The Auckland Plan is the region’s over-arching strategic document to shape the way Auckland grows over the next 30 years.
The original plan was generally pretty good – bold and aspirational about Auckland’s role in the world and built around the dearly departed vision of making Auckland the world’s most liveable city. But it’s nearly six years since the original plan was published and the website doesn’t even work anymore (why have you pulled it down Auckland Council). Obviously a lot has changed in that time, which becomes clear when you take a look through the transport chapter or at the development strategy map which sits at the heart of the plan.
It was the Auckland Plan set the strategy that fed into the Unitary Plan, that highlighted the key role of the City Rail Link to Auckland’s future and much more. The previously government were not particularly fond of the plan, especially due to it’s position on housing and transport issues.
Of course the plan wasn’t perfect, especially parts of its transport chapter that “talked the good talk” before including a long list of roading projects. The Auckland Plan is where the recently cancelled East West Link first emerged. It wasn’t even in the draft but was suddenly catapulted up to become second equal most important project. The Plan also suggested the hugely expensive and destructive Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project would need to be built in the 2020s. Thankfully ATAP pushed that back by 20 years.
Throughout this year the council have been going through a process of “refreshing” the plan. We provided some feedback on an early version – emphasising the need for the plan to be bold and outline a long-term vision for what we want transport in Auckland to be like and achieve. To take a more “Decide and provide” approach rather than “predict and provide” approach that’s happened in the past and which has heavily depended on flawed modelling. With the election of a new government, whose perspective on transport is likely to be much more aligned with that of the Council, a particular opportunity exists for the Auckland Plan to truly provide a bold vision for a different transport future.
The change in government has obviously come only recently and is unlikely to yet have filtered through to the plan’s development. However, a draft of the transport content going to the Council’s Planning Committee meeting tomorrow (pages 73-89 of the report) suggests quite a bit of extra work is required to ensure the plan sets a bold direction for transport and isn’t full of bland nothing statements. That’s not to say it’s a terrible mess, but more that it just feels very watered down. Anyway, let’s take a bit of a look in detail – starting with an overview of the “directions” and “focus areas”:
There’s obviously a fairly strong link through from ATAP in a few of these statements. Although Focus Area 4, to make walking, cycling and PT preferred travel choices is something ATAP really ignored because it was only worried about PT where it might alleviate congestion. On the negative side of the equation, there’s nothing obvious here about the role of transport in shaping quality urban environments, nor any clear connection between transport and health (positive links like more active transport helping people be healthier and negative ones like the effects of vehicle pollution on people’s health).
After a rather hard to follow couple of pages discussing context, there’s then around a page on each of the directions and focus areas. I’ll run through a few of the more interesting things I found in some of them. Firstly, in Direction 1 there seems to be a fairly strong hint towards the Auckland Plan supporting our Regional Rapid Rail proposal – although the “Rail PDF” was nowhere to be found.
In Direction 2 there’s some suggestion of a big change in how we design our streets, so they’re much more about people and places rather than just infrastructure for moving vehicles. The language is unfortunately a bit hard to follow through being unnecessarily repetitive, or stopping short of going “…and this means we need to design our streets like x,y and z”, but it seems like there could be the formation of some really good and long-needed direction setting in this area:
While the heading of Focus Area 4 is good, “Make walking, cycling and public transport preferred choices for many more Aucklanders”, the text sitting underneath it is disappointingly vague and empty. This is probably the worst section, which is strange given its title sets such a strong direction:
In addition to detailing the directions and focus areas, three “case studies” are included at the end of the section. A few of these are referred to throughout the text but not all included at the back, perhaps the others are still a work in progress. Anyway, the three that have been included are:
- Making Auckland more cycle friendly.
- Access and Connectivity in 2050 Auckland
- Equitable transport access across Auckland
These case studies contain the greatest level of detail, but also feel incomplete. For example here’s how the cycling one currently ends:
It’s also important to note what isn’t included in the Auckland Plan transport content. There’s no list of projects, no maps of the major networks (although they’re referred to in Direction 1) and really not much detail at all that provides guidance for how tricky trade-off decisions will be made around things like supporting new growth areas or fixing current problems, building more infrastructure in response to demand, or looking to shape that demand more.
I understand that the Auckland Plan needs to stay pretty “high level” as it covers such a wide range of topics and it is ultimately up to other plans to deal with the details and implementation, but it feels like that this has perhaps been taken to the extreme. This leaves a document that promises a lot and hints at a lot of the right things, but is so watered down and dumbed down that ultimately it’s hard to know what the Plan really stands for and wants to achieve. If that happens then it will be used by officials to justify any and all positions, making the whole plan utterly pointless.
Perhaps with a new government the council can dial up up the boldness setting – I certainly hope so, because currently it just feels bland.