If you’ve been keeping up with the news or if you’ve been following our Development Tracker, you’ll know that there’s a lot of new office development activity starting to happen in Auckland’s city centre. And a significant amount of it right on the CRL route:

CRL + new City Centre buildings
Image from SkyscaperCity – development along the CRL route. Includes some non-office buildings, and doesn’t show all the office buildings discussed in this post

Under construction:

  • 151 Victoria Street West, with 17,600 square metres (sqm) due for completion later this year.
  • There’s 40,000 sqm of office space going up at the southern end of Wynyard Quarter in the VXV park. This is across three buildings, Fonterra, Datacom and VXV Three, due for completion in 2016 and 2017.
  • Also, there’s 125 Queen St which is currently being refurbished. That’s 15,000 sqm of space coming back into circulation after being vacant for some years.


  • The Downtown Shopping Centre redevelopment – this will add 35,000 sqm of office space for completion in early 2019. It will get underway next year, when the City Rail Link works begin.
  • 1 Mills Lane is being developed by Mansons and will have enough space for 4,000 workers.
  • Precinct Properties is developing 48,000 sqm of office space across five buildings in Wynyard quarter. The first stage of 12,000 sqm gets underway shortly.
  • Mansons are also developing 10 Sale Street, with 10,000 sqm of space.

All up, the projects currently under construction will provide space for more than 5,000 workers. The proposed projects would accommodate at least another 10,000. This excludes developments which currently seem to be off the boil but could come to life at any time, such as Shortland Star and the Britomart Central building.

This is during a time when CBD vacancy levels are at record lows, and the city centre simply doesn’t have the office space it needs to grow employment.

So, assuming these buildings are completed more or less on schedule, and the number of jobs grows to fill the new space available – all of which seems a reasonable bet, in the current climate – these would be significant increases in employment. Nationally significant, even. By comparison, New Zealand has increased employment by just 93,000 people in the last four years. Currently, the Auckland city centre has around 90,000 employees (in the Auckland Central West/ East and Auckland Harbourside area units), or 100,000 if a slightly wider definition is used (adding in Grafton East and Newton).

City centre employment

This sounds like a “good news” story, and for the most part it is. However, the reason we’re so interested in employment numbers on TransportBlog is that the government has said it will only support an early start on the City Rail Link (CRL) if Auckland is on track to meeting two targets – one based on train patronage, and one based on city centre employment.

We’ve written extensively on these targets in the past. We don’t think the employment target is a valid way of deciding when the CRL should start, for a number of reasons. It propagates the myth that the project is all about the city centre, which it’s not. It’s also a target that has little to do with the effectiveness of the CRL. Plus, there’s the “chicken and egg” situation where the CRL is actually the project needed to dramatically improve city centre accessibility, allowing much more employment (and other) growth there.

When John Key announced the government targets for early support of the CRL, he said that city centre employment would have to increase by 25 percent. As it happened, the target was so poorly defined that the Ministry of Transport had to go away and decide exactly how it would be measured. As I’ve argued in the past, the definition they eventually decided on was rather unfair, requiring 24,000 employees to be added to the CBD between 2012 and 2020. The linked post suggests that a start date of 2006 is “more consistent with the reference to the [City Centre Future Access Study] in National’s targets”.

So, as the government currently defines the target, do these new developments put us on track to achieve growth of 25% by 2020? No. Even if all these developments go ahead – and the Precinct Properties work at Wynyard is likely to take longer to be completed – we would still be a long way off achieving the target by 2020. However if we define the target in the way that I’ve argued is more consistent, we are on track. We’ve already had growth of around 13,000 employees since 2006, and with the developments that are currently under construction or proposed, we have a very good chance of reaching the remaining 11,000 by 2020.

This would be a really good time for the Ministry of Transport to take a hard look at their targets, and reassess whether they are defining them in the most sensible way. The good thing about the target being so vague is that they’ve left themselves a lot of wriggle room to reinterpret it from the current hardline position. This would be easier politically than scrapping it altogether. If they do what I’ve suggested, it won’t be long before the Prime Minister is able to come out and say, “With strong growth in train patronage, and city centre employee numbers set to grow substantially, the CRL has met our targets for early financial support, and we will be will be full financial partners to the Auckland Council on this”. Now that would be a good news story.

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  1. On that last possible quote possible from John Key; you are more likely to get it from Bill English than Key or Bridges. So as I have always said keep talking to English (holds the cheque book ultimately) and if you can win him then you win the Government.

    There is a piece behind the NBR Paywall this morning from Rob Hosking on Auckland planning that is worth a good read and one you need to read between the lines. I wont drop spoilers but all I’ll say is: South Auckland, East-West Links, and industry.

    1. There’s another article on the NBR in which Key tells Auckland Council to “get real” on infrastructure. He’s blaming lack of infrastructure funding on airport rail which isn’t even funded in the 10 year LTP. He really wants to blame the CRL but can’t say that because the govt has supposedly backed that project.

      So the govt has stopped AC from being able to generate additional revenue for infrastructure from tolling, they won’t fund Auckland infrastructure themselves, and as cover they’re blaming it all on Council wasting money on a project they’re not actually spending anything on yet.

      1. This is why I’ve never been able to vote for them. They lie barefaced and depend on their voters to be clueless about the truth.

  2. It would be much fairer to say that employment within a certain distance (1km?) of train stations on the network has to increase by 25%.

    As you say, the CRL is not just about the CBD and you can already see the incredible growth in places like New Lynn in preparation for the bonanza the CRL will bring. Panmure must also be flourishing with the new station and interchange.

    TB has shown in the past that the only significant employment centre not served by rail is East Tamaki. Yet this never seems to be discussed.

      1. Yes as I read my comment I was thinking of course none of the North Shore employment centres are covered by rail, Albany for example. They are by raid transit however with the busway.

        I am not sure how significant the airport is now, but the plans are to make it a much larger employment centre. But being Manukau, it will undoubtedly be completely auto dependent with a few token bus routes put in.

  3. I agree with your post – have been saying the same thing for some time. 2017 is the critical year:
    1. Patronage will be getting close to the magic 20 million though I expect overcrowding on EMUs pre CRL will slow the rate of increase
    2. The Council will be working up its next LTP (2018-28) of which CRL funding will be a significant factor
    3. It is General Election Year – when the Government could and should be strongly embarrassed for blocking progress (all other significant parties being in support of Govt part funding CRL).
    Hopefully support amongst Aucklanders will have grown to such levels that feedback via focus groups (and this government is especially attuned to focus group research) will tip the governments hand.

  4. Theres some extreme fudgery and misinformation going on here and its not TB doing it.

    However some facts: The MoT says is uses the “wide” definition, comprising 5 Census Area Units, including Newton and Grafton East. [footnotes of their last survey).
    They use the Statistics NZ Business employment database which is compiled from employer surveys. Conducted in Feb each year and released in November.
    2015 Survey has been done and results will be due out in November – by which time the numbers are so out of date as to be meaningless really, as 80%+ of the current years growth has already occurred by the time you see last years numbers.

    MoT says the growth target is “25%” and “which is half that assumed in the CCFAS study”.

    However, that study predicted 54% growth covered 35 years (to 2041), from 2006 base.
    A simple calculation shows that 2006 levels of around 88,000 (using wide area definition, 88K figure got from above graph) times 1.27 (27%) growth (27% = half of 54%) = 111,760 or just under 112k.
    (at MoT target of 25% growth its 110K).

    We’re on target to get to that 110K+ level now – maybe not by 2020 but shortly after.

    Given we were 98,000 in 2012, thats a mere 13-14K growth needed to “meet” that target – with the existing and announced office space coming on stream.

    But by chosing 2012 as the base year, Govt/MoT have effectively excluded a large chunk of the already (predicted by CCFAS) growth.
    And reset the growth clock and gerrymandered the target date to make it impossible.

    If you take the original CCFAS target of 54% over 35 years from 2006, the “end” target CCFAS planned for was about 136k CBD employment in 2041.
    Or about 48K over 35 years, about 1.5K year on year growth. (not that it grows like that).

    If you reset the “start” clock to 98,000 in 2012, that means you have to achieve a “mere” 37.75% growth from 2013 to 2041 to meet the original CCFAS growth target by 2041 (down from 54% originally from 2006)

    So, if we use the half of the CCFAS growth target, we should need to achieve 50% of the (remaining) growth target i.e. 38%/2 = 19%.

    Even then, we still don’t have a chance by 2020 because that means you have then basically front loaded your growth targets, so that you need to achieve a net “28K” growth from the 2006 Base, or 18.62 from the 2012 base. And if you actually got that target, that would mean you had achieved 70% of the CCFAS predicted growth (to 2041) – by 2020 [a mere 14 years from 2006] leaving the other 21 years only needing to achieve under 1k growth a year for 20 years! Yep, I think we can manage that part no problem.

    Real problem is that by front loading your targets even while making it sound really “low” (50% of the CCFAS base case sounds low), and then carefully choosing where you measure from and to, you can completely change the reachability.

    1. Hi Greg, some good points there. Just a quick note, despite the 8/9 month time lag, the business demographics stats are still the quickest and most frequently updated ones you can get. But yes, it does make it hard to get the information soon enough to “push the button” on the CRL. Of course, the other issues in your comment, this post and the other ones we’ve written are probably bigger challenges than that…

      1. Problem is Gov’t said “50%” of CCFAS, there are at least two ways to interpret that – achieve 50% of the growth, or achieve the same growth in 50% of the time.

        In actual fact MoT has said that Gov’t meant, “be on target to achieve 50% of the growth in under 50% of the time”, so in effect saying you need at least the same growth level as CCFAS predicted, while looking generous with the “50%” phrase.

  5. The employment target is an absolute farce. You really do need the CRL there to grow employment in the city centre, as you have referred to in your ‘chicken and egg’ reference. I think John Key and his roads-first ideologues are quietly stunned at how fast rail patronage has shot up, and are holding onto their ridiculous and almost unattainable employment target for dear life. Even then, they probably didn’t realise that so many large scale building projects would be announced along the CRL route over the past year.

    1. “I think John Key and his roads-first ideologues are quietly stunned at how fast rail patronage has shot up”. Do you really think so? I suspect they have very little interest in it. They’re fundamentally opposed to early funding of the CRL, set some stupid targets, and even if the targets are achieved there’s no obligation on them to front up. It’s not going to happen with this government.

      1. How long until the private sector parties involved in these active and proposed developments along the CRL (and for that matter stations on the wider network) start really pressuring the Gov? When it’s core business constituency is clamoring from within, surely stalling will be untenable.

      2. Totally agree. It annoys me that anyone on this blog is giving credence to this duplicitous Government’s stupid “targets”. I believe they were plucked out of the air as figures firmly believed to be unachievable, nothing more. The Govt’s aim is not to fund the CRL on their watch. I cannot read it any other way.

        were this not so I would have expected at least some flicker of recognition that their targets are coming within reach. Some acknowledgement from them that their blocking stance perhaps needs reassessing. But . . . . . . Nothing.

        This surely indicates that they were only ever smoke-screens in the first place, and we fall for the Govt’s ploy if we believe otherwise.

        We should treat these so-called targets with the contempt they deserve and recognise what the real agenda is.

    2. The government added the employment target as a CYA. They didn’t expect rail to grow so fast (because they haven’t been paying attention to anything except roads), but just in case it did, they have the (inappropriate, poorly defined) employment target as an excuse to drag their feet while still sounding as if they support the project. It was always intended to be impossible to meet within their narrow definition. Completely disingenuous.

  6. Patrick’s also pointed out that the convention centre isn’t included in my figures – that’s another 800 employees according to some earlier business case stuff.

  7. The city centre definition has to include Grafton and Newton, as these are directly affected. It should really include much of the Ponsonby/Gt Nth area as well, as these become radically more accessible.

    However, as this is not simply a central city project, the central city targets are arbitrary. The point of this project is that we can run the system in non-commuter patterns, and allow people to get to places other than the central city more quickly and easily.

    1. The thing is, though, since the CBD is growing employment faster than any of those areas, including more actually makes the target even more far-fetched. Even Grafton and Newton make it harder.

  8. Need a change from a rural to an urban government to get the CRL moving. Shame the government is slowing growth for our largest city.

  9. Also fascinating to see that image of the new, planned buildings.

    Is this the start of taller, international standard buildings for the city centre. A gradual transformation to a modern city with an underground system?

    1. Yes; it is the full return of the Centre City, nearly completely strangled to death by motorways, auto-priority on every street, and transfer of rating income to subsidise the construction of its nemesis; suburbia. I am impressed with its resilience, of course keeping the universities was key [cf Chrictchurch].


  10. Interesting to see the many new buildings along the CRL route. Here’s hoping there is already some co-ordination between those buildings’ architects and those for the CRL – as direct and/or easy access between those buildings and the CRL would be highly useful. I’m sure building developers would love to be able to steer CRL travellers right past their retail businesses. I wonder what Precinct Properties and AT might be planning together?

  11. In response to Jingyang, what I have thought from the beginning is that as part of the cut and cover for the CRL along Albert street, there should be provision for the construction of a mall / walkway one level above the rail tracks. New buildings could have basement level access to the mall and the mall would have access to Albert St station, the downtown mall as well as strategically placed street access. The shopping space need not be taken up right away, but would be let as demand increases.

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