When it comes to the debate around sprawl, intensification and housing affordability one of the most persistent arguments for opening up more greenfield land is that land costs at the edge of town are much cheaper and therefore opening it up for development can help in making houses more affordable. We’ve long argued that the looking at the costs of housing alone is only telling one part of the story and that we really should also be taking transport costs into account.

An article in the herald yesterday highlighted that a study on exactly that based on Auckland that had just been published (you’ll need to purchase the paper to be able to read it). The herald writes about it.

Migrating to the outer suburbs may not be the affordable dream many Aucklanders believe, according to a new study which lays bare the true cost of commuting.

Researchers have for the first time created a detailed picture of housing affordability in New Zealand’s largest city when commuting costs are factored in, with surprising results.

One calculation showed that the most affordable homes could even be found in some inner areas of the city.

“When you take into account that people in outlying areas are so much more dependent on automobiles than people in inner-city neighbourhoods, transport costs should play a role in what locations we consider to be affordable or not,” study co-author Kerry Mattingly said.


The researchers created two separate income-based indicators to measure combined commuting and housing affordability across different suburbs of Auckland.

This stands in stark contrast to measures considering housing costs in isolation, which show affordability generally improves with distance from the centre of the city.

One of the indicators, which they said presented a more accurate picture of how affordable an area would be for a typical family to live in, found the most affordable areas were found in the lower central, inner-west and inner-south of Auckland.

Areas close to employment hubs appeared relatively more affordable using the measure due to modest expenditure on commuting.

In some peripheral areas, average annual commuting costs could be five times the amount shouldered by those living in many central Auckland neighbourhoods.

The study highlights that there’s no point in just building a heap more housing out on the urban fringe as that alone won’t make housing more affordable primarily due to people having to drive further. To me this result is completely unsurprising and shows we need to be much smarter about how we develop out city if affordability is something that people are actually concerned about.

Amazingly I have seen some people suggest that without having read it, the study is flawed because it focuses only on people travelling to the CBD however actually reading through the paper shows that this completely false. Using the 2006 census data the researchers looked at individual area units within Auckland, where the people within them were travelling to for work and what mode they used. That means someone travelling to the CBD is treated exactly the same as someone travelling to a different part of Auckland.

Yet despite how detailed the researchers have been there are a still factors that haven’t been taken into account that would likely further impact on affordability. For example parking costs aren’t taken into account and the calculations only take into account the distance travelled, not the time travelled. Both of these are likely to further favour areas where there good PT, walking and cycling connections.

Here’s one of the maps showing housing affordability compared to median income however once again you’ll need to buy the paper to see all of them.

Housing Affordability and Transport costs


“If you just look at housing costs alone, outlying areas appear really affordable and it initially seems to make sense to say, hey, let’s open up greenfield sites on the urban periphery and develop here,” Mr Mattingly said. “But when you include these broader costs, they are not as affordable as they seem.”

He said the results went against the traditional notion of “drive ’til you qualify”.

When wider social impacts such as increased pollution were taken into account, low-density, urban-fringe expansion was even less ideal, he said.

While increasing the supply of housing may well help to lower the cost of housing, Mr Mattingly said it was the way in which supply was improved that was important.

“In particular, the location and density of residential development will have strong implications for associated transportation costs, combined housing and transport affordability, and long-term environmental sustainability.”

Policy-makers needed to consider the relationship between housing and transport, and strike a balance between an adequate supply of land for development and intensification.

It’s certainly an interesting paper and something I’ve wanted to see more data on for a while so thank to the authors for doing this. The timing is also good being just before the unitary plan submissions close.

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  1. Yes, quite timely. Albany and Ormiston out south are not suprising at all, so dependent on cars to get around. I think most people are clueless when it comes to factoring in the transport costs of their various living options. They rarely do those calculations when looking for a place to live. I have a colleague who has a house in Waiuku but rents an apartment in the city to stay during the week because it saves him several hours a week and he is paid enough to justify doing so.

    1. You make a good point, Ari.. in many of those outlying areas, on top of higher commuting transport costs, you need to drive to get around anywhere.. even the dairy.

  2. A very welcome piece of work. The fundamental messages are pretty clear.

    I’d like to see this as a first step though; there are aspects of the methodology that could be refined further, such as applying models for both rental and homeownership. Studies and anecdotal evidence suggests a big disconnect between the two in Auckland. I’m also puzzled by the difference in costs for rail and train that they use- both options on my journey cost the same.

    More usefully, I’d like to see Council develop a webtool like the American H+T index. Now that someone has setup the methodology it would be a piece of cake to push out through their GIS servers. As a piece of information to serve the people of the city it would be tremendously useful. Ideally it would combine with PT options linked to the MAXX database to show the real cost options available when choosing where to live and work, and what travel mode costs are.

    1. The bus rail difference might come from the EEM, which applies a different average cost in acknowledgement that rail trips are substantially longer. Still a flaw though, on a per km basis fares are very similar across all routes and modes.

  3. I have read the study. “Housing costs” are RENTS, from the 2006 Census. The rental market is more disproportionately biased towards smaller accommodation at more central locations than the housing market is.

    Vehicle running costs are for a 2175cc-engined car.

    They make no account of the fact that some locations will be unaffordable to all households below a certain income level, more so if the household is a larger one that needs more space.

    The scale of “Combined Housing and Transport Affordability” has brackets starting from <22% and going up to 46%+.

    Almost the entire region apart from the exurbs, falls into these remarkably affordable sub-32% categories when median income in each area is used.

    When Auckland median household income is applied to all areas, it is only the more central locations that fall into the lowest brackets of “combined housing plus transport costs” as a proportion of household income; i.e. below 32%.

    Apart from the fact that this is actually on the low side compared to reality that most young households today have to spend more than 50% on housing costs alone to get into their first home, this conveys the impression that many Auckland households could save money on “combined housing plus transport costs” by moving closer to the centre.

    In each area, to what extent was the median income affected by the ratio of single income and double income households in each area? This must be an underlying contributor to the apparently quite good affordability in most areas when local median household income is used – because the double income households will be located where properties are larger and the single income households will be located where they are smaller. Presumably the central locations where single income households will be predominant – and hence “household income” will be lower – achieve affordability in BOTH tests because the housing units are small and more of the households do without a car. But this does not mean that the 2-earner households can fit in the same housing or do without one or both of their cars just by moving closer to one of their two jobs. They also likely have school-related travel and other family travel requirements to consider.

  4. The study authors claim that their findings “are consistent with the findings of comparable North American and Australian studies”. Of course. These other studies have the same flaws of approach, and some even worse ones that I have exposed on other forums already. The authors ignore better studies that have found the opposite of what they say, such as the comprehensive “Costs of Sprawl” studies.

    They criticise Demographia, and even Anthony Downs, for allegedly failing to include transportation costs in their measures of “housing affordability” – actually Downs is the most incisive and useful author around on this very point. He just says the exact opposite to what these authors do.

    Anthony Downs discusses the forced “drive to qualify” phenomenon – a factor of housing affordability – in his 2004 book, “Still Stuck in Traffic”. Also, Downs was one of the contributors to the famous “Costs of Sprawl 2000” paper. There is a chapter entitled:

    “The Effect of Lower-Cost, Outlying Land on Housing Costs”:

    Page 448 onwards of the following PDF is highly relevant:


    Dr Kara Kockelman of the University of Texas, some of whose research is referenced in the “Costs of Sprawl” study, has done further research since with the same outcomes.

    Downs makes a lot of the point that the more expensive houses are relative to incomes, the more incentive there is for households, especially first home buyers, to locate further away from CBD’s, because the savings on housing costs are greater than the additional cost of travel (assuming employment is in the CBD).

    For example; Anthony Downs; “Can Transit Tame Sprawl?” Jan 2002:

    “…..In “The Costs of Sprawl 2000″, a recent study conducted by Rutgers University, the Brookings Institution and several other organizations, part of the research examined how housing prices vary with distance from the regional downtown of each metropolitan area. Although only a few areas were analyzed, the study showed consistently that prices of similar homes tended to decline about 1.2 to 1.5 percent per additional mile from the regional downtown, except where proximity to the ocean had more influence on prices—as in Southern California.
    Meanwhile, longer-distance commutes added to fuel and travel-time costs by about the same amount per mile in every region. The study also found that per-mile housing-cost savings from added commuting distance were much larger in regions with absolutely very high housing costs than in those with absolutely low housing costs. Therefore, it was more likely to be economically worthwhile for households to move further out to gain cheaper housing in high-housing-cost regions such as the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, than in low-housing-cost areas…….”

    That is an essential statement of Urban and transport economics 101; and of realities of choices (or lack of them) that actual living households confront; that no amount of statistical adventurism can wave away in the service of “Green” ideology and rentier class vested interests. The Mattingley and Morrissey paper is particularly unhelpful at the current time to everyone except the ideologues and the vested interests that are reaping such substantial gains from urban land values being inflated some 2000% so far over historically affordable norms.

    There is plenty of corroborating evidence from the UK of the dismal failure of compact city planning. For example:


    “British commuters have the longest journeys to work in Europe with the average trip taking 45 minutes, according to a study. That is almost twice as long as the commute faced by Italians and seven minutes more than the European Union average…..”

    The US average is 26 minutes……


    The assumption that the low density cities with affordable house prices will have household transport costs that negate the advantage is not borne out by real life data. For example:

    “The C2ER Cost of Living Index for 307 Metropolitan Areas”


    The USA’s very LOW density cities not only have less traffic congestion and more affordable housing (of larger size), they are undeniably very much cheaper overall to live in. The cities with the lowest housing costs also tend to have the lowest transport costs, not the highest; and also tend to have the lowest costs of all other categories of household costs.

      1. Quite so. And living close to work will be maximised by dispersal of employment and minimal spikiness of property prices at central or any other locations. The typical affordable US city, in other words.

        It has been known for years in the urban economics profession that the people who work at the approximately 85% of employment that is now not in the CBD in most cities, have shorter average commutes than those who do work in the CBD.


        “…..But while it is sensible to tax driving on crowded streets, it does not seem sensible to respond to congestion externalities by fighting sprawl. Before employment decentralization, when sprawl meant suburbanites driving downtown, the link between
        sprawl and added street traffic on congested roads was tight. However, the decentralization of employment actually reduces the pressure on crowded downtown streets. By moving to lower densities, the traffic problem is actually reduced. Indeed, one of the major appeals of sprawl cities is that they have shorter commutes than dense downtowns……”

        That’s Ed Glaeser and Matthew Kahn saying that…….

        1. Furthermore I would argue as a principle, that in ALL cities where there is a problem with a high incidence of breaches of Zahavi Travel Time budgets, the cause will be systematically high urban land prices, with the peaks being correspondingly higher. It is quite simple to draw up your own graph of curves of “housing plus transport costs” from fringe to centre of a city, with a range of outcomes for different land price levels; add some straight lines for what households at each income quintile can afford, and see what happens to location options as land prices inflate.

          It is insanity to think that inflating the land prices will have a beneficial effect on options for anything.

          In fact I would love to see the Mattingly and Morrissey analysis repeated using a factor for each area to boost their “housing cost” to represent the higher cost of buying rather than renting (which is a symptom of a bubble BTW); and repeated again using a factor for each area to represent what the housing costs were in, say, 1992. Isn’t it self-evident that the more efficient locations will be even more affordable in the “low housing cost” (1992) scenario, and less affordable in the “high cost of ownership” (the Kiwi preference is ownership) scenario?

    1. Are you sure the last isn’t just measuring economic failure. Detroit for example is very low density due to land use and population loss, has extremely cheap housing because people can’t give their properties away, and low transport cost because the residents don’t have much reason to move around at all.
      The lowest density metros are probably the lowest density because nobody wants to or can live there. Land value is simply the market price of the desirability of an area.

    2. Yet the market speaks: people the world over and Auckland is no exception are bidding the value of properties with better accessibility. Just yesterday I asked an agent what the trends in Auckland are and without hesitating he said he can move ‘anything central’ instantly. We can all see it in the price spreads. Of course there are still other factors like coastal properties, and some distortion to do with desirable schools, but it is clear that people are increasingly prepared to pay more to not have to use a motorway.

      I wouldn’t bet the house on property at the end of the motorway, Phil.

    3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3085647.stm

      Did you actually read this article or just skim read the first paragraph? The RAC actually says that the problem is that only 11% of people outside London use PT and calls for the government to invest in BOTH roads and PT:

      “The RAC Foundation’s Kevin Delaney told BBC News the UK’s ongoing love affair with the car could be blamed on the lack of improvements in public transport under Labour.”

      Actually very similar to what the AA here is calling for – the AA is also supportive of cycle infrastructure in the way of separated cycle paths.


      On this one, is this commute time by car or commute time by all modes? It is not clear to me. If only by car then it is not surprising that European countries are so long as most people travel by PT or cycle and the convenience of cars is often (at least in Northern Europe) purposefully reduced.

      It is also pretty disappointing that the figures for most of Europe are 10-15 years old while the USA figures are only 4 years old. Surely that must skew the data? You havent mentioned that Sweden and Denmark (two countries with high bicycle use) are actually better than the USA. I would be very interested to see wherethe Netherlands would appear on that list.

      The bad countries are mostly Southern European countries (in which I include France for cultural reasons) who have invested heavily in roads and dont have great PT systems or cycling. I am surprised by Germany though.

    4. Phil: ‘The USA’s very LOW density cities not only have less traffic congestion and more affordable housing (of larger size), they are undeniably very much cheaper overall to live in.’

      Let’s not jump to conclusions about the direction of causation. Maybe ‘lower density’ correlates with ‘smaller cities’ which correlates with ‘fewer opportunities, lower wages’ which naturally correlates with ‘lower cost of living’, for reasons which are not caused by the lower density.

      Scanning your referenced C2ER Cost of Living Index, the main point seems to be ‘it’s cheaper to live in the rust belt than in Silicon Valley’. Now why would that be?

  5. I have a 110 km return commute in Canterbury. It costs me $13 in petrol. Say $70 per week in petrol, car repayment is about $40, I am covered by warranty, so only reg, insurance and tyres. It depends on how you calculate this, we needed the car even before moving to Amberley. The drop in rent from ChCh to Amberley was $495 to $400 to a newer, nicer and warmer place, while we wait to build. My wife gets paid mileage. So definitely no worse off. I think I am at the limit for practical commuting to Christchurch but it is time not cost that dictates this. On a fast run to work it is 45 min which is the norm as I do shift work. If I have to travel at peak times it is over an hour. My wife mainly works from home, maybe going to CHCH CBD once a week. Interestingly land costs drop massively north of Amberley, we are around $150K for 1/4 acre, Waipara 10-15 km north is only $100K.

    My friend in Wellington thinks that housing + commuting costs equals a constant amount in the Wellington region.

    Is it so that when new supply is inelastic, either by geography, Wellington or by bureacratic mandate -Christchurch then the market clears at house + commuting costs equals a constant or maybe a slight decline in reflect the time value. Is Auckland new housing inelastic due to geography or bureaucratic mandate.

    Of course all these equations change if we change the planning rules. I think Councils should be forced to rezone all land within walking distance of a school -say 1.5 km. The school car run being a significant cause of traffic congestion. Walking apparently is something to be encouraged to stop childhood obesity. Is it fair we are funding schools that in practice only the elite can attend? Why are these high value public amentities restricted? Is that the best use of our resources?

    Google map Ohoka, it is a residential area in everything but the fact it is one house per 4 hectares. It has a school, gas station, hall, domain, farmers market. Prices range from $328K to $495K for bare lifestyle blocks.

    Canterbury > Waimakariri >Ohoka

    Obviously no medium income person can buy in Ohoka. But even at these prices, raw lands prices would be$30K to $50K for a typical 700sqm section with 300sqm allowed for roads, reserves etc. I seriously doubt developer costs can be more than $100K including profit, based on Amberley and Waipara residential sections being created for that value. So highly affordable sections could easily be generated, perhaps as affordable as Amberley is currently. Ohoka has a shorter commute to Christchurch than Rangiora and Rolleston and a lot shorter than Amberley. Ohoka could go from elite-ville to affordable family friendly-ville. Places like Ohoka should have been an option for my sort of family one needing more space because we are a family of four requiring a large office to work from home and to be close to schools and services like a post office.

    There is many other ‘rural’ schools in Canterbury close to Christchurch that either lack urban density housing or are underdeveloped villages. Clarkville, West Eyerton, Swannanoa, Weedons, Tai Tapu, West Melton, Lincoln. Only the towns of Rolleston, Rangiora, Pegasus and Kaiapoi and Prebbleton have been allowed to grow significantly at normal urban densities. Lincoln and West Melton to a lesser extent. The others not at all. Tai Tapu has 4hectares lifestyle blocks that are advertised as subdivisions. They are new ultra low density residential areas for the elite while the middle and low incomers are crammed into much much higher density residential areas elsewhere. It is massive social engineering.

    Of course all us pesky medium income families might bring down property values and lower the tone of the schools for the elite so I guess it shouldn’t be allowed.

    I wonder if Auckland has the same sort of possibilities?

    1. Brendan I don’t think it is social engineering, as the reason why those places you mention have not developed.
      It is due to an engineering issue though.

      Basically, if the same level of growth that Selwyn District and surrounds is seeing was to be repeated “up north”, another crossing of the Waimakariri river would be needed, at quite some cost due to the wide width of the river at the most likely crossing points.

      This is not a recent or a new issue – since Canterbury was first settled, the ability to cross the wide braided rivers with vehicles and trains has directed where development on the plains occurs. And the original Raikaia river bridge was also a bottleneck for development southwards on the plains as well.

      So thats why the northern towns are the way they are – basically no one (Local or Central Government) wants to pay for the bridge needed to bring them closer to Christchurch. There are 3 crossing bridges along the entire 40+km length the Waimak river between the foothills and the sea – 2 of them near Christchurch & one near Oxford.

      To give that an Auckland context that would the same as if the Waitemata harbour completely Bisected the North island into two (i.e. the “harbour” ran from the Tasman to the Pacific making the North Shore and areas north, an island, but with a 2 lane each way bridge at the existing harbour bridge and another 1 lane each way, way inland near Waitakere.

      In that case, yes most of the development would occur south and west of the Waitemata. And land north of the bridges would be cheaper as it used to be prior to the Harbour Bridges going in as its simply harder/more expensive in time and cost to get to.

      1. GregN I think you are right it is an engineering issue, it is also a transport funding issue, or a local government funding issue. Note any Waimakariri river bridge would be much smaller than Auckland’s harbour bridge.

        I have written an article about this for Stuff.co.nz.


        And I see housing and transport closely linked, as does Alain Beraud former chief planner World Bank. Read the foreword to this survey to get the idea. http://www.demographia.com/dhi.pdf

    2. What if another 100,00 people move into that area. Then your commute time will shoot up and/or the government will be pushed into spending $1 billion to upgrade the motorway, and build several parallel motorways with expensive bridges. Also what happens if the price of petrol doubles, certainly not out of question in the next 5 years.

      While my rent has been expensive living in and adjacent to the CBD, my transport costs are very low. Last year was $600, split into buying a bike ($200) and spending on my HOP cards ($400) which is mostly travel around exploring the city rather than commuting. Probably saved myself $5000 on transport, worth about $100 per week in rent. Allowing more people to choose to live like this would slash people’s costs, and aid the economy as money spent locally rather than on imported cars and fuel with close to 0 economic benefit to NZ.

      1. Luke C we each have to make the best decision for ourselves. I am not arguing that my solution is best for everyone, or without costs. I have plans for changing vehicles should petrol prices rise. Alternatively new job opportunities closer to Amberley will become available so this high transport cost and travel times will unlikely be the case for the next 20+ years. But if I had paid $100K more for a new house in Christchurch compared with our land/build costs in Amberley then we certainly would be paying more for the next 20+ years

    3. Brendon, you need to include something for distance based maintenance costs, which is more than just tyres. For me it’s about equal to the petrol cost (at $A1.50 per litre and a small car at 6-7 litres per 100)

      You personally may not mind whether your commute is 15 minutes or 45, but in this sort of calculation, to get figures for the population, you also need to include a cost for the value of people’s time.

      1. But time is something you actually don’t have to pay money for; but you DO have to pay money for “the value of time capitalised into the RE market at efficient locations”. This is one of the reasons markets that “price out” people from efficient locations, end up with first home buyers doing ultra long commutes. The mental effect is time sacrificed that would otherwise have been spent with family, doing hobbies, etc.

        I reckon that if it wasn’t for in-car entertainment, people trapped in this circumstance would go nuts.

        1. he he …in bus entertainment works too 🙂 …….conversations with a two year old can be very diverting !
          but on a serious note reason for taking my kids with me into town to daycare was in large part to allow a ~50 mins commute become a chance for some further quality time with them connecting ………we could not afford to be close so we made the best of what we had …….and on a bus you don’t have the dinner, washing and dishes and other after work chores to distract you – it does genuinely give you a chance to give them your full attention (and of course on the downside you need to otherwise they might try to escape and drive the bus or something !)
          And on the upside what seems like torture to me in terms of a crowded motorway is an utter delight to a 2 year old male ……..the more trucks the better too !

      2. People who particularly value their time seem very willing to pay a price premium to live in inner urban areas. That’s probably one of the key reasons why prices in central Auckland have increased so much over the past few decades – at much faster rates than outer suburbia.

          1. Er, “cash rich” is a somewhat ironic term when house price median multiples are now around nine in your city.

            Have you watched Elizabeth Warren’s YouTube presentations called “The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class”? One of the things I remember her saying was that there are more bankruptcies than divorces, and most parents hide their bankruptcy from the kids. “We’re moving in with grandma to look after her”. “We’re moving to Texas for a new job”. I wonder how many of these bankruptcies were subsequent on taking on a $1,000,000 mortgage so commute time could be saved?

  6. All outer suburbs have all amenities nearby, as all types of shops and services spread out with the houses, so I don’t see how distances are further by living there. The only way distances increase is if you make the poor decision to live well away from work. If you work in Albany, then living in Howick would not be wise. The only situation I can think of where the problem arises due to poor decision making on behalf of city planners is the phenomena of allowing the cramming of more and more jobs into the Auckland CBD.

    The problem is not building more outer suburbs. The problem is city planners allowing more and more jobs to go into a central location, thus giving the workers the unenviable choice of either travelling far, or paying vastly more than they should for a tiny plot of land closer to work.

    1. You mean city planners not making laws to ban companies from locating where it whey want to be and forcing them to go where they don’t?

      Shall we also ban the universities from the centre where they are most accessible to all students in the region, shall we also ban the museum and art gallery, the theatres too? The department stores and specialist boutiques?

      There is a reason the Bruce Mason Centre has just gone bankrupt, because it can’t attract custom from anywhere outside the north shore. It’s pool of potential customers sits at about 200k people. Meanwhile the Civic in town services the whole region of 15m customers.

      It’s precisely the same with business. My company attracts talented workers from all over Auckland, and serves clients likewise spread about the region (but mostly in the CBD). I would hate it if they moved the office to Manukau. Am I supposed to live in Manukau while my partner lives in the city next to her job?

      Living next to your job might have worked when only one person per household had a job or otherwise did anything particularly important or interesting with their day, and where people stayed in the same job their while lives.

      It’s not the 1950s Geoff, people don’t live in nuclear families where dad works the same shift at the factory from 9 to 5 every day of his life, mother stays home to launder and cook, and the children only get as far as the local primary school.

      1. Try setting up a factory in the Auckland CBD Nick. Plenty of businesses would love to establish themselves at the gate of the port, but they can’t because the council planning prevents it for the greater good.

        Good planning ensures that you build within your means and in a manner that leads to the best outcome for society.

        Not sure about your irrelevant (and incorrect) 1950’s comment. Seems a little odd?

        1. There is a factory less than 100m from my apartment, a whole row of them in fact. I could ask the owners how much trouble they had.

          But wait, you are saying that many jobs are already banned from the centre, yet I people still want to live there? I don’t follow your reasoning.

          The 1950s statement is a response to your claim that everyone should just live next to their suburban workplaces. It’s functionally impossible for the majority of households in Auckland.

        2. Geoff, what he was saying is not odd but it is a point missed by people like yourself advocating for dispersed employment. You assume two things:

          1. The employee will work in that area for the rest of their life.
          2. That everyone in the household will work in the same area.

          Now if either of those is not true (and that probably represents most households in Auckland) then at least one person in the household will need to travel from their fringe area to (possibly) another fringe area.

          So if a family lived in Howick and the father works in Howick (and he works for that company for 20 years) that is fine. But that is a very 1950s scenario and becoming less and less likely.

          But if the mother then gets a job in Albany or the father shifts jobs or the job relocates to Albany or one of the children leaves school and gets a job in Albany – then a commute to Albany is required. It is unlikely that a family will up sticks and take there children out of school just because of the chnaged situation. People will take on horrendous commutes to ensure their children get to stay with their school friends – and good on them because it is horrible to be taken away from friends at a young age.

          But no matter where I live, if my job is in the CBD, my commute remains unchanged.

          “Plenty of businesses would love to establish themselves at the gate of the port” – exactly but the main thing keeping them out is probably cost of land rather than zoning – depending on the type of industry.

          The best way is the cluster and connect model, where we ensure that mixed use areas are built and connected by good PT. This is the Garden City model that was proposed in the 1940s and actually built in Wellington with great success. However, this plan was then scuttled by the 1949 National government who put all out eggs in the SOV basket.

    2. So how and why should city planners stop businesses wanting to locate and employ more people in the CBD? This phenomena you speak of seems to happen in every city around the world.

      1. And most of those cities have multiple high capacity transport links. Auckland CBD has limited transport links, therefore the balance between transport and employment reaches its threshold sooner if you keep cramming in more people, without adding new high capacity transport links. Good planning will ensure development always remains within its means.

  7. We live in the new subdivision at Karaka Lakes. I work in Penrose, as do the majority of my neighbours (some in highbrook). I catch the train to work from papakura or occasionally drive if I need to drop the wee one at daycare. I’d spend no more than 30 minutes commuting each way, each day.

    Broad brush studies which consider the costs associated with CBD commutes kind of gloss over the thousands who don’t commute to the CBD. My commuting costs are low, as are this of my neighbours. We have a wonderful community with loads of events we organise ourselves.

    Don’t be so quick to mock suburbia when it’s done well and so many people love their choice.

    1. The study has to make some assumptions, it would appear there have been some big assumptions on both ‘sides’ of the debate (e.g. no parking costs included).
      I don’t think the study is saying that people shouldn’t live in the suburbs, or that it is never cheaper to live in the suburbs, just that it might not be as cheap as you would expect. For people who have a long commute every day to save a few bucks on the mortgage, they might be better off moving central.
      Of course the real way to save money is by getting rid of a car due to having a good public transport network. Most households could get by with one car if they have good commuting options, and save thousands of dollars a year. This is why in most cities, houses near a train station command a significant premium. I don’t think the National government understand this simple fact.

    2. Your case is a handy rebuke of the many that claim Public Transport is only useful for CBD trips, helps back up what you see at Penrose and Ellerslie where many people get off in the morning.
      Pity so many offices scattered throughout Highbrook, if they were along the rail corridor (Manukau to Ellerslie) instead could get much better PT usage, rather than the handful who get PT to Highbrook because of the the rubbish design meaning PT very hard to get to work.

  8. Do you really think people are so dumb that they don’t know a house further out is going to mean higher travel costs? My experience is that people are very good optimisers especially people who are having to purchase close to their budget constraint. People who choose to live further out factor in everything that’s how the market works, that’s how the market sets are price based on willing buyer and willing seller. To suggest there is assymetric information is not credible in my view unless people are buying online without a site visit. Secondly the economic model that suggests houses further out should be cheaper doesn’t account for regulation like the RUB or old Metropolitan Urban Limits. The effect is if you want to build a big house you will need to buy in one of the newer areas so the land price is bid up. That leaves older less loved areas as the affordable option. Its not because people are stupid its because people who want to build and have a new house have more money. Finally think about what happens if you didn’t have these newer areas on the periphery. Those with more money will be forced into the more affordable areas and bid up prices there. So there is a logical cause and effect link between allowing peripheral development and housing affordability just not in the same suburb. But who actually thought that was ever the case. PS thanks to the ARC and their aversion to sprawl I have made more $ out of houses than out of actual work. The losers are those with less money or who start later. I actually feel bad about that but the anti-sprawl people seem ok with this form of regressive taxation.

    1. I think you overestimate people – most would just factor in the price of petrol, not additional maintenance, tyres, etc. My father in law used to commute from Papakura to Auckland every day, he needed to buy a new car every 5 years or so, this is a massive cost compared to buying one say every 8 years.
      You also have to factor in the potential price of petrol in the future – if in 10 years it is $4 a litre, you will probably start wishing you bought a bit more central (but probably won’t be able to afford to as central properties will have increased more). The cost of commuting is always likely to go up in the future, but the price you paid for the house is static.

    2. Actually studies show that people underestimate how hard a long commute is. General article with links here:


      Personally I’d like a nice new 2 bedroom townhouse close to town with good PT links and plenty of shops in walking distance. I think I should be able to get this for $300-$400k. I rent something similar but with some downsides. I think there is some demand for places like this but I am concerned that the NIMBY rules are preventing the market from providing them.

      1. Personally I would like a 240 sqm house on 1/2 an acre with a sea view on the edge of the CBD but I can’t afford it so I bought one 23km out. We all make compromises but the only point I want to keep hammering is we are all best places to figure out our own compromises. Having a local politician remove the choice from you through a rule makes us all worse off.

        1. JohnP .. the article is not about politicians removing choice, its about making the costs clear so you can make more informed choices about where you live.

          1. Yes the original paper is about making costs clear but I think it was posted here as justification for the anti sprawl- squeeze up land prices lobby.

        2. JP, you’re right. Everybody has various desires around habitation and even the wealthiest make compromises when they commit to any actual dwelling. So far all good. But what is really interesting is that when people all make their compromises patterns emerge.

          We can broadly say that three things essentially govern property choice:

          1. Location
          2. Space
          3. Building quality

          This can be seen at every price point. Location includes things like coastal property which is a strong indicator of value. But note some expensive coastal properties are large and distant and some are small and close in (waterfront apartments) both are expensive and the selection of either expresses a compromise.

          What is interesting now that it appears we are moving back to the historically normal situation where location has generally meant Proximity. During the height of the sprawl age many people where clearly happy to compromise on proximity in order to achieve the other two goals, especially space; bigger houses on more land. They were happy to do this because the low cost and the convenience of the car largely negated the need for physical proximity to work, school, friends, shops whatever. Inner city areas lost value and new distant subdivisions with new houses were the fashion.

          This situation is reversing which we can see in the price spread by area. This is clearly related to travel cost in time and money.

          The recent move back is observable all over the western world clearly now shows that proximity as a more valued component in dwelling choice is back. More people are choosing smaller dwellings in more convenient locations than was the case at the end of last century, or even a decade ago. People seem less willing to pay the cost, in time and money, on the commute despite this meaing that they are getting less building and land for their money. This obviously not everyone, but the trend is clear, especially in bigger cities.

          Housing and transport costs are clearly linked to location and are clearly two sides of the one coin.

          One important way that the value of Proximity can be disrupted positively is through transport infrastructure providing good accessibility for those in less proximate places. This has been pursued over multiple decades with the massive investment in driving amenity. But of course this has failed as evidenced by the problem of congestion and transport cost streets. And the disproportionate rise in the value of more proximate dwellings.

      2. That’s a fascinating study Simon and reflects what’s talked about in “Happy City” quite a bit – in short: people make bad decisions about where to locate. They think that they’ll get more happiness about having the bigger house but actually research shows people in more inner areas with shorter commutes but smaller houses have higher levels of happiness.

    3. You cant just talk about the RUB in isolation and pretend that the existing areas of Auckland have reached the residential capacity that “the market” decided.

      The RUB is nowhere near as responsible for high prices in inner city areas as all the exclusionary zoning rules (minimum lot size, maximum coverage, minimum setbacks etc) that prevent density. These have prevented the building of more housing in areas people (like Simon Lyall above) WANT to live in. As I see it, the RUB has prevented people from living in areas they MUST live in because the exclusionary zoning laws have prevented housing being built in more desirable areas.

      “Personally I would like a 240 sqm house on 1/2 an acre”: and arent you lucky that the existing zoning rules make getting what you want really easy (albeit in a location you may not like) – while what Simon L wants (“a nice new 2 bedroom townhouse close to town with good PT links and plenty of shops in walking distance”) is really difficult to get at an affordable price because all the areas which match that description of PT and walkability are tied up in exclusionary zoning rules and NIMBYs who stop it changing.

      It is about choice and variety. For you, size and space are more important than location and accessibility. For Simon (and me) location and accessibility are more important. And yes, I would support removing the RUB but only if the exclusionary zoning laws are removed so we have much more of a free market. Exclusionary zoning laws is part of some of the biggest social engineering ever attempted by humans.

      Cluster and connect is the only way to create a liveable city.

      1. you may be surprised to find I agree with you here. The rules that really prevent density from occurring where it would probably be most desired are the heritage rules. The inner city areas that developed first are probably also the place where high density should develop first because A there would actually be demand, and B the increased travel demand can be dealt with. But zoning still has a place so that people know when they buy what there neighbour can do to them. It acts as a signalling mechanism and can avoid unexpected externalities. (another market failure). Where we disagree is where I believe housing affordability is almost entirely a land supply issue. That affects single house sites and multi-unit sites and apartment sites. The bit I just can’t fathom is why Labour has bought into land restriction which hurts the poor most and benefits the wealthy while National supports the opposite. Both parties seem to be doing the opposite of what you might expect of them. The one thing that is clear is that local government politicians can’t repeal the laws of supply and demand.

        1. “Where we disagree is where I believe housing affordability is almost entirely a land supply issue”

          I’m not sure you are disagreeing here. There’s two ways to increase land supply for any given number of dwellings. You can increase the land supply for residential units by either growing the city’s size or by repurposing land used for other purposes (open space, industry etc).

          As an alternative you decrease the size of the lot you can build a single dwelling on. In Simon’s case above there is not reason why his desired place couldn’t be on 100sq or less of land as part of a development of similar units.

          The Unitary Plan proposes a bit of both. Despite what it’s detractors say it’s way more of the former and very little of the later.

          “But zoning still has a place so that people know when they buy what there neighbour can do to them”

          Sure does. Would be great if responses to this were based on what they actually can do as opposed to something they read in the Herald once about 10 storied buildings going up next door.

          1. You are right you can increase the number of lots by reducing minimum area together with maximum height, daylight controls etc. The problem with that is that neighbours have made significant investment decisions based on current plan rules. If you tweek them then probably most will accept that and if you provide transitions from high buildings to low then again maybe they will accept that. The problem comes when someone can build a high building right to the boundary and existing owners relied on height to boundary rules for their sunlight. You have effectively taken something they relied on as a property right and given it to someone else without compensation. You can argue overall good till you are blue. The person in the shade or overlooked or who now has 12 new neighbours than hadn’t counted on feels ripped off. If you want density then surely the best way is zone in in the inner city so incumbents can make enough profit be happy to sell their villa and see it removed from the site. But do it street at a time or area at a time the same way the ARC used to try and release blocks of rural land for urbanisation. Then people get time to see it coming and understand what it will mean for them.

          2. The street by street idea isnt a bad one and you could easily have a rule where density controls were slowly expanded out from train/busway stations year by year to a maximum of (say) 3kms – an easy cycling distance. That would mean pretty much the whole isthmus would eventually be zoned for density and small lot sizes.

            However, if you remove the RUB, arent you just as likely to get a whole lot of life style block people who bought with the idea they would be living in an exurban area who are suddenly surrounded by residential suburban developments? How is that any different? It is basically what is happening in Swanson and the people there dont want it.

            In both cases, the value of the affected person’s property would go up, so no difference there.

  9. It’s quite telling that the areas of Waitakere with the greatest affordability are clustered along the railway line, including outlying Ranui and Swanson. 🙂

    One of the curiosities is West Harbour being highly unaffordable, and neighbouring Hobsonville very afforable. However, back in 2006 Hobsonville was still largely Air Force housing, so it was cheap houses on big sections with a very short commute (Geoff’s utopia lol), but West harbour was exactly the opposite, expensive houses at the very end of the motorway, with virtually no PT or local employment.

  10. … what Simon L wants (“a nice new 2 bedroom townhouse close to town with good PT links and plenty of shops in walking distance”) is really difficult to get at an affordable price…

    You’ve just described New Lynn. Here’s a 3-brm near-new townhouse in Ambrico Pl with a 2011 RV of $265k ($350k-$400k today?)

    Admittedly many of these townhouses were shoddily built (and those that were recently reclad look vastly better imho), but the changes to the building will ensure the next stages are better quality (one hopes!).

    Are these sorts of developments prohibited elsewhere in Auckland?

  11. It dependents on how the exclusionary zoning laws have come about. Covenants which are rules that like-minded individuals have agreed to is just local communities (and democracy) deciding on how they want to live. Govt. rules that try to guess what people want invariably get it wrong, or worse still that try to override what local communities have decided is best for them, are dictators. I would remove the RUB & MUL, and Govt.s exclusionary zoning rules (except for identify environmentally sensitive areas) and leave communities to decide their own covenants but with say a generational limit of 25 to 30 years to allow for changing needs.

    1. Private land covenants are not exclusionary zoning as they are only enforceable by private legal action. Exclusionary zoning refers only to local body rules that restrict what can be done with land – another words an impingement on private property rights. Ironically this is something a party like National and especially ACT should be campaigning vigorously against – but they dont because it will be biting the hand that feeds them.

      In Houston, one of the ways that the city has been very effective in ensuring sprawl, is that the local government will actually enforec private covenants at public expense. Also, a majority of residents can vote to impose more restrictions.

      Trying to say that cities like Atlanta or Houston are a reflection of a “free market” is really a joke. They are examples of social engineering on a massive scale.

      1. Covenants are exclusive in that they further restrict what can be done with a property, and they can be seen as a zone as they are limited to an area of land, and also since historically covenants were the forerunner of council administered zoning. Covenants reflect the desires of individuals on how they have agreed to act as a group within the areas of their combined private space is the opposite of the definition of Social Engineering as you define it.

        1. Yes but you miss the point. Those are private restrictive covenants – not exclusionary zoning. Private restrictive covenants are only as enforceable as the willingness of the other parties to the covenant to enforce it. If they dont enforce it, the local body wont step in and do it (in NZ).

          I have seen clients (I am a lawyer) go ahead and build stuff that breaches covenants and nothing happens. After about 10 years everyone has forgotten about the covenants and that they have control over their neighbour’s land.

          Remember that in 99% of cases in NZ it isnt the current owners who agreed the covenants, they were put on the title by the developer. The purchasers have bought the land with knowledge of those covenants but they didnt negotiate them or have any say in their content. The reason why I say that such covenants are social engineering in Houston is that the State will enforce those private covenants at public expense – so thye are the equivalent of exclusionary zoning.

          That is why it is a farce to say that Atlanta and Houston represent the operation of a “free market”. Plus those cities do have very strict exclusionary zoning but very limited land use zoning – so there are few limits on establishing businesses in suburban areas – but there are lots of controls on height, minimum lot size, minimum parking etc. That ensures you only get one type of urban development – low rise sprawl.

          1. Sorry Goosoid – but it is you that miss the point. As someone who has written and managed covenants for many NZ subdivisions and who has lived, and worked in subdivision development in Texas, I’m not surprised by the misunderstanding about covenants, and zoning in urban psycho-graphics. Covenants give anyone who is bound by the same covenant the right to enforce that covenant. Just because a developer may own many more sections than anyone else in the subdivision does not given him anymore legal right than an owner that owns only one section. Of course the developer has more resources to enforce a covenant than an individual owner, but no more rights. The only reason owners in a subdivision may not enforce a covenant is they don’t have the financial resources, and even if the developer is still involved, they are far enough through the subdivision that they don’t care anymore. However if the breach is great enough I have seen owners enforce their covenant rights, as well as developers. As a lawyer you will know this.
            The ability of councils in Texas to enforce covenants is just them having to fill full their legal obligations when they annex a MUD development. They in effect take over the resource position the original developer occupied and the position the owners committee took over from the developer. This is NO different than what happens in NZ with a unit title development via a BC. BC’s manage the complex on behalf of all owners and have the full resources of all owners to rein in any individual owner who breaches the rules (covenants). By your definition, all NZ BC’s are social engineering. NZ subdivision would be so lucky to have councils enforce standard regulations like noise control let alone covenant’s. Covenants are meant to represent all owners within a subdivision, especially when they first buy as they should all be aware of the covenants and should not buy unless they agree. If they disagree then they are free to buy elsewhere. However overtime, as owner wants and needs change and if the majority of them agree to change the covenants then they should be able. If the rules are too strict for change as they are in many subdivision covenants (need 100% agreement) then it can be argued that they need to been amended as for BC’s (used to be 100% but now reduced to 75% majority), or have a life of say 25 to 30 years and then expire. The biggest problem in many cities like Auckland is that many of the older areas have NO covenants, so council have far more freedom to rezone. So why don’t they, it’s political. There are so many no covenant areas that they become a political force in their own right and as they are in many of the older, dearer, historical areas of a city they also have numbers and money (a lot of lawyers live in these areas as well), threaten to change one of these areas, and you threaten them all. But what is wrong with this, no covenants after decades and the local communities’ STILL want to keep their area the way it is. Local communities, local democracy.

          2. DAS – I understand you have experience and I respect that, but are you really trying to explain to a lawyer how legal covenants and litigation works and then tell me I miss the point? It would be respectful on your part to assume after 10 years of practice I understand something about the law and how and why people litigate.

            You have then gone on to repeat exactly what I said – while saying I miss the point. That’s right, people only enforce covenants if they can afford to and care enough. Yes, developers have no more right to enforce covenants than owners but I can tell you they are much more likely to do so. Once the last section is sold though, in general, the developers do not care – why would they? This doesnt change the fact that private restrictive covenants are not exclusionary zoning.

            I think you will find you are wrong on BC rules – they have to be enforced privately (usually by the BC itself) just like residential covenants – the local body wont step in and enforce them (http://www.dbh.govt.nz/unit-titles-body-corp-operational-rules). They are different in that default rules are set out in the UT Act 2010.

            “The ability of councils in Texas to enforce covenants is just them having to fill full their legal obligations when they annex a MUD development” – not only. You can also request that the local body enforces a covenant even if the MUD hasnt been taken over – again at public expense. I read an article on this recently. So although Houston likes to say it has no zoning, in fact it has massive public and private exclusionary zoning that distorts the market. And yes that is social engineering, just as much as Auckland’s RUB and exclusionary zoning are.

            You can only say that a development pattern reflects real choice is if you dont have either of those. Pre-WW2 when these restrictions didnt exist, most development focussed on working class people was along the lines of Ponsonby/Grey Lynn or Merivale in Chch- small houses on small lots.

          3. @goosoid – No person has to earn respect. I give it freely, no strings attached, 100% respect to everyone I meet, for the first time. After that, respect is only theirs (yours) to lose. And I would hope that the respect you have as an individual is higher than the respect the general public hold lawyers.

            My point on BC’s is they are a legal entity that administer property on behalf of the owners, just like MUD’s do, and just like councils should do. They are better organised than standard covenants to enforce the rule, that’s all. It is a matter of degrees, but the intent is the same. Councils biggest problem is as they get bigger, they get slower and are also less likely to represent, not only the individual, but groups of individuals, until they get so big the only entity they represent is themselves.

            We seem to be at cross purposes on this and your response has not helped. You mention that Houston has public and private exclusionary zoning.

            What do you mean by private exclusionary zoning?

          4. Actually, I think we are in agreement – just interpreting things differently.

            I am being very loose with my terms when I say “private and public exclusionary zoning”. Really all exclusionary zoning is public. Anything else is just private restrictive covenants.

            To really simplify my point – I dont believe we can hold any city up as an example of a free residential housing market unless we can show there are no restrictions on the development of residential housing (whether that be up or out). Any restriction (RUB, density regulations) distorts the market and is a form of social engineering just as the kind of transport development we choose is a form of social engineering.

            I think we just need to acknowledge this and not try to pretend that this is an issue of a free market (sprawl) vs a controlled market (compact) – it is all the result of rules and therefore is all social engineering.

          5. Goosoid – yes that is why I asked the question re private exclusion zoning, and I agree that we agree.

            And yes, everything has a certain amount of social engineering element to it, action – reaction, form follows function, or does function follow form. But there are degrees of social engineering.

            It seems hard for many to understand that you cannot add more costs into a system and expect the outcome to be cheaper, unless it is subsidised by others. But it is hard for anyone to understand something when their income is dependent on them not understanding.

            Based on my experience, there are so many non-value added costs within the system that, if removed, would allow land to be developed at about half the price it is now. Of course much of this non-value added cost is revenue to others, but that does not mean it should be allowed to exist if it adds no value to the end product.

    2. Oh but on removing RUB and exclusioanry zoning, I agree with you 100%.

      However, when that was the case, before WWII, let’s not forget that the result was dense, small lot housing like Ponsonby/Grey Lynn. It is unlikely to result in unlimited sprawl, especially if the true costs were passed on to the purchasers of green field developments.

    1. Auckland has lots of centres, and having lots of sub regional centres is great. However is places that lack centres, like the whole of East Auckland that cause problems.
      And by centres I mean at least employment and retail in the same place, and preferably residential too.
      North Shore only really has 2 mixed use centres as well, would be better off having stronger centres rather than messy areas like North Harbour.

    2. 10 Metropolitan Centres, 40-odd town centres. Yet the city centre still seems to be a huge magnet for both employment and residential growth. I guess it must offer something that nowhere else can.

  12. Umm.
    600 vs 4000 in costs?

    so $3600 difference p/a?

    At the current cheap interest rates, that means I can break even by paying an extra $50,000 to live near by

    Yeah, not likely to find a place for 6 people 15-20 km closer to the CDB for that small a price increase.

    1. So only one of the six of you needs to travel?

      But yes, you’re right – looking at the map, the innermost city is still less affordable, transport included, than the outer established suburbs in the south and west. It’s the real fringe – Flat Bush, Kumeu, etc. – that’s really unaffordable. Probably because the houses are more expensive, too.

      1. My daughter walks to school.
        I drop my son at daycare
        My mother in law stays at home
        my newest addition doesn’t travel yet, nor does my wife
        When they do, they will travel together, and sometimes that will be with me.

        But even if I double the amount to allow for that, it’s still 100K, and we figured long ago that a bigger house here was >100K, and a same size house 10km closer was >100K. Guess which we picked?

        And only if interest rates stay this low is the 100K worth it.

    2. Well for the large number of people that are renting, $100 per person a week is a huge amount of money. To take advantage of those cheap interest rates you need $100,000 plus in a deposit, plus also note that interest rates vary much more so than rent, so cost per week could double in a few years.

      1. Um, that’s pretty much my point.
        1. Interest rates are low right now, when they go up, the cost change shifts even more against paying more to live closer
        2. If you’re paying rent, odds are you’re covering a mortgage payment for someone. Difference really is how long ago they bought.

        1. Excellent point, Roger.

          Yes, artificially low interest rates do seem to make it easier to trade off a bigger mortgage against commuting costs; but because of inelastic housing supply, lower interest rates do just feed into higher house prices.

          One of the things I slammed Joel Cayford for recently, was arguing that “mortgage affordability” was more relevant than house price median multiples. I pointed out that the gap between unaffordable cities and the USA’s affordable cities became even GREATER when interest rates are taken into account – because they have even lower interest rates than us and yet their house prices DON’T inflate in response. AND they can lock in an interest rate for THIRTY YEARS!!!

          In cities like those ones, the lower interest rates actually DO lead to increases in efficiencies of location decisions; and of redevelopment (because site rent does not increase), and in local discretionary spending.

  13. Actually when you look at Figure 6 above it doesn’t prove the thesis that you are better off closer in. Clearly the affordable parts taking into account transport costs are Wellsford, Whenuapai and Pukekohe. Check it out!

    1. That’s because many of the people living in Whenuapai also work in Whenuapai, and walk or carpool. If you’re not in the Air Force, though, might not be such a great move.

      Similarly for Wellsford and Pukekohe, lots of people will be working in the same town. If you get a job there, great, but otherwise it’s a hell of a commute to Auckland from there.

        1. But if I wanted to go and live in a small city with limited employment opportunities, I would just go and do that. There are plenty of nice small cities in NZ.

          I choose to live in the biggest city because of all the agglomeration benefits especially employment opportunities. If there were self contained satellite cities, I would have to either only look at opportunities in those satellite towns or move town every time I moved job – not a very attractive prospect.

          Satellite centres within Auckland connected by fast transit is a different matter. But that isnt likely to happen in NZ any time soon, especially with this government.

        2. But where is the big job growth, it is CBD, Ellerlsie, Airport, Highbrook. Adding another satellite town isn’t going to help people to any of those locations avoid high transport costs. And unless this satelite town is several hundred thousand people, residents will still drive into Auckland to go to Sylvia Park, variety of other specialised shops, festivals, weekend events and so on.
          Very hard to magic up jobs in these satelite towns, and even then may be total mismatch to the people that are living in the area.

        3. Satellite towns have their place, but the question is whether we should somehow try and create them when the don’t exist naturally. There are plenty of small towns and villages that people could move to and businesses set up in, extremely cheaply too.

          You have to consider the raison d’etre for those satellites. Wellsford is the service centre for a large rural region north of Auckland, Pukekohe likewise to the south. Whenuapai is a airbase populated by airbase workers who get below market airbase accommodation. If we build another Pukekohe 5km away would it be like Pukekohe, given that Pukekohe already fulfills the role of the service town for that area?

          In that case you’d just be creating a suburb of Pukekohe or Auckland, and most people would have to commute out of it. So you’ve just got suburban commuters driving a longer distance.

          We should just let people, jobs and services aggregate where they want to. Remove the controls and people will sort themselves into the most efficient consideration of time and cost.

          1. Check out “The Woodlands”, near Houston.



            Are we really so smart by having laws that prevent anything like this from happening anywhere in NZ?

            We can’t get our heads around the fact that this new city which sprung out of the forest in less than 2 decades, has jobs-housing balance, and affordability in spite of the very high local amenity.

            This is what you can do when you can buy cheap land ($20,000 per acre) and do what you like with it. The fact that you can do this also keeps the property market in the existing cities honest.


            Young Kiwis priced out of the housing market, looking at RE sites like these, must feel swindled, surely? I say the “Affordable Auckland” Party (Stephen Berry is a top bloke) can’t get the truth out fast enough, we need a huge letterbox drop or something. Hope their march in a few days is well attended, and hope they scatter plenty of truth-telling leaflets.

          2. Young Kiwi’s welcome to live in Mercer or Meremere. Sections for $65,000 is Mercer, and decent House for $190,000 in Meremere. These are well within commuting distance, but clearly not a huge demand considering the massive change in value compared to 10-20km up the road.

          3. Actually I know people who brought in Huntly and commute to Auckland – for affordability reasons mostly – and that was a number of years ago now ..and some who do a Hamilton-Auckland commute as well …in fact I have been told really (as there is little congestion till you hit Auckland) it does not really add too much suffering to the daily grind ……….so while its not necessarily a common choice its not unheard of either …..

          4. well yes again, helps my point. If people want to drive for an hour to get affordable housing they can do it now. But most people don’t want to do that, so we need another solution to the problem.

  14. “Satellite towns have their place, but the question is whether we should somehow try and create them when the don’t exist naturally”
    “But if I wanted to go and live in a small city with limited employment opportunities, I would just go and do that”
    “Adding another satellite town isn’t going to help people to any of those locations avoid high transport costs”

    Get a grip, gentlemen. Do you not recognise sarcasm?

    Now about that Middle East peace…

  15. Quite a lot of criticisms of what I said, to respond to.

    Some say that the cities I am using as examples of success in low congestion delay and affordable housing, are merely economically stagnant.

    I agree that Detroit is economically stagnant. Houston most certainly is not. In fact Texas is the strongest part of the entire US economy, having created most of the new employment in the entire US since 2007.

    Liverpool and Newcastle UK have been losing population and business for decades, yet have unaffordable housing and bad traffic congestion delays.

    If you want to make arguments based on data, surely using the most extreme examples will prove the point? The UK’s cities are unnaturally dense, denser even than Japan’s cities, thanks to very strict growth containment since 1947. The result is slightly higher public transport mode share but systemic and chronic housing unaffordability, social injustice, and traffic congestion.

    The essential problem is lack of urban road lane miles per person. You would have thought there was a perfect captive market for public transport. But there is an inconvenient reality with public transport. It requires such high subsidies per person km of travel on it, that achieving an increase in mode share by “investing” in “better PT services” will by definition place a massive strain on the ongoing finances of local government. There is always a sunk cost of around 20 cents per person km, and more. This cost has not paid for anything permanent – it is sunk in simply moving a person today and is gone forever.

    There is no equivalent public cost for car travel. Road maintenance has been authoritatively estimated at a cost of 1 tenth of a cent per person km of travel on NZ urban roads (Booz Allen Hamilton 2005). The cost of construction is spread out over the indefinite future. Of course the same applies to rail routes and busways and PT tunnels – however the PT rolling stock is subsidised, and the energy costs and repairs and maintenance of the rolling stock, and none of this is stuff that is “permanent assets”.

    Bear in mind that most of the cost of building roads, is making them strong enough to carry vehicles weighing some tens of tons; and most maintenance costs are incurred for the same reason.

    Those who argue that the UK’s problem is insufficient investment in PT are being unrealistic. I believe that if anyone could do an authoritative study of cities anywhere and everywhere, the split of a century of road spending versus PT spending would correlate with congestion today, with the direction of the correlation being “higher proportional PT spend, higher congestion”.

    1. You’re assuming the UK has great PT, but in fact it is not up to scratch. Thatcher privatization destroyed public transport everywhere outside of London (where remained regionally controlled) and patronage collapsed as a result.

      1. I actually didn’t say it had great PT; I just said the cost of subsidies make it unrealistic to expect it to get great PT; or any other country with cities less dense than HK – which the UK has not quite succeeded in yet.

    2. Texas is in the middle of an oil and gas boom and therefore is as about as relevant in terms of economic performance to Auckland as Riyadh. To claim, or imply, that Houston is booming because of its urban form is unsupportable. Detroit has the same urban form, or Akron, or Cleveland, these places are all loosing population and therefore their lane kilometres per capita are rising fast; in direct inversion of their economic performance. Detroit is not ‘stagnating’ it is declining.

      Outside of state highways roads in NZ are funded over 50% by property tax, so in fact every non driver is sudsidising roads for every road user. Auckland has a literally huge number of lane kilometres per capita, especially motorway lane lane kms [sorry not to hand]. Way way more than UK cities yet is still congested. There is no city in the world that has road built it’s way out of congestion. The best that can be done is to provide the means for people to avoid it.

      1. Urban policies DO affect economic performance. If Houston had a UGB it would be as unaffordable as LA and there would be nil economic benefit trickling down to sectors and workforces outside the one enjoying the immediate boom. it would not be enjoying a manufacturing revival and spin-off jobs of all kinds from the growth that is happening.

        If Liverpool and Newcastle had their UGB’s/Green Belts abolished in 1970 they would be the UK’s economic and socio-economic success stories today.

        It is far more stupid to think the success of a small handful of growth-contained cities with global finance sectors is replicable by having a UGB, a subway system and tall buildings, as it is to think that cities without UGB’s succeed only because they have UGB’s, which I never said BTW. Detroit with a UGB would be far worse off and so would Houston with one be nowhere near as well off. And it is the bottom quartile of society and prospective employment for them where the MOST harm is done by the UGB-distorted property markets.

        There are a wide range of boom cities in the USA; and in some of them, with unaffordable urban land, like Seattle, “trickle down urbanism” is not lifting boats at the bottom of society. In all the boom cities with affordable housing, the benefits of the boom are democratized.

        Actually NZ should have a resources boom IMHO. But whatever boom it has, it needs to be a boom with democratized benefits; not reverting to third-world-like inequality like London is. Check out what you get in the way of housing in London or any UK city for the price that acceptable Townhouses are in Houston or any other affordable US city. A loft bed-sit perhaps if you’re lucky?

      2. “……Outside of state highways roads in NZ are funded over 50% by property tax, so in fact every non driver is subsidising roads for every road user. Auckland has a literally huge number of lane kilometres per capita, especially motorway lane lane kms [sorry not to hand]. Way way more than UK cities yet is still congested. There is no city in the world that has road built it’s way out of congestion. The best that can be done is to provide the means for people to avoid it……”

        There is a far better fit between the payers of property taxes and users of roads, than there is between most other forms of government revenue and expenditure.

        But property owners (most of whom are car drivers) are getting a raw deal in that much of the cost of roads is due to engineering for heavy vehicles and so is most of the cost of maintenance due to heavy vehicles damaging them. The government should share RUC’s with Councils. But I am skeptical that Councils would ameliorate rates at all – they would find other things to waste the windfall on.

        Auckland actually has one of the lowest highway lane miles per capita in the first world. It is ahead of only the UK’s absolute worst examples. Well under half the network planned in the 1960’s has ever been completed.

        There is no city in the world that has reduced traffic congestion when VMT were growing, with the sole exception of Houston from 1987 onwards. Houston achieved this by building highways. Seeing this is the only time this has been achieved, and it was achieved by building highways, I would say it is a lie that you can’t do it by building highways. It IS self-evident to me that you can’t do it by “investing in public transport”.

        I already said that I believe that if anyone could do an authoritative study of cities anywhere and everywhere, the split of a century of road spending versus PT spending would correlate with congestion today, with the direction of the correlation being “higher proportional PT spend, higher congestion”. I don’t see that any other conclusion can be drawn from the facts I point out about the public spend per person km of travel.

        I think there is not a dogs’ show that spending billions of ratepayers and taxpayers money on PT in Auckland will move Auckland’s congestion delays per 1 hour of driving from its current 47 minutes, towards, say, low density sprawling Indianapolis’ 15 minutes. There aren’t any PT-heavy, growth-contained cities that we can suggest we will be emulating in the way of congestion reductions. If we want to reduce it towards Indianapolis’ figures, we will need to emulate Indianapolis policies, not those of Portland or Manchester or Stockholm. (TomTom Index figures).

        1. “Auckland actually has one of the lowest highway lane miles per capita in the first world. It is ahead of only the UK’s absolute worst examples.”

          You say this definitively, no doubt you can post some stats to back this up.

          1. And there is this for “major” world urban areas:


            And I just managed to dig out THIS:


            There is a graph on page 27 (page 31 of the PDF) showing urban road lane miles by country for the whole of Europe.

            This should be interesting:

            France: 10,383km of motorways; 386,269 of other trunk roads; 604,308 of urban/local roads
            Germany: 12,174km of motorways; 219,267 of other trunk roads; 413,000 of urban/local roads
            Italy: 6,532km of motorways; 165,340 of other trunk roads; 496,894 of urban/local roads
            UK: 3,638km of motorways; 47,928 of other trunk roads; 364,869 of urban/local roads

            Hmmmm, I wonder why the UK might have the worst congestion problems and the longest average time taken to get to work?

            We still have the problem of not knowing what proportion of these networks are urban and rural.

            USA from THIS data set:


            The USA’s Urban lane miles are 92,714 Interstate highways; 561,471 other arterial, 252,041 collector, and 1,554,283 “local urban”. Total urban; 2,460,509

            Total rural road lane miles in the USA: 6,107,109

        2. The TomTom index is an absurd measure. It merely compares LOS on an empty road to that at peak. It completely ignores everyone not bothering with driving. Therefore it tells us nothing about how accessible or thriving a place is it simply and autisticly only counts driver conditions. It can’t tell us anything about the quality of connection in any city that functions well on other modes. So your question is absurd, successful cities provide systems that mean that most don’t have to engage in congestion, the Tom Tom metric just ignores all these subway riders, bus users, train travellers, walkers and cyclists.

          The TomTom metric defines a successful city as one where the roads are as empty at peak as they are at 3am. So pretty much Detroit then. The only way to achieve that is to describe a failing place. Is Tokyo a failure? Manhattan? Copenhagen? Paris? How about Venice? No but they aren’t great for driving in either. A drivers paradise is not correlated with a thriving successful city.

          “Auckland actually has one of the lowest highway lane miles per capita in the first world. It is ahead of only the UK’s absolute worst examples.”

          Do give us the figures.

          “Well under half the network planned in the 1960′s has ever been completed.”

          We have way more lane kilometres than the De Leuw Cather plan, which was for four lane motorways [two each way], and of course what we don’t have is the Rapid Transit system that they also advised would be necessary.

          1. “…..A drivers paradise is not correlated with a thriving successful city….”

            There are a limited range of options for “all cities, all of the time”. Cities that are successful and congested and have intense PT are outliers and are what they are because some sector like global finance is agglomerated there along with only half a dozen other cities in the world. The option for the hundreds of cities around the world like Auckland, is to either be constrained, congested and unaffordable; or unconstrained, affordable and uncongested. And I suggest that by comparing UK cities – the whole data set – with US cities – the whole data set, the chances look better for the latter. Choosing the former is to commit a swindle on a similar proportion of NZ’s population, as have been effectively swindled in the UK already. The young people locked into tiny and rudimentary housing conditions all their lives; the rust belt cities that refuse to become affordable and never recover.

            I am only using TomTom because it actually includes NZ cities. I wish INRIX included NZ cities.

            But the fact remains that some cities have far lower congestion than others by any measure you use. Auckland has 47 minutes, Indianapolis has 15.

            Maybe an alternative measure could be found so that Auckland’s delay was “only”, say, 23 minutes. I wonder what Indianapolis’ would fall to under the same measure?

            INRIX is a much more sophisticated measure that takes into account delays in the entire network all day. Here is some examples of cities with both TomTom and INRIX figures.

            Manchester UK: Population 2.2 million; population
            density 4,000 per sq km; INRIX congestion score 25.3; TomTom delay per 1 hour driven at peak: 33 minutes

            Nottingham UK: Pop. 660,000; density 4,200 per sq. km; INRIX congestion score 21.9; TomTom delay per 1 hour driven at peak: 33 minutes

            Liverpool UK: Pop. 820,000; density 4,400 per sq. km; INRIX congestion score 21.5; TomTom delay per 1 hour driven at peak: 23 minutes

            Birmingham UK: Pop. 2.3 million; density 3,800 per sq. km; INRIX congestion score 20.5 ; TomTom delay per 1 hour driven at peak: 25 minutes

            Indianapolis: Pop. 1.5 million; density 800 per sq. km; INRIX congestion score 5.0; TomTom delay per 1 hour driven at peak: 15 minutes

            Salt Lake City: Pop. 1 million; density 1,500 per sq. km; INRIX congestion score 3.1; TomTom delay per 1 hour driven at peak: 16 minutes

            Oklahoma City: Pop. 900,000; density 800 per sq. km; INRIX congestion score 3.1; TomTom delay per 1 hour driven at peak: 17 minutes

            Kansas City: Pop.1.5 million; density 900 per sq. km; INRIX congestion score 2.8; TomTom delay per 1 hour driven at peak: 13 minutes

            Note how the denser cities with DOUBLE the “delay per hour of driving at peak” have INRIX “all-day whole system” scores around FIVE TIMES as bad?

            I bet, given our cities all-day congestion at our numerous suburban road network choke points, we would show up as similarly worse if INRIX did cover us.

            I am not sure what De Leuw Cather Plan you are looking at. It is very hard to find info with illustrations of where the proposed highways were to go. I was really referring to “completion” in the sense of connections rather than lane-miles; but I doubt that the lane-miles are higher already (of course DLC was meant to deal with growth up till 1980, not 2010 and beyond).

            It should be possible to drive non-stop from Manukau to Mangere to Henderson to Te Atatu to Albany to Glenfield to Herne Bay to St Johns to Mt Wellington to Botany Downs and back to Manukau again. This would make a massive difference to congestion. And two lanes in each direction would be just pussyfooting around playing at first world countries.

            I agree with the people who said long ago and the ones who still do, that a 100% bus-based PT system with dedicated busways in places is far superior to a mixed one with transfers. I think it just as well the DLC recommendation for more rails did not proceed – but a bus system included in a proper highway network would be a reasonable idea, especially if it went to more owner-operator, small vehicles augmenting the big vehicles. I think a PT system should start with Jitneys and then add big stuff where and when it makes sense. We have it back to front – we plan a monopoly big-vehicle rigid-work-practice system and use anti-competitive regulations to keep Jitneys out. This guarantees the failure of cost-effectiveness I am talking about in PT.

          2. Being able to drive in a big motorway loop around and around Auckland would make a massive difference to congestion? Really? How? Sounds like all those extra motorway to motorway interchanges and on ramps would completely balls it up with congestion.

            Seen what happens where the motorways joint together?

            Seen any main road leading to the motorway today? Would we really want to do that to Glenfield Rd, St Johns Rd etc etc too?

            Oh my god, the Jitney! Are pseudoneolibs still on about the jitney?! Do you realise the labour costs involved in operating such small vehicles in New Zealand? Even a poor Manilia jitney driver working 14 hours a day with a crowded van barely makes enough money to subside on rice and water. And you think it will work here with our labour laws, minimum wage, vehicle safety standards etc? You know ther cost of operating a van and a bus is about the same, while a bus can hold five times the people. That means a low usage they are about as efficient, but at high usage the jitney is five times less efficient. Will commuters pay five times more to ride a jitney?

            Talk about a failure of cost effectiveness, if you want to talk about huge subsidies they by all means try and work a jitney model in Auckland, then you’ll really see what huge subsidies are all about!

            Oh and “use anti-competitive regulations to keep Jitneys out”. Absolutely not true. For the last 25 years anyone, absolutely anyone who meets basic safety standards can run any commercial route of any kind, anywhere they like, and furthermore if they do operate a commercial service it is illegal for the council to subsidise a competing service. If they think they can make money then they can go for it, it is illegal for the council or any other agency to stop them.

            The structure of public transport provision was specifically developed for commercial and competitive enterprise to take control and run the system… but I do have to ask where all the jitney operators are? Perhaps you should buy yourself a van and go into business tomorrow to prove how effective it is.

          3. NickR; who am I to believe, you or my lyin’ eyes? I can read data.

            Indianapolis’ (comparable to Auckland) TomTom total highway network length is 269 miles, and non-highway network length is 1,517 miles. Total vehicle miles is 1,184,017. Congestion delay is 15 minutes per 1 hour of driving at peak.

            Auckland’s TomTom total highway network length is 162 miles, and non-highway network length is 782 miles. Total vehicle miles is 916,380. Congestion delay is 47 minutes per 1 hour of driving at peak.

            Er, isn’t this a somewhat revealing correlation?

            Highway network length is not lane-miles though.

            Lane-miles data is readily available at the TTI, for US cities, but is incredibly hard to find for anywhere else. The below is an incredibly fortuitous collation that includes Auckland:


            Under the definition for “freeway” used there, Auckland’s freeway route miles are only 37 miles and freeway lane-miles are only 160.

            “Freeway: A roadway with two or more lanes in each direction with no at-grade cross-traffic”.

            Indianapolis, on the other hand, has 130 freeway route miles and 730 freeway lane miles.

            But everyone knows you can’t build your way out of congestion, right? Indianapolis must have an incredible public transport system I have never heard of, I really must get Len Brown to look into this. To recap: Indianapolis’ congestion delay is 15 minutes per 1 hour of driving at peak versus 47 minutes for Auckland.

            Maybe you are correct that there is nothing stopping Jitneys from operating per se, in Auckland, but there are anti-competitive restrictions in terms of routes and times and schedule publications. Auckland’s system is a classic example of how privatisation can still be “not the free market”.

            Like with school vouchers (funding following the child) I say a totally free market PT system with funding following the rider, would be far more efficient.

          4. Well I wouldn’t believe that public purpose data. Auckland has around 130 route-km of motorway, not 37 miles.

            Here is a suggestion, make some comment without talking about congestion. I personally don’t care about congestion, I almost never experience it, I’m much more concerned about mobility and choice. I don’t really care how much the people of Indianapolis do or don’t like to sit in traffic, but I know I don’t.

          5. 17 miles = 59.54km. The Southern Motorway alone is 45km and the length of motorway from the Greville Rd (Albany) interchange on the Shore to the end of the Southern Motorway where it becomes the Waikato Expressway is 60km (proof here and here on Google Maps, see route length). Then there’s the Northwestern, Southwestern, Upper Harbour motorways to add on top of that.

            I worked out that Auckland has more lane-km of motorway/freeway than LA does over here, with sources. And that was from data back in 2006-07 before we built the Upper Harbour Motorway and extended the Southwestern at both ends. That’s not a statistic to be proud of.

            Auckland’s total lane-km of motorway back then was 293.3. See above link for another link through to the source NZTA data.

          6. 17 miles = 27.3588km Andrew but your links and arguments otherwise look good. Will check them out in more detail later. Could you check out Auckland versus Greater Helsinki (Espoo, Vantaa and Kaunianian) for lane-km of motorway/freeway. Any comparisons for PT would be useful too. Finland is really interesting transport wise for NZ because we are about the same pop density and our biggest cities are about the same size.

            From your information Canterbury seems like the big loser in the under provision of motorways.

          7. Sorry Brendan that should have been 37 miles = 59.54km (Phil H’s quite wrong number for the number of miles on Auckland’s motorway network). Typed 1 instead of 3.

            Will try to remember to look up Helsinki lane-km sometime. Right now just swinging by here on my lunch break.

    3. Phil, your broad sweeping statements just don’t stand up to scrutiny. Suggesting UK cities are too dense because of the last 50 years planning is funny; the dense parts of those cities generally evolved centuries ago.

      And the anecdotal stuff about places like Newcastle “losing employment and people” is likewise not credible, just a misleading generalisation spoken from a distance. Here’s and example of data that contradicts this; it shows increasing residential density in the majority of areas, during a time when the city also grew physically; jump to Newcastle to see the data I’m referring to:


      My problem with lots of your statements is that they try and sound so authoritative; yet they are just so patently out of touch with reality on the ground in many cities, including Auckland.

      1. Sorry if I am not making myself clear. I am referring to whole urban areas, not cores or specific locations within cities. The trend for cities as “development” occurs, is for people to get cars and for suburban development to lower the overall population density. The trend is also for the historically high density core to lose population to the suburbs. This has happened all over Europe even if not to the same extent as in the USA (whose “historic” cores were fewer but nevertheless dense).

        Of course the UK’s system of limiting this process from 1947 onwards has made their urban areas denser than otherwise. European cities densities fall in a range that has far more cities considerably lower in density than the UK’s lowest. Even Amsterdam is far less dense than any UK city. French cities are considerably less dense, apart from Paris (and it is a question where Paris fringes actually are). If you check out RE sites, Lyon and other relatively sprawled European cities can be quite affordable.

        In fact Toronto, Los Angeles and Auckland are comparable in density to Amsterdam, Brussels and the Ruhr Valley. And these Anglo New World cities did not start with significantly populated pre-automobile cores…..!

        Newcastle UK has lost population and employment; it lost 60,000 people between 1950 and 2000. It has clawed some back since. Of course it is possible for some locations to increase in intensity, due to location-specific redevelopment and gentrification; but this will be hard to achieve with inflated land costs. If you are actually Tim Robinson, you surely understand this effect quite well after assessing it in Auckland.

        Liverpool halved in population in the same period. Fully ten cities in the UK lost population to the extent of around 5% during this era of collapse of industry.

        I pick the US rust belt cities will reinvent themselves to some degree as long as they don’t impose a UGB. NYC reinvented itself when it lost its main industry; it could have been a bigger Detroit. Of course not every city will be lucky enough to have the global finance sector step in. But one of the reasons Manhattan office rents are far lower than those in most UK cities is because the NY urban area was free to sprawl for decades. Are you aware of the Cheshire and Hilber paper on office rents?

        1. Newcastle, Liverpool and many other UK city regions did indeed lose lots of population from the middle of the twentieth century through to around the early nineties.

          But you need to look beyond the symptom, and identify the cause. No-one fled the northern cities because of the planners; they left because the industries that originated in the nineteenth centuries collapsed. Shipyards, coal mines, steelworks all moved offshore.

          Since then the story has changed; the link I provided is but one piece of evidence that shows a reversal of that trend. Since the 1990s UK city regions have recovered population in a big way, particularly closer in to the centres. This is one example of the slow, organic, cyclical change that takes place in cities. It typically takes decades as employment and living patterns realign themselves around new employment realities, people’s shifting values and desires, and the capability of people and finance to renew physical assets.

          If there is one lesson from this that is particularly relevant to this debate – it is that the paradigms of the twentieth century are unlikely to be the paradigms of the twenty-first.

          Freeways, motor vehicles and cheap oil transformed the world in the twentieth century. That was then; this is now, and values, desires and finance capability are all changing.

          Back to the northern UK cities; sadly there are people trapped in unemployment because they simply cannot cope with change. The older members expect the world that used to exist in the 1970’s to return; younger members have never seen what a working neighbourhood should be like. They are locked into a set of expectations that align with location, housing and employment. Those who can snap out of the daydream generally leave, retrain, and access the modern urban economy. Ironically, in Newcastle at least, some of the most deprived, stuck places are the “garden city” suburbs that formed the suburban dream of the 1930’s, built not long before the post-war collapse. They may now be relatively central, as the city expanded around them, but they were planned in a relatively segregated way, and their relationship to employment became stuck in a rut once the singular industries on their doorstep left.

          So – building like we did last century is always a mistake. And building places that are premised on segregation of uses, and following inflexible land use patterns is a mistake. Change is normal.

          If Auckland chooses to reject change in it’s existing neighbourhoods, and only pursues segregation-based expansion that relies on placing travel burdens on it’s residents, then it runs exactly the same risks as the old Northern UK cities that you denigrate. Except; it has little in the way of a historic city core to return to when the risky strategies bear their fruit. The reality is that those northern cities have turned a significant corner.

          So my problem with your proposed approach to shaping towns Phil is that it is simply too last-century. The reality is that living more centrally is not a dictatorially-imposed vision; it is the real desire of lots of people, particularly those who are younger or younger at heart. We see a future of living on the edge of cities as being potentially like the scenario in ex-industrial neighbourhoods in the UK were – in the future these places run the risk of being poorly located for work and travel as the price of oil goes continually higher. We are looking not just at today’s affordability, but also the likely directions that we will see emerge in the near future.

          The voices here are arguing for choice and looking to the future, rather than having a freeway / sprawl based model imposed on us unilaterally. As Patrick says – you are free to live differently; but please don’t impose your preferences on everyone else. Change in cities is normal and positive; get used to it, or get out of the way.

          1. ‘Get used to it, or get out of the way!’ What’s with that? No one here has argued anything that is in your way, or would stop you achieving your goals if what you were arguing was true (and I’m not saying some of it isn’t).
            Motorways impinge no more on people’s freedom than do PT, ie they all do in that to achieve rail or motorway corridor’s etc., certain individuals rights are overrode for the greater good.
            If it really about freedom of choice, then you would support less restrictive zoning, both up and out. If you do your thing, and I’ll do mine, we can hardly be in the way of each other if we are not on the same planet. But whatever we want to achieve, more truly affordable housing will benefit everyone, unless of course you have a vested interest in keeping prices high.

          2. I think it perfectly logical that western cities would lose less industry if they did not force up local land and housing costs, and they would smooth the way to economic re-invention. Jane Jacobs always had an eye for the grassroots creative entrepreneur, and made the connection between CHEAP commercial property and the emergence of this creativity out into commercial fruition. This sort of stuff is going on right now in Detroit and Buffalo and Cleveland and other US rust belt cities – because the land is a fiftieth the price or less, than the UK’s rust belt cities.

            Local economies that reinvent themselves around “weightless” and high income inner urban sectors like global finance and media and law and accounting and insurance and so on, are lucky. It is impossible for all local economies to be like this. Cities with policies that make room for the “heavy weight” industries and their workforces will find that they end up getting them – because everybody else is engaged in a race to the bottom for the s*xy weightless stuff and giving the heavy-weight stuff the middle finger. We don’t want you blue collar proles around here, thanks, or your kids. Get back into the tenements we provide you to eke out your existence on the dole we provide you!

            The UK has going for it, that it has the biggest concentration of high income global finance and media sectors in the entire world. There are numerous path dependent historical factors that have led to this. Europe’s Financier families fleeing there every time there was a revolution on the Continent, for example. Or Britain having the world’s first industrial revolution era empire. This has not happened because urban planners decided to create funky heritage de facto gated communities for the wealthy. It happened anyway, and has insulated the UK economy, but not its bottom quintiles of people, from the consequences of growth containment urban planning and obscene gouging levels of economic land rent.

            Thinking you can make your urban economy “like London” or “like Hong Kong” just by building subways and tall buildings, is about as enlightened as these people:


            “Segregation based” urban form is the outcome of high economic land rent. Low economic land rent results in integration and the democratization of amenity.


            “……across metropolitan areas, cities with more sprawl are actually less segregated,
            both on the basis of income and on the basis of race. In general, the car-based edge cities
            have much more racial integration than the older public transportation cities than they
            replaced. Changes in income-based segregation are harder to assess, but across cities, the
            presence of public transportation tends to increase the level of income based segregation….”

            I am “last century”??? What are you – the century before that?

            Is Silicon Valley something backwards and reactionary? It is sprawling and exurban.

            Are you aware that Wall Street itself is under serious threat from exurban-based competition?


            What a curious lot of smooth talk. You talk as if everyone really wanted all along to keep living in tenements at a cost of half their incomes, and catching trams to the sweatshop; and guns were placed to their heads to force them into homes with ten times the space for half the economic rent cost; and with privacy and greenery.

            In the UK’s cities where there is a high level of forced high density living, polls show that people are craving a bit of privacy, space and greenery…..!

            Sure there are young people in Auckland that genuinely want the inner city life and can’t afford it. If Auckland’s land rent curve was like Houston’s, they COULD afford it. Under which scenario is there actual “choice”?

            What is “imposing preferences on others”: growth constraining planners, or a free market?

            What you seem to dislike is the choices people do actually exercise when they do actually have choice. No-one is pricing anyone out of vibrant inner city living in Houston – it is just not chosen by a heck of a lot of people – and supply is not restricted – hence the apartment and condo prices are low.

            Are you prepared to advocate compulsory acquisition of centrally located property or at the very least, targeted land taxes, if you won’t relinquish your faith in a UGB; to prove yourself both intelligent and sincere about the economic land rent question?

          3. @DAS: actually I’m with you on a preference for freedom of choice; and I’m genuinely happy for all the individuals that love living in outer locations and can live then in a cost effective way. But developing a system without some kind of directive location controls would also have to be with true costs allocated in any circumstance.

            At present the field is heavily inclined in favour of sprawl through various subsidies, road funding being a primary culprit. Development in Kumeu, Dairy Flat, Bombay would be very different if the true costs that were imposed on society were allocated to each development.

            For the record, I’m puzzled by Phil’s assumption that I support UGB’s; I do not. As ever, Phil’s mindset sees ‘Reds under the bed’ everywhere, and he pays scant attention to detail; he reduces everything to a single issue, because that the only agenda he is interested in pushing is that which favours landowners of peripheral land who are subject to such controls. However, my lack of support for UGB’s does no invalidate the view that sprawling development patterns are also ineffective at delivering affordability; over the long term the typical models are costly for municipalities and the people who live in them. In a city like Auckland that has already sprawled, ensuring intensification can happen and supporting this through a more efficient allocation of transport co-investment can far more effective in reducing housing and transport costs. In reality this means that when we choose to allocate the limited capital that we have in this country, it should be away from motorway projects that tend to have very low BCR’s these days, in comparison with PT and walking/cycling projects that have much higher BCR’s. I’m not against road travel or motorways; but they must be worthwhile, not just political or ideological pets, and built in ways that minimise damage environments and communities, difficult thought that inherently is.

            I’d love to see the planning system simplified; the focus should be on the qualities of what is proposed, in a very transparent way, not some pre-determined guess in the way the RMA requires plans to operate and the way planning distorts specific application processes behind the scenes. ‘Getting in the way’ is a reference to incumbent populations who support exclusionary zoning in existing areas, who I think are stuck in a King Canute mindset, trying to delay change that is positive and inevitable through a strong pattern of social change currently under way. I don’t believe central neighbourhoods are the place to be holding onto something that mimics the quarter acre dream, as a result of distorted local representation, as currently being played out in the Unitary Plan.

          4. ‘But developing a system without some kind of directive location controls would also have to be with true costs allocated in any circumstance.’
            Municipal Utility Districts (MUD’s) do have local control through a series of rules that give great stability to them and allow them to be developed with an efficient Capital/operational cost basis, and they can do this without, and because they have very minimal local govt. input. I have done the figures for the development of a NZ style MUD and sections can be produced from one third to half the cost of present developments, with true costs allocated and all by stripping non value added costs from the system. Fringe land prices are important because there is a direct correlation between them and prices going back into the CBD. The lower the land prices on the fringe, the lower (relative) the land price going back into the CBD. If choice of location is based on desirability eg if inner city living is desirable to many more than is currently being supplied, then lowering the price will only make those locations more easy to obtain. Of course for Auckland, the horse has bolted, all home owners have a vested interest in not allowing prices to fall, and secondly not allowing them to remain stable, but to thirdly support the status quo to keep the prices rising at their present over inflated value.

          5. @DAS. Sounds interesting. Are they essentially private entities, or a subset of municipal authorities? I think there is lots of room to improve the models for providing infrastructure – many of them just sharpening up the public models, and just possibly involving private models with adequate regulation. I’d be interest in what was involved in the essential approach of “stripping non value added costs from the system”. There’s definitely fat there….but just what is up for grabs in your view?

          6. Phil H – “No-one is pricing anyone out of vibrant inner city living in Houston – it is just not chosen by a heck of a lot of people – and supply is not restricted – hence the apartment and condo prices are low. ”

            Can you please refer me to some of this cheap innder city living in Houston? Every time I have looked up inner city housing in Houston the prices seem to be around US$500k – so not that different from Auckland and actually of worse quality.

            And I mean “vibrant inner city living” – not slums in partly deserted areas. So walkeable neighbourhoods that are desirable and have low cost housing, apartments, townhouses whatever.

            Interested to see your response. All the cheap housing I have ever been referred to in Houston (such as your link above to Woodlands) has been about 40kms from the Houston CBD, which in the context of Auckland is Drury. There is lots of cheap housing in Drury.

          7. actually no – theres not a lot of cheap affordable houses in Dury actually ! Maybe cheaper than Auckland but for a one income family still often unobtainable ……
            perhaps affordable for some peoples perception of affordable ………….guess that’s just further proof we are not all the same nor do we have the same needs or want the same things …..
            which emphasises that this issue should never ever be an either/or or so polarised as it appears from what I have read in the above ……I hope those who ultimately make those planning decisions on Auckland future are really prepare to see both sides of this issue …its really sad to see that does not seem to be the case here 🙁

  16. Of course I agree with those who say that higher RE prices at more convenient locations show that those locations are superior.

    Higher prices for a superior product in a scarce supply situation mean that less people get to enjoy that product than what make do with a cheaper product.

    It is unrealistic to leap from “prices are higher, it must be better”, to “therefore everyone should live this way”.

    A basic understanding of the underlying logic of urban economics would immediately make us suspicious of the flawed claims referred to above. If a situation ever does exist in an urban economy, where real-life comparable “housing plus transport costs” got lower the closer one gets to the city’s most significant concentration of jobs and amenities, the workings of free markets would ensure that enough people would very soon relocate more efficiently, that this situation would reverse. Markets do not find their equilibrium at a price where supply is in excess of demand.

    Advocates who insist that this disequilibrium exists, are blinded by a mythology that people really do have an irrational “love affair with their car” and actually enjoy their daily traffic congestion so much that they will not even rationally act to improve both this situation (which nobody actually regards as anything other than frustrating and a waste of time) and their financial situation.

    Of course there might be lower “housing plus transport costs” in the case of a very much smaller “home” near a city’s CBD, but urban real estate markets will find their own level, and the simple reason that households are not flocking to smaller and smaller homes in more and more efficient locations, is that these homes simply do not meet their requirements for other attributes in a home, particularly space. Actually if you ask everybody in a poll what they really want, they will want a home right in a city centre with free public transport coming past every 2 minutes that will take them everywhere, and a nice view, and a quarter acre section with plenty of grass and trees, and good schools with a couple of minutes walk for the kids, and nice quiet neighbours, and plenty of enjoyable amenities including culture and sports.

    There are numerous attributes of housing and there is a supply and demand curve for each of them separately and it is not possible to have everything. The market therefore rations each attribute and people make trade-offs of one against another.

    It is self-evident that density must rise if more people are to be accommodated at a popular location; it is not so well-understood that this is never accompanied by a falling cost of floor space.

    If it always made economic sense and no-one was priced out, would urban form end up like that in the latest Judge Dredd movie? A kind of homogenous single-structure indoor city. Actually it never makes economic sense.

    I always ask experts to give me one example of a city where dwellings have been made more affordable by systemic upzoning. The only possible examples are like Singapore where there are no property rights at all, or where there was widespread compulsory acquisition of land, as in Curitiba in the 1970’s.

    As long as property rights remain intact and land supply remains rationed at the fringe, upzoning only creates increased site rent. This is why the property rentier class vested interests LOVE UGBs AND UPZONING. In a city like Boston with fringe constraints (“rural” zoning rather than an explicit UGB) and LOW density mandates, they don’t make nearly as much out of site rent.

  17. Its cute when sprawl advocates forget that you can increase supply of inner city dwellings to match demand and lower the price.

    1. It’s cute when compact city boosters don’t even provide the example that a critic asked for, and assume they have won the argument by making an untrue statement unsupported by the very example that the critic was asking for (and knows won’t be forthcoming).

      1. Does this really have to be an either or thing ? Seriously guys ? Seems to me the spread and go up arguments both have valid points and drawbacks and different people want different lifestyles too so a “one size fits all” ain’t going to work ………hug loves peace and all that 🙂

        From a personal point – I would have loved to live walking distance of my work …had my kids in school near there etc etc even from a transport costs point of view there would also be a time factor and a lifestyle factor ….HOWEVER the practicalities of price meant to do that was impossible ….we are talking 300 + K more for home we needed. Maybe apartments and more condensed housing will make being closer more affordable possibly especially if these houses took into account large families ………then again I would also factor in a lifestyle factor for my kids in terms of gardens with things to grow and trees to climb and such-like and for me the fact I don’t enjoy apartment living or being too closed in …..It would have been weighing up all those things …….FOR some the apartment will win and for others the commute will be suffered for other factors …..
        I wouldn’t mind being able to live and work in a satellite city ….but such is what I do that’s not possible at this stage ………others would probably hate that and want to be in amongst the urban environs and there are others again that long to be able to live in a small town and find employment ……not one size fits all at all

        1. It is not me saying it has to be either/or.

          My point is that the free-to-sprawl cities have affordable CBD apartments and affordable townhouses near the CBD as well as affordable fringe McMansions; the cities that are not free to sprawl don’t have affordable anything.

          You wouldn’t be “priced out” of locations near the CBD in a free-to-sprawl city; you could actually make a genuine choice of what you really wanted one way or the other.

          I am asking those who say that upzoning can restore affordability when there is a UGB, to provide an example of a city where this has been done. I say it does not work this way. Upzoning under these conditions = increased site rent. Academics who agree with me on this include Paul Cheshire, David Levinson and Natacha Aveline. Real life evidence supports us, not our opponents.

          The only way affordability might come about is if there was a sustained building boom for a long time leading to massive oversupply of high density housing, followed by a massive crash in prices. But the elasticity of supply when you are building “up” rather than “out” is far lower even if you have total right of NIMBY over-ride. This supply elasticity is never enough to keep the lid on speculative pressures, in contrast to the supply elasticity of “free to build out” cities.

          Singapore having median multiples of over 6 in spite of no property rights at all is a reflection of the basic cost of building up rather than out, before land rent is added; which using HK as a comparative example, takes the median multiples up to over 12.

  18. To the criticism that low density sprawl like in Houston is not the free market, but distortions induced by regulations; I have some sympathy with the suggestion that there is such a thing as too much space per person in a city. But I see it as far less damaging on all levels, as the opposite extreme like in the UK.

    But William Fischel and other economists in the USA argue that these low density mandates are in fact “market led” via local democracy. It is what people want.

    The thing to remember is that the land is so darn cheap over there because of the lack of a UGB or proxy for one. The housing land price curve in Houston slopes up from around $10,000 per acre beyond the fringe, to about $70,000 per acre quite close to the very centre of the city. A UGB makes the FRINGE prices more like $1,000,000 per acre and the prices go up from there.

    Houston land prices (actually this is the case in all median multiple 3 cities) mean that a developer can sell a decent new McMansion on a 1/4 of an acre lot for $200,000; on a 1 acre lot for not much more than $220,000; and cutting back to 1/10 of an acre per lot only saves enough to reduce the price to around $190,000. The demand curve for amenity of green space per home intersects with an incredibly low flat supply curve for green space per home. Here it is completely different due to the land costs.

    But the irony is that if you want to live near Houston CBD in a Townhouse, they can be had for well under $100,000. There is an equilibrium in the supply and demand for these; they are not undersupplied due to mandated low density zoning.


    Here’s apartments right in the CBD:


    Bear in mind that advertised rents are “monthly” in the USA.

    It is not a question of having to look for subsidies and distortionary mandates to explain low density sprawl, it is simply a question of the land prices under what is actually more of a free market. $1,000,000 per acre fringe land is a massively rigged market. I don’t disagree that the cost of car travel and of some other infrastructure use could be better “priced” – but Anthony Downs puts it that trying to affect resource consumption by trying to alter urban form is like trying to adjust the position of a picture on a living room wall by moving the wall rather than the picture.

    My ideal city would have no UGB’s, variable road pricing, and land taxes. It would beat a UGB-afflicted city hands down on process and function without any of the “unintended consequences” of unaffordable housing, increased congestion, reduced productivity, and increased “disparate impact”. I have long since become cynical whether the inflated urban land prices are an “unintended” consequence at all. One of the earliest “we must save the planet from urban sprawl” comprehensive Reports was funded by the Rockefellers.


    Would the Rockefellers have had any idea that planning constraints might have led to increase in the value of their property holdings? Surely not……! Do Auckland CBD property owners guess that their property holdings/ site rents are being boosted in value by millions of dollars per acre by Len Brown’s policy platform including the CBD Rail Loop? Surely not……!

    1. Houston blah blah blah…. tell me how many billions of dollars of taxes have gone into Houston’s highways in the past 30 years and how that might affect the notion of Houston being a “natural outcome” of how a city grows.

      It’s complete bullshit. If Houston hadn’t spent billions of dollars subsidising the construction of freeways it would never have sprawled anywhere near the extent it has.

      1. Houston, like LA, had a serious highway deficit by the mid 1980’s. It did something about it. LA did not. The sprawl happened anyway before that, using rural road networks that were already there, plus what developers put in. It will happen anyway if you let it. If you don’t let it, you get unaffordable housing and even worse traffic congestion. If there is one thing worse than 1,000,000 people spread out at low density lacking highways, it is 1,000,000 people contained at higher density lacking highways.

        1. Phil H

          1. The Interstate system is subsidised by the general US taxpayer. You cannot maintain your ideological objection to subsidy then hold the US transport system as an ideal.

          2. The cities of Texas are rich enough to order themselves on what is simply the most inefficient and expensive urban model: high dispersal and connection by private vehicle. Furthermore they are also not constrained by limiting geographical forms. Decades of cheap oil, public highway subsidy, and land-use regulations have incentivised spread. It doesn’t mean this is any kind of model to emulate even if it were physically possible, affordable, or remotely desirable. Why is it always Houston? Where else does this work brilliantly?

          3. Yes LA is doing something about it: building, or rather rebuilding, their missing Transit system. Voted for by 2/3 majority. LA knows about auto-dependant sprawl and are retro-fitting the fix.

          4. The key beneficiaries of transit subsidies are drivers; even NZTA calculate that every peak time rider on a train is worth $17 or so dollars in savings TO DRIVERS. All cities with Transit services, even ones as poor as Auckland’s [improving] one is rely heavily on them to allow those that choose to drive to continue to do so. This is no transfer of money from noble drivers to thieving Transit users.

          5. However, we all agree that more efficient systems requiring lower subsidy is better so you will then completely support the electrification of the rail network which will halve opex of the system while vastly improving services, the construction of the CRL which will further increase the proportion of the opex cost being recovered by fares to at least 80%, and the construction of more busways as these too halve operating costs by doubling average service speed, attract more users, and head towards breakeven. All while getting people off the roads and out of your way when driving.

          6. Phil H, we get you like suburbia, that’s great, there’s plenty of it there, no one is going to ‘force’ you to leave it, or to not drive. But won’t it great when there are other living arrangements and movement options for those that want to choose them, or is it that you know best and we all have to do what you prefer?

          1. 1. The major cost of the Interstate system is engineering it for vehicles of some tens of tons weight, and maintaining it from the damage done by these. The petrol taxes paid by motorists in the USA are most likely “more than their fair share”.

            2. The cities of Texas are only “rich” in the sense that they have not obstructed economic growth. They are routinely criticised for having created so much low income unemployment. This of course misses the point that less skilled people are better off in Texas with a job, than unemployed in LA or NY.

            Houston is just a prime example. All Texas cities; Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin are similar. Atlanta, Georgia is fast-growth and affordable. North Carolina’s Raleigh and Charlotte are small but just as fast-growing and also affordable. Growth rates like these cities have would fry Kiwis brains.

            Florida has had almost as fast growth but without managing to keep it as affordable. Phoenix and Las Vegas were very rapid growers but suddenly flipped to seriously unaffordable when their growth hit surrounding national parks and other government-owned land not available to the free market.

            Indianapolis and Nashville have had growth that would still fry Kiwis brains even though not as much as TX. Denver too, but not affordable. Salt Lake City is no slouch and its satellite Provo-Orem is very rapid.

            When it comes to elasticity of housing supply, some 2/3 of US cities have elasticities similar to Texas cities, which means they could cope with just as much housing demand and still remain affordable. (In contrast, growth contained cities can’t even achieve affordability with no growth at all). Kansas City and Wichita and several other cities outside of TX actually have the highest elasticities of all.

            3. LA will make its congestion and its economic situation worse by diverting so much funding to commuter rail PT.

            4. “…..even NZTA calculate that every peak time rider on a train is worth $17 or so dollars in savings TO DRIVERS……”

            Where do they make this extraordinary calculation and how?

            5. I do not support “investment” in transport modes that cost public subsidies of 40 cents or so for every person-km of travel, when roads only cost around 1 cent per person-km of travel done on them. LA has spent something like 1/3 of its total budget for the last 30 years on PT, on which just 4% of total travel is done. It is insanity to think this might reduce congestion. You might as well introduce a heavily subsidized carrier pigeon service to take the strain off wireless communication networks instead of expanding the capacity of the networks everyone is actually using.

            It is not at all hard to predict that Aucklanders will wonder a decade down the track, whatever went wrong with the promised mode shift, whatever went wrong with the promised reductions in traffic congestion, whatever went wrong with their rates increases, whatever went wrong with the assurances that compact city planning would result in housing affordability,.and whatever went wrong with all the promises of Auckland “becoming a global city”.

            6. Who “knows best and wants everyone else to do what they prefer”? Len Brown and you, or me? At least you, unlike Len Brown, possibly don’t have the hypocrisy to live on a lifestyle block (and I have heard he drives a V8 too) at the same time as preaching “save the planet” to everyone else. I just want Kiwis to have the same choices their parents had, with the addition of urban living options that were once zoned against. We’ve got those options but now we are depriving young people of the choices their parents had, and making ALL their options expensive, to the benefit of the rentier classes in land and finance.

            It is this latter that I cannot get my head around, why certain advocates can’t seem to see whose useful idiots they are, and against whose general interest. If you want to save the planet, use compulsory acquisitions and land taxes and energy taxes, please; don’t impose de facto housing taxes paid to “big property” and “big finance” instead of the government.

          2. 1. The interstate system is subsidised by the general federal taxpayer. Fact. Subsidies are a viable tool for governments to achieve economic outcomes in situations where there is indirect financial capture.

            2. The cities of Texas and Houston in particular are home to the world’s major oil and gas companies AND host to a currently booming local oil and gas industry. They can afford to waste money on the world’s most inefficient urban form, and good luck to them, that’s their choice. But it is irrelevant to choices facing Auckland.

            3. Your opinion, not supported by the evidence; so?

            4. The NZTA Economic Evaluation Manual, look it up; $17.42, I believe. I understand your incredulity as through your windscreen you can only see other drivers, in your way, not the people on the train unclogging the road ahead.

            5. All the evidence thus far shows the reverse is in fact the case. All recent modelling for Transit investment in Auckland has predicted much lower ridership than has eventuated. This is true of Britomart that hit the predicted 2021 use in 2011. The Northern Busway similarly. What Aucklanders will wonder once the CRL has transformed not only access to the city and its connection with outer suburbs but also the whole city’s capacity to thrive is why did we take so long to do this?

            6. Our advocacy is for a city with a full range of options, not just one way of living and moving like yours. Our vision allows and encourages every kind of living arrangement and movement mode, including ex-urban lifestyle blocks. If you, or Brown, or anyone else prefers isolation and long commutes well that’s all good by us. Fill your boots. We are all for choice and freedom. I find your point of view on this petty. For comparison, I believe in equal rights for gay people so does that mean I have to become gay myself to convince you that this opinion is sincere?

            Overall your position rests entirely on two assumptions that are completely unsupportable: That everyone always wants to drive for every journey at all times and that no one cares how isolated and distant their dwelling is, and that both of these aims will be pursued to the exclusion of all others indefinitely no matter what the cost individually and to society in general in time, space, and money. These are absurd notions. And bullying ones as are simply extrapolations of your own preferences.

          3. 1. I didn’t say there was no subsidy to US Federal Highways from general taxation; I just claimed that the contribution by motorists in the form of petrol taxes, probably is “their fair share” of the cost. It is probably the trucking industry over there that is not paying its way. An Interstate highway system engineered purely for cars would cost a lot less than the petrol tax revenue would pay for.

            Considerable sums are siphoned out of this same Federal Government account in subsidy to urban rail systems – NYC gets the lion’s share of this.

            You seem to be agreeing that subsidies to roads are socially justified.

            “….Subsidies are a viable tool for governments to achieve economic outcomes in situations where there is indirect financial capture…..”

            Considerable sums are siphoned out of this same Federal Government account in subsidy to urban rail systems – NYC gets the lion’s share of this.

            You seem to be agreeing that subsidies to roads are socially justified.

            “….Subsidies are a viable tool for governments to achieve economic outcomes in situations where there is indirect financial capture…..”

            This definitely applies to roads. We wouldn’t have typical modern economies without them, and without defeating monopoly land rent.

            2) Houston and Dallas are not “wasting money” that they have because they are rich, on “the most inefficient urban form”. They are highly democratised economies in which the bottom two quartiles are far better off than if they were in a high-land-rent city; and there is also abundant opportunity for the creation of employment for such people. You need to read Philip Morrison (Vic Uni) “The Distributional Consequences of the Creative City”. This stuff is highly relevant to NZ cities. If we want to increasingly stratify our society and trap people at the bottom, just maximise economic land rent. The increased costs of housing is a far greater burden than the alleged costs of infrastructure to support sprawl. The comprehensive Costs of Sprawl study in the USA damned sprawl, yet the costs involved were only $50 per household per year. If this is the cost of achieving median house prices of $300,000 instead of $700,000, who wouldn’t want to go for it? A few rich pricks in the “big property” sector, that’s who.

            3) Sorry, there is evidence for my claim. LA left itself significantly under-provided with freeway lane-miles per capita and started from the mid 1970’s investing in public transport. Sure hardly anyone uses it, but this is not for lack of public investment in it. Eric A. Morris says, in “Los Angeles Transportation Facts and Fiction” (“Freakanomics” Blog):

            “…….by the standards of U.S. cities, Los Angeles is not sprawling, has a fairly extensive transit system, and is decidedly light on freeways. The smog situation has vastly improved…..
            “……..Los Angeles’s traffic woes stem from the fact that it doesn’t sprawl enough and has overinvested in costly rail transit at the expense of developing its undersized freeway network…..”

            On the other hand, Houston is the only city anywhere that has reduced traffic congestion delays even as VMT increased; it achieved this by dedicating itself to expanding its highway lane-miles. It has significantly more highway lane-miles per capita than LA, and would have even more if its population growth was not so explosive that its roadbuilding lags behind current needs.

            4) Thanks for pointing that out about the NZTA Economic Evaluation Manual; I will be investigating this.
            It is outrageous to claim congestion reduction benefits of this magnitude for commuter rail ridership but somehow not match them for road capacity expansion. The principle of Triple Convergence has been established for decades; if road space is going to fill up again as fast as it is built, at lower cost per person km of travel, spending even more in subsidies on an alternative mode most certainly isn’t going to slow down the rate at which road space is filled up again.
            No wonder we are in a misguided mess. This bears no relationship to real life outcomes – like Indianapolis versus Nottingham versus Auckland.

            5) Hmmm, which ridership predictions, the ones used to secure funding? Or something else? How have the subsidy costs worked out? Are the riders paying fares that cover anywhere near 50% of total cost (including capital)? Good luck keeping up with the local taxation pressures.

            6) You keep changing the subject from my views on economic land rent and living costs and the justice involved, to an alleged “reduction of choice”. I want subsidies to be balanced between modes; not 5% subsidy (if that) to automobility and 75% subsidy to PT; and I want economic land rent to be minimised for the good of society and the real productive economy. The argument is being framed upside down by people who say it is cars and driving that are over-subsidised. Wanting more roads built because the ultimate public subsidy cost per person km of travel is infinitesimally lower, is not “forcing everyone to drive”. Most travel by far is already by driving, and this travel is being discriminated against by being starved of funding, and the growth containment policies that are part of the same unreason are hiking everyone’s housing costs and creating unintended consequences that are worse than the alleged problem being addressed. It is YOUR side that does not care “…..what is the cost individually and to society in general in time, space, and money…..” as the result of YOUR policy preferences. See my comment immediately below for the consequences in the UK. Have you no shame, sir?

  19. Auckland the way you want it in a couple of decades?

    ‘Sheds with beds’ are London’s modern day slums


    Welcome to the Slums of Southall


    Container living: a home for under £50,000


    Generation Rent and the Broken Housing Ladder


    Slough Borough Council’s spy plane’s thermal image camera


  20. “Texas is in the middle of an oil and gas boom and therefore is as about as relevant in terms of economic performance to Auckland as Riyadh.” and yet somehow we are supposed to believe Zurich – a super rich European country 12000 miles away is relevant to Auckland just because it has nice PT…..rotfl.

    1. It may not be relevant to you in your Auckland suburban ‘wonderland’ however to many us geographical distance isn’t really a barrier to learning how to do things better or looking at how Auckland can operate more effectively. Furthermore, for many of NZ’s educated and mobile young professionals, Zurich has a lot of relevance as an extremely attractive job market.

      Zurich’s population is ‘super rich’ in many ways because the average person doesn’t need to waste vast sums on operating a SOV to move around the city. Again, no one is forcing you to move out of your auto-dependent suburb and your drive to the local Walmart mega-mall. Just don’t come on here and proselytise how we should live our lives.

  21. We each have to make a decision best for ourselves. I am not arguing that my solution is best for everyone, or without costs. I have plans for changing vehicles should petrol prices rise. Alternatively new job opportunities closer to Amberley will become available so this high transport cost and travel times will unlikely be the case for the next 20+ years. But if I had paid $100K more for a new house in Christchurch compared with our land/build costs in Amberley then we certainly would be paying more for the next 20+ years.

  22. We each have to make a decision best for ourselves. I am not arguing that my solution is best for everyone, or without costs. I have plans for changing vehicles should petrol prices rise. Alternatively new job opportunities closer to Amberley will become available so this high transport cost and travel times will unlikely be the case for the next 20+ years. But if I had paid $100K more for a new house in Christchurch compared with our land/build costs in Amberley then we certainly would be paying more for the next 20+ years

  23. Phil,

    Just a counterpoint to your rosy Houston story:



    TLDR – house prices are quickly rising, congestion is bad and unlikely to get better soon, good PT is very hard due to the sprawl. To be honest, my google-fu was too weak to find any concrete numbers on Houston’s motorway spend but Wikipedia says that they have 925 km of motorways built. Adjusting to AKL per capita that would mean we should have ~200 km of motorways in AKL to be on par with Houston. According to NZTA we have 220km of motorways.

    1. Boy, I wish Auckland’s house prices idea of “quickly rising” were like Houston’s…!!

      TomTom, for the purposes of calculating their congestion index, shows Houston as having 2,133,158 vehicle miles of travel on a network with 751 miles of highways (length, not LANE miles) and 2,915 miles of non-highway network. Congestion delay is 33 minutes per 1 hour of driving.

      It should be noted that rapidly growing cities (Houston went from 4 million people in 2000 to 5 million people in 2010) suffer a congestion effect from highway building lagging growth. Imagine this kind of population growth in Auckland and what it would do to the network.

      Indianapolis’ (much more comparable to Auckland) TomTom total highway network length is 269 miles, and non-highway network length is 1,517 miles. Total vehicle miles is 1,184,017. Congestion delay is 15 minutes per 1 hour of driving at peak.

      Auckland’s TomTom total highway network length is 162 miles, and non-highway network length is 782 miles. Total vehicle miles is 916,380. Congestion delay is 47 minutes per 1 hour of driving at peak.

      Er, is this a somewhat revealing correlation?

      Lane-miles data is readily available at the TTI, for US cities, but is incredibly hard to find for anywhere else. The below is an incredibly fortuitous collation that includes Auckland:


      Under the definition for “freeway” used there, Auckland’s freeway route miles are only 37 miles and freeway lane-miles are only 160.

      “Freeway: A roadway with two or more lanes in each direction with no at-grade cross-traffic”.

      Indianapolis, on the other hand, has 130 freeway route miles and 730 freeway lane miles.

      But everyone knows you can’t build your way out of congestion, right? Indianapolis must have an incredible public transport system I have never heard of, I really must get Len Brown to look into this.

      (Houston in the latter data set has 473 freeway route miles and 2,460 lane miles).

  24. I haven’t had time so far to nuance my arguments about road networks. There is really only a very few things that matter for urban transport efficiency.

    1) The dispersal of jobs and amenities among the population
    2) The level and slope and flatness of the urban land rent curve, affecting the affordability of housing “by location”. If everyone could afford all housing and there was no advantage to any one location, everyone could live within walking distance of their job if they wanted to. But many households have two workers, plus need to consider schools and other amenities. A lot of households exercise their choice of location in favour of schools rather than work.
    3) The network sufficiency where the travel is actually occurring.

    Dispersed and balanced urban form actually doesn’t really need highways at all. Highways should bypass and skirt cities. The CBD land rentier class won a massive victory in the USA in the 1950’s when they managed to get Federal Interstate Highways taken to city centres rather than “to” and “around” the fringe.

    The right road network to support dispersed cities is a grid. Frank Lloyd Wright was one of those who got this right, and was defeated. Wright said “our cities are going to disperse anyway, and we should design it properly”. A grid is far more efficient than a radial system focused on funneling the workforce towards the urban centre. Dispersed workforces going to and from dispersed jobs utilise the road space in both directions at both ends of the day. Having 2 lanes instead of 1 in many places is a far greater capacity increase than having 8 instead of 6 in a few places. And the cost of land acquisition for a dispersed network properly planned as the city expands, is a fraction of the cost of land acquisition to add capacity in already-built-out locations.

    Dispersion and systemic affordability is ironically ideal for maximising “walking mode share” as well as efficient car commuting. And walking is costless in public subsidies. There is no competition in terms of the cost of gaining a 5% increase in walking mode share compared to a 5% increase in PT mode share. The dispersion that supports walking actually lowers economic land rent and housing costs, while the concentration that supports PT increases them; adding to the costs imposed on society by the PT subsidy costs.

    Frank Lloyd Wright also said the right locations for apartment blocks was “dispersed”, one or more block near each dispersed node of employment. The occupants would be “bachelors and recent immigrants”. Families with children were to have decent homes with enough garden space to growth their own food.

    I strongly recommend the PPT and Podcast of Dushko Bogunovich and Matthew Bradbury of Unitec, “Future Proof: The Long Flat City: De-compacting Auckland’s Planning Thinking”.


    …….And scroll down

    FLW would have approved, I think.

    There is actually massive scope for “sustainability” associated with dispersed and low density urban form, and this could be NZ’s opportunity. The burst of creativity surrounding it could turn into an industry, or several industries.

    1. I’m sorry but Bogunovich and Bradbury make no sense at all. They claim the answer to the problem of ‘urban sprawl’ is more dispersal. This is simply a contradiction; sprawl cannot be ‘solved’ by more sprawl. The views and solutions they express are extremely naive and seem to be simply founded on a mistrust or loathing of the urban world in toto. What is a city but a concentration of people and exchange? There is plenty of research showing the value of this concentration, recently in the public domain Ed Glaeser’s book, Triumph of The City. B+B have nothing to say about the power of agglomeration; the entire economic foundation of urbanisation. They cannot explain the urban history of humanity, which can only be, in their view, an enormous mistake made again and again by all cultures over many centuries.

      Their vision of Auckland is of a thinly populated series of little hamlets all powered by solar panels and with each household keeping a sheep, a chicken, and a bee for self-sufficiency. Of course this would have to be the case as 1. There would be no resulting commerce of any scale for employment or income. And 2. all the current farm land from Hamilton to Whangarei will be gone to house these fantasy low-density settlements.

      City loathing back-to-the-land fantasists; peddling the 1960s counter culture dream. Think I’m overstating their foolishness? Look here: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/perspective/9711020/Bleak-outlook-for-Christchurch-CBD

      “As Bugonovich says, communities could be self-sufficient, harnessing solar energy, and managing their own water and waste.

      People could grow their own fruit and vegetables, and high-speed internet would mean that not everybody has to commute.”

      And this extraordinary statement ‘Sprawl’ and ‘low density’ are the same thing so how can more of the later fix the former?

      “Urban sprawl is one of the biggest problems facing the planet, says Bugonovich.

      If New Zealand finds out how to build a sustainable low-density city, design and building technologies could be a highly successful export.”

      And this is just flat wrong. Mr B here is stating the complete reverse of the facts to try to support his fantasy view of the world. Cities and especially the downtowns of cities are thriving like never before:

      “The global trends are not favouring downtowns and city centres. All city centres are struggling,” says Bogunovich.

      I struggle to see how anyone can take these views seriously, especially anyone in Auckland who has their eyes open witnessing, as we are, the revival of the city centre from the near terminal policies of the sprawl age.

      By the way, FLW, like Corb., was a truly great architect and an absolutely appalling urban planner. You got the whole mishpokhe backwards my man.

      1. Ah, now we are worried about agglomeration economies.

        Tell me, how have these come about everywhere they exist? Did central planners tell the moguls of Wall Street to locate in downtown Manhattan? Or tell the nascent hi-tech sector to locate in Silicon Valley? Or tel Europe’s financier families to flee to London when there were revolutions in their own countries?

        I am disappointed in Ed Glaeser not being sufficiently clear on these basics. Actually, he provides all the information we need to reach intelligent conclusions; his stories about how great urban economies evolved do not mention the words “growth containment planning” once.

        Did the former USSR’s planners create agglomeration efficiencies by forcing everyone to live in apartments and catch trains?

        Is the UK economy a powerhouse of productivity because its growth containment has stopped participants in the economy from sprawling too far away from each other?

        Actually, the opposite is true. The UK has a productivity gap thanks to its urban planning system.

        Agglomeration economies are not synonymous with clustering. Clustering is but one means, along with access and communication, of achieving agglomeration economies. Physical clustering may have been the sole means of achieving agglomeration economies many decades ago, but this is certainly no longer the case. Transport and communications have increasingly substituted for proximity in the maximisation of “agglomeration efficiencies”, as they evolved and the underlying economics justified it. “Agglomeration economies” are no longer related entirely to “proximity”, but more to “access” and “contact”. Silicon Valley, one of the most famous clusters of all, is not dense. Complementary businesses can be “down the road from each other” in an uncongested location near the urban fringe, and be far more efficient an agglomeration (on “net”) than, say, a whole lot of factories and warehouses crammed into Manhattan (they have all gone now – I wonder why?) along with the skyscrapers containing the global finance sector.

        A white paper/book that should have become a classic on this, is Richard Mudge and Eric Beshers (1998) “Business Location in the Modern Economy”.

        Physical clustering has diseconomies as well as economies; the diseconomies are minimised by dispersion while the economies are at the very least “not foregone”; and the market will find its own balance if allowed to. It is self-evident that agglomerations have never been “planned”, they have evolved; and it is pointless to attempt to “plan” agglomeration economies into existence on the basis of one single high-density one, period. Separate clusters of multiple types are far more efficient than one single central one, which seems to be what urban planners minds default to when the word “agglomeration” is mentioned. In the productivity data, it is outright size of a city that matters, not its density, yet urban planners minds, again, default to centralization and “density”.

        Crucially, clustering will suffer from the law of diminishing returns while the “transport” factor will suffer less so, and the “communications” factor, not at all. Agglomeration efficiencies, net of diseconomies of congestion and land rent, will be higher when there are multiple clusters by type, rather than a single one of all types of employment. Agglomeration efficiencies are actually of many different types, both in the spatial sense and the functional sense. It is completely unnecessary for production line manufacturers to be located nearby to law firms, for example, to achieve agglomeration efficiencies. (In fact, urban planners have for generations, been “zoning” against undesirable mixtures of activities in urban areas). Having every type of “agglomeration” crammed into the one single urban centre by prescriptive planning, merely minimises the economies and maximises the dis-economies.

        Silicon Valley is the classic example of the “suburban” (initially exurban, what is more) agglomeration cluster. And under the conditions of multiple nodes of clustering, congestion externalities are minimized at the same time as agglomeration efficiencies are maximised.

        The McKinsey Institute (1998), “Driving Productivity and Growth in the UK Economy”, discusses how rigid urban planning in Britain actually prevents these type-specific agglomerations from occurring. It should disturb all advocates of such planning deeply, that the McKinsey Paper points out that “Silicon Valley could never have emerged anywhere in Britain”. In fact similar agglomerations probably cannot occur again in California; one executive accused the Bay Area Regional Council of “driving the silicon out of Silicon Valley”.

        Clusters are prevented from forming by lack of any spare land around the initial firms locations; or from lack of any affordable land. Clustering occurs most rapidly in “splatter” development patterns.

        Peter Gordon et al’s series of papers on urban dispersion and trip-to-work times over nearly 30 years, show that the dispersion of employment in US cities has kept trip-to-work times stable at the same time as an absence of controls on expansion has kept land affordable for businesses and housing. Gordon more recently suggests, which is confirming to this writer, that there is an observable correlation between dispersion and productivity (not concentration and productivity) in his data. See Gordon, 2012, “Cities, Networks, Creativity, and Supply Chains for Ideas”. Other academics trying to identify agglomeration economies linked to specific locations, are now finding it very hard to do so (eg Hugh Kelly and Matthew Drennan – 2011 – concluded that “the tyranny of distance is dead” even for the finance sector, with the exception of the few largest clusters of it such as Manhattan).

        Agglomeration economies below the level of “the entire city” are very elusive to identify. Bigger (not necessarily denser) cities are more productive (all other things being equal).


        Concrete gains: America’s big cities are larger than Europe’s. That has important economic consequences.

        “………Differences in metropolitan populations may help explain gaps in productivity and incomes. Western Europe’s per-person GDP is 72% of America’s, on a purchasing-power-parity basis. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, the consultancy’s research arm, reckons that some three-quarters of this gap can be chalked up to Europe’s relatively diminutive cities. More Americans than Europeans live in big cities: there is a particular divergence in the size of each region’s “middleweight” cities…..”

        Have you read Richard Florida recently admitting that “trickle-down urbanism is a failure”?

        Are you aware that NZ is 0.7% urbanised but 1.4% of its land is in lifestyle blocks? We are not going to lose in the net economic contribution of farmland what we gain in intelligent urban growth (affordability, productivity, opportunity).

  25. A high proportion of the cost of roads is due to their use by very heavy vehicles. If you object to some of your taxes going to pay for roads when you are some kind of saint who uses public transport only, stop and consider for a moment how the food reaches your inner city supermarket and how the designer clothes and accessories reach your fashion shop. And why the price of everything these days except housing in growth-contained cities does not have embodied monopoly rent in it. Would you happily give some guy down the road with a few cows a monopoly on your milk supply so as to do without road-based supply chains? Oops, he couldn’t be down the road, could he? Down the goat-track, perhaps?

    1. Roads are indeed exactly the place for delivery. So why clog them up with single occupant vehicles? Efficient Transit and Active networks are not only consistent with efficient road freight networks they in fact a prerequisite for them in thriving urban areas. We are in favour of our state highways and selected arterials having truck lanes to expedite this.

      1. Christchurch at the moment needs dedicated lanes for trucks. We are so clogged up it is a constant trial. I think more info on specific trunk infrastructure for specific purposes would be useful.

      2. The cost-benefit of light-duty roads built just for cars would be massive, there would be no excuse to not “build out of congestion” because of the roads needing to be engineered for and maintained for the trucking industry.

        Look, people like mobility, and escaping monopoly economic land rent is a major reason, even if ordinary people couldn’t give you an economics lecture on what they are doing. The Model T Ford was made to not need nice sealed roads, for a jolly good reason. Ford knew what he was doing, very much so, because he understood economic land rent better than most actual economists today.

        The Citroen 2CV was similar in concept – it could be driven across a ploughed field, according to the advertising.

        Developing countries today often have a motorcycle mode share several times higher than PT and walking. Lower density slums a bit further out are nicer to live in. Again; nice sealed roads not necessary.

  26. Saw on Twitter earlier that Houston spends 14% of its GDP on transport whereas Copenhagen spends 4%. Given the size of Houston’s economy that calculates as $32b extra per year that Houston spends unnecessarily on transport.

    Ultimately that’s the issue. A transport system and urban form based on car dependent sprawl is supremely expensive and inefficient.

    1. Sorry Fred we need better referencing than ‘I saw on Twitter’. This is a key contested point so it would be good to really carefully check our facts and calculations.

    1. Is Copenhagen attracting added population like Houston, which grew from 4 million people in 2000 to 5 million people in 2010?

      No doubt you can do all sorts of things with Scandinavian property rights systems (leaseholds, compulsory acquisitions, no NIMBY rights, etc). I want to see some sincerity from compact city advocates; I want them to be advocating the property rights system that goes along with the actual achievement of their objectives.

      Vancouver is a gigantic de facto gated community. Do we accept the argument that exclusionary suburbs “create economic success” and therefore all suburbs should be exclusionary and poor people can go and eat coke? This gets the direction of causation back to front. I recommend the paper “Superstar Cities” by Gyourko, Mayer and Sinai.

      And please ask your Twitterati friends for some references to support their claims. I cannot find corroboration online, and smell a rat.

      High walking and cycling mode shares are far more likely to result in outstandingly low transport spending than PT use, PT being so expensive in reality. It is possible PT capital costs might be excluded; or only fare cost used, to give an artificially low figure. Of course high walking and cycling mode shares require very good mixing of residential, jobs, and amenities. Copenhagen does have a very high cycling mode share.

      I welcome plans to replicate this in Auckland. I do not welcome plans that rely on PT with its attendant exorbitant subsidies and absurd forced centralisation and concentration via zoning.

      1. “rely on PT with its attendant exorbitant subsidies and absurd forced centralisation and concentration via zoning.”

        Read that, smelled a rat. Provide some references for your claims please.

        1. Especially the fighting words like “absurd”, “forced” and “exorbitant”. That’s the part where I really stopped listening to your arguments, and realised they were just PR.

        2. Take a look at the charts in this:


          It is a bit harder to dig the figures out, but the outcomes in NZ are about as bad as in the USA:


          What planet are you on if you don’t think Councils Plans are trying to force growth into densification at locations where public transport can be their main means of travel? It never works, though, for the reasons I have been pointing out, about the way RE markets work.

          1. Mr H, you say ‘force’, but I think ‘allow’ is a much more accurate term. After all, those plans simply ease, somewhat, regulation preventing homeowners from doing what they want to with their land. So it’s reducing market interference, and letting the market respond to market pressures with a lesser amount of constraint.

            Arguing for the removal of urban limits is perfectly valid, but only if you argue for the removal of proscriptive zoning at the same time. Really Auckland is trying to have its cake and eat it too, luckily the unitary plan is a step in the right direction by easing both the urban limit and the anti market zone regulations.

          2. “Forcing growth into densification at locations where public transport can be there main means of travel”.

            Geez what plan are you reading and what planet are you on? In the unitary plan we see some restrictions on development density removed in areas with good access to PT. Nobody is forcing that development.

            In the unitary plan we also see probably the biggest ever addition of greenfield future urban land in the history of Auckland.

            Don’t listen to the bullshit hype. Read the actual plan.

          3. The AKL CBD residential growth shown in the last census was 46.5%. The highest of anywhere in the nation. These people were not forced to live there, they choose to.

            But you have to believe that we are actually in North Korea don’t you because none of these observable trends fit with your extreme world view. Why would anyone catch a bus or a train or live in close proximity to the city unless forced to by some unseen squad of ‘density police’. Yeah right. Nutty as the Tea Party.

          4. Some fair points made there. I would not use the word “force” if there were not a UGB. The Plan involves assumptions that so much growth will be greenfields, so much densification.

            I am all for having no height restrictions etc as well as no UGB; then there would be genuine choice and no force involved.

            CBD’s like in some of our cities have had spectacular growth from a zero base because restrictions have been removed. I am saying that rents for these are obscene along with housing affordability region-wide also being obscene. These things are linked by option values. I want both to be fair prices, and this is not possible via upzoning along with a UGB. It IS possible with upzoning with no UGB.

            Zoning for an anticipated supply of greenfields land and assuming it will keep land just as affordable as no UGB at all, is completely misguided. Planners all around the world are in denial about this. They impose a UGB or restrictions, they say there is adequate supply inside it, prices start to inflate and they say, oh, that is easy credit doing that, it would have happened anyway. But every growth containment policy has inflated the land prices; in Britain in the 1950’s; in South Korea and California and Oregon in the 1970’s; and nearly everywhere else starting from the mid 1990’s.

            The problem is that inside their UGB is exactly the “right” amount of land. But they haven’t surveyed the owners and established that any of them intended to sell any of it…….! Also, if they can’t work out in Auckland that they need to leave out school playing fields from their brownfields development targets, how much unbuildable land is there inside their “20 year” UGB?

            Developments take several years to do, and developers like to secure their next site before they have completed their current project. This effectively means 10 years worth of land “in development or banked by developers themselves”.

            And what is the normal turnover of ownership of rural land? It is inevitable that developers will start crawling over broken glass trying to beat out their competitors to sites, any sites at all. What does this do to the price expectations of the land owners? You don’t sell in a rising market, you “hold”. This is why the price of land inside a UGB always inflates at least tenfold in the first instance, but after some decades the factor can be “tens” of times.

            Allowing “Splatter” development keeps land prices stable. The best sites within driving distance that are for sale anyway on the rural land market, get developed first. Splatter is inherently efficient because the best use of fragmented land can be determined after some development has occurred. New clusters can form, that would not have formed otherwise. Acquiring land for infrastructure and public uses is cheap.

      2. Copenhagen have supported the development of electric bikes to make bicycling even more efficient too.


        I have great hopes this will be a big movement. Down here in Canterbury it is very difficult to bike because the poor repair job of the post earthquake roads and the overcrowding of residential roads. Really in Christchurch at least, they need much more motorways to divert the bulk traffic so that the residential roads can have bike lanes and be safe for the remaining multiple users, cars, bikes and pedestrians.

        For me in Amberley an electric bike wouldn’t help to commute to Christchurch -45-60km away. But if I got a job in Rangiora -25km away, then it could be great, exercise, fresh air, quiet country road, cheap….

  27. Those of us familiar with Phil Hayward’s writings in the Wellington Newspapers know him to be a great fan of mid-sized, sprawling American cities, where travel is only really feasible by car. In such cities, public transport (if there is any) consists of a basic bus service running cheaply on road networks which are there primarily for cars – i.e. minimal infrastructure just for public transport. This is what Phil H approves of. He loves to proclaim the virtues of certain U.S. cities with which he seems to be familiar – Wichita, Boise, and of course the much larger Houston.

    Now there is no denying that much of what Phil H says about these places is valid. People live in them happily. Quiet but sprawling suburbs are cheap and pleasant places to live. Congestion does not appear to be a problem, since absolutely everything is laid out to facilitate universal usage of cars. Land is plentiful, fuel is cheap. What is there not to like? – Provided that is, you can drive, have a car, don’t mind using it for absolutely everything, and are not forced to live in inner-city areas which are often less-salubrious.

    However many of us (including Phil H himself, it seems), have also experienced another type of very-pleasant mid-sized city, totally different from the sort he admires. This is the typical, compact, medium-density and often historic city as found in many parts of continental Europe. Such cities are big on public transport, big on walking, big on cycling, and commonly restrictive of cars – at least in their centres. And these cities also support thriving populations of happy and fulfilled people. If there is road-congestion people can avoid it by using trains, walking, cycling; Many will choose to locate themselves within easy reach of a train station, even if they have a car. Inner-urban living tends to be sought-after, not escaped-from, and the motorcar along with its associated infrastructure is not allowed to dominate. Very appropriate in countries where land is at a premium and fuel is expensive.

    So, two very different ways of doing things. Two ways that both function and are both able to thrive. Should people not be free to choose which they prefer? Well according to Phil H, apparently not.

    Phil is staunchly opposed to high-quality public transport infrastructure which he sees as hugely inefficient and a waste of money – money he would rather see spent on more roads. Through his many letters to the editor, this is what he advocates for Wellington, often imploring the authorities to cease funding rail and instead to build more and wider roads. Nearly all of his letters, no matter what the basic topic, carry a swipe at rail in some form or other. He evidently hates it, hates the fact that rail is a part of Wellington’s fabric, and opposes any move to develop Wellington more along the lines of the lovely European cities. In short, he wants Wellington to Americanise. Seemingly he would deny choice to those who like Wellington the way it is – i.e. a small-scale city with high use of rail, pleasantly-constrained suburbs and (shock, horror) a little bit of traffic congestion. Whatever John Key might say, it is definitely not dying.

    Phil H – if you are reading this – why are you so anxious to turn Wellington into Wichita? If you like that place so much why don’t you go and live there.

    1. Thanks, DaveB. Forums like this provide much more opportunity for discussion, than letters columns. Editors seldom allow further explanation after opponents have come up with their criticisms.

      I have explained my problem already on this forum. It is essentially the cost of trying to pretend we are an “old Europe” city when we are not. Their economies are far more mature than ours; they have cities with a lot more high-income sectors than we do. They do not rely on primary produce exports as the basis of their economy. NZ is still a low income nation.

      It is seldom understood what is the advantage to a city, as far as PT is concerned, that it was already there for hundreds of years before cars were invented. Once cars were invented, there was a strong social consensus to allow suburban development, and all per-car cities almost without exception have lost population in their cores, and added suburbs at much lower density.

      But what this meant in the case of those cities, is that even decades later, density in the cores was still high enough to make PT subsidies bearable in cost, especially given that local incomes are high and mobility of tourists is regarded as important. And the cost of “housing” in those urban cores has been relatively modest in most such cities because it was already there and population was emptying out of it.

      IF your city did not start out on this basis and you are trying to make it denser kind of from scratch, you create economic land rent of exactly the kind (“monopoly rent”) that the classical economists were so concerned about before transport flexibility advances allowed for a massive reduction in real urban land prices. (I mean, people paying 50% of their income in the rent of a tiny tenement was the sort of thing that got Karl Marx so wound up).

      This whole discussion thread is directly relevant. “Automobility” allowed decades of reduction in people’s housing costs, of greater magnitude than their increase in transport costs (running a car). RE markets simply do work this way. It is counter to all principles of economics to claim the opposite; i.e. paying RE market premiums for more efficient locations will save more on transport costs. Markets simply don’t work this way. Hence my criticism of the original article and academic paper.

      Spreading out of urban populations is absolutely normal because of RE market prices. Even in developing countries, people increasingly live in better informal housing conditions with more space per person a bit further away from the city and ride a motor scooter. The cost of building roads is far less than the economic land rent saved by having a greater supply of land for people’s incomes to bid for a share of.

      What this has always done, is erode PT system efficiency, especially where fixed rails are concerned. Over the last couple of decades, in many cities, the cost of PT per person km of travel has reached “cross over” with the average for private cars. The public simply does not realise this – if you ask the man in the street, he will assume PT is something like 80% cheaper. I actually stopped to think it through a few years ago, because I realised PT fares were surprisingly not significantly less than the cost of running a small car. When I realised from Council accounts that fare revenue was only around 1/3 of system cost, the logical conclusion is that the cost including subsidies is actually higher than the cost of running a small car.

      I also believed the myths for years, about automobile dependent, sprawling American cities having worse and worse traffic congestion, which wiser nationalities were avoiding by “investing in public transport and halting sprawl”. I had an epiphany as soon as I started to see actual congestion data. The myths are simply false. Wellington’s TomTom congestion delay at peak is 45 minutes per 1 hour of driving. Cities like Indianapolis and Nashville, even at double Wellington’s population, have delays of around 15 minutes. I estimate for cities the same population as Wellington, like Boise and Wichita, that the delays are under 10 minutes.

      What is the value in such masochism regarding probably first-world’s-worst traffic delays (for a city Wellington’s size) experienced by what is, after all, most commuters; and the cost of PT system subsidies without which our rates could be some 33% lower; and the affordability of our housing being about double non-growth-constrained cities, and of smaller and falling size?

      Sure European cities actually have less traffic congestion delays than we do too, but still not as low as the US cities; sure European cities have PT mode shares as high as ours or higher; but their housing and rental accommodation is mostly actually more affordable than ours because as I pointed out, we are trying to “cram population inwards” while they have been leaking it outwards from a high density start point. I also believe the European cities have far more highway lane-miles per capita than we do, although again, not as much as the US cities. I think we have really got no idea just how far we lag on this. To have single carriageway roads carrying around 30,000 vehicles per day is third world stuff. The European cities don’t have less traffic congestion than us because of their PT systems and dense historic cores, they have less traffic congestion than us because they actually are dispersed and have more intensity of road lane miles. I think we are clinging to a range of comforting but false myths and making bad policy with bad outcomes that will only get worse.

      Actually I think most Kiwis would prefer lower density living, dispersed employment, affordable housing, far less congestion delays, and spending public money on roads if they knew the truth rather than believed the myths. Like I say, I used to believe them. Now I am incensed at Kiwis are losing so much they actually would prefer, because they think it is necessary to sacrifice it (or rather, their children’s generation is the one doing the sacrificing). And we dig ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole of local government debt and rates burdens along with housing cost burdens, believing we are making compensating savings that we actually are not. In fact we are tending to impose increased transport cost requirements along with housing cost requirements because of the “pricing out” effect.

      1. “Actually I think most Kiwis would prefer lower density living, dispersed employment, affordable housing, far less congestion delays”

        I agree most would love the last two; but the first two cause their reverse, so there’s your confusion right there.

        Dispersed employment and low density require much much more driving; which cause much higher travel costs and, of course, congestion. Congestion is simply too many people driving at once. The fantasy that in vast low density areas everyone lives right next door to their employment, every business only deals with adjacent ones, and even schools only play sports with the schools right next door is unsupportable. Distances are extended, not compressed, and, of course, all agglomerative effects are dissipated.

        1. OK, at least it is clear where our differences lie.

          I am patiently trying to point out, from real life data, that lower density and dispersed employment result in less congestion and more affordable housing. This has been noted in papers from Glaeser et al, Gordon et al, Anas et al, Mills at al,and goodness knows who else. It is not remotely controversial among urban economists.

          You are just denying this and saying that the opposite is true – lower density and dispersed employment leads to more congestion and worse housing unaffordability. What is your real life data sources to contradict mine? Repeatedly saying the sun rises in the west doesn’t mean anyone with sensory perceptions of their own has to believe you.

          I know it is hard to accept reality when a myth has prevailed in a kind of “establishment” for 3 decades or more. But it really is time to face reality, admit mistakes and move on. NZ needs to be among the first to do this, because look at the UK after several more decades of pursuing the wrong notions, than us. NZ has NOT “gone crazy building urban roads”. We are seriously underprovided with them in our cities (and overprovided in the rural areas). If our cities had road subsidies like the rural sector, we would have a lot more urban road space than what we do. if the rural sector’s infrastructure was subsidised like the urban sector is, we wouldn’t even be farming half the land we are. There wouldn’t even be roads into as many corners of the country as there currently are, just to carry a few cattle truck and milk tanker trips. And I am not a greenie, but I like that idea.

      2. Additionally this idea of historical determinism in transport mode is a very weak argument. Auckland was a transit city before it was made [or ‘forced’ you might say] into an auto-dependent one: trams ripped out, passenger rail run down. The high value desirable medium density mixed use suburbs of the old Auckland City were built by the tram network. Anyway new cities can have a mixture of modes, old ones are simply the ones where the space eating nature of private car dominant systems most obviously fail.

        There is no reason from Auckland’s past that means it can’t have a highly efficient and attractive transit network to complement the existing driving one.

  28. Dave B I am also familiar with Phil’s work. I find his analysis of the impact of artificially creating scarcity in residential land very relevant. Maybe not for you Wellington where the geography is such you naturally have scarcity but down here in Canterbury where we have created scarcity by planning rules and inadequately providing infrastructure -such as no third Waimakariri crossing north of Christchurch. What I find scary is the return the monopoly land rents. Those with property are able to extract the maximum return from those without. Every time their is a increase in demnd from interest rates falling, females entering the workforce, the earthquakes and so on, the response is higher prices not more or better housing. This doesn’t happen with other necessities. When interest rates fall food prices don’t go up. This shows a lack of competition in the housing market causing inelstic supply.

    I am actually several degrees to the left of Phil but I can see what he is describing is a disaster for the property-less working class. They are being systematically ripped off. I have no problem with PT but believe it should be supplied honestly through the tax system not by buggering around with land supply. This is not a European vs. American decision. Germany has not green belts or UGB. It would be unconstitutional, German citizens have a right to build on their own land written into the constitution and upheld by their courts. Germany has PT so it is not sprawl + cars vs. UGB + PT, their are other variations.

    Phil has also said if you want compact UGB cities then why doesn’t the state compulsory acquire land at rural prices and sell directly to the end home owner (after subcontracting out the development work) rather than give a oligopoly supply option to a few to abuse. In his and my opinion this wouldn’t be ideal because you are giving a new monoply to one bureacratic organisation -that doesn’t usually end well. But it would be better than what we do now.

    If you care about inequality then take another look at Phil’s work.

  29. From my article ‘Brendon Harre thinks we have a problem with the poor quality and inadequate quantity of local infrastructure’ I wrote based on a series of graphs that
    “I think this shows a picture of kiwis after a binge of rural road construction last century becoming frugal on the second and third generation transportation systems like motorways, bus lanes, cycle lanes and passenger rail needed to keep modern cities running efficiently.” http://www.interest.co.nz/opinion/65197/brendon-harre-thinks-we-have-problem-poor-quality-and-inadequate-quantity-local-infras

    If you cross reference my statistics which came from wikipedia (perhaps not the most reliable)with Andrew’s more reliable NZTA figures http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/land-transport-statistics/docs/2006-2007.pdf p.4

    With these figures from the European Union for Motorway length http://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/sustainable/studies/doc/2008_road_infrastructure_costs_and_revenues.pdf p.27

    You will see they agree with my statistics. New Zealand is massively under supplied with motorways in comparison with every EU country.

    New Zealand should spend the next generation fixing up its infrastructure. Not bidding up house prices.

    1. New Zealand is an island 4,000km from its nearest neighbour.

      Europe is a continent 4,000km wide with 3/4 of a billion residents.

      Why would NZ need anything like the motorways of European countries when it has precisely zero neighbours to connect to?

      Comparing New Zealand’s motorways to the interstate highway systems of either the European or American continents is totally irrelevant, we have no other states to connect to.

      1. Nick R Finland from a transport perspective is an island with regard to being connected to the rest of the EU. Finland’s land connections are all to Russia, whom they distrust or to Sweden at the Artic circle where nobody lives. Yet Finland has 3 to 4 times the amount of motorways compared to NZ. Finland as I have said up comment stream is in a lot of ways very similar to NZ.

        I find your replies illogical. I try to constructively engage with people on this blog. I am not as dogmatic as some here with entrenched views one way or the other re urban planning and public transport yet very few people want to sensibly discuss these issues.

          1. Because not all of Europe is continental. There are places like Finland that are virtually islands. Yet these places have much more motorways than we do. Finland 653km versus NZ 171km . Similar sized populations, similar population density, both with limited land connections to its neighbours. Helsinki is often held up as this amazing PT place, which is true, but it is also supported by an amazing motorway system too.

            I also doubt your continental argument.

            This seems to be a variation of the argument that NZ is unique because we are so small, isolated, low density that we have nothing to learn from the outside world.

            You may choose to ignore the outside world but I think we should take the best from wherever. Texas, Finland, Germany…

          2. New Zealand doesn’t have limited connections to its neighbours, it has no neighbours. We will never have any need for interstate or international land transport of any form. Yes New Zealand is different from most countries in that regard. Finland has highway links with neighbours on both sides. Perhaps Taiwan might be a more appropriate comparison?

            Regardless, none of this has much bearing on intra urban transport. The fact that Finland has more motorways as a nation appears to be due to the fact Helsinki has satellite cities on six corridors radiating out from it, while Auckland has one corridor leading to the only cities of size in the region.

            So what are the figures for metropolitan helsinki? How many lane kilometres per capita? How many rail kilometres per capital for that matter, how many kilometres of metro, how many of tram, cycleway. How many underground bus stations?

            If we want to compare to Finland, let’s look at what Auckland really lacks compared to Helsinki. If you make the comparison it’s not really a severe shortage of urban motorways, but more like a shortage of just about everything else. I’m happy to learn from Helsinki, in fact I specifically arranged my last trip to spend some time there using their transport system. We have a lot to learn, I love that city and see no reason Auckland could not follow it’s lead.

          3. Nick R Finland has no 2 lane motorway connections to its neighbours. Check a map. Helsinki to Stockholm would be thousands of kilometres by land. Finland doesn’t trust Russia so there is no Helsinki to St Petersburg motorway even though that would be something like 400 km. So the continental effect doesn’t explain why Finland has motorways.

            Given the biggest city outside of Greater Helsinki is Tampere, that has only 213,000 residents, then I would say a large portion of Finland’s 600km + of motorways are in and around Helsinki. So given NZ only has 170km of motorways then Helsinki for sure has more.

            Motorways are an integral part of their transport system. I used PT for years in Helsinki. Bike lanes would not have worked if most of the traffic wasn’t diverted onto motorways. Buses would have been impossibly slow to the outer suburbs without motorways (many with bus lanes).

            They also have commuter rail, trams and a small metro. All of this is paid for by local government. Roughly 20 cents in the dollar PAYE goes to LG in Finland. That also pays for some Healthcare and Education.

            My point is if we want NZ cities to be like Helsinki transport wise then we have to reform Local Government finances. That it is taxation that pays for transport infrastructure not planning rules. You have been duped if you think otherwise.

          4. Yes Brendon, like I said directly above Finlands motorways appear to be because of six corridors radiating out from Helsinki to its satellite towns. Auckland arguably has one. What are you arguing? Auckland needs five more radial motorways into the harbours and mountains to be like Helsinki?

            Duped? Eh? I am under no pretensions about planning rules funding transport, and i am aware that as a city we spend more on transport per capita that just about anywhere else. I am well aware that our current government is spending a lot of tax money on the wrong kind of transport. We could reform local government funding, or we could simply spend our money properly.

          5. Nick R you are being very arrogant telling me how Greater Helsinki’s transport system works based on one? visit when I have lived there for years.

            Check these links for descriptions and pictures on some non radial motorways in Helsinki



            Certainly the motorways formed an integrated part of Helsinki’s whole transport system

            But perhaps you know Auckland better. Maybe motorways aren’t needed. Maybe you have plenty of transport infrastructure.

            Down here in Canterbury we need a lot of new transport infrastructure of all types and as Alain Bertaud states the purpose of it should be to maintain worker mobility and housing affordability.

          6. Brendon no one is suggesting that we remove Auckland’s motorways, we’re just saying we’re done. It’s the missing modes that need investment. And the great news is that this is cheaper than trying to road build our way out of congestion: it’s never been achieved anywhere yet. But plenty of cities have enough alternatives to driving that congestion doesn’t strangle the entire economy. Here: http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2014/01/23/affording-the-cfn-each-and-every-year/

          7. I know little of Helsinki but what I experienced for a few days and what I can see on a map. Hence the use of the words ‘appears to’. By all means people outline what we should do in Auckland based on Helsinkis example.

            This is perhaps the issue “But perhaps you know Auckland better. Maybe motorways aren’t needed. Maybe you have plenty of transport infrastructure.”

            You appear to be equating motorways with transport infrastructure, like they are the one and the same. Yes Auckland needs more transport infrastructure, no it doesn’t need more motorways. Once the waterview tunnel is complete out motorway network will be extensive, capacious, invasive and most of all complete. Two parallel motorways running from north to south with three lateral rungs linking them. A hybrid of grid and ring road to suit the narrow topography. Anything more would be a huge cost with ever diminishing returns. If you hadn’t noticed Auckland is built out from mountains to sea on not one but two axes. The options for more motorways are slicing up suburbia and tunneling.

            Do you have a proposal of where we Aucklanders should start building more motorways? Or a way to fund them? The last motorway we retrofitted to our city cost a million dollars a metre to build by the way.

          8. Nick R Re: “You appear to be equating motorways with transport infrastructure….”

            See my comment just a few posts down, when I said the exact opposite many hours ago.

            I am really keen on Local Government being responsible and funded for transport for a number of reasons. But chief among them is that everywhere due to pop size, geography, new housing needs and so on are going to need different infrastructure. So a one size fits all assessment (or political calculation a la RoNS) from Wellington just doesn’t work in my opinion. That is why we are in the mess we are in.

        1. Can you please explain where in Auckland you would put extra motorways (other than what is being built now) to have the same per capita rate as Finland or any other example you wish to use. What motorways do you think are needed in Christchurch other than what is planned?

          1. To be honest I don’t know Auckland well enough to extend the motorway system, just commentating on the stats.

            Christchurch would greatly benefit from a ring motorway connecting the Southern motorway, Anzac Ave, QE11 and Johns Road with motorways going to SH1 north and south and to Lyttleton harbour and the west. Hard to do retrospectively but it would eliminate a significant amount of traffic from residential roads. Cycleways in particular would then be much more viable.

            Canterbury would benefit even more from a motorway that starts on SH1 north of Woodend/Pegusus and ends on SH1 south of Rolleston with a new bridge over the Waimak. A spur motorway would connect from the bridge to the airport. This bypass motorway could be constructed with single lanes to start with, but built with motorway infrastructure for intersections, no businesses/houses etc.

            Elsewhere in Canterbury, Ashburton is crying out for a bypass and bridge. 10km of stop start urban crawl for SH1 is just embarrassing. There are plenty of other bypasses and new bridges needed.

          2. Ok so here are some motorway stats after a quick calculation based on what I can see.
            Helsinki = 150km
            Auckland = 148km (that includes Waterview)

            In other words they are pretty much identical in terms of system length. Due to Auckland’s more linear shape we don’t really need the radiating network like Helsinki has. They also avoided the big mistake we made of plowing a motorway junction right next to the CBD.

            As for Christchurch the NZTA are already planning a motorway from north of Woodend to Kaiapoi for the future.
            Also plenty of infrastructure upgrades underway. Not all motorways but high capacity roads

          3. Mark L thanks for that. Finland must have a lot more motorways -450km in the rest of Finland whereas NZ has only a fraction of that.

            By that logic I think Canterbury is due some soon!

            The major bottlenecks around Christchurch are the SH1 Waimakariri bridge and SH1 between Templeton and Rolleston. Rolleston and Rangiora are the two fastest growing areas in Canterbury but there is little in the way of transport infrastructure planned for them. It all seems too little too late compared to Finland. A bypass of the city to the west of airport would also service these growth areas and would ease things a lot.

            Otherwise the above darker lined system is very disjointed, a mixture of stop/start one and two lane roads that often change in random places. It is not a smooth flowing system.

            The Finns design their transport system like the would make a cross country ski track. No sudden corners, no need to brake and easy entry and exits. We could learn a lot.

    2. Please note that I have argued for more motorways but that is in the wider context of I think NZ needs more transport infrastructure in general. We also need more bus lanes, bike lanes and maybe commuter rail in some strategic places. So I am not exactly against those who support PT. My comments are nuanced. I think a website such as this should be able to handle these range of views and discuss them sensibly so as cities and a country we can move forward.

      1. We welcome all views reasonably expressed. We also welcome those who will disagree with those views also reasonably expressed.

        With regards to your summary above just as briefly we we agree in general, however believe that in Auckland in particular the missing modes [Transit and Active] are so undernourished as to be suboptimal, not only functioning inefficiently [ie requiring more subsidy than ideal per user and in proportion to economic benefits]; just not contributing as well as they can be. Therefore the next major investment needs to be targeted there because these provide the best and most cost effective opportunities in our one city of scale.

        Waterview is the functional completion of a very high standard highway network in the city. There is a clearly identifiable diminishing return to further spending to this network. The dominant driving system can be substantially relieved by picking the low hanging fruit of the missing and substandard complementary modes. This is a historical moment not unlike the 1950s when we need to change direction quite substantially, though this time no one is suggesting abandoning the current primary mode.

        In the countryside we see maintenance and improvement to the local road network as underfunded. As well as investment in freight corridors of all modes; road, rail, shipping.

        We generally see the RoNS as a vast distortion of the transport spend, although containing worthwhile projects. It is hoovering a disproportionate amount of a finite spending pool because it prioritises projects through an insufficiently dispassionate process. We see the need instead for a policy of Infrastructure of National Significance. The mode focus of the current programme is its fatal flaw; it needs to be adjusted to start with the problems and opportunities not the answer [always a road].

        1. Actually, I see a lot of our problem being that our urban economy is not growing in the places that make sense. Wellington is rendered grossly inefficient by its highway lack, but the terrain is what makes the cost of RONS so high. It is not that there is not sufficient inefficiencies desperately needing to be overcome. The real solution is letting growth rip where it is cheap to do, and letting this take the pressure off the existing strangled cities. Canterbury, Wairarapa, and South of Auckland where the Island starts to widen out.

    1. It comes to the point that engaging with Phil is pointless; debate is wasted on him. Phil and others associated with Demographia pop up on lots of discussion boards with the same approach. Stifling debate is their rearguard action.

      1. Yes I agree, but I am delighted that they are so absolutely terrified of our influence that they have to come here with their distortions, made up stats, and 1950s perspective.

        “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” -Gandhi

        That the Phils are bothering means we’re about to win.

          1. This is my opinion of transportblog

            “I try to constructively engage with people on this blog. I am not as dogmatic as some here with entrenched views one way or the other re urban planning and public transport yet very few people want to sensibly discuss these issues.”

            I also noticed that some replies from Phil in “Why liveability is important economically” have disappeared. Do posters have the ability to remove their comments at a later date. Or is some sort of editorial process going on….

          2. Brendon we run a completely open door comments stream with no approval process. Every other blog of comparable size moderates every comment before they are published. But of course this means that some moderation is required after the fact as this makes this space completely open to abuse.

            Please have a read of the User Guidelines under About at top. I think you will find that they are generous perhaps to the point of naivety. We are optimists.

            We make no apologies for enforcing these guidelines whenever any of the moderators see fit. This still leaves this space way more open than any other.

            We welcome argument, disagreement, and debate in a civilised way, and usually get it, but when lines are crossed we can be reluctantly forced to remove comments. Over the years we have had one or two persistent transgressors and they are kept on a shorter leash than others because of their abusive track record.

            Welcome aboard.

          3. if your opinion doesn’t fit this blog or the CFBT manifesto, then that is valid reason for the admins to remove it as you will be upsetting the regulars.

            I have found Brendon’s and the two Phil’s comments very good of late and it is amusing to see the admins rush to come up with their expert responses.

            Lets see how long this post lasts…..

          4. Firstly CBT has no say over the content or management of this blog.

            None of Phil Hayward’s or Brendon’s posts have been removed, people who don’t agree with us are perfectly welcome to comment providing they engage constructively. In the past I have even offered Phil Hayward a guest post to fully explain his views but he never took me up on the offer. As Patrick says we do have one or two that frequently break our basic guidelines and so we keep them on a short leash. They have even said in emails that they deliberately leave antagonistic comments just to get reactions.

        1. How about “trying not to preach to the converted”. My camp knows you people are zealots. We address you (knowing full well it will be spectacularly hopeless) but write for others who might be listening.

          Btw, your camp is certainly winning. Auckland is already selling homes for 2x what they should be. Ruining peoples lives. Well done?

          Of course if you mean winning in the sense of social prosperity, then you have to look at places like Texas.

          1. Plenty of cheap houses in wops Andrew as you full well know, but there’s little demand.

            Price is, of course, formed at the confluence of supply AND demand. Adding supply where it’s not wanted will do nothing to lower prices where demand is high.

          2. Zealots? those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Good luck convincing others “who might be listening” by bombarding our comments thread. I suspect most would have been turned off pretty quickly by TL:DR comments.

            Can you point out some of these people whose lives have been ruined after being forced to live in Auckland?

            From what I can tell, the big difference between us and what you and Phil Hayward want is that we don’t have an objection to any form of development providing the total impacts are costed in. We want the inconsistent and stupid planning rules removed – like height limits, density limits and minimum parking requirements – that forced only one form of development for almost 60 years. Fix those stupid rules and properly price in the other impacts (like cost of new schools, hospitals, emergency services etc.) then we’d be quite happy for urban limits can be removed. The problem as I see it is that you’re so wedded to thinking that we must be wrong that you ignore some of these factors see http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2014/01/21/conservatives-smart-growth/

          3. Matt, you are misconstruing my position. If anything, I am arguing that a UGB should never be imposed, but improving urban efficiency by increased density where it makes sense is a no-brainer. I am arguing that what a UGB does to land values and site rents actually prevents the attainment of the objectives intended in the first place whether you do upzonings or not. This goes to the core of what this whole discussion thread is about. “Housing plus transport” costs. I say they get higher, not lower, as land values are forced up.

            Without a UGB, site rents actually do not increase with upzonings. You can have the best of both worlds. You can have maximum housing choice. You can have the housing affordability and social justice of a crazy sprawl city without the crazy sprawl. You still need freedom to “splatter”, but this does not automatically mean crazy low densities. All you need is the right incentive other than obscenely hiked land prices. I had an essay published in the NBR advocating progressive land taxes for this very purpose.

            Your statement now that you could happily do without a UGB indicates to me that our positions are far closer than you realise. You are just reading things into my arguments that I am not actually saying. What I am against is increased land rent, unaffordable housing, wealth transfers, social injustice, inequality of access to housing attributes, and unintended consequences like traffic congestion that is worse instead of better, commute times that are longer instead of shorter, and rates that are higher instead of lower.

            BTW the “costing in of impacts” forces the price of all housing up, leading to a wealth transfer effect with every housing transaction involving a first home buyer. It all sounds very nice to cost “impacts” into the prices of new houses, but is everyone so unimaginative as to not be able to see that this puts up the price of all existing housing too?

            Simply paying rates all your life means that there is intergenerational equiity in the actual house prices. The status quo is actually less fair than just charging every first home buyer the impact levy regardless of where they buy their house; it would actually be more socially just if the Council got this de facto levy on every FHB rather than private sector property vendors who are getting it now.

          4. Actually Patrick adding supply will lower prices in other areas. The mechanism is substitution and it doesn’t only work for perfect substitutes but closer (as substitutes no geography) they are the stronger the influence. And in reply to Matt L the cost of schools, hospitals and emergency services are don’t differ greatly for different development forms. Schools are cheaper on the edge because land costs less. Hospitals have to grow exactly where they are now to cope and emergency services need more people and equipment regardless. I think it would work out neutral.

        2. “……they have to come here with their distortions, made up stats….”

          Excuse me. I am quoting stats and their sources. I rather think my opponents are the ones failing to quote the allegedly superior sources that surely must exist if they are actually correct in their arguments and I am the one who is wrong.

          If TomTom and INRIX data showed that low density US cities had the worst traffic congestion in the world, we would not be having this argument. If the data showed low traffic congestion and short commutes in the UK’s cities, we would not be having this argument. If RE sites anywhere in the first world’s growth-contained cities showed affordable high density housing, we would not be having this argument. I would have continued to believe in the same assumptions as everyone else. As it is, I feel like I have discovered a massive fraud against the public and want to wake everybody up about it, especially the younger generation who are the primary victims.

          1. The TomTom and other similar measurements all use flawed methodology for judging congestion. I’m not sure why you are so keen to keep pushing that line.
            – They fail to take into account all modes so in cities where significant proportions of the populations use other modes free of congestion they aren’t counted.
            – They measure the impact of congestion based on the traffic speed at it’s worst with it at it’s best. Cities with really bad all day congestion can look better than those with a sharp peak.
            – They measure the impact based on the percentage of time increase in trips which disadvantages smaller cities i.e. a 1 minute extra journey time on a 30 minute commute is twice as bad as 1 minute extra on a 60 minute commute.
            – They ignore that roads can often be more productive at slower speeds so while it might be slower it is moving more vehicles.

            As for younger generations, they in much larger numbers are choosing to live different lifestyles than their parents. They aren’t victims as they don’t want to be living on the edge of town but near town where the lifestyle they want is.

  30. Matt L: No. I don’t have a problem with intensification for those who want, neither does Phil Hayward, and I have stated that countless times elsewhere. I have a problem with forcing people who want to live in new satellite townships on the fringes out of the option, by making it artificially expensive.

    Ok, so people’s lives are not “ruined” (I didn’t expect that to be received literally) but paying 2x as much as you should for a house is a whopping great tax on any young persons life. Why not get rid of the MUL in any circumstance? Regulations surrounding intensification are another concern, or should be.

    1. Ok so peoples lives aren’t being ruined by Auckland, glad we can agree. Also I can’t agree that they are paying 2x what they should because the high price figures are generally being held up by expensive properties on the CBD fringe in particular and that is an area that will not see any change by building more houses out on the periphery. They’re high because people want the be close to the CBD and town centres with good amenity.

      Satellite townships without the planning rules you object to are a not going to stay satellite for long as any green space between them and the rest of the urban area will undoubtedly be filled in.

      You clearly can’t see it’s all inter-related. You want the MUL removed but want the rules that prevent density treated separately meaning that the current market distortions remain in place. You can’t do one without the other unless you are being disingenuous.

      1. “…..You want the MUL removed but want the rules that prevent density treated separately……”

        Where have I or anyone else on this thread said that? I have been making suggestions flat out for making increased density actually work. Targeted land taxes, compulsory acquisitions. No-one else on here has suggested anything except putting the zoning in and waving a magic wand.

        If anyone should know better it is Tim Robinson because he has worked out that site costs already are so high in Auckland that redevelopment will be too expensive to meet the market. But he probably does not realise that upzoning further will only increase the price that each site owner will hold out for, leaving the eventual buyers of apartments, if any, no further ahead. And the longer this goes on, the smaller the apartments will get for the same proportion of income.

        1. “But he probably does not realise that upzoning further will only increase the price that each site owner will hold out for, leaving the eventual buyers of apartments, if any, no further ahead” – you could change the word “apartments” to “houses” and say the same about fringe suburbs, Phil. If your view is that removing the MUL will destroy much of landowners’ monopoly rents, with competition amongst them bringing down prices, don’t you have to concede that the same would occur if apartment zoning was deregulated?

    2. no ones stopping you or anyone else from moving to Pokeno, which is growing as a satellite town at the moment. This is outside Auckland Council jurisdiction.
      However it will still cost you $470,000 minimum for house and land package. This is with no MUL. Not exactly Texan prices. Also any shops and amenities are 15km away, going to get sick of Bacon and Ice Creams pretty quickly I would say!
      Also lots of decent lifestyle blocks around Pukekohe for $500,000 to $600,000.

      1. Something IS stopping any of us from buying a lifestyle block of MANY acres, dozens of kms closer to Auckland than Pokeno, for less than $1 million; and putting a couple of dozen houses on it, with the cost ending up at around $250,000 each. Obviously there is some kind of constraint in effect at Pokeno itself if it is so expensive. I already provided links to “The Woodlands”, which is kind of like Pokeno in the Houston setup.

        What people like me find incredible is the willingness of ideologues to wave away the costs of all forms of housing including CBD apartments, under a UGB system. Upzoning just lets site owners make more capital gains, that is all. I have asked the question on this forum, and no-one has answered it; where is the city with a UGB where upzoning has made housing cheaper? I am confident no-one can provide an example.

        1. With all respect Phil you are barking up the wrong tree, nobody here seems particularly enamoured by the urban growth boundary, nor zoning controls.

          Are you sure you don’t just have some preconceived notion of who your ideologues are and what they think?

          Here is a question, can you name one city with a robust economy and strong population growth where housing got cheaper under any circumstance? Your last challenge is a bit of a have in that regard.

        2. The cost of infrastructure explains most of it. NZ rolling hill country, with high rainfall, and decent engineering standards. The Houston developments have thousands of houses to cover the cost of infrastructure, such as sewage treatment plants. Good luck dividing those costs into 10 houses. Same with water supply, electricity, fibre. I assume you mean $250,000 for the land price, good luck building a house for $100,000. Also use MUD’s to spread cost of infrastructure over 30 years, which helps lower section prices, but are just paid off through rates over 30 years instead. Home building costs is a larger reason for the cost difference between NZ and Houston than land costs too, should look into that more.
          Good luck finding a large lifestyle block of many acres close to town, will all have huge mansions on them, and be worth millions. Rural land not worthless in NZ like Houston, can be used for lots of productive purposes, so has high value to start with.

  31. Re: “Researchers have for the first time created a detailed picture of housing affordability in New Zealand’s largest city when commuting costs are factored in….. One of the indicators, which they said presented a more accurate picture of how affordable an area would be for a typical family to live in, found the most affordable areas were found in the lower central, inner-west and inner-south of Auckland.”

    This doesn’t really prove anything. Of course some areas are going to be more affordable than others in the current ‘system’. Real estate markets are not so simple as central is expensive and periphery is cheap. There is all sorts of other factors. Access to the coast, parks, beaches. Areas perceived as bad/ crime ridden and so on.

    This study doesn’t prove if you changed the ‘system’ that costs wouldn’t change.

    Say improving transport links to ‘right to build’ areas so big that competition massively reduces land costs. Build costs are much cheaper than existing housing. The substitution good effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substitute_ good means this cheaper build price is then gradually transferred to the rest of the housing market. Eventually making central areas cheaper too.

    Alternatively the government could buy rural land at rural prices, rezone it residential, sub contract out the land development, either sell completed housing or residential sections direct to the homeowner on a ‘at cost basis’. Again the build costs are much cheaper than existing housing. Put in good transport links and allow the substitution good effect to work on the rest of the market.

    A new study would then be needed to calculate housing + transport costs for the new conditions to tell us something important…..

    1. It is my belief that if we consistently followed through with the above by transferring funding and responsibility for transport to LG. Whilst also specifying in the empowering legislation the purpose is to improve worker mobility and housing affordability as Alain Bertaud discusses. Then the taxes transferred to Local Government would be cheaper in the long run than the hidden costs of inflated housing to Central Government -Accommodation Supplement, State Housing, Working for Families, healthcare costs directly attributed to poor housing etc. A discussion of the costs of housing is here http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/9729084/Low-earners-shortchanged-by-housing-subsidy and here http://www.interest.co.nz/property/62883/opinion-brendon-harre-looks-impact-housing-affordability-poverty-and-wonders-why-loca

      I believe that by LG having this focuses the massive amount of housing provided or potentially provided by well connected right to build areas would be so that housing gradually returns to an affordable three times medium income for the medium house. This being NZ’s long term average until the early 2000’s. This process will be achieved by new build costs falling, stagnation of nominal price of existing housing below the inflation rate so housing everywhere gradually becomes cheaper.

      I have no problem with some of this new build being more intensive housing through a relaxation on zoning laws if local residents agree. But to make the whole housing market elastic through this competition and substitution good effect will mean all our towns and cities must be able to grow up and out. Not just focusing on changing the rules so only a few cities can grow up but not out.

      I think it is important we build not bubble.

  32. I have been trying to get hold of the paper through the Massey article database but haven’t found it yet. Would be nice to actually read it before posting. Has anyone found it for free? I am too tight to pay. Must be all the money I spend on transport.

  33. Phil H,

    What sort of urban form do you think Auckland would have if we removed urban growth boundaries, but at the same time we removed:
    1. Height limits; and
    2. Minimum parking requirements; and
    3. Floor-area ratios.

    And what if after doing that we implemented congestion pricing and accurate parking pricing? Do you think that Auckland would be more dense or less dense? And do you think PT would be efficient or less efficient?

    The reason I ask is because Ed Glaeser, who you have referenced in your comments, was visiting Auckland recently. And when Glaeser was asked about the relative impact of planning regulations on urban development, his response made it clear that – in his mind – the *regulatory barriers to intensification were more significant than the regulatory barriers to sprawl.*

    I tend to agree with Ed.

    Stated differently, deregulation and accurate pricing (i.e. market mechanisms) would likely lead to more intensification. The question then becomes how do we get from where we are now to a situation where market mechanism are able to exert a greater influence on people’s locational decisions? I would suggest that removing UGB should be tied to removing the other 3 regulations listed above.

    My key point is that wider policy/pricing reform is required. Would you agree?

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