Task for property interests is to understand the tussle between planners, big commercial projects and politicians
The property outlook around the Auckland region is changing daily, and not always noticeably.
The Regional Growth Forum is one part of it, a process by which planning staffs of the region’s territorial councils go about sizing up areas for increased population of the next 20 and 50 years, with regular reports to the forum’s politicians.
The forum started five years ago with participation by the private sector, but the scene has changed. Some of the developers then have departed, and others will look for the best opportunity rather than consider themselves territorial animals with a stake in improving a particular patch.
The creation of plans around the region has been done with more public input, in some cases through workshops and charrettes, where members of the public have come up with their own visions for inclusion in the process. Developers, meanwhile, have concentrated on disputing aspects of district plans which have been lodged.
District plans only one part of the process
But district plans are now only one part of the planning process. In every quarter, structural plans are being prepared for specific neighbourhoods, catchment plans are being prepared, and in Auckland City the Liveable Communities project is an attempt to combine workshops, structure plans and transport changes for a new vision of suburbs and business districts.
North Shore City Council produced a city blueprint a fortnight ago, the council’s response to the way regional planners were looking at how to increase population there.
Rodney takes planning into new era
Rodney District Council, elected after a year of being in the hands of a commissioner, has set up an entirely different committee structure and has engaged in nonstop consultation and debate on ways of changing this district, which covers nearly half the region but has less than 10% of its population.
It has run forums for economic growth, has specified retention of workers ahead of fast-tracking them into downtown Auckland, has begun dialogue with Kaipara District Council on that district’s role as the recipient of Auckland growth that Rodney used to capture, and has joined North Shore and Waitakere in breaking down the borders between the northern councils.
While these bureaucratic and political changes occur, significant change is occurring on commercial fronts.
Commercial battles warm up
Westfield NZ Ltd, part of the international Westfield shopping centre group based in Sydney, is pursuing growth on all fronts.
Kiwi Income Property Trust, effectively now part of Sydney-based Lend Lease Corp, has a concrete proposal on the table, the development of its Sylvia Park town centre in Mt Wellington. The trust has spent a fortnight giving evidence to Judge David Sheppard and two commissioners in the Environment Court, with up to two weeks more hearing time.
That proposal is opposed by Westfield (which has concerns for its Newmarket, Manukau City and Pakuranga sites, but which generally opposes any other developer anyway) Retail Holdings Ltd (Haydn Staples & Darryl Henry), which also has Newmarket property and sees a danger of over-shopping, and by owners of some Panmure business premises.
Another south-eastern development site, the Lunn Ave quarry where Fletcher Challenge and Brierley Investments had hoped to get a development consent in place for a town centre, has been sold to Landco Ltd (Greg Olliver).
The various programmes overlap. Kiwi Income has gone to great lengths to work with Auckland City Council on establishing a place for a mixed development on its brownfields Mt Wellington site which will fit in with the city’s Liveable Communities structure.
For many of these schemes the future of Panmure’s town centre is pivotal. It is old, tired, the subject of redevelopment theories in the council’s first Liveable Communities workshop process, but has a very simple reason for continued existence: it is a junction.
The McConnell International business park project on the Waiouru Peninsula will change traffic and business directions, with a cut through from Mt Wellington to the new Botany area of Manukau City, but that’s a different kind of development.
Fletcher/Brierley’s Lake Park in the Lunn Ave quarry and Kiwi Income’s Sylvia Park would directly affect Panmure’s survival.
Fundamental questions arise there — and are being asked on the North Shore, where the Browns Bay retail district has succumbed badly to the new Albany retail developments (and will succumb further when the Albany town centre is built) — of whether new developments have a right to destroy existing infrastructure, and whether existing centres have a right to prevent competition that will destroy them.
Usually progress and new money triumph, though it may take them a while longer than hoped. But new arguments are at play: councils around the region are fighting an uphill battle to meet sewer and stormwater needs, including expensive replacement of old systems and, while they don’t have their charges fully analysed, new development can cost them (and existing ratepayers) dearly.
A new development will produce more income, and more rates for a council by being of higher value, but the council still has to take the diminished value of a rundown centre into account.
Not all pulling together
So the planners, commercial interests and politicians are charging in directions which don’t always coincide. The challenge for property interests is to get into the winning lane.
In listed investment terms, Kiwi Income is accessible, Westfield Trust/Westfield Holdings and Lend Lease stocks are not affected by what happens on the ground here, and AMP holds its retail property investments in managed funds.
Developers and property investors can take advantage of the changes if they can see where the tussle between these planning, commercial and political interests is headed.