Just before Christmas it was announced that Vodafone would move out of its offices in the city and now they’ve said they will move 1,800 staff to Smales Farm on the North Shore.

Vodafone is leaving its office in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour.

The telco has announced its plan to combine all its Auckland operations in one place, in one of the biggest corporate relocations in New Zealand.

Its 1800 Auckland staff are currently spread across four locations, including Smales Farm on Auckland’s North Shore and the high-profile Viaduct location.

From mid-2017, they will all be based in a refurbished building in Smales Farm.

Vodafone and Smales Farm are investing a combined $200 million into the redevelopment of the Vodafone building and the creation of a Vodafone-branded precinct.

The building will have one of the largest digital billboards in the country on its facade.


Alongside the Vodafone building, Smales Farm is also developing a new hospitality zone with working greenhouses and a laneway of boutique eateries where people can meet and eat.

I immediately had a few thoughts about this that are relevant to what we discuss on the blog.

  • Unless they live on the shore I imagine that for many staff this move will be very frustrating. If they prefer to drive then they’ll still have to battle traffic – either to the city before it frees up after the bridge or if they come via Upper Harbour then they’ll have rush hour traffic on the North Shore to contend with. The move could however be good for the Northern Express given one of the big advantages Smales Farm has is a busway station at its doorstep so perhaps this will lead to an increase in NEX patronage.Vodafone Smales Farm - Aerial 2
  • Perhaps Auckland Transport and/or the Council should try to work with Vodafone to collect data on the travel patterns and mode choices that staff currently use. It could make a fascinating case study to compare how mode use and travel choice changes based on workplace location. My suspicion is it will lead to more staff driving
  • In Vodafone’s press release they talk about making an “innovative, sustainable and interactive precinct designed to foster business and community growth”. It will be interesting to see how far they take the idea of sustainable and whether it’s a bit of greenery. For example at present the Vodafone building in Smales Farm doesn’t even a bike rackVodafone Smales Farm - concept entrance
  • Having worked in them before, one thing I loathe about suburban office parks is the isolation such as the often limited choice in food, retail and other activities. I guess the hospitality zone that will be developed might partially address the food aspect but I guess time will tell.
  • The intersection of Taharoto Rd and Northcote Rd is already a pretty horrid location, I guess the addition of a giant digital billboard will only serve to reinforce that. Related there is currently a water feature and grassy area leading out from the building to the intersection. I wonder how many people have ever actually used it to relax or walk thought like they suggest will happen in the future.Vodafone Smales Farm - concept
  • I wonder what impact this will have on Auckland Transport. They currently have offices and a number of staff based in the Vodafone building at Smales Farm.
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  1. There are very few carparks at Smales’ Farm, and lots of competition for a small amount of street parking from schools, the hospital and the bus station. The pictures make it look like the existing building is going to be expanded (as you’d expect for $200M), which will further reduce the number of parks.

    So I imagine that public transport will be a well used option for Vodafone staff. After all, it’s a very easy trip on the Northern Express to get from where they are now to the new location.

    AT may need to increase the number of contra-flow NEX buses, which can’t be a bad thing.

    1. In what world is there very little parking at Smales Farm. The carpark has been open ten years and has never been full.

        1. Rubbish, there are empty carparks all day every day. If there is a waiting list it is not because they are too few, but because they are poorly managed allowing people to reserve them even when not in use in bonkers. Make staff pay for them and see how many fewer you need.

          1. Staff do pay for them. There is no free parking for staff except for a few who have it as part of their salary package. Rates arent much different to the CBD. Many people park in surrounding streets rather than pay and have to park 1km away unless they start real early.

          2. In other words there is plenty of parking, but people don’t want it unless it is heavily subsidised?

          3. At the current price there is a shortage. At the current price some people prefer to save cash and park futher away. There sure is plenty of space devoted to parking – that place is a tarmac wasteland, but i dont think those on the waiting list would agree theres plenty.

          4. At the current price there is a *surplus* reducing the price may make it less so. Those on the waiting wish may wish there was more free parking but that just means that the wish someone else would pay for it.

          5. Two distinct problems here;

            Paying clearly reserves a space 24/7. In that case, the waiting list indicates that parking is too cheap.

            Ther are frequently empty spaces at Smales. This suggests that the management method is inefficient and an hour/day rate may work better.

          1. Car park lease for staff is $2160/ year. What a ‘proper price ‘? I guess the prices will be going up soon to pay for a multistory. The waiting list is recent, since they closed a carpark to start on a new office block.

          2. 15% return on the cost of providing it, so probably something like $5,000 a year on each carpark. The same as they would be making from using that money for other purposes.

    2. my spies tell me that work has begun on a building between Vodafone and the access road, so that will men less generally available parking

  2. This is horrific from a PT perspective. Let’s say you have two people. One lives in Albany. One lives in New Lynn.

    If Vodafone is in the CBD:
    Mr New Lynn takes one bus or one train to work
    Mr Albany takes one bus to work
    Total: two trips required

    If Vodafone is in Takapuna
    Mr New Lynn takes one bus/train to CBD, one bus to work
    Mr Albany takes one bus to work
    Total: three trips required

    Likely impact? Mr New Lynn stops taking the public transport network and starts driving.

    1. Train – bus from New Lynn to Smales = 57 minutes and $8 on HOP at AM peak. You’d struggle to drive there in that time. And the move from Wynyard to Smales adds about 10 minutes to the commute.

          1. Wasn’t at all meant to support the argument against CBD location. Just intersting that thee inner metro centres will actually be fairly well connected.

    2. Hmm…’Early Commuter eh? Know about the AT New Network? The network which progressively rolls out over 12 months from October this year, will make Mr New Lynn and his entire family’s journey to/from Smales Farm easier, cheaper and faster than before due to the full integration of Auckland’s PT network.

      A ‘trip’ on the New Network will come into line with many overseas cities whereby a person starts their ‘trip’ on either a bus, train or ferry, changes lines and transport modes along the way 1-2 times and finishes their ‘trip’ on either a bus, train or ferry (not a ferry in the case of Smales Farm unless Lake Pupuke decides to erupt and bring its waters and the nearby sea to Vodafone’s doorstep!).

      The AT New Network’s core service delivery tenets – services running every at least every 10-15 minutes along core routes 0700-1900 7 days a week (incl the CBD-New Lynn / CBD-North Shore transport corridors), bus-train service timetable-integration and affordable zone-based travel, means that Mr and Mrs New Lynn, their entire extended family and all their neighbours can travel in and around Auckland on PT way faster, cheaper and easier than they can now.

      1. Well said Make It Go, and it will bring fantastic benefits in terms of both people and business mobility (Vodafone being a good example).

        But we’re not quite there yet. We don’t have proper zones and fare integration, especially for ferry users who need it the most, we need to improve our transport hubs so that change-overs are fast, and remember that the proposed new network only covers about 30 percent of North, South and West Auckland residents. That 30 percent is not high enough, but it includes Smales Farm, and I think Vodafone’s move is an example of the kind of business options that a city can create by expanding its rapid transport network.

      2. I have caught more buses in the past 11 years than most people.
        I guarantee right now that if I had to work in Taka and not the CBD, I’d be driving.
        There is no way 2 x buses can compete on speed with driving. 1 bus can. But transfers are never tight enough even at 10 min frequency.
        And, as you point out, those buses only get that frequent at 0700. Fine for those who like to mope around in bed but some of us like to actually get stuff done in the morning

        1. Personally, instead of moping around in bed in the evening like you early riser layabouts, i prefer to actually get stuff done in the evening 🙂

  3. Pros and cons, really.

    CBD location probably better for more people in terms of commute to work (from the perspective of PT options).

    But there is the opportunity to get more density into Smales Farm, triggering more facilities (hospitality) and, as Tim mentions, increasing PT frequency via the contra-flow NEX. Might flow on to other stations too.

    Incidentally, can they build residential towers here?

    1. Are you suggesting intensification around Public Transport corridors ? Some form of Tranist orientated development?

      However will the Unitary Plan objectors stop shaking with rage at the mere possibility of others living close to where they work ?

    2. What we do have nearby are golf facilities. Both at Akoranga and Smales farm.

      And near Smales Farm, a few years ago a retirement village was built. Close enough I guess.

  4. Business Parks like this are just mega-malls without the scale of car parking around it a mega mall would have.

    They’re inward looking by design. Invariably hard to get to except by driving because they’re always far away from local town centres for anything else but driving. Give scant regard for PT usage and generally have poor connections for walking and cycling to the local town centres nearby.

    Smales Farm in that regard is no different now from when it was first built back in the ’90s.
    No matter what greenwash Vodafone put on it.

  5. There are bike racks in the basement. There is a small fleet of bikes in the lobby available for staff to use for local trips. Handy for popping into Takapuna. Probably could use some bike parks out front for visitors.

      1. a friend who used to work there did group lunchtime rides and I have never found the width of the bike lanes to be an issue, only the preponderance of manhole covers outside the LDS church is a pain

        1. They’re not anywhere close to a 8-80 standard. Protection, whether via vertical alignment or protection via curbs (a la Nelson St) is a necessary standard considering the nature of the traffic along the road – speed and volumes.

  6. If there was a covered walkway from the busway station to the buildings nearby, it would certainly help. One of the things that discourages people from using public transport is a several-hundred metre walk in blazing sun or pouring rain or howling wind.

    1. But from what has been said above, people may well have to walk a similar distance to the building from where they end up parking their cars. Sometimes you just can’t dodge the elements.

    1. Well, as ironic as it may seem, I have heard that AT are thinking of moving from Henderson (and their other offices) into the Viaduct Vodafone Building……..

      1. Funny enough when the news first broke of Vodafone leaving the viaduct office I wondered if AT might take it as I know they too have wanted to consolidate their offices and have been actively considering future options.

        1. Be a huge mistake. Waitakere Central one of few buildings with offices and open plan (mixed typology). Also helps create employment opportunities out west. auckland council concentration in asb building a disaster, morale shattered in new digs. if you don’t believe me ask for their engagement survey results comparing the asb units with those elsewhere e.g. graham st

          1. AT are the same as any business, the advantages of being centrally placed still apply. The Centre will always be the place that is accessible to the widest pool of talent, and where it is easier to mix with other organisations with the least travel.

            Internal organisation of the building can be easily customised.

            And a great opportunity to give the staff all a HOP card as part of their renumeration and stop using those vast carparks next to Hendo station for AT staff: Be good for them to experience being an AT customer more often.

            _smiley face_

  7. Office blocks in the central business district can be converted to residential apartments, realising greater value for buildings downtown. Office blocks in the residential business parks cannot be converted, stripping value from these assets. Vodafone is going to be saving a packet on the rental.

    1. “Office blocks in the residential business parks cannot be converted” – Why not? You mean because of zoning rules (aka NIMBY rules)?

      But they are the laws of man, not nature. Easy to change.

  8. I wish they’d take the building out to the footpath. That wanna be park is a waste of land. Next up, we need to revise the function of Tauharoto Road from here to Takapuna.

  9. I hear that Smales Farm has consent to develop something like another 100,000 sq.m of floorspace, and they have the vision to do it. What you see at the moment is just an early step along the way. I hear they hope to provide a fully mixed use development, with car parking buildings replacing surface parking, a much improved public realm, retail and more food and beverage, and possibly even residential. If so, and done well, this could be one of the most intensively used pieces of land on the North Shore, and in a strategically appropriate location.
    You just have to dream that Albany could be the same one day!!!

    1. There are 800 apartments already under construction on a single site in the Albany centre and about the same in the ‘village’

    2. the Smales family are playing a long game here, they don’t develop a site until they have a confirmed tenant, most of the car parking you see on the top photo is on future development sites, so the total development is less than half way there

  10. While it will be difficult for some Vodafone employees especially at the start, in the long run I think this will be positive for Auckland. A major shortcoming of the busway is a lack of intensification around the stations. Smales and the surrounding area is a great place for more intensified office and retail development (and intensified housing a bit further down the track) so encouraging more development here is a good thing. The Vodafone move is substantial and may help kick-start this. After all it is It is impossible to fit everything into the CBD.

    PT and cycling is or will be well served at Smales. In addition to NEX, the Smales station is a bit of a hub in the new network with a number of local services passing through. There are dedicated cycle lanes most of the way from Devonport already in place and the Northcote safe cycle route will also connect directly from the skypath when they are both built.

    There is plenty of empty space in the area to develop as well. Smales is currently mostly just parking and there is a very large amount of land across the motorway which is currently only used by a few people as a place to hit small white balls into holes using metal sticks.

    1. I’m not sure this really counts as intensification? Smales are just swapping one set of tenants for another. Will Vodafone squeeze more employees into the building that AT etc currently do?

    2. The cycle lanes on Taharoto need a big upgrade, they are crap and given how wide the road is it could afford to lose a lane to accommodate them being protected.

      1. Certainly and more likely to happen with the increase in potential users that a bigger presence of workers at Smales would bring.

      2. Whoooa there big fella, this is the North Shore after all. Driving around Smales Farm in the morning peak is like one of those anxiety dreams about needing to get somewhere by a particular time but never being able to make it. Can you imagine the outcry from drivers if even one skinny little unseparated bike lane was proposed?

        For the time being let’s count our blessings that the site is bordered on three sides by occupants that are unlikely to complain about intensification (motorway, hospital, high school).

        Vodafone is full of hipsters, right? I seem to recall hearing about progressive behaviour there such as kayaking to work. Maybe they will act like earthworms and speed up the decomposition of dead ideas in the area

  11. Some thoughts on this:

    1. Likely Vodafone will find a reduction in the quality of the labour pool from this move, simply because of commuting times/costs from much of the city, and relative isolation, hard to know how much, and whether it will matter.
    2. Smales is on the RTN, and the site is an easy walk up from the station, so this is not like moving to the Siberia of Highbrook for example.
    3. More intensity and variety at stations on the RTN is a good thing
    4. More reason for a rail RTN connection across harbour and up busway
    5. The City Centre is going to continue to be hotly contested for both commercial and residential so more of this is likely, is essentially a spillover effect.
    6. But is a risk especially of missing out on agglomeration advantages, see here: http://www.propbd.co.nz/us-study-finds-high-obsolescence-level-in-suburban-office-parks/

    and finally:

    7. AT can move their staff to the old Vodafone building in the city [lol]

    1. 1. Yes there will be a loss of productivity as business is forced out of the CBD, but companies like Vodafone are capable of doing a cost benefit analysis and Auckland costs.
      2. NZ businesses without the extensive capital of a multinational like Vodafone will likely need to move further.
      3. If only there were some way people could afford to build them.
      4. With no additional capacity (buildings) then additional capacity (trains) aren’t needed either. It would be like building a billion dollar rail network to service horse paddocks.
      5. The city centre is going to continue to be hotly contested, due to the abysmally slow pace of construction across wider Auckland. Spillovers out of the CBD and out of Auckland are likely to occur.
      6. It is unfortunate that Auckland has placed increased land costs over greater agglomeration values.

      7. AT can probably afford it.

    2. you need to consider that the quality of labour on the north shore is likely above average for the city. Plus if people want to do so relocation to the shore is an attractive proposition compared to many other locations. So it may be neutral from a talent attraction point of view.

      1. I’m sure that’s exactly the sort of ‘North Shore exceptionalism’ that is behind the move, still only 20% or so of the wider city’s pop, so I doubt it’s that glorious, oh and that the GM surely lives there.

  12. Looking at that first image, its looks ripe for intensification and looks a pretty good place to live and/or work. A fair bit of greenery, close access to water and a RTN stop.

      1. And what could be an even quicker and more direct journey through the city via Wynyard with a new dedicated RTN crossing, no doubt with higher frequency too.

        Like this: http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2015/07/14/extend-light-rail-to-the-north-shore/

        Or this: http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2012/01/27/light-metro-for-the-north-shore-a-superior-alternative-to-a-harbour-motorway-tunnel/

        or this: http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2015/03/31/an-alternative-awhc/

      2. At peak in the peak direction buses are every couple of minutes. Counter peak they are every 10 minutes (every 7.5 from city up busway in the morning peak).

        1. Yet as your own pictures on this site show, they are overcrowded buses.
          Not exactly pleasant for Vodafone workers.

          Vs. my commute – 100% get a seat in the morning, 80% get a seat on way home

    1. Yes it would be a lovely place to live, being encircled by 6 lane highways on three sides gives it that remote island feel that is popular for housing.

        1. Well the cbd is somewhat larger and more busy than Smales which ruins the remoteness vibe somewhat. 🙂 Smales on the other hand you can easly go for a walk in the middle of the day and not see another person.

          1. OK. So no reason for people to live there, because there are no people living there……

            I am sure that an influx of residential tenants could result in some traffic calming measures on the side streets. The highway out front with the RTN stop is an asset, not a liability. The greenery and proximity to water remain.

            Plenty of potential.

  13. This is likely to be the first of many as technology reduces the need for centralised corporate offices and face to face engagement for many businesses. Rather than poking holes in their move and worrying that it doesn’t fit a hub and spoke PT network you are wanting, you need to evaluate the PT approach. Vodafone will not make decisions like this lightly and I am sure they would have done their homework and believe the benefits are there. This is not a new trend and you are seeing it with many companies and many cities and the Auckland PT approach will need to change to stay relevant if this occurs. Another case of those pesky people and businesses getting in the way of the transport network you want!

    1. Of course a major corporate does a lot of analysis before making a move. That doesn’t mean it’s the right move. Google “corporate bankruptcy” before assuming corporate infallibility

    2. “Vodafone will not make decisions like this lightly and I am sure they would have done their homework and believe the benefits are there.” – Absolutely. Just amazing how many people don’t believe this however when corporates like ASB choose to stay in the CBD.

  14. Yes, there are bike racks in the Smales Farm basement for about 10-15 bikes, but they’re not bolted down to the floor. The shower / changing facilities are pretty limited with 1 shower per floor in each wing – not enough when everyone is doing luchtime runs. boot camps, etc. Storage for helmets, bike shoes, panniers and gear is under your desk as you can’t fit it in your small 40x40x40cm locker. There is nowhere to hang wet gear, other than on the back of an unused chair or over a bar under your desk. Luckily the air-conditioning dries it quick, so it should be dry by the time you need to go home.
    It’s great I can cycle 15-20 mins to work at Smales, as I spent 10 years doing the commuting over the bridge to V’nue. Main mode of transport for V’nue was motorbike as V’nue had motorbike parking in the basement at no-cost to bikers. 20mins trip garage to garage. When I didn’t bike, I took the bus, but that was a 35-40 minute trip easily, as I had to walk 7-8mins to/from bus at home end and then take a North Star express bus to Fanshawe St, as there were no direct links to the busway and NEX buses from my suburb. There are still no direct links from my suburb to the nearest busway station at Sunnynook.
    When Vodafone moved part of their team to Smales, we were offered parking for cars & motorbikes. My option was $60/mth for a under-building motorbike slot as I didn’t have carpark as part of my role. Paying $720 extra a year for something that had been free (and well utilised) at V’nue seemed rather steep to me, and anyway the bike would hardly be warmed up in the 5-7 min to work. So I chose to cycle and got free access to the undercover secure carpark for my bicycle parking. Normally there are only 6-10 motorbikes in the basement parking. If I want or need to take my motorbike to get to other locations, there is usually enough space in the free Smales motorbike parking outside, which is where most of the Voda bikers park. Only problem again is where to put your motorbike gear when you get into the office.
    The company really needs to work on some incentives to get people out of their tin boxes (some of the ideas in the Greater Welligton Regional Council pages are a good start – http://www.gw.govt.nz/getting-to-work/). Most people are already $8-9 per day out of pocket with the move from V’nue to Smales, and hence end up using the cars as it’s an easier & cheaper door to door option. There are plans to push the carpooling, electric fleet vehicles and car sharing, along with public transport use and walking/running/cycling via the Seapath/Skypath (not convinced that will be possible by May/June 2016 though), but use of all these will require incentives of some form (discounts on HOP cards, interest-free loans for staff to buy bikes, cash alternative will encourage employees to forgo a benefits car, etc). And if they provide incentives for the remaining Voda bodies moving over next year, what about the Voda bodies who have already been at Smales for 18 months….

  15. Telstra spent years trying to wiggle out of its contract to lease that building and it is cast iron. The real reason Vodafone are moving is the lease gives them little rational choice. The staff parking is terrible, BTW.

    1. The lease expires next year so they are not forced into anything. They are taking a new lease there because it will save them loads of money, no wait sorry i mean, because the new lease allows them to have advertising on a giant TV screen on the outside of the building and that is going to attract loads of talented staff. No one ever appreciated the uninterrupted view out to the waitaks and west coast anyway, they will love the great new view out the window into the back of a TV screen. And the new building will be wireless enabled. You just can’t do that shit in the CBD.

  16. Isn’t this a bit of a non issue for all you economist types? Shouldn’t the rent differential perfectly capture the amenity differential between the sites in the perfect market we all live in, so that for Vodafone it’s neutral? 😉
    What would be interesting would be to see inside Voda’s CBA to see how much the factors such as staff travel time, transport energy use (and carbon production), staff travel health etc were taken into account.

      1. High property costs negating agglomeration benefits for Auckland businesses is a real problem. We don’t operate anything like a market economy for property as we actively force property costs ever upwards. Businesses like Vodafone are forced to pay the price and that is bad news for everyone, except property owners who make a killing.

  17. I can’t imagine how the NEX service will cope unless the contra-flow frequency is bumped up significantly. This could be another step on the way to conversion of the busway to light rail.

    1. It currently copes, so i don’t see why it would stop coping. Do you expect Vodafone employees to have far greater NEX modeshare than the current tenants?

      1. There’ll be more of them. And, in my opinion, could kick off more development at Smales, including (hopefully) some residential / mixed use.

      2. It hardly copes right now. Last year passengers were regularly left behind at Akoranga trying to get into the city after 5 pm. You would only need to add another 20 users at Smales to completely overload all services between 5 and 5:30 pm.

        1. Immediately need more frequency, and there the city end needs fast tracking, that’s the big limit on ever more buses.

          And that Harbour Crossing had better be turned into the Rapid Transit project that’s actually needed, and with a system that can provide 1. decades of capacity growth and 2. is spatially efficient when it arrives in the city.


          1. I walk/run/ride around Smales farm on a regular basis and one idea I keep wondering if it was practical first step towards a light rail connection to the Shore, would be a tram/light rail running a loop; Smales Farm – Milford – Takapuna – Akoranga – Wynyard.

            Smales Farm (which has huge capacity for office space once the surface car-parking is built over) connects to Milford via Shakespeare (Hospital + schools+ retiree’s) and around Kitchener/Hurstmere to Barrys Point to Akoranga.

            Milford and Takapuna offer beaches/eating/shopping and residential capacity (MIlford is slowly getting built up despite Nimby’s) and Barrys point could be developed further for business.

            All these have wide roads, that surely could support a single central light rail running on a one way loop and shunt a reasonably large number of people around the shore and further (probably more than directly benefit than from Penlink in any case). From there easy to connect through to Wynyard in the future from Akoranga once a tunnel is built, and connect to light rail running up the busway to Albany.

            Seems to me (and I know nothing about light-rail) relatively small amount of rail could enable a wider catchment of people to get to/from the office park.

        2. It copes just fine. I always get a seat in the morning. Remember this is counter-flow, out of the city in the morning. I have no idea what it’s like in the peak direction.

          The evening buses into the city can get a bit busy though. Sometimes you have to stand but that’s still coping in my book. You can’t expect, two stops out from the centre of the city, to get a seat every single time.

          1. I guess you get left behind more often at Akoranga…

            Is this actually adding more users though, are Vodafone going to be packing the staff in like sardines to get more people in the same sized building.

          1. Everything I’ve read indicates it’s designed for LRT so I’m going to presume bridges have been designed accordingly.

          2. Bryce, I was working on the Busway project up to the design stages and I can assure you that your assumption carries the hallmark of many assumptions 😉

            structures were designed to take loads appropriate to the known need, buses, LRT was out there in the never never, so a cautious approach to design was taken, i.e. not to preclude LRT, but not to specifically build to an LRT standard with the associated incremental costs

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