Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Public Realm loser in Auckland's Plan

The much anticipated release of the recommendation from the Independent Hearing Panel (IHP) for the Proposed Auckland Unitary happened on the 22nd July. Regardless of what now needs to happen, we cannot underestimate the effort and energy that this process has taken. Five years, 249 days of hearings and 1.5 million submission points later, the IHP's recommendations have been delivered.

There has been a lot of public focus on the PAUP which is only one leg of the three legged stool that supports the implementation of urban growth and development in Auckland. The other two legs are area and regional spatial plans; and public realm funding planning.

But first a look at the PAUP and where it stands. The guts of the IHP's recommendations are set out in 28 points here. The main growth related recommendations are within the first five:
2. Focus urban growth on centres, transport nodes and corridors to achieve a quality compact urban form.
3. Retain the Rural Urban Boundary but expand it to include 30 per cent more land and enable it to be changed by private plan changes.
4. Enable a development pattern to meet demand for the next 30 years and double the feasible enabled residential capacity to exceed 400,000 dwellings.
5. Ensure sufficient capacity for the next seven years.
The hairy big number in here is "400,000" - a bigger number than most were expecting, and even bigger than Government Ministers were calling for. Most of this growth is within the existing urban fabric - hence the general impression that the recommendations are more "up" than they are "out".

No stone - or volcanic cone - has been left unturned in the recommendations in the search for development capacity within Auckland's existing urban area. Many interest groups will be concerned that areas of Auckland or features they wished to see protected from development, have lost much of the protection that previously existed (volcanic cones, pre-1944 houses), in the face of economic evidence produced for property development interests (including but not limited to the Property Council).

These groups will now be considering their options which will include legal options, and making representations to Council not to accept some of the recommendations, or to consider specific changes to the plan that will maintain or improve the status quo. I can imagine that some IHP members will have anticipated this resistance. It appears to me that a number of the final changes in the IHP recommendations, which have come as a surprise to some, have arisen from final Council submissions which contained new evidence that has not been able to be contested by other parties. It came late with those final Council submissions. Never a good thing in a public hearing process to admit evidence that has not been subject to public scrutiny. However, given a reasonable case from advocates which reaches some sort of threshhold, there may well be justification for Council to change specific IHP recommendations.

One thing is for sure: the advocates for freeing up land for development and adding fuel to Auckland's property boom will also be in Council's ear big time, holding it to the line that has been established with the IHP, and trying to get some more land freed for development at the edges.

The Gaps (cracks) in Auckland Development Planning

There have been two persistant - but largely ignored - elephants in Auckland planning since before amalgamation in 2010. The reasons for this studious ignorance are likely to be just a continuation of Auckland's speculative planning history. Auckland is a city of un-implemented master plans (apart from the De Leuw Cather motorway master plan). Auckland's urban growth coincided with the popularity and convenience of the automobile. That history is well documented. What is less well documented is the consistent failure to provide for the public realm commensurate with private residential and commercial urban development. The public realm in an urban setting is not provided by the market or by speculation. Its component parts have to be planned spatially as part of any private development, and they need to be paid for. There has been reluctant recognition from the odd Minister that sewers and roads need to be paid for to enable new residential and commercial developments to go ahead - but they want the cheapest and lowest cost versions installed - at costs that will not upset the market.

When I was a councillor at North Shore City Council (affectionately known by councillors in other Auckland cities as "North Shore Shitty Council"- because of the leaking sewer networks), the big project was raising rates to pay for sewer repairs. The network had been built quickly and shoddily, to accommodate rapid urbanisation. The roads and the roading network was much the same. Takapuna Borough Council presided over the development of an urban form almost entirely devoid of urban parks. Maybe it was felt that being near Takapuna Beach was enough.  I mention these aspects of the public realm. To that list can be added: schools, hospitals, libraries, and museums. And under-pinning that list of infrastructure is the notion that the people who live together in a city, live public community lives, as well as private lives. And that social and community values including tolerance, appreciation and understanding of cultural difference and diversity are developed through rubbing alongside each other in the public realm.

These sorts of ideas and values are not shared in self-selecting enclaves in social media, or at home where birds of a feather tend to live together. Slight digression. But back to my theme. Bruce Lilley was also a councillor at North Shore, and while standing up for sewer repairs he famously said, "a city is more than pipes..." A round of applause and support.

The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan - and its IHP version - will deliver little in the way of new development in the Auckland region without the other two legs of the planning stool being put in place.

The Auckland Plan - required by Auckland's special amalgamation legislation - is little more than an uncosted wishlist of projects and developments. Area Plans and Precinct Plans are the necssary precursor to any urban redevelopment and intensification which integrates with an existing urban setting. It is through involvement in these sorts of plans that the local community sees itself, line of sight, from where they are now, to where they will be post development, and at various 5 year (for example)  stages throughout the duration of the redevelopment. Spatial plans are visual so everybody can see and understand what is anticipated and expected. Including visualisations of the new public realm, but also indications of different housing typologies. Spatial plans are practical renderings of possible futures which can be engaged with by ordinary members of the community - who find it difficult to interpret zoning maps and other planning speak language.

Area Plans need to be supported by the very best data. Costs and benefits for all stakeholders - not just speculators salivating at the uplift potential their models predict. Urban redevelopment has to be a partnership including the central government agencies tasked with education and health infrastructure. All aspects of the public realm need to be paid for.

This remains an enormous gap in (crack) in Auckland's planning system. Legislative changes have forced Auckland Council increasingly into the role of being Central Government's policy implementation arm in town, with the single goal being economic growth and increased construction activity. But despite that energy and force, the fact remains that New Zealand is still a democracy, and Auckland's existing residents will increasingly demand a real say, and stake, in how Auckland develops and grows. People have a strong sense of what is fair and right, interms of who pays for what, and who benefits from betterment and value uplift. The fact that Auckland Council is still struggling with a Government that is reluctant to give it the financial tools and incentives needed for intensification and commensurate public realm is a poor reflection on the governance of this country.

Auckland Council will soon vote to change aspects of the IHP's recommendations. As it should. It would be helpful if it also voted to the effect that Central Government must now, at this juncture, fix the cracks, provide the legs needed for urban redevelopment.

Property Boom Planned & Protected by Government

It has been an interesting exercise trying to make any sense of NZ Government's housing policy with students who are taking the Urban Policy Analysis 201 course at School of Architecture and Planning at University of Auckland this year. And by "sense" I mean what is the rationale, what are the objectives, policies and suchlike, and how are those explained and evidenced by the data that is available.

I start with a slightly dated webpage put up by MBIE aimed at informing overseas investors. This says:
“Growth for 2015 is expected to be around 3%, supported by net migration flows, labour income growth, and construction activity. It is expected to fall back for 2016 and 2017, largely due to deteriorating terms of trade, particularly for our dairy exports….”
(My colour emphasis added).  And the next slide is what the Governor of the Reserve Bank of NZ said in his statement of 3 February this year:
“…NZ’s economy has faced a wide range of shocks since the 2007 GFC, some positive for growth, some negative,including:• Tightening global liquidity;• Canterbury earthquakes;• 2012/13 drought;• 70 percent peak to trough movement in dairy prices;• 75 percent fall in oil prices;• Record net migration;• Sizeable movements in the real exchange rate;• Annual house price inflation in Auckland that reached 27%..."
(Again, my emphasis added.)  So we see here a clear indication that the drivers for the property boom (including record levels of immigration) and its consequences (? - including 27% annual increases in property value), are all high-lighted. And here I will divert from my lecture notes.

Turning now to Jane Clifton, Listener 6 August, we read:
"National's studiously unacknowledged position is that galloping house price inflation and immigration are vital economic growth fuel and it dare not interfere. All the measures it has taken so far in the cause of promoting housing affordability - never once admitting that the market is in any way a problem - have been minimal...."
I would add to that account the Labour Party. My reading of its policies is that they will add fuel to the fire. Fan it in fact. It's clearly a good plan to provide more State Housing - especially for those accommodated in cars and caravans. But that provision won't address house price inflation. And while a $billion for infrastructure might sound good, it is a small sum when measured against the need, and in any case will function to assist Auckland Council in releasing a little more developable land, but not enough to meet the insatiable demands that are being fuelled by immigration - among other things.

And it's the "other things" that I turn to now. With difficulty because the black box of economics is outside my area of expertise. But because I think the GFC was one of the signs we entered a new world, which we are still in, and struggling to adjust to, I am curious and interested in what's actually happening.

Other signs that old dogma don't help much is the public discussion about deflation, inflation and the official cash rate. Why is it that in NZ inflation is less than 0.5%, while household inflation is crazy? And what is it about inflation that we need to get it back to 2%, and that the lever for this is to decrease the official cash rate by 0.5% (it's already the lowest it's been in recent history) to something less than 2%? There has been commentary on these matters from NZ Herald's Brian Fallow and Bernard Hickey. A recent piece from Hickey strongly advises investors to shift their money away from housing. But he struggles to offer clear advice on what to do with the money. Across the internet commentators are expressing similar concerns. Armageddon concerned too.

Big Picture Factors

Reading across the many views that are out there, a number of ideas arise:
  • demographics. The baby-boomer demographic proportion of the western world population holds much of the wealth, are retiring, down-sizing in various ways, and re-investing. The subsequent generation is smaller in proportion in number, have not benefitted from the economies, are much less wealthy, spend less, and therefore consume less.
  • natural resources.  The low hanging fruit that attracted speculative investment around the globe - cheap labour, easily extracted resources - are fewer in number and harder to hold on to. Globalisation and trade is not the economic engine it was. Concern is growing - Brexit is one manifestation, cross-party attacks on the TPP in the USA are another.
  • money is worth less than scarce or productive assets. 

This last one is a bit of a long bow. But when you can get 3% for your money in a bank (which is worrying about loans that might go bad in future), and 20%+ for your money in an investment unit - you'd be mad to have your money in the bank. With dairy and mining and other commodity related activities generating poor returns, then maybe the salvation is Facebook and Google and the panoply of social media producing factories that feed phone apps, not forgetting the producers of goods easily marketed by digital means.

Someone with wisdom mentioned to me the other day that whenever Australia looked like having a lull in its economy, there would be a hosuing boom. As if central government turned those particular taps on. Sounds like a plan.

Someone else - an economist - mentioned to me that he wondered whether New Zealand was capable of development planning at all. His view was that New Zealand's economy is largely unplanned, and that its development has been a sequence of speculative adventures. Starting with gold. Then frozen meat. Wool. Timber. Dairy. And in between speculative urban development. All of these activities were initiated by risk takers, acting as agents for speculative investors. Central Government's role was to clip the ticket as money came and went, and every now and then build a road to keep the investors interested and happy.

Not for New Zealand the Miti approach in Japan, or Germany's central planning, or even Thatcher's revolutionary service economy interventions. Mustn't pick winners is the opposing argument. Tried that with the think-big projects. Well, maybe not. But surely, the MBIE brains trust, and some applied strategic thinking (National, Labour, Greens...?) could come up with something more solid and future looking than a policy of increased immigration, low interest, limited investor controls and high pressure rural land rezoning.

And finally, someone else. There is another factor to add to the list above. Economic policies and political programs over the past 30 years have led to increasing inequality and concentration of wealth (the rich now want somewhere to put it that's more lucrative than under a mattress in a bank). The dispossessed, disenfranchised and alienated members of western nations are becoming the new majority. This was one of the surprising Brexit revelations. Imagine if there was an equivalent vote in New Zealand - not the new flag, but something of Brexit dimensions (and I don't mean leaving CER) - would the mob rule? Isn't it time that an alternative development plan was prepared for New Zealand rather than "studiously" ignoring that responsibility and leaving it to the mob to say no to the status quo?

New Election Billboards: Old Chestnuts

I remember my first election leaflet in 1998. Contained a telephoto shot of Lake Road looking toward Devonport from Takapuna. Surprisingly light traffic looking back. And here's a billboard for the 2016 campaign.....

You can't quite read the authorising text at the bottom. It's George Wood. Apparently he's not standing for Auckland Council this election. According to the billboard he's got a local board team.

I'm aware that a group of local people have been working with Auckland Transport for the past two years on Lake Road and Devonport Peninsula Planning. The group includes representatives from the Devonport Business Association, Belmont Business Community, cycling advocates, pedestrian advocates, public transport, motorists. And now George and his team have all the answers. Well, we'll see.

When Auckland Council was established there was a lot of talk about Area Planning - local community spatial planning - that would be a building block for the Auckland Plan. It's been a challenge for Auckland Council to incorporate local spatial plans into the Auckland Plan - which is one of the reasons why the Auckland Plan is failing to gain traction on the ground in local communities. Top down approaches generally run into glue and opposition in Auckland when it comes to actual implementation if they haven't been socialised with local communities (using the consultation lingo). That's shorthand for saying that any attempt to shortcut a good level of community participation in implementation planning means nothing much will happen. Which isn't progress.

Speaking of which, and in regard to Lake Road, it's interesting what the Independent Hearings Panel decided for the Devonport Peninsula. You can read about it starting page 26 in the IHP report on topic 81. This basically addresses the zoning of Ngati Whatua owned, ex Navy, land. There were apparently some 196 submitters, of which 183 opposed proposed zonings. The report states:
A number of submitters raised issues regarding the capacity of the wastewater and stormwater networks. Many submitters raised concerns about the effects of additional traffic volumes on an already congested Lake Road, the lack of frequent bus services and safety concerns for pedestrians and cyclists, particularly school children.
Interestingly the panel decided:
The Panel supports the retention of the Devonport Peninsula Precinct and the various sub-precincts and agrees with the additional height and transition provisions proposed by Ngati Whatua Orakei Whai Rawa Limited’s planning and urban design witnesses.

The Panel acknowledges the concerns raised by many submitters relating to infrastructure capacity. However, it heard evidence from both Watercare and the Council that their networks have the capacity, or have programmed upgrades (in the case of Watercare), to address any constraints.

The Panel heard from Auckland Transport that congestion on Lake Road is not unlike that on other arterial routes in the region and that they will be investigating a programme of improvements identified in the Lake Road Corridor Management Plan to address congestion, including transit lanes and a focus on public transport improvements.
 The last paragraph will be of particular interest and concern to those who have worked for the past couple of years with Auckland Transport. I don't think for one second that they would have anticipated that their work was to enable the intensive development of Belmont and Bayswater, described in the IHP's report as follows:
The Devonport Peninsula Precinct collectively covers 27.9 hectares of land and comprises six large land holdings (sub-precincts) of former navy housing in suburban coastal areas of the peninsula. The sub -precincts are:
i. Sub-precinct A - Marsden Street (4.1 hectares); ii. Sub-precinct B - Birchfield Road (1.9 hectares); iii. Sub-precinct C - Plymouth Crescent (7.1 hectares); iv. Sub-precinct D - Hillary Crescent (7.3 hectares); v. Sub-precinct E - Vauxhall Road (3.2 hectares); and vi. Sub-precinct F - Wakakura Crescent (4.3 hectares). Ngati Whatua Orakei Whai Rawa Limited owns almost all of the land in Sub-precincts A to E and no longer owns Sub-precinct F
 It is not clear how many residential dwellings might be constructed on this 27.9 hectares of land, or what sewage or traffic demands would be the consequence. This local issue will be occurring in one sort or another across Auckland. Local communities will be grappling with the local impacts of intensive zonings. However, until the Council - working with Central Government - realise and recognise that urban intensification requires planning that goes beyond zoning, you can be pretty confident that very little will actually change on the ground.

Despite George's billboard and the best efforts of his team.

Downtown Auckland Demolished

Walking to the ferry last night and came across a scene being captured by many on their digital devices. The rather massive and internally focussed Downtown Shopping Centre is being rapidly turned into rubble and dust - itself being washed out of the air by a fine mist. Spectacular.


Fingers crossed for what will replace it. Especially the public realm component....

And this morning. Being able to look through the DSC from Lower Albert. View of the CPO...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Is QE Lane better than QE Square?

Let it go, Joe, they suggest.

It's in the hands of the Environment Court now whether Auckland's downtown QE Square should be stopped as road, rezoned for development, and sold to Precinct Properties.

It is getting down to the wire on this now, but issues keep coming up. To begin with many supporters of this campaign to retain public open space focussed on the loss of public open space. They could also see how combined with Lower Queen Street it could form a great civic square for Auckland, and bring it back to what it was two decades ago.

The next issue that began focussing minds opposed to the sale was the width of the laneway proposed running East/West. Urban Design and Landscape Architects I talked with estimated it should be around 8 to 9 metres wide - not just for safety, but for amenity and feel. But Precinct experts wanted a more concentrated retail environment. To me this view was contradicted by overseas experts and experience.

However, the legal challenge mounted by Auckland Architectural Association (AAA) needed focus and while the laneway width was a concern, the major concern was the loss of public open space. So the laneway width faded to the background in the legal action challenging Auckland Council's statutory processes.

Which brings me to the Road Stop proposal put up by Auckland Transport at the request of Auckland Council. QE Square (like Lower Queen Street) was vested as "road" in Auckland City Council by Auckland Harbour Board in the late 1960's. It was also zoned "pedestrian mall" in 1976 by Auckland City Council. (Did you know: Parts of Aotea Square and St Patricks Square are also vested as "road".) Vesting public open space as "road" was a common approach by Councils back in the day. So QE Square being "road" is not unusual. Interestingly, the definition of road in the Local Government Act: "every square or place intended for use of the public generally..."

The fact that QE Square is a "road" and "pedestrian mall" has introduced another important issue which I develop here, but first a bit more on road stopping....

The process for stopping a road is reasonably straightforward and set out in the LGA. Clauses of schedule 10 state:
1. The council shall prepare a plan of the road proposed to be stopped, together with an explanation as to why the road is to be stopped and the purpose or purposes to which the stopped road will be put, and a survey made and a plan prepared of any new road proposed to be made in lieu thereof, showing the lands through which it is proposed to pass, and the owners and occupiers of those lands so far as known, and shall lodge the plan in the office of the Chief Surveyor ...
5.  If objections are received as aforesaid, the council shall, after the expiration of the period within which an objection must be lodged, unless it decides to allow the objections, send the objections together with the plans aforesaid, and a full description of the proposed alterations to the Environment Court.
 AAA did object, and the objection ended up in front of the Environment Court. It can modify, reverse or uphold the road stop proposal. There have been many legal submissions in the course of the court hearing as to how the Environment Court should assess this particular road stop proposal and the objections. Sitting listening the case law that was frequently cited was to the effect:
The central issue is the need for the road for public use (as opposed to the need for the stopping).
You can see how arcane some of the discussion can become because of the use of the word "road", when what was being discussed was a civic square. Seems that cases like this are extremely rare in New Zealand. Road stop proposals normally apply to paper roads and similar minor matters. And not Auckland's first civic square.

Which brings me to a critical issue that has emerged as the hearing progressed. This relates to the use of QE Square by pedestrians, and whether that use (need) and amenity will be better when QES is no more, and its pedestrian function is replaced by (substituted by) a 100 metre long 5.5 metre wide laneway.

Garth Falconer (Auckland Council's urban design expert) noted during cross examination, that in his opinion Auckland City needs more data and information about pedestrian movements in the CBD. In fact the study he prepared in 2014 for Auckland Council did contain data about pedestrian movements.

This is the front cover of the Garth Falconer Reset Study that was presented to Auckland Council's Development Ctte on Sept 2014. It was one of the documents used to support the decision to sell QE Square.

At page 13 is a map of data collected and reported relating to pedestrian movements. It also records Mr Falconer's concern that there was not much data recordiing pedestrian movements.

This is a closer look at the Lower Queen Street and QE Square areas in the map. It indicates average daily pedestrian movements. The arrow indicating pedestrian movements along Lower Queen Street (its west edge) is the same colour as the arrow indicating pedestrian movements across QE Square. (NB: throughout the hearing, despite this data, experts in support of QE Square sale stated that QE Square was rarely used and that the main desire line for pedestrian movements was North/South along Lower Queen Street. Not true.)

This section contains the legend for the pedestrian movement map. It describes the movements across QE Square AND along Lower Queen Street both  as "Medium" - between 11,000 and 15,000 movements a day on average. Significantly, the map shows as yellow dots the Downtown Shopping Centre (DSC) "Door Count" figures. Thus, the figure 4,125 records the "door count" for the downtown shopping centre door off QE Square. (But this is half the story, see below).
The first major point to note here is that the data presented by Garth Falconer contradicts the statement that QE Square is rarely used. In fact it is heavily used by pedestrians. And they won't all be walking along the arrow. They'll be coming from the ferry - many of them - either to go shopping, or to cut through the DSC. And when these measurements were obtained the Lower Queen Street bus station was still in use and pedestrian traffic across Lower Queen Street wasn't easy. People will also be walking across QE Square to (and from) the Zurich Tower entrance, and to (and from) the Zurich Tower cafe.

And this is where I made a discovery. De Lambert's evidence for Precinct also looked at the use of QE Square. Her measures were NOT for a whole day - whereas Falconer's data reports pedestrian movements for a whole day. But what is especially interesting about De Lambert's evidence is her reporting of the door count data for the DSC. In her evidence (4.2) it is noted "It should be noted that pedestrians are only 'counted' on entering the building....". Thus if about the same number go in as go out the QE Square doorway figure of 4,125 would double to give about 8,000 ped movements across QE Square on average/day due to entry and exit from the DSC. This would account for the lion's share of pedestrian count across QE Square. 
(De Lambert's evidence also states: Colliers daily foot count data also reveals that the Downtown Shopping Centre Queen Street entrance is the most used entrance, totalling 2,660,530 pedestrian entries for the period between 1 April 2015 to 30 April 2016, followed by the QE Square entrance totalling at 1,779,524 over that same period.
4.5 I have also obtained, from Colliers, data representing the total door count numbers from pedestrian entrances into the Downtown Shopping Centre from the period between April 2015 and March 2016 (refer Appendix 7).
4.6 In terms of percentages, the Colliers data shows the Queen Street entrance totalling at 37.7%, followed by QE Square at 25.3%, the Airbridge from the PWC Building has 14.6%, Albert Street entrance 13.1%, Albert / Customs Street 7.7%, and the Customs Street entrance 1.6%.)

Which brings me back to "the need for QE Square as a road...". QE Square is a pedestrian mall. It is a public place where pedestrians from many origins walk in order to access (or leave) several destinations. 

The consented development (ie without selling QE Square, but with a new office tower, with a 50 metre EW laneway connecting QE Square to Lower Albert, and with a NS laneway connecting QE Square to Custom Street) will result in even more destinations. There will be 4,000 new office places in the new tower (accessed from the base of the tower - many coming by public transport - accessed from QE Square), a shiny new shopping centre (accessed from the EW landway - itself accessible from QE Square), at least one new cafe outlet - accessed from QE Square, and a major bus interchange in Lower Albert Street (accessible via the EW laneway).

Is it an improvement if ALL of those pedestrian movements are squeezed and confined into a single 100 metre long EW laneway? I don't reckon so. It would be a retrograde step for pedestrian movement as it would eliminate comfortable and direct desire lines that presently exist across QE Square. Pedestrian amenity is about comfort and directness. That is what an open pedestrian mall public open space provides - as well as the opportunity to simply sit and pause and contemplate. 

A QE Lane is not the same as a QE Square.

It would be a backward step for Auckland's downtown pedestrians.

Monday, July 25, 2016

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 primary mechanism that the NPS-UDC uses to try and bring zoned capacity in line with the need to "over-zone" to enable an efficient development market (ie one where competition can actually function) includes the 15-20% "sufficient buffer", but is primarily the requirement to assess physical and commercial feasibility of zoned capacity. A pure market economy approach appears to require "over- zoning", however over-supply of capacity is inevitably inefficient and wasteful.

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 (and them) strength.

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


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Public Realm loser in Auckland's Plan

The much anticipated release of the recommendation from the Independent Hearing Panel (IHP) for the Proposed Auckland Unitary happened on the 22nd July. Regardless of what now needs to happen, we cannot underestimate the effort and energy that this process has taken. Five years, 249 days of hearings and 1.5 million submission points later, the IHP's recommendations have been delivered.

There has been a lot of public focus on the PAUP which is only one leg of the three legged stool that supports the implementation of urban growth and development in Auckland. The other two legs are area and regional spatial plans; and public realm funding planning.

But first a look at the PAUP and where it stands. The guts of the IHP's recommendations are set out in 28 points here. The main growth related recommendations are within the first five:
2. Focus urban growth on centres, transport nodes and corridors to achieve a quality compact urban form.
3. Retain the Rural Urban Boundary but expand it to include 30 per cent more land and enable it to be changed by private plan changes.
4. Enable a development pattern to meet demand for the next 30 years and double the feasible enabled residential capacity to exceed 400,000 dwellings.
5. Ensure sufficient capacity for the next seven years.
The hairy big number in here is "400,000" - a bigger number than most were expecting, and even bigger than Government Ministers were calling for. Most of this growth is within the existing urban fabric - hence the general impression that the recommendations are more "up" than they are "out".

No stone - or volcanic cone - has been left unturned in the recommendations in the search for development capacity within Auckland's existing urban area. Many interest groups will be concerned that areas of Auckland or features they wished to see protected from development, have lost much of the protection that previously existed (volcanic cones, pre-1944 houses), in the face of economic evidence produced for property development interests (including but not limited to the Property Council).

These groups will now be considering their options which will include legal options, and making representations to Council not to accept some of the recommendations, or to consider specific changes to the plan that will maintain or improve the status quo. I can imagine that some IHP members will have anticipated this resistance. It appears to me that a number of the final changes in the IHP recommendations, which have come as a surprise to some, have arisen from final Council submissions which contained new evidence that has not been able to be contested by other parties. It came late with those final Council submissions. Never a good thing in a public hearing process to admit evidence that has not been subject to public scrutiny. However, given a reasonable case from advocates which reaches some sort of threshhold, there may well be justification for Council to change specific IHP recommendations.

One thing is for sure: the advocates for freeing up land for development and adding fuel to Auckland's property boom will also be in Council's ear big time, holding it to the line that has been established with the IHP, and trying to get some more land freed for development at the edges.

The Gaps (cracks) in Auckland Development Planning

There have been two persistant - but largely ignored - elephants in Auckland planning since before amalgamation in 2010. The reasons for this studious ignorance are likely to be just a continuation of Auckland's speculative planning history. Auckland is a city of un-implemented master plans (apart from the De Leuw Cather motorway master plan). Auckland's urban growth coincided with the popularity and convenience of the automobile. That history is well documented. What is less well documented is the consistent failure to provide for the public realm commensurate with private residential and commercial urban development. The public realm in an urban setting is not provided by the market or by speculation. Its component parts have to be planned spatially as part of any private development, and they need to be paid for. There has been reluctant recognition from the odd Minister that sewers and roads need to be paid for to enable new residential and commercial developments to go ahead - but they want the cheapest and lowest cost versions installed - at costs that will not upset the market.

When I was a councillor at North Shore City Council (affectionately known by councillors in other Auckland cities as "North Shore Shitty Council"- because of the leaking sewer networks), the big project was raising rates to pay for sewer repairs. The network had been built quickly and shoddily, to accommodate rapid urbanisation. The roads and the roading network was much the same. Takapuna Borough Council presided over the development of an urban form almost entirely devoid of urban parks. Maybe it was felt that being near Takapuna Beach was enough.  I mention these aspects of the public realm. To that list can be added: schools, hospitals, libraries, and museums. And under-pinning that list of infrastructure is the notion that the people who live together in a city, live public community lives, as well as private lives. And that social and community values including tolerance, appreciation and understanding of cultural difference and diversity are developed through rubbing alongside each other in the public realm.

These sorts of ideas and values are not shared in self-selecting enclaves in social media, or at home where birds of a feather tend to live together. Slight digression. But back to my theme. Bruce Lilley was also a councillor at North Shore, and while standing up for sewer repairs he famously said, "a city is more than pipes..." A round of applause and support.

The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan - and its IHP version - will deliver little in the way of new development in the Auckland region without the other two legs of the planning stool being put in place.

The Auckland Plan - required by Auckland's special amalgamation legislation - is little more than an uncosted wishlist of projects and developments. Area Plans and Precinct Plans are the necssary precursor to any urban redevelopment and intensification which integrates with an existing urban setting. It is through involvement in these sorts of plans that the local community sees itself, line of sight, from where they are now, to where they will be post development, and at various 5 year (for example)  stages throughout the duration of the redevelopment. Spatial plans are visual so everybody can see and understand what is anticipated and expected. Including visualisations of the new public realm, but also indications of different housing typologies. Spatial plans are practical renderings of possible futures which can be engaged with by ordinary members of the community - who find it difficult to interpret zoning maps and other planning speak language.

Area Plans need to be supported by the very best data. Costs and benefits for all stakeholders - not just speculators salivating at the uplift potential their models predict. Urban redevelopment has to be a partnership including the central government agencies tasked with education and health infrastructure. All aspects of the public realm need to be paid for.

This remains an enormous gap in (crack) in Auckland's planning system. Legislative changes have forced Auckland Council increasingly into the role of being Central Government's policy implementation arm in town, with the single goal being economic growth and increased construction activity. But despite that energy and force, the fact remains that New Zealand is still a democracy, and Auckland's existing residents will increasingly demand a real say, and stake, in how Auckland develops and grows. People have a strong sense of what is fair and right, interms of who pays for what, and who benefits from betterment and value uplift. The fact that Auckland Council is still struggling with a Government that is reluctant to give it the financial tools and incentives needed for intensification and commensurate public realm is a poor reflection on the governance of this country.

Auckland Council will soon vote to change aspects of the IHP's recommendations. As it should. It would be helpful if it also voted to the effect that Central Government must now, at this juncture, fix the cracks, provide the legs needed for urban redevelopment.

Property Boom Planned & Protected by Government

It has been an interesting exercise trying to make any sense of NZ Government's housing policy with students who are taking the Urban Policy Analysis 201 course at School of Architecture and Planning at University of Auckland this year. And by "sense" I mean what is the rationale, what are the objectives, policies and suchlike, and how are those explained and evidenced by the data that is available.

I start with a slightly dated webpage put up by MBIE aimed at informing overseas investors. This says:
“Growth for 2015 is expected to be around 3%, supported by net migration flows, labour income growth, and construction activity. It is expected to fall back for 2016 and 2017, largely due to deteriorating terms of trade, particularly for our dairy exports….”
(My colour emphasis added).  And the next slide is what the Governor of the Reserve Bank of NZ said in his statement of 3 February this year:
“…NZ’s economy has faced a wide range of shocks since the 2007 GFC, some positive for growth, some negative,including:• Tightening global liquidity;• Canterbury earthquakes;• 2012/13 drought;• 70 percent peak to trough movement in dairy prices;• 75 percent fall in oil prices;• Record net migration;• Sizeable movements in the real exchange rate;• Annual house price inflation in Auckland that reached 27%..."
(Again, my emphasis added.)  So we see here a clear indication that the drivers for the property boom (including record levels of immigration) and its consequences (? - including 27% annual increases in property value), are all high-lighted. And here I will divert from my lecture notes.

Turning now to Jane Clifton, Listener 6 August, we read:
"National's studiously unacknowledged position is that galloping house price inflation and immigration are vital economic growth fuel and it dare not interfere. All the measures it has taken so far in the cause of promoting housing affordability - never once admitting that the market is in any way a problem - have been minimal...."
I would add to that account the Labour Party. My reading of its policies is that they will add fuel to the fire. Fan it in fact. It's clearly a good plan to provide more State Housing - especially for those accommodated in cars and caravans. But that provision won't address house price inflation. And while a $billion for infrastructure might sound good, it is a small sum when measured against the need, and in any case will function to assist Auckland Council in releasing a little more developable land, but not enough to meet the insatiable demands that are being fuelled by immigration - among other things.

And it's the "other things" that I turn to now. With difficulty because the black box of economics is outside my area of expertise. But because I think the GFC was one of the signs we entered a new world, which we are still in, and struggling to adjust to, I am curious and interested in what's actually happening.

Other signs that old dogma don't help much is the public discussion about deflation, inflation and the official cash rate. Why is it that in NZ inflation is less than 0.5%, while household inflation is crazy? And what is it about inflation that we need to get it back to 2%, and that the lever for this is to decrease the official cash rate by 0.5% (it's already the lowest it's been in recent history) to something less than 2%? There has been commentary on these matters from NZ Herald's Brian Fallow and Bernard Hickey. A recent piece from Hickey strongly advises investors to shift their money away from housing. But he struggles to offer clear advice on what to do with the money. Across the internet commentators are expressing similar concerns. Armageddon concerned too.

Big Picture Factors

Reading across the many views that are out there, a number of ideas arise:
  • demographics. The baby-boomer demographic proportion of the western world population holds much of the wealth, are retiring, down-sizing in various ways, and re-investing. The subsequent generation is smaller in proportion in number, have not benefitted from the economies, are much less wealthy, spend less, and therefore consume less.
  • natural resources.  The low hanging fruit that attracted speculative investment around the globe - cheap labour, easily extracted resources - are fewer in number and harder to hold on to. Globalisation and trade is not the economic engine it was. Concern is growing - Brexit is one manifestation, cross-party attacks on the TPP in the USA are another.
  • money is worth less than scarce or productive assets. 

This last one is a bit of a long bow. But when you can get 3% for your money in a bank (which is worrying about loans that might go bad in future), and 20%+ for your money in an investment unit - you'd be mad to have your money in the bank. With dairy and mining and other commodity related activities generating poor returns, then maybe the salvation is Facebook and Google and the panoply of social media producing factories that feed phone apps, not forgetting the producers of goods easily marketed by digital means.

Someone with wisdom mentioned to me the other day that whenever Australia looked like having a lull in its economy, there would be a hosuing boom. As if central government turned those particular taps on. Sounds like a plan.

Someone else - an economist - mentioned to me that he wondered whether New Zealand was capable of development planning at all. His view was that New Zealand's economy is largely unplanned, and that its development has been a sequence of speculative adventures. Starting with gold. Then frozen meat. Wool. Timber. Dairy. And in between speculative urban development. All of these activities were initiated by risk takers, acting as agents for speculative investors. Central Government's role was to clip the ticket as money came and went, and every now and then build a road to keep the investors interested and happy.

Not for New Zealand the Miti approach in Japan, or Germany's central planning, or even Thatcher's revolutionary service economy interventions. Mustn't pick winners is the opposing argument. Tried that with the think-big projects. Well, maybe not. But surely, the MBIE brains trust, and some applied strategic thinking (National, Labour, Greens...?) could come up with something more solid and future looking than a policy of increased immigration, low interest, limited investor controls and high pressure rural land rezoning.

And finally, someone else. There is another factor to add to the list above. Economic policies and political programs over the past 30 years have led to increasing inequality and concentration of wealth (the rich now want somewhere to put it that's more lucrative than under a mattress in a bank). The dispossessed, disenfranchised and alienated members of western nations are becoming the new majority. This was one of the surprising Brexit revelations. Imagine if there was an equivalent vote in New Zealand - not the new flag, but something of Brexit dimensions (and I don't mean leaving CER) - would the mob rule? Isn't it time that an alternative development plan was prepared for New Zealand rather than "studiously" ignoring that responsibility and leaving it to the mob to say no to the status quo?

New Election Billboards: Old Chestnuts

I remember my first election leaflet in 1998. Contained a telephoto shot of Lake Road looking toward Devonport from Takapuna. Surprisingly light traffic looking back. And here's a billboard for the 2016 campaign.....

You can't quite read the authorising text at the bottom. It's George Wood. Apparently he's not standing for Auckland Council this election. According to the billboard he's got a local board team.

I'm aware that a group of local people have been working with Auckland Transport for the past two years on Lake Road and Devonport Peninsula Planning. The group includes representatives from the Devonport Business Association, Belmont Business Community, cycling advocates, pedestrian advocates, public transport, motorists. And now George and his team have all the answers. Well, we'll see.

When Auckland Council was established there was a lot of talk about Area Planning - local community spatial planning - that would be a building block for the Auckland Plan. It's been a challenge for Auckland Council to incorporate local spatial plans into the Auckland Plan - which is one of the reasons why the Auckland Plan is failing to gain traction on the ground in local communities. Top down approaches generally run into glue and opposition in Auckland when it comes to actual implementation if they haven't been socialised with local communities (using the consultation lingo). That's shorthand for saying that any attempt to shortcut a good level of community participation in implementation planning means nothing much will happen. Which isn't progress.

Speaking of which, and in regard to Lake Road, it's interesting what the Independent Hearings Panel decided for the Devonport Peninsula. You can read about it starting page 26 in the IHP report on topic 81. This basically addresses the zoning of Ngati Whatua owned, ex Navy, land. There were apparently some 196 submitters, of which 183 opposed proposed zonings. The report states:
A number of submitters raised issues regarding the capacity of the wastewater and stormwater networks. Many submitters raised concerns about the effects of additional traffic volumes on an already congested Lake Road, the lack of frequent bus services and safety concerns for pedestrians and cyclists, particularly school children.
Interestingly the panel decided:
The Panel supports the retention of the Devonport Peninsula Precinct and the various sub-precincts and agrees with the additional height and transition provisions proposed by Ngati Whatua Orakei Whai Rawa Limited’s planning and urban design witnesses.

The Panel acknowledges the concerns raised by many submitters relating to infrastructure capacity. However, it heard evidence from both Watercare and the Council that their networks have the capacity, or have programmed upgrades (in the case of Watercare), to address any constraints.

The Panel heard from Auckland Transport that congestion on Lake Road is not unlike that on other arterial routes in the region and that they will be investigating a programme of improvements identified in the Lake Road Corridor Management Plan to address congestion, including transit lanes and a focus on public transport improvements.
 The last paragraph will be of particular interest and concern to those who have worked for the past couple of years with Auckland Transport. I don't think for one second that they would have anticipated that their work was to enable the intensive development of Belmont and Bayswater, described in the IHP's report as follows:
The Devonport Peninsula Precinct collectively covers 27.9 hectares of land and comprises six large land holdings (sub-precincts) of former navy housing in suburban coastal areas of the peninsula. The sub -precincts are:
i. Sub-precinct A - Marsden Street (4.1 hectares); ii. Sub-precinct B - Birchfield Road (1.9 hectares); iii. Sub-precinct C - Plymouth Crescent (7.1 hectares); iv. Sub-precinct D - Hillary Crescent (7.3 hectares); v. Sub-precinct E - Vauxhall Road (3.2 hectares); and vi. Sub-precinct F - Wakakura Crescent (4.3 hectares). Ngati Whatua Orakei Whai Rawa Limited owns almost all of the land in Sub-precincts A to E and no longer owns Sub-precinct F
 It is not clear how many residential dwellings might be constructed on this 27.9 hectares of land, or what sewage or traffic demands would be the consequence. This local issue will be occurring in one sort or another across Auckland. Local communities will be grappling with the local impacts of intensive zonings. However, until the Council - working with Central Government - realise and recognise that urban intensification requires planning that goes beyond zoning, you can be pretty confident that very little will actually change on the ground.

Despite George's billboard and the best efforts of his team.

Downtown Auckland Demolished

Walking to the ferry last night and came across a scene being captured by many on their digital devices. The rather massive and internally focussed Downtown Shopping Centre is being rapidly turned into rubble and dust - itself being washed out of the air by a fine mist. Spectacular.


Fingers crossed for what will replace it. Especially the public realm component....

And this morning. Being able to look through the DSC from Lower Albert. View of the CPO...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Is QE Lane better than QE Square?

Let it go, Joe, they suggest.

It's in the hands of the Environment Court now whether Auckland's downtown QE Square should be stopped as road, rezoned for development, and sold to Precinct Properties.

It is getting down to the wire on this now, but issues keep coming up. To begin with many supporters of this campaign to retain public open space focussed on the loss of public open space. They could also see how combined with Lower Queen Street it could form a great civic square for Auckland, and bring it back to what it was two decades ago.

The next issue that began focussing minds opposed to the sale was the width of the laneway proposed running East/West. Urban Design and Landscape Architects I talked with estimated it should be around 8 to 9 metres wide - not just for safety, but for amenity and feel. But Precinct experts wanted a more concentrated retail environment. To me this view was contradicted by overseas experts and experience.

However, the legal challenge mounted by Auckland Architectural Association (AAA) needed focus and while the laneway width was a concern, the major concern was the loss of public open space. So the laneway width faded to the background in the legal action challenging Auckland Council's statutory processes.

Which brings me to the Road Stop proposal put up by Auckland Transport at the request of Auckland Council. QE Square (like Lower Queen Street) was vested as "road" in Auckland City Council by Auckland Harbour Board in the late 1960's. It was also zoned "pedestrian mall" in 1976 by Auckland City Council. (Did you know: Parts of Aotea Square and St Patricks Square are also vested as "road".) Vesting public open space as "road" was a common approach by Councils back in the day. So QE Square being "road" is not unusual. Interestingly, the definition of road in the Local Government Act: "every square or place intended for use of the public generally..."

The fact that QE Square is a "road" and "pedestrian mall" has introduced another important issue which I develop here, but first a bit more on road stopping....

The process for stopping a road is reasonably straightforward and set out in the LGA. Clauses of schedule 10 state:
1. The council shall prepare a plan of the road proposed to be stopped, together with an explanation as to why the road is to be stopped and the purpose or purposes to which the stopped road will be put, and a survey made and a plan prepared of any new road proposed to be made in lieu thereof, showing the lands through which it is proposed to pass, and the owners and occupiers of those lands so far as known, and shall lodge the plan in the office of the Chief Surveyor ...
5.  If objections are received as aforesaid, the council shall, after the expiration of the period within which an objection must be lodged, unless it decides to allow the objections, send the objections together with the plans aforesaid, and a full description of the proposed alterations to the Environment Court.
 AAA did object, and the objection ended up in front of the Environment Court. It can modify, reverse or uphold the road stop proposal. There have been many legal submissions in the course of the court hearing as to how the Environment Court should assess this particular road stop proposal and the objections. Sitting listening the case law that was frequently cited was to the effect:
The central issue is the need for the road for public use (as opposed to the need for the stopping).
You can see how arcane some of the discussion can become because of the use of the word "road", when what was being discussed was a civic square. Seems that cases like this are extremely rare in New Zealand. Road stop proposals normally apply to paper roads and similar minor matters. And not Auckland's first civic square.

Which brings me to a critical issue that has emerged as the hearing progressed. This relates to the use of QE Square by pedestrians, and whether that use (need) and amenity will be better when QES is no more, and its pedestrian function is replaced by (substituted by) a 100 metre long 5.5 metre wide laneway.

Garth Falconer (Auckland Council's urban design expert) noted during cross examination, that in his opinion Auckland City needs more data and information about pedestrian movements in the CBD. In fact the study he prepared in 2014 for Auckland Council did contain data about pedestrian movements.

This is the front cover of the Garth Falconer Reset Study that was presented to Auckland Council's Development Ctte on Sept 2014. It was one of the documents used to support the decision to sell QE Square.

At page 13 is a map of data collected and reported relating to pedestrian movements. It also records Mr Falconer's concern that there was not much data recordiing pedestrian movements.

This is a closer look at the Lower Queen Street and QE Square areas in the map. It indicates average daily pedestrian movements. The arrow indicating pedestrian movements along Lower Queen Street (its west edge) is the same colour as the arrow indicating pedestrian movements across QE Square. (NB: throughout the hearing, despite this data, experts in support of QE Square sale stated that QE Square was rarely used and that the main desire line for pedestrian movements was North/South along Lower Queen Street. Not true.)

This section contains the legend for the pedestrian movement map. It describes the movements across QE Square AND along Lower Queen Street both  as "Medium" - between 11,000 and 15,000 movements a day on average. Significantly, the map shows as yellow dots the Downtown Shopping Centre (DSC) "Door Count" figures. Thus, the figure 4,125 records the "door count" for the downtown shopping centre door off QE Square. (But this is half the story, see below).
The first major point to note here is that the data presented by Garth Falconer contradicts the statement that QE Square is rarely used. In fact it is heavily used by pedestrians. And they won't all be walking along the arrow. They'll be coming from the ferry - many of them - either to go shopping, or to cut through the DSC. And when these measurements were obtained the Lower Queen Street bus station was still in use and pedestrian traffic across Lower Queen Street wasn't easy. People will also be walking across QE Square to (and from) the Zurich Tower entrance, and to (and from) the Zurich Tower cafe.

And this is where I made a discovery. De Lambert's evidence for Precinct also looked at the use of QE Square. Her measures were NOT for a whole day - whereas Falconer's data reports pedestrian movements for a whole day. But what is especially interesting about De Lambert's evidence is her reporting of the door count data for the DSC. In her evidence (4.2) it is noted "It should be noted that pedestrians are only 'counted' on entering the building....". Thus if about the same number go in as go out the QE Square doorway figure of 4,125 would double to give about 8,000 ped movements across QE Square on average/day due to entry and exit from the DSC. This would account for the lion's share of pedestrian count across QE Square. 
(De Lambert's evidence also states: Colliers daily foot count data also reveals that the Downtown Shopping Centre Queen Street entrance is the most used entrance, totalling 2,660,530 pedestrian entries for the period between 1 April 2015 to 30 April 2016, followed by the QE Square entrance totalling at 1,779,524 over that same period.
4.5 I have also obtained, from Colliers, data representing the total door count numbers from pedestrian entrances into the Downtown Shopping Centre from the period between April 2015 and March 2016 (refer Appendix 7).
4.6 In terms of percentages, the Colliers data shows the Queen Street entrance totalling at 37.7%, followed by QE Square at 25.3%, the Airbridge from the PWC Building has 14.6%, Albert Street entrance 13.1%, Albert / Customs Street 7.7%, and the Customs Street entrance 1.6%.)

Which brings me back to "the need for QE Square as a road...". QE Square is a pedestrian mall. It is a public place where pedestrians from many origins walk in order to access (or leave) several destinations. 

The consented development (ie without selling QE Square, but with a new office tower, with a 50 metre EW laneway connecting QE Square to Lower Albert, and with a NS laneway connecting QE Square to Custom Street) will result in even more destinations. There will be 4,000 new office places in the new tower (accessed from the base of the tower - many coming by public transport - accessed from QE Square), a shiny new shopping centre (accessed from the EW landway - itself accessible from QE Square), at least one new cafe outlet - accessed from QE Square, and a major bus interchange in Lower Albert Street (accessible via the EW laneway).

Is it an improvement if ALL of those pedestrian movements are squeezed and confined into a single 100 metre long EW laneway? I don't reckon so. It would be a retrograde step for pedestrian movement as it would eliminate comfortable and direct desire lines that presently exist across QE Square. Pedestrian amenity is about comfort and directness. That is what an open pedestrian mall public open space provides - as well as the opportunity to simply sit and pause and contemplate. 

A QE Lane is not the same as a QE Square.

It would be a backward step for Auckland's downtown pedestrians.

Monday, July 25, 2016

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 primary mechanism that the NPS-UDC uses to try and bring zoned capacity in line with the need to "over-zone" to enable an efficient development market (ie one where competition can actually function) includes the 15-20% "sufficient buffer", but is primarily the requirement to assess physical and commercial feasibility of zoned capacity. A pure market economy approach appears to require "over- zoning", however over-supply of capacity is inevitably inefficient and wasteful.

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 (and them) strength.

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