The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s most successful transport investments. In the 11 years since it opened it has become the best and most used public transport corridor in probably all of the country. At peak times in the peak direction there are now buses, mostly double deckers, every minute or two and off-peak and counter-peak there are buses every 5-10 minutes. While post new network we’re still working through a change in how the numbers are reported, the indications are the busway is also carrying more passengers than any of the rail lines in both Auckland and Wellington.
It’s become so busy that at peak times we’re probably at the limit for how many buses can effectively operate on it until the extension to Albany is completed in a few years and fixes the Constellation Station bottleneck, as we found out when the New Network launched.
Perhaps even more importantly, it has hugely extended the life of the harbour bridge by massively increasing its people-carrying capacity. This has removed the need for another road crossing of the harbour saving us $5 billion or more. Although given its success, the busway will need to be upgraded to light rail in the coming decades and it will need a dedicated harbour crossing – but providing that is much cheaper than providing a road crossing.
What makes the busway’s success even more remarkable is that it’s stations have remarkably poor catchments thanks to the motorway and most have large areas of ’empty’ land nearby meaning there is a much more limited potential for walk up ridership from nearby residents. Even where there does appear to be houses nearby, the street network often makes the walking distance considerably longer – for example there are some houses within 200m of the Constellation Station that are a 1.5km walk away.
A private plan change proposed by the owners of the Smales Farm business park may help change that a bit. The details are included in the agenda for tomorrow’s Devonport-Takapuna Local Board meeting as part of the process of gauging the board’s views on the proposal to as part of the process to help the council decide on whether to ‘adopt, accept or reject’ the proposal. If accepted it would still need a full public notification process.
Smales Farm is currently zoned only as a business park and they are seeking to add up to 1,300 apartments to the site as well as their future plans for more commercial space.
- Neither the Business Park zoning nor the Smales 1 Precinct provide for residential accommodation (other than ‘visitor accommodation and boarding houses’) and this is the primary purpose of the plan change – to enable residential, apartment type developments. The residential land use would be permitted but the buildings assessed via ‘restricted discretionary’ applications. No reduction in office floor space capacity is proposed from that presently enabled – up to 162,000 square metres, beyond which further consent would be required.
- The residential developments would be up to 75 metres high, with some parts of buildings up to 100 metres, and they would be towards the motorway (western side of the site). The applicant considers the site to have the potential for up to 1300 residential units.
- The Smales Farm business park site is a strategic one on the North Shore of Auckland, located adjacent to the Northcote interchange of the northern motorway, and adjoining the Northern Busway and Smales Farm Station. The locality is best described as a mixed use corridor, with a variety of non-residential uses nearby, including the North Shore hospital, Westlake Girls High School and health-related businesses and services. The applicant considers that the relative lack of nearby residential areas creates the opportunity for greater intensity and height
This seems like a no-brainer for the council to accept. As is mentioned above, this is an ideal location to have apartments given all of the amenity nearby. It’s also a far better use of the land than a large number of surface level carparks that exist now.
Given the infrastructure to support housing here is basically already in place, the financial benefits to the city of this kind of development are huge. By way of example, the Council’s Chief Economist Unit estimated that greenfield dwellings need around $150,000 of bulk infrastructure per dwelling. That means if these 1300 apartments were instead houses in greenfield areas, they would save nearly $200 million of bulk infrastructure required by the greenfields alternative.
Below are a few images attached to the agenda of what’s proposed. These are from the concept masterplan so the actual result will probably end up quite different but gives an idea of what is being aimed for.
These two give a good indication of the potential future layout.
From having worked there, there are some good things that have been happening at Smales Farm, such as moves to make it more pedestrian friendly with many raised table pedestrian crossings that help keep cars at slow speeds. I think taking this further and making it a denser and more urban node would definitely be an improvement.
I also think this would only strengthen the case for a much needed overhaul of the horrific Taharoto Rd traffic sewer. The road provides a vital connection between Smales Farm and Takapuna which is only 2km away and needs a lot more space on its wide footprint dedicated to buses, bikes and pedestrians.
Let’s hope this development moves ahead. It would be nice to see these apartments built in the next few years, rather than the next 20-30 years.
Perhaps we should also be looking across the other side of the motorway at the golf course (which is owned by the Council). At first glance the golf course looks around four times the size of Smales Farm, which suggests that it could be possible to build around 5000 apartments and potentially save up to $800 million of sprawl supporting infrastructure spend.