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:
And check out that disastrous motorway severance at Westgate:
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.