these days. These are strange times.

When can Plan Change rules be changed later by non-notified consent?

This was an extraordinary discovery for me. Commissioner Dunlop asked questions throughout the hearing about whether it was possible for the rules in the plan change (that relate to building height, east west laneway width etc) to be changed later simply though an RDA - a restricted discretionary consent. This was a new area for me. I'd always thought we were dealing with a plan change - one that changed the zoning over QE Square from public open space to another that allowed commercial development - both zonings already sitting in the District Plan. But it isn't as simple as that. What we were dealing with here is a Plan Modification (Plan Modification 79 - PM79), rather than a Plan Change. So while one thrust of the modification was to change the zoning, the other thrust was to impose some specific rules. One focus of the rules is the East West laneway that connects Lower Albert Street bus interchange (and the downtown shopping centre) to Lower Queen Street. This laneway is to be on privately owned land, but over which there is a contractual agreement with Auckland Council and AT (costing $2.5 million) whereby Precinct provides 7/24 public access. Not the same as an easement - but similar in effect. So in PM79 there are rules relating to this lane. Commissioner Dunlop was aware that these rules are development controls, and - as such, can be changed by means of a subsequent resource consent application. He wanted know, for example, could Precinct decide not to build a lane at all, and support that with an RDA, and of so, would that consent application need to be notified. These matters had not come up before.

I think the old Auckland City Council approach to CBD development control rules and similar approaches has been at the heart of how consents to build 40 storey towers can be handled without any public notification. The approach still exists in the operative district plan. There was ome discussion in the court of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan provisions for the CBD, but it wasn't at the heart of this hearing.

I have to say I found it very disturbing that public infrastructure - like an east west laneway, and other public interest matters - like the height control for the proposed retail development fronting Lower Queen Street, are essentially controlled by rules that can be changed by a subsequent resource consent application. They are rules that do not have the same certainty as those that are in District Plan zonings. Counsel for Precinct was at pains to convince the court that any such subsequent resource consent application would have to be publicly notified. But I'd observe the track record of public notification, and the scant regard for public interest matters (such as open space) evidenced by Auckland Council behaviour, suggest otherwise.

How good are the proposed alternative waterfront spaces?

Questioning from Judge Newhook in particular focussed attention on the funding, delivery and purpose of the proposed waterfront spaces. There are 3 on the table. One across Quay Street from the Price Waterhouse Cooper building (a new space consisting of a platform over the seabed), one broadly in front of the Ferry building (another new platform built out over the seabed), and the Queens Wharf breastworks between Queens Wharf and Captain Cook Wharf (wharf and Quay street edge infrastructure owned and used by Ports of Auckland Ltd). The court largely focussed on the first two. (Listening between the lines you'd have to say that POAL isn't going to let any of its space go anytime soon. One of the deals it was keen on was to be permitted Bledisloe extensions in exchange for Captain Cook and breastworks. While the future of the port hangs in the balance there is little chance of public space being released).

A couple of issues emerged from the discussions about the new space discussions. First, the proposed platforms would require consent. Not so easy in Auckland CBD to get consent to effectively take waterspace. Second, the priority for Council is the repair of the whole seawall that holds reclaimed land in, and the sea out. This seawall is at risk of collapse (seismic or other forces) and needs repair and strenghthening. That is the focus of the budgets that were presented to Court. It appears that work would be done by Council. Work on possible platforms would be done by Auckland Transport it appears - primarily because those platforms form part of proposals to re-arrange wharf and berthage infrastructure for ferries. (You can see that this hearing strayed into all sorts of inter-connecting areas - that was inevitable). Questions were asked about the need to provide for ticketing, where passengers might wait and suchlike. Also about what was to happen with the Waiheke wharf (to be demolished). None of these projects are easy. It is hard to escape the oberservation that the proposed public open space is little more than an expanded ferry terminal constructed on a repaired seawall. We all love waterfront spaces but they are different from CBD public spaces and perform different functions. As Commissioner Kernohan observed, you're not replacing like with like.

Key moment

There were many key moments in a hearing like this, which was conducted with a great deal of decorum and where everybody and (I think) all relevant issues got a good airing and hearing. And maybe I'll write about more of them another time. David Gibbs (Architect and CEO of the Construkt Architectural firm) is one of AAA's expert witnesses. During his cross examination he became engaged in a rather delightful exchange with Commissioner Kernohan who is himself an architect. They traversed the original Professor Kennedy Plan for the waterfront, and its emphasis on providing an East West access fronting the CPO (Britomart railway station building). The discussion included the windtree sculpture which was commissioned for the combined QE Square and Lower Queen Street space - and how it was vandalised and later relocated to Wynard Quarter (where it continues to be vandalised). It was a delightful architectural discussion. Gibbs said that because Queen Square (we used Queen Square as a descriptor to include the combination of QE Square and Lower Queen Street spaces) was enclosed it has great potential as a civic square. Then Kernohan asked a final question.
I don't remember what it was.
The court transcript will reveal it.
But I will remember David's reply for a long time.
Queen Elizabeth Square is the Yin to the Yang of Lower Queen Street.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Update 1 from QE Square Court Hearing

An update on the hearing of the Environment Court appeal brought by Auckland Architectural Association and friends into the statutory processes for the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square. It reflects on 3 days - but not of peace, love and music!

Auckland Council and Precinct Properties have really thrown the book at this. As witnesses take the stand to be cross examined, Counsel ask them to take one of several full lever arch binders, turn to a tab, and refer to a page number. I think the highest page number so far is 1,900 and something.

Day 1

The hearing started with the gentle but insistent tones of Paddy McNamara acting for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport. His focus was to set out the functions of Queen Elizabeth Square (just the section up for sale) and to argue that these functions could be better provided elsewhere - notably on the proposed waterfront spaces. Appropriately he also allocated time to exploring the Road Stop and Plan Change. He concentrated on criticising Queen Elizabeth Square by itself rather than considering it PLUS Lower Queen Street spaces combined.

Judge Newhook was immediately interested in the certainty of funding for the proposed alternative waterfront spaces, noting that Council resolutions can readily be overturned.

Tim Watts formally head of Auckland Council's built environment team was up after lunch. As author of many of the reports and council agenda papers he has been central to the process for the past few years. Commissioner Kernohan jumped in here questioning whether this would be a like-for-like process. Kernohan suggested QE Square was a civic place, central, and relating to the CPO building. He suggested that you can't replace one with the other.

One of the interesting points that came out of the cross examination was when McNamara asked Tim Watts to read from sections of the Urban Reset report that was prepared for Auckland Council in 2014 by Garth Falconer. He read from its account of pedestrian movements. This was new information to me.

Interestingly, Auckland Council experts generally argue that the desire line for pedestrians is North South along Lower Queen Street, and that hardly anyone ventures into QE Square at all. However, the forgotten page 13 in the 2014 Urban Reset report indicates that East/West ped movements across QE Square are in the same range (11,000 - 15,000/day) as those North/South along the west edge of Lower Queen Street.

This fact flatly contradicts the popular myth that QE Square is rarely used. Observations suggest there are peak am and pm movements North/South as people commute to and from work, while the East West movements are steady throughout the day. Many mix and mingle on the way. Take a pause. Or sit and chill. Eat a sandwich. Also of interest, the Urban Reset report contains the Colliers door count data for people entering the downtown shopping centre off QE Square. The figure reported is 4,125/day on average (2013). Clearly Colliers are mainly interested in how many people actually ENTER the downtown shopping centre (DSC). But of course they have to leave as well. The evidence in front of the court includes Collier door entry counts for the 3 doors. Entry figures are about the same for all three - with more entering from Custom Street. It appears that the combined entry and exit ped movements in and out of the DSC from and into QE Square account for most of the 11,000 (minimum) total ped movements across QE Square/day that are reported in the Urban Reset study. (Pedestrian counts measure movements in BOTH directions - coming and going).

So far the court has not considered how those numbers would change with:

  • a Bus Interchange on Lower Albert; 
  • some new activation fronting onto QE Square; 
  • the upgraded shopping centre; 
  • and a new office tower that will accommodate thousands of new office workers - most of whom will arrive by public transport for work. 

All this indicates that QE Square will be a thriving pedestrian mall. But Council evidence appears to ignore that in its campaign to discredit and demean this highly used civic pedestrian mall area.

Enough of that.

Day 2

Day 2 was another busy day. Highlights including more evidence about the proposed waterfront spaces, what they are for, who will fund them (Council or AT), whether they are consented or not (not) and how likely they are to be delivered. More on that another day. It seemed to me that the proposed spaces - to be built by Auckland Transport - would be there to support expanded ferry services and new berthage. All necessary - but hardly compensation for downtown public space. More on Day 2 another day.

Day 3

Day 3 was notable for the submissions from Derek Nolan for Precinct Properties. Typically aggressive and combative he dismissed Graeme Scott's proposed outcomes for Queen Square as "fantastical"....

I quote from Graeme's evidence here:
There is a need to provide a major, high quality civic space in the downtown area that can accommodate a wide variety of public uses. To be an Auckland-wide facility, and to be memorable in the minds of most Aucklanders, it needs the scale, enclosure and shape of a major square. Queen Square provides the opportunity to re-create such a space. It has the size, the location, the heritage buildings as framing elements and a major new development along its western to enable its development as a great public space for our city. 
I foresee a future urban square in front of the Britomart Transport Centre that accommodates a wide variety of public activities in various areas within its perimeter, where these different areas are demarcated by excellent paving, planting and furniture design such as we have seen elsewhere in the city in the last decade, with hugely active frontages around Zurich House and the new downtown development, and where the south face of the HSBC building becomes a positive attractor – a giant light show incorporating advertising and art perhaps.
You'd think that a city aspiring to be the most liveable would view this sort of idea as worthwhile and worth delivering for its citizens. Well. Selling public open space doesn't suggest Council has much enthusiasm with that idea. More on that another day. The hearing has been extremely valuable and valued. Your continuing support is much appreciated.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

NZ's demographic timebomb

These slides are from a compelling presentation made at the New Zealand Planning Institute conference in Dunedin this year. Many attendees - including me - found it very enlightening and disturbing. Up there with climate change in terms of its remorseless and over-whelming effect.
 Structural ageing was a key theme. This relates to the proportions in a given slice of population that are of child-bearing age. It requires an understanding of the different age cohorts there are in different parts of the country, and what that will mean in future years - and future generations - for the makeup of the population. This graph really tells the story of NZ's baby boomer demographic structure. It shows the changes in the proportion of different age ranges across the country over the next 10 years. Thus there will be 70% more people aged between 75 and 79, and 10% fewer people aged between 40 and 50. Analysis of these numbers leads to assessments about the numbers of births in future years less the number of deaths in those years, and to predictions of zero and negative population increase (when deaths exceed births in a community).

The population structure in different parts of New Zealand is very different. These two examples are Thames Coromandel and Hamilton. The former has the greatest proportion of older people in the population in New Zealand.
 The data in this rpesentation is largely drawn from NZ Statistics. ie it is readily available. However in my experience not a lot of attention has been focussed on it by planning and planners at territorial authority level in preparing for the future needs of communities. This may be because of the very short-term focus that predominates in New Zealand today.

This OAG comment notes that the demographic situation NZ is entering now, because of its baby boomer origins, is not a situation we have experienced before, and one we may be ill-prepared for in planning terms.

Parts of New Zealand (notably Auckland) are like Sydney and Melbourne and London - cities where 30 to 40% of the population were born overseas. Brexit has led to all sorts of analysis - one question might be why was it that 70% of voters in many inner city London suburbs voted to remain, while many outside London did not. A consideration in this analysis must be the very high proportion of Londoners who were not born in the UK. These globalisation changes present challenges. Urban areas not affected by/suffering from/benefiting from sharply increasing immigration tend to worry about the way their country is changing - "doesn't feel like home anymore...". Demographic changes in parts of New Zealand will be similar, and this graphic, and others like it, are harbingers of that future. It is a debate that needs to be had in New Zealand, and it needs to be had and settled before any consequences are immutable.

 This slide draws attention to the fact that as the age makeup of a community population changes, so too do the proportional needs and requirements that need to be met. This change is not about size and increasing numbers, but about changes in the occupancy of different age groups. Taking Thames Coromandel as an example - it has a very high proportion of people older than 65, and a low proportion of working age people.
 NZ Stats has provided maps of the changing areas of New Zealand.
 NZ Stats has tabulated population projections. Today NZ Government is primarily focused on parts of NZ that are growing strongly - in overall numbers - such as Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Christchurch and Queenstown. These are the areas of NZ that are experiencing greatest net population growth and related economic activity growth. Government's $5,000 offer to relocate away from Auckland is a trivial start in countrywide demographic planning and population management.

This is an interesting snippet of what is happening in Australia, parts of which are encountering similar demographic challenges. This is a recognition that TLAs have different abilities to fund their activities. Having an ageing and retired population on fixed incomes makes it difficult to raise rates needed to fund local services.
 This slide outlines some of the approaches that are adopted in different countries. I think the message here is that NZ is firmly in the "build it and they will come" camp.
 Interestingly, the demographic analysis also applies to the labour market. Different occupations in a country require/rely upon a steady supply of skilled entrants to pick up the work that needs to be done. It is critical to a country's economic future that it has the workers it needs to do the jobs that need  to be done. One reason - perhaps - why immigration of skilled workers is supported.
 This was an intriguing reflection By Natalie - for the planning conference - on her demographic assessment of the age profile of resource management planners.
And here's her summary of take away points. Key recommendation here: begin the dialogue. We need a national population/settlement strategy and plan in New Zealand. Just turning on the immigration tap to keep GDP bubbling along, and then expecting Councils to respond to the market thus created is not the sort of dialogue and cooperative approach that is needed.

Council Public Space Sale Unjustified

You'll have to wait until July 18th to see the evidence and hear the legal arguments for and against Auckland Council's decision to sell Auckland's Queen Elizabeth Square, but it's time for an airing of some of the information that has emerged.

After it's 15 May 2014 "in principle" decision to sell Queen Elizabeth Square, Auckland Council began a flurry of post-decision justification activities, including commissioning a piece of work from Gehl Architects. That work was presented to Councillors a month later, along with other studies. The Gehl report findings were encapsulated in two pages:



I would describe this assessment as reasonably balanced. The urban design evidence that will be presented at the environment court hearing in three weeks time is wide-ranging and extensive and thoughtful. However one opinion expressed in the expert evidence for the proponents of selling Queen Elizabeth Square (Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Precinct Properties) and for using the money on alternative spaces on Queens Wharf or Quay Street - spaces that are already in public ownership - uses these words:

...it is irretrievably damaged...

The purpose of this posting is to examine what has happened in the last few weeks, to share some of what has come to light, and to challenge that assessment.

The first things to share are the renderings of downtown redevelopment proposals that don't presume the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square, and which propose to redress the first of the Gehl problems.

This image is part of the information describing the Precinct Properties proposal to redevelop its downtown land without developing Queen Elizabeth Square (well - not above ground - carparking is proposed under QE Square which will make up for carparks lost under the tower because of the CRL tunnel).

This proposal was consented on a non-notified basis on 6th June 2015. If you look closely you will see two laneways that access QE Square in its South West corner. One of these is East West (to Lower Albert), the other is North South ( to Custom Street). Combining these lanes with proposals to activate the edges of QE Square in this development, will completely transform the feel and function of QE Square. As the Precinct Property and Westfield renderings accompanying their respective consent applications show:



The first of these relates to the non-notified Precinct application, the second to Westfield's similar non-notified application granted in 21 April 2008. You can see that the proposed redevelopments completely transform the function and feel of Queen Elizabeth Square.

Which brings me to shade....
This diagram is a factual representation of the shading experienced downtown on the 22 December of any year, between 9:00am and 5:00pm at hourly intervals. Thus the top left diagram shows that QE Square is almost entirely bathed in sunshine, and that significant areas and edges of QE Square get sun throughout the day. Similar sunlight patterns will exist November through January - the summer months - when it's holiday time, cruise ships visit. And so on. Yes - QE Square is shaded in the middle of the day when the sun is lower at other seasons, but it experiences morning sunshine throughout the year, and in the mid afternoons. At other times the square is bathed in reflected light from Zurich Tower windows. This effect - common in public spaces in cities like New York - will be increased when the new Precinct Tower goes up. And contrary to popular myth - apart from when the wind is from the North East, QE Square is sheltered from wind.

Which brings me to the bus shelter problem...


The bus shelter structures & barriers have gone. Demolished. And that bus interchange moved and relocated in Lower Albert Street. Auckland's downtown civic square is in the process of being reinstated as it was.

So much for "irretrievably damaged".

But QE Square will be irretrievably damaged if Auckland Council sells it to Precinct Properties.


The zoning for QE Square that is being sought by Precinct Properties allows the building bulk and location shown in outline in this photomontage. This additional retail development would irretrievably damage Auckland's downtown and CBD.

So. The problems identified by Gehl are already being addressed and can be solved by implementing the consented plan. The potentials for this part of Auckland's downtown civic space - as identified by Gehl (above) - would be lost if it was sold. And in exchange the $27 million sale price is ear-marked by Auckland Council for public spaces on waterfront land that are already in public ownership.

Members of Auckland's design community have organised to challenge the basis of the statutory processes needed to allow this sale to go ahead. We oppose the sale and do not support what it will lead to Auckland.
That challenge comes to a head in the environment court on Monday 18th July. A Give A Little campaign has been set up by Auckland Architectural Association to raise necessary funds.

Readers and supporters of this blog are encouraged to donate, and to donate soon.

It's not just your money that we need.  It's your name as well - though we respect and understand the need for confidentiality and GiveALittle allows you to donate anonymously.

For the sake of Auckland, and to SaveOurSquare from being turned into a shopping mall, please donate.





Sunday, June 12, 2016

Save Our Square

Interesting what you find when you google Queen Elizabeth Square. This postcard image forms part of the extensive evidence that has been filed with the Environment Court in the lead up to a 5 day hearing scheduled to start on the 18th of July. (It's contained in Graeme McIndoe's evidence for Precinct Properties.)

Earlier this year, the Auckland Architectural Association (AAA) appealed private plan change 79 which seeks to change the public open space zoning over a portion of Queen Elizabeth Square so that it can be developed by Precinct Properties as part of its proposals to redevelop other parts of the downtown block. The AAA also objected to Auckland Transport proposals to "stop" that part of Queen Elizabeth Square from being "road" - a planning status the land has held since it was vested as a public square in the 1960's in exchange for the stopping of Little Queen Street and the downtown section of Sturdee Street. This objection is being considered by the Environment Court at the same time as the AAA appeal to the plan change decision.

Four other incorporated societies have joined the action in support of AAA. These are:

  • Urban Auckland Inc / The Society for the Protection of Auckland City and Waterfront
  • Civic Trust Auckland Inc
  • Walk Auckland Inc
  • Auckland CBD Residents' Advisory Group Inc

Statements of evidence filed with the court for Precinct Properties (Senior Counsel Derek Nolan) have been prepared by:

  • George Crawford;
  • Andrew Buckingham;
  • Doug Faigray
  • Blair Johnston;
  • Roger Nelson;
  • Chris McDonald;
  • Adina Brown;
  • Neil Jamieson;
  • Tim Wedmaier; 
  • Rachel de Lambert;
  • Graeme McIndoe; 
  • Karl Cook.

Statements of evidence filed with the court for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport (Senior Counsel Paddy McNamara) have been prepared by:

  • Timothy Watts 
  • Clive Fuhr
  • Gregory Milner-White
  • Daniel Newcombe 
  • Simon Lough
  • Jason Evans 
  • John Fellows
  • Ralph Webster
  • Garth Falconer
  • Mark Vinall

On Friday 10th June and Monday 13th June statements of evidence filed with the court for Auckland Architectural Associations (Senior Counsel Brianna Parkinson) have been prepared by:

  • Graeme Scott
  • David Gibbs
  • Bridget Gilbert
  • Jeremy Salmond
  • Brian Putt
  • David Serjeant

This is a very important public interest matter. My role has been as coordinator and also as fund-raiser.
Your financial support and sponsorship of this action would be valued and appreciated.
Please contact me to assist.

NZ: A Tale of Two Economies

The last couple of months have been interesting as the media and politicians have got access to facts and figures about the political economy of housing in New Zealand. For too long the powers that be, and those that should know better, have been able to evade scrutiny by exploiting the absence of good data.

Bouquets are due to NZ Herald for its recent sequence of especially insightful editorials here (27 May 2016), here (31 May 2016) and most recently here (11 June 2016). There's also been a robust economic critique from Fallow, and excellent analysis from Professor Spoonley - especially of the economic effects of immigration.

A recent example of good new data was reported in the March 2016 issue of Property Quarterly (the Journal of the New Zealand Property Institute - not to be confused with the remarkably ill-informed and ideologically driven Property Council of NZ). At page 12 (pdf pg 14) of that issue is a report of research (conducted by Department of Property, University of Auckland, researchers) which revealed the extent of speculator involvement in Auckland's residential apartment and stand-alone house market.

I have been thoroughly absorbed in my job as policy analyst at the NZ Planning Institute, working with members to  research and prepare submissions to the deluge of policy initiative streaming from central government - many of which target NZ's housing issue. The most recent of these is the National Policy Statement (NPS) on Urban Development Capacity - which some joke is just another central government Auckland Policy Statement. See Rudman in 1 June.

It's all got me thinking. Partly because much of the discussion sidesteps the elephant in the room. And that's the importance of the housing market now to NZ Inc's economic wellbeing at multiple levels. With the increasing Government rhetoric about leaving it all to the free market and requiring local government to let go the urban planning reins (which the NPS champions and threatens to force) it has gradually dawned on me that we are living in a country with two economies. One is heavily planned. The other is left to the market.

At national level we have an economy that is centrally planned. Nothing to do with market forces. Ministers routinely talk now of pulling levers to achieve national economic objectives. These objectives largely focus upon promoting GDP growth (between 2% and 3%) and employment (unemployment below 6%). And while these objectives might generally be agreed upon by the public, there has been little public debate about what alternative development options, and economic levers, might be best for the country and its citizens in the long term, to achieve these objectives

The levers pulled since the 2008 GFC first concentrated on the Official Cash Rate (my blog on this comparing what happened across the Tasman here), then focussed on dairy farm intensification and centrally planned irrigation strategies (avoiding local regulation, damaging rivers and aquifers), and relaxed a bit when earthquakes hit Christchurch. Why? About $20 billion flowed into the NZ economy from EQC, re-insurance and other overseas sources. For a while this national income, the economic activity it generated, GST and tax revenues, bailed out the national economy and contributed heavily to funding the welfare state.

But that revenue stream has dried up now, and so, for that matter, has new investment in the dairy industry. If anything the dairy industry is going backwards and many farmers are looking at negative equity.

Central government's focus is now firmly on urban development as being the sector of the economy to target to achieve its national economic plan objectives.

It wasn't always so. Just as it wasn't always so in Australia. I attended its Planning Institute Conference a month ago where delegates heard presentations from advocates and politicians (Federal and State) talking up "Australia 50" and "Big Australia" - visions of a country whose population would double from immigration in little more than 20 years. They argued that just as Saudi and Russian oil oligarchs had invested in London real-estate, and Syrian's wealthy sought safe-haven for their profits in Dubai real-estate, so too were the uber wealthy in India and China looking to South East Queensland, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to invest. And that the competition was on between those "city states" to do whatever was necessary to provide safe-haven for foreign investment in Australian real-estate.

Australia's mining industry is suffering a similar commodity price crisis as NZ's diary industry. It's all hands to the national economic pump there to keep the country afloat, and urban development is the sector of the economy being targeted.

Which brings me back to NZ's national centrally planned economy where levers are being pulled to increase immigration, to remove barriers to foreign investment in urban development, and to remove planning barriers in the way of the domestic development and construction industry building what investors want.

Question. What are the qualities of NZ's urban political economy that would attract foreign investment and immigration (away, for example, from investing in development in an Australian city)?
  • safe-haven
  • easy to find opportunities for urban investment
  • higher and more certain annual return on investment
  • fewer and less expensive disincentives and taxes and levies
  • more commitment to and support for foreign investment 
  • more welcoming of more immigration
These might be among the qualities and measures that NZ's national planned economy needs to ensure rate highly in the eyes of foreign investors. These have become the priority measures for NZ's national economy. You can see why the national political economy cannot abide a situation where property prices drop, or go into decline. That would be a red flag. You can also see why it is essential - as is the case in Australia - that elevated immigration levels are maintained if not increased. As Spoonley argues in his OpEd (referenced above) there is more than just a correlation between GDP increase and immigration. One causes the other. Turn on the immigration tap and you turn up GDP growth. If the objective is 3% GDP growth, the lever is increasing immigration - and if not that - then the next best policy option is to open the country to overseas property investors.

Which brings me to the other economy in New Zealand. The local urban economy. Which is increasingly unplanned. Subject to, and victim of unregulated market forces. Anything goes. Red tape gone. Not quite chaos but getting there when it comes to those members of the population on very low incomes.

An indication as to what importance the national political economy (centrally planned) attaches to the local political economy (market forces) are the measures that local councils will be required to report to central government when the Urban Development Capacity NPS becomes operative. These are:
  • The relative affordability of housing, including the ratio of house price to income and the relative cost to rent;
  • The increase in house prices and rents;
  • The number of resource and building consents granted relative to the growth in population;  
  • Vacancy rates for business land;  
  • The ratio of the value of land between rural and urban zoned land; and
  • The ratio of the value of improvements to the value of land within the urban area.
The national political economy is not interested in reporting the housing status of those on low incomes. Nor on the changing provision of affordable housing. Nor on the reporting of other quality of life indicators where the urban development occurs.

In Australia there is a growing backlash from local communities that are being targeted for urban growth. There are calls there for a national and coordinated settlement strategy - rather than leaving the increased population to the whims of market forces there are moves to properly plan at city level, at local level, for population change. So that planning is not just at national level, it is a conversation that engages at local level. The conference heard a number of presentations where urban community liveability benchmark measures were discussed and described. These include development criteria including numbers of jobs created in an urban area (not just numbers of houses), average distance to work, area of park space and such like.

Here in New Zealand, at local level, as a concession to planning, we have the reductionist idea of Special Housing Areas - SHAs. But it's all about numbers of houses. Numbers of resource consents. Proportions of resource consents processed without notification. Little to nothing about quality of life. And perhaps here I should acknowledge that Auckland Council (and TLAs throughout the country) are going to great lengths to build liveability and good urban design into urban development. But it's a struggle, and its deeply ironic, when those in charge of central planning criticise and mock these local efforts at planning good development.

In Australia - not perfect - but in their local urban political economy at least there the talk is of PDAs - Priority Development Areas. And master-planning and spatial planning and integrated planning for communities, not just to deliver nationally planned economic objectives.

Need to wrap this up. I think the worm has turned in New Zealand. Our centrally planned national economy is sending bigger ripples through local communities, and local institutions are rocking - and not in a good way.

It may be that NZ's economic well-being and future is dependent on increased levels of immigration for a period of time. But there needs to be far greater transparency about this central planning because it affects communities throughout the country. If it's the right thing to do, then surely the whole country, its urban communities, and its people, should be aware of it and buy into it explicitly.

Immigration cannot be the only long term economic development strategy for NZ's future.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Joy to read: CBD Advisory Group statement

The Environment Court hearing which examined the Auckland Council's statutory processes that would allow the divestment of Auckland's civic Queen Elizabeth Square and its transformation into high end retail shops fronting Lower Queen Street and the heritage CPO, teased out statements that merit publication.

An outstanding example is the careful and detailed work of the Auckland CBD Residents Advisory Group Inc. The Court heard from its acting Chair - Tim Hannah - that the incorporated society has been in existence since 2004, that no fee is required for membership, has a board of 5, an active membership of around 30, and a circulation list for its newsletter of 500.

Here is its statement, given after lunch on day 4 of the hearing, in full:
1. My earlier submission to the Court (volume 3, tab 47) aimed to convey a view of City Centre residents on the proposed Plan Change which envisages the sacrifice of Queen Elizabeth Square (QES), by its location a unique area of public space.

2. We took into account the expert evidence submitted by Auckland Council and Precinct Properties. Members of our Residents’ Advisory Group Executive Committee (RAG ExCo) have reviewed rebuttal evidence submitted since then. We remain very strongly supportive of the Auckland Architecture Association appeal against the Plan Change.

3. For the record the City Centre is the area falling within the urban motorway system and the harbour edge. Not just a business district but with high residential density –higher than Sydney or Melbourne.

4. Future expected residential growth is significant, by any measure. Within some 70m of this Court, 386 apartments will be completed in the next 18 months, mostly pre-sold for occupation. More families, more infants and children, more pets, more locals meeting up with out-of-town friends visiting the City Centre by rail or bus. A growing, liveable city needs every public space it has and more in Auckland’s case. Indeed this is the stated view of the Council -in its City Centre MasterPlan of 2012.

5. Until now, City Centre residents have not, we believe had proper opportunity to say whether we agree specifically with the sacrifice for all time of QES, a significant and reasonably substantial public space, located centrally at the City’s transport hub. Or if so, agree that only a modest part of the sale proceeds go in mitigation to waterfront development –of an area that much of is already in the public domain. Or agree that a substantial balance go to the CRL project, which should and is claimed to be, budgeted for in its own right, not paid for in this way.

6. Yes there was an on-line survey on current and future open-space provision downtown and consultation with the WLB and, with a selected focus, with iwi. But that specific question in all its significant elements has not been put.

7. But we do note a related public consultation -a survey in 2015 of local passers-by, as to their preferences for development of downtown public spaces. It is a sad irony that this highlighted hospitality and retail as lowest priority preferences. Yet this is precisely Precinct Properties’ proposed outcome of the sale of QES.

8. My earlier statement (paragraphs 4.11-14) canvassed a few different ideas that occurred to us, albeit amateurs, for redevelopment of QES both to rescue and enhance it and to recognise its scope to complement the new LQS project.

9. Council and Precinct Properties’ experts and officials’ rebuttal evidence very largely goes to some length to discount redevelopment of QES as at all worthwhile, almost even impossible. Rebuttal evidence especially target ideas for family-friendly facility type options which we advanced among others, civic or recreation-focussed.

10. It is a particular disappointment that Council officials now disavow the great emphasis they gave in the City Centre MasterPlan (2012) to “giving priority to children and young people…developing a strategic action plan that puts children and young people first”. Not more retail and hospitality outlets, one might footnote.

11. That Plan notes that “currently there is little to encourage parents to raise their children in the City centre or bring them to visit...more playgrounds and places for play will attract children and young people to visit and live in the city”.

12. So what about somewhere very central, relatively secure and congenial, often sheltered from the sun and not so exposed, removed from the hustle and bustle, where, for example, a parent who comes downtown or into town with a pushchair or young child could sit especially to await a friend or partner working in one of the many offices and entreprises in the city centre, or coming into it from elsewhere. QES fits this reasonable prescription extremely well. And offers other opportunities. Unlike LQS as proposed, the smaller area squeezed between major bus lanes and with busy east-west pedestrian flow.

13. At least in comparison with Mr McIndoe for Precinct Properties (vol.1 page 762 paragraph 4.11) who said earlier that the space was of “irretrievably poor quality”, Mr Falconer for the Council offered a glimmer of encouragement, however grudging: ”..an enhanced outcome for QES, even including a playground, will create at best some recreational value in a space set back from the hustle and bustle of LQS and apart from the nearby waterfront” (Vol. 1 page 503 paragraph 6.5).

14. To our regret he immediately reverts to support the Council waterfront development, which is of course unable to offer the same advantages, is simply not central, hardly adjacent, is across a busy road and moreover quite exposed.

15. Incidentally, Mr Johnston for Precinct Properties (page 762 in Vol.1 12.2) tells us that he does not consider the heart of the city as an appropriate place for “tranquillity, contemplation or isolation”. This is most distressing quite dystopian advice to thousands of our residents. Fortunately quite out of sync with Council’s aspiration for a ‘liveable’ city centre. I’m sure like me, many here have valued spaces in hearts of cities elsewhere where one can just sit and contemplate life passing by, in relative tranquillity and isolation, aside from the hustle and bustle. We hope the Court may ignore Mr Johnston’s view. Even perhaps that Precinct Properties may not support it.

16. Turning to the proposed waterfront development, Your Honour and Commissioners, the RAG Executive Committee has not taken a position against this. On the other hand, we do not quite share the self-gratifying feeling of shock and awe echoing round Council chambers at this alternative they are offering.

17. For Mr Falconer (vol.1 page 503 paragraph 6.5), QES doesn’t stack up against the “pleasures of viewing the wider harbour, observing the movement of watercraft, promenading, dining and recreating (sic) in the sunny environment of the waterfront”. Well, you can effectively do all that now; the new development will scarcely lift a veil on the wider harbour and not everyone wants to be out in the sun anyway. Then Mr Vinall, also for the Council, also disparages QES and its possibilities, mostly because he ‘doesn’t interpret’ it as fitting the old District Plan definition of a ”premier civic space” (vol.1 page 577 paragraphs 6.2-6.3). Plan provisions have now apparently become decisive.

18. But to move on, as noted we do not dismiss the Council’s proposed harbour development as such, just the sacrifice of QES to enable it to proceed. It’s not even a good partial trade-off, in our view. We are also sceptical –at least, about related aspects of the overall transaction. Our reservations were discussed in my initial statement, paragraphs 4.15-18.

19. To sum up, the Group recognises that its lay contribution stands in some isolation from others, from the many experts and officials involved in this hearing. But there are of course differences between them. We have sought to point to discontinuities and considerations relevant to city centre residents’ concerns, those specifically of the neighbours to QES. The Auckland Architecture Association speaks well for these.

20. We are strongly convinced of the civic and public amenity value to be secured for CC residents by the Square’s retention and redevelopment both in its own right and to complement and add value to the adjacent linear Lower Queen St public space. We believe our views may resonate with many of the non-locals who will visit or pass through this special central point in Auckland.

21. Your Honour and Commissioners, the Group’s decision to join this appeal as an S274 party was not taken lightly. Quite the contrary. Much debated among Executive Committee and some other members whether we should, indeed could, do so. Involvement has been a considerable challenge. But development and maintenance of public space has been a continuing priority focus by the Group since its inception in 2006. We ask that a city centre residents’ perspective can be given some weight in your deliberations, please.

Timothy Hannah
Interim Chair, CBD Residents’ Advisory Group
c/ The Secretary, CBD Residents’ Advisory Group Inc.
4c/22 Emily Place, Auckland 1010
Secretary: Mr Adam Parkinson


NPS CBA Rule: 3 Houses need 10 Lots

Submissions to the proposed National Policy Statement Urban Development Capacity were due ten days ago or so. It will - of course - be interesting to see what emerges, though the import of that policy initiative is somewhat dwarfed by the public debate that has developed (Grimes, Brash ANZ Bank CEO etc).

Nevertheless, incremental changes will occur, and one hopes these might avoid chaos and catastrophic collapse which will ultimately affect people with little and low incomes far more than the wealthy and even the banks if we are to believe the commentary.

It fell to my lot to do some detailed policy analysis of the proposed NPS. This took me into the 200 page Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) of policy options prepared for MfE by a consortium of consultancies (including Covec, MR Cagney etc). This was a close typed and rather daunting document, which contained findings I'd like to share with you in this posting.

The announcement of the proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity was followed by two significant central government statements relating to urban development. The Prime Minister announced the availability of $1 billion to fund growth related infrastructure (this announcement has been further qualified by the Minister of Environment that this fund could be allocated to the Huapai area of North Auckland). The second statement suggested the establishment of a government run Urban Development Agency in Auckland, with the further suggestion that the agency might have the power to compulsorily purchase land that has been land-banked and is being with-held from development.

It would have been appropriate to incorporate these ideas into the proposed Urban Development NPS. This would have provided an opportunity to consider each of the proposals, and how they inter-relate, in an integrated way, and have led to much more effective national guidance. But I digress, the CBA...

Infrastructure

Most commentators and analysts argue there is a fundamental disconnect between the Local Government Act and the RMA (and the LTMA) when it comes to infrastructure funding and planning. This is one of the key areas that should have been addressed in the National Policy Statement. The NPS presented an excellent opportunity for that. In fact this issue is addressed in the ‘risk of unintended consequences’ section (8.5) of the CBA of policy options for an NPS-UDC (CBA), which states:
....there may be unintended consequences associated with the infrastructure planning, provision, and funding implications of objectives and policies in the NPS-UDC. These risks arise from the fact that infrastructure planning and RMA planning is governed by separate legislative frameworks, and also from the fact that some costs of providing and using infrastructure are not fully borne by users.

And at 8.5.1 the CBA considers these risks further:
“making land available for urban development without accompanying infrastructure is not likely to increase the supply of land and housing actually available for sale… such zoning does not increase effective supply, and is likely to have no impact on market dynamics… consequently infrastructure may need to be provided for land that has been zoned in excess of current demand”.
The CBA discusses the need to take account of the fact that some land capacity might be deemed uneconomic for development (by the market), and that more land should to be available than is actually needed (to allow for some competition), leading to a situation where,
 “the infrastructure requirements and costs may… double… raising questions about over who will fund such infrastructure provision”.
So, to deliver national policy statement developable urban land aims and to comply using the mechanisms and methods set out in the NPS – will require TLAs to find some way of funding infrastructure for more land than is actually needed at any point in time. This runs counter to any notion of a the good-enough and just-in-time approach practiced by most New Zealand TLAs, and in any case will be wasteful of scarce public funds. The NPS needed tools for fund raising and cost recovery, and that incentivise development of available land (eg the PM's idea of compulsory purchase - without it the NPS lacks teeth and credibility. I suggest that many of the reporting provisions in the NPS simply give the Minister a stick to hit councils with - and little else.)

Land banking

The CBA contains advice which is of considerable concern. S.8.2.2.3 states,
“analysis suggests that there may be large differences between plan-enabled capacity or market-feasible capacity and the development that actually occurs”

(emphasis not added), and suggests a rule of thumb (CBA words - not mine),
“it appears necessary to provide plan-enabled capacity for three to ten dwellings in order to enable a single dwelling to be developed over a ten year period.” 
 This is a startling and deeply concerning finding. The CBA provides explanation as to why this might be the case for brownfield redevelopment, but it also notes,
“greenfield capacity can still be taken up relatively slowly as developers may stage construction to avoid reducing prices”, 
 citing UK development reviews that found evidence,
“that developers voluntarily ‘withhold’ new supply if other suppliers in nearby locations are also building”. 
 I am surprised that these revelations survived the scrutiny that a government document like this must've been through. However at least this information is now public and from an extremely credible source. The CBA policy advice for dealing with this problem by requiring TLAs to provide a 10% - 15% over-supply of capacity is inefficient, wasteful and may not be enough by itself. (NB: the proposed NPS goes further and adopts an over-supply of 20% capacity in its definition of ‘sufficient capacity’.)  The NPS does not provide national guidance on policy to avoid land banking. Methods and powers need to be made available to local government to give it the confidence to release land that is supported with publicly funded infrastructure.

Give us strength.

Update After Day 5 QE Square Court Hearing

This posting contains a few highlights from the 5 day hearing.

In fact, the court hearing is not quite over, after 5 days and over 2000 pages of evidence and annexures. On Wednesday next week the court will hear the closing submissions for Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Precinct Properties - these apparently deal with new matters that have arisen during the hearing. One of arose from questions from Judge Newhook about the kinds of conditions or requirements the Court might be able to impose relating to the certainty (budget and delivery for example) of the proposed waterfront spaces that have been offered in exchange for QE Square - should it be sold. In effect the Court is seeking - perhaps case law or other authorities - guiding potential decision-making - so the Court can have some authority over the Council and AT - in regard to decisions that are based on Council resolutions, and on which the future of proposed waterfront public spaces at Queens Wharf and across Quay Street from PWC building depend. That will be interesting. And because there may be new materials introduced in those submissions, Counsel for Auckland Architectural Association Inc and Urban Auckland Inc have been offered the opportunity to reply to those on the Monday following. Which will bring this comprehensive and engrossing hearing to an end. The court has indicated it will aim to produce its decision 3 or 4 weeks after that.

Can Auckland reply on Council decisions?

As mentioned above, this question kept coming up from the bench. Right from day 1 Judge Newhook raised questions about the certainty of funding for proosed waterfront spaces. He wanted to know how the court might enforce those commitments, because it's finished when it's made its decisions. Counsel for AT and Council suggested that perhaps the court might impose conditions regarding timing. I'd say, given my experience of the relationship between RMA and LAG, good luck with that. As commissioner hearing council consent applications for emergency wastewater discharges under the RMA, we were endlessly advised we were unable to do anything or decide anything that required new Council spending that had not been through the LGA and Annual Plan public processes of consultataion and decision. But you never know these days. These are strange times.

When can Plan Change rules be changed later by non-notified consent?

This was an extraordinary discovery for me. Commissioner Dunlop asked questions throughout the hearing about whether it was possible for the rules in the plan change (that relate to building height, east west laneway width etc) to be changed later simply though an RDA - a restricted discretionary consent. This was a new area for me. I'd always thought we were dealing with a plan change - one that changed the zoning over QE Square from public open space to another that allowed commercial development - both zonings already sitting in the District Plan. But it isn't as simple as that. What we were dealing with here is a Plan Modification (Plan Modification 79 - PM79), rather than a Plan Change. So while one thrust of the modification was to change the zoning, the other thrust was to impose some specific rules. One focus of the rules is the East West laneway that connects Lower Albert Street bus interchange (and the downtown shopping centre) to Lower Queen Street. This laneway is to be on privately owned land, but over which there is a contractual agreement with Auckland Council and AT (costing $2.5 million) whereby Precinct provides 7/24 public access. Not the same as an easement - but similar in effect. So in PM79 there are rules relating to this lane. Commissioner Dunlop was aware that these rules are development controls, and - as such, can be changed by means of a subsequent resource consent application. He wanted know, for example, could Precinct decide not to build a lane at all, and support that with an RDA, and of so, would that consent application need to be notified. These matters had not come up before.

I think the old Auckland City Council approach to CBD development control rules and similar approaches has been at the heart of how consents to build 40 storey towers can be handled without any public notification. The approach still exists in the operative district plan. There was ome discussion in the court of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan provisions for the CBD, but it wasn't at the heart of this hearing.

I have to say I found it very disturbing that public infrastructure - like an east west laneway, and other public interest matters - like the height control for the proposed retail development fronting Lower Queen Street, are essentially controlled by rules that can be changed by a subsequent resource consent application. They are rules that do not have the same certainty as those that are in District Plan zonings. Counsel for Precinct was at pains to convince the court that any such subsequent resource consent application would have to be publicly notified. But I'd observe the track record of public notification, and the scant regard for public interest matters (such as open space) evidenced by Auckland Council behaviour, suggest otherwise.

How good are the proposed alternative waterfront spaces?

Questioning from Judge Newhook in particular focussed attention on the funding, delivery and purpose of the proposed waterfront spaces. There are 3 on the table. One across Quay Street from the Price Waterhouse Cooper building (a new space consisting of a platform over the seabed), one broadly in front of the Ferry building (another new platform built out over the seabed), and the Queens Wharf breastworks between Queens Wharf and Captain Cook Wharf (wharf and Quay street edge infrastructure owned and used by Ports of Auckland Ltd). The court largely focussed on the first two. (Listening between the lines you'd have to say that POAL isn't going to let any of its space go anytime soon. One of the deals it was keen on was to be permitted Bledisloe extensions in exchange for Captain Cook and breastworks. While the future of the port hangs in the balance there is little chance of public space being released).

A couple of issues emerged from the discussions about the new space discussions. First, the proposed platforms would require consent. Not so easy in Auckland CBD to get consent to effectively take waterspace. Second, the priority for Council is the repair of the whole seawall that holds reclaimed land in, and the sea out. This seawall is at risk of collapse (seismic or other forces) and needs repair and strenghthening. That is the focus of the budgets that were presented to Court. It appears that work would be done by Council. Work on possible platforms would be done by Auckland Transport it appears - primarily because those platforms form part of proposals to re-arrange wharf and berthage infrastructure for ferries. (You can see that this hearing strayed into all sorts of inter-connecting areas - that was inevitable). Questions were asked about the need to provide for ticketing, where passengers might wait and suchlike. Also about what was to happen with the Waiheke wharf (to be demolished). None of these projects are easy. It is hard to escape the oberservation that the proposed public open space is little more than an expanded ferry terminal constructed on a repaired seawall. We all love waterfront spaces but they are different from CBD public spaces and perform different functions. As Commissioner Kernohan observed, you're not replacing like with like.

Key moment

There were many key moments in a hearing like this, which was conducted with a great deal of decorum and where everybody and (I think) all relevant issues got a good airing and hearing. And maybe I'll write about more of them another time. David Gibbs (Architect and CEO of the Construkt Architectural firm) is one of AAA's expert witnesses. During his cross examination he became engaged in a rather delightful exchange with Commissioner Kernohan who is himself an architect. They traversed the original Professor Kennedy Plan for the waterfront, and its emphasis on providing an East West access fronting the CPO (Britomart railway station building). The discussion included the windtree sculpture which was commissioned for the combined QE Square and Lower Queen Street space - and how it was vandalised and later relocated to Wynard Quarter (where it continues to be vandalised). It was a delightful architectural discussion. Gibbs said that because Queen Square (we used Queen Square as a descriptor to include the combination of QE Square and Lower Queen Street spaces) was enclosed it has great potential as a civic square. Then Kernohan asked a final question.
I don't remember what it was.
The court transcript will reveal it.
But I will remember David's reply for a long time.
Queen Elizabeth Square is the Yin to the Yang of Lower Queen Street.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Update 1 from QE Square Court Hearing

An update on the hearing of the Environment Court appeal brought by Auckland Architectural Association and friends into the statutory processes for the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square. It reflects on 3 days - but not of peace, love and music!

Auckland Council and Precinct Properties have really thrown the book at this. As witnesses take the stand to be cross examined, Counsel ask them to take one of several full lever arch binders, turn to a tab, and refer to a page number. I think the highest page number so far is 1,900 and something.

Day 1

The hearing started with the gentle but insistent tones of Paddy McNamara acting for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport. His focus was to set out the functions of Queen Elizabeth Square (just the section up for sale) and to argue that these functions could be better provided elsewhere - notably on the proposed waterfront spaces. Appropriately he also allocated time to exploring the Road Stop and Plan Change. He concentrated on criticising Queen Elizabeth Square by itself rather than considering it PLUS Lower Queen Street spaces combined.

Judge Newhook was immediately interested in the certainty of funding for the proposed alternative waterfront spaces, noting that Council resolutions can readily be overturned.

Tim Watts formally head of Auckland Council's built environment team was up after lunch. As author of many of the reports and council agenda papers he has been central to the process for the past few years. Commissioner Kernohan jumped in here questioning whether this would be a like-for-like process. Kernohan suggested QE Square was a civic place, central, and relating to the CPO building. He suggested that you can't replace one with the other.

One of the interesting points that came out of the cross examination was when McNamara asked Tim Watts to read from sections of the Urban Reset report that was prepared for Auckland Council in 2014 by Garth Falconer. He read from its account of pedestrian movements. This was new information to me.

Interestingly, Auckland Council experts generally argue that the desire line for pedestrians is North South along Lower Queen Street, and that hardly anyone ventures into QE Square at all. However, the forgotten page 13 in the 2014 Urban Reset report indicates that East/West ped movements across QE Square are in the same range (11,000 - 15,000/day) as those North/South along the west edge of Lower Queen Street.

This fact flatly contradicts the popular myth that QE Square is rarely used. Observations suggest there are peak am and pm movements North/South as people commute to and from work, while the East West movements are steady throughout the day. Many mix and mingle on the way. Take a pause. Or sit and chill. Eat a sandwich. Also of interest, the Urban Reset report contains the Colliers door count data for people entering the downtown shopping centre off QE Square. The figure reported is 4,125/day on average (2013). Clearly Colliers are mainly interested in how many people actually ENTER the downtown shopping centre (DSC). But of course they have to leave as well. The evidence in front of the court includes Collier door entry counts for the 3 doors. Entry figures are about the same for all three - with more entering from Custom Street. It appears that the combined entry and exit ped movements in and out of the DSC from and into QE Square account for most of the 11,000 (minimum) total ped movements across QE Square/day that are reported in the Urban Reset study. (Pedestrian counts measure movements in BOTH directions - coming and going).

So far the court has not considered how those numbers would change with:

  • a Bus Interchange on Lower Albert; 
  • some new activation fronting onto QE Square; 
  • the upgraded shopping centre; 
  • and a new office tower that will accommodate thousands of new office workers - most of whom will arrive by public transport for work. 

All this indicates that QE Square will be a thriving pedestrian mall. But Council evidence appears to ignore that in its campaign to discredit and demean this highly used civic pedestrian mall area.

Enough of that.

Day 2

Day 2 was another busy day. Highlights including more evidence about the proposed waterfront spaces, what they are for, who will fund them (Council or AT), whether they are consented or not (not) and how likely they are to be delivered. More on that another day. It seemed to me that the proposed spaces - to be built by Auckland Transport - would be there to support expanded ferry services and new berthage. All necessary - but hardly compensation for downtown public space. More on Day 2 another day.

Day 3

Day 3 was notable for the submissions from Derek Nolan for Precinct Properties. Typically aggressive and combative he dismissed Graeme Scott's proposed outcomes for Queen Square as "fantastical"....

I quote from Graeme's evidence here:
There is a need to provide a major, high quality civic space in the downtown area that can accommodate a wide variety of public uses. To be an Auckland-wide facility, and to be memorable in the minds of most Aucklanders, it needs the scale, enclosure and shape of a major square. Queen Square provides the opportunity to re-create such a space. It has the size, the location, the heritage buildings as framing elements and a major new development along its western to enable its development as a great public space for our city. 
I foresee a future urban square in front of the Britomart Transport Centre that accommodates a wide variety of public activities in various areas within its perimeter, where these different areas are demarcated by excellent paving, planting and furniture design such as we have seen elsewhere in the city in the last decade, with hugely active frontages around Zurich House and the new downtown development, and where the south face of the HSBC building becomes a positive attractor – a giant light show incorporating advertising and art perhaps.
You'd think that a city aspiring to be the most liveable would view this sort of idea as worthwhile and worth delivering for its citizens. Well. Selling public open space doesn't suggest Council has much enthusiasm with that idea. More on that another day. The hearing has been extremely valuable and valued. Your continuing support is much appreciated.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

NZ's demographic timebomb

These slides are from a compelling presentation made at the New Zealand Planning Institute conference in Dunedin this year. Many attendees - including me - found it very enlightening and disturbing. Up there with climate change in terms of its remorseless and over-whelming effect.
 Structural ageing was a key theme. This relates to the proportions in a given slice of population that are of child-bearing age. It requires an understanding of the different age cohorts there are in different parts of the country, and what that will mean in future years - and future generations - for the makeup of the population. This graph really tells the story of NZ's baby boomer demographic structure. It shows the changes in the proportion of different age ranges across the country over the next 10 years. Thus there will be 70% more people aged between 75 and 79, and 10% fewer people aged between 40 and 50. Analysis of these numbers leads to assessments about the numbers of births in future years less the number of deaths in those years, and to predictions of zero and negative population increase (when deaths exceed births in a community).

The population structure in different parts of New Zealand is very different. These two examples are Thames Coromandel and Hamilton. The former has the greatest proportion of older people in the population in New Zealand.
 The data in this rpesentation is largely drawn from NZ Statistics. ie it is readily available. However in my experience not a lot of attention has been focussed on it by planning and planners at territorial authority level in preparing for the future needs of communities. This may be because of the very short-term focus that predominates in New Zealand today.

This OAG comment notes that the demographic situation NZ is entering now, because of its baby boomer origins, is not a situation we have experienced before, and one we may be ill-prepared for in planning terms.

Parts of New Zealand (notably Auckland) are like Sydney and Melbourne and London - cities where 30 to 40% of the population were born overseas. Brexit has led to all sorts of analysis - one question might be why was it that 70% of voters in many inner city London suburbs voted to remain, while many outside London did not. A consideration in this analysis must be the very high proportion of Londoners who were not born in the UK. These globalisation changes present challenges. Urban areas not affected by/suffering from/benefiting from sharply increasing immigration tend to worry about the way their country is changing - "doesn't feel like home anymore...". Demographic changes in parts of New Zealand will be similar, and this graphic, and others like it, are harbingers of that future. It is a debate that needs to be had in New Zealand, and it needs to be had and settled before any consequences are immutable.

 This slide draws attention to the fact that as the age makeup of a community population changes, so too do the proportional needs and requirements that need to be met. This change is not about size and increasing numbers, but about changes in the occupancy of different age groups. Taking Thames Coromandel as an example - it has a very high proportion of people older than 65, and a low proportion of working age people.
 NZ Stats has provided maps of the changing areas of New Zealand.
 NZ Stats has tabulated population projections. Today NZ Government is primarily focused on parts of NZ that are growing strongly - in overall numbers - such as Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Christchurch and Queenstown. These are the areas of NZ that are experiencing greatest net population growth and related economic activity growth. Government's $5,000 offer to relocate away from Auckland is a trivial start in countrywide demographic planning and population management.

This is an interesting snippet of what is happening in Australia, parts of which are encountering similar demographic challenges. This is a recognition that TLAs have different abilities to fund their activities. Having an ageing and retired population on fixed incomes makes it difficult to raise rates needed to fund local services.
 This slide outlines some of the approaches that are adopted in different countries. I think the message here is that NZ is firmly in the "build it and they will come" camp.
 Interestingly, the demographic analysis also applies to the labour market. Different occupations in a country require/rely upon a steady supply of skilled entrants to pick up the work that needs to be done. It is critical to a country's economic future that it has the workers it needs to do the jobs that need  to be done. One reason - perhaps - why immigration of skilled workers is supported.
 This was an intriguing reflection By Natalie - for the planning conference - on her demographic assessment of the age profile of resource management planners.
And here's her summary of take away points. Key recommendation here: begin the dialogue. We need a national population/settlement strategy and plan in New Zealand. Just turning on the immigration tap to keep GDP bubbling along, and then expecting Councils to respond to the market thus created is not the sort of dialogue and cooperative approach that is needed.

Council Public Space Sale Unjustified

You'll have to wait until July 18th to see the evidence and hear the legal arguments for and against Auckland Council's decision to sell Auckland's Queen Elizabeth Square, but it's time for an airing of some of the information that has emerged.

After it's 15 May 2014 "in principle" decision to sell Queen Elizabeth Square, Auckland Council began a flurry of post-decision justification activities, including commissioning a piece of work from Gehl Architects. That work was presented to Councillors a month later, along with other studies. The Gehl report findings were encapsulated in two pages:



I would describe this assessment as reasonably balanced. The urban design evidence that will be presented at the environment court hearing in three weeks time is wide-ranging and extensive and thoughtful. However one opinion expressed in the expert evidence for the proponents of selling Queen Elizabeth Square (Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Precinct Properties) and for using the money on alternative spaces on Queens Wharf or Quay Street - spaces that are already in public ownership - uses these words:

...it is irretrievably damaged...

The purpose of this posting is to examine what has happened in the last few weeks, to share some of what has come to light, and to challenge that assessment.

The first things to share are the renderings of downtown redevelopment proposals that don't presume the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square, and which propose to redress the first of the Gehl problems.

This image is part of the information describing the Precinct Properties proposal to redevelop its downtown land without developing Queen Elizabeth Square (well - not above ground - carparking is proposed under QE Square which will make up for carparks lost under the tower because of the CRL tunnel).

This proposal was consented on a non-notified basis on 6th June 2015. If you look closely you will see two laneways that access QE Square in its South West corner. One of these is East West (to Lower Albert), the other is North South ( to Custom Street). Combining these lanes with proposals to activate the edges of QE Square in this development, will completely transform the feel and function of QE Square. As the Precinct Property and Westfield renderings accompanying their respective consent applications show:



The first of these relates to the non-notified Precinct application, the second to Westfield's similar non-notified application granted in 21 April 2008. You can see that the proposed redevelopments completely transform the function and feel of Queen Elizabeth Square.

Which brings me to shade....
This diagram is a factual representation of the shading experienced downtown on the 22 December of any year, between 9:00am and 5:00pm at hourly intervals. Thus the top left diagram shows that QE Square is almost entirely bathed in sunshine, and that significant areas and edges of QE Square get sun throughout the day. Similar sunlight patterns will exist November through January - the summer months - when it's holiday time, cruise ships visit. And so on. Yes - QE Square is shaded in the middle of the day when the sun is lower at other seasons, but it experiences morning sunshine throughout the year, and in the mid afternoons. At other times the square is bathed in reflected light from Zurich Tower windows. This effect - common in public spaces in cities like New York - will be increased when the new Precinct Tower goes up. And contrary to popular myth - apart from when the wind is from the North East, QE Square is sheltered from wind.

Which brings me to the bus shelter problem...


The bus shelter structures & barriers have gone. Demolished. And that bus interchange moved and relocated in Lower Albert Street. Auckland's downtown civic square is in the process of being reinstated as it was.

So much for "irretrievably damaged".

But QE Square will be irretrievably damaged if Auckland Council sells it to Precinct Properties.


The zoning for QE Square that is being sought by Precinct Properties allows the building bulk and location shown in outline in this photomontage. This additional retail development would irretrievably damage Auckland's downtown and CBD.

So. The problems identified by Gehl are already being addressed and can be solved by implementing the consented plan. The potentials for this part of Auckland's downtown civic space - as identified by Gehl (above) - would be lost if it was sold. And in exchange the $27 million sale price is ear-marked by Auckland Council for public spaces on waterfront land that are already in public ownership.

Members of Auckland's design community have organised to challenge the basis of the statutory processes needed to allow this sale to go ahead. We oppose the sale and do not support what it will lead to Auckland.
That challenge comes to a head in the environment court on Monday 18th July. A Give A Little campaign has been set up by Auckland Architectural Association to raise necessary funds.

Readers and supporters of this blog are encouraged to donate, and to donate soon.

It's not just your money that we need.  It's your name as well - though we respect and understand the need for confidentiality and GiveALittle allows you to donate anonymously.

For the sake of Auckland, and to SaveOurSquare from being turned into a shopping mall, please donate.





Sunday, June 12, 2016

Save Our Square

Interesting what you find when you google Queen Elizabeth Square. This postcard image forms part of the extensive evidence that has been filed with the Environment Court in the lead up to a 5 day hearing scheduled to start on the 18th of July. (It's contained in Graeme McIndoe's evidence for Precinct Properties.)

Earlier this year, the Auckland Architectural Association (AAA) appealed private plan change 79 which seeks to change the public open space zoning over a portion of Queen Elizabeth Square so that it can be developed by Precinct Properties as part of its proposals to redevelop other parts of the downtown block. The AAA also objected to Auckland Transport proposals to "stop" that part of Queen Elizabeth Square from being "road" - a planning status the land has held since it was vested as a public square in the 1960's in exchange for the stopping of Little Queen Street and the downtown section of Sturdee Street. This objection is being considered by the Environment Court at the same time as the AAA appeal to the plan change decision.

Four other incorporated societies have joined the action in support of AAA. These are:

  • Urban Auckland Inc / The Society for the Protection of Auckland City and Waterfront
  • Civic Trust Auckland Inc
  • Walk Auckland Inc
  • Auckland CBD Residents' Advisory Group Inc

Statements of evidence filed with the court for Precinct Properties (Senior Counsel Derek Nolan) have been prepared by:

  • George Crawford;
  • Andrew Buckingham;
  • Doug Faigray
  • Blair Johnston;
  • Roger Nelson;
  • Chris McDonald;
  • Adina Brown;
  • Neil Jamieson;
  • Tim Wedmaier; 
  • Rachel de Lambert;
  • Graeme McIndoe; 
  • Karl Cook.

Statements of evidence filed with the court for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport (Senior Counsel Paddy McNamara) have been prepared by:

  • Timothy Watts 
  • Clive Fuhr
  • Gregory Milner-White
  • Daniel Newcombe 
  • Simon Lough
  • Jason Evans 
  • John Fellows
  • Ralph Webster
  • Garth Falconer
  • Mark Vinall

On Friday 10th June and Monday 13th June statements of evidence filed with the court for Auckland Architectural Associations (Senior Counsel Brianna Parkinson) have been prepared by:

  • Graeme Scott
  • David Gibbs
  • Bridget Gilbert
  • Jeremy Salmond
  • Brian Putt
  • David Serjeant

This is a very important public interest matter. My role has been as coordinator and also as fund-raiser.
Your financial support and sponsorship of this action would be valued and appreciated.
Please contact me to assist.

NZ: A Tale of Two Economies

The last couple of months have been interesting as the media and politicians have got access to facts and figures about the political economy of housing in New Zealand. For too long the powers that be, and those that should know better, have been able to evade scrutiny by exploiting the absence of good data.

Bouquets are due to NZ Herald for its recent sequence of especially insightful editorials here (27 May 2016), here (31 May 2016) and most recently here (11 June 2016). There's also been a robust economic critique from Fallow, and excellent analysis from Professor Spoonley - especially of the economic effects of immigration.

A recent example of good new data was reported in the March 2016 issue of Property Quarterly (the Journal of the New Zealand Property Institute - not to be confused with the remarkably ill-informed and ideologically driven Property Council of NZ). At page 12 (pdf pg 14) of that issue is a report of research (conducted by Department of Property, University of Auckland, researchers) which revealed the extent of speculator involvement in Auckland's residential apartment and stand-alone house market.

I have been thoroughly absorbed in my job as policy analyst at the NZ Planning Institute, working with members to  research and prepare submissions to the deluge of policy initiative streaming from central government - many of which target NZ's housing issue. The most recent of these is the National Policy Statement (NPS) on Urban Development Capacity - which some joke is just another central government Auckland Policy Statement. See Rudman in 1 June.

It's all got me thinking. Partly because much of the discussion sidesteps the elephant in the room. And that's the importance of the housing market now to NZ Inc's economic wellbeing at multiple levels. With the increasing Government rhetoric about leaving it all to the free market and requiring local government to let go the urban planning reins (which the NPS champions and threatens to force) it has gradually dawned on me that we are living in a country with two economies. One is heavily planned. The other is left to the market.

At national level we have an economy that is centrally planned. Nothing to do with market forces. Ministers routinely talk now of pulling levers to achieve national economic objectives. These objectives largely focus upon promoting GDP growth (between 2% and 3%) and employment (unemployment below 6%). And while these objectives might generally be agreed upon by the public, there has been little public debate about what alternative development options, and economic levers, might be best for the country and its citizens in the long term, to achieve these objectives

The levers pulled since the 2008 GFC first concentrated on the Official Cash Rate (my blog on this comparing what happened across the Tasman here), then focussed on dairy farm intensification and centrally planned irrigation strategies (avoiding local regulation, damaging rivers and aquifers), and relaxed a bit when earthquakes hit Christchurch. Why? About $20 billion flowed into the NZ economy from EQC, re-insurance and other overseas sources. For a while this national income, the economic activity it generated, GST and tax revenues, bailed out the national economy and contributed heavily to funding the welfare state.

But that revenue stream has dried up now, and so, for that matter, has new investment in the dairy industry. If anything the dairy industry is going backwards and many farmers are looking at negative equity.

Central government's focus is now firmly on urban development as being the sector of the economy to target to achieve its national economic plan objectives.

It wasn't always so. Just as it wasn't always so in Australia. I attended its Planning Institute Conference a month ago where delegates heard presentations from advocates and politicians (Federal and State) talking up "Australia 50" and "Big Australia" - visions of a country whose population would double from immigration in little more than 20 years. They argued that just as Saudi and Russian oil oligarchs had invested in London real-estate, and Syrian's wealthy sought safe-haven for their profits in Dubai real-estate, so too were the uber wealthy in India and China looking to South East Queensland, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to invest. And that the competition was on between those "city states" to do whatever was necessary to provide safe-haven for foreign investment in Australian real-estate.

Australia's mining industry is suffering a similar commodity price crisis as NZ's diary industry. It's all hands to the national economic pump there to keep the country afloat, and urban development is the sector of the economy being targeted.

Which brings me back to NZ's national centrally planned economy where levers are being pulled to increase immigration, to remove barriers to foreign investment in urban development, and to remove planning barriers in the way of the domestic development and construction industry building what investors want.

Question. What are the qualities of NZ's urban political economy that would attract foreign investment and immigration (away, for example, from investing in development in an Australian city)?
  • safe-haven
  • easy to find opportunities for urban investment
  • higher and more certain annual return on investment
  • fewer and less expensive disincentives and taxes and levies
  • more commitment to and support for foreign investment 
  • more welcoming of more immigration
These might be among the qualities and measures that NZ's national planned economy needs to ensure rate highly in the eyes of foreign investors. These have become the priority measures for NZ's national economy. You can see why the national political economy cannot abide a situation where property prices drop, or go into decline. That would be a red flag. You can also see why it is essential - as is the case in Australia - that elevated immigration levels are maintained if not increased. As Spoonley argues in his OpEd (referenced above) there is more than just a correlation between GDP increase and immigration. One causes the other. Turn on the immigration tap and you turn up GDP growth. If the objective is 3% GDP growth, the lever is increasing immigration - and if not that - then the next best policy option is to open the country to overseas property investors.

Which brings me to the other economy in New Zealand. The local urban economy. Which is increasingly unplanned. Subject to, and victim of unregulated market forces. Anything goes. Red tape gone. Not quite chaos but getting there when it comes to those members of the population on very low incomes.

An indication as to what importance the national political economy (centrally planned) attaches to the local political economy (market forces) are the measures that local councils will be required to report to central government when the Urban Development Capacity NPS becomes operative. These are:
  • The relative affordability of housing, including the ratio of house price to income and the relative cost to rent;
  • The increase in house prices and rents;
  • The number of resource and building consents granted relative to the growth in population;  
  • Vacancy rates for business land;  
  • The ratio of the value of land between rural and urban zoned land; and
  • The ratio of the value of improvements to the value of land within the urban area.
The national political economy is not interested in reporting the housing status of those on low incomes. Nor on the changing provision of affordable housing. Nor on the reporting of other quality of life indicators where the urban development occurs.

In Australia there is a growing backlash from local communities that are being targeted for urban growth. There are calls there for a national and coordinated settlement strategy - rather than leaving the increased population to the whims of market forces there are moves to properly plan at city level, at local level, for population change. So that planning is not just at national level, it is a conversation that engages at local level. The conference heard a number of presentations where urban community liveability benchmark measures were discussed and described. These include development criteria including numbers of jobs created in an urban area (not just numbers of houses), average distance to work, area of park space and such like.

Here in New Zealand, at local level, as a concession to planning, we have the reductionist idea of Special Housing Areas - SHAs. But it's all about numbers of houses. Numbers of resource consents. Proportions of resource consents processed without notification. Little to nothing about quality of life. And perhaps here I should acknowledge that Auckland Council (and TLAs throughout the country) are going to great lengths to build liveability and good urban design into urban development. But it's a struggle, and its deeply ironic, when those in charge of central planning criticise and mock these local efforts at planning good development.

In Australia - not perfect - but in their local urban political economy at least there the talk is of PDAs - Priority Development Areas. And master-planning and spatial planning and integrated planning for communities, not just to deliver nationally planned economic objectives.

Need to wrap this up. I think the worm has turned in New Zealand. Our centrally planned national economy is sending bigger ripples through local communities, and local institutions are rocking - and not in a good way.

It may be that NZ's economic well-being and future is dependent on increased levels of immigration for a period of time. But there needs to be far greater transparency about this central planning because it affects communities throughout the country. If it's the right thing to do, then surely the whole country, its urban communities, and its people, should be aware of it and buy into it explicitly.

Immigration cannot be the only long term economic development strategy for NZ's future.