Matt’s recent post on running patterns for the Manukau Branch line uncovered a fairly polarised set of views on operating this new station. So I thought it might be useful to a look at the situation in wider context and ask- Why is Manukau such a problem?

Manukau City was planned and begun in the 1960s as a greenfields urban centre on the auto-dependant dispersed city model as the best and most modern way to meet Auckland’s postwar growth. It’s location and form is the result of thinking that we still hear today, sometimes in the comments stream on this blog, that instead of bothering to improve existing city centres we should actively spread employment and habitation out across ’empty’ farmland. This is not an easy thing to do; at least not well and on the cheap. It is generally accepted [although less so during this period] that the best urban places are accretive, are the result of accident and evolution, gain a complexity through growth over time; having in their forms signs of the forces that founded and sustain them. Through cycles of triumph, decline, and stasis.

Well here’s what we got when we tried pretty hard to invent a new urban centre somewhere whose only discernible feature was a nascent but ever growing motorway. Nonetheless everything was done to make it work; in particular local government moved there, even all sorts of central government departments were sent to try to make it happen. Which is how there came to those self-consciously out scale buildings popping up in the paddocks [somehow seeming both too tall and too squat]:

MCC Admin Building 1976 photo: Larry Purdy_Manukau Research Library

The big idea was to escape what was considered the dreadful constriction of the old city and be nice and handy by car to new low density suburbia. It was classic Modernist planning; build an ideal place from scratch, not quite a Brasilia or Canberra of course; it was to be much smaller and had to be much cheaper. And of course nothing on the scale or ambition that has subsequently been done in China. Although there were attempts at the heroic architecture all the same; especially the white Council buildings by 1970s star Neville Price, with their cool Clockwork Orange vibe. Manukau City Centre didn’t exactly boom despite this top down help. But slowly the paddocks were emptied of cows and filled with carparking:

Housing Corp Building 1981 photo: Gwen Anderson_Manukau Research Library

The only supported movement system was road based, the Centre was carefully sited away from the already existing rail line, unlike the earlier more organically arising south Auckland centres like Manurewa and Papakura [among the busiest stations now, after Britomart and Newmarket]. The construction of ever more driving and parking amenity has been constant in Manukau and continues today. The new Manukau City Council enthusiastically promoted this philosophy, this is still apparent today in the total lack of any transit corridors within the old MCC boundaries as far as I know, with the possible exception of the planted median of Te Irirangi Drive, and why the area is host to the busiest non state Highway road in the country- the unlovely six lane Pakuranga highway.

It is also why Auckland Transport has just built this:

Ronwood Ave carpark 2012

Yes that’s right, a multi level car parking building set in a sea of at grade car parking amid the broad sweeping roads [note street angle parking too]. They built it because they inherited this project from the old MCC, who wanted it why? The same Manukau Council who voted against the train station actually reaching the Centre itself, instead leaving it perched on the edge, for cost reasons they said. Of course, everything is going to park and circulate those cars, the most inefficient and expensive way to order movement in a city [“Transit based cities spend around 5% to 8% of their wealth on transportation but auto-dependent ones range from 12% to19%” Resillient Cities 2009 Neuman, Beatley, + Boyer ]. Here it is:

AT’s new carpark site, red, and the train station, blue

There is a lot to see on this aerial. The sheer quantity of parking, the massive, ongoing, and land gobbling roadworks. The the only decent green space [Hayman Park- named after Manukau Council’s first Planner!] is completely severed from the Centre itself and is still diminishing, including encroachment by the Train Station with the Tertiary Centre on top. The next biggest greenspace is a triangle kindly left over from the massive traffic engineering of the motorway interchange, dutifully mown and of no use to anyone. So this is the new ideal world that the car made….

But back to our new 680 space, 14 million dollar investment. Of course it’s empty:

The Ronwood Ave Car Park

And it is absolutely wrong as an urban building in almost every detail: It is setback in own lake of asphalt, greeting the windswept footpath with a high security fence, so no shops or other civilising amenity at street level. Really can we believe that there is the commercial demand here to fill this thing. Remember all the other buildings provide their legal supply of car parking due to the Council’s own Minimum Parking Regulations. There are a couple of apartment buildings nearby, but they have their own floors of parking. In fact walking around, it is pretty clear that parking is the one thing that Manukau does to any degree of thoroughness. Outside of the mall itself it’s a very lonely place for the pedestrian. Dreary.

Manukau City streetscape

Perhaps a little less than proud of this thing AT don’t mention it on their website’s list of completed projects. I did find some quotes from AT’s major projects manager Rick Walden in a Manukau Courier article about the need for this thing:

“The carpark is in a strategic location and future development of the site will attract a mixed use of commercial and retail business to the area.”


It will also free up ground level land currently leased for parking, allowing the sites to be developed.”

Manukau City

Really? I wonder how much we will have to subsidise any move into the building for these parkers to bother?  And don’t forget all that angle parking we [AT] also provide on the newly upgraded roads above, with cheap to free rates.

The Courier also notes:

The new tertiary campus, Manukau rail link and workers in the area will also benefit, Mr Walden says.

The work will include an upgrade to the nearby Ronwood Ave intersection to ease traffic movement through the area.

Park-and-ride options for the new Manukau station and other sites are still under consideration.

It really does make you wonder…. even AT seem to think we need to drive to a train station in an urban centre to use it! Are they mad? We didn’t build Manukau Station to host fun rides for the kiddies. It’s for getting to and from a place- it’s transport. Isn’t the whole idea that Manukau City is actually a destination, a place in itself, not just a distant carpark for the CBD? Yet here they seem to be half trying to think of it as a park’n’ride peripheral. Maybe if the parking was so cheap and train so cheap it might be worth driving here to get to the city but that looks like a pretty poor idea on so many levels, not least of which is the poor land use, low quality of place attributes, and appalling waste of our money so desperately needed elsewhere.

I’m sure the statements above are just a bunch of half baked post-justifications for a project they somehow had to do after it was dreamed up by some Manukau City traffic planners. Nothing from those perennial complainers Quax and Brewer I note. Of course; it’s a car park. And no doubt Quax voted for it, as he voted against the Train Station.

What is especially galling is that wide areas of asphalt parking do at least retain flexibility for potentially valuable fuutre uses, like apartment blocks or offices but to waste one on this building when there is clearly no demand and to design it in such an anti-social and place-denying way is a disaster.

Get your cheap deal; I bet they’re flexible.

So in order to answer my own question above: How to solve a problem place like Manukau? Here’s a start: STOP OVER-BUILDING DRIVING AND PARKING AMENITY. Remember; what you feed grows. And that goes for the rest of the city too.

And we really need to think long and hard about where we rush off and sprawl to next, on existing Transit corridors is a good place to start; as well as filling some existing and poorly occupied parts of the city rather than freshly ruining more productive farmland.

Postscript: It could be even worse; there was going to be another one, even bigger; with 2000 spaces [plus an option to add 500 more!], costing $24 million, this time eating up more of the Mr Hayman’s Park: And expressly planned to be a park’n’ride. Len does not come well out of the Herald report on this:

Auckland Mayor and former Manukau Mayor Len Brown, who has made improving public transport his top priority, supports the carpark.

In a statement, he said it was part of the Manukau transport hub, which combines rail, park and ride, commercial and retail facilities, and a campus for the Manukau Institute of Technology.

“It’s the kind of integrated development we need in our region and will help transform the Manukau community,” he said.

It looks like another case of the Mayor trying to please everybody, like how he seems to support all the massive plans of the road lobby that are frankly incompatible with his aim to transform Auckland’s away from total auto-dependency. Mike Lee does better:

Auckland Council transport committee chairman Mike Lee said he had been given no information about the carpark and was puzzled why it was costing so much.

Mr Lee, who is also on the Auckland Transport board, was unsure why the carpark was needed with the Manukau train station about to open.

Since this article sanity has prevailed and this project has quietly been halted. The Herald also dryly notes:

The city of Manukau has developed largely around the private motor car and has been slow to adopt public transport. For example, it has 3km of bus lanes compared with Auckland City’s 36km network of bus lanes.

Of course these two things are not unconnected: As we have observed on this site many times it matters enormously what you don’t build as well as what you do, not only because we can not afford to build everything but because what is invested in incentivises behaviour and shapes our world.

Manukau City was conceived and built in another age and only for the car, it’s going to take quite a while to rework its anti-human qualities. The tentative arrival of the Train Station, along with its soon to be connecting bus routes are a start, but we are really going to have to get more serious about kicking the old car subsidising habits too to really improve the commercial and social intensity here.

Manukau City 1985 photo Barry Moore
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  1. Well, the MIT campus is a good start, and then there’s all those giant carparks over the road to get cracking on. Even with our totally cars-focussed development at the moment the carparks are underused, so all that’s needed is lowering parking requirements for existing developments – Unitary Plan here we come. Hopefully any new development will protect the route for an extension of the rail line up Te Irirangi Drive, though.

  2. the only positive of the ovesupply of parking in the Manukau metro centre is landbanking,

    however, the bulk of employment in the centre is within 5-10 minutes walk of the new station and new development on the carpark between the station and the council building will definitely be a step in the right direction

  3. The last photo is very Logan’s Run, ah those seventies sci fis…

    We couldn’t turn the carparking back into farm land could we?

    1. Why would we do that, when we’re already planning to have Auckland sprawl into farmland much farther out.

      The farms around the airport are a bit odd as well – surely that’s a good spot for industrial land.

      1. “The farms around the airport are a bit odd as well – surely that’s a good spot for industrial land.”

        Isn’t that already happening to some extent? After all the growth in this area has been part of the argument for rail to the airport for a while now and surely we’d want to sort out transport (all modes) before filling up the whole area. That’s how the ghastly Manukau city centre came into existence (see story).

        1. Well, the story is that they did sort out transport for Manukau CC when they built it – they sorted it out by building some giant roads!

  4. The thing is, if the plan was to develop that ground level car parking then it should have been closed off straight away. Leaving it open will eventually see it both fill up and demands for another expensive carpark to compensate when the land is finally developed.

    1. It will probably fill up a lot more from the MIT campus when it opens next year. But unless the land is developed immediately, there’s going to be a big carpark-shaped space there, so it’s going to be very hard to close it off.

    1. Well, that’s to be expected, since a lot of fairy tales don’t have fairy tale endings either. Those Grimm brothers were pretty nasty… 😀

    1. If you provide no other way to get there, you actually need it. Planning stupidity rarely happens in isolation…

      On a side note, I have never seen anyone cycle there either, not even on all those new cycle lanes – who wants to ride a bike next to six lanes of traffic? All that space for transport and they couldn’t even spring for a few off-road cycle paths.

      1. No not true. The assumption has and still is that parking should be free. Even if there was no alternative to driving then we should not be providing this much parking; we should be charging for it and providing much much less.

        1. Where in my comment was I talking of FREE parking??? Or of the merits of parking or otherwise? All I was saying is that you cannot expect to build roads only, and then expect to NOT have to build car parks amassing as well. One is extremely closely tied to the other.

  5. Great post Patrick indeed – and also thanks for posting it as well 😀

    Just a note from Today’s Transport Committee where the Notice of Motion which was “Requests Auckland Transport to give a high priority to the installation of a south facing rail link between the Manukau Spur Line and the North Island Main Trunk Line at Wiri so that this connection can be in place by the time
    that electrification of the Auckland Metro rail systems occurs.”

    The motion basically got blended in with a strongly worded recommendation from Councillor Mike Lee which was then voted in favour of unanimously by the Committee. Needless to say while the wheels turn slow in the bureaucracy; progress was made with the moving forward of The Southern Manukau Link – AND getting Papakura to Pukekohe electrified sooner rather than later.

    I am also mentioning that Papakura (my Local Board) and Franklin Local Boards were in support of the recommendation.

    Hope yet for South and Counties Auckland 😀

  6. On a more positive note. Quite by accident the Sylvia park Station has ended up neatly sandwiched between retail and work. What do it’s stat look like? Is it working in some humble way?

      1. Auckland Transport, for some unknown reason, refuse to release station boarding information for 2011 and 2012. We’re going to LGOIMA them very soon if they don’t stop being such dickheads on the issue.

        1. Peter, have you guys communicated with Dr Levy yet? He’s apparently promising much greater transparency judging by his first interviews.

      2. Not wanting to rain on the parade, but 800 / day is still NOTHING compared to what Sylvia Park gets by car traffic. If I remember right some surveys I have studied a year or so ago, it equates to something like 5% or so of their people turnover. Not saying the station was a wrong move, though. 5% less cars is 5% less cars.

        1. 5% isn’t too bad for a location way outside the central city that’s surrounded by hectares of free parking and giant roads. That’s also from a weekday – for all we know it might be busier on a Saturday (probably the only station that’s true for). On the other hand, not every one of the 800 came from the mall.

        2. Move 5% to 10%, which is not unlikely given how much the usefulness of the service [in quality, reach, frequency, speed] will improve over the next few years and there will be big opportunities for the mall owner to build on a chunk of the carpark, a whole lot of happier drivers with better access, and less pressure on us to spend ever more on the surrounding road network. Kiwi Income Properties will earn because of the Transit integration at SP.

          Every single non driving customer is gold to the mall operator, especially one who switches from driving, even sometimes. And we know that once people start not driving they tend to stay that way….. Once they ‘come over to the dark side’ they usually stay… this is what transformation looks like. Slow but sure.

          A 5% mode shift across the whole city? That would be a huge change and improve the quality of life and efficiency of the economy enormously. Motorways would really start to look over-built for many more hours of the day…

        3. Who ever said that using PT was going to the dark side, if anything wouldn’t it be the other way around 😉
          The rebel alliance a group of volunteer transport bloggers, cyclists and other small groups vs the death star that is the RTF and Government Policy.

        4. Indeed, inverted commas; sarcasm, am I being too subtle in the age of the smiley face?

          Talking of too subtle; no one get the song that the post title is referencing? A bit obscure I guess.

        5. Well, I got the title reference, and I can’t get it out my head now, thanks. Try putting the accent on “Manukau” the same as in the song… a truly evil earworm.

        6. SP is a hellish shopping mall, but some people seem to enjoy it. If I could, I’d only take the train and then I could avoid driving or walking through the acres of car-parking on the Mt Wgtn Hway side. As it is, I think I age about a year each time I try to park at SP.

          Because the station has a range of people using it (commuters, shoppers, school kids, all age ranges, etc), it feels much more lively than many of the other stations. It also feels much safer and more like a ‘real’ train station.

          I have also had that song stuck in my head since I saw the post, and have been silently cursing you. Well played. Now I’ll have to go rent the film.

        7. You’ve never seen Sound of Music? Haha, that makes me feel much better about the list of movies I haven’t seen but “should have”. 😉

  7. All I can do is shake my head and think here we go again. We continue to do the same mistakes and I just fear it will be the same with the unitary plan.

  8. For intercity/Naked/Naki 40 buses per day stopping at Manukau, It is a bit of a time waster driving in and out of, Longer term planning for Regional transport hub should center on a widened SH1 between rail lines and Great south road. 400m from Te Mahia (159p) , 1,100m to Takanini (453p) and 100m from 14+ Buses per hour on Great south road.

  9. Sounds like governments (local and central) have wasted a lot of money on this area of land over s long period of time. Best they stop altogether. The idea that the council thinks it is in its remit to build car parking buildings makes my blood boil

  10. That overhead map of Manukau is really depressing. What a huge amount of land given up for concrete and parking. What a shame that we had to go for yet another half baked compromise re the Manukau Train Station.
    Also what a great post. It beautifully illustrates the huge problems with our endless car based solutions. Well Done.

  11. I actually thought AT stopped the building of a multi-storey car-park in Manukau last year or earlier this year. That’s why I was surprised to see the pic of one in Patrick’s piece. Or is my memory failing?!!

  12. Wow, that car parking building has it’s own car parking around it at grade, right up to the walls. They didn’t even throw in a greenwashing landscape strip around it of the kind they require of every Tom Dick & Harry developer these days.

    Man, THAT is sticking to your convictions!

  13. So …. How do we solve a problem like Manukau?

    A few ideas..
    No new parking.
    Start building medium and high density residential in the gaps and replacing at grade car parking areas.
    Dedicated cycle lane & dedicated bus lanes on all the major corridors through Manukau town centre. removing angle parking etc will allow for this.
    Plan for a protect a PT trasnport corridor from the station to te irirangi drive.
    More community facilities, artisits residences, cultural centres, sports facilities and musical venues to bring life outside of the retail focus.

  14. Surely tertiary institutes should be required to build some proportion of student housing as part of any large development, such as on the Manukau and Newmarket sites? Manukau has plenty of space for further housing – many of these carparks could be built over.

    1. Yeah Dave, that’s one of my points above, at grade car parks are a form of land banking for future better use, but not not parking buildings, especially ones with such poor urbanism attributes. And funded by by the ratepayer?!

  15. Love the stident housing idea on the carpark, DaveWest. A backdoor way to solve a tiny bit of the AKL housing crisis by removing some students from the demand side of the equation.

  16. I’m sure the carpark was meant to be hidden by buildings but it’s not the council’s job to do that. The angled parking will be gone when ever Haymen Park gets re-developed. Also the ground parking behind the new carpark building I think I read was to be developed nto a public square but I can’t be sure of that. With regard to leftover land from the cutting of the park there is still a big chunk between the new station road and the motorway which was earmarked for tertiary education aswell.

  17. however bad Manukau is, Albany and Botany are much much worse. At least with Manukau the jobs (and soon tertiary education) are integrated with the shops (mostly mall). In Albany there are all seperated by huge roads, carparks and appalling design of buildings.
    Manukau will be much easier to fix, as much of the carparking is Council owned so can be sold for development sites.
    The council should be starting on this soon, considering they have a big empty carpark that cars should be pushed into from better sites. The block between the station and the Council building should be first.
    Also there was some talk of improving links between station and mall, this should be a priority as will help patronage. Should start by widening Putney way footpath. Will provide much greater legibility to the station. Even a few big signs outside the mall will help.

  18. So now that they have all the extra carparks, are the going to convert the existing out door ones to something else? If they did then the project is not all that bad.

    1. The projects are built with the intention of freeing up land for development. I don’t have so much of an issue with that except what tends to happen is that the land to be developed isn’t leaving us with an expensive car park and lots of surface carparking which further distorts peoples behaviour. If we open a parking building that is justified on freeing up that land then that land should be closed off straight away so people don’t take the new facility as just an addition.

      1. Why not just invest in the desired development, and let the parking settle itself?

        Oh that would be ratepayers altering the market…. well what is this then? So weird that we spend on parking like this….

  19. I had the pleasure of working around the Manukau town centre today and while there had an opportunity to have a look around. Firstly, as opposed to Cr Quax and a few others, I now think the car park could have a silver lining. The first thing I would do now is rebuild Davies Ave with parallel parking along both sides of the road. There is still enough room for full Amsterdam style cycle lanes and a grass verge right down the middle of the road. Narrow the lanes, install pedestrian crossings to the park and you will then create a real link to the park. A sense of place. This would then encourage parking in the new parking building. The town centre near the IRD building has people just wandering around. The apartments appear to be well occupied and some more of these built onto existing car parks would be beneficial to the city. I would then put Manukau Station Road on a diet, loose a couple of intersections (namely the odd old council entrance and the additional westfield entrance). Heck, build another car park building if that will allow more apartments to be built. It seems expensive but it will be great for Manukau I feel.

    1. I don’t get the logic – Manukau is full of empty carparks and you propose building another parking building? That’s almost as insane as Auckland Transport.

    2. Building out those existing car parks would be a good thing but why bother having AT build another car park, remove the parking minimums and leave it to private developers to do if there is demand for it.

      1. The reference was not necessarily for AT to build car parks but I do think AT/AC should driving the process. In order to make it politically feasible, car park buildings may need to come before redevelopment of the surface parks.

        1. Well, luckily, we’ve just built a giant carpark that’s still empty, so we’re ready right now to develop over the surface parks.

        2. I did say ‘may’ need to build more parking buildings depending on need. I don’t have the figures on how much parking is used on a daily basis but I thought I had already mentioned removing a bunch of street level parking? If it were up to me the all of the surface car parks would be gone, replaced by a mix of retail and accomodation but you can’t just rip 1000 car parks out of an area with out at least trying to give alternatives to shoppers. For a starter, i would move all the council staff parking from in front of the uni to AT’s new building to leave that land ripe for redevelopment or a continuation of the park perhaps. (leaving a strip available for rail to continue through of course). As an aside, does anyone know who owns the big carparks out the front of the mall?

        3. Example KIP want to build offices on their carparks at Sylvia Park but MPRs are being enforced by some drongo at the Council and won’t let them!!!!! The place is on a train line and bus routes, WTF. Can we change the regs and fire the drongos please?

        4. The “drongos” at council don’t have the option of simply ignoring the regulations, it’s their job to enforce them. Changing the regulations is the way forward, and hopefully we shall see that with the Unitary Plan.

        5. Don’t buy that Nick, you can apply for exemption and when the regs are clear in contradiction to the plans the Council is currently publishing you’d have a strong case. There is room for interpretation. And if that is resisted by officials wanting an easy life by reducing planning aims to box ticking then something permanent indeed needs to be done about the ‘drongos’.

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