Last week I started taking a look at publicly-owned golf courses. I argued that they are different from public parks in several important respects. While public parks are freely available to all Aucklanders, golf courses are only open to paying golfers. As a result, we need to treat golf courses differently – not as a tax-funded public good, but as a business that must pay its way.

This week, I will take a look at some of the “opportunity costs” associated with using land for golf courses rather than alternative uses, such as public parks or housing. My central question is this: Do the benefits of using land for golf outweigh the benefits of developing the land for housing? Or is it the other way around?

Let’s start with a look at some broad trends. First, here’s what’s happened to the price of housing over the last two decades: it’s gone up significantly. This is a strong indication that demand for housing (and more intensive urban land uses) is increasing. While predicting the future is difficult, most people expect housing demand (and prices) to continue rising in the future.

Auckland house prices, rents, and CPI

Second, here’s a short-term forecast of revenues for Auckland’s 39 golf clubs from a 2013 report on future prospects for golf facilities. According to the report, golf club membership has been declining by around 1.6% a year. Unless something major changes, this trend will continue and put many golf courses under financial pressure:

Auckland golf club revenue projections chart

Effectively, rising demand for housing and falling demand for golf mean that using large amounts of publicly-owned land for golf courses will become increasingly inefficient. Here’s one way of thinking about the benefits of the status quo (to golfers) versus the benefits of redevelopment (to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to buy or rent homes in the area).

I’m going use Chamberlain Park as a case study, but the same approach could be generalised to other publicly-owned golf courses. Here’s a picture of the course, which occupies 32 hectares in Mount Albert:

Chamberlain Park Golf Course

According to the local board, Chamberlain Park currently hosts over 50,000 rounds of golf a year. Let’s be generous and call it 55,000 rounds. According to the club’s website, green fees are $30 on weekends. This means that the total annual value of golf rounds played at Chamberlain Park is $1.65 million. In present value terms (i.e. extending this forward 40 years into the future and applying a 6% discount rate), this equates to $26.2 million.

Now, let’s consider alternative uses for the land. Let’s assume that we would develop it for housing and commercial uses, with a substantial amount of land reserved for public parks. We don’t have to look too far to find a good example of this kind of development. It’s exactly what’s happening at Wynyard Quarter, which will have a mix of medium-density residential and commercial buildings, a substantial waterfront park, and a linear park running the length of Daldy St:

Wynyard Quarter 2012 master plan

The important thing is that if development is master-planned appropriately, it can lead to more housing and better public spaces. That’s certainly happening at Wynyard, but it could also happen in Chamberlain Park if redevelopment enabled better connections between new public parks, the Northwestern cycleway, Western Springs, and Mount Albert in general.

Wynyard Quarter park life
Source: Architecture Now

So let’s start by assuming that we would reserve one third of Chamberlain Park – 10 hectares – for new parks and playing fields. That’s the same size as Grey Lynn Park, which attracts 100,000 people to the Grey Lynn Festival on a single Sunday – i.e. twice as many people as Chamberlain Park sees in a year.

The remainder – around 22 hectares – could be developed as new neighbourhoods, possibly along the mid-rise, mixed-use lines of Wynyard Quarter. I’m going to assume, further, that around 25% of that space would be devoted to streets, which is pretty typical of new developments. That means that after providing some sizeable public parks and laying out all the streets, we’d have around 16 hectares that could be built on.

Now, current land values in the Mount Albert area are in the range of $1500 per square metre, or possibly higher. That’s a reasonable estimate of the value that people place on the opportunity to live in the area. That means that the total benefit of redeveloping Chamberlain Park for housing is around $240 million (i.e. $1500/m2*16 ha*10,000m2/ha). These benefits would accrue primarily to the people who end up living in the area, but it could also keep housing prices from rising as rapidly and thus have wider benefits.

In short, the benefits of redeveloping Chamberlain Park – even after leaving aside a substantial area for public parks – are nine times larger than the benefits of the status quo for golfers (i.e. $240m/$26.2m = 9.2). Because demand for housing is rising at the same time that demand for golfing is falling, this figure is likely to increase, not fall.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to redevelop Auckland’s publicly-owned golf courses, but it does raise some questions. First, given the fact that redevelopment is likely to be vastly more beneficial than the status quo, why isn’t it being put forward as an option in the Chamberlain Park consultation?

Second, why isn’t the opportunity cost of using lots of land for golf being recognised the prices charged by golf courses? As we’ve seen, people would place a quite high value on being able to live or work on the land occupied by some golf courses. In principle, that should be factored in to green fees, but in practice it isn’t. In the next instalment, I’ll explore this question further – it turns out that publicly-owned golf courses enjoy a large subsidy from ratepayers.

What do you think about the benefits of alternative options for using golf course land?

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97 comments

  1. Would Chamberlain Park be an appropriate place for Eurobloc style developments as discussed here http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2015/09/09/guest-post-1-billion-fletchercrown-housing-development%E2%80%8A-christchurch-cbd-part-5/ ?

    I would argue that having many, many individual developers following a cohesive theme would be more competitive and therefor more likely to contain house/land inflation compared to giving the whole land area over to one monopoly developer.

    1. Also Eurobloc developments make natural mixed commercial/ retail/ residential centres i.e an old-fashioned town centre. Would that be something that local residents of Chamberlain golf course would want in combination with a smaller but more useable park instead of the large existing golf course that mainly benefits club members and green fee payers?

  2. I wonder if similar logic can be applied to public swimming pools or gyms? Certainly can for public car parks.
    With absence of a green belt, do the public golf courses help increase the cities density?
    Surprised to hear AK has 30+ public golf courses and yet 0 mountain bike parks in the central city, that locals can ride too rather than drive too.

    1. Not for pools and gyms really because they are so small. One golf course is about 100 times the size of one swimming pool, and I’d expect the swimming pool get more users.

      1. Well similar logic can still apply in so far as it can be asked if they are paying their way and if more value can be generated by using the land and buildings for another purpose. It is the same argument just at a smaller scale.

      1. It would be stretching things greatly to call the Arch Hill track a “park”. It’s one long single track that’s far too challenging for most riders, especially if it happens to have rained, and a 200m track that’s hardly worth the bother. It’s really not a lot of fun.

  3. Never destroy public green spaces for housing. Plain stupid. Once gone, never get back. You can play games with fancy layouts and beautification till the cows come home – but once the core foot print is gone, its gone. Not sure why you are still flogging this horse. Future generations will not thank you. Might as well put houses on One Tree hill – the Council would make a one-time fortune out of selling sections on it. Waiting for the usual responses……

    1. You’re taking a very dogmatic line on this. If you read carefully, I’ve proposed a specific cost-benefit test for when we should consider converting golf courses to houses. Whether the answer is yes or no is an empirical matter. For example, if greens fees were four times higher and residential land prices were three times lower, I would have gotten a different result.

      Also, I’d note that your argument should apply equally well in reverse. If more open space is always better, then it implies that Council should be compulsorily acquiring and demolishing houses to make way for new parks.

      1. Peter, sorry yours is the dogmatic voice here: insisting on a “cost-benefit test for when we should consider converting golf courses to houses”..!

        You seem to be conflating two issues: converting an exclusive space (golf courses) to a non-exclusive one and also converting a green space to a built-up one. The former could well a reasonable application for an economic test. The latter is very different.

        Patrick once said “the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment”.. what’s you’re saying is build on the greenfield spaces rather than brownfield, because the cost of doing so is less. Because the land is worth less. By the same logic, the rainforest is being ripped out for palm oil plantations and hardwood.

        Meanwhile, there is vast potential for intensification without even touching greenfields sites. All those ridiculous urban height limits. Head there first. Before sprawling over the city’s remaining green space. Golf courses first, cricket pitches next, reserves, parks..

        This kind of thinking is just nuts. Is this where Greater Auckland is heading? Pull your heads in!!

        1. An empirical approach to deciding how we use land, which I am advocating, is pretty much the exact opposite of a dogmatic viewpoint. This is a distinction going back to the ancient Greeks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism

          If you wanted to make a good counter-argument, you could, for example, go out and find evidence that I have under-estimated the benefits of having a golf course in the middle of the city. You’d have to show that I’d under-estimated the value of the golf course by a factor of ten, but whatever. That’s possible.

          Finally, if you read the post carefully you’d notice that I’m proposing a win-win for public parks and housing supply. I’ve suggested that one-third of Chamberlain Park would be retained as a new public park, which would almost certainly attract many more visitors and many more activities than the current golf course. Personally, I’d rather have a 10-hectare park that I can actually use rather than a 32-hectare park that is closed off.

          1. I think that the environmental impact/ecosystem services provided by the golf courses and their alternatives should be included in the cost benefit analysis.
            For instance, we could ask questions like How do the environmental cost/benefits of the golf courses compare to that of the public parks and residential area?

            I think that the main environmental benefits of the golf courses are recreational benefit and wildlife habitat.
            My guess is that a well designed public park can provide these ecosystem services in a much smaller footprint. I think this is likely the case because;
            1 Public parks are open to the public and thus provide recreational opportunities for more people.
            2 Golf courses require much larger open grass area which is not a optimal habitat for native wildlife in New Zealand whilst the proportion of open grass area in public parks can be much smaller.

            I know everybody love large green area in the city but I think that the golf courses are not really effective in being green at all.

          2. “I think that the environmental impact/ecosystem services provided by the golf courses and their alternatives should be included in the cost benefit analysis.”

            That’s a really good point and one that I definitely agree with. Economists have traditionally struggled to value ecosystems, partly because it’s difficult to translate between “human” values, like housing or golfing opportunities, and “non-human” values such as the intrinsic value of species or ecological diversity.

            One approach is to look for examples where humans have put a monetary value on said ecosystems. For example, you could look at visitor spending at the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellington as an indicator of how much people value having a fenced-off bird sanctuary near to a city.

            I find this approach unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. For one, humans have a bias towards attractive animals and ecosystems over unattractive/boring ones that are also important. For example, people would prefer to live by a white-sand beach rather than a mudflat. But mudflats probably have a higher ecosystem value!

          3. Sorry, Peter, you are still conflating two issues, when you say you would rather have a 10 hectare park than a 32 hectare golf course.. you can’t discount the 22 hectares of concrete.

            Besides, the issue isn’t what you or I want today. The long term needs of a rapidly growing population must be paramount, because any decision to build on green space is a decision to remove that asset for many decades, possibly centuries. In that regard, not dissimilar to wharve extensions “stealing our harbour”. By contrast, re-purposing between a golf course and a park or even bushland is relatively quick.

          4. “The long term needs of a rapidly growing population must be paramount…”

            Housing is, in fact, one of those long-term needs.

          5. Housing is hardly the _only_ need of a rapidly growing population.

            And while half the isthmus is artificially constrained by nothing other than inappropriate height / density controls, taking the irreversible step of destroying / degrading some of the remaining larger green spaces, on the basis that most people (including me) don’t play golf, rather than cutting red tape is absurd.

      2. Development restrictions are shoving up the house price within the local area.

        Chamberlain Park is tucked between the low density suburbs of Mt Albert and Grey Lynn that are prevented from sensible development by Auckland City Council bylaws. If these suburbs were ever allowed to intensify, then we would need the green space to remain green. Calling for the paving over of the park, because there is a need for more housing in the area is disingenuous if we do not first allow the current housing land to be fully developed.

        Only by planning on maintaining the car dominated suburbs of Grey Lynn / Mt Albert in their current low density state can we easily justify demolishing a green space.

    2. They whole green space thing gets totally over done. The point of a city is that it is developed. Green space is the opposite of that. Sure we need somewhere to go for a walk and let the dog crap but it is not like we are short of those spaces. Secondly golf courses are excludable areas. If you are not a member or dont pay the green fee you have to leave. Golf courses are a form of regressive tax. We all get to pay the holding costs and a few wealthy people get their leisure activity subsidised.

        1. The people at Chamberlain Park can afford golf clubs and lessons as well as $800 per year or $30 per round. The people at Pupuke can afford $1300 per year. Ratepayers carry the capital cost of the land on their behalf. I say move them out of town. There are plenty of spaces suitable for golf outside the RUB.

      1. Green space thing overdone? Not really – Auckland is very short of spaces for people to play many types of sportsball, and the more intensified the city becomes, the more we need green spaces.

        1. The city is short of space on Saturday mornings. That certainly doesn’t justify locking vast areas up as golf courses. That has only occurred because Council’s have traditionally been run by wealthy people for wealthy people. That is why they fund an orchestra and an art gallery and golf courses and pony clubs. The thinking was that rich people should be able to enjoy rich people’s hobbies but it shouldn’t have to cost them.

        2. Turn the golf courses into sportsball fields then. You could get about 30 rectangle sports fields on a typical golf course. Or make ten of those, a manicured park, a playground and still be able to sell half of the land for intensive development.

  4. I’m a bit conflicted here, wanting more intensification, and having learned my golf at Takapuna. It’s true we have way too much land tied up in golf courses around Auckland. However Chamberlain Park and Takapuna are the only two courses that a learner, who doesn’t yet want to join a club, can learn.
    Around the city we have Akarana, Maungakiekie, Remuera, Auckland, Waitemata, Pupuke, Titarangi, Waitakere, The Pines. Better to target some of them. Though good luck taking on the entrenched folks of most of them!

    1. If golf clubs are finding membership dropping yet aren’t offering a learners package, then they really deserve to close. That is just poor management.

  5. No to any form of development if we have to flip a golf course.
    If the course is to be closed then the entire facility should be converted to urban parkland and urban forests especially in the more built up areas of Auckland. These would act as both our urban lungs AND recreational facilities (even for urban mountain biking).

    You want housing? Go get more of the existing area of urban Auckland rezoned as Terraced Housing and Apartments as well as concentrating on the 10 Metropolitan Centres.

    1. We seem to have an oversupply of golf courses and an undersupply of housing. This is an empirical issue, rather than a moral one. If the chart showing “demand for golfing” was heading up, and the chart showing “price of housing” was crashing, I might be writing a post calling for the demolition of houses to establish golf courses. (Cf Detroit.) But that’s not the case, so it’s appropriate to at least consider a swap.

      You’ve got a fair point about rezoning elsewhere in the city. If that was done well it would tend to “soak up” excess demand for housing.

      However, the problem is that people come up with reasons to say “no!” to development virtually anywhere within the city. There are _always_ reasons why any individual area is special and undevelopable. But we have to say “yes” somewhere.

      1. As I said earlier
        If we need to flip golf courses over then flip them into urban parks and urban forests.

        Not only would they act as urban lungs but it also means having forests within very close proximity rather than having to drive west or south to access them.

        Also they would be native wildlife magnets as well which well will cause house prices to run away even more ironically.

        I would take a running guess that flipping golf courses to forests might allow some THAB to surround that new forest owing to amenity sakes 😉

        1. “having forests within very close proximity rather than having to drive west or south to access them”

          As opposed to having houses in close proximity to jobs rather than far out in the west or south?

          People commute every day, but they generally only go to parks and reserves on the weekend, when the roads aren’t congested.

          1. I was just about to make the same point. Given Auckland is surrounded by ocean, farms and forests; and is filled with parks and yards I would think the green lung effect of a golf course would be close to zero. Are there any air quality experts out there who can confirm?

          2. Exactly! What a load of bollocks! We live on one of the skinniest bits of land of any city and enjoy winds all year round.

      2. Undersupply of housing is due to lack of density, not the existence of parks or gold clubs or rugby fields. Look at the low density housing surrounding Chamberlain Park. Or Takapuna Golf Course. Or just about any public park in Auckland. There’s your problem.

  6. Yeah, Cornwall Park seems like a great place to develop! Wasted on those sheep and archers and cricket players and what not. Plus we would get some great views from apartments on One Tree Hill. Lets do that.

    I agree that golf is a total waste of resource and massively subsidised. I like to golf, but I only do so a few times of the year. So few people benefit while everyone has to subsidise it. But I’m against using it for more housing. Once we privatise that land, it is lost forever. Peter talks of possible benefits, but that is $240m in private benefit. It’s not public benefit. Auckland loses a park, probably sold off cheaply, private investors get all this benefit and Auckland foots the maintenance bills for generations to come. Sounds like a great plan. Yes, Aucklanders get to charge a few million in rates on that land, but that wont be new revenue. There will just be less rates charged to other places in Auckland. So I see zero benefits for the public and only benefits only for those who can afford to buy a house/apartment in the area.

    It’s more of the same old “privatise the gains and socialise the losses.”

    Other than making it a public park, I can’t really think of much to do with it because I think that is more than enough. I suppose you could chop it up into little allotments for people to have their own little garden and rent out the allotments to the highest bidders.

    1. In the last post, I explained why golf courses were different than public parks. Golf courses are already privatised spaces – you have to pay to access them, and only a very small number of people can use them.

      So we’re not talking about public benefit vs private benefit – we’re talking about one type of private benefit enabled by Council vs another private benefit.

      We’re also talking about revenue to Council from the land – more revenue has a broader public benefit as it means that everyone can pay less in rates (or get better services). At present, the Council earns around $1.65m from Chamberlain Park and probably spends most of that on maintaining the course. That’s a tiny rate of return on a very large amount of land. Selling or leasing the land would net much, much more revenue for Council.

  7. Your economic logic is fine as far as it goes but overlooks public requirement for green space, and continuing population growth. The Albert-Eden Local Board has the smallest ratio of open space per capita in the region and sees redevelopment of Chamberlain Park in terms of opening up a decent share of the 33 hectares for other forms of recreation rather than as an exercise measured in dollars. There will be a region-wide review of golf courses which may see some closed altogether, but very unlikely to be for housing – possibly educational purposes in some cases but in the main I expect them to be retained as public open space. To the writer who says there are no mountain bike tracks in the central city – there are 2 such tracks in Grey Lynn (beginners + more challenging, accessed off end of Ivanhoe Road or the alleyway beside the library) which I opened about 10 years ago + a pump track at Waterview which will open in a few months.

    1. “The Albert-Eden Local Board has the smallest ratio of open space per capita in the region”

      That is a meaningless statistic due to the fact that the local board boundaries go right up against Cornwall Park, Western springs, and Meola reef reserve, and only just exclude the Domian. It is misleading for you to use that stat Graeme

  8. Despite enjoying a golf (though I’m not a current club member), I am inclined to agree that golf is a low value and exclusive use of public green space. From that point of view I can see the argument for cutting up a golf course or two to enable a wider range of recreational uses. I think the argument for repurposing these as housing is much weaker though. On the subject of maintaining green space and ‘lungs for the city’, a nuance to this debate is that golf is very effective at maintaining a very large green space, whereas if it is calved into a patchwork of parks and facilities it will be much easier to have some of that slip into housing, then the question is how much. And when I say housing, what I mean is buildings plus roads, parking lots, significant tarmac (as you identify in the post). So the utility green space as multi-use parks is fairly obvious, but if we accept that retaining green space is a public good in its own right (even with limited access), then I think golf courses are a very effective way of doing this as they’re much more difficult to erode than a patchwork of parks would be.

  9. I’m with you Peter. Using it as a golf course is a waste of land. And while a city needs lots of parks, there is no need to have such big parks (maybe one or two like the domain). The money the council gets by selling the land would be quite useful too.
    I’ve played a few rounds at chamberlain and it would be nice to see it stay but it is a subsidised luxury we can’t afford.

  10. You asked about whether something drastic might change the trend of declining membership… what about our rapidly aging population? Although I guess lawn bowls is a much more efficient use of space.

    Golf takes a whole day, so driving 40mins to get to a course out of town isn’t be a big deal.
    Courses are also too exclusive. Chamberlain Park is an excellent example – ugly fence around it and can’t even be enjoyed as visual amenity. Not supporting any biodiversity. Not part of a useful stormwater receiving environment/ treatment chain. no public walking routes around it or through it (though one goes alongside it – wouldn’t it be great if it weaved through the course?). The course did not encourage high density living nearby (like a modern ‘resort-style’ golfcourse+housing development would).

    Would be good to compare Western Springs park with Chamberlain park in terms of visitor numbers…i’d say western springs is a lot more popular, and that’s before considering Pacifika, the food show, hot rod shows, sports matches, etc.

  11. Not sure why you are flogging this horse again?
    As Auckland grows and densifies it is going to need more green space. Right now it doesn’t need as much green space. It will be more expensive and difficult in future to acquire land for parks/green space. Converting these golf courses to parks now just means that there is an excess of green space for current needs. Using them as golf courses provides a revenue stream (not to mention having the land maintained). In future these golf courses can then be converted to parks/greenspaces for public use without massive expense to the ratepayer.
    There are far better ways to free up land for housing (removing height/density limits in suitable areas would be a good start). Auckland could actually quite easily house a further 1 million people within the boundaries of the old Auckland City Council area with no new buildings over 6 stories outside of the CBD if they wanted to).

          1. No, it’s 22 less than we have now.

            Just because we (non-golfers) cannot access it now, doesn’t mean there is no value of having that green space. It is still a green space. It could become a park more or less overnight. It already is a park for the flora and fauna that live there. We can’t access much of the remaining tracts of native bush around Auckland, save for a few trails, but that hardly diminishes it.. in many ways the lack of access protects it and therefore enhances its quality and utility.

            Why is it so hard for economists to understand the inherent value of the environment as an asset?

            What happened to building up not out?

          2. “Why is it so hard for economists to understand the inherent value of the environment as an asset?”

            I can’t speak for all economists, but environmental values play a big role in many of my decisions. Like where to live (somewhere I don’t have to drive) or who to vote for (people who want to act on climate change and don’t want to strip-mine everything profitable).

            However, I also try to put things in context. As far as I can tell, Chamberlain Park doesn’t have a lot of intrinsic value as a habitat. It’s a golf course covered in exotic grasses and trees, not a rare bird sanctuary! So this is a case where we are dealing with primarily human values.

            Lastly, as I said elsewhere in the thread, if you think that I’ve erred in my analysis, I’d appreciate it if you could point me towards some data / empirical evidence that would let me get a better handle on the issue.

          3. Peter, you’re missing the point again. It’s not the the relative value of the plants and birds that’s at question here; it’s the one-time step-change from green space to built environment. You want to reduce that to dollars and cents. I don’t. There is a decent body of literature out there if you want to study it.. maybe start with EF Schumacher.

            Meanwhile, the opportunity to build up vast tracts of already built up space could go right ahead were it not for the excessive controls.

          4. “the one-time step-change from green space to built environment”

            That step has to have values that we can calculate and compare, even if our means of doing so are not perfect. If we place an infinite or arbitrarily large value on preservation of green space, it would imply that we could make ourselves better off by bulldozing Auckland entirely and letting it return to nature. (Hint: we couldn’t.)

            And I think you’re drawing some false alternatives. Even if we enable a lot more intensification, which I hope we do, there is still going to be some demand for new subdivisions. In that context, we face a choice: do we build on green spaces at the edge of the city, where people will have to drive long distances every day, or do we build on green spaces nearer the centre?

            After factoring in the likely differences in population density, developing 22 hectares of Chamberlain Park would allow us to avoid developing 2-3 times as much green space at the edge of the city. On your terms, isn’t that a win?

  12. Just when do we give in to economic pressure is what I’m always thinking. You make a strong case for a very considered and prudent use of this land, and developed right it would be a great place to live, but when such a unique and large piece of land is developed, it is gone. A lot of current arguments assume Auckland will keep growing and growing and require pushing golfers out to other places to play but a city with big open areas is pretty special. Keep golf courses, parks, wetland and coastal areas but plant a lot of native flora and in 30 years they will be wildlife corridors/ refuges for kaka, keruru etc. Auckland’s natural environment and heritage has value too – its just difficult to put a dollar value on.

    Other options exist for intensifying housing/ accommodating population increase.

  13. You’re asking the wrong question. It isn’t whether that land can get a better return from housing. Of course it can. Abel Tasman National Park could throw off really nice revenue numbers if developed. The question is, is golf a public good that should be subsidised?

    Highest and best use does not mean what use returns the most on investment. If golf *is* a public good, and I could argue it either way, then other things have to make room for it. Whether or not a golf course is really “green space” in the sense that it’s “the lungs of the city,” well, I could argue that either way, too. (A golf course is hardly natural and they usually require a great deal of fertilizers and pesticides – not so green.) But not only is it not necessary to develop everything, it isn’t desirable. What you have not figured into your calculations is the property value benefit of green spaces to surrounding properties. Reduce the amount of open space, public or private, in a city, and you remove an incentive to live there, and a premium return. The result will be open space development on the fringes, thus making those houses even more competitive.

    Quality of life is what it’s all about. If that requires golf courses, so be it. If those golf courses could be run better through a public-private venture, perhaps that solves the “problem.”

    Extending your question to all other public facilities that require land would inevitably lead to the conclusion that we don’t need any of it. Fortunately, some misguided people in the 19th century decided that didn’t matter and the urban park was born. And that’s the thing – it does not matter that there are higher financial returns. Money is not everything.

    1. “Abel Tasman National Park could throw off really nice revenue numbers if developed.”

      Perhaps, but there’s a trade-off to be considered. If Abel Tasman was developed, it would lose its value as a national park. That would have negative effects on biodiversity and habitat preservation – which are important! – as well as negative impacts on human values, such as tourism opportunities. According to DOC, Abel Tasman gets around 100,000 international visitors (and many Kiwis) a year and contributes $45m to the regional economy. Once you account for all of those I suspect that they would dwarf the value of developing the land.

      “What you have not figured into your calculations is the property value benefit of green spaces to surrounding properties. Reduce the amount of open space, public or private, in a city, and you remove an incentive to live there, and a premium return.”

      Yes, that’s a good point. However, research into this subject has consistently found that inaccessible open space – like golf courses – has a considerably lower value than public parks. Consequently, it’s possible that developing some of the park and converting the rest to a public park could actually result in better outcomes.

      Also, you’re assuming that new development has no spillover benefits. I don’t think that’s true – for example, having a vibrant town centre down the road would also provide benefits for surrounding residents.

      1. It doesn’t matter which park or public open space I chose for rhetorical purposes. What matters is the need for a more comprehensive view of what public benefit means and what it takes to achieve it. I accept (without reading the linked article) that not all open space has an equal financial benefit to surrounding areas as long as you accept that golf course communities are built to substantially increase the value of the homes built in them because of proximity to the course, whether or not the homeowner knows a niblick from a mashie.

        But this is a discussion about the public benefit of golf, which is what I think you intended it to be, and only that, and I think it’s a good discussion. But I don’t think the way to discuss it is to offer golf up as a sacrifice to an issue – hot housing market – that is multi-faceted.

        It’s worth noting that there are publicly-owned and maintained soccer, rugby, tennis, baseball (!), volleyball, netball, lawn bowling, and all manner of other sports facilities, few if any being targeted for housing. Bottom line, we need to do all this stuff. Not density uber alles.

        1. “It’s worth noting that there are publicly-owned and maintained soccer, rugby, tennis, baseball (!), volleyball, netball, lawn bowling, and all manner of other sports facilities, few if any being targeted for housing.”

          A golf course if much, much larger than any of these things, even big groups of these things. Even the netball centre in GI with 32 courts is still only 1/8th the size of one golf course.

          Don’t worry about baseball, it would take fifty baseball diamonds to make up one golf course.

          1. This isn’t a case against golf, but it’s a huge case against central city golf. If we want council-owned golf courses, there’s no reason they can’t be out on the edge of the city or in the countryside.

    2. I think you answered your own question. National parks exist because they are not much use for anything else. Otherwise there would be a mid-waikato national park and a central Auckland national park or a Canterbury Plains national park. The national and forest parks are there because they have no higher value than tourism and growing bush.

  14. I think developing a golf course in a well-considered way would be an excellent way to improve Auckland (in many ways). I agree that it’s important to have parks, but with Urban Parks (as opposed to National parks), bigger is not better. If parks are not the right size, they are underused and become unsafe. The 10 hectares in Peters proposal would actually be quite a nice size park. A 32 hectare park, surrounded by a motorway on one side and suburban single family homes on all other sides becomes unsafe, as there is very little oversight or activation. Instead of having that, developing it (in a Wynyard Quarter way) and including significant, but usable open space would be a win win. More housing development, more rates income for the Council, better usage of the open space there is. Simply converting the whole (or half) the park into open space will not work in this location. This is not Manhattan. There is just not enough people within walking distance to activate the park and keep it safe.

    If you want to read more, I recommend this post by Greater Greater Washington.
    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/1642/poplar-point-and-the-case-of-the-too-large-park/

  15. Easy, council should start charging ground rent for the land based on its value as if it is a residential or commercial.

    If the golf operator could not pay the increasing expensive ground rent, they will have to shutdown. Unless they can find new members to fund it.

    If the golf operator argue it is public asset and they no longer charge a member fee, then have the rate payers in the nearby suburb fund it. I am pretty sure the rate payers will not like the idea.

  16. Christchurch:
    Huge Hagley Park? Houses? Definitely not!

    Auckland
    Huge golf course -> Hugolf Park? Houses? What’s the difference?

    i) The case against publicly-owned golf courses
    ii) The case for relinquishing green spaces to housing

    These are two different cases which should not automatically be conflated.

  17. It’s a fascinating debate. I can’t see, apart for ideological reasons, why the councils can’t develop the land themselves. Parks, recreation areas, groves, mixed housing. Sounds like a win-win to me.

      1. Hopefully there are such deeds in place – Auckland is growing in density and in my view this means more and more that we need to preserve our green spaces.

        I think Dave B of Wellington puts it very well in pointing out that relinquishing green spaces for housing is quite different to calculating the value of a golf course.

  18. Public land should NOT be used for private benefit.

    If you want housing, it MUST be public housing.

    Otherwise you are engaging in pro-capitalist libertarian objectivist claptrap

    1. Well if the council develops then it is public benefit. Say they sell the land for $250m. Then that’s $250m they then have to spend on the public, for example they could use it to buy 700 new public housing units.

      I think you guys have it wrong here. A private developer would make a fairly standard profit building and selling the units, maybe 8-10%. The real massive windfall goes to the people selling the land, I.e the council, I.e us ratepayers and residents.

  19. If a park is redeveloped in housing, the benefit goes to the developer (council or otherwise). The cost for a large part is loss of amenity, for instance if you live in an apartment it would be really nice if there’s a park nearby. The people and businesses will bear that cost and not the developer.

    But in case of that golf course, probably there are better things the council could do with half a billion worth of land than to tie it up in a golf course which allows just 55,000 rounds of golf per year.

    And there is just that one other problem with developing housing right now. Looking at recent subdivisions, I’d say we have since long forgotten how to build a “vibrant town centre”. Or even made it illegal.

  20. Wow, your article has had me consider my opinion on this matter, and it’s casually invigorating. So yes , develops the sucker. Ps: have a few home drawings to upload to the weBlog sometime

    1. Are you serious? it’s about 500 metres from Baldwin Ave station. A short distance to the bus lanes of Great North Road. And close to the buses of New North Road. It is right on the cycleway. And at a stretch you could walk to the city in less than an hour. Accessibility is really not an issue here.

      1. At the closest, it is 570m. Up to 1km. GNR requires a walk over the horrid SH16 bridge (that is getting worse with the rebuild) and NNR, well, you may as well walk to Baldwin Ave. But yes, the cycleway is handy. But then, a great city would have cycle paths along NNR (and GNR). Let’s redevelop Mission Bay Reserve while we’re at it. It’s worth a fortune as waterfront. And it’s just a cost to ratepayers.

        1. You’re really splitting hairs on the transport issue – access to the area is fine. And if you have to resort to a strawman argument like “develop mission bay reserve” you’ve probably lost the argument.

          1. Very few will walk 1km to transit. Fact. Argument above is based on opprtuniy cost. Which means all publiclly owned land should be viewed the same way.

          2. Actually Bryce that’s not true. A survey of train users at New Lynn revealed the 50% percentile walk distance to access the station was 1.1km. Fact is more than half of users at New Lynn walk more than a kilometre.

          3. New Lynn is a station that, aside from a block of apartments, has very little residential within 500m. Do you suspect that could skew the results? What was the walk mode share to get to the station vs drop offs, bus interchange.

          4. Bryce, 1 km is typically the median distance commuters are willing to walk to train stations and busway stations in Auckland, according to a recent survey by Auckland Council’s RIMU unit. It’s been published in the NZPI magazine and IPENZ’s Roundabout magazine

          5. I don’t know about the rest Bryce, but the fact is hundreds of people walk over a kilometre to New Lynn station every day. I’m sure it’s the same across every station too. A kilometre is 8-12 minutes walk depending on the individual, it isn’t that far.

          6. When I was living in Milford, some of the people in the neighbourhood would do the 1.5km to Smales Farm when going to the CBD. I have done that from time to time as well (but I’d usually drive—Auckland has the somewhat unusual property that you can often park for almost free in the CBD).

          7. If the park is opened up to the public in the form of many activities, then the usage goes up. Hell, why can’t we have a large MTB park right in the city? Between 5 and 7 thousand users venture to Woodhill MTB park every weekend. My argument isn’t about golf but whether we should be developing land into housing when we have barely touched the density issue yet. For what it’s worth, I can’t stand golf.

          1. Thank you. That’s some very good data, that the people who don’t work daily in the industry likely wouldn’t see. Up until this time, my opinion was based on other literature even though I suspected the walk could be longer for quality, high frequency Public Transport.

          2. You’re welcome. It also depends on geography. If local topography is very steep then 1.2-1.5 km could be too far, similarly with microclimate. E.g. it’s pretty unpleasant walking 15 mins to transit in SE Asia or an Australian city on a hot day

  21. 100,000 people at the Grey Lynn Festival sounds like a suspiciously high estimate. Their website had a video that showed perhaps 10,000.

    Sorry for off-topic but suspect it is the same problem that the Santa Parade and Christmas in the Park had, they just kept adding a number to the previous year’s attendance until eventually the numbers get silly.

  22. I don’t agree with the logic that the council shouldn’t own golf courses because only golfers can use them. That’s true of many recreational activities on public land, from shooting ranges to artificial turfs to cricket pitches to go-kart tracks to skifields. If the golfers can pay for their own operating costs the way that, say, rugby teams practising on public parks do, then that’s fine.

    But I totally agree that the golf course needs to move. It uses a vast amount of space for a few people to play a niche sporting code, in a city with a huge supply of commercial golf opportunities. At the same time, there’s a massive shortage of playing fields for other codes which could serve far more people in the same space.

    If the council’s going to own a golf course, cool, but it should be out in the wops where pressure on land is less.

    I don’t think we should never redevelop parks into housing. It’s possible to have too many parks. But that’s not the case in central Auckland. We could easily develop just as much housing by redeveloping existing industrial and residential sites – most of the surrounding area is underused with low density single-story detached houses. I’d also think rezoning existing houses is an easier political fight than selling public parks.

  23. I agree with the overall analysis presented, but I think the distinction between golf courses and parks is flimsy. Yes Chamberlain Park is currently used as a golf course but it could very easily be converted to a park, as golf courses are effectively parks. Indeed for Chamberlains, it’s right there in the name! So if you are going to suggest assessing the value of golf courses vs development, you really have to assess the value of them as parks vs development and it is hard to avoid the conclusion you could do the same for existing parks.

    1. You raise a good point. In principle, the value of public parks should also be something that we can calculate and compare to the value of that land for other purposes. I wrote a paper for this year’s NZAE conference that reviewed a few attempts to do that using analysis of property sales. (The intuition was that parks would have positive “spillovers” to surrounding areas that would be captured in property values.)

      However, one thing I’ve taken from the empirical literature is that the value of public parks can differ considerably between different cities (or different areas of the same city). In order to form any conclusions about whether Auckland was over- or under-supplied with public parks, it would be necessary to first conduct an Auckland-specific study on the subject. I’d quite like to do that study, but for money rather than a blog post…

  24. Peter, perhaps in the interests of fairness and balance, you could apply the same analysis other public space you have to pay to access. Start with all the stadiums, MOTAT, community leases, plunket rooms etc, Museum, club rooms. See how they stack up.

    1. And as nick r has pointed out many times in the above thread golf courses are anomalous compared to other public activities because they take up so much space. So i dont think its unreasonable to conclude they are the low-hanging fruit. And further analysis of other activities wouldn’t change the conclusion with respect to the benefits of developing golf courses would it?

    2. A quick comparison:

      Motat: 2.8 hectares
      Auckland Zoo: 11.3 hectares
      Auckland Museum: 2.2 hectares
      My local Plunket rooms: 0.02 hectares
      Mt Smart stadium complex, including both stadia and all the fields and carparking: 20.5 hectares

      Typical golf course: 35-40 hectares.

  25. Not sure where this is at some 2 years on. But I do agree with the comments that once these green spaces are gone, they are gone for good. And future generations will not thank you for it. Therefore, I think we should preserve what green spaces we still have. It is possible to convert some to other types of uses such as mountain bike parks etc. But I wouldn’t agree with turning them into structures. If we want to provide more housing in more central areas, we should build UP! i.e. apartments.

    Also, Golf is not like other sports. It’s a steep learning curve type sport and without public courses like Chamberlain for beginners to practice on, they’ll struggle to make it to what is the general skill level of members in non-public golf clubs. Courses like Chamberlain are an imperative stepping stone for the game.

    1. If it is such an important stepping stone then I assume a private golf club would be happy to buy the land at market rate and use it as a course for learners.

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