Does Auckland Really Need a Spatial Plan?
The seed for an Auckland Spatial Plan was firmly planted when the Royal Commission into Auckland Governance recommended one: “to improve resource management and integrated planning.” Legislation now before Parliament will require the new Auckland Council to develop and implement a spatial plan.
But what is a spatial plan?
And will Auckland be a better place when it has one?
In my time as a councillor in Auckland and North Shore I have seen planning fashions come and go: Comprehensive Management Plans, Area Plans, Precinct Plans, Structure Plans, Master Plans - and now Spatial Plans.
In each case Council officers, politicians and developers have manipulated those techniques and planning methods to get what they want. This is not really a surprise as Auckland’s local government has always been an arena for the contest of ideas and ideologies seeking to influence decisions.
Superficially a spatial plan for the Auckland region sounds like a good idea. A city spatial plan conjures up images of a big map with new road, state highway, sewer main, land subdivision, parks and new school projects - each labelled with budgets and action plans for staged completion.
In practice this is what Auckland’s current set of strategic plans already show. The problem is they don’t get implemented.
But the deficiences that are endemic in Auckland local government planning go beyond implementation. There is a lack of integration between strategy and policy development. There is poor measurement of the relationship between policy initiatives and actual outcomes on the ground. And the engagement with stakeholders (such as land owners) and communities is often little more than a leaflet drop.
This is changing.
Auckland Regional Council is developing a refined classification for Auckland’s centres, corridors and business areas, in order to provide greater certainty for the location and sequencing of growth, and strengthened alignment of land use, transport and economic development. But difficulties in implementation – such as unclear responsibilities and a lack of regional control, slow plan-changes that enable centres-based development, and a lack of incentives to encourage quality redevelopment in centres and corridors – remain. As do integration gaps such as the lack of alignment between national and regional priorities, the need to broaden planning to include social objectives, and the failure to stimulate local place-making and community building.
Best practice spatial planning in European cities breaks with traditional planning. It is directed more towards integrated courses of action that address social, economic and environmental objectives, and which supersede the narrow focus on land use planning that has shaped Auckland strategic planning to date.
Sadly, proposed reforms for Auckland governance incorporate a spatial planning approach that is little more than a tool to shoe-horn central government’s economic growth oriented infrastructure program into the heart of Auckland.
While integration between central planning and regional planning is important,
Indications are that the main purpose of the new spatial plan is to ensure that Auckland is ready to receive infrastructure projects that have been centrally planned and funded through the National Infrastructure Plan.
This emphasis threatens local place-making and community building which was central to much of the discussion that led to the Royal Commission. Those discussions recognised the importance of horizontal integration, as well as vertical integration. There needed to be better integration between regional and central government planning, but there also needed to be more integrated thinking at local level around local place-making and planning.
The Bill now being considered by Parliament does provide for a more inclusive and consultative approach to the preparation of Auckland’s spatial plan than the first drafting, but the underlying purpose of the reform remains. That is for a nationally funded infrastructure program to drive the design of an Auckland spatial plan ensuring Auckland and its communities are ready to receive centrally planned infrastructure – be it schools, prisons or roads of national significance.
That is not be a best practice spatial plan.
It risks short-changing the region by focussing on short term economic objectives.
Best practice spatial planning begins with a public process of identifying and defining a limited number of strategic issues, and building public confidence through involvement and perception that the real issues are being addressed.
Then come implementation oriented plans which take account of power structures (including land owners, businesses, local boards, central government), and decision-making processes as well as conflict solving approaches to lubricate implementation.
And buy-in is maintained throughout by committing to vertical integration with central government in regional decisions, alongside horizontal integration with local boards and local stakeholders in local decisions.
A best practice spatial plan is not a comprehensive all-things-to-all-people plan or map. To be strategic and effective it needs to target specific Auckland development issues. These must include: housing poverty, transport energy demand, community building, and meeting the needs of an increasing population. The spatial plan needs to state how it will be implementated. It needs to be about walking the talk.
The transformation of Auckland through better passenger transport systems, compact town centres, pedestrian oriented design and development - won’t happen if it’s merely seen as a regional strategy. Transformation will only occur centre by centre, commercial zone by commercial zone, and street by street. It will be project by project at local level with each project treated on its merits and according to local requirements, community hopes and aspirations, and land owner expectations.
Best practice spatial planning is as much about local place-making as it is about the construction of central government inspired large scale infrastructure. That is the kind of spatial plan that Auckland needs.
Response by Owen McShane
The Warning for the Week: The race is on for the Mayoralty and Council of the Auckland Council a critical stage in the process of creating a super city that contributes to the growth and development of Auckland, and of course to the nation as a whole.
It's going to happen so we need to make sure it has a reasonable chance of delivering the goods. So far the reporting has focused on personalities, credit card spending and almost anything except what changes we really expect to see, or should expect.
However, the reality is that one major issue is taking shape and the battle lines are being drawn. The architects of the reform introduced the concept of the "spatial plan" because they wanted at least one strategic document to focus on some general mission statement that could enable and encourage economic growth and development. Such a document might even allow Judges in the courts to have some consideration for employment and economic growth before turning down
major developments because the planners have not yet finished their plans.
However, while this might have been the intention, the Smart Growth teams have already seized on the Spatial Plan as their opportunity to implement Smart Growth writ large but disguised under the new name.
For example Joel Cayford, Auckland Regional Councillor, and long- standing advocate for Smart Growth, and declared his aims in the NZ Herald (June 29th) in an Opinion Piece City can be transformed by targeting specific projects.
Mr Cayford reveals his Smart Growth intentions by scattering the code word "integration" throughout the essay from the first paragraph. In many Regional Council cafeterias might think you have dropped in on a maths symposium discussing the higher calculus. "Integration" like
"co-ordination" is a code word for "control."
He lets us know that:
The Auckland Regional Council is developing a refined classification for Auckland's centres, corridors and business areas, in order to provide greater certainty for the location and sequencing of growth, and strengthened alignment of land use, transport and economic development.
The key of course is:
There needed to be better integration between regional and central government planning. But there also needed to be more integrated thinking at local level around local place-making and planning.
This spatial planning is no strategic enabling document. The Smart Growth planners are determined that:
Transformation will only occur centre by centre, commercial zone by commercial zone, and street by street. It will be project by project at local level, with each project treated on its merits and according to local requirements, community hopes and aspirations, and land owner
City council planners are already preparing Precinct Plans for Mt Albert, Onehunga, and so on. These are highly detailed three dimensional plans that leave no room for private innovation or change. A letter to a Mt Albert resident was quite open about their intentions:
The plan forms part of the Future Planning Framework (FPF) work that the council initially undertook as a precursor to developing a new Auckland City Isthmus District Plan. The FPF, including the four precinct plans, is a policy document rather than a statutory document. ...
The Auckland City Council will be passing on the FPF, including the four precinct plans, to the new Auckland Council with a recommendation that this work be used to inform the development of the spatial plan and the new district plan which the Auckland Council is required to undertake. Although the new Auckland Council will have no obligation to implement the plan, it is hoped that they will use the plan, along with the rest of the FPF research, in the development of a new spatial plan and district plan for the region.
The difference in underlying philosophies could not be more clear.
In the run up to the election we need to advise the candidates of these competing options for managing the growth and development of Auckland and ensure they let us know which horse they will be backing.
Governments should focus on the management of their own assets and let the private investors and landowners focus on how they manage their own. If the spatial plan is going to be planned in detail "street by street" and "centre by centre" to the level indicated in these precinct plans then council will have to employ half the population as planners and no one will be allowed to do anything until the process is complete sometime towards the middle of the century.
It's a long time to expect investors to hold their breath.
So there you go. The Auckland debate is alive and well and kicking.