“The majority of Aucklanders appear to aspire to detached suburban living, the interests of particular groups in inner-city apartment living and the preferences of some policy analysts notwithstanding.”
A submission on the proposed unitary plan based on that premise is never going to agree with the Auckland Council advocacy of a compact city, limiting sprawl.
The quote above, from the submission of economist Phil McDermott on behalf of various South Auckland development land owners, pits him against his business partner of 20-30 years ago, Doug Fairgray, who did the economic analysis for the council’s case supporting the proposed plan.
In a way which is most unfortunate, the 2 sparring ex-partners’ evidence is reduced to the level typical of traffic engineers who will swear blind to a hearing panel that an extremely large new shopping centre won’t have any serious traffic effects, when everyone knows that is most unlikely to be true.
The council wants to see intensification, reducing sprawl. Dr McDermott makes the assumption that, because the majority of Aucklanders live in sprawl, that’s what we like.
Go back beyond the recent arrival of apartments in the central business district through conversion (of redundant office stock after the 1987 crashes of the share & property markets), and see if you can think of an alternative to living in lowrise suburbia. There were some “sausage blocks” of flats and now there are a few townhouses, but intensification has historically, and still now, provided little for family living.
When alternatives don’t exist, it’s very hard for the potential buyer or occupier to choose them. So the words “aspire to” may be true, but the word “appear” is an assumption that acceptance of the only option available is a preference.
And so this argument goes round, and round again. The council has proposed that up to 70% of new development should be inside the metropolitan urban limits as they were in 2010, when the super-city council took over control of the region from 8 predecessors. The balance, up to 40%, would be allowed within a new rural:urban boundary containing more than 10,000ha of developable land in future urban zones, which would progressively lose their “future” status.
Costs of multi-level construction are much higher than for standalone – as much as double for every square metre built – but those costs have to be weighed against other factors, starting with a lower land cost/unit. Urban planners also throw in transport and infrastructure such as utilities (sewers & water pipes) as costs which ought to be incorporated into the true cost of various housing options.
Unfortunately those comparisons haven’t been made available for the unitary plan hearings, so the unsubstantiated arguing continues.
While a number of planning consultants have projected housing growth out to 2041, a number of them indicating that housing development would fall well short of the anticipated population growth, both Dr Fairgray & Dr McDermott have agreed on one thing, that long-term population projections are very uncertain.
Dr McDermott linked this to migration, which tended to be cyclical. However, he made no allowance for the cyclical nature of the housing market in his calculations of construction over the last decade, which was also heavily affected by the global financial crisis.
One feature of their calculations is the different treatment of redevelopment in existing suburbs, which Dr Fairgray said would result in small incremental changes of 1.5-1.9%/year in residential stock. Dr McDermott focused on the cumulative impact – 69% more dwellings in the terrace & apartment zone through to 2026, 30-41% more in the mixed housing zones.
Dr McDermott, arguing against a narrow ntensification view, said urbanising rural land constrained only by environmental values (and the costs of protecting them) would enable the most efficient urban development options to be advanced, with significant resource management benefits.
“More generally, emphasis on containment assumes that the marginal costs of infrastructure for greenfield sites exceed the marginal costs of redeveloping brownfield sites or intensification of existing urban areas. I have seen no analysis that suggests that this is the case in Auckland. Such an analysis would need to deal with the individual components of change rather than a broad-brush scenario.
“In any case, there are several reasons why consolidation might be seen as only one urban development tool, and one to be used sensitively & sparingly. They include:
- The travel costs associated with additional road-based transport from extending urban areas are usually measured for commuting only and not for the majority of trips which are non-commuting, many of which tend take place closer to home
- High commuting costs may reflect a planning failure to anticipate & accommodate business in sites with easy access to growth areas of a city, sites close to the labour catchment (but with efficient connections to key commercial nodes & infrastructure)
- Road transport costs should continue to fall with increasing vehicle efficiency, safer cars, fewer accidents and adoption of electronic real-time traffic management. This will further increase the capacity & efficiency of existing road networks for buses & cars, and reduce the impacts of both
- The opportunities for advances in low-impact infrastructure (based on distributed, relatively low cost & physically resilient solutions) to reduce costs and achieve higher standards need to be considered & costed where they are viable for greenfield (if not brownfield) options
- The prospects for physical, social & economic disruption from extreme events, climate change and the failure of ageing infrastructure need to be appraised & accounted for among alternative land use options.
Dr McDermott argued that the opportunities for quality, medium-density design & integrated land use, active transport modes, robust infrastructure and neighbourhood accessibility were likely to be greater and achieved in a more cost-effective manner in greenfield sites than in developed urban areas, where there are many more constraints.
“The option of substantial settlement beyond the built-up area needs to be included in any analysis, given the possibilities it offers for largescale integrated land use on non-contiguous sites compared with the overspill (or “sprawl”) proposed for the city edge within the rural:urban boundary. There are significant development options inside Auckland City boundaries, but outside the rural:urban boundary that could combine a measure of self-sufficiency with strong connections with the rest of the region.”
He said the recent development of Pokeno was a good example, though in the creation of the super-city the village on the southern side of the Bombays was made part of the Waikato District.
In any case, Dr McDermott said, “analysis of the distribution of costs & benefits (which sits outside cost:benefit analysis) should also be undertaken if any cognisance at all is to be taken of the market & equity matters which will heavily influence the impact of the unitary plan.
“Furthermore, at the household level, the marginal costs of differences from place to place are not large, to the point that they may be negated by lower housing prices or higher levels of amenity in locations – mainly on the city edge or in greenfield sites – where detached houses can be constructed.
“To the extent that they are carried by households in commuting costs, for example, it will be rational for many households to accept the higher annual long-term costs of such a choice as the trade-off for lower capital costs. (In technical terms, this means their implicit discount rate – or time preference – is higher than that of the analysts undertaking the cost:benefit analysis).
“This is particularly the case of a young household with expectations of increasing income in the medium to long term. Paradoxically, this means that a plan that appears destined to lift dwelling costs – or lower standards –in the inner city will increase demand for housing on and beyond the fringe.”
Links: Unitary plan addendum, rural:urban boundary
Unitary plan section 32 report
Capacity for growth studies
Darroch for Centre for Housing Research Aotearoa NZ, 2010 housing market assessment
Articles in the series, which will continue next week:
UP1: The PAUP, the MUL, the RUB, the RPS & the LRP – the what-the?
UP2: Council tells panel the evidence backs compact city, and new urban boundary will work
UP3: Paper on preferred form an important backgrounder
UP4: Fairgray doesn’t fix on the far horizon, but says million new Aucklanders will fit in
UP5: Rule changes would shorten land supply and discourage new villages
UP6: McDermott argues for better ways than compact city to accommodate growth
UP7: Burton sees the antithesis of good planning, but says the compact city can work
UP8: Crucial question: Who will control land release?
Attribution: Hearings, submissions, supporting documents.