This is the second part of a two-part post looking at some of the people who are making a positive, evidence-based contribution to public discussions about policy. An active and well-informed public conversation about policy issues is a vital bulwark for representative democracy. The people who spend their own time contributing to it are awesome. Good work, folks.

Hamilton Urban Blog

Down the road a bit, Hamilton Urban Blog does a lot of good work digging into the details of Hamilton’s urban form and human geography. It’s a good example of a local perspective on places, often with some quite nice maps to illustrate the features of a place.

Here’s a recent post I quite liked, comparing German regional rail services with what’s on offer in the Waikato: “Post card from Hann. Munden Rail Station“:

In 2015 I spent the best part of a week in Hann. Munden. This post benchmarks its rail service compared to what we could have in Hamilton NZ (pop 156,800: density 1,400 p/km2).

To help understand the population base that supports the Hann. Munden rail service, let’s first note there are two rail services between the city of Gottingen (pop 116,891: density 1,000 p/km2) and the city of Kassel (pop 194,747: density 1,800 p/km2). The blue line is a direct service (19 minutes, distance of about 50km), which then continues on to Frankfurt. I interpret this as a fast, two trains per hour service. Link – Gottingen to Kassel time table

The second is the green line, which is a local Gottingen to Kassel (60 minutes) service passing through the rail station at Hann. Munden (pop 23,668: density 200 p/km2). I regard this as an hourly service. Link – Hann. Munden station time table

Hann Munden Rail Map

… The New Zealand approach often feels as though it limits the movement of people that live between city centres. Outside of Auckland we get very good funding to support road traffic, which is OK unless you need to visit Auckland. Then you are wasting time. Once in Auckland, only a local can predict travel times; for an outsider the motorway network can feel like being in a swampy river-mouth lagoon at high tide.

Economics NZ

Now for a bit of an odd one (but a good one). Auckland-based economist Donal Curtin, who spent 12 years on the Commerce Commission and now runs a consulting business, writes a regular blog on various economic topics, mainly including macroeconomic policy and problems with New Zealand’s competition law, but also occasionally touching on urban issues.

Donal is one of my favourite examples of a New Zealand professional writing publicly about his own field. It’s consistently constructive, educational, and unafraid to be critical of policy settings. Wish more people did the same.

Here’s a recent post that I found interesting: “Auckland and Canterbury housing: What next?

The latest statistics on building consents came out this morning, and I’ve been keeping an eye on them mainly because Auckland housing consents at the start of this year actually declined for a while – a deeply worrying development, given that consents even before they dipped were not keeping pace with new demand for accommodation, let alone eating into the backlog of existing unfulfilled demand.

Here are the latest data for Auckland dwelling consents. I’ve included the ‘actual’ data and the ‘trend’ data’: the ‘trend’ version is Stats’ best effort to abstract from the (quite considerable) month to month volatility and to show us the underlying picture. I’ve gone back to 1995, partly because that’s where the ‘trend’ series starts in Stats’ database and partly to put the current rate of building into context.

It’s good news as far as it goes. That dip has gone away, and it’s onwards and upwards in recent months. It’s still not clear why we had that earlier dip: some people I’ve spoken to said that developers were waiting to see the shape of the Auckland Unitary Plan, and maybe that’s true. But it’s somewhat at odds with the recent rises, which predate the publication of the Plan (it went public on July 22 and was only signed off by the Council on August 19). Perhaps there’ll be another hiatus as the Plan is appealed, or maybe developers aren’t fixated on the Plan at all: we’ll have to wait and see.

One Two Three Home

Housing researcher Elinor Chisholm writes this thoughtful but infrequently updated blog on housing issues in New Zealand. She’s a big proponent of renter activism and better standards for rental accommodation.

Here’s a recent post announcing a talk she’s giving in Auckland later on in the month: “Renter activism in New Zealand and the United States“:

Perhaps the key word in Hill Cone’s question is “more”. Why aren’t renters more vocal, or more active? After all, renters make up a third of New Zealand’s households and half the population, but in the conversation about housing, they don’t get half the airtime. It’s one of the questions I looked at in my PhD thesis, and that I’ll be writing more on in the future. Some answers come from looking at New Zealand’s hundred-year history of renter activism. From there, we can learn about some of the key challenges to renter activism – as well as common methods and key achievements.

People may wish to come along to an upcoming seminar in Auckland, organised by the Fabians, which looks at some of these issues. I’ll be talking about the history of New Zealand renter activism, touching on some of the groups active today. Milo West, of Save Our Homes, will be presenting on her recent trip to the United States, where she met with a number of housing activist groups and learned about some of their achievements and challenges. We’ll discuss what renters in New Zealand today can learn from the past and from the American experience.

6.30-8pm, 20 October 2016. Lecture Theatre 5, Owen Glenn Building, University of Auckland, 12 Grafton Rd, Auckland. Event on facebook and eventfinder.

Island Bay Cycleway Blog

As its name suggests, the Island Bay Cycleway Blog was set up to make the case for the Island Bay Cycleway in Wellington. This was one of the first investments in safe urban cycling in Wellington, but its design has drawn opposition from some residents. IBCB has been out there calmly making the case that, no, protected cycleways are not going to make the sky fall in.

Here’s one of my favourite posts, from June: “The hypocrisy around cycleway safety needs to stop“:

Any objective discussion about safety on our roads really starts and ends with motorised traffic. To argue that separating people on bikes from cars, trucks and buses travelling at 50 kph is less safe overall is disingenuous and dangerous. If we really care about safety then let’s focus on motor vehicles and have a discussion about things that will actually make a difference. Let’s talk about dropping the speed limit across Wellington to 30 kph. Let’s talk about about the design of roads and road geometry that encourages people to keep to safe speed limits. Let’s talk about giving pedestrians and cyclists on paths priority over turning traffic at side streets. Let’s talk about having more traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. And let’s talk about removing more on-street parking from Wellington’s roads in order to make more room for cycleways and footpaths (in Island Bay it is actually the preservation of so much on-street parking on The Parade that creates almost all the key risks that people perceive with the cycleway).

If we just don’t want to talk about these things that’s fine, life is full of tough choices and trade-offs and we might not be prepared to make some of those. But if we are prepared to mitigate, manage and ultimately accept the significant risks associated with having motor vehicles in our cities and suburbs please don’t be a hypocrite and tell me we can’t do the same for a cycleway.

Talking South Auckland

Talking South Auckland, written by Papakurian Ben Ross, covers a lot of planning and urban policy issues with (as its name suggests) a South Auckland focus. It takes a sometimes-critical, sometimes-supportive perspective on actions by Auckland Council and central government.

Here’s a recent post I found quite interesting, on why people didn’t vote in the local elections. (Note: I’m not sure how Ben gathered his sample here, so treat with caution – likely to be small-n.)

For the 18-24 subset they did not vote for two primary reasons:

  1. In their eyes the City is “adequate” enough and is moving in the right direction in terms of improvements with transit and urban development (Sylvia Park and Manukau expansions). Nothing has overtly provoked “outrage” enough like the Auckland Transport example above to prompt what is in effect protest voting.
  2. Apart from Chloe none of the candidates really stood out at any level in representing them however, the next three years will be watched with interest given their line of work coming up (construction industry especially residential).

The 18-24 subset is politically aware of happenings in Auckland Council and is an active user of transit and the libraries. However, their case would demonstrate a more fatal flaw with Council and Local Government in New Zealand.

Leave other suggestions in the comments!

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  1. Ben has also explained why people over 40 did vote. It was either to stop Goff being Mayor or because AT had annoyed them over a bus route. Both wrong in my case I’m afraid.

        1. Ben the point we are making is that Goff didn’t just appeal to younger voters. In fact given the average age of voters any candidate that only appeals to young people isn’t going to be Mayor. Goff is older than both Patrick and me. In my circle more people voted for Goff than all the others put together. He won because he has been a successful cabinet minister in two Governments while the other candidates had no political experience and no experience trying to control a bureaucracy. I don’t think it is true that people regarded him as any sort of Len2. Any comparison with Len probably only helped Goff because he is so different. Most of us only ever voted for Len to stop the other guy. Not because we wanted that twit.

          1. Which is the point I’ve made as well although not in that particular post at length (given the time it was written). The Goff fatal post I wrote yesterday covers the Len 2.0.
            Bearing in mind the situation is fluid right now so lot of things can change.

  2. How important it is to me that I can write in and contribute to your blog.
    Your blog is what a free press is about.
    Your articles cover many issues and often in great depth.
    The blog should be nominated by the NZSA for it’s best business stories of the year. (NZSA – shareholders association have recently announced their intention to pick the best business stories)
    Both the NZTA and AT know that transport in Auck. is a hot issue. It adds $1 billion to costs of business each year. They should join the debate on the blog. The Auckland terrain makes decisions difficult. Both AT and the NZTA should be freely discussing all the issues anywhere, anytime.
    Sometimes I read or watch articles away from your blog which are not always true or don’t give all sides of the story and it is not easy to send a comment to them as it is to your blog.
    NZ is one of the most free and democratic countries in the world. We should all do our utmost to treasure this.

  3. Intuitively I would have thought a few 40+ voters would have voted in outrage against the Unitary Plan (ie. against status quo candidates who supported it)

  4. Re: Economics NZ. I would be very interested to see dwellings consented through resource consent, versus building consent.
    My hunch would be that the former is much much higher than the latter. It’s always higher but I bet it’s higher than normal.
    From what I can see there has been an awful lot of speculative resource consenting of development, which then often doesn’t translate to the next step (building consent).
    Not only a lot of speculation, but as well covered by the media recently bank funding for apartments is slowing quite a lot.

    1. That sounds about right. That’s building consents 20% above houses actually built.
      Peter – my understanding is that dwelling consent stats are issued in terms of building consents but do you know if we can get dwellings consented through resource consent? I think that could paint a very interesting picture

  5. and that 20% figure, in Auckland, might be getting higher as consented apartment developments fall over for various reasons

    1. All new dwellings need BC, only some need RC. Building (and resource consents) are only a (leading) indicator of a highly probable (>80% chance) build at *some point* in the future (for BC this is about 1 year max by default, sometimes hard to extend, for RC max 5 years ‘to give effect’ to consented works by default but easily extended). BC (and especially RC) consented dwelling numbers on a monthly or even annual basis will never equal dwellings started or completed* in that time period other than by coinkydink.

      (*whatever that is!)

      RC in particular are a very messy thing given not all new dwellings need RC and not all RC’s are for new dwellings and ‘number of new dwellings i want consent for’ is not a thing that people have to put on a form (this applies to BCs too BTW!) so these figures would need imputing (like they are for BC figures, but is much harder).

      Abandonment rates for apartment projects is not significantly different from historical* trends, nor is the phenomenon unusual across all development forms, but media interest is suddenly higher re apartments so your perception of it is probably heightened.

      (* 20 yearsish)

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