The final version of the Auckland Plan will be adopted by the Council’s Planning Committee tomorrow. The draft version of the plan was consulted on earlier this year, although it didn’t quite get the attention it perhaps deserved because so much of the focus has been on the 10 year budget and the Regional Fuel Tax.

Our submission on the Auckland Plan reflected the fact that it’s a mixed bag. Lots of great words, a huge gaping hole in the form of no clear targets, and some rather strange decisions around elevating Albany and Westgate to being major “nodes”. The final version of the plan still lacks targets, although there is at least some commitment to exploring them in the future:

We will come back to the issue of targets in the future, but for this post I want to discuss Albany and Westgate in more detail. Conceptually, the Auckland Plan makes a big deal out of these “nodes” – elevating them to something that appears to sit just below the city centre in terms of their importance to the way Auckland will grow and function over time:

Despite the importance placed on these nodes, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of detail in the development strategy around the implications of “what it means to be a node” and how that might be different to other metropolitan centres that aren’t nodes (New Lynn, Newmarket, Takapuna, Sylvia Park, Botany, Henderson and Papakura). The main description of the nodes is:

Albany, Westgate and Manukau, including their catchments, are nodes which are critical to growth across the region.

Over time, they will offer a broad range of:

  • business and employment activity
  • civic services
  • residential options

The nodes will:

  • accommodate substantial growth in the north, northwest and south
  • improve employment choice
  • be interconnected by a range of efficient transport links

Later in the plan there is a little bit more detail on each of the nodes. Somewhat worryingly this often seems to emphasise the role of the nodes in supporting nearby greenfield growth areas and spends a lot of time discussing how accessible each node is to the motorway network. Hardly visionary thinking there!

What’s particularly missing is a more concrete sense of what these nodes should look like, feel like and function like in 30 years’ time. Are they intended to be Auckland’s version of North Sydney or Parramatta? Or our version of Tysons Corner?

Manukau should have been about 2km to the west, thereby not requiring a rail spur, and while still as much a carpark as a place, at least has a good street network and has been developing into a higher density, mixed-use centre for the south in recent years.

As I pointed out a few months ago, getting great urban outcomes from Albany and Westgate is likely to be particularly difficult – because we have essentially done everything wrong in these locations over the past 20-30 years. Just look at that stupid street network in Albany, and as anyone who has driven around there will know, it doesn’t even work well for those in cars:

Albany – a stupid loopy street network means it’s still undeveloped after 20 years

And check out that disastrous motorway severance at Westgate:

Westgate – motorways, carparks and big box retail. Not even a quarter built and already ruined.

I struggle to believe that our long-term growth vision for Auckland is “more Westgate and Albany”.

As Auckland’s population pushes past 2 million, it seems likely and beneficial for some “second tier centres” to emerge and become real focus points for outer parts of the urban area. So the concept of nodes in the north, northwest and south makes sense at a very high level. But Albany and Westgate are going to need a huge amount of work on them to change the way in which they seem to be going, so that they can be the kinds of second-tier centres which have successfully emerged in Sydney and numerous other cities around the world. They will need to be completely different places from their current form, hugely different even to what they are currently planned to be.

Just take a look at what central Parramatta looks like:

Or North Sydney:

Given the massive transformation to both Albany and Westgate that will be required for these places to become true “nodes”, I would have thought the Auckland Plan would more clearly set out the vision for these areas and the necessary steps that will be taken to help these areas fulfil their potential. Alongside the lack of targets, the lack of detail about how the nodes will transform over time, remains the biggest flaws in an otherwise pretty decent Auckland Plan.

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  1. I agree that Albany roads are a mess. One day I travelled by bus to the Albany bus station, and then found it almost impossible to walk up to the shopping centre. No direct path there at all! I won’t be going back!

    1. I agree. I’ve done that walk several times but won’t do it in high summer or on rainy winter days any more. Quicker to take one of the south bound buses from the Albany station such as the 880 or 891. They loop around and pass the northern side of the mall, leaving you just a short walk across the road. Good shelters on both sides of that road.

        1. I am literally writing this from the mall on my smartphone, after catching a local bus to Akoranga Station, then the NEX to Albany, and finally the 880 to the mall. Despite heavy rain at times and drizzle at others, I got up here virtually dry without having to use my umbrella. I’ll do the reverse journey later this afternoon. Interconnecting buses are here to stay.

        2. From Kaipatiki/Birkenhead it’s actually easier to go to Sylvia Park – one bus to Britomart, then the train to Sylvia Park where the station is right next to the mall.
          Albany was designed for the car – its disjointed boxes are impossible to navigate on foot or by public transport. It should really become standard practice to require that all malls are directly connected to rapid transit routes.

  2. +1000

    Westgate began a near-corrupt set of deals between Waitakere Council and a jumped-up minor mall operator (memorialized there as Gunton Drive), and barely survived the GFC. After over a hundred million of local council money, it has no library, no bus stop, no civic space or centre, unused footpaths, no residential, and nothing over three storeys in height. It is a collection of big-box retailers generating zero Research and Development, about five jobs per hectare, and very few of them earning over $20 per hour.

    Albany; almost as bad, but with some minor chance of redemption since it is near to Albany Campus and to the richer parts of North Shore.

    Manukau Town Centre has taken thirty years to come right, and has done so only after massive and continuous intervention and investment by every public sector agency under the sun. It will continue to need that public sector propping for the next decade.

    Henderson, in comparison, has been abandoned by this Council, and the promises by Panuku should not be believed as they have been sitting on acres and acres of land in Henderson Valley Road for a decade despite multiple promises to deliver. Even Glen Eden now has more fresh development than Henderson town centre. And yet it is right next to the rail line, has a well established mall, and good nearby institutions.

    Auckland Council has failed the west.

      1. Manukau, North Shore, Waitakere, and Auckland City, AND the Auckland Regional Council all made massive mistakes that have damaged tens of thousands of families.

        But I am not trying to write them all off.

        – Waitakere Council did successfully defend suburbanization into the Waitakere Ranges.
        – North Shore Council did get a dedicated busway and a dedicated wastewater plant.
        – Manukau did generate massive higher density suburbs and massive urban parks.
        – Auckland Regional Council did generate a major regional park system.
        – And Auckland Council, well, it kept the core cultural institutions.

        Parochial can be good, and Albany and Westgate could have been parochially good.

        They weren’t, aren’t, probably never will be, and that is down to the seduction of local governments by mid-grade developers who waved cash, took more from the public, and failed to design for people first and foremost.

    1. To be fair to Mark Gunton he sees the merits of intensification and he fought long and hard for his proposed 19 or 20 storey re-development of the Milford Mall. It is a shame he couldn’t fund it. My memory is that he has similar plans for another of his more central malls.

  3. At the heart of both Albany and Westgate are flat malls. Which as already been pointed out do not generate many jobs for the amount of space they take up.

    Looking at the two Australian examples the buildings are tall, based around mixed use. Lots of commerce, not doubt some retail and some residental.

    We don’t even do malls well. The two examples given have carparks in the middle and shops around the outside which is the opposite of how they used to be built. It means even going between the shops people are not encouraged to walk but to drive from one end to the other to get closer to the next store they want to shop it.

    My favourite shopping ‘mall’ in Auckland would have to be Botany Town Centre. It at least tries to be pedestrian friendly, has civic buildings – a library, did try and promote commerical areas upstairs rather than completely retail, and even has pedestrian access from the neighbouring residental area. Yes it could be improved on but Albany and Westgate were both a step backwards.

  4. Super post, Matt. We have to talk about this. Infrastructure support for greenfields growth gets government and council promotion at every stage, but once you delve into the environment it will create, there should be no such support. Albany and Westgate were poorly thought through. They can be made more habitable if people redesign them with progressive urban planning ideas. But they must not become massive carparks and motorways simply serving more greenfields growth.

    Only stopping the greenfields growth entirely will shift the focus on how to improve Albany, Westgate, and indeed the whole city. We have covered enough ground. No more. Let’s now improve what we have.

    1. Greenfields growth is a safety valve for the absolutely mental price of lands. It might not be a great one but it’s the only one we have, and there isn’t a huge swathe of alternatives in the pipeline. Meanwhile, house prices get higher. Let’s have the solution before we eject the baby and bathwater first.

      1. Normally I’d agree, but I think with the vested interests, we’re not going to get the solution until my baby has gone the plughole.

        Seriously, it’s a crisis. Stop greenfields with a massive publicity campaign as to why it matters (environment, urban form, and climate). Put emergency tent cities in the parks of the inner suburbs, and explain that the tent cities get removed once the AUP allows proper intensification.

        1. The crisis is there are not enough homes so people are living in cars. You can’t solve a housing crisis by driving up the price of land. But you can make it much worse trying that. Any restriction at all at the edges results in the price of alternative land going up. The problem we have now is caused by a generation of politicians doing exactly what you are suggesting. The Auckland Growth Forum started us down this path, the Auckland Plan continued it. The result is that cheap houses in places like Meadowbank are now selling at a huge premium because the land was upzoned and alternatives were not allowed. The price follows the zoning, so now to buy there you have to pay the price of what it would be with flats on it even if you just want to live in the old house.
          We have a housing crisis because Phil Warren designed it that way and because Penny Hulse doubled down on it.

        2. “The problem we have now is caused by a generation of politicians doing exactly what you are suggesting.” No politician has suggested tent cities in all the central parks, and tiny homes blocking the rat runs, mfwic. No politician has suggested anything that brings the ‘housing crisis for those it affects’ into the lives of the people too wealthy for it to currently affect. And while they don’t suggest it because the wealthy voters would be so appalled, I can’t think of ANY way to bring about real intensification that doesn’t appall those voters. Even taxing land-banking appalls them.

  5. Albany is destined to be an even bigger mess with a proposed multi storey park and ride near the bus station. How will the arterial roads cope with the extra traffic? How will this project align with light rail in ten years time? What is the plan for PT to service the medium rise around Corinthian Drive? Why does Massey University Albany look like a huge car park?

    As some have mentioned why is it so difficult to get from the bus station to the mall? The thinking around the bus station only seems to be to transport people to the city.

    As some groups have mentioned, and you refer to, the problem is that Auckland Council/AT/Panuku have no targets to aim for. Although, to be fair Council/AT do have yearly targets for important measures such as fuel use and carbon emissions with seemingly absolutely no commitment to achieving them and if they do, seemingly no idea how to get there.

    Surely now is the time for Auckland to have a large conversation about how best the city needs to go forward to meet its transport needs? Arguably the Auckland Plan is not fulfilling that need. Why, when 60% of those polled want more spending on PT is so much spent on other things?.

  6. The main problem is trying to build Nodes around Malls. Malls are very inward looking American suburban style centres that incourage high private vehicle use. That’s why if nature took its course without major planning restrictions, Takapuna and Henderson would more likely become the main ‘Nodes’. Westgate has the potential if the next stages of the development are done correctly but not looking that promising at the moment. Just more of the same old same old.

    Note – Yes Henderson is currently built around a Mall, but it could easily become street focused with a little investment. Takapuna has a Mall, but the focus is towards the city streets as it should be. Manukau has failed time and time again as its focused around the Mall, although its slowly starting to get there it still has a long way to go.

    What do we have to do to stop trying and focusing our ‘Nodes’ centres around Malls, maybe its because we rely on private investment from commercial teams, e.g Westfield, who’s main focus is rightly to keep customers in their buildings / stores.

    1. Yes, and the flip side of this is that a centre’s focus towards its streets will only be successful if those streets have much lower traffic volumes and speeds and truck traffic than they currently do.

      Continued sprawl prevents this from happening, with the traffic it induces throughout the whole city, and the reliance on cars the developments require.

  7. Westgate is a mess, Henderson is the natural pick for a western hub.

    Manukau is improving quickly, has good train links. In conjunction with Botany and Slyvia Park there’s a lot of potential in the south east

    1. Henderson is miles from the motorway. It’s great if you’re ideologically set on a node being near a train station, but seeing as Westgate is getting light rail, that point is mot. It also fails to serve the areas where the development is happening now and today, which is not at Henderson and probably never will be.

  8. Taka-ite says; As some have mentioned why is it so difficult to get from the bus station to the mall? The thinking around the bus station only seems to be to transport people to the city.

    There has been a real miss in the introduction of the changes to the bus culture in South Auckland and the disconnect of the Manukau bus/rail interchange from the local activities. There is a need for shelter to link the local activities such as shopping or business, or council buildings.

    The Takanini station would be a good link between the bus and train if there were bus shelters there and some form of walking convenience to the station but instead we have a car cluttered seemingly car favoured approach to the station.

  9. At Albany, Westgate obtained Resource Consent for a Stage Two, creating even more severance between north and south, by building over the western car park with no pedestrian access from the south.
    RMA favours freedom for mall developers to create blight zones around themselves, despite the best efforts of Council Planners and Urban Designers to mitigate their inward focus. A good look at Stratford City and Bradford in UK shows what Westfield can do where the planning environment provides the control to demand positive action to link to a town centre.
    Albany is waiting for a new, clear definition of a viable future (version 3), still groping towards its Version 2 Precinct Plan after the roads had been built for the Version 1 big box estate. Version 2 would have had a Main Street running form the bus station along Cornerstone Drive, crossing the Albany Lakes Park via a Civic building (library etc) to the active frontage (!!!) of the Civic Crescent aspect of the Mall. The north-south spine of the Mall was supposed to be a main street type of linkage between Civic Crescent and Don McKinnon Drive. In fact, wind lobby doors with advert prints, obtrusive food court and a dead end to footpath in the middle of a car park doesn’t really look like that.
    Imagination and investment has started to develop multi-storey apartments facing the Lakes park at last. Albany’s best prospect is probably that, due to GFC handbrake, the centre has not yet filled with less-than maximum permitted scale development. But cut-back consents and plan changes could still permit half-hearted building, and failure to generate enough Development Contributions or rates base to fund the redevelopment of the transport layout for walking and cycling focus. although the Severance Triangle still sets a distance between homes and centre, there is still a good catchment that will be in bike distance – given safe routes.

    1. I think Albany version 3 could be like a mini Downtown Dubai. That’s the area around the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, world’s tallest building and largest mall. Albany already has the circular road and man-made lake. Seriously, I like the look of Tysons Corner at least it has density.

      1. Just been touring Tysons via google streetview, got to admit at street level it looks rather Albaniesque.

  10. Well done to everyone for at least getting targets onto the table. Let’s keep the goal of targets fresh. Policies need targets and feedback mechanisms to directly alter policy to ensure the targets are met.

  11. Manukau
    Manukau is an anchor for southern Auckland.
    It has:
     a strong civic, academic, business and retail focus
     several Auckland‐wide attractions
     integrated rail and bus stations.
    The surrounding industrial area and proximity to Auckland Airport strengthen its role as a

    “What will Manukau look like in the future
    Manukau is the largest and most established of Auckland’s nodes outside of the city centre. Its civic,
    retail, education and cultural facilities provide for the wider population of the south.
    Close proximity to key distribution and transport links, including the southern and north‐eastern
    motorways, the inland Port at Wiri and the Auckland International Airport, underpin a strong
    employment base and local economy.”

    Page 301 of the Auckland Plan 2050.

    Quite a bit of language change from “will,” “become,” and “future” to NOW so least that finally got recognised.
    However, a bit of irony from Matt mentioning Parramatta given I have always mentioned Manukau would become Auckland’s Paramatta through time and investment only for Greater Auckland to be dismissive of it.

    That aside focus goes to getting the Targets in place given the Goffice is extremely reluctant on them (compared to Len).

    As for Nodes and Metro Centres:

    1. Manukau is heading in the right direction but has an enormous way to go before it is anywhere near Auckland’s version of Parramatta.

      I also think that Manukau will always be compromised by not being on the Southern Line. Over time the focus might shift to Puhinui. Also the Airport is likely to cannibalise Manukau’s high wage high skill jobs.

  12. We always seem so keen to abandon current and well established centres in favour of shiny new places. I assume that’s why Westgate was chosen over Henderson.

    This is really wrong as established places have built up their infrastructure over many many decades and already have large population catchments.

    Imagine if all that effort which has gone into Westgate had instead gone into revitalising Henderson? It would be a thriving place. Hopefully with CRL bringing Henderson within half an hour of the city by train we will see it take off and this node will be reconsidered.

    1. Yes, things like music and dance studios, playhouse theatres, music at the RSA, existing community and social groups… Henderson feels like a real place for real people; Westgate feels like it could’ve been designed better by a kid with a lego set.

        1. Plus, Henderson is just a stop on a line. It doesn’t coincide with anything else other than a terrible mall. It presumably wasn’t chosen because people don’t like getting stabbed. Whereas Westgate is the edge of something. It’s how the rest of West Auckland connects to the rest of Auckland. It’s in the middle of where actual development is happening.

        2. Being in the middle of where actual development is happening means you’re in the middle of a place where the social fabric needs to be built up from the beginning, and where the ecological base is being ruined by the new development.

          Being in the middle of an existing centre that is intensifying means you’re in the middle of a place where the social fabric can be enriched by more people supporting the cultural activities, and where the ecological base can be enhanced by more people taking more caring action to look after it.

          Culture is everywhere. Westgate doesn’t have most of the things I listed; Henderson does.

        3. I find your comment highly offensive, murders do and will happen anywhere. Henderson is not defined by that event. Also what do you think is the long term outcome of what you seem to be proposing, that we should neglect one place to focus on another

  13. Takapuna is hardly a Metropolitan Centre. Ever since Albany started it has only been a Town Centre. It is time the planning documents reflected what has actually occurred. Takapuna has lost its courts, the Police District HQ, its status as a seat of local government and when Panuku gets going it will lose its central carpark. Time for Takapuna to give up and become just a nice place to live or go for dinner.

    1. Yes the council has tried very hard to shift all the metropolitan centre functions to Albany, with little success except for a court you can’t catch a bus to when you need you licence taken of you.

      1. Excuse me, that’s nonsense. Dozens of buses including the 957 from Birkenhead via Glenfield, and the 891 from Takapuna via North Harbour Industrial Estate go past the court and there’s a stop a few minutes walk away. There are other bus routes too, but those are the ones I catch.

  14. Does anyone else think that evelopments in e-commerce and delivery systems might render malls rather redundant?

    The main retail offer of malls is relatively generic products, most of which can be bought online cheaper and more conveniently. And delivered to door.

    If so, then putting nodes around peripheral malls could be a rather strange developmeny strategy. Much better to pick locations that have large walkable catchments. As others noted.

    1. I could imagine the demise of malls, and a boon in local town centres consisting in small owner-managed repair / custom workshop / personal services / community venues and activities. Of course, I rather think there won’t be enough profit to extract by big business in such a vision…

    2. I was at Albany yesterday and judging by the number of people there and the full carpark e-commerce doesn’t seem to have had much effect so far. The malls offer more than just buying something. It is somewhere safe to walk around without cars running you down or buses deafening you or twits on bikes flying through too fast. The risk to malls isn’t that people will stay away. Rather the risk is people selecting what they want at the mall and buying online later from a website that doesn’t pay any tax.

    3. The question is the same as with tele-commuting. Why hasn’t it happened yet then?

      The choice of things you can buy in malls is already limited, in two ways:
      – NZ is quite remote so a lot of things don’t make it to our shores at all.
      – Our transport system means malls have a small catchment so we have a lot of malls which are just carbon copies of each other.

      Generally if you’re looking for something even a little bit unusual, you have to buy it online because no shop over here has it. Your feet are a bit larger or smaller than average? Then you had better remember to buy shoes when travelling overseas (or, if you don’t travel overseas, you’re SOL then).

      But there’s still plenty of people in malls.

    4. To be fair, the malls are trying to become entertainment / lifestyle hubs as much as they are retail hubs. Malls wont become redundant but will rather adapt to the new environment. Although online sales are and will dominate the low cost, everyday items. Physical presence will always be important for brands, and shopping has also become a recreational activity in itself that people do for enjoyment rather than necessity.

      Examples are North West ‘the outdoor area’ and Sylvia Park Dining Area or even Westfield Newmarket with their Nuffield street retail and Dinning. However Northwest and Sylvia park are still surrounded by a sea of pavement ‘parking’ designed to isolate them from the surrounding environment, Nuffield being the exception, as it was simply Westfield reacting to demand / competition.

      A mall relies on people entering their tenants businesses, and their inherent tactic is to keep people within its confines. This is not a good place to create a ‘Node’ or center as its main objective is to shut off from its surrounding community rather than integrate.

      Large walkable catchments will create better ‘nodes’.

  15. Interesting post and discussion. Yes sure hard to fix these 2 ctrs. Basically motorway interchange nodes vs Henderson for example is more of a train/bus/walk up one especially if they improve this there (consultation just done on this). I think Manukau will be better with light rail eventually making up for the HR spur limitation (as discussed above) connecting with Botany and Panmure and through to SW and airport industrial area etc of course. First step is to stop building more P&R! Charge for it instead. Visited the expanded Hibiscus Coast one the other night, what a silly big pile of parking, just double the bus access instead.

  16. Yes – great post. If things turn out well, these nodes certainly can add value to Auckland and NZ Inc.Some sort of natural focus creates a sense of place. Or perhaps the nodes develop as meeting places for new generations of Aucklanders that build upon a town centres of a previous generation of place-makers.

    If starting from scratch, a very big and sustained intervention is needed to create the beating heart that will build a node or more descriptively; a dense suburban CBD. Sports, performing and fine arts, culture, education, health, civic administration, and then commerce. Commerce will be attracted away from adjacent CBDs if the CBDs are constrained, and if there are high quality multi modal transport links, that create the perception of proximity.

    Parramatta has a few features that Henderson comes closest to replicating.
    Manukau has had a lot of work put into it, and it too has some elements in common with Parramatta.
    Takapuna is great, and with a rapid PT link under the harbour could go all the way, but will the residents allow that to happen?
    Albany – give it another 20 years, with much better town centre development and higher density living. But will Westfield that to happen?
    Westgate. The name says it all really.

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