Yesterday the Council’s Planning Committee approved a draft version of the Auckland Plan. This will be consulted on next year – at the same time as the Long Term Plan, the Council’s 10 year budget. A little press release after the meeting confirmed the important step:
Councillor Chris Darby, Planning Committee chair, says the Auckland Plan is an enormous task that sets out a grand vision for the next 30 years that is dynamic, exciting and almost changing by the day.
“The Plan is the way we share with Aucklanders how the council will address all the big issues facing our region. It provides certainty to Aucklanders, Mana whenua, government and the private sector about where and how we will grow over 30 years further reinforced by our other strategy and delivery plans.
“Further work and public consultation in the new year will help to shape the Plan to further reflect the views of our communities.
“We also expect to see some significant contributions from the government in the new year as it develops its government policy statements on the big issues like transport, housing and urban regeneration which are all components within our Auckland Plan”, says Councillor Darby.
Given how much of a big deal the first Auckland Plan was, this “refresh” seems to have generally passed under the radar. We briefly discussed the transport section a few weeks back, highlighting a concern that it was a bit bland. It seems that some minor subsequent changes have occurred, but overall the “Transport and Access” remains a bit bland. Hopefully through the public consultation process and with a government now interested in a bold vision for transport, that might change in the coming months.
Alongside the transport section, the other part of the Plan which is of most interest is the Development Strategy. It runs from pages 222-279 of the Planning Committee’s agenda and is perhaps the most important part of the Plan, outlining the key strategy for how Auckland should grow over the next 30 years. Quite a lot of the Development Strategy is carried over from past plans, either the old Auckland Plan or the Unitary Plan. But it seems that a few key changes have been made, and not all of them make sense. Let’s run through two key issues:
- The new “nodes” of Manukau, Westgate and Albany.
- The strange and inconsistent approach to “Development Areas”
It seems that a key initiative of the new plan is to “raise up” Manukau, Albany and Westgate from being three of ten Metropolitan centres in the old Auckland Plan (and the Unitary Plan) into being “nodes”. The plan describes this concept of nodes as:
Pukekohe and Warkworth were “satellite towns” in the old Auckland Plan, so it seems like renaming them as rural nodes doesn’t have much impact. However, picking Albany, Wesgate and Manukau is a pretty strong signal that these are seen as the strongest and most important of the metropolitan centres. This probably will have an impact over time, especially if it means that sub-regional facilities get targeted into these locations and funding gets focused on upgrades in Westgate, rather than Henderson, for example.
The concept of “lifting up” some of the Metropolitan Centres makes sense. You don’t have to be a genius to realise that Manukau is a more important centre than Papakura, or that Newmarket and Takapuna are quite different to Botany and Sylvia Park. It’s also pretty obvious that Manukau is well suited to playing this role for South Auckland, the issue is more around Albany and Westgate.
Both these places have developed over the past 10-20 years, with Westgate still being at the very early stages of its development. Both are, to be brutally honest, bloody horrible planning failures.
- Albany is ruined by its disastrous loopy street network and Massey University being in the wrong location, cut off from rapid transit and any other semblance of a town centre by a horrific expressway.
- Westgate is little more than a big box retail outlet with some pretty pavings, and probably won’t become much more than that for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t even have a semblance of rapid transit and probably won’t for about a decade. Probably most famous for a very critical Auditor General inquiry and an empty mall.
Surely neither of these places contribute to the vision of the future we want for Auckland, unless they are to radically change. For starters they’re not really viable development places on their own. Just look at how long it’s taken for Albany to develop just to it’s present poor state. They’re remnants of pathetic late 20th century planning that made everything subservient to the car which goes against other goals for the city. While they link closely to major greenfield growth areas in the future, we must remember that most of Auckland’s future growth will happen in brownfield areas. It also seems strange that after investing so much in New Lynn, it seems the Auckland Plan is essentially abandoning it as a priority growth area.
If Westgate and Albany (and Manukau, to be fair) are to fulfil their potential as true “nodes” and become these second tier sub-regional centres, they are going to need to be radically changed from their current form. It’s hard to see how this is possible without massive intervention from the Council. Developers aren’t about to simply the kind of urban centres the council wants simply because of some lines and colours on a map. Perhaps Westgate hasn’t yet been completely ruined in the same way as Albany’s with its disastrous loopy street pattern, but there’s little doubt both will need a radically different plan from what’s currently happening.
The other new concept in the Auckland Plan is “development areas”. These appear to be the locations within existing parts of the city where the greatest amount of change is expected to occur over the next 30 years.
Picking some winners in terms of where to focus efforts in enabling large-scale change is sensible. I would imagine that the new government would focus on these areas for their KiwiBuild programme or where Urban Development Authorities might end up playing a major role. Which is why, when you look at the maps and sequencing of them, it’s a bit weird how small and constrained the Development Areas are and also how some key growth areas are pushed out from being immediate priorities.
A whole bunch of nonsensical issues emerge with the map and sequencing table:
- Surely if we’re going to be spending billions on light-rail from the city to the Airport, and from the city to Westgate, whole swathes of land along these corridors need to become Development Areas, not just a tiny little line along Dominion Road and little else.
- It seems weird that the “Inner West”, which was a 2015-2018 priority in the previous Long Term Plan, now takes a “3 year breather” before once again becoming a priority from 2021 onwards.
- If Albany, Manukau and Westgate are to truly become “nodes” then they will surely be the focus of development for the entire 30 year period, not just the first three years.
- Same for the city centre
- Newmarket has strangely dropped off the list
- The only growth areas south of Manukau are greenfield areas, what happened to Manurewa and Papakura?
I will take a look through some other parts of the Plan in the coming days and weeks, and next year we’ll help guide some submission points.
From first blush it seems that quite a lot more work is needed to get this right.