The other day we talked about Infrastructure NZ (INZ) calling for a pipeline of projects at their annual conference last week. They also used that conference to release a discussion document calling for satellite city around Paerata. This was picked up by media, such as this report by the Herald on the Sunday.
The Government is interested in a plan to build a new satellite city in South Auckland capable of eventually housing 500,000 people.
Housing Minister Phil Twyford told the Herald today he is very interested in work being done by Infrastructure New Zealand for a satellite city centred round the small settlement of Paerata where Wesley College is situated, just north of Pukekohe.
Infrastructure New Zealand chief executive Stephen Selwood said the city could eventually extend northwest to Karaka and across the Pahurehure Inlet to Weymouth.
A discussion document from Infrastructure New Zealand says land around the rail line at Paerata could initially add 30,000 homes on unzoned land priced for $450,000.
By 2050, the new city could have tens of thousands of homes serving a population of 500,000 people within 30 minutes of central Auckland, including non-stop rail services and modern trams to the airport.
It appears to me that INZ fail to grasp, or at least wilfully ignore, what cities are and why they exist. Starting from the premise that intensification is too hard and un-liked in the suburbs, they seem to assume you can just magic up a dense city far from anywhere and that people will flock to live there. It reminds me of the stories we hear of from time to time of huge, brand new cities built in China that are almost ghost towns. Closer to home we only have to look at the likes of Albany, Botany and Manukau. At one point, each of them were thought of in the same way and nothing INZ are suggesting now inspires me to think this time will be any different.
While their document does seem to contain a few good points hidden throughout its pages but they’re generally mixed in between a liberal amount of sprawl promotion and pushing for building infrastructure for the sake of building infrastructure.
Much of the thrust of the report has been boiled down into this video they’ve published to go alongside the report. It contains a healthy amount of greenwash and the graphics almost look like they’ve come from a Sim City type game. I can’t help but wonder if the policy has too.
There are a number of things to discuss about this idea.
There is already development underway around Paerata as part of the Wesley development. That is estimated to have capacity for up to 5,000 dwellings and is (the solid tan colour). There is more land is nearby zoned as “Future Urban Zone” (yellow) nearby.
You’ll note that Future Urban Zone doesn’t include up around Karaka and the Pahurehure Inlet. You may recall that during the Unitary Plan there was a debate about exactly that location with some of the land owners pushing heavily for it to be included. The Independent Hearings Panel ultimately rejected the idea due to it needing substantial infrastructure, such as the Weymouth Bridge, to support it. The Weymouth bridge alone was estimated over a decade ago to cost about $1 billion. Probably one of the reasons why INZ are pushing for it.
It’s also worth noting that it’s these days it’s not available land that’s the biggest barrier to greenfield development but land that’s serviced with infrastructure. Just the core transport networks for the planned greenfield developments in the North, Northwest and South alone are expected to cost close to $200k per dwelling. That cost is notable as INZ suggest their new city would cost just $77k per section. This is likely in part because they treat the recent Transport for Future Urban Growth network as a base case. Given how much extra capacity it must have it just confirms how overbuilt those networks are.
As part of the transport upgrades they want to see the southern line duplicated to four lanes with all level crossings removed which they claim will cost $2 billion to deliver. This is in part to provide express services to the city centre. This sounds at least in part like our Regional Rapid Rail proposal.
Given the size that would be needed to support 500k people, it seems almost inevitable that this ‘satellite city’ would end up merged with the existing urban area. In other words this isn’t a satellite that’s being proposed but just one big extension to the existing urban area.
Below are a couple of comments from the executive summary I wanted to comment on:
The allocations of housing and employment growth in the Unitary Plan are misaligned with Auckland’s infrastructure services. The Independent Panel on the Unitary Plan assumed infrastructure could be provided to meet growth. Transport modelling shows that it cannot. Growth is everywhere and nowhere and lumpy infrastructure investment cannot keep up
I believe they’re talking about ATAP when referring to the transport modelling. In the actual document they comment about how improvements to congestion can only be made by road pricing which they make out to be a bad thing. This is odd given they’ve been some of the strongest and loudest backers of road pricing or tolling.
Paerata’s land is still cheap, but rising quickly. If bought at today’s prices, an average section of raw land would cost $17,000. Three years ago, it cost $10,000. Land in Dairy Flat is over twice the price, rising faster and sections are smaller so land aggregation more difficult. If authorities can move before the market in Paerata, land value can be captured and used to offset infrastructure costs
I do think we should look at all options to pay for the infrastructure that’s needed. However, if this such a good deal, why don’t INZ or their members buy it. This sounds suspiciously like some land bankers in the area trying to get the government/council to buy them out.
Auckland must start using growth to catalyse the investments the city wants, not letting growth determine the investments it has to make
I couldn’t agree more and is why the city has pushed for significant public transport with projects like the City Rail Link and Light Rail. Of course, this isn’t quite what INZ mean when they think of “using growth”.
I can’t help but think that INZ would be better served by working out how the industry is going to scale up to build the infrastructure and houses we need. They’re also clearly now on board with the idea of a compact city, well connected by walking, cycling and PT next we just need to get them to realise that it’s entirely possible to deliver that within the existing urban area which will benefit even more people.