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.
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.