Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dear Auckland Urban Design Panel,

An open letter to Auckland Council Urban Design Panel,

I'm writing to you because of the differences I am discovering between the urban design of Wellington and the urban design of Auckland, and because I want the best urban design for Auckland as it regenerates, redevelops and rebuilds.

In a nutshell, what's bad about Auckland's urban design is reflected in the public amenity that was built on Princes Wharf, and what's good about Wellington's urban design is the public amenity that has been built on its waterfront over a similar planning period.

Urban designers and architects were engaged by Auckland regulatory authorities during the planning and consenting stages of Princes Wharf. Their involvement and sign-off did play a critical role in the outcomes that are on display on Princes Wharf. But the fundamental influences for the imbalance between private benefit and public benefit outcomes was weak planning on the part of Auckland Regional Council, increased rates revenue priorities for Auckland City Council, and the pursuit by Ports of Auckland Limited of its corporate "successful business" objective.

Similar temptations existed for Wellington City Council and Ports of Wellington Ltd, but the planning environment there evolved differently from Auckland's - despite much the same legislation being in place. This was primarily because of the engagement over time of its professional urban designers, landscape architects, architects and planners - sometimes formally, sometimes through structures rather like Auckland's Urban Design Panel, and sometimes informally. Whistle blowers.

I am writing to you today because I am concerned you may be playing the same role for Precinct Properties regarding its Downtown development proposals, as did the professionals who were engaged in assessing Kitchener Group proposals for Princes Wharf 15 years ago.

Terms of Reference describe the thinking behind, and function of, Auckland's Urban Design Panel. I think these extracts are especially pertinant:
This thinking is in line with The Auckland Plan, which: “Demands good design in all development”; “Realises quality compact urban environments”, and “Seeks to create enduring neighbourhoods...."

Benefits of design panels are considerable and include: Identifying weak and inappropriate schemes at an early stage, when significant design changes can be made with relatively little waste of time and effort; Putting schemes in perspective and seeing the bigger picture; Questioning the design brief or site assumptions and thus opening up new opportunities for improved development....

The review undertaken by the panel is not limited to the scope of the District Plan, but is intended to encourage best practice approaches to development, specific to a site’s context, that support the overarching objectives of the Auckland Plan; recommendations from the Panel are to assist Council officers in forming their professional opinions with respect to a proposal and the requirements of the District Plan.

The Panel may also make recommendations to the Council for regulatory changes, decision-making on modifications to infrastructure or development on sites that may be outside the scope of an application itself, but should be considered for the benefit of creating a quality urban environment.

In reviewing proposals the Panel will focus on the appropriateness of the building or development in relation to its physical, social and cultural context.... In striving for excellence in design the Panel will consider the overall quality of the development and its architecture, as well as its appearance from the street and public spaces, and contribution to the sustainable development of Auckland.

Elements the Panel might typically look at (include): ...How the development works for both users and the public, e.g. the relationship of public and private realms; safety for users and passers-by; circulation and servicing; treatment of public and semi-public spaces....

There is growing public interest in Auckland's downtown area and how it might be developed. Auckland Council is currently engaging the public about proposals for public spaces that might be paid for through the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square (a proposal which itself has not been canvassed with the public). Auckland Council has prepared - but not consulted - its "Downtown Planning Framework". This is not a masterplan, it is a collection of ideas which are largely unfunded, and which lacks credibility particularly because of its inadequacy regarding bus transport planning.

I am personally acquainted with many members of Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel, and trust you not to rubber-stamp Downtown proposals without giving them your full professional attention. But in the absence of a plan change for the area, robust downtown master-planning - particularly in regard to the public realm and passenger transport operations, it will be challenging to deliver the promises and potential contained in your terms of reference when assessing Precinct Properties proposals in isolation.

Yours Sincerely,

Joel Cayford

Urban Designers make Wellington's CBD

 This posting contains some recent research into the planning processes that delivered Wellington's waterfront. It is selective but designed to show how the local community of planning, architecture, landscape architecture and urban design professionals have intervened along the way. I should point out that Wellington planners made the strategic decision to integrate the planning of Lambton Harbour to include wharves and reclaimed land back to Jervois Quay. This makes it more equivalent to Auckland's waterfront back to Custom Street, rather than just to Quay Street...

Right from the start of waterfront regeneration, Wellington's professional urban designers, planners, landscape architects and architects have got involved, and sought to shape public opinion and Council decision-making.

This image is from a publication funded by the Evening Post newspaper in 1982. It contains images from a design competition that was organised and run by Wellington's Civic Trust organisation. Among other things the design brief was to: maintain and encourage economic and social vitality of this part of the port and city;  provide for a range of activities and facilities that will ensure the attractiveness of the area day and night and at weekends; take Wellington's winds into account... the image is one of the sheets from the winning entry from a consortium called Paperchase. Among the suggestions in that entry - which won the prize of $15,000 which was a good sum in 1982 - are these "management ideas" which I have cutout below....



It is noteworthy that these management ideas were produced by an entrant in a design competition. Then in 1984, capitalising on the design competition and the interest it had created, the Civic Trust organised a two day conference held in the Michael Fowler Centre to consider the urban regeneration project.  The conference appears to have been very carefully designed and managed with leaders chosen to facilitate sessions and arrive at a number of resolutions which were then provided to Wellington Harbour Board and to Wellington City Council for their response:









These led to interesting confidential discussions by WHB and WCC after the conference. But generally the two institutions responded constructively. Urban design ideas from the design competition, and other considerations, were fed into a planning process which was managed jointly by Wellington City Council and Ports of Wellington Ltd between 1986 and 1988. Consultants Gabites Porter and Partners were engaged to prepare the Lambton Harbour Combined Scheme for the area. The cover of the Urban Design Concept document contains this rendering of the area. It includes many of the ideas that came out of the design competition:


Various high rise buildings (eg the round tower to the left, and the substantial highrise near the proposed National Museum), intensive housing and other private developments are shown, along with green areas, open spaces, enclosed water spaces and waterfront promenades.The Gabites Porter work resulted in the Lambton Harbour Combined Scheme for the area being notified. Among other things - and thanks to enormous efforts on the part of WCC planning staff and robust public submissions - the maximum heights and bulk of various towers were reduced, and then the newly formed development agency - Lambton Harbour Development Ltd (LHML) - got down to its work. One of its first projects that did not use existing buildings was on Queens Wharf and was the Events and Retail Centre. It caused a public backlash in 1995, and in 1996 LHML called a public meeting in an attempt to allay public disquiet. This led then Mayor Blumsky to call for a moritorium on further development pending a thorough community consultation exercise.

A Community Consultation Committee (CCC) was established by WCC containing representatives from building industry, yacht owners, Civic Trust, Tourism Wellington, Chamber of Commerce, Inst of Architects, Historic Places Trust, residents, which was supported by WCC's Urban Design unit. Among other decisions the CCC recommended: 
  • "future development of Lambton harbour area needs to focus on meeting the needs of Wellington people first and foremost. Only then should it look at the requirements of visitors and tourists; 
  • public space areas should be designed first, with commercial built environment to follow; 
  • the self-funding policy of Lambton harbour needs to be reconsidered; 
  • future sites should be leased rather than sold; 
  • lambton harbour is a public asset. There has been a loss of public confidence in the direction the project has taken; 
  • both the WCC District Plan and the Lambton Harbour Concept Plan need to be revised to take account of this report's recommendations...."
 One of the most significant and influential outcomes from this particular process was the decision to commission Athfield Architects and Megan Wraight Landscape Architect to prepare an open space concept design for the whole Lambton Harbour area, the brief for which, and one of the designs (adopted early 1999), is below:



In strategic response to the CCC recommendations, a Design Review was also conducted under WCC's control. This was partly in response to the CCC repport but also responded to public submissions to Variation 17 which related to the area, and was conducted by a team of about a dozen architects, planners, policy analysts and urban designers for Wellington City Council.

The Design Review was completed in 2000 and begins by quoting the vision that the CCC came up with in their 1996 review: "Lambton Harbour is a special place that welcomes people to walk our waterfront history through an exciting playground of beautiful and inspiring  spaces that connect our city to the sea, and protect our heritage for generations."

The Design Review proposed nine changes to the original concept plan, which were based on a set of key principles including these:
  • "Central themes of 'the whole waterfront as a promenade' and 'making the city-water connection';
  • The creation of four enclosed sheltered public squares, and a fifth at Whitmore Street ...
  • The importance of buildings working in partnership with open space to provide definition and shelter, generate life and vitality and allow differentiation between a range of spaces is a core requirement to create a high quality public environment on the waterfront.
  • etc
I'll stop with this bit of Wellington planning history here. My concern is that we need this sort of integrated engagement here in Auckland for our CBD urban regeneration project which extends from Princes Wharf to Captain Cook Wharf, and from the various wharves and water spaces to Custom Street.

Auckland CBD Greenspace Deficit

This picture is of Takutai Square. It's in the heart of Auckland CBD - part of the Britomart development.
I've cut the picture (above) from the front cover of Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel publication which contains the Panel's terms of reference.

Takutai Square - a small piece of green space and an interesting fountain feature - is a well used and successful part of Auckland CBD's parks network. Perhaps Auckland Council considers it an exemplar of good inner city urban design.
The arrow points at the green space area of Takutai Square in this aerial of Auckland's downtown CBD. You can just see the footpath that bisects the green space. It's a small park area. Much smaller than Queen Elizabeth Square - which - in my view - needs to be the subject of a rethink and design competition to turn it into another successful piece of Auckland CBD's parks network.
This aerial shows Auckland's old CBD area - just east of the area above - and which was developed when English Town and Country style planning influenced Auckland urban planning and design outcomes rather more than it does today. (You can see that streets follow topographical contours and other morphological differences.) You can also see part of Albert Park and Constitution Hill, Emily Place, and other green spaces. The two aerials are to the same scale and show how impoverished for green space Auckland's new downtown CBD is. This lack of provision has been noted in various studies carried out recently by Auckland Council. The BuzzChannel report that is here describes its findings in particular:
Submitters on the “quality parks, open spaces and community facilities created for people to use and enjoy” priority in the Waitematā Local Board Plan felt that more attention needed to be given to improving and increasing outdoor areas and facilities, given the projected increase in population and in particular the number of young people predicted to live in the city centre.
 This feedback is particularly wise because it draws attention to the needs of the 20,000 or more citizens who will be inner city dwellers - without backyards, without greenspaces, without outdoor places to play - and that this infrastructure needs to be planned for and provided.

Waterfront spaces and places will be great, but they will not meet the needs of what is required within CBD's increasingly populated confines. Spaces and places that are sheltered from the wind, with good shade from the sun, and that are well contained and activated by the built environment are a critical component of Auckland CBD infrastructure.

Auckland needs more public squares and green spaces of all sorts and shapes and sizes. I understand a number of Auckland Council's parks staff attended an international conference recently where delegates were given the message: more people living in built up urban environments means more open space and green space is needed to meet recreational and social needs that cannot be met in confined private living settings. The message is: don't sell public space. If you do you'll never get it back. It seems this lesson is being taken on board in the regeneration of Wynyard Quarter - it is a lesson that needs to be prioritised now in regeneration planning for Downtown Auckland.

OAG: Auckland learns from Mangawhai

Auckland Council's media release dated 5 December 2014, states:
Following discussions with Audit NZ, the Mayor is proposing an amendment in Council’s draft Long-term Plan 2015-2025 on the timing for construction of Auckland’s number one transport priority – the City Rail Link (CRL).

In its draft budget, Council has the CRL project commencing in 2015/16, based on an assumption government’s funding contribution for the project would also start next year, five years earlier than government has so far indicated.

On Tuesday, December 9, council will consider changing the assumption of timing of the government contribution to 2018/19.

Mayor Len Brown says: “I understand why Audit NZ feel that we need to take a more conservative approach to our financial projections and I am proposing that we develop the LTP based on a later timing of government contribution.”

Other media reports tell the story of Office of Auditor General's boss Lyn Provost previous engagement with Auckland counciil in this regard. For example in February this year she was quizzed by Auckland Councillors about funding for the CRL project. This exchange is well reported in this article by Bob Dey which notes what OAG's boss said about Mangawhai, both in terms of the possibility of running the CRL as a PPP, and in terms of funding certainty:

Dey's article states:
The Auditor-general spoke briefly yesterday about her report on the Kaipara District Council’s Mangawhai wastewater scheme debacle, and put together lessons Auckland Council might learn from the Kaipara exercise.

Among them: Do not underestimate what is involved in a PPP arrangement; Accounting should not drive the decision to enter into a PPP – the focus should be on affordability, not whose books the asset & debt appear on; Transfer of risk is not an end in itself, and is likely to have to be paid for through a risk premium; PPPs are unlikely to succeed fully if the contract is not for “the complete package”.

Mrs Provost said, in answer to Cllr Brewer’s questions on the city rail link: “We need to make sure your officials have done more of the costing, because there was gross uncertainty around the costing (in the council’s first long-term plan). Another thing was the sources of revenue, how it was going to be funded. Also, at that time it was the biggest development by quite a long way. It would depend also on what else was happening.

“Our opinion is on financial prudence as well, how does it all come together. It will be things like that we will look at. We will be looking at, are people making sensible decisions in a prudent way? The final thing, we look at the documentation.” 
 Clearly, Auckland council didn't get the message in February, and went ahead with a draft Long Term Plan which still fell short of financial probity.

It's good that something, so far, that is useful to the people of New Zealand - even if they are Jafas - has emerged from investigation into the Kaipara District Council's (KDC) wastewater scheme fiasco. (You can see a posting here detailing KDC LTP failures - especially in regard to projected revenues from development contributions and suchlike based on questionable development growth rate assumptions.)

It looks as if its funding issues are getting a good look over. I'd like to be assured that its planning issues get the same sort of scrutiny.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

POAL throws public money at Unitary Plan

To get a flavour of just how much public money has, and is being expended by Auckland's 100% ratepayer owned Ports of Auckland Ltd in subverting the Unitary Plan in its own interests, I suggest you take a quick look at POAL's first written submissions. But only if you are ready to read 453 pages prepared for POAL by its lawyers: Russell McVeagh (ALB Dealmaker of the Year, New Zealand Deal of the Year, Australasia Equity Deal of the Year 2013....).

The thrust of POAL's submissions are encapsulated in this text:

This set of submissions strikes at the heart of the Regional Policy Statement part of the Unitary Plan. It ignores the fact that the Resource Management Act requires consideration of potential and future environmental effects. POAL is very clear about what it wants:


POAL has always wanted to expand its reclamation, and it sees the Unitary Plan as its best (and maybe last) opportunity to get Auckland Planning Systems changed, so future reclamation is easy and possible. Before I get into the guts of this posting - which is to ask the question of Auckland Council: "have you given permission to your 100% publicly owned POAL to spend in excess of $1,000,000 of ratepayer money subverting your Unitary Plan?" - another RMA point. My understanding of the environmental effects that the RMA was set up to control (avoid, remedy, mitigate) include cumulative effects. Why would Auckland Council give POAL a general licence to reclaim in future without previously satisfying itself that the cumulative effects of more reclamation are less than minor?

The Guts of this Posting

There's a lot of chat out there about what's going down in the Unitary Plan submissions and hearings process. I'll write more broadly in future. But for now I want to focus on the effort that POAL is putting into supporting its position and submissions at the hearings.

It sounds like POAL is throwing the kitchen sink at it - at ratepayer cost.
Its Russell McVeagh attack team is headed by none other than RMA guru Derek Nolan.
Their presence at the hearing seems calculated to challenge and threaten even before words have been exchanged. The Russell McVeagh legal team heft in cardboard cartons of papers and submissions. Especially intimidating when you're on the receiving end, or making counter submissions.
"Drown the bastards" - is the motto.
And each one of those documents has been carefully prepared by a team of lawyers and checked over by Mr Nolan, no doubt, while the clock ticks away, the hours add up, and POAL pays up, eating into the dividends that might be available to Auckland Council for other purposes.
The irony is - of course - that Auckland Council's team of planners and lawyers more or less know what POAL and Russell McVeagh are trying to achieve, and so they, in turn, spend hours and hours, and thousands of ratepayer dollars on writing other submissions and arguments providing counter or supporting arguments, or who knows what, to POAL's submissions.
Given what I know of Derek Nolan, he'll be having the time of his life. Perhaps a hefty new reclamation permit will be Russell McVeagh's next "deal of the year". I can almost hear POAL executives telling Derek, "fill your boots".

But is all of this really in the public interest? Does Auckland Council exercise any control over POAL through its intermediary Auckland Council Investments Ltd (ACIL)? (NB: It was interesting to note that in the recent CCO review, a wise decision was made to take back into Council's Treasury from ACIL the diversified fund portfolio which I understand amounts to around $200 million - though I would be concerned if this was suddenly tipped into the CRL without public discussion.) Wouldn't it be appropriate for Auckland Council to set some sort of limit on legal actions against Council plans on the part of entities and CCOs it owns and governs?

A question that lies unanswered is this? Why does POAL need all this reclaimed land? How much profit or margin is earned by POAL through being a property developer rather than a port facility? Last week I learned that POAL has done a deal with HOLCIM cement to develop a huge cement and concrete facility on reclaimed port land in downtown Auckland. It appears that an opportunity has arisen (HOLCIM is involved in discussions with Westport and Oamaru and the Onehunga Port about where to locate its facilities and operations which may rely on cement imports from Australia - details unclear so far), for POAL to offer HOLCIM a fantastic deal to relocate to downtown Auckland. Like the deal POAL offered Maersk Shipping - the cheapest berthage rates in Australasia - to get as many ships in the port as possible.

And all of this economic activity is subsidised in some way or another by Auckland. Do we really want an industrialised concrete factory in the heart of downtown Auckland with all the concrete truck movements associated? Do we really need to look out over a growing concrete factory on the waterfront? Isn't it about time POAL paid the true costs of its occupation of public land on the waterfront. Isn't it about time Auckland and Auckland Council stopped subsidising the growth of this cuckoo?

New "Development Auckland" CCO: Comment

At its Governing Body meeting of 27 November 2014, Auckland made decisions that followed from a lengthy review of Auckland Council CCOs. Decisions included several that initiate the establishment of a new CCO that will engage in urban development and regeneration projects. The meeting report (see here from page 193 onward) states: "The most significant recommendation of the review is to include in the LTP a proposal to establish a new CCO to deliver on council’s urban development outcomes. The proposal includes bringing together Waterfront Auckland and ACPL to form a new urban development agency. It is necessary to consult on this proposal as the establishment of new CCOs triggers the need for consultation. This proposal also signals an increase in activity in brownfield redevelopment."

What this means is that the Council's Long Term Plan - a Draft of which is being prepared at present for consulation early next year - will contain a "statement of proposal" relating to "Development Auckland" (the interim name proposed for the CCO) and will seek public submissions.

I have long believed that Auckland needs some sort of Urban Redevelopment Agency approach. It is not enough to simply promulgate a Unitary Plan and leave implementation to the market. The reason there are so many critical submissions to the Unitary Plan (from communities fearful of intensification) is that little thought has gone into planning implementation (whether its social or network infrastructure, changes in land use, community development). This flies in the face of urban redevelopment experience around the world in cities that are older than Auckland (most are), and that have been there, done that. I provided some planning background to that in this posting, which summarises the learnings from a Joint Council study trip to Perth some years ago.

So Auckland Council's decision is good news I think, but there are some fish-hooks.

The first and most obvious to waterfront observers is the risk to delivery and continuation of the direction and programme of works and development that have been managed by the Waterfront Auckland Development Agency (AWDA). It is appropriate to harness the skills and approach to brownfield redevelopment that have developed in AWDA, and to apply those skills so other parts of Auckland can benefit, but that should not threaten or reduce the quality of what is being achieved at Wynyard Quarter, which is really only just past the start of what will be a 20 year project.

The Council report about the proposed "Development Auckland" makes these points, under the heading, An evolutionary approach to building capacity and capability:
29. The best examples of urban development agencies overseas also focus on lifting the socio-economic status of the local communities undergoing redevelopment, by building in opportunities for job creation and the provision of social services. It is extremely likely that over time council will also need to work in locations where a high degree of this broader activity is necessary. In the establishment phase of Development Auckland, the focus will be firmly fixed on building capacity and capability to deliver physical redevelopment in brownfield locations.

30. International best practice also shows that having a balanced portfolio of redevelopment locations can be beneficial – those that have the ability to generate a surplus, and those that do not but are still important for other reasons. Staff will consider this and a number of other matters when undertaking location intervention analysis and in recommending the best locations for council approval for Development Auckland to operate in.

31. It is envisaged that location intervention analysis would be led by council staff with input from many parties including Development Auckland staff. Once locations had been approved by council and the Board of Development Auckland, the masterplanning and business case process would be led by Development Auckland staff with council staff input.

32. Over time it is also likely that Development Auckland will build a more sophisticated understanding of property and development dynamics in the Auckland market. Since it will become a key player in this market, it will seek to foster learning within the broader development industry wherever possible.
Point 29 (above) points to another potential fish-hook. My research strongly supports the idea that "best examples" of urban regeneration include: "building in opportunities for job creation and the provision of social services". This is partly what we see at Wynyard Quarter where there is a place-making balance between marine industry, fishing industry, residential development and commercial development - though there is still insufficient emphasis there on social services such as a primary school, kindergarten, library or community centre. However Point 29 goes on to state:  " the establishment phase of Development Auckland, the focus will be firmly fixed on building capacity and capability to deliver physical redevelopment in brownfield locations..". This is problematic I think, and suggests that the main driver for the establishment of Development Auckland is to satisfy the housing supply aspirations of the Hons Nick Smith and Bill English. Their political objectives and assumptions - that housing supply is the only problem, that economic growth trumps all other issues - are highly ideological and questioned by many commentators and economists. I would be very concerned if Development Auckland is established to PRIMARILY focus on building houses (not communities) in Special Housing Areas. That it is PRIMARILY established to facilitate getting house-build runs on the board for central government.

I make this point strongly because of the headline that accompanied Council's announcement of the Development Auckland decision. This reads: New agency to fast track urban development. This suggests an altogether different agenda from that recognised in Point 29 above. Maybe Auckland Council needs to satisfy Central Government Ministers, but that should not compromise objectives to build complete communities through genuine place-making approaches.

I generally agree with the planning process that is suggested: That Auckland Council develops an Auckland redevelopment implementation strategy, and prepares high level masterplans (which could be like the Urban Design Framework that was prepared by Councils for Wynyard Quarter) for specific areas, leaving the Development Agency to work with local communities to develop detailed masterplans - including infrastructure requirements (which would need to be funded through development levies or value uplift related revenues).

The final fish-hook. Nowhere do I see any mention of how the regeneration and redevelopment of Downtown Auckland will be handled. The documents are silent on QE Square, Precinct Properties, Quay Street, and all the rest. But the Downtown Auckland project is as important to Auckland City as Britomart was, and as Wynyard Quarter has become. It is the most significant brownfield development project for the Auckland Region. It is the heart of Auckland. It might not be about building houses quickly for Bill and Nick, but it is of critical importance to all of Auckland.

It needs a Development Agency focus to deliver optimum public, private, long-term sustainability.


Wynyard Hyatt Needs Public Openings

On Friday 21st November, "the president of Beijing-based Fu Wah International Group, launched plans for its $200 million luxury waterfront hotel on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour..." so reads media stories about the proposed Park Hyatt hotel which is to take up the footprint presently occupied by the Team NZ Base at Wynyard Quarter. This image of the project - an artist's conception - was also released at the time. I understand that the spokesperson for the investor has said he is keen in having classic boats berthed along the water frontage. Considerable effort is going into the engagement between Waterfront Auckland and the developer on design aspects of the interface between the hotel and the public realm. Which is something that has become of considerable importance to the Auckland public as they rediscover their waterfront. This posting raises questions about these aspects.

This aerial shows the site at present, occupied by the red and black Team NZ buildings, with the south end of the site fenced from Halsey Street.

This image is drawn from a media briefing earlier this year (April) when a different hotel design was displayed. This is the aerial view. The hotel is shown in green. To its left is the re-modelled Halsey Street. Underlining it is Madden Street, which has been extended to cross Halsey Street, and terminate at the water. In both plans this piece of street - which will be park-like in character, will be about 20 metres wide, and from which pedestrian access can be gained to the 10 metre wide frontage along the water facade of the proposed hotel. Note that this hotel design contains a 10 metre wide view corridor/opening which breaks up the building mass and provides a reaonable pedestrian link from Halsey Street, through the building, and onto the 10 metre wide water-edge promenade.

This artists rendering shows the eastern elevation of that design and illustrates the pedestrian opening.

This is another artist's rendering of the hotel that is now proposed for the site. It shows a narrow opening which relates at the Halsey Street side with the pedestrian access between the ASB building and the Theatre which is currently under construction. I understand there may be narrower/smaller public access points to the left and right of the larger opening. However I would comment that the new design is significantly less porous or permeable to the public - visually and from the point of access and walking. Others have commented that opportunities to make the ASB building more porous and laneway oriented could have been taken at the design stage. Perhaps those issues and possibilities were not appreciated then. They should be now. Waterfront Auckland should be doing all they can to ensure that the new hotel does not present an unreasonable building barrier between Halsey Street and the waterfront edge. Otherwise there is an increased risk of privatisation of the experience on that waterfront edge.

I put this picture of another Auckland waterfront hotel project to remind readers of how this particular 10 metre wide waterfront edge has been treated by a building with colonaded edges that is not as high as the proposed Park Hyatt hotel, and which has more generous openings.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Council's QE Strategic Asset Sales Process

In this post I question Auckland Council's compliance with the Local Government Act and with its own recently agreed policies for public engagement and significance. The example I will use is the proposed privatisation of Queen Elizabeth Square.

Introduction

Previous blog postings (here and here) and media articles have described Precinct Property proposals to redevelop its land interests in Downtown Auckland. Precinct Properties owns the two existing towers on the land (Zurich Tower and HSBC tower) and the old Downtown Westfield Shopping Centre. The land is part of Auckland's Downtown Precinct. It is a sub-precinct.

There has been discussion about the possibility of selling, or otherwise providing opportunity for developing, publicly owned land that is part of this sub-precinct - land known as Queen Elizabeth Square - land which is presently zoned "road". There's a few pictures of it here. This square was a Council creation back in the 1970's when the downtown area was developed with the HSBC Tower (then known as the Air NZ Building) and the Westfield Shopping Centre. The development replaced old Auckland buildings and a not-so-small street called Little Queen Street. The combined land area of the street that got developed over was about 2000 square metres. (There is a very useful and readable article about Auckland's Downtown development during that period in a recent issue of Architecture Now magazine.) The land area equivalent was retained in public ownership in the form of QE Square. This is one of the reasons why QE Square did not have a lot of love lavished on it when it was first built. It was essentially land left-over from private development. So it's not surprising that it has not been that successful. So far.

The Resource Management Act and Queen Elizabeth Square

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

That's a quote from the Proposed Unitary Plan that is being heard and discussed now by commissioners. It sets out requirements in the event QE Square is reconfigured in any way. Planners writing that provision clearly understood there was a possibility that the Downtown Precinct would be redeveloped in the future, and that it might be a good idea to reinstate the old street network or any one of many other possibilities.  But it would have to be within the precinct. The Unitary Plan cannot require or anable the Council, or any other body, to do something outside the site, because of something that happens within the site.

The Unitary Plan comes with various factsheets to explain terms, including this one which explains what a Framework Plan is: "a framework plan is a voluntary resource consent that enables land owners to demonstrate and achieve integrated development within brownfield or greenfield areas....framework plans can apply within precincts... they ensure place-based provisions apply to an area over and above zone provisions...an approved framework plan may contain locations of roads and open spaces within a precinct or sub-precinct..."

So. Reading these provisions you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that any change involving changes in the use or disposition of QE Square land must be within the subprecinct that is the subject of the framework plan relating to Precinct Properties development land interests - ie within the rectangular land area bounded by Custom Street, Lower Albert Street, Quay Street and Lower Queen Street. In this case it seems probable that there are two land-owners: the Council and Precinct Properties.

Precinct Properties must obey the law of the land, and comply with the Unitary Plan, and of course it must satisfy its shareholders. But what about Auckland Council? Who or what must it satisfy, if it wants to sell or change the use of Queen Elizabeth Square? Can it legitimately trade away QE Square for another piece of road or wharf space somewhere else?

(NB: Precinct Properties do not support the unitary framework plan provisions or the QE Square provision quoted above. A summary of Precinct Property submissions for change to the Unitary Plan is provided at the end of this posting.)

The Local Government Act and Queen Elizabeth Square

The purpose of Local Government Act is pretty clear:
3   Purpose
The purpose of this Act is to provide for democratic and effective local government that recognises the diversity of New Zealand communities; and, to that end, this Act— 
(a) states the purpose of local government; and 
(b) provides a framework and powers for local authorities to decide which activities they undertake and the manner in which they will undertake them; and 
(c) promotes the accountability of local authorities to their communities....
There is a lot of detail about how decisions should be taken, how meaningful consultation should be organised and other matters. The Act also talks about "significance" and "engagement".
76AA Significance and engagement policy
(1) Every local authority must adopt a policy setting out—
  • (a) that local authority's general approach to determining the significance of proposals and decisions in relation to issues, assets, and other matters; and
  • (b) any criteria or procedures that are to be used by the local authority in assessing the extent to which issues, proposals, assets, decisions, or activities are significant or may have significant consequences; and
  • (c) how the local authority will respond to community preferences about engagement on decisions relating to specific issues, assets, or other matters, including the form of consultation that may be desirable; and
  • (d) how the local authority will engage with communities on other matters.
(2) The purpose of the policy is—
  • (a) to enable the local authority and its communities to identify the degree of significance attached to particular issues, proposals, assets, decisions, and activities; and
  • (b) to provide clarity about how and when communities can expect to be engaged in decisions about different issues, assets, or other matters; and....
(3) The policy adopted under subsection (1) must list the assets considered by the local authority to be strategic assets.
At its Governing Body meeting on the 18th of November this year, Auckland Council formally adopted its own "engagement" policy. Several things strike me. First of all, the introduction to Auckland Council's engagement policy says this: 
"For Auckland Council, engagement is a genuine dialogue between decision-makers, communities and stakeholders for the purpose of making better decisions, policies or programmes of action..."
In compliance with s.76AA(3) above, the engagement policy does provide a list strategic assets. These include airport and port shares. They include the water and wastewater network. And they include parks and roads. But they carefully use the words: "road network" and "parks network", and define the word "network" to mean the whole network. Which is a cunning way of excluding from the strategic asset list anything that might be just a part of the network. Does this permit Auckland Council to privatise a piece of road or a piece of park without going through the accountability and democratic decision-making processes that are the purpose of the Local Government Act?

Council's "Programme of Action" for QE Square

Auckland Council's media release about its QE Square/Downtown engagement with Auckland communities, is entitled: "Aucklanders asked to help shape downtown public spaces". In this media release, Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse says:
“Downtown Auckland will be transformed over the next decade, and that includes a really exciting opportunity for much more attractive, vibrant, useable public spaces. This will benefit all those who live, work and study in the city centre, as well as businesses, visitors and shoppers...."
The media release refers members of the public to an overview description on "how to have your say" which says this:
What do you want most from public spaces in downtown Auckland?
Auckland’s downtown will be transformed over the coming decade with better transport, more attractive streets and new buildings. The plans also include new and better public spaces. The sale of Queen Elizabeth Square will enable the creation of a new space on lower Queen Street, and will fund the development of two new waterfront spaces without drawing on ratepayer funding. Further potential spaces are being considered and your opinions will help that planning. We want to hear from you about what you would like most to be doing from Lower Queen Street through to the waterfront areas between Prince’s Wharf and Captain Cook’s Wharf...."
Remember we're talking here about "genuine dialogue".

In Auckland Council's significance and engagement policy we read:

"Before the council makes a significant decision, the council will consult the public, following the principles set out at section 82 of the LGA...". 

These include: "...listen to, and consider those views, with an open mind...".


.....with an open mind....

That would usually mean you hadn't already made up your mind.

It appears that none of the consultation relates to Council's underlying "programme of action" or to the fundamental decisions that are being considered. These fundamental decisions require answers or opinions to questions like these:
  • From which funding source should Precinct Properties be compensated for the loss of basement car-parking in its proposed Downtown tower development that will be caused by the Britomart/CRL rail tunnel?
  • What options exist and which is preferred for relocating QE Square space elsewhere within the Downtown subprecinct in accordance with Unitary Plan provisions?
  • How will equivalent or better bus interchange services that replace those displaced from Lower Queen Street be provided without degrading existing pedestrian amenity?
  • What minimal cost options exist for simply re-allocating existing waterfront public owned road or wharf space to public pedestrian uses - irrespective of proposed Downtown development? 
  • Should QE Square land be sold at all, and what should that revenue be used for?
  • What options exist for improving QE Square?

Council has got itself into a serious public policy corner.

Quite apart from severely challenging the purpose of the Local Government Act, manipulating its own Unitary Plan provisions, and acting in a self-interested manner (conflict of interest), it opens itself up to public criticism because what the people are being consulted about amounts to window dressing, re-arranging deckchairs, applying lipstick, whatever.

It is an insult to public intelligence.

This is not "genuine dialogue" at all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dear Auckland Urban Design Panel,

An open letter to Auckland Council Urban Design Panel,

I'm writing to you because of the differences I am discovering between the urban design of Wellington and the urban design of Auckland, and because I want the best urban design for Auckland as it regenerates, redevelops and rebuilds.

In a nutshell, what's bad about Auckland's urban design is reflected in the public amenity that was built on Princes Wharf, and what's good about Wellington's urban design is the public amenity that has been built on its waterfront over a similar planning period.

Urban designers and architects were engaged by Auckland regulatory authorities during the planning and consenting stages of Princes Wharf. Their involvement and sign-off did play a critical role in the outcomes that are on display on Princes Wharf. But the fundamental influences for the imbalance between private benefit and public benefit outcomes was weak planning on the part of Auckland Regional Council, increased rates revenue priorities for Auckland City Council, and the pursuit by Ports of Auckland Limited of its corporate "successful business" objective.

Similar temptations existed for Wellington City Council and Ports of Wellington Ltd, but the planning environment there evolved differently from Auckland's - despite much the same legislation being in place. This was primarily because of the engagement over time of its professional urban designers, landscape architects, architects and planners - sometimes formally, sometimes through structures rather like Auckland's Urban Design Panel, and sometimes informally. Whistle blowers.

I am writing to you today because I am concerned you may be playing the same role for Precinct Properties regarding its Downtown development proposals, as did the professionals who were engaged in assessing Kitchener Group proposals for Princes Wharf 15 years ago.

Terms of Reference describe the thinking behind, and function of, Auckland's Urban Design Panel. I think these extracts are especially pertinant:
This thinking is in line with The Auckland Plan, which: “Demands good design in all development”; “Realises quality compact urban environments”, and “Seeks to create enduring neighbourhoods...."

Benefits of design panels are considerable and include: Identifying weak and inappropriate schemes at an early stage, when significant design changes can be made with relatively little waste of time and effort; Putting schemes in perspective and seeing the bigger picture; Questioning the design brief or site assumptions and thus opening up new opportunities for improved development....

The review undertaken by the panel is not limited to the scope of the District Plan, but is intended to encourage best practice approaches to development, specific to a site’s context, that support the overarching objectives of the Auckland Plan; recommendations from the Panel are to assist Council officers in forming their professional opinions with respect to a proposal and the requirements of the District Plan.

The Panel may also make recommendations to the Council for regulatory changes, decision-making on modifications to infrastructure or development on sites that may be outside the scope of an application itself, but should be considered for the benefit of creating a quality urban environment.

In reviewing proposals the Panel will focus on the appropriateness of the building or development in relation to its physical, social and cultural context.... In striving for excellence in design the Panel will consider the overall quality of the development and its architecture, as well as its appearance from the street and public spaces, and contribution to the sustainable development of Auckland.

Elements the Panel might typically look at (include): ...How the development works for both users and the public, e.g. the relationship of public and private realms; safety for users and passers-by; circulation and servicing; treatment of public and semi-public spaces....

There is growing public interest in Auckland's downtown area and how it might be developed. Auckland Council is currently engaging the public about proposals for public spaces that might be paid for through the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square (a proposal which itself has not been canvassed with the public). Auckland Council has prepared - but not consulted - its "Downtown Planning Framework". This is not a masterplan, it is a collection of ideas which are largely unfunded, and which lacks credibility particularly because of its inadequacy regarding bus transport planning.

I am personally acquainted with many members of Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel, and trust you not to rubber-stamp Downtown proposals without giving them your full professional attention. But in the absence of a plan change for the area, robust downtown master-planning - particularly in regard to the public realm and passenger transport operations, it will be challenging to deliver the promises and potential contained in your terms of reference when assessing Precinct Properties proposals in isolation.

Yours Sincerely,

Joel Cayford

Urban Designers make Wellington's CBD

 This posting contains some recent research into the planning processes that delivered Wellington's waterfront. It is selective but designed to show how the local community of planning, architecture, landscape architecture and urban design professionals have intervened along the way. I should point out that Wellington planners made the strategic decision to integrate the planning of Lambton Harbour to include wharves and reclaimed land back to Jervois Quay. This makes it more equivalent to Auckland's waterfront back to Custom Street, rather than just to Quay Street...

Right from the start of waterfront regeneration, Wellington's professional urban designers, planners, landscape architects and architects have got involved, and sought to shape public opinion and Council decision-making.

This image is from a publication funded by the Evening Post newspaper in 1982. It contains images from a design competition that was organised and run by Wellington's Civic Trust organisation. Among other things the design brief was to: maintain and encourage economic and social vitality of this part of the port and city;  provide for a range of activities and facilities that will ensure the attractiveness of the area day and night and at weekends; take Wellington's winds into account... the image is one of the sheets from the winning entry from a consortium called Paperchase. Among the suggestions in that entry - which won the prize of $15,000 which was a good sum in 1982 - are these "management ideas" which I have cutout below....



It is noteworthy that these management ideas were produced by an entrant in a design competition. Then in 1984, capitalising on the design competition and the interest it had created, the Civic Trust organised a two day conference held in the Michael Fowler Centre to consider the urban regeneration project.  The conference appears to have been very carefully designed and managed with leaders chosen to facilitate sessions and arrive at a number of resolutions which were then provided to Wellington Harbour Board and to Wellington City Council for their response:









These led to interesting confidential discussions by WHB and WCC after the conference. But generally the two institutions responded constructively. Urban design ideas from the design competition, and other considerations, were fed into a planning process which was managed jointly by Wellington City Council and Ports of Wellington Ltd between 1986 and 1988. Consultants Gabites Porter and Partners were engaged to prepare the Lambton Harbour Combined Scheme for the area. The cover of the Urban Design Concept document contains this rendering of the area. It includes many of the ideas that came out of the design competition:


Various high rise buildings (eg the round tower to the left, and the substantial highrise near the proposed National Museum), intensive housing and other private developments are shown, along with green areas, open spaces, enclosed water spaces and waterfront promenades.The Gabites Porter work resulted in the Lambton Harbour Combined Scheme for the area being notified. Among other things - and thanks to enormous efforts on the part of WCC planning staff and robust public submissions - the maximum heights and bulk of various towers were reduced, and then the newly formed development agency - Lambton Harbour Development Ltd (LHML) - got down to its work. One of its first projects that did not use existing buildings was on Queens Wharf and was the Events and Retail Centre. It caused a public backlash in 1995, and in 1996 LHML called a public meeting in an attempt to allay public disquiet. This led then Mayor Blumsky to call for a moritorium on further development pending a thorough community consultation exercise.

A Community Consultation Committee (CCC) was established by WCC containing representatives from building industry, yacht owners, Civic Trust, Tourism Wellington, Chamber of Commerce, Inst of Architects, Historic Places Trust, residents, which was supported by WCC's Urban Design unit. Among other decisions the CCC recommended: 
  • "future development of Lambton harbour area needs to focus on meeting the needs of Wellington people first and foremost. Only then should it look at the requirements of visitors and tourists; 
  • public space areas should be designed first, with commercial built environment to follow; 
  • the self-funding policy of Lambton harbour needs to be reconsidered; 
  • future sites should be leased rather than sold; 
  • lambton harbour is a public asset. There has been a loss of public confidence in the direction the project has taken; 
  • both the WCC District Plan and the Lambton Harbour Concept Plan need to be revised to take account of this report's recommendations...."
 One of the most significant and influential outcomes from this particular process was the decision to commission Athfield Architects and Megan Wraight Landscape Architect to prepare an open space concept design for the whole Lambton Harbour area, the brief for which, and one of the designs (adopted early 1999), is below:



In strategic response to the CCC recommendations, a Design Review was also conducted under WCC's control. This was partly in response to the CCC repport but also responded to public submissions to Variation 17 which related to the area, and was conducted by a team of about a dozen architects, planners, policy analysts and urban designers for Wellington City Council.

The Design Review was completed in 2000 and begins by quoting the vision that the CCC came up with in their 1996 review: "Lambton Harbour is a special place that welcomes people to walk our waterfront history through an exciting playground of beautiful and inspiring  spaces that connect our city to the sea, and protect our heritage for generations."

The Design Review proposed nine changes to the original concept plan, which were based on a set of key principles including these:
  • "Central themes of 'the whole waterfront as a promenade' and 'making the city-water connection';
  • The creation of four enclosed sheltered public squares, and a fifth at Whitmore Street ...
  • The importance of buildings working in partnership with open space to provide definition and shelter, generate life and vitality and allow differentiation between a range of spaces is a core requirement to create a high quality public environment on the waterfront.
  • etc
I'll stop with this bit of Wellington planning history here. My concern is that we need this sort of integrated engagement here in Auckland for our CBD urban regeneration project which extends from Princes Wharf to Captain Cook Wharf, and from the various wharves and water spaces to Custom Street.

Auckland CBD Greenspace Deficit

This picture is of Takutai Square. It's in the heart of Auckland CBD - part of the Britomart development.
I've cut the picture (above) from the front cover of Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel publication which contains the Panel's terms of reference.

Takutai Square - a small piece of green space and an interesting fountain feature - is a well used and successful part of Auckland CBD's parks network. Perhaps Auckland Council considers it an exemplar of good inner city urban design.
The arrow points at the green space area of Takutai Square in this aerial of Auckland's downtown CBD. You can just see the footpath that bisects the green space. It's a small park area. Much smaller than Queen Elizabeth Square - which - in my view - needs to be the subject of a rethink and design competition to turn it into another successful piece of Auckland CBD's parks network.
This aerial shows Auckland's old CBD area - just east of the area above - and which was developed when English Town and Country style planning influenced Auckland urban planning and design outcomes rather more than it does today. (You can see that streets follow topographical contours and other morphological differences.) You can also see part of Albert Park and Constitution Hill, Emily Place, and other green spaces. The two aerials are to the same scale and show how impoverished for green space Auckland's new downtown CBD is. This lack of provision has been noted in various studies carried out recently by Auckland Council. The BuzzChannel report that is here describes its findings in particular:
Submitters on the “quality parks, open spaces and community facilities created for people to use and enjoy” priority in the Waitematā Local Board Plan felt that more attention needed to be given to improving and increasing outdoor areas and facilities, given the projected increase in population and in particular the number of young people predicted to live in the city centre.
 This feedback is particularly wise because it draws attention to the needs of the 20,000 or more citizens who will be inner city dwellers - without backyards, without greenspaces, without outdoor places to play - and that this infrastructure needs to be planned for and provided.

Waterfront spaces and places will be great, but they will not meet the needs of what is required within CBD's increasingly populated confines. Spaces and places that are sheltered from the wind, with good shade from the sun, and that are well contained and activated by the built environment are a critical component of Auckland CBD infrastructure.

Auckland needs more public squares and green spaces of all sorts and shapes and sizes. I understand a number of Auckland Council's parks staff attended an international conference recently where delegates were given the message: more people living in built up urban environments means more open space and green space is needed to meet recreational and social needs that cannot be met in confined private living settings. The message is: don't sell public space. If you do you'll never get it back. It seems this lesson is being taken on board in the regeneration of Wynyard Quarter - it is a lesson that needs to be prioritised now in regeneration planning for Downtown Auckland.

OAG: Auckland learns from Mangawhai

Auckland Council's media release dated 5 December 2014, states:
Following discussions with Audit NZ, the Mayor is proposing an amendment in Council’s draft Long-term Plan 2015-2025 on the timing for construction of Auckland’s number one transport priority – the City Rail Link (CRL).

In its draft budget, Council has the CRL project commencing in 2015/16, based on an assumption government’s funding contribution for the project would also start next year, five years earlier than government has so far indicated.

On Tuesday, December 9, council will consider changing the assumption of timing of the government contribution to 2018/19.

Mayor Len Brown says: “I understand why Audit NZ feel that we need to take a more conservative approach to our financial projections and I am proposing that we develop the LTP based on a later timing of government contribution.”

Other media reports tell the story of Office of Auditor General's boss Lyn Provost previous engagement with Auckland counciil in this regard. For example in February this year she was quizzed by Auckland Councillors about funding for the CRL project. This exchange is well reported in this article by Bob Dey which notes what OAG's boss said about Mangawhai, both in terms of the possibility of running the CRL as a PPP, and in terms of funding certainty:

Dey's article states:
The Auditor-general spoke briefly yesterday about her report on the Kaipara District Council’s Mangawhai wastewater scheme debacle, and put together lessons Auckland Council might learn from the Kaipara exercise.

Among them: Do not underestimate what is involved in a PPP arrangement; Accounting should not drive the decision to enter into a PPP – the focus should be on affordability, not whose books the asset & debt appear on; Transfer of risk is not an end in itself, and is likely to have to be paid for through a risk premium; PPPs are unlikely to succeed fully if the contract is not for “the complete package”.

Mrs Provost said, in answer to Cllr Brewer’s questions on the city rail link: “We need to make sure your officials have done more of the costing, because there was gross uncertainty around the costing (in the council’s first long-term plan). Another thing was the sources of revenue, how it was going to be funded. Also, at that time it was the biggest development by quite a long way. It would depend also on what else was happening.

“Our opinion is on financial prudence as well, how does it all come together. It will be things like that we will look at. We will be looking at, are people making sensible decisions in a prudent way? The final thing, we look at the documentation.” 
 Clearly, Auckland council didn't get the message in February, and went ahead with a draft Long Term Plan which still fell short of financial probity.

It's good that something, so far, that is useful to the people of New Zealand - even if they are Jafas - has emerged from investigation into the Kaipara District Council's (KDC) wastewater scheme fiasco. (You can see a posting here detailing KDC LTP failures - especially in regard to projected revenues from development contributions and suchlike based on questionable development growth rate assumptions.)

It looks as if its funding issues are getting a good look over. I'd like to be assured that its planning issues get the same sort of scrutiny.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

POAL throws public money at Unitary Plan

To get a flavour of just how much public money has, and is being expended by Auckland's 100% ratepayer owned Ports of Auckland Ltd in subverting the Unitary Plan in its own interests, I suggest you take a quick look at POAL's first written submissions. But only if you are ready to read 453 pages prepared for POAL by its lawyers: Russell McVeagh (ALB Dealmaker of the Year, New Zealand Deal of the Year, Australasia Equity Deal of the Year 2013....).

The thrust of POAL's submissions are encapsulated in this text:

This set of submissions strikes at the heart of the Regional Policy Statement part of the Unitary Plan. It ignores the fact that the Resource Management Act requires consideration of potential and future environmental effects. POAL is very clear about what it wants:


POAL has always wanted to expand its reclamation, and it sees the Unitary Plan as its best (and maybe last) opportunity to get Auckland Planning Systems changed, so future reclamation is easy and possible. Before I get into the guts of this posting - which is to ask the question of Auckland Council: "have you given permission to your 100% publicly owned POAL to spend in excess of $1,000,000 of ratepayer money subverting your Unitary Plan?" - another RMA point. My understanding of the environmental effects that the RMA was set up to control (avoid, remedy, mitigate) include cumulative effects. Why would Auckland Council give POAL a general licence to reclaim in future without previously satisfying itself that the cumulative effects of more reclamation are less than minor?

The Guts of this Posting

There's a lot of chat out there about what's going down in the Unitary Plan submissions and hearings process. I'll write more broadly in future. But for now I want to focus on the effort that POAL is putting into supporting its position and submissions at the hearings.

It sounds like POAL is throwing the kitchen sink at it - at ratepayer cost.
Its Russell McVeagh attack team is headed by none other than RMA guru Derek Nolan.
Their presence at the hearing seems calculated to challenge and threaten even before words have been exchanged. The Russell McVeagh legal team heft in cardboard cartons of papers and submissions. Especially intimidating when you're on the receiving end, or making counter submissions.
"Drown the bastards" - is the motto.
And each one of those documents has been carefully prepared by a team of lawyers and checked over by Mr Nolan, no doubt, while the clock ticks away, the hours add up, and POAL pays up, eating into the dividends that might be available to Auckland Council for other purposes.
The irony is - of course - that Auckland Council's team of planners and lawyers more or less know what POAL and Russell McVeagh are trying to achieve, and so they, in turn, spend hours and hours, and thousands of ratepayer dollars on writing other submissions and arguments providing counter or supporting arguments, or who knows what, to POAL's submissions.
Given what I know of Derek Nolan, he'll be having the time of his life. Perhaps a hefty new reclamation permit will be Russell McVeagh's next "deal of the year". I can almost hear POAL executives telling Derek, "fill your boots".

But is all of this really in the public interest? Does Auckland Council exercise any control over POAL through its intermediary Auckland Council Investments Ltd (ACIL)? (NB: It was interesting to note that in the recent CCO review, a wise decision was made to take back into Council's Treasury from ACIL the diversified fund portfolio which I understand amounts to around $200 million - though I would be concerned if this was suddenly tipped into the CRL without public discussion.) Wouldn't it be appropriate for Auckland Council to set some sort of limit on legal actions against Council plans on the part of entities and CCOs it owns and governs?

A question that lies unanswered is this? Why does POAL need all this reclaimed land? How much profit or margin is earned by POAL through being a property developer rather than a port facility? Last week I learned that POAL has done a deal with HOLCIM cement to develop a huge cement and concrete facility on reclaimed port land in downtown Auckland. It appears that an opportunity has arisen (HOLCIM is involved in discussions with Westport and Oamaru and the Onehunga Port about where to locate its facilities and operations which may rely on cement imports from Australia - details unclear so far), for POAL to offer HOLCIM a fantastic deal to relocate to downtown Auckland. Like the deal POAL offered Maersk Shipping - the cheapest berthage rates in Australasia - to get as many ships in the port as possible.

And all of this economic activity is subsidised in some way or another by Auckland. Do we really want an industrialised concrete factory in the heart of downtown Auckland with all the concrete truck movements associated? Do we really need to look out over a growing concrete factory on the waterfront? Isn't it about time POAL paid the true costs of its occupation of public land on the waterfront. Isn't it about time Auckland and Auckland Council stopped subsidising the growth of this cuckoo?

New "Development Auckland" CCO: Comment

At its Governing Body meeting of 27 November 2014, Auckland made decisions that followed from a lengthy review of Auckland Council CCOs. Decisions included several that initiate the establishment of a new CCO that will engage in urban development and regeneration projects. The meeting report (see here from page 193 onward) states: "The most significant recommendation of the review is to include in the LTP a proposal to establish a new CCO to deliver on council’s urban development outcomes. The proposal includes bringing together Waterfront Auckland and ACPL to form a new urban development agency. It is necessary to consult on this proposal as the establishment of new CCOs triggers the need for consultation. This proposal also signals an increase in activity in brownfield redevelopment."

What this means is that the Council's Long Term Plan - a Draft of which is being prepared at present for consulation early next year - will contain a "statement of proposal" relating to "Development Auckland" (the interim name proposed for the CCO) and will seek public submissions.

I have long believed that Auckland needs some sort of Urban Redevelopment Agency approach. It is not enough to simply promulgate a Unitary Plan and leave implementation to the market. The reason there are so many critical submissions to the Unitary Plan (from communities fearful of intensification) is that little thought has gone into planning implementation (whether its social or network infrastructure, changes in land use, community development). This flies in the face of urban redevelopment experience around the world in cities that are older than Auckland (most are), and that have been there, done that. I provided some planning background to that in this posting, which summarises the learnings from a Joint Council study trip to Perth some years ago.

So Auckland Council's decision is good news I think, but there are some fish-hooks.

The first and most obvious to waterfront observers is the risk to delivery and continuation of the direction and programme of works and development that have been managed by the Waterfront Auckland Development Agency (AWDA). It is appropriate to harness the skills and approach to brownfield redevelopment that have developed in AWDA, and to apply those skills so other parts of Auckland can benefit, but that should not threaten or reduce the quality of what is being achieved at Wynyard Quarter, which is really only just past the start of what will be a 20 year project.

The Council report about the proposed "Development Auckland" makes these points, under the heading, An evolutionary approach to building capacity and capability:
29. The best examples of urban development agencies overseas also focus on lifting the socio-economic status of the local communities undergoing redevelopment, by building in opportunities for job creation and the provision of social services. It is extremely likely that over time council will also need to work in locations where a high degree of this broader activity is necessary. In the establishment phase of Development Auckland, the focus will be firmly fixed on building capacity and capability to deliver physical redevelopment in brownfield locations.

30. International best practice also shows that having a balanced portfolio of redevelopment locations can be beneficial – those that have the ability to generate a surplus, and those that do not but are still important for other reasons. Staff will consider this and a number of other matters when undertaking location intervention analysis and in recommending the best locations for council approval for Development Auckland to operate in.

31. It is envisaged that location intervention analysis would be led by council staff with input from many parties including Development Auckland staff. Once locations had been approved by council and the Board of Development Auckland, the masterplanning and business case process would be led by Development Auckland staff with council staff input.

32. Over time it is also likely that Development Auckland will build a more sophisticated understanding of property and development dynamics in the Auckland market. Since it will become a key player in this market, it will seek to foster learning within the broader development industry wherever possible.
Point 29 (above) points to another potential fish-hook. My research strongly supports the idea that "best examples" of urban regeneration include: "building in opportunities for job creation and the provision of social services". This is partly what we see at Wynyard Quarter where there is a place-making balance between marine industry, fishing industry, residential development and commercial development - though there is still insufficient emphasis there on social services such as a primary school, kindergarten, library or community centre. However Point 29 goes on to state:  " the establishment phase of Development Auckland, the focus will be firmly fixed on building capacity and capability to deliver physical redevelopment in brownfield locations..". This is problematic I think, and suggests that the main driver for the establishment of Development Auckland is to satisfy the housing supply aspirations of the Hons Nick Smith and Bill English. Their political objectives and assumptions - that housing supply is the only problem, that economic growth trumps all other issues - are highly ideological and questioned by many commentators and economists. I would be very concerned if Development Auckland is established to PRIMARILY focus on building houses (not communities) in Special Housing Areas. That it is PRIMARILY established to facilitate getting house-build runs on the board for central government.

I make this point strongly because of the headline that accompanied Council's announcement of the Development Auckland decision. This reads: New agency to fast track urban development. This suggests an altogether different agenda from that recognised in Point 29 above. Maybe Auckland Council needs to satisfy Central Government Ministers, but that should not compromise objectives to build complete communities through genuine place-making approaches.

I generally agree with the planning process that is suggested: That Auckland Council develops an Auckland redevelopment implementation strategy, and prepares high level masterplans (which could be like the Urban Design Framework that was prepared by Councils for Wynyard Quarter) for specific areas, leaving the Development Agency to work with local communities to develop detailed masterplans - including infrastructure requirements (which would need to be funded through development levies or value uplift related revenues).

The final fish-hook. Nowhere do I see any mention of how the regeneration and redevelopment of Downtown Auckland will be handled. The documents are silent on QE Square, Precinct Properties, Quay Street, and all the rest. But the Downtown Auckland project is as important to Auckland City as Britomart was, and as Wynyard Quarter has become. It is the most significant brownfield development project for the Auckland Region. It is the heart of Auckland. It might not be about building houses quickly for Bill and Nick, but it is of critical importance to all of Auckland.

It needs a Development Agency focus to deliver optimum public, private, long-term sustainability.


Wynyard Hyatt Needs Public Openings

On Friday 21st November, "the president of Beijing-based Fu Wah International Group, launched plans for its $200 million luxury waterfront hotel on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour..." so reads media stories about the proposed Park Hyatt hotel which is to take up the footprint presently occupied by the Team NZ Base at Wynyard Quarter. This image of the project - an artist's conception - was also released at the time. I understand that the spokesperson for the investor has said he is keen in having classic boats berthed along the water frontage. Considerable effort is going into the engagement between Waterfront Auckland and the developer on design aspects of the interface between the hotel and the public realm. Which is something that has become of considerable importance to the Auckland public as they rediscover their waterfront. This posting raises questions about these aspects.

This aerial shows the site at present, occupied by the red and black Team NZ buildings, with the south end of the site fenced from Halsey Street.

This image is drawn from a media briefing earlier this year (April) when a different hotel design was displayed. This is the aerial view. The hotel is shown in green. To its left is the re-modelled Halsey Street. Underlining it is Madden Street, which has been extended to cross Halsey Street, and terminate at the water. In both plans this piece of street - which will be park-like in character, will be about 20 metres wide, and from which pedestrian access can be gained to the 10 metre wide frontage along the water facade of the proposed hotel. Note that this hotel design contains a 10 metre wide view corridor/opening which breaks up the building mass and provides a reaonable pedestrian link from Halsey Street, through the building, and onto the 10 metre wide water-edge promenade.

This artists rendering shows the eastern elevation of that design and illustrates the pedestrian opening.

This is another artist's rendering of the hotel that is now proposed for the site. It shows a narrow opening which relates at the Halsey Street side with the pedestrian access between the ASB building and the Theatre which is currently under construction. I understand there may be narrower/smaller public access points to the left and right of the larger opening. However I would comment that the new design is significantly less porous or permeable to the public - visually and from the point of access and walking. Others have commented that opportunities to make the ASB building more porous and laneway oriented could have been taken at the design stage. Perhaps those issues and possibilities were not appreciated then. They should be now. Waterfront Auckland should be doing all they can to ensure that the new hotel does not present an unreasonable building barrier between Halsey Street and the waterfront edge. Otherwise there is an increased risk of privatisation of the experience on that waterfront edge.

I put this picture of another Auckland waterfront hotel project to remind readers of how this particular 10 metre wide waterfront edge has been treated by a building with colonaded edges that is not as high as the proposed Park Hyatt hotel, and which has more generous openings.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Council's QE Strategic Asset Sales Process

In this post I question Auckland Council's compliance with the Local Government Act and with its own recently agreed policies for public engagement and significance. The example I will use is the proposed privatisation of Queen Elizabeth Square.

Introduction

Previous blog postings (here and here) and media articles have described Precinct Property proposals to redevelop its land interests in Downtown Auckland. Precinct Properties owns the two existing towers on the land (Zurich Tower and HSBC tower) and the old Downtown Westfield Shopping Centre. The land is part of Auckland's Downtown Precinct. It is a sub-precinct.

There has been discussion about the possibility of selling, or otherwise providing opportunity for developing, publicly owned land that is part of this sub-precinct - land known as Queen Elizabeth Square - land which is presently zoned "road". There's a few pictures of it here. This square was a Council creation back in the 1970's when the downtown area was developed with the HSBC Tower (then known as the Air NZ Building) and the Westfield Shopping Centre. The development replaced old Auckland buildings and a not-so-small street called Little Queen Street. The combined land area of the street that got developed over was about 2000 square metres. (There is a very useful and readable article about Auckland's Downtown development during that period in a recent issue of Architecture Now magazine.) The land area equivalent was retained in public ownership in the form of QE Square. This is one of the reasons why QE Square did not have a lot of love lavished on it when it was first built. It was essentially land left-over from private development. So it's not surprising that it has not been that successful. So far.

The Resource Management Act and Queen Elizabeth Square

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

That's a quote from the Proposed Unitary Plan that is being heard and discussed now by commissioners. It sets out requirements in the event QE Square is reconfigured in any way. Planners writing that provision clearly understood there was a possibility that the Downtown Precinct would be redeveloped in the future, and that it might be a good idea to reinstate the old street network or any one of many other possibilities.  But it would have to be within the precinct. The Unitary Plan cannot require or anable the Council, or any other body, to do something outside the site, because of something that happens within the site.

The Unitary Plan comes with various factsheets to explain terms, including this one which explains what a Framework Plan is: "a framework plan is a voluntary resource consent that enables land owners to demonstrate and achieve integrated development within brownfield or greenfield areas....framework plans can apply within precincts... they ensure place-based provisions apply to an area over and above zone provisions...an approved framework plan may contain locations of roads and open spaces within a precinct or sub-precinct..."

So. Reading these provisions you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that any change involving changes in the use or disposition of QE Square land must be within the subprecinct that is the subject of the framework plan relating to Precinct Properties development land interests - ie within the rectangular land area bounded by Custom Street, Lower Albert Street, Quay Street and Lower Queen Street. In this case it seems probable that there are two land-owners: the Council and Precinct Properties.

Precinct Properties must obey the law of the land, and comply with the Unitary Plan, and of course it must satisfy its shareholders. But what about Auckland Council? Who or what must it satisfy, if it wants to sell or change the use of Queen Elizabeth Square? Can it legitimately trade away QE Square for another piece of road or wharf space somewhere else?

(NB: Precinct Properties do not support the unitary framework plan provisions or the QE Square provision quoted above. A summary of Precinct Property submissions for change to the Unitary Plan is provided at the end of this posting.)

The Local Government Act and Queen Elizabeth Square

The purpose of Local Government Act is pretty clear:
3   Purpose
The purpose of this Act is to provide for democratic and effective local government that recognises the diversity of New Zealand communities; and, to that end, this Act— 
(a) states the purpose of local government; and 
(b) provides a framework and powers for local authorities to decide which activities they undertake and the manner in which they will undertake them; and 
(c) promotes the accountability of local authorities to their communities....
There is a lot of detail about how decisions should be taken, how meaningful consultation should be organised and other matters. The Act also talks about "significance" and "engagement".
76AA Significance and engagement policy
(1) Every local authority must adopt a policy setting out—
  • (a) that local authority's general approach to determining the significance of proposals and decisions in relation to issues, assets, and other matters; and
  • (b) any criteria or procedures that are to be used by the local authority in assessing the extent to which issues, proposals, assets, decisions, or activities are significant or may have significant consequences; and
  • (c) how the local authority will respond to community preferences about engagement on decisions relating to specific issues, assets, or other matters, including the form of consultation that may be desirable; and
  • (d) how the local authority will engage with communities on other matters.
(2) The purpose of the policy is—
  • (a) to enable the local authority and its communities to identify the degree of significance attached to particular issues, proposals, assets, decisions, and activities; and
  • (b) to provide clarity about how and when communities can expect to be engaged in decisions about different issues, assets, or other matters; and....
(3) The policy adopted under subsection (1) must list the assets considered by the local authority to be strategic assets.
At its Governing Body meeting on the 18th of November this year, Auckland Council formally adopted its own "engagement" policy. Several things strike me. First of all, the introduction to Auckland Council's engagement policy says this: 
"For Auckland Council, engagement is a genuine dialogue between decision-makers, communities and stakeholders for the purpose of making better decisions, policies or programmes of action..."
In compliance with s.76AA(3) above, the engagement policy does provide a list strategic assets. These include airport and port shares. They include the water and wastewater network. And they include parks and roads. But they carefully use the words: "road network" and "parks network", and define the word "network" to mean the whole network. Which is a cunning way of excluding from the strategic asset list anything that might be just a part of the network. Does this permit Auckland Council to privatise a piece of road or a piece of park without going through the accountability and democratic decision-making processes that are the purpose of the Local Government Act?

Council's "Programme of Action" for QE Square

Auckland Council's media release about its QE Square/Downtown engagement with Auckland communities, is entitled: "Aucklanders asked to help shape downtown public spaces". In this media release, Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse says:
“Downtown Auckland will be transformed over the next decade, and that includes a really exciting opportunity for much more attractive, vibrant, useable public spaces. This will benefit all those who live, work and study in the city centre, as well as businesses, visitors and shoppers...."
The media release refers members of the public to an overview description on "how to have your say" which says this:
What do you want most from public spaces in downtown Auckland?
Auckland’s downtown will be transformed over the coming decade with better transport, more attractive streets and new buildings. The plans also include new and better public spaces. The sale of Queen Elizabeth Square will enable the creation of a new space on lower Queen Street, and will fund the development of two new waterfront spaces without drawing on ratepayer funding. Further potential spaces are being considered and your opinions will help that planning. We want to hear from you about what you would like most to be doing from Lower Queen Street through to the waterfront areas between Prince’s Wharf and Captain Cook’s Wharf...."
Remember we're talking here about "genuine dialogue".

In Auckland Council's significance and engagement policy we read:

"Before the council makes a significant decision, the council will consult the public, following the principles set out at section 82 of the LGA...". 

These include: "...listen to, and consider those views, with an open mind...".


.....with an open mind....

That would usually mean you hadn't already made up your mind.

It appears that none of the consultation relates to Council's underlying "programme of action" or to the fundamental decisions that are being considered. These fundamental decisions require answers or opinions to questions like these:
  • From which funding source should Precinct Properties be compensated for the loss of basement car-parking in its proposed Downtown tower development that will be caused by the Britomart/CRL rail tunnel?
  • What options exist and which is preferred for relocating QE Square space elsewhere within the Downtown subprecinct in accordance with Unitary Plan provisions?
  • How will equivalent or better bus interchange services that replace those displaced from Lower Queen Street be provided without degrading existing pedestrian amenity?
  • What minimal cost options exist for simply re-allocating existing waterfront public owned road or wharf space to public pedestrian uses - irrespective of proposed Downtown development? 
  • Should QE Square land be sold at all, and what should that revenue be used for?
  • What options exist for improving QE Square?

Council has got itself into a serious public policy corner.

Quite apart from severely challenging the purpose of the Local Government Act, manipulating its own Unitary Plan provisions, and acting in a self-interested manner (conflict of interest), it opens itself up to public criticism because what the people are being consulted about amounts to window dressing, re-arranging deckchairs, applying lipstick, whatever.

It is an insult to public intelligence.

This is not "genuine dialogue" at all.