Archive | Growth strategies

Urban development authority on its way

Published 3 September 2018
This government & its predecessor have both seen a need for an urban development authority, and it’s about to happen.

Never mind that Housing & Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford’s new ministry, set up in June, still doesn’t have its own home in Auckland – the city of greatest crisis.

Never mind, either, that Auckland Council’s unitary plan largely became operative in November 2016, enabling far more intensification throughout the region’s suburbs, and that development based on that potential is starting to happen.

The authority would have the power to override the provisions of the unitary plan – chiefly, the rural:urban boundaries, created through Auckland’s urban growth forum in the 1990s to ensure infrastructure could be provided for a rising population and that development would be orderly, not willy-nilly sprawl.

Provision of infrastructure still needs to be orderly – that’s what underground pipe networks do – unless Auckland moves to smaller waste & water supply systems – water tanks as a standard feature of every home, systems to dispose of sewage inside the boundary (I wrote about such a project a quarter century ago).

Phil Twyford holds both the transport and the new housing & urban development portfolios. When the new Housing & Urban Development Ministry was announced in June, it was given a 1 August start date (but, in Auckland anyway, no independent accommodation) and an official start date for its operations of 1 October.

Mr Twyford said on its setting up: “Addressing the national housing crisis is one of the biggest challenges our government faces. The new ministry will provide the focus & capability in the public service to deliver our reform agenda.”

One of its objective is to launch an urban development authority to lead largescale urban development projects, confirmed by Mr Twyford last week, when he said he’d take a proposal to Cabinet soon.

“The Ministry of Housing & Urban Development will help us deliver our bold & ambitious plan to build much-needed affordable housing, and create modern & liveable cities ready for the future,” he said.

The 2017 version

In a 126-page discussion document the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) issued under the previous government in February 2017, the powers potentially available for an urban development project would relate to:

  • Land – powers to assemble parcels of land, including existing compulsory acquisition powers under the Public Works Act
  • Planning & resource consenting – powers to override existing & proposed district plans & regional plans, and streamlined consenting processes
  • Infrastructure – powers to plan & build infrastructure such as roads, water pipes & reserves
  • Funding – powers to buy, sell & lease land & buildings; powers to borrow to fund infrastructure; and powers to levy charges to cover infrastructure costs. An urban development authority would not have building consenting powers.

Support & opposition

Auckland Business Chamber head Michael Barnett supported the launch of this authority on Friday, as “a long overdue initiative”: “For the past 5 years Auckland has needed to build 14-15,000 new houses/year to keep pace with demand, but the most it has managed was around 13,000 consents in the year to July 2018.

“We are currently around 55,000 houses short. An authority that can speed up the delivery of the new houses Auckland desperately needs has been in the pipeline since the Government came to power last year.”

Mr Barnett said the Government should put the legislation to establish the authority through Parliament under urgency to ensure it’s operating by the end of the year.

Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church, on the other hand, said the institute had rejected the establishment of such an authority in 2016, and still rejected it: “Our position has not changed since that time and our fears, articulated back in 2016, that an urban development authority would ride roughshod over public consultation and the unitary plan are now being proved correct.”

If anything, he said (in 2016, and again), “the super-city provides a stark example of why a single authority isn’t the solution for Auckland. If the creation of a single authority was the answer to the housing problem, Auckland would now be well on the way to solving its housing issues. Instead, it hadn’t gone unnoticed that this property boom – the first since the creation of the super-city – was taking much longer to resolve than any previous boom since at least the early 70s.

“To be fair – that’s not all the fault of the Auckland Council. It’s also the result of strong migration & a strong economy. But I don’t think anyone gets the sense that Auckland Council ‘has matters under control’ – so the last thing the city needs is a new ’Soviet-style’ central planning agency.”

MBIE, February 2017: Discussion document on urban development authorities
MBIE, May 2017: Proposed legislation for urban development authorities
MBIE, September 2017: Summary of submissions on urban development authority discussion document

Attribution: Ministerial, Business Chamber & Property Institute releases.

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The wheels are turning down the southern rail corridor

Published 3 September 2018
The wheels are turning and transformation down the southern corridor to Hamilton is on the way. Alternatively, transformation is on the way up that corridor, from Hamilton to Auckland.

Presumptuous? For Auckland there’s a serious adjustment: Instead of looking at Hamilton as a place to extend to, Auckland needs to see the Waikato is an active & growing part of a larger matrix, where change will occur at many stops in multiple directions.

The NZ Transport Agency has a Hamilton-Auckland corridor plan – and it has another for Hamilton-New Plymouth. Auckland, if it sees a triangle at all, sees one encompassing Tauranga/Mt Maunganui.

Image above: The corridor, running 5km each side the rail line between Hamilton & Auckland.

It’s all very hard to keep with, but consider these points of discussion & action, in the last few days and into the next week.

Tomorrow, Auckland Council’s planning committee considers the Hamilton-Auckland corridor plan & its role in this. The recommendation is to endorse participation, and the new Auckland Plan 2050 development strategy as the basis for staff input.

The corridor plan stemmed from calls from Waikato councils for investment in a commuter rail service between Hamilton & Auckland.

Urban development authority ideas also enter picture

The committee will also need to start thinking hard, and quickly, about the Government’s plans for an urban development authority – not just as a twinkle in the eye but something likely to be in place this year.

Ideas for such an authority have been around for the last 3 years, promoted by former Housing Minister Nick Smith and sent through a consultation process in 2016-17 by the Minister of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE), and taken up by Phil Twyford, now Minister of Transport and also of Housing & Urban Development.

Natural development will cross the Auckland-Waikato border – Pokeno as an Auckland suburban outlier on top of being a growing Waikato business & dairy production centre is an example.

Report notes interdependencies

As Auckland Council senior transport advisor Szening Ooi says in her report to tomorrow’s committee meeting: “There are significant interdependencies between Auckland & the Waikato that cross local government boundaries. However, previous spatial planning along the Auckland-Hamilton corridor has largely been confined within these administrative boundaries.”

She said the plan was initiated by the Government, aiming to investigate opportunities to unlock & shape growth along the rail corridor, unlock the potential to connect communities and provide access to jobs in Auckland & Waikato towns along the corridor.

The corridor plan went to a ministerial briefing on 25 June, aimed at getting all partners in it to agree on the project scope, purpose, objectives, deliverables, timetable & ongoing partnership. That was followed by a 3-day enquiry-by-design workshop in Tuakau on 27-29 August, where the project partners developed a draft integrated spatial plan for the corridor.

The NZ Transport Agency board is due to consider the business case for the Hamilton-Auckland start-up passenger rail service in October. That ties in with electrification of the Auckland rail line to Pukekohe, building the third main rail track along the southern line and completing the city rail link.

Maori roles & gains

Ms Ooi said Waikato Maori – Tainui, Ngati Paoa & the Hauraki Collective – were partners in the project, and it presented investment opportunities for Tamaki Makaurau iwi as well: “Additionally, Maori will benefit if the project’s aims of improving housing affordability, providing employment opportunities & enhancing the quality of the natural environments along the corridor are achieved.”

Auckland Council staff have recommended the establishment of a mana whenua–iwi steering group to sit in parallel with the project’s steering group.

Pressure on urban boundary structure

A pressure point for the Auckland council is the Government desire to see more land released for housing both inside & outside the rural:urban boundaries agreed in the brand-new Auckland unitary plan, to improve housing affordability. This is expressed in the just-released Cabinet paper, Urban growth agenda: Proposed approach (see link below).

Ms Ooi said: “Through the project, central government has indicated that it aims to provide spatial plans that are more ‘minimalist’ and allow the market to ‘fill in’ & sequence development where possible, rather than through regulation.

“There is a risk that, through this project, central government could apply a top-down approach to addressing growth management in Auckland & the Waikato that could undermine Auckland Council’s approach to urban growth and be contrary to both the Auckland Plan development strategy & the unitary plan.

“The project’s focus is also to connect communities & provide greater access to jobs in Auckland & Waikato towns along the rail corridor. The project does not aim to displace growth from Auckland to Waikato but may have this effect as it provides growth opportunities along the corridor. This is not an issue in itself, but the potential impacts & subsequent responses need to be better understood.”

The timeline now:

September: Refine the plan and further test with key stakeholders, amend as required
Late October: Governance leaders consider proposed plan
Mid-December: Governance leaders consider the partnership design & refined list of projects; formal consultation & endorsements & implementation to follow.

The Waikato lead

Future Proof, created by Waikato public bodies, says on its website: “We estimate that there will be nearly half a million people living in Hamilton and the surrounding Waikato & Waipa districts by 2061. That means we will almost double our population in the next 50 years. We want to know our future by planning today.”

The Future Proof partners have produced ‘Future proof strategy, planning for growth, November 2017’. This updates the 2009 strategy & implementation plan. The partners are now working on the second phase of the update.

Auckland Council planning committee, agenda item 4 September 2018:
11, Hamilton-Auckland corridor plan
Outcomes of the Wellington ministerial briefing on 25 June  
Cabinet paper, released in August 2018: Urban growth agenda, proposed approach
Future Proof, Hamilton to Auckland corridor study, December 2012
Future Proof
Future Proof strategy 2017 – summary
Future Proof strategy 2017 
Background reports

NZ Transport Agency, transport corridor plans:
NZTA, 31 August 2018: $16.9 billion investment in the future of NZ
NZTA, 31 August 2018: National land transport programme, 2018-21
NLTP regional summaries
Auckland land transport plan summary

Attribution: Council committee agenda, Cabinet paper, Future Proof.

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Twyford creates new housing & urban development ministry

Housing & Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford.

When the new Government allocated portfolios last October, Labour’s Phil Twyford won housing & urban development and the separate transport role.

On Friday, he announced that housing & urban development would get its own ministry, to be established on 1 August, operating from 1 October.

Initially, the Government will move functions from existing agencies, and will look at using funding from their existing operational budgets:

  • From the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment: the housing & urban policy functions, the KiwiBuild unit and the Community Housing Regulatory Authority
  • From the Ministry of Social Development: policy for emergency, transitional & public housing, and
  • From Treasury: monitoring of Housing NZ & the Tamaki Redevelopment Co Ltd.

The changes won’t affect where people go to for help with housing. The Ministry of Social Development will continue to assess people’s need for housing support and manage the public housing register.

The aim is for the new ministry to help deliver on the Government’s priorities of making housing more affordable & cities more liveable. Mr Twyford said: “Addressing the national housing crisis is one of the biggest challenges our government faces. The new ministry will provide the focus & capability in the public service to deliver our reform agenda.

“Too many New Zealanders are hurting because of their housing situation. Many are locked out of the Kiwi dream of home ownership. Others are homeless or suffering the health effects of poor quality housing.

“The new ministry will be the Government’s lead advisor on housing & urban development. It will provide across-the-board advice on housing issues, including responding to homelessness, ensuring affordable, warm, safe & dry rental housing in the private & public market, and the appropriate support for first-homebuyers.”

Mr Twyford said the new ministry would provide the Government with strong leadership & fresh thinking. It would also end the fragmented current approach caused by involving a number of agencies.

Then he rattled off 7 aims of the new government:

  • Ramping up efforts to house the homeless
  • Building affordable homes through KiwiBuild
  • Modernising & building more public housing
  • Reforming the tenancy laws to make life better for renters
  • Setting minimum standards to make rentals warm & dry
  • Adjusting the tax settings to discourage speculation, and
  • Setting up an urban development authority to lead largescale urban development projects.

In sum, he said: “The Ministry of Housing & Urban Development will help us deliver our bold & ambitious plan to build much-needed affordable housing, and create modern & liveable cities ready for the future.”

Earlier stories:
25 March 2018: Unitec land transfer kicks off KiwiBuild
23 May 2016: Is it really a faraway boundary that’s raising inner-city house prices?
8 November 2015: Twyford talks ideas which unitary plan & council funding review likely to resolve

Attribution: Ministerial release.

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Make them think, make them think

Donald Trump has succeeded where decades of politicians in the US have failed: By his full-on approach, he has forced people – especially opponents – to think about what future they want & how they want to get there, or how they might get there once the pathway has been redrawn.

An example was in a CityLab article a week ago, recognising a populist election victory and taking that forward to an examination of economic & urban issues.

“Will your city go into triage mode, double down on progressive policies, or flex its financial muscle in 2017?” the CityLab article, The 5 kinds of cities we’ll see in the populist era, asked. It went on to list 5 types of city:

Besieged: cuts in funding and shifts in national regulations
Opposition to anti-trade & anti-immigrant efforts, weakening healthcare security, safeguards for the climate and consumer protections
Progressive: acting independently of national government, across the US & Europe, cities are leading efforts to lower carbon emissions, boost energy efficiency and accelerate the transition to renewable energies and, in Europe, leading efforts to integrate Syrian & other refugees through imaginative housing, education & skills-building initiatives
Prosperous: “Economic restructuring and the demographic preferences of talented workers have revalued proximity, density, diversity & vitality – in a word, ‘cityness’ – over dispersion & decentralisation”
Networked: “The power of cities lies in the fact that they are not governments, but rather networks of public, private, civic, university & community institutions. Governments can be hijacked by partisanship; networks, by contrast, reward pragmatic action”.

The writers said cities would get smarter about how to use their market position for fiscal purposes: “Copenhagen and Lyon, France, are using the value of public assets including land & buildings – and new publicly owned, privately managed corporations – to invest at scale in infrastructure and spur the large regeneration of harbours & urban districts. Like other urban innovations, we should expect these new models of city governance & finance to spread fast.”

Institutions have unused role in raising cities’ economies

In another article in October 2015, The new grand bargain between cities & anchor institutions, CityLab cofounder & editor-at-large Richard Florida wrote that “anchor institutions spur economic growth & innovation, but are still lacking co-operation with cities themselves”.

We’ve seen that in Auckland, where a decade of institutional development has been mostly inward-focused. Auckland University tried, 10-15 years ago, to combine a “research innovation campus” beside its Tamaki sportsfields with public & private sector research & development facilities.

The obstacles were chiefly about planning. The notion that an education facility, other public institutions & private sector businesses should embark on joint ventures and leverage off one another’s efforts – exciting & highly innovative, I thought – was incidental.

The Tamaki campus has been sold, for housing, and students are heading back into town, where the university’s new Khyber Pass campus is again inward-looking. The relationship between gown & town will again be incidental.

In the US, Mr Florida wrote: “For most of the 20th century, large companies like General Motors and Ford, IBM and General Electric, US Steel and Procter & Gamble were the veritable suns that powered both the US economy & the scores of economies that comprised it. Cities, in turn, measured their strength by how many of these headquarters & manufacturing plants they held….

“The driving force in our economy has shifted from those behemoths to clusters of companies, talent & support industries. Those clusters do not just emerge out of thin air; more often than not they revolve around large anchor institutions – mainly research universities, colleges, medical centres & other creative or knowledge-based institutions – that help shape & structure urban economies.”

University examples

A report by the Urban Institute & New York University’s Wagner School, released through the National Resource Network, identifies ways to align cities & local anchors around shared interests and largescale economic & community development.

Examples of changing approaches are Tulane University in New Orleans, collaboration in Cleveland, the urban lab model in Chicago and Oregon University’s sustainable cities initiative.

In New Orleans, university president Scott Cowen changed his view that the university was in but not of the city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, becoming a champion for the whole city. That included helping revive an historically black college, Dillard, that the report said would have closed, and creating a public service requirement for all undergraduates – a first for the US – “that led to after-school tutoring, house rebuilding and the creation of public gardens in some of the poorest neighbourhoods most severely damaged by the hurricane”.

The report writers saw even greater collaboration in Cleveland, where the heads of the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals and the Cleveland Foundation joined city hall leaders to broadly chart a redevelopment plan for the 7 low-income neighbourhoods surrounding the University Circle district.

The future incorporates major redevelopment mixed with a local home-buying programme, co-operative business ventures tied to the anchor institutions and a largescale workforce programme.

Last March, Chicago University expand its urban lab model that identifies promising city programmes and rigorously tests to see which are worth expanding.

In Eugene, Oregon University identifies a pressing challenge and, through its sustainable cities initiative, matches up to 30 courses in many disciplines over an academic year, resulting in faculty & students acting as consultants working against a semester-based clock to solve a public problem.

CityLab, 12 January 2017: The 5 kinds of cities we’ll see in the populist era
Travel & Leisure: Copenhagen’s waterfront development
CNN Style, 9 July 2015: France’s vision of a utopian future comes to life in Lyon
Richard Florida in CityLab, 5 October 2015: The new grand bargain between cities & anchor institutions
Urban Institute, 29 September 2015: Striking a local (grand) bargain
National Resource Network, 29 September 2015: Grand bargain report
Report pdf: Striking a (local) grand bargain

Earlier stories:
31 July 2005: Tamaki campus plan change approved
18 November 2002: Tamaki campus expansion to benefit Glen Innes & Panmure

Attribution: CityLab, Travel & Leisure, CNN, Urban Institute, National Resource Network.

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Institute suggests competing urban development authorities

Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church has asked the Government to consider setting up multiple urban development authorities in Auckland rather than the single authority which Prime Minister John Key floated last week.

The single agency would oversee major building projects, buy building sites, masterplan large residential developments and partner with private sector groups to deliver them. The Productivity Commission proposed the idea last year.

However, Mr Church said competition & private investment were the keys to fast-tracking the development of new housing projects in Auckland, and yesterday he encouraged the Government to consider a commercially focused multiple-agency approach along the lines of the energy company reforms of the 1990s.

“Most of the focus of those reforms was on price competition – but we forget that an equally important aspect of them was a need to rapidly find new ways to generate energy and avoid ‘brown-outs’. In that regard the creation of Mighty River Power, Genesis & Meridian was a huge success and solved a problem that was every bit as serious as the Auckland housing crisis, at the time.”

Mr Church said the Government should take the same approach to housing by establishing a series of competing urban development authorities – possibly domiciled in different parts of Auckland but with free rein to operate throughout the city. He said they could be Crown-owned entities, council controlled organisations or a combination of both.

Mr Church said the creation of the super-city provided a stark example of why a single authority wasn’t the solution for Auckland: “If the creation of a single authority was the answer to the housing problem, Auckland would now be well on the way to solving its housing issues.”

Instead, Mr Church said it hadn’t gone unnoticed that this property boom – the first since the creation of the super-city – was taking much longer to resolve than any previous boom since at least the early 1970s.

“To be fair – that’s not all the fault of the Auckland Council. It’s also the result of strong migration & a strong economy. But I don’t think anyone gets the sense that Auckland Council ‘has matters under control’ – so the last thing the city needs is a new ’Soviet-style’ central planning agency.”

Mr Church said it was ironic that the multi-city structure of Auckland before the super-city was created would have been much better equipped to handle the current housing problem: “Under the old structure, cities competed with each other for residential development & investment – so, by now, you would have expected to have seen areas throughout the isthmus opened up for commercial & residential development in a way which would also have encouraged private investment at a local level.”

Attribution: Institute release.

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Infrastructure council seeks rethink to improve transport & intensification

The NZ Council for Infrastructure Development issued a report yesterday calling for “a major rethink on transport & urban intensification”.

It outlined a dismal state of affairs, took no account of many imminent changes, spoke of gridlock as a future danger rather than an existing state of affairs, and made no mention of one of the biggest factors in that congestion, corporate parking.

In short, it wasn’t an advance.

One of the problems for anyone trying to promote ideas on land use or transport at the moment is that the independent panel that’s been hearing submissions on the proposed Auckland unitary plan is due to deliver its recommendations to Auckland Council on 22 July, and the council will then work through those recommendations before delivering its own decisions about 6 weeks later.

That unitary plan is intended to bring consistency out of the many regulations of the previous 7 territorial councils & one regional council which were replaced by the super-city Auckland Council in 2010.

In addition, it will contain new zoning rules & a recommendation on the urban boundary.

On top of changes coming through the unitary plan, Auckland Council & the Government have entered a one-year venture called Atap (Auckland transport alignment project) to identify a preferred approach for developing Auckland’s transport system over the next 30 years.

I was sceptical about its foundation report, issued in February, but since then I’ve heard positive vibes about the project. As I wrote in February, “The foundation report notes various problems around the region and notes that ‘something will have to be done’ to improve them. This report, not the next one, ought to have worked out very quickly what the problems are, and should have moved on to the next step: What alternatives for improvement should the focus be on?”

There are other public sector initiatives which will influence access, jobs & residential development, including council organisation Panuku Auckland Development’s focus on urban regeneration, for which it’s chose its first targets.

The Council for Infrastructure Development’s release & presentation yesterday came along as if it hadn’t made submissions to the unitary plan hearings and wasn’t aware of the many other strands of action occurring alongside the transport alignment project.

“Auckland must urgently revise transport priorities & the unitary plan to better align where people live, work and how they move around, otherwise gridlock will bring the city to a halt,” the infrastructure lobby group said.

“We launched the study of Auckland’s transport challenge last year to provide independent input into the transport alignment project. The analysis is also central to NZCID’s submission on the proposed Auckland unitary plan….

“A significant part of the [congestion] problem is that the proposed unitary plan & special housing areas allow urban infill & development which cannot be economically served by transport and don’t allow sufficient density adjacent to rail & busway stations.

“This forces car dependency and makes congestion much worse than it needs to be. To decongest Auckland and improve liveability the [NZCID] report recommends that we must:

  • Substantively revise land use provisions as set out in the Auckland and Unitary plans to target intensification around public transport and sequence growth to match transport availability
  • Loosen residential development and height restrictions in areas with quality public transport access and strengthen restrictions in areas without it
  • Enable satellite city development at scale beside rail with a focus on the Pukekohe to Manukau corridor
  • Develop mixed use “live, walk and work” communities
  • Improve the frequency and convenience of public transport services to major centres of employment, education and entertainment
  • Vastly increase park and ride facilities and provide express bus services across the public transport network
  • Deliver new capacity across the road network with a focus on fixing traffic pinch points and rigorously evaluate all options, including an eastern-aligned harbour crossing connecting to an eastern corridor
  • Implement road pricing to increase network capacity, fund ongoing improvement and accommodate electric vehicles
  • Promote teleworking and work from home initiatives leveraging digital connectivity
  • Invest in leading edge intelligent traffic management systems
  • Embrace and leverage new car technology wherever possible, but recognise that it does not yet provide a silver bullet solution to Auckland’s transport issues
  • Ensure land use and transport policy is adaptive to technological and other changes as and when they become clear.

The infrastructure council’s chief executive, Stephen Selwood, said: “Auckland can have a road system which moves and a reliable, high quality public transport network which gets people to work on time. But to achieve that outcome we need to sort out the unitary plan to target high amenity intensification around public transport, increase motorway & arterial network capacity, leverage new technology to the max and price the network to manage demand & fund new investment.”

Links to the infrastructure council’s report, Transport solutions for a growing city, and 10-minute gridlock video:


Earlier stories:
17 April 2016: Thomas unveils multipronged shakeup plan for Auckland transport policy
15 April 2016: On the road to better council thinking on housing, on transport
9 March 2016: Takapuna & Northcote first up for revitalisation
23 February 2016: Transport alignment starts off-track
6 December 2015: How Panuku proposes to lead transformation of Auckland

Attribution: NZCID presentation, release.

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Housing summit speaker says law reform vital

A lead speaker at the Property Council’s residential development summit in Auckland tomorrow says inconsistent & often impractical regulations are an unnecessary burden for the industry.

Lawyer Sue Simons, a partner at BerrySimons, says: “We need robust legislative reform of the Resource Management Act, the Local Government Act & the Land Transport Management Act to alleviate burdensome regulations and meet growth-fuelled future housing & infrastructure challenges.

“Auckland is currently experiencing unabated housing shortages & escalating house prices in a city where infrastructure development has been neglected for decades. We need a dynamic legislative & regulatory environment to meet these mounting challenges.

“The property development industry also needs greater certainty surrounding Auckland Council’s proposed unitary plan & land supply strategies, as well as the future of the special housing areas legislation. As an industry, we need the confidence & certainty from central & local government.”

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said yesterday so many critical questions arose in the process of resolving Auckland’s housing problem: “How do we fund infrastructure? How do we address zoning restrictions that deter development? How do we better align transport infrastructure planning with land planning? How do we ensure infrastructure complements residential development and not vice versa?

“We need integrated local & national policies that account for all of these issues, to really make a difference when addressing the shortage that has seen our house prices skyrocket year after year.”

Attribution: Property Council release.

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“That colour house is not available, sir”

What kind of home would you like? “I’d like a house at least 40km from my job, inadequate public transport so I have to sit in traffic an hour each way. It can be near the sea but I don’t want to be able to see the water. It will be far more expensive than the many old places on big sections with sea views. Ours will be a big house on a small section, so it will have stairs.”

That’s not quite how the latest study on what kind of housing we’d like was summed up, but it is the way we’re headed if big changes aren’t made to housing stock, and the use of existing stock.

The study, The housing we’d choose, was headed by senior researcher Alison Reid, of the council’s research & evaluation unit (RIMU). Report authors were Market Economics Ltd analysts Rodney Yeoman & Greg Akehurst.

The study is in 3 stages, the first 2 completed. Stage 1, the primary research, identified factors & attributes people considered most important, and priorities in decision-making in housing choices.

Stage 2, choice research & modelling, involved development of a ‘trade-off model’ that placed real-world constraints on people’s housing preferences. In stage 3, the researchers will assess housing stock & market factors.

The research began with 6 focus groups and the first survey was completed by 1437 respondents. In stage 2, 1096 respondents started but only 760 completed the survey. The researchers noted an over-representation of people 40-plus.

The 3 key findings were:

Attributes – overall, property & local environment features were more important than dwelling features, convenience or local facilities

Choices – people would choose different housing types than currently exist

Resistance – there is, however, great resistance to apartment living.

The notion behind the studies

The notion behind this & similar Australian studies is that you can’t just keep extending cities further & further from the centre in a vast suburbia of standalone homes.

That means more intensive development – smaller sections, apartment buildings, townhouses for a start, and should mean development above malls, more intensive commercial & light industrial development, better mixes of retail, business & housing.

It should also mean a rewrite of the existing housing map so better use is made of many old suburbs – apartments in typically standalone neighbourhoods, a range of apartment sizes that will enable families to live in that style of housing, revised section boundaries, more nuanced public transport.

Ironically, while the study is supposed to be about the future, one of Auckland’s biggest growth areas at the moment, the Hibiscus Coast, didn’t make it into the 8 sectors of the survey, which stopped at the top of the North Shore.

It shouldn’t take a stretch of the imagination, or too many studies, to figure that more intensive development on outlier ridges would enable far more people to live in improved circumstances – provided services such as transport to jobs & amenities, a walk to the shops, decentralised jobs, are available.

Unfortunately, Auckland has never built up a tradition of apartment living, many of those built in recent decades were a bad advertisement for the sector, and it’s therefore not surprising that resistance to that kind of living has grown.

Big growth area ignored

The report Auckland Council released today has been a long time coming and still doesn’t do justice to the requirement for any city aiming to be the world’s most liveable. [Note: I haven’t read the whole report yet, but conclusions in it tell me it hasn’t made the grade.]

It’s described in council correspondence as “comprehensive & unique”. Given that it’s about the future but avoids the largest area of current housing development in the region, the Hibiscus Coast, and carries the same title as Australian surveys done in 2011 & 2013, neither adjective above is fitting.

But it is a piece of the jigsaw that needed to be written. What’s needed now is bolder work on how to make a more tightly populated city a more enjoyable place. Amenity & privacy are the keys: amenity for leisure activities close to home, privacy so you can escape to your cubby hole. For apartments, that means more than one room (and the toilet/bathroom doesn’t count), and it also means a balcony to give the outdoors feeling to make up for reduced indoor space.

Mindset change must come first

The authors of this study suggested the next logical step would be “to outline barriers & constraints to the provision of a range of housing types across Auckland. This will provide insight into the housing development process as it plays out across Auckland, the role of legislation, housing cycles, investment & people flows and the manner in which they currently interact to deliver housing to Aucklanders, old & new”.

They wrote: “Compared to the cities under investigation in Australian studies, Auckland’s history is predominantly one of developing standalone dwellings. We have a way to go to provide a range of accommodation options for households that match current & likely-to-change future requirements.”

However, one quote tells you a mindset change has to be the first step – a mindset change that has been discussed but poorly acted on in Auckland for more than a decade. That quote, on resistance: “The kiwi dream is typically that you have land & space for the kids to run around, not so much apartments. I do understand that this is what Auckland needs to do – hence why we are leaving Auckland, we do not wish to live in condensed housing.”

Australia established the study model

The identically named study done for Perth by the West Australian state government, released in May 2013, noted: “People’s strong preference is to live in a separate house. However, many have indicated that they will trade off to denser forms of housing in the right set of circumstances. Price is one of the most important drivers of these decisions.”

The Perth study followed one done in 2011 by the Melbourne-based Grattan Institute think tank in its cities programme, where the same title appears to have been first used.

The Grattan Institute noted: “If people say they want different types of housing, why aren’t they being built? The answers are largely to be found in the incentives facing residential developers.

“Through interviews with developers, banks, builders, councils & others, along with our own analysis, we discovered a range of reasons why some housing types are not being built where people say they would like to live. These include financing practices, planning & land issues and material & labour costs. If we are serious about shaping our cities in the directions residents say they want to see, the incentives facing developers would have to change.”

Auckland Council will use the findings in its report in evidence for the unitary plan hearings on residential land use and to inform the debate on Auckland’s housing supply needs.

What it ought to be doing is examining more closely the issues the Grattan Institute identified 4 years ago, such as the incentives to build a certain type of stock.

That brings me back to the heading at the top of this story: I chatted briefly this week to a senior council employee, told him I loved the purple shoes. Most of us want to fit in, but we also want to be different. In housing, it’s well past time for that to happen.

Links: Auckland study 2015, The housing we’d choose
Perth study 2013, The housing we’d choose
Perth study summary
Grattan Institute 2011 study, The housing we’d choose

Attribution: Study, Australian studies, council release.

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Helsinki puts rail-linked intensification plan out for public comment

Helsinki in Finland has a less ambitious population growth estimate than Auckland, but is far more ambitious in changing the central city to manage that growth.

The city of 860,000 residents expects to grow by 250,000 over the next 35 years.

By comparison, Auckland’s growth estimate is a million more people in the region over 30 years (and we’re into year 4), to 2.5 million. The estimates for the city centre are a population of upwards of 45,000 by 2032, and a working population of 128-140,000 by then.

New urban areas would be developed on motorway-like channels to the city centre by turning the motorways into city boulevards inside Ring Road I.

The city master plan draft proposes new construction for the Malmi Airport area, for rail transport hubs and for the vicinity of major transport stations. Malmi, Itäkeskus, Herttoniemi & Kannelmäki would become satellite centres offering housing & jobs within an easy walk.

Public transport networks would be expanded, especially rail, including cross-city lines.

The city master plan map doesn’t have accurate boundaries for development but shows the emphases of development in 1ha squares, each accompanied by a definition of the area’s main use.

The plan no longer divides areas by the type of housing – development would be steered by volumes that determine the projected level of development.

The Helsinki draft plan will be displayed for public review from 7 January-28 February, the city planning committee will review the draft & comments late this year, and the city board & council will review it next year, when it will have an implementation plan presenting the order & timetable of the next detailed plan process.


The plan promotes removal of cars, but turning motorways into multi-modal boulevards (pictured) – the same wide expanse of lanes, but with transit, cycle lanes, footpaths and still some car & truck lanes – would remain a fearsome obstacle for anyone trying to cross.

I couldn’t find a page explaining how those obstacles would be overcome. For that part of change, Auckland may well move ahead in the provision of offroad routes.

Image above: One of the proposed Helsinki boulevards.

Links: City plan draft shows how Helsinki is envisioned to grow
Helsinki city plan pages
Plan materials & images
Fast Company, In 2050 you might want to be living in Helsinki

Attribution: Helsinki planning pages, Fast Company.

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Putting density in its proper place

Published 26 May 2010

Melbourne transport planning academic Paul Mees wrote a paper last year, How dense are we? and followed it up in December with a book expanding on the subject, Transport for suburbia: Beyond the automobile age.


I ran into the paper (a short pdf file) as I was looking through various land-use bits & pieces today, and thought it worth adding to this website’s pages as urban development & transport issues are bound to heat up as we approach local government amalgamation in Auckland.


The key point in the density paper is that a lot of planning – over decades, and internationally – has been based on wrong urban density assumptions. The comparison doesn’t include Auckland, but Auckland is mentioned in the paper. Below is the abstract, under the paper’s full title, How dense are we? Another look at urban density & transport patterns in Australia, Canada & the US:


“For at least 2 decades, urban policy in Australia has been based on the belief that high levels of car use and poor public transport are mainly the result of low urban densities. There has been considerable debate about the evidence on which these policies are based, but until recently there has been no common data-set that allows densities & transport patterns to be compared on a consistent & rigorous basis.


“As a result of recent changes to data collection & publication systems by the Australian, Canadian & US national census agencies, it is now possible to compare urban densities & transport mode shares (for the journey to work) across the 3 countries’ urban areas on a consistent basis. This paper presents the results of this comparison.


“Australian cities have similar densities to those of Canadian cities & the more densely populated US cities. There are variations in density among cities, but these show little or no relationship to transport modes share, which seems more closely related to different transport policies. These findings are very different from those on which current urban policies are based, and suggest the need for a radical rethinking of those policies.”


Dr Mees is a lecturer in social science & planning at RMIT University’s School of Global Studies, Melbourne.


Link: Paper, How dense are we?


Want to comment? Go to the forum.


Attribution: Mees paper, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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