If there’s one message that I want this blog to get across more strongly than just about anything else (other than good public transport is really essential) it would be the need to integrate land-use planning and transport planning better. Connected in with that concept are questions of ‘how do we want Auckland to grow and develop over the next few decades?’, ‘what planning changes need to happen to make that happen’ and ‘what transport projects are needed to both respond to those changes, and also help shape future development in the way we want?’

The current changes to Auckland’s local government structure will potentially fundamentally change the way in which we answer these questions, and in particular how the Auckland Council and the Auckland Transport CCO interact will determine how well what we do in transport integrates with our strategies for Auckland’s growth and development, and vice versa. A very interesting element that has been thrown into that mix by the Auckland Law Reform Bill is the ‘Spatial Plan’, which appears as though it’s specifically designed to help bridge that gap between land-use planning and transport (or infrastructure in general) planning – so that the two align better. Or at least that’s how I hope it will work.

But there are still plenty of unknowns when it comes to the detail of the Spatial Plan. Will the future shape of Auckland continue to be guided by something of a ‘balanced’ policy of encouraging intensification while allowing a little bit of sprawl – as we have seen in the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy? Or will we restrict peripheral growth, and urban growth through general infill, to an even greater extent than we have done so in the past – so that growth is much more strongly concentrated in and around the CBD, and in the major centres around Auckland? Or will we abandon the intensification policies that have sought to guide Auckland’s development over the past 10 years (whether they’ve achieved what they set out to do is a completely different issue) remove the urban limits and allow Auckland to sprawl like crazy as it has done for much of its history?

To help answer these questions, the Auckland Regional Council has – over the past couple of years – undertaken an in-depth study into what the various outcomes would be from different growth scenarios. This study has finally been completed, and is called The future land use and transport project. Earlier parts of the project came up with a wide variety of different growth scenarios, but they were narrowed down to effectively three options:

Scenario 4 is roughly what our current plans are focused on achieving, while scenario 1 is a more compact scenario and scenario five involves a LOT of urban sprawl. The extent of further urban sprawl that would result from scenario 5 is shown in pink in the map below: While a lot is written about the pros and cons of urban sprawl versus intensification, and I wrote my Master’s thesis on the topic, what this study did was attempt to quantify through a complex computer modelling system, as well as some more qualitative approaches through expert discussion groups, what the impacts of each scenario would be on various important measures. The results are quite interesting:

Three ticks involves the highest positive effect that the scenario will have on that particular outcome, while three crosses is the highest possible negative effect. Understandably, the different outcomes were not weighted, as that is probably a political decision to make rather than an impartial one, but some interesting results can still be seen. Of particular interest from a transport perspective is that the expansive scenarios results in the worst travel reliability, the lowest accessibility, has the lowest score in terms of minimising infrastructure costs and is also the least energy resilient. From an economic perspective it is also very interesting to note that scenario 1 results in the highest productivity score.

Probing into those infrastructure costs a bit further, here’s how the different options compare:

So the expansive scenario requires around $10 billion of additional transport investment compared to the other options. And yet, when we look at transport outcomes – such as accessibility and travel reliability – it scores the worst. I think that’s a pretty powerful message that has emerged from the study: that creating a city that is reliant upon a roads-centric transport system is both the most expensive option and the option which has the worst outcomes in terms of transport accessibility and reliability.

Another conclusion of the study is one that I am particularly supportive of, and that is the need to ensure there is integration between transport planning and land-use planning: Another important issue that is raised by the study is that simply saying “we want a compact urban form” is not going to result in that form actually happening. The story of Auckland’s development in the past 10 years is very much one of “well all the strategic documents say that we should intensify, but for some reason it’s not happening” – so it’s very useful to keep these conclusions of the study in mind if we actually want to achieve compact urban outcomes and avoid having to embark upon the “most expensive, but worst outcomes” expansionary path: I have a hard copy of the entire study (which unfortunately is not on the ARC’s website yet) and it makes for very interesting reading indeed. Particularly in terms of the modelling outcomes that show pumping money into roads does not solve congestion problems. More on that another time I think! But for now I think this study really does provide further confirmation that sprawl sucks.

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  1. What is the population in these scenarios? It looks like about 2 million based on the current extent of the city.

  2. Holy crap, Scenario 5 is a disaster – I think Owen McShane just **** in his pants in delight though…

  3. I don’t think scenario 5 was ever really given serious consideration. More than anything else I think it’s probably in there to show people like Nick Smith what a disaster it would be if we got rid of the MUL.

  4. Scenario 5 would be a disaster for Waiheke. No more leisurely vineyard views for long weekend lunches and dinners for city dwellers. Productive agriculture (viticulture) land would be swallowed by high cost housing (I doubt Housing NZ will be building any low cost housing). Doubling the land available for housing would mean huge pressures on our small roads, inadequate ferry links, calls for water and sewage reticulation and a general ruination of what makes Waiheke tick as a tourist destination and a place to live.
    Imagine Waiheke’s skyline line Hong Kong Island’s. Hope we’d have an MTR underground by then (with Octopus card)!

  5. Don’t know about you guys, but I find it a bit hard to think about things like employment and where it will go without thinking about changes in the types of businesses and what sort of economic growth we will be seeing in the next fifty years. Will we need mixed use work/employment zones, for example, or will manufacturing still want to be located sepaerately from residential areas? Will we have heavy industry that needs large areas of broadacre to develop next to road and rail like in the past?
    Rod Oram did some good work for the Royal Commission on this. Auckland 2050??
    One things for sure though, if build isolated single use residential zones that are inaccessible to services and employment we will be stuffed.

  6. You’re right TopCat, we do need to look at changing economic trends, the impact of peak oil and so forth – which makes scenario 5 even more crazy. Furthermore, we cannot ignore changing demographics when thinking about how our cities will grow in the future. The two big trends are smaller household sizes and ageing populations (the two are linked of course). We don’t need masses of single-family housing on large sections for big families, we have plenty of that which was built in the 1950s-1970s. What we really need are more smaller units in close proximity to services and amenities. Intensification meets that need a lot better than sprawl does.

  7. I think that you can’t just force intensification on people which is why it hasn’t happened that much, it needs a general attitude shift. Fortunately I think that a combination of immigrants used to higher density living and young people desiring to be closer to town is meaning that this change is starting to occur as living in a town house or apartment no longer has a stigma attached to it (and in some cases is now a preferred).

    One thing that is sad is that this kind of information doesn’t really get in front of the public so a proper debate can occur and because of this it becomes easy to confuse the public with stupid ideological arguments.

  8. You are right Matt, you can’t force intensification onto people. However, you can certainly encourage it through economic incentives (like lower development contributions for development in certain areas) and your transport system can be constructed in a way that supports intensification (by building the CBD rail tunnel for example) instead of projects that work against intensification (like the holiday highway).

    There’s plenty that can be done to make intensification more viable and acceptable. We’re just not quite there in getting our tools to do that fine-tuned enough.

  9. Rather than forcing people into intensification, I think it is more a case of allowing intensification to happen in a way that makes it attractive to people to live in and around as well as being easy and profitable for developers. Done right plenty of people will be happy with intensified town centres, but IMHO this means a step change in planning is required so the council can take a leadership role for growth rather than simply facilitating private sector development. I would argue that through the existing planning structures and the way housing development works we actually force ‘extensification’ on people by providing only one sort of housing to the market (in most areas).

    Another thing to remember is these intensification strategies are about meeting growth through intensive development in certain nodes/centres, rather than changing the whole city over. So no one is going to be forced out of the suburban house, and 98% of suburbs will stay the same. In fact a ‘centres’ intensification strategy would maintain the form and character of most suburbs a lot better than one that allows infill development on an adhoc level.

    In reality it would take decades of growth before these is an appreciable shift in the make up of the housing stock in Auckland. If 90% of people currently live in a detached suburban house, we could meet all growth with intensive housing for the next ten years or so and we’d still have 80% of Aucklanders living the ‘suburban dream’.

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