The purpose of this blog is to encourage more analysis of Auckland's approach to strategic planning in general, and to call for a more public process in preparing a spatial plan. That is why I have spent months researching best practice spatial planning, and comparing that with what we have now as a starting point here in Auckland. You can download my first full draft of that research at the end of this blog.
But first, three introductory reads. The first two are extracts from submissions I made to the Royal Commission. These were my take on what Auckland needed to fix and improve.
The third is an introduction to the research I did.
Royal Commission Submission Extract 1
This submission is supported by case studies with which I am very familiar, and explanations of important procedures I believe should become central to Auckland planning such as Master Planning; the use of Development Agencies; and The Regional Development Plan. It also includes a couple of cautionary notes. The basis of my submission may be summarised as:
* implementation of the compact city region strategic vision is failingAuckland is not alone in re-assessing its future and wondering how to get there. Our urban region shares many of the same problems now being confronted around the world by Western cities whose development over the past forty years has largely been shaped by the automobile and by consensus support for that. This period and process of city development coincides with mass-production of consumer goods, mass consumption, wide-ranging belief in the infallibility of science, and strong middle-class support for traditional family values. This broad
* Auckland development needs to change direction if it is to become more sustainable, and more economically efficient
* regional planning needs to be strengthened, relevant infrastructure management centralised, and integrated implementation made more certain
* planning and implementation of urban regeneration projects requires a regional Urban Development Authority, and project specific Development Agencies to coordinate masterplanning and delivery
* achieving publicly agreed service outcomes should be the priority for service entities with mechanisms to avoid political extraction of profit from one service to cross-subsidise another
* community expectations and diversity need to be recognised through local involvement in local planning and local infrastructure projects
* the 1989 amalgamation delivered benefits which should be retained - if it ain’t broke don’t fix it
* bench-marking, accountability and transparency risk being lost through excessive
amalgamation of entities and integration of services
* ratepayers should receive one bill for their rates – prepared centrally
consensus and associated prosperity encouraged central and regional governments to intervene strongly with supportive investment programs for infrastructure such as roading, water and energy projects. The Auckland Regional Authority (ARA) was a key part of this period in Auckland. It is said that: “the ARA built Auckland”. In fact the ARA built the airport, the modern port, and major water infratstructure, while the Ministry of Works built most of the motorway network.
Throughout this period Auckland expanded like there was no tomorrow. Its CBD was entirely reshaped by motorways. Greenfield development accelerated. The combination of urban expressways and urban sprawl made the car indispensable. While the 1973 oil crisis had an impact in Auckland, we quickly recovered from it, continuing as if it were business as usual. But it did mark the start of changing times. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll may have played a part, so might the Vietnam war – who knows – but this was a time when discontent began growing around the standardisation of products and lifestyles, questions began to be asked about whether progress was always a good thing, was the Western way of life the only way? did science truly legitimise infrastructure projects? and was serious environmental damage being done in the name of progress?
Here at home in Auckland, change over the last fifteen years has been marked by the availability of the best coffee in the world, world-beating local wines and cheeses, internationally recognised restaurants, cultural diversity that goes way beyond simple Maori/Pakeha bi-culturalism, Hollywood-class local cinema production, and lauded innovation in sports and internet science. But there have been barely any changes in Auckland’s urban form and patterns of development. Auckland’s urban progress is increasingly out of step with its cultural progress, and is inconsistent with growing popular demands for a clean environment and a smaller ecological
footprint. There is growing scepticism towards large-scale infrastructure projects – such as State Highway 20 – which also reflects the rise of environmentalism. At the same time we see the unravelling of the consensus that underpinned the construction of Auckland’s urban form today – with its motorway-oriented and pedestrian unfriendly character, and its casual destruction of older villages, heritage buildings and human scale urban landscapes.
Instead there is an explosion of diversity, of conflicting interest groups who increasingly criticise the progress once thought so necessary, and who today can be relied upon to challenge any and all projects – no matter what. They demand to be heard and insist their views be taken into account. These groups do not universally call for cyclelanes and public transport – there are many supporters for the completion of SH20. Nor is there universal support for the compact city ideal which is a key objective of urban change – leaky buildings and poor examples of medium and high density housing have been a major setback. And despite today’s fragile consensus among Auckland’s local authorities that the region does need to move toward a more compact urban form, much of the development we actually see on the ground continues to entrench the car’s domination and forces more low-density development.
Auckland’s destructive preoccupation with real estate speculation is currently on hold, but the lure of short term profit-taking from greenfield subdivision still persists. Strong and consistent leadership and appropriate incentives will be needed to encourage a more long-term approach to Auckland’s urban economic development. Another key change today is that there is less public money to deliver everything the public might want. Current funding sources include rates, development levies, and Government funding – especially for transport projects. If any entity is guilty of continuing to force road-driven urbanism onto Auckland, it is Central Government. Its steadfast 100% funding commitment to state highway construction, alongside its relatively feeble support for other modes and other forms of economic development intervention, is the single most potent incentive to maintain the status quo. Government needs to become a fully signed up partner to delivering compact city economic development outcomes in Auckland.
Various ad-hoc restructurings in the past two decades have left Auckland with a legacy of piece-meal institutional design which needs repair. Ports of Auckland Ltd has been allowed to narrow its activities down to being a high volume container port and become a cash cow for public transport projects while ferry terminals and other port activities decay under inconsistent management and control. Watercare Services Ltd, while exhibiting exemplary and determined behaviour in delivering core business outcomes, is being keenly eyed by shareholders wanting access to its cash-rich balance sheet. These are examples of incomplete reform which intended these services should be subject to market discipline – either through privatisation or competition.
My submission proposes concrete changes so that Auckland’s governance is a central, regional, district and community partnership that: delivers a more sustainable and economically efficient urban form; functions effectively and transparently within Auckland’s changing environment; reliably delivers development projects that are consistent with and increase confidence in the compact urban form idea; and that materially recognises the changing demands for local involvment and participation arising from the emergence of Auckland civil society and its diversity of expectations.....
Royal Commission Submission Extract 2
Restating the key points of my main submission: the main problems facing Auckland include that implementation of the compact city region strategic vision is failing; Auckland development needs to change direction if it is to become more sustainable and more economically efficient; regional planning needs to be strengthened, relevant infrastructure management centralised, and integrated implementation made more certain; and the planning and implementation of urban regeneration projects requires a regional Urban Development Authority, and project specific Development Agencies to coordinate masterplanning and delivery.
Some argue that there is not enough funding to implement the compact city vision, and that is the main cause of the problem. However, it is estimated that central government spent $14.4 billion in the Auckland region in the 2005 fiscal year (see ARC’s submission, 22 April 2008), and that local and regional council funding in the 06/07 financial year was $2.02 billion for operating revenue and $967 million on capital expenditure.
In addition, I note the delivery of several significant urban regeneration projects over the past few years: North Shore Busway, New Lynn Station, and Britomart. They could have been better - as I noted in my main submission - but these projects are evidence that changes are occurring in Auckland. But we can learn from them.
Central government has already indicated its interest in investing in Auckland. Its readiness to build a waterfront stadium is clear evidence of such intent. Its continuing financial support for motorway construction is further evidence, as is its support for the rail project - even though this is somewhat reluctant. Some argue that there is an “imbalance between mandate and financial capability” in Auckland, and that this problem must also be “fixed”. These arguments usually lead to support for a single large vertically integrated Greater Auckland Council of some kind, where there would be an obvious and structural link between rates, mandate and financial capability. One-stop-shops have that character.
But this argument ignores the real fact that - as the data above demonstrates - that central government investment in the region far exceeds local government investment. While much of that investment is for services such as health and education, a big chunk of it subsidises the work of Auckland’s TLAs and the ARC. For example the New Lynn undergrounded railway station project is receiving more than $100 million from central government - far more than half the capital cost. The North Shore Busway project was more than 75% funded by central government. While more than half the cost of the modernisation of Auckland’s railway will be paid for by central government. (I note here that there is major concern in Auckland at the proportion of subsidy for Wellington’s railway systems, compared with Auckland’s - but I also note the massive extent of central government support for Auckland state highway development compared with Wellington.)
Partnerships The Local Government Act 2002 provides new possibilities for local and regional councils to work in partnership with other institutions. These include central government, other councils, the private sector and communities and community organisations. It allows for public-private-partnerships, joint ventures, and other arrangements. One of the principles of the LGA is that a local authority should work collaboratively, and build relationships. Underpinning this principle is the recognition that to achieve the goal of sustainable development, relationships and partnerships will be the key.
Case study projects I have already described are examples of partnership approaches to projects. I have provided an account in my main submission about what worked well, and what could have worked better in those projects. It is important to recognise however, that in all cases, central government support and funding was essentially conditional on the quality and strength of the partnership (with all partners - business, land-owners, and local community groups), and on the credibility of the economic benefit analysis put forward in support of the project funding application.
While it might seem attractive to provide central government with a “one-stop-shop” desk in Auckland for its attention, when considering the merits of Auckland projects, such an approach ignores the imperative of obtaining local community buy-in and support of any such project, it ignores the need for land owners and business to engage with public authorities of scale and weight at city level (not regional level) and it ignores the LGA’s purpose which is to maximise public participation and involvement at the appropriate level.
Central government is increasingly interested in becoming constructively engaged with Auckland regeneration projects. It’s Auckland economic development office - GUEDO - is a manifestation of that, and GUEDO’s recent report looking at cruise ship facilities and Queens Wharf opportunities is a concrete example.
Historically, central government has been happy to pour money into state highways because: there is public support for roads; it has direct control over Transit - the country’s state highway authority; there is a trackrecord of public satisfaction with this infrastructure. Central government’s attachment to this “roads are for cars” agenda is also why local councils have found it relatively easy to win central government support (through Transfund and now Land Transport NZ) for a 50% subsidy for local roading and arterial projects if they are for general traffic.
However, that agenda is changing, and central government is increasingly, and understandeably nervous about changing its transport funding policies and priorities. Among the key arguments in persuading central government to support Auckland’s rail project was that all of Auckland’s TLAs supported the Regional Land Transport Strategy (no dissent), and because of the associated agglomeration benefits for the local economy. These latter benefits arise from the increased intensity of economic activity arising in and around urban centres transformed
by the presence of a high quality public transport service, and by the dynamism associated with an actively patronised station and other urban amenity.
However it is critical to note that the transformation of Auckland through better passenger transport systems, through compact town centre form, through Transit Oriented Design and Development, through Pedestrian Oriented Urban design and development - won’t happen if it’s merely seen as a regional strategy.
This transformation will occur town centre by town centre, commercial zone by commercial zone, and street by street. It will be a project by project transformation. At local level. And each project will need to be treated on its merits and according to on-the-ground specifics of the existing urban fabric, existing transport infrastructure, community hopes and aspirations, land owner expectations, heritage opportunities.....
Reforms call for Spatial Plan
The Royal Commission into Auckland’s governance recommended that Auckland needed a spatial plan. The present Government has adopted this recommendation and drafted legislation requiring that the new Auckland Council prepare a spatial plan for Auckland.
Government officials have considered ways and means for the spatial plan to be prescribed by legislation; and what the primary purpose of the spatial plan should be. Now Auckland Transition Agency staff and consultants are working away on drafting Auckland's new planning framework. I only know this because vague bits of information come across my desk at Auckland Regional Council from time to time.
But there is no formal consultation to speak of, or that I can report. I am vaguely aware that certain staff members and ex-staff members, and senior consultants have been engaged on this work. But their mandate is undefined as far as ARC councillors are concerned. Indeed as far as any elected representatives are concerned.
In my time as a councillor I have seen ideas like Comprehensive Management Plans, Structure Plans, Master Plans - and now Spatial Plans - come and go. Like planning fashions. And in each case the officials involved and sometimes politicians, shape those techniques and planning methods, so that nothing really changes.
Planning tool has different name, but does same job. Nothing changes.
That is why I have been driven to investigate spatial planning, to try and do what I can, to get the best for Auckland out of this new tool, and for it not be crushed into the square box of Auckland's previous bad habits and bad planning patterns.
The center-piece of my research was an investigation of performance measures and best practice indicators upon which the design and implementation measurement of a spatial plan depends. This work included a literature research into best practice spatial planning methods in European countries and related research into indicators and performance measures.
Measurement and monitoring plays a critical role in testing whether desired outcomes and objectives are being achieved. Measurable targets that relate to strategic objectives and outcomes also play an important role. These targets can relate to indicators or they may be relate to numbers from recorded data sets. My research analyses indicator collections that have been developed in Auckland, and tests them against best practice.
My research culminates in an analysis of the Auckland indicator frameworks and strategic planning documents that will form the starting point for a new spatial plan. This assessment compares Auckland with best practices identified in the research. Best practice clearly points toward a public process involving all stakeholders – rather than spatial plan preparation being a purely technocratic map-making process. Best practice also points to an approach where the design of the spatial plan is shaped by indicators and performance targets that transparently relate to Auckland issues citizens want addressed.
You will see a big area of analysis relates to integrated planning - vertical and horizontal. Another word for this - by the way - is partnership. Working together for common outcomes. But emphasising the community dimension. Local place making.
And perhaps I leave you with this thought, before you get to my research: Probably the major issue for Auckland is housing affordability. By that I mean housing poverty, and this is mainly about the high proportion of households spending 30% plus of household income housing a family in rented accommodation - publicly or privately provided. Housing costs - and related costs like transport because you live far from amenity and miles from good public transport, and related problems like over-crowding - is a major problem in Auckland. So I ask you: What is Auckland doing about it? How are relevant - and agreed - policies and solutions embedded in Auckland's existing strategic planning framework addressing this issue? This is the sort of issue that needs to be addressed head-on in Auckland's spatial plan.
Here's my research paper for you to download.
Feedback and suggestions appreciated. This is a draft.