The Unitary Plan is a crucial document for improving housing in Auckland, by enabling a lot more of it. As we’ve discussed, the Independent Hearing Panel’s (IHP) Recommended Unitary Plan enables almost double the “feasible” capacity from what the originally Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) did – from 213k dwellings to 422k dwellings. We also know that of those 422k additional dwellings, around 270k of them are expected to be within the existing urban area.

It’s worth pointing out some of the comments/decisions from the IHP. As part of the process the panel have examined and then agreed to the Auckland Plan’s development strategy of a quality, compact city with development focused around centres and transport corridors. In the overview report they say this:

The Panel has been careful to recommend a spatial pattern of capacity that promotes the centres and corridors strategy and a more compact urban form. This pattern is a prerequisite to the success of public transport and the efficient functioning of the city.


As mentioned above, this clustering of capacity is a prerequisite to the success of public transport and the efficient functioning of the city.

Further, as part of the justification for their views on parking provisions they say:

This overall approach is expected to improve development opportunities and support public transport and alternative modes of transport in and around centres rather than commit resources to potentially inefficient use as car parking, while retaining parking requirements outside of centres to ensure that the amenity values of those areas are maintained.

Those are some fairly significant comments in support of how the city should develop and a recognition of the importance of proximity to jobs, local amenities and social interaction. The aim being so that it’s possible to live without driving being the only realistic option all of the time, which in turn means less space needs to be dedicated to transport along with other benefits too.

I’ve already seen some asking what is being done to ensure the city doesn’t descend into gridlock as a lot more people in Auckland makes it even more important we work to fix our already struggling transport networks. It’s important because as the sayings go: “transport and land use are two sides of the same coin” and “the best transport policy is a good land use policy” (and vice versa).

As you likely know, over the last year the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has been running with the aim of developing a preferred approach to Auckland’s transport system over the next 30 years. We’ve already seen the:

  • Foundation Report which saw the parties involved agree on the assumptions to be used and analyse the current transport plans – finding them lacking.
  • Interim Report which looks at and analyses a range of possible alternative plans to help identify ways to improve the final plan

At the end of August (likely public in September) the final report is due which should come out with the recommended plan and the politicians aren’t allowing for that timeframe to change. While it will likely be fairly broad in many areas with more analysis needed on the exact timing of projects, it is likely to give us a good indication as to what will be needed, especially over the next decade. To do this, ATAP relies heavily on modelling to try and predict future transport demand based on a range of factors and one of the big ones is predicted land use.

With the IHP so significantly increasing the feasible capacity that immediately raises alarm bells as to just how valuable ATAP will be. It also happens I asked a question about this at the release of the Interim Report in June as my understanding of the complexity of the modelling rules out the option of assessing everything again with the IHP’s recommendations. We were told that the ATAP team will likely only have enough time to do some light analysis based on the recommended changes while providing a professional opinion as to what impact any significant changes could have. As an example, some of the substantial increase in capacity on the isthmus – like has happened – likely strengthens for light rail to be approved and built sooner.

So I thought I’d take a look at the ATAP Interim Report to see what it said about this, and it turns out the document is fairly useful in this regard. A page appropriately titled “Land Use Assumptions”. They say they’ve assumed substantial household growth will occur throughout Auckland and that includes the inner parts of the urban area. On growth uncertainty they say:

  • Where and when growth occurs is subject to a wide variety of factors including the extent to which it is enabled by planning documents, infrastructure provision and market attractiveness. This leads to unavoidable uncertainty about future growth assumptions.
  • There are some substantial differences between the growth assumptions used in this project and what is enabled by the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP). This is particularly true in the balance between inner urban and outer urban household growth with the PAUP providing feasible capacity for approximately 50,000 fewer dwellings on the Auckland isthmus than the growth assumptions used in this project.
  • Where and when growth occurs affects the timing and priority of transport investments as well as the overall size of the transport challenge faced by Auckland. Depending on the outcome of the Unitary Plan, a greater balance of growth towards outer areas will need to be reflected in the prioritisation of investment.

The middle of those three points is the most important showing that ATAP has allowed for around 50k more dwellings on the isthmus alone. That would likely put the numbers used in ATAP much closer to the IHP recommendations than the PAUP. Given some of the earlier comments from the IHP it made a lot of sense to expect zoning to increase in many areas, especially on the isthmus and it looks like a good thing they did that – although perhaps not by far enough.

The difference between what is being used for ATAP and the PAUP is shown below. It can be a bit hard to tell but one area you can see a bit more development allowed is in the western isthmus and that was matched to some degree by the IHP’s recommended plan.

ATAP Growth Pattern vs PAUP

As a comparison he’s the heat map from the IHP’s version which goes further again.

Recomended UP - Recomended Feasible Capacity

But what impact will all of this have? It’s hard to tell exactly but my hunch is that if the recommended plan is passed by the council it will only make investments in many of the key PT projects even more crucial. In particular the Rapid Transit projects such as AMETI + Pakuranga Rd, Light Rail on the isthmus and to the airport, the NW Busway, rail to the North Shore are going to be vital to providing enough capacity for people to be able to get around the city free of congestion. For those local hotspots it will also likely represent AT needing to focus to ensure there are quality walking and cycling networks so that residents can access amenities in the immediate area easily without having to drive.

What impact do you think the recommended Unitary Plan should have on Transport and importantly, would the government agree?

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  1. I’m guessing you’re all excited about the most recent Auckland Transport lunacy of T3 lanes through Pah and Manukau Roads resulting in total gridlock. Witnessed an ambulance stuck in the mess with all lights on going absolutely nowhere Tuesday morning. More stupidity from our Council.

    1. Why wasn’t the ambulance using the T3 Lane? Of was it because the T3 Lane was full of traffic? Better make it a permanent bus lane then so this doesn’t happen again.

    2. So you’re saying it should be a permanent bus lane or at the least have a lot more enforcement. Great we can agree on that. One of the advantages of bus lanes is they make it easier for emergency services to get around

  2. You asked how valuable the ATAP would be after the Recommended Unitary Plan came out and boosted feasible residential capacity from 296,000 to 422,000?
    Well given that jump in numbers, Metropolitan and Mixed Use Zones being expanded, more heavy industry zone being laid down and more Future Urban Zone especially in the South I say the ATAP wont have much value at all. That is bin it and start from scratch all over again.

    The RUP gives a solid idea where development would occur under market conditions.. Couple that with Housing NZ and Panuku works and you should get a basic framework on transportation requirements and what needs to be funded urgently. Will the Government agree? If it isnt a motorway of 4-lane express way then the answer is No – unless dragged kicking and screaming like it was with the CRL earlier this year.

    1. Spot on Ben, I think it really does need to be ripped up and redone from scratch. The good news is that the new Unitary Plan finally gives us a solid foundation for planning our transport networks, but now we must absolutely build the ATAP around it.

      Looking at figure 4, there is a real disconnect between what we have and what we need. Very few of our high-density areas have a train station. Surely the right approach is to plan a station right in the middle of each and every high-density red zone, with no exceptions, and then formulate a strategy to urgently develop them with new and integrated rail connections.

      This of course will need new thinking from AT, because areas like East Auckland and North Shore must now be included in transport infrastructure planning. However there’s no sensible alternative – some of these red-coloured areas are the most transport-deprived in Auckland, and it would be irresponsible to continue to neglect them now that we are zoning them for high density.

      1. In 2014 the Ministry of Transport did a commuting report into the commuting patterns of Aucklanders. You can read my concluding remarks here

        Where I would go with an ATAP MK2 is use that MoT report and overlay it with those density heat maps from the Recommended Unitary Plan enabling growth reports. From there as you said you can work out where existing infrastructure is and where new infrastructure needs to go pretty quickly from such an assessment.

        Looking at the two side by side I would go post CRL:
        1) Airport Line (heavy rail via Otahuhu)
        2) Dominion Road BUS lanes
        3) Botany Line (the whole thing as Light Rail -forget the the bus way in AMETI)
        4) North West Busway

        That solves our most immediate issues to which we can then expand out from the initial four projects to capture other areas like building the North Shore Line.

  3. It looks like ATAP anticipated the better UP now recommended by the IHP to at least some degree. The RUP heat map certainly shows that the long standing ‘Rapid Transit shadows’ of the South East and the North West deserve delivery of the missing RT with even more urgency if anything.

    Extending the Northern Busway and connecting the RTN across the top of Harbour to pick up new suburbs surely needs moving forward too.

    Additionally bus connection to the RTN for Glendowie, Mt Roskill, and some other potential hotspots should get attention too.

    With proper levels of investment and an acceleration of current plans there is a good alignment between the the RUP and what we’ve seen from ATAP. But I have to stress that the timing of the delivery of PT projects in ATAP are far too distant to have the vital land-use shaping role. Airport LR in the 3rd decade? No RT for Hobsonville or other Upper Harbour growth areas.

    Motorways alone won’t do it; they will infarct. And if this is our approach, as it has been for the last 60 years, then the same wastefully and unappealing urban form will continue limitlessly into the countryside.

    1. Looking through at CAP again, it looks like they predicted that IHPUP would be like it was, how close is another question.

      The real concern I have with ATAP however is rail freight doesn’t like like it has been thought about, Active Modes/PT represented by AT, Roads by NZTA/MOT/AT, but I don’t think Kiwirail is a partner, I would be very worried to see any transport plan for example that didn’t think about a third main.

      1. The third main is already in the works, getting past Middlemore station is the current hold up then Manurewa will be the next big hurdle followed by going under the motorway at Drury (as it happens is also what is blocking electrification to Pukekohe).

        1. Parts of the third main were installed expediently when other works were done, principally Wiri-Puhinui and Mangere-Otahuhu. However I am not aware that any funding agreement has been reached regarding the main section between Puhinui and Mangere. So unless you have some new info, it is not really meaningful to say “The third main is already in the works”.

          Continuing the third main south of Wiri is not so critical at this stage. Wiri-Westfield is the most congested stretch and urgently needs the third main.

          1. A very reliable source told me that is before the government (NZTA) at the moment, I haven’t heard what the verdict is. The main road blocks in the way are as I’ve already mentioned.

  4. Will LightRail in the Isthmus be more feasible if the recommendation gets pass? I look at the map and see that Dominion Road remains to have small intensification. Other Isthmus tram lines though looks set for rail.

  5. Looking at Figure 4 it is painfully obvious that we should be completing our Heavy Rail Network.
    1) Heavy Rail to the airport
    2) Heavy Rail to the North Shore
    3) Extend services out to Kumeu (sure it is slightly longer distance-wise than roads and/or NW busway) but surely being a dedicated ROW with potential for people to connect to places other than just the CBD (ie those going South) coupled with the infrastructure being mostly in place already make this a good option (even using BEMUs like Pukekohe).
    4) Avondale-Southdown. Provides greater capacity and resilience in the network as well as servicing an area that has good PT potential links and is zoned for higher density (not too mention closing Ports of Auckland and splitting shipping between Northport and Tauranga using rail to link them).
    5)East Auckland – would it really be much more expensive to build a HR line out there rather than the busway? Have that then continue along through Botany then down to Manukau and then through to the airport. This would complete the Auckland network with the possible exception of a CRL2 to connect the North Shore line to Parnell via Aotea, University.

    1. +1

      If “brainstorming” for the very best way forward for Auckland’s PT system with no pre-conceived agendas about modes or hangups about funding, then this would surely be what would come to the top.
      It should then be a question of, “This is clearly what we need, so how can we make it happen?”.

      1. Unfortunately brainstorming while ignoring feasibility, cost and operating efficiency is the single worst way to plan a transit system. Clearly what we need is a twenty line metro network, that comes out on top. How can we make it happen?

        1. No. Starting with artificially-constrained ideas about what is feasible or affordable – based on the present-day premise that only roads can command serious investment – is the single worst way to plan a transit system. The likelihood under this regime is that transit proposals will be watered down progressively until only more-buses eventuate (as per Wellington’s infamous PT Spine Study!).

          The ‘moar roads’ nut must be cracked in order to get rapid transit moving, and when this happens PT will no longer have to exist under the “poor second” mentality. There will be opportunity to do the job properly.

          1. Excellent, so you’re right behind me on nothing short of twenty new metro lines being acceptable. Great, cheers.

          2. Stop being facetious Nick. Even London doesn’t have 20 lines. A city the size of Auckland should have 5x double tracked (some triple) surface lines and probably a full subway line somewhere too. Sydney has a dozen lines and they consider that to be not enough (most of those have been there from when Sydney was Aucklands size). When thinking about the costs of a heavy rail line then it needs to thought about in terms of 50-100 years rather than 10-30 years paying it off as it is a long term asset.
            In the above the subway line would probably be the North Shore line all the way from Albany-Aotea and probably through to Parnell. This would likely cost around $6B in today’s money (so about the same as building a road AWHC). The good thing about it is that depending on its route it gives capacity above and beyond what the NEX has and the NEX could actually still remain in place.
            AC should probably pay around $2B of that with the government paying the other $4B

    2. Bruce that is a nice wish list and while I agree with some of these are some that are downright wasteful.
      1. “Heavy Rail to the airport” yes but via what route? Onehunga is too expensive (and the Onehunga line can not coexist with the Avondale to Southdown line if it ever gets built).
      2. “Heavy Rail to the North Shore” yes and despite what some of the ‘armchair experts’ on Transport blog it can link into the CRL like what was one of the original selling points many years ago, you just will only be able to go from the shore towards Britomart and not up town.
      3. “Extend services out to Kumeu” again yes but not the way you would think, extending to Kumeu would require the hugely expensive daylighting of the Waitakere tunnel. Money for the upgrading of the Waitakere tunnel and extra track work along with the NW busway money could create a while new Northwestern line following the busway route (increasing the rail catchment and doing away with the need for the busway) and joining back to the existing Western line near the Mt Eden (there are other options but costs would rule them out until there was something like the CRL2).
      “BEMUs like Pukekohe” this was an off the cuff suggestion by Len Brown when pushed by the media on the Pukekohe options. The cost of using untried BEMUs would be huge compared to the costs of just electrifying to Pukekohe (the issue is the motorway underpass at Drury that while being rebuilt would allow for the third main, AT and Kiwi rail will not commit to doing anything here as each believes the other will bear the bulk of the cost).
      4. “Avondale-Southdown” will be built no time soon due to the corridor from Hillsbough rd to Southdown being only wide enough for a single line and requiring something like 20 odd level crossings or a wildly expensive trench. Moving POA operations to Northport requires far more than just the Avondale-Southdown line, it would require a third main from the north through the Auckland commuter network (try doing that at New Lynn for example).
      5. “East Auckland” great idea, as I’ve said here and other places before the Manukau station should have never been a dead end.

  6. All that MHS/MHU around Green Bay/South of New Lynn well, well outside walking distance to a rail station looks like a recipe for major road congestion.

    Are Hutchison Ave and Kaurilands Rd ready to have busways put down them to accommodate all new residents who will be moving into dense accommodation nearby?

      1. The north end of Hutchison is. But if I’m at, say Arahope/Hutchison, that’s a 19 min walk (1600 m) to New Lynn Station.

        If I’m living on any of the side streets in that area (all of which are zoned for MHS or MHU) then it’s easily 15-25 min walk to the closest station.

          1. Time to take the rose tinted glasses off. Would it be pleasant in heavy rain – which Auckland gets a lot. Only other option a 30min bus route.

            There is no justification for MHU in areas beyond 10 min walk distance.

          2. I’ve always wanted to see relatively more walkable MHU and THAB and relatively less non-walkable MHS than any of the UPs have provided. How will we fix transport just by making auto-dependent suburbs denser, if we can’t make them dense enough or put them in the right places to fix the auto-dependency?

            For these western neighborhoods I can imagine a frequent circuit connector linking them to New Lynn Station, so I’m not necessarily saying they shouldn’t be up zoned like this. But I really don’t know – does Auckland Transport have the resources to support neighborhoods like this, that, if intensified even to a fraction of their potential, are going to need some very frequent public transport links?

  7. If the Unitary Plan is approved. Do you think urbanization will occur across the city, or will it be focused in certain suburbs?

    1. The really good thing about this version of the plan is that it does enable growth to be organic; by being less restrictive it allows the market to respond, which means people to get more of a chance to choose where they want to live. In and up as well as out and across.

  8. It could be a chicken egg problem.

    If AT do not see enough residents, they will not improve transport.
    On the other hand, developers see poor transport, they are not going to invest and intensify.

    In order to break that deadlock, AT must take the lead, AT must build the transport upgrade now according to the unitary plan.

    Onces its built, developers will follow.

    1. Problem is they never will while NZTA holds the purse strings. NZTAs model is wait for a problem, then invest. The exact opposite of planning.

  9. Really advances AMETI and LRT and NW busway to me….

    Also highlights stupidity of blowing half a billion dollars on Mill Road.

      1. Having seen the auckland that has been built over the last 70 years it is remarkably clear that other modes exist. It is also clear that we have invested disproportionately in rising and need to correct our mistake.

        1. In an urban setting transport should very much revolve around PT and active modes given they are a far more efficient way to move people around in limited space.

          1. There is plenty that needs moving that doesn’t involve catching a bus or train and requires an efficient road network too.

  10. What the IHPUP really shows is how important the CRL is, as much of the upzoning is planned around it. Without the CRL the UP can’t work, hence CRL now truly inevitable.

  11. Love all this macro scale discussion and the linking of transport and land use planning. Exciting times ahead for Auckland. A good example of the chicken and egg scenario would be Pakuranga town centre. A developer has plans to build up including residential and commercial on a serious scale and we are going to get a new busway and station at the town centre as part of AMETI stage 2a, but who will move first and when? Interesting to learn the ATAP final report will also be released prior to the Auckland elections? Maybe we can get a heads up fron the T blog before then on where various candidates stand on PT and other transport issues?

    1. If they don’t extend the busway to Silverdale don’t expect LR to be the answer, AT have said it will be 30 years before there is rail on the shore and from there how long will it take to get that far unless there is already a busway that they will replace.

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