Why not Auckland?

I grew up in Auckland. I love Auckland. My partner and I would like to live in Auckland. As it stands, I can’t see it happening for the foreseeable future. I’m sure some of you are rather relieved, but it makes me sad.

Auckland doesn’t stack up as a place to live. Sure it’s nice, but having spent the last few years living in Brisbane and Amsterdam — and with the option to live in either of those cities — I’ve slowly and begrudingly come to the realization that the cost of housing in Auckland detracts too much from overall quality of life. I can’t honestly say to my partner that Auckland is a better place to live. And we’re the fortunate ones; we have a choice. When you see people — families even — living in cars and/or on the streets, then you start to realize the long-term socio-economic problems that are being caused right here, right now.

In this post, I want to talk about Brisbane, and other strategic planning matters, which may — in the medium to long run — help to resolve Auckland’s high housing prices. I own property in Auckland and I benefit directly from the status quo. However, I am not comfortable with people suffering simply because of poor policy settings, and nor am I particularly pleased with being economically exiled from the place that I call home. Before we talk about that home, however, let us cast our mind slightly further afield …

We need to talk about Brisbane

I want to begin by talking about Brisbane, which is actually where my partner calls “home”. In Brisbane, “winter is never coming” and housing is remarkably affordable.

In fact, Brisbane is *the* stand-out city across Australia and New Zealand when it comes to housing affordability. No city that I know of has achievd sustained growth in population for so many decades, while also maintaining housing affordability. This excellent (albeit largely unrelated) article by The Guardian’s excellent Greg Jerico includes the following graph, which highlights the gap between Brisbane and Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney (NB: As far as I understand Auckland’s prices currently lie somewhere between Melbourne and Sydney).

From some recent work with central and local government agencies in New Zealand I’ve also noticed that — when thinking about Australia — Kiwis tend to focus on Sydney and Melbourne. Now don’t get me wrong: Both Sydney and Melbourne are wonderful cities that I love visiting, and from which Auckland could no doubt learn a lot. They’re also much older and prettier cities than Brisbane, in many respects. But Sydney and Melbourne haven’t delivered affordable housing either. If we want to learn about affordable housing, then we need to look elsewhere.

How has Brisbane managed to succeed where other cities haven’t? Well, I’d wager no city in Australia or New Zealand has built as many apartments as Brisbane has when measured on a per dwelling basis. The boom started in 2014 and continues to the present day. The following figure presents data for the whole of Australia (which is also fascinating), but the trend is even more pronounced in Brisbane.

The result? Apartment buildings have popped up all over the city. Not just in inner-city suburbs, but also in places like Sherwood and Oxley, which are nice town centres located more than 30 minutes to the city centre. In terms of prices, you can rent spacious two bedroom apartments for $500 per week. Building lots of new apartments doesn’t just mean that apartments become more affordable: The increase in supply spills-over into related housing sub-markets, deflating prices in more broadly. Some households, like mine, really do sit “on the margin” and would be happy in either an apartment or a unit or a house.

In this way, Brisbane’s apartment boom has kept the lid on property prices in general. For example, here’s a nice four bedroom, two-storey house located 35 minutes walk from Brisbane city centre, which is going for $1,000 per week. From what I can tell $1,000 per week doesn’t buy you anywhere near as much house (and I mean that in a quality sense, not just a size sense) in Auckland. While Ponsonby is nice, it isn’t really a match for the funky inner-city edge vibe that exists in the West End, which is considerably more alive and diverse (possibly because it is more affordable?).

Over the last two decades Brisbane’s growth has exceeded Auckland, Sydney, and Melbourne. How has this growth been accommodated? Well, 53 percent of recent development in South East Queensland (NB: This is like the upper North Island between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga) has occured via infill development. And that figure is expected to increase to 60 percent in coming years, as set out in the rather impressive strategic planning document ShapingSEQ. That’s actually quite a lot of intensification, given the scale of the region. In Brisbane City the figure is closer to 94 percent intensification. Let us dive into ShapingSEQ in a bit more detail …

ShapingSEQ: Three things that matter

As mentioned above, one of the reasons housing in Brisbane is more affordable is because they’ve built so many apartments. It’s obvious Auckland needs to do more on this front. And reading through ShapingSEQ, I noticed three strategic planning matters that I really like, and where Auckland may learn a few tricks.

The first thing is that ShapingSEQ locates South East Queensland in a global and national context, as noted in the up-front discussion about mega-trends. This discussion makes it clear that — even though SEQ is a major urban region — SEQ remains a small fish in a big pond. Large changes, such as climate change, are happening all around and on many different levels. Some of this change will inevitably affect us, whether we want it to or not. Notwithstanding this inevitably, ShapingSEQ focuses on how strategic planning can empower communities, providing a way for them to have input into how change happens. Input doesn’t mean getting exactly what you want for neighbourhood, or even having it stay exactly the way it is. Choice means being made aware of real trade-offs, such as how climate change will make some low-lying areas uninhabitable. Such as how an ageing population will create unique demands. ShapingSEQ seeks to elevate people’s thinking to a higher altitude, focus on the bigger picture, and pull their head out of the vocal, yokel, parochial local weeds.

The second thing I like about ShapingSEQ is that — even though it is a strategic planning document — it still manages to convey some important details. Perhaps the best example is the emphasis on the “missing middle” density (NB: The image below contains my new favourite Australian word “Fonzie”, which seems to be what we would call a granny flat).

ShapingSEQ defines middle-density housing to include anything up to 6 storeys. This seems reasonable to me, as it’s the height of buildings that can be found across all of Auckland’s inner-city suburbs, and aligns with the height of tall trees. During the recent debate on the Unitary Plan, I feel like some people in Auckland — especially those who opposed intensification — tried to redefine what middle-density actually means. I own an apartment in a one-hundred year old building in Auckland that is 7 storeys high. We’ve been building buildings to this height for over a century, and it’s balderdash and poppy-cock to pretend otherwise. ShapingSEQ goes to some length to distinguish between middle and high density housing, and I think we’d do well to do the ssame in future iterations of the Auckland Plan and, then, the Unitary Plan. Language in important, and in Auckland we’ve allowed the language to be set by those who opose intensification. Say after me: Six storeys is not high density; it’s the type of density your grandparents would have seen in the city in their day.

The third thing I like about ShapingSEQ is simply that it’s a statutory document. And this gets to the heart of some of the issues with the Auckland Plan, which I talk about below. ShapingSEQ is necessarily better than the Auckland Plan, but rather becaise it carries with it a lot more statutory weight:

ShapingSEQ is the statutory regional plan for the SEQ region. ShapingSEQ … is the region’s pre-eminent strategic land use plan made under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009, and given effect by the Planning Act 2016. It was given effect on and from the day the making of the plan was published in the Government Gazette. ShapingSEQ is a state planning instrument providing a framework to manage growth, change, land use and development in SEQ. It does this by reflecting state policy and informing a range of other more detailed local planning instruments responsible for delivering good land use outcomes …

There’s many areas where Auckland does better than Brisbane, in particular, and South East Queensland, in general. In terms of strategic land use and transport planning, however, I think issues with our spatial policy have led to some recent warning signs …

Strategic Policy in Auckland: Three warning signs

Three events have, over the last few years, got me thinking about governance models and strategic policy in the Auckland context. I’m sure other people here will be able to offer more insight than I, and perhaps even offer up better examples, but what I would like to do here is get some discussion going by discussing three issues that I found particularly perturbing.

The first event that caused me concern was when some organisations, such as Auckland2040, and even some councillors, tried to argue that the Unitary Plan didn’t need to give effect to the growth anticipated in the Auckland Plan. They effectively tried to argue that while we know a certain quantum of growth was going to occur, we don’t need to enable sufficient development capacity to accomodate that growth now. This led to the disconnect that Peter discussed the other day, and which I mentioned above. What’s the point of having an understanding of strategic issues, such as growth, if you don’t plan for this to be reflected in the details thinking?

The problem with this is two-fold. First, we go to the hassle of engaging with people on strategic objectives, which can then effectively be disregarded when deciding on the details. Second, it creates a vaccum where un-elected (albeit well-informed and well-meaning) technocrats and consultants have to substitute their values in place of the wider population, who are not well-represented in the arcane hearings processes associated with the Unitary Plan. Future generations aren’t represented at all, and are — in my experience — frequently ignored.

As a consultant and a human, I don’t think this is OK. I think the pre-eminent strategic spatial plan for Auckland should directly inform the Unitary Plan. Thankfully the Hearings Panel did not buy this line of reasoning, but it never have been an option.

The second event was when AT tried to relitigate the Linear Park on Victoria Street. The Linear Park was a key project identified in the City Centre Master Plan, which in turn was a key element in achieving the strategic objectives set out in the Auckland Plan for accomodating rapid population growth in Auckland’s city centre. The Linear Park is a perfect example of the sort of tension that often exists between land use and transport outcomes, tension which should be resolved through strategic planning exercises. Not traffic engineering metrics like “level of service”. That, from what it appears, is exactly what AT tried to do, and I think that is a big problem.

I say this not because Council necessarily know more about transport than AT, indeed the latter may well have more technical knowledge. The reason I am concerned that AT would try and challenge a strategic project is because AT is not democratically elected, and broader community engagement is not a core part of their remit (I do accept that AT engages with the community on specific projects, but that’s a different matter). AT simply doesn’t seem to be the right organisation to say “actually, we want to prioritise movement rather than place in this corridor”. Thankfully, Council rebuked AT’s atempt to re-wite their strategic policy objectives on Victoria Street.

From where I’m sitting, and for what it’s worth, AT should never, ever try to redefine strategic transport and land use objectives set by Council. Instead, AT’s role — and I do think it’s an important one that does need to be separate from Council — is to try and deliver the strategic goals that have been set by Council as effectively as possible given the money available (NB: I want to emphasise that issues with current arrangements are definitely not a one-way street: Parnell Station is an example of what happens when Council gets too close to technical decisions, which should be left to AT). Thankfully it seems that both AC and AT have begun to recognise the mutual benefits of sticking to their respective corners, and letting the other do the job to which its organisational structure is best suited.

The third event was ATAP. While it’s great that the Council, AT, and Central Government all got together, had a cuddle, and gained some agreement on how to align their respective transport and land use plans, I was concerned that we even arrived at this point in the first place. Given that it seems likely to be something that needs to happen again in the future, why don’t just formalise the process so it has some statutory weight? That is, why not have a formal strategic transport and land use planning process that aligns central and regional transport plans? And why not have such a process apply nationally, at least to the major urban regions? What about Christchurch? Don’t they want to be aligned too? Or are they just so pleasantly amenable that everyone just naturally aligns? The fact we needed ATAP at all is, I think, cause for pause.

And given all the work that went into ATAP, how do people feel for Central Government to turn around and randomly announce massive investment in transport in Auckland? Regardless of your political stripes, and Labour do this too, do we really want planeloads of new transport projects to be dropped on us from up high every three years? Projects that could drastically change our long term ideas of what will be built, and which depend on the outcome of the election? Projects that could influence where developers look to buy land? Given the time-frames involved in formulating land use plans etc the “you get a highway, everyone gets a highway” carpet-bombing approach comes across as less than ideal. One of the key roles of Government, I think, is to provide certainty to citizens and firms. Can anyone honestly say that Central Government’s involvement in regional transport issues is leading to more certainty? I find it extremely concerning that ATAP can so quickly and flippantly be circumvented by Central Goverment, who is supposed to be one of the partners.

Conclusions

Having said all this what is it that I want? Well the first thing is that — rather than focusing too much on the likes of Sydney and Melbourne — I’d recommend Auckland keeps a closer eye on Brisbane. House prices in our two cities really shouldn’t be that far apart, perhaps plus 20% higher in Auckland to allow for higher costs of land (due to physical scarcity) and construction (due to earthquake requirements).

One way Auckland might achieve more affordable housing is to re-examine whether our governance models and strategic policies are as effective as they can be. I’m not an expert in this stuff, but there does seem to be a need to link our land use and transport plans at a high level so that we can deliver more housing, more effectively. Remember that one of the major barriers to the development of housing in Auckland is the availability of transport infrastructure. We’ve got to get better at putting the transport infrastructure in places where it can support housing development. That goes for both greenfields and brownfields. No point spending a gazillion dollars upgrading Lake Road if The Kingdom of Devonport ain’t gonna take no intensification.

Oppportunities would seem to include but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Giving more statutory weight to the Auckland Plan, and its strategic land use subsidiaries such as the City Centre Master Plan. It’s simply silly that people even tried to argue that the Auckland Plan should be given little weight when it subsequently came to formulating the details of the Unitary Plan. And it’s concerning that AT thought they could ignore the CCMP.
  • Reducing the ability for Central Government to meddle so frequently and extensively in regional transport decisions. In my view, transport policy should be developed slowly, carefully and with clear statutory links/obligations to spatial and land use plans. As the latter are developed at the regional level, perhaps that is also the best place for transport policy decisions?
  • Updating the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan. To take into account new information, and lessons learnt from the last iteration. For example, the next Unitary Plan might define middle-density housig more carefully, and note that it has existed in Auckland for decades. Similarly, the next version of the CCMP might include some more details on delivery, including a clear statement of respective roles and responsibilities of AC vis-a-vis CCOs like AT and Panuku (NB: We all need to engage in these updates, as per Generation Zero’s workshop). How much leeway do these organisations have? Let’s be specific to make their job easy.
  • Re-structuring transport governance to foster accountability and exploit synergies. That may mean, for example, putting responsibility for rail infrastructure with NZTA so as to leverage economies of scale/scope. It might also mean MoT and NZTA not being involved in regional projects that relate to buses, local roads, and walking/cycling altogether.
  • More explicit links between capital investment in transport infrastructure and household growth: I think we need to be clearer about prioritising investment in transport infrastructure in those areas that allow a lot of growth. To some degree we do this already, but I suspect the connection could be made clearer. The goal is to foster an understanding that saying no to growth is saying no to investment.

While Auckland has done quite well in recent years it seems silly to sit on our hands with regards to governance models and policy frameworks. Not only do we now know a lot more about the strengths and weaknesses of the current set-up, but so much has also changed: Auckland has a new mayor, the city has grown more than expected, house prices are much higher than expected, and we’ve recently won the America’s Cup. More broadly, the Paris Climate Change Accord has been signed; electric, autonomous, and drone technology is “taking off”; the CRL and New Networks are “in train”; and projects like NW Busway/LRT, electrification to Pukekohe, and even “Regional Rapid Rail” are starting to coalesce. At current trends, we’ll need all these things and possibly more — it’s simply a question of timing. It’s time for us to give our policy frameworks some grunt.

It’s an exciting time for Auckland, and New Zealand more generally. We’re wealthier than we’ve ever been, and we’re growing faster than any time I can remember; there is much to look forward to. The seeds for our next downturn, however, ave already been sown: Wounds from Auckland’s housing affordability crisis will cut deep, leave major social scars, and take time and money to heal. It’s foolish to pretend otherwise. So let’s make housing affordability a point of national pride, not shame. Unless of course you’d rather keep me out of the country ;).

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61 comments

  1. Wall-o-text warning

    Seems the preamble to what I posted this morning on a similar issue.

    First the Auckland and Unitary Plans. The problem is the Auckland Plan is covered by the Local Government Act while the Unitary Plan is an RMA document. An RMA document you can enforce the Auckland Plan has no teeth nor balls.

    Solution? Take the Auckland and Unitary Plans out of their respective pieces of legislation and bundle it under a new piece of legislation – a Urban/Built Environment and Building Act. The Auckland Plan would sit at the top and dictate to the Unitary Plan with both being able to be enforced.

    For the rest Stu you need to go into the fourth dimension.

    The Regional Rapid Rail scheme illustrates some very deep flaws and limitations in our systems. Cue bringing in a Planning super Ministry

    Formally it would be known as the Ministry of Planning and the Environment and it would have four major departments.
    The Geography Department as the overall watchdog, enforcer and coordinator when two or more of the departments are involved
    The Department of the Environment to handle the Resource Management Act (which is meant to manage the effects on the Natural Environment)
    The Department of the Urban/Built Environment and Building to handle a new Urban/Building and Building Environment Act (managing the urban environment and also absorbing the Building Act)
    New Zealand Infrastructure Agency (chief agency overseeing and investor of roads, rail tracks and sea ports)

     
    Transport functions like licensing, Road User Charges and registrations remain with NZTA and the Ministry of Transport.
     
    Existing functions on handling the effects of the natural environment outside of an urban centre/limits would remain with the Resource Management Act and the new Department of the Environment. All urban matters including water and air inside an urban area would shift to the new Department of Urban/Built Environment and Building division including the Auckland Unitary Plan and the Auckland (Spatial) Plan. The NZIA handles the investment and maintenance of the State Highways and the heavy rail network while also sharing costs on intra-regional schemes like bus-ways and light rail. NZTA would continue providing OPEX subsidies to things like the busses and passenger trains.
    The Geography Department is the overall watchdog, enforcer and coordinator of the entire Ministry:
    Watchdog: To oversee the other Departments making sure they are delivering per policy requirements
    Enforcer: Pretty much the butt kicker if the Departments are slacking off from policy requirements. They can also bring about prosecutions if other entities or persons break the laws set about for or by the respective Departments
    Coordinator: when a major inter-regional planning and development exercise is undertaken spanning multiple entities across multiple jurisdictions and agencies the Geography Department is the one that sits on top of everything making sure the planning and delivery of the projects occur. Its watchdog and enforcer functions can apply if things go sideways

     
    The New Zealand Infrastructure Agency oversees the roads, tracks and governance of the ports. It has full access to the National Land Transport Fund which can be used to build said roads and tracks (note: track access fees would contribute to the NLTF just as road user charges and fuel taxes do from roads).

    quote context: http://pllqt.it/2pDnuB

    Interesting of note that the Aussie State Governments run Planning and Environment Ministries.

    1. Where do housing and social issues fit; how do they feed into the over-seeing Geography Department? Housing could be part of the Built Environment. What about other social issues?

      1. The Building act is under the Department of Urban/Built Environment and Building so the Unitary Plan can cover that when now it can’t.
        Social issues are currently in the Auckland Plan as is so the overarching Department of Geography would be the researchers and coordinator
        However MSD is still the overarching partner as it now with The Southern Initiative

      2. I think it’s hard to have one ministry that solves all issues. To support what Ben is saying (i think): we may need a place-making ministry to balance the mobility focus of mot and nzta. It’s like all of our transport investment is focused on moving stuff around, and no focus on what that means for places.

        That doesn’t mean we can solve social issues with place-making. But we may mitigate them. Does that make sense? Or is that too much of a cop-out?

        1. Definitely not a cop out. I think the devil would be in the details… I think you and Ben are getting to the core of the issue.

  2. I have recently returned from a holiday on the Gold Coast and during the time there I was impressed by the affordability of the housing stock, and the quality of the public transport. I left with the impression that the (Gold Coast) Council was doing a better job for their residents than Auckland. One major difference is that they support a lot of apartment developments.

    1. The gold coast city council do quite well with land use that is true. Note that public transportation is primarily the responsibility of the QLD state. In general I find the public transport pretty bloody good, albeit very radial: cross town journeys are not catered for very well at all. The GC is actually the exception in this respect.

  3. I’m intrigued by the market.

    Median house price in Brisbane is $515k yet a 2-bedroom apartment is $500 rental
    REINZ puts latest median house price in Auckland at 830k. It does not cost $820 a week to rent a 2-bedroom apartment.

    1. It looks like rents and house prices are more in line in Brisbane, which suggests speculation and panic are not playing nearly as bigger role in the housing market than they are here. Naturally the next question is why.

      1. Yes well-spotted. I think the relationship between capital prices and rents in Brisbane is closer to what it should be. In AKL the price of buying a house/apartment is out of whack with rents. As to why, I’d say investor demand. QLD has both stamp duty and CGT.

        1. Not sure about stamp duty and CGT as Victoria and NSW both have these as well and it doesn’t seem to have helped.

          I think you have hit the nail on the head with elasticity of supply though, it is very hard for the vicious cycle of speculation and panic to get going if supply keeps undercutting any significant price rises.

          1. Yes im a bit skeptical about taxes as well. I think you implement them if they make sense in the overall tax system. In NZs case perhaps we just need to tighten the brightline test?

            Elasticity of supply is best way to address rent-seeking. No doubt.

        2. I think at least a small part is the rapid rise in house prices in Auckland has left rents lagging a bit. Someone who brought their rental sometime ago is probably making good money off current rents and probably isn’t in a hurry to put rents up. someone who brought more recently is probably making enough capital gains they aren’t too worried if rents lag behind a bit.

        3. Yes, on your point about rent, in Narrow Neck we rented a 5 year old large (4 bdrm, 3 bathroom) house for $1,000 per week. However, we could never have afforded to buy that same house.

          Big disconnect between rents and prices in Auckland.

  4. How much of this relates to southeast Queensland in general or to the Brisbane city council specifically?
    I am interested to know if the relationship between Brisbane council (the biggest single council in Australia I think) and its state government makes things easier.
    This may be an advantage of a federal system although many Brisbane people remember when Queensland was run by a group of corrupt rednecks (Bjelke Pedersen/ Hinze etc) who did all they could to keep Brisbane down.

    1. Apparently it was very corrupt. Thankfully akl is not so much.

      If i was to hazard a guess I’d say one of the important reasons Brisbane has done well with housing affordability in spite of its other issues, is because it has little time for snobs who oppose housing on the grounds that 1) they wouldn’t live there and/or 2) they have a house.

      NZ and AKL is a wee bit snobby IMO.

      P.s. i say that as someone who can hob-snob with the best of them.

      1. Lovely little book from Oz called “The Art of Frugal Hedonism” has a chapter in it titled “Don’t be a snooty bum bum”. Now I”m quite prepared to admit I drink instant coffee, eat cheese from the Why Not? shop and drink cask wine (sometimes). 🙂

  5. This seems to a layman an intelligent, balanced and relevant post. Comparing Auckland to Brisbane is far more rational than “the world’s most liveable city” mantra – although I’m sure Len’s motto irritated more than just me into an interest in town planning.

    From limited visits to Brisbane and South East Queensland I’d make two points: Brisbane seems to have a decent rail network so it is possible to intensify in out-lying areas – compare that to my experience in North Shore where every new property in say Beachhaven impacts the traffic congestion in Birkdale, Glenfield, Northcote. Second point is shade. In North Shore the main roads are along ridges with properties falling away either side; so a tall building on the north side of a road can put multiple properties in the shade but the same building on the other side of the road will have minor effect. And shade matters. In Cairns the sun is above you and in Auckland it is invariably at an angle and Brisbane somewhere between the two. With Auckland’s climate being in the shade from autumn to spring leaves you cold, damp and depressed whereas shade in Brisbane is a pleasure. The point is simply that our planning rules need to give more priority to building shadow than Brisbane’s.

    1. Yes, I agree. And the only issue I have with Stu’s excellent post is missing this point about shade. I’m happy to call six storey medium density. But I don’t want high density in Auckland then. We need the sun. There’s a whole lot of housing that can be built at the four storey limit, with all the benefits that brings. I’d keep higher than four storey to a small CBD area.

      1. From experience in London I know they took a while to realise you can achieve high density with rows of small terraced houses (usually only 2 or 3 storey) that matched the density achieved by tower blocks. Note that most high rise buildings in London’s East End are from the sixties and seventies (since I have not lived there for over 20 years please correct me if there is a flurry of new tower blocks being built).

        However in Birkdale and Northcote I can point to places a six storey property would have minimal effect (except on transport).

        1. Yes true, and along the southern slope leading to the NW motorway in Pt Chev, it would be better to have multistorey shading the motorway, with green space between there and Great North Rd.

      2. Funny you mention that – i had a couple of paragraphs on shading but deleted them to get the word count down.

        My take on shading is this: if your neighbour can plant a tree, which grows to a certain height – say 30m – and you do not have rights to object, then the same should go for buildings. Hence the 6 storey limit.

        1. Ah, but you see, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. ‘Tis a lucky tree to get to that size, with all the redesigning and placemaking and reallocation of tree space that’s going on, and a mature tree needs special provision. Whereas a building can be built quickly, and needs special restriction… 🙂

        2. In the ‘burbs, another aspect of the shade issue is that there needs to be a planning regulation that stops people using prime sunny space for garaging. Often the amount of sun a property gets is just from one direction now. If that is the street side, using that sun for garaging is poor use of a sustainable resource, and it’s robbing future residents of sun. If this had been implemented 10 or 20 years ago, there would be no pressure to add a garage on the street side just to meet the demands of ‘the market’.

        3. If the building is no wider than the tree and takes just as long to grow to 30m. Also preferably deciduous buildings that provide dappled shade in the summer and light through in winter.
          And thinking about the 40 metre tree that neighbours my home (it is to the South!) I would get rather upset if it was full of nosey people staring at me.

          1. some trees are very wide! But I take your point — and I think it’s a good one.

            I’d actually be happy bringing our definition of middle-density down a bit from they have in Brisbane. Even five storeys, as of right, would be better than the kerfuffle we saw during the UP process, where even 3 storeys was portrayed as “high density”.

          2. Are you familiar with A Pattern Language, Stu? I personally think it has stood the test of time well. One pattern I like is that you should only ever build on 50% of the land – and in places like New York where that’s no longer possible, you should have the roofs covered with roof gardens and patios.

            Another one is that there shouldn’t be a sudden step up from one density to the next, a three storey building could be next to a four storey building, etc. Hard to regulate, but I think an area the UP has got wrong is at zone edges. If your neighbour is allowed to go high on your boundary, you should be allowed to as well, but on that side only.

          3. I love A Pattern Language; such a beautiful book.

            It’s guidelines are fairly malleable though. The 50% rule, for example, needs to be combined with a definition of “area”. What would you propose?

          4. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to nut out here as I work on a design. It definitely shouldn’t include the road area when looking at a suburb that is currently in single dwellings. In the CBD I’m not sure. Once you start overlaying the need for the ecological services that plants can provide, and the need to easily be able to walk to a grass area, and to an area of planted beauty, and to have some public “demonstration” type spaces :), you start needing a bit of public space. I think it would still be better to not include the roads, but once the road area gets reallocated to better uses than traffic, you can probably include that area. You certainly can’t include the motorway area – that’s dead and gone.

            I’m intending to look at the 9% rule maximum area for parking, too, when I get a chance. It seems pretty high, but then the at grade carparks in Auckland are visually oppressive, and are possibly higher than this.

            Happy to say that A Pattern Language is probably my favourite book. I’m such a geek.

          5. I’m thinking about those zone edges, ideally they would not be visible if there’s some slack in the capacity allowed by the zoning.

            If you would walk from the fringe to the centre of a city you’d gradually see the landscape change, similar to the missing middle graphic. For example a given area may allow 4 storeys but actually you’d see a mix between maybe 2, 3 and 4-storey buildings. If the zoning code changes to 6 storeys, you’d start seeing those as well, but still mixed with smaller buildings. And so on.

          6. Yeah, I think you’re right. I don’t think the zoning rules can help with avoiding harsh juxtaposition when there’s such a lag between zoning changes and development.

            I was mixing up the aesthetics issue with a rights issue, I guess. It doesn’t seem logical to me that if your neighbour can go high, that you just have to stay low, even on that side. More rational is if you can build within the ‘shadow’, but still low for the lower-density zone neighbour.

            Especially if the zoning has changed since you bought.

  6. Stu you hit the nail on the head in that NZ does not integrate urban spatial planning with transport provision. I think NZ cities should be receiving transport provision in advance of urban development -but that is poorly co-ordinated in NZ -it is a political lolly scramble -leading to feasts and famines (mostly famines because at heart kiwis are miserly -I think we have too much Scottish blood).

    A comparison of Brisbane, Auckland and Christchurch shows how poorly spatial planning and transport provision is integrated in NZ.

    Brisbane has generously allowed for growth. This has two characteristics.

    Firstly, due to generous allowances in spatial planning there is plenty of competition wrt land-use -lots of possibilities for the city to grow up (as Stu details) or out -this competition prevents land and house prices escalating too high. I would argue Brisbane’s housing affordability compared to the world is not the best, for instance, Tokyo is better -but in Australasia, Brisbane is really competitive.

    Secondly, Brisbane is generous with its transport provision. Look at how the planned satellite township of Springfield (33km from Brisbane CBD) is integrated into both the motorway and commuter rail network. This allows Springfield residents to access the CBD within 30 minutes travel by both modes. This probably means that Springfield residents can access at least half of Brisbane’s metropolitan area within 30 minutes of travel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springfield,_Queensland

    Compare that with Auckland -because of a lack of spatial planning there is not an abundance of development opportunities (both up and out) that can be affordably built, that will give residents access to the CBD or half of Auckland’s metropolitan area with only 30 minutes of travel. In Auckland the main issue is affordability, although congestion/poor access is a close second.

    In Greater Christchurch there is development opportunities -but only by road -leading to sprawling cul-de-sac dominated peripheral township’s and suburbs. Historically there has been battles between developers and regional government because their is no funding to integrate development with transport provision (especially a rapid transit network -which Christchurch lacks entirely). This is why Ecan objected to the Pegasus Town (25km from ChCh CBD) development -delaying the project and consequently bankrupting the developers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pegasus_Town

    The end result is Christchurch has the affordability characteristics of Brisbane but not the transport charastrics. Pegasus residents cannot access Christchurch CBD or half of the Greater Christchurch metropolitan area within 30 minutes of travel -despite this metropolitan area being only a fraction of the size. Christchurch looks like it will repeat all the mistakes Auckland made.

    1. Hopefully if Labour get in they can push through with their plans for commuter rail. It’s going to be a long slog getting a good network with the existing land use, the central station and track alignments hindering it’s success but I hope Chch can push through as it will be worth it.

      1. I think so too, Jezza. In fact, I believe Labour’s commuter rail for Christchurch proposal is one of their most under rated policies. Done right it could turn Christchurch from a provincial farming hub city (which is what National want) into a genuine affordable competitive mid-size global city. This could be an enormously important transition for NZ. It would mean over half of NZ live in urban environments which are valued for what they are, rather than the hinterland that surrounds them.

  7. Stu, on a personal note. I have never met you, but I feel sad that you have left NZ because the country has failed to provide you and your partner with some pretty basic opportunities -decent affordable housing in a place where you can access desireable employment.

    1. Oh Brendon that’s lovely of you to say. Thank you.

      I wouldn’t feel too sad on our behalf: we’ll be back at some point. But perhaps we will live in Mangonui rather than AKL. Or Akaroa. Or dunedin. Maybe we can meet then? Along with our gaggle of labradoodles.

      My point is that my partner and I have a lot of choice. We are very lucky. I know this. Not everyone has the options we have and I really think people without options are the people we need to worry about. What do you do when rents rise but you aren’t able to freely move?

      And I think they are the people who have been most hurt by housing affordability issues.

      That’s a long-winded and romantic way of saying “yes let’s grab a beer and some tapas together sometime soon.”

      1. Stu I would love to have a beer and tapas sometime : ). If you are ever down in Canterbury give me a shout -Patrick and Peter have my email address. I am glad you are positive about your future -you are right there is nothing to be sad about that.

        I think though it is sad for NZ that we are losing people like you. But of course the biggest concern regarding the housing crisis is the people who do not choices, who cannot escape…..

        P.S check out my article on spatial economics -as an economist you might like it -I think it explains some of theory behind the practice which you describe
        https://medium.com/land-buildings-identity-and-values/successful-cities-understand-spatial-economics-95c272ac04c9

  8. This is the first time that I have ever come across the term “Fonzie flat” but I was able to immediately visualise what it meant without any further clarification or definition. I guess that would be true of many of us who grew up watching TV in the 1970s. Happy days, indeed.

    1. Brisbane does feel very 1970s sometimes. I say that as someone born in 1981 who has only a faded glimmer of memories of timeless relatives to base their opinion on. Happy days indeed.

    2. I chuckle whenever I remember that Henry Winkler said he stopped Happy Days because Fonzie as a young man could get away with his womanising, but as he aged, he was just creepy. Some ideas have their time and then they have to pass…

  9. I absolutely agree with you about the Auckland Plan. Had it been an RMA document it would have had a lot more thought put into it and it would have gone through a robust challengable process. As it was it was it came about in much the same way the former ARC used to knock out reports that were destined to be used as door-stops. Had the Auckland Plan been an RMA document it wouldn’t have just reflected the thoughts of a few. Had the Auckland Plan been an RMA document it would have had greater status when the Unitary plan was developed. Even the Council staff eventually got that it was a statutory document developed under ‘other’ legislation so it had the same legal status as a water safety plan or a guideline to mental health or a policy on lighthouses. That meant the Auckland Plan was considered but not binding. Had the Auckland Plan been an RMA document the Council might have put their A-team on it.

    1. yeah lots of problems with the recognition under the RMA.

      I don’t think a robust/challengeable process would have actually changed the Auckland Plan myself. Perhaps the most controversial elements were the allocation of greenfields/brownfields and transport projects. But even the allocation ended up being preserved by the hearings panel, and transport projects were only vaguely discussed, as per ShapingSEQ.

      Rather than developing the Auckland Plan as an RMA document, perhaps we need to simply amend the RMA so as to allow higher weight to be given to spatial planning documents that are developed under, say, LGA/LGAAA processes?

      I’m not a legal expert, so others may have better ideas on how it might work. Just seems to me that spatial planning needs to combine local government and resource management, so it’s not that it even should fall entirely under the RMA.

  10. “And given all the work that went into ATAP, how do people feel for Central Government to turn around and randomly announce massive investment in transport in Auckland? Regardless of your political stripes, and Labour do this too, do we really want planeloads of new transport projects to be dropped on us from up high every three years? Projects that could drastically change our long term ideas of what will be built, and which depend on the outcome of the election? ”

    Yes felt a bit grumpy with the transport announcements. “These are Auckland’s decisions not Wellington’s.” But the alternative of just announcing a funding increase isn’t going to carry the political sell as a specific project or mode promotion. Fearful of a Clyde Dam scenario where the location of the dam became highly politicised and it ended up being built in a sub-optimum site and ruinously over budget. Hopefully we can retain a flexible response if unforeseen issues arise.

    1. yes. Perhaps we need to take the transport sugar bowl away from central government? They’ve effectively demonstrated they can’t be trusted. At least National have.

  11. Putting aside the debate about houses versus apartments, Qld government has had policies to keep housing affordability under control for a long time. Way back in the late 1980s and 90s there were rules that local governments had to have identified seven years land supply (i.e. enough developable land to cater for 7 years of current sales rate) zoned for residential. This sort of rule really puts the brakes on land bankers and speculators.

    It is not perfect – there have been booms and busts in the Qld property market, especially on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. But they have managed housing supply over a long period of time.

    1. Having to identify 7 years of land supply – did this have any effect on landfill placement? I would hope it might minimise the number of people having to live/work/play on top of landfills.

      1. Not to my knowldege. The rule was pretty simple as I recall and they could designate the supply anywhere. So it did not stop sprawl either. But it did keep a lid on prices.

  12. It is MUCH cheaper to build in Australia and that is a factor that Auckland will always struggle with, and one that will limit the supply of affordable market delivered apartments.

    1. yes I get that feeling too. Do you have ideas on why? Is it purely construction costs?

      I mean, their labour rates are higher.

      1. Isn’t their building code of a lower standard, I remember years back noticing how wide spaced they could space wall studs compared to NZ (but that may have changed now) & so I assume that generally other aspects would be less “over built” than ours?

    2. Yes and it has a lot to do with monopolies on the supply of building materials in NZ. Labourers are not paid more in NZ than in Oz. Nor does economy of scale explain it. In Australia the biggest markets (Sydney, melb) are the dearest. The only small dear ones are remote places like Darwin, and it has come back since the gas boom ended. NZ would do well to train more builders, carpenters etc too. In Auckland the raw land cost is crazy, but that relates to land supply and lack of medium density options.

    3. We’re also significantly more expensive than Europe. And that’s despite the fact that houses over there come with all those bells and whistles like double stone walls with insulation in between, double glazed insulating windows with proper frames, central heating, cellar, etc.

    1. hmmm … but QLD economy is about the same size as NZ. So if we could get our apartment construction cranking then is there any reason that we couldn’t get the same economies of scale.

      Or do you think those economies of scale reflect the national economy more so than QLD? I just feel that economies of scale are — to some degree — endogeneously determined, so if enable more apartments to be built, then we will start to realise said economies.

      1. There is definitely an economies of scale effect in NZ in my experience. In Akl during the recession apartment building almost dropped to nothing. During the uptick, acute capacity constraints have popped up. For example precast concrete got to a point where there were lead times greater than a year. Developers either stopped projects or even considered completely different construction methods.

        The number of suppliers or specialist subcontractors in particular areas are often as low as 2 or 3. In some cases specialist kit (where someone has bothered to bring it into the country) will sit idle between projects and associated skills can be lost. In other words there is a limit to the level of specialisation you can have in a given market size. So people in NZ might use the same “Jack of all trades” kit for several different sub optimal applications whereas elsewhere they could use more specialist kit.

        From my experience in the UK, the construction industry there is part of the wider European industry. People could book in some plant from the continent and it could be mobilised in a relatively short space of time. The same will be true for Oz to a lesser extent. Land transport connections really matter. Brisbane in particular will be able to get all sorts of stuff from Sydney in a very short time frame and from even Melbourne if necessary. In NZ I have worked on projects where kit is brought in from Oz for the project. Everything goes in containers, it takes a long time and is expensive. (By kit I am talking about things like cranes, piling rigs etc).

  13. Yes those “3 events” did really show the short comings in our system. Do think some overarching governance on this would be better….haven’t thought too much about it…interesting discussion but need to catch up on the comments in the weekend. Perhaps we just need to fine tune our existing system a bit more.

  14. Regarding to the point: More explicit links between capital investment in transport infrastructure and household growth

    The problem is chicken and egg. Without transport infrastructure, intensification cannot happen as residence will complain and apartments won’t sells.

    Without intensification, the transport infrastructure’s business case would not support new investment.

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