Every weekend we dig into the archives. This post by Matt was originally published in July 2013.

NZ Herald business columnist Brian Gaynor has a good extensive article yesterday about the need to accept that Auckland will continue to grow in size and to ensure that its growth is adequately planned for.

Auckland is at a major crossroads. We can either accept that the city will grow dramatically over the next few decades and plan accordingly or we can do nothing and allow Auckland to become more and more congested and less attractive to live in.

The early signs are that we will take the do-nothing approach as community groups oppose developments that will have a positive impact on the city as a whole. This is unfortunate because international trends clearly indicate that Auckland will experience strong growth even if we don’t develop the facilities to cope with this growth.

We’ve often noted that Auckland does sit at the crossroads at the moment – perhaps more obviously than at any point since the 1950s. We need to decide whether we’re going to be a “real city” or just an overgrown provincial town.

Gaynor touches upon some reasons for why improved technology over the past couple of decades hasn’t (as had been expected in some areas) undermined the benefits of urban living – instead perhaps even adding to the allure of inner-city living and working:

Cities continue to expand even though the general consensus 20 to 30 years ago was that they would stop growing because technology would allow people to work from the beach, skifields or a remote office.

These predictions were totally wrong for a number of reasons.

The first is that our work and social lives have become intertwined.

In the past we went straight home after work, particularly if it was a manual or blue-collar job.

We rarely worked from home or at weekends. Now we go to work and have coffee with friends at 10am, go to the gym at lunchtime and stay in the city for a drink or meal after work. We shop, either real or online, at lunchtime and email and text our friends and families.

The demarcation between work and non-work has become blurred, particularly as we can work from home if we have access to the office through cloud computing.

Cities offer a mix of coffee shops, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, sports stadiums, medical facilities, parks and shops that encourages us to work in the city rather than in isolation at home.

In the modern world we are able to mix and match our work and social life and our dress style, which is increasingly similar for both work and social occasions, reflects this.

Twenty years ago the Auckland CBD was dying. The 1987 sharemarket crash had left huge swathes of empty sites when new plans for office buildings didn’t eventuate. Barely anyone lived in the CBD. These days – while still not without its flaws – my general feeling is that the centre of Auckland is in better health than its been for decades. Not just as a place for people to work and shop, but increasingly as a place to live, to visit for events and as the real hub of growing tourist activity.

Gaynor then turns his attention to transport:

Transport is a major issue in Auckland and we spend most of our time arguing whether the city should provide more public transport or more roads and who should pay for these.

There is a clear need for more public transport and better roads and we all have to contribute, even those living in the inner city who don’t use transport.

It is vitally important that there is full connectivity between trains, buses, taxis, roads, and cycling and walking facilities. There is no point in having a train, road, cycling or bus system that ends in a part of the city with no connectivity with other transport facilities.

The observation that Auckland needs a properly connected transport system that works for all different modes is consistent with what we’ve been advocating on this site for years. Once a few key roading projects underway at the moment are complete – like the Western Ring Route and upgrades to key bottlenecks like around AMETI – then we’ll have the roading side of the equation pretty well sorted out. Time to focus on the other stuff.

Helpfully, he also picks up on the need to focus on improving walkability:

The next and most important feature is the ability to walk from one facility to another. Walkability is one of the most important features of modern urban planning.

Hong Kong has a network of elevated walkways that connect one city block with another and Singapore has a network of underground connections allowing pedestrians to walk between hotels, residential facilities, social meeting places, work and important urban landscapes.

One survey ranks Zurich, Amsterdam, Singapore, Munich and Hong Kong as the best cities in terms of walkability. Melbourne also has excellent walkability in addition to its trams and urban rail system.

Many of the benefits that arise from cities relate to the ability to be in quick face-to-face contact with other people and the ability to ‘bump’ into others frequently. In an inner city area where this is most likely, walkability is a crucial factor to enabling easy connections and maximising the ease of chance encounters and pleasant locations for discussions. Walkability is still something that Auckland does terribly – even/especially in the CBD.

Gaynor finishes by looking to the future – and noting how it’s really in our best interests for Auckland to grow – because it’s such a good wealth generator:

Auckland now accounts for 33.4 per cent of New Zealand’s population compared with just 16.7 per cent in 1950. In the past 60 years Auckland has contributed 46 per cent of the country’s population growth.

The city is projected to have a population of 1,844,000 by 2025 when it will contain 36.8 per cent of the country’s total population. The 2025 projection for Auckland may be on the light side as Statistics NZ believes that Auckland’s population could exceed 1,950,000 by the mid-2020s and 2,100,000 by 2031.

A population of 2,100,000 by 2031 would represent growth of over 50 per cent since 2010. We shouldn’t be surprised by this as Auckland’s population surged by 68 per cent between 1990 and 2010 while New Zealand’s overall population increased by 31 per cent over the same period.

One of the main road blocks towards planning for the future is the unwillingness of a large percentage of Aucklanders to accept that their city will continue to grow and the need for more and more infrastructure to cater for this growth.

Submissions to the city council, and letters to the editor, continue to promote policies that would stop people from moving to Auckland or encourage Aucklanders to move to Otago or Southland.

This is naive because Auckland is a very liveable city and the earnings gap between the country’s largest city and the South Island continues to increase.

For example, Auckland’s median income is now $126 a week higher than Otago and $163 a week greater than Southland compared with $76 and $115 respectively in 2005.

We have to accept that Auckland will continue to experience strong population growth, as will most major urban centres, and the city will be less liveable unless we plan carefully for this growth. 

I certainly think Auckland will be a much more exciting, prosperous and fantastic place to live in with a population of 2.5 million than it is now. Just like Auckland’s a much more exciting, prosperous and fantastic place than it was at 500,000 people or 1 million people.

Overall a really good article.

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  1. I agree with Brian Gaynor completely and add that urban planning also needs to be included in the discussion. Urban streets, even those being constructed today, are not wide enough to accommodate bus movements safely.
    Higher intensity housing is forcing more cars to be parked kerbside creating a slalom style of driving, one of the things learner drivers are advised not to do as it creates confusion in other road users.
    It will also create havock for bus schedules.

    1. I don’t like the slalom style of driving either, nor the heavy level of parked cars in our streets.

      But how do you know it is higher intensity housing that is forcing more cars to be parked kerbside? These are some factors that contribute to increasing the kerbside parking:
      – more cars per person;
      – more cars per household;
      – more times when the hassle of moving cars around in the driveway to let other people out occurs, due to more driving per person and more cars per household, possibly accompanied by less tolerance of that hassle;
      – more stuff in people’s garages;
      – more protection from vandalism through ‘safety in numbers’, so the practice is now normalised.

      1. ‘More stuff in peoplie’s garages’
        I wonder if there is evidence that in areas where garages are used as rental accomodation for families, there is significant increase in on street parking.

      2. As a piece of ancedata for you, we’ve noticed in our neighborhood an increase in on street parking in the last few years as there are now more people per household. Just in our joint driveway (across a total of 13 properties) I now count four additional cars parked on the street.

        This has happened over time has rental properties change hands and what were single car households now have two families or multiple generations living in the same house.

    2. I would add more people buying houses and asking the public to subsidise their storage needs.

      Buying a house inner city with one off-street parking, and insisting on residents parking on the public street for the extra car.

      1. Yes, and indeed the NIMBY rules preventing intensification in the inner suburbs contribute to the on-street parking too. These rules continue the use of the areas for single house zone lifestyles, complete with the excess of car ownership. Areas that close to the city should be intensified to low-parking level apartment development, with lifestyles of living more in the public realm, with street reallocation to reflect that.

        The myth that intensification leads to more traffic and parking problems needs to be dispelled.

    3. Can you show me one of these new streets that is:

      a) ever going to be suitable as a bus route;
      b) legally possible to park a car upon; and
      c) too narrow for a bus to pass a parked vehicle without crossing the centreline?

      I travel around newer subdivisions quite a bit and I don’t recall ever seeing one. There are still many things wrong with street layouts in new developments, but narrower streets is an enormous improvement over the last 20 years.

      BTW, on residential streets, forcing motorists to ‘slalom’ dramatically improves road safety. Motorists can’t travel as fast, so their collisions are much less likely to result in death or serious injury.

  2. I agree Auckland needs to plan for over 3 to 4 million people but no one can see this coming.
    And would rather Auckland stay as a overgrown town.
    I like the idea of a more vibrant compact city and think we should be thinking big for Auckland.
    But after the CRL cost blowout, this proves we have a big problem.
    I think the only solution is for the government and AC to setup a large infrastructure organisation that can do the building.
    Instead of contracting it all out to many companies.
    Due to the lack of vision over the last 100 years we will need to start tunneling everything to keep people happy. And we should expect to see many tunnels built every decade.
    Most cities will double in size over the next 40 years, Auckland is one of them.
    And the thing that really shock’s me is the lack media attention and public debate and input on infrastructure.
    I’m sure most of us hea on greater Auckland have many great ideas and big visions but I don’t see them anywhere, Auckland has no vision.
    We would rather just add a extra lane or set of traffic lights hea and there.

    1. “But after the CRL cost blowout, this proves we have a big problem.”

      We do have a big problem. How do we inspire people, do you think, John, because Auckland could be so fantastic?

      Does anyone have any figure for how much NZers are spending on cars each year? I see that “There were 319,662 new and used import light vehicle registrations in the year to December 2018” with roughly equal numbers for each. If we take an average price of $20,000 (totally guessing, here) that’s $6 billion going out of the country each year on cars.

      We’re spending $5.5 billion of public money on transport each year. We’re spending billions on fuel each year – $5.7 billion on petroleum and products. The ‘social cost’ of all the road trauma is calculated by the MoT as $4.8 billion per year.

      The CRL is at least an investment in a more sustainable mode of travel; not something that can be said of the blowout in road spending that’s giving us so much car dependency.

      What I’m hoping, is that our planners realise we can make major improvements by doing lots of cheap changes to our streets to enable better use of the public space. And the big infrastructure tickets that we do need can be afforded if we stop wasting so much on roads.

      1. Heidi
        I think that your focus is a sensible one. We look at the cost of the CRL and say, that’s horrendous. At the same time 1 billion is being spent on widening the Northern motorway and this is just adding single lanes in some parts and the bus way extension. As you say the latter project costs ignore all the individual costs required to enable the motorway to be usable: cars, fuel etc and maybe toss in $20k, at least, for a garage and the land it sits on. Then having finished the latter project there is the small problem of an AWHC to then move these extra cars across the harbour; and NZTA says that will necessitate an extra lane both ways from Akoranga to Constellation; and then what will be necessary on the major aeterials on the Shore and on the city side with all the extra traffic?

        Of course there might be secondary costs for the CRL of feeder buses, or unfortunately that wasteful project, the park and ride.

        Nick, I agree with you that we need to look at the most cost efficient; but we also have to factor in all the costs. including environmental costs; and have a future focus. It would have been more expensive to be currently building light rail to the Shore than the current Northern Motorway widening, but with a view of total cost of projects I am convinced the light rail project would be the winner.

        Heidi, when we add in your vkt reduction targets, and I think they may be light, then it becomes a certainty that NZTA have embarked on the wrong project.

      2. You want zero vision which requires billions being spent on roads, arguably we don’t spend anywhere near enough on them, especially our state highways. Roads are here to stay, you just have to live with them.

        1. No one is suggesting banning roads, vision zero says that we should change our roads as we ‘just have to *live* with them’.

          I’d love to see the argument that we don’t spend enough on our roads! I could see the argument that we spend on the wrong type of roads (suburban arterials and collectors), robbing funding from where it is needed (dangerous rural highways).

        2. I don’t think we spend anywhere near enough on our state highways. If you drive in Sweden the instigator of Zero Vision, they have spend tens of billions fixing the network, making 2+2 and 2+1 divided roads all over the country, the impact of this is significantly less deaths on highways. Norway is spending 60/70b NZD on the E39 route, that’s just one highway, they are spending more elsewhere in the country. https://www.vegvesen.no/en/roads/Roads+and+bridges/Road+projects/e39coastalhighwayroute

          We aren’t spending anywhere near enough money on our highways by a long shot. We should also toll them as part of the financing package; once the road is paid off the toll is removed.

        3. I completely agree that we should be spending more on *major* rural highways. SH2 Pokeno to Tauranga, SH2/5 Taupo to Wellington, SH3 Palmerston North to New Plymouth SH1 Whangarei to Warkworth and Cambridge to Dunedin. However, a lot of these (probably 90%) should be 1+1 with upgraded passing lanes and 2+1 on the flatter sections.

          We could fund almost all of that just by cancelling major arterial capacity increases in urban areas (Wellington city to airport, Lincoln Road, Northern Arterial Road extension (Christchurch). We already spend enough on roads, let’s start spending it on the right roads.

    2. The CRL blowout is indeed a signal of a big problem. The ‘blowout’ is due to two main things, the need to make the CRL bigger and more complex to deliver against higher demands, and the fact that construction costs have skyrocketed year on year and the demand on the sector continues to stretch resources.

      This is the new normal: the need to build more and bigger infrastructure at the same time that infrastructure gets more and more expensive. How do we possibly deliver on that? I don’t really know but I’d say starting with the most efficient, cost-effective projects would be the place to start.

      1. Yes but CRL as it turns out probably wasn’t the most efficient or cost effective. Now $1billion has to be tipped into that hole without any assessment. Assets that could have been sold to help fund light rail have to be sold without getting light rail and the Government will look at the whole mess and wonder if it is worth doing anything else for Auckland.

        1. I think many people have to accept that light rail is politically to hot a potato for the current govt to deliver on. It’s time to dust off the HR plans to AKL, and complete Auckland HR network, before jumping onto the next project.

        2. The government was planning to complete the HR network *and* build LRT. We need a government to stand up and do both. Not quiver in the face of mild, marginal opposition in favour of the status quo.

        3. Even this govt that’s riding high on Jacindas popularity are still dropping projects which they know won’t win them the next election, LR out west was the first casualty, followed by CGT and I bet LR to AKL will also be dropped, although LR along Dominion Rd will probably happen, but extending to AKL won’t happen anytime soon, it’s not a popular decision and this is a populist govt.

        4. I could see them building LRT to the end of Dominion Road only (at this stage) knowing full well that as soon as it’s finished everyone will clamour for it to be extended to the airport.

    3. I think the $1billion blowout is going to impact on light rail. Will anyone trust the estimates? Will politicians have any desire to tip more money down the transport hole? AT’s business case in 2015 (which wasn’t done jointly with the Government) claimed a Benefit cost Ratio of 1.6 based on $2889million in benefits and $1853 million in costs (discounted at 6%). Had the extra billion been included the costs would have been close to exceeding benefits. Remember the Government thought the benefits were less than AT. https://www.cityraillink.co.nz/crl-business-case page 76.

      1. So how do we minimise such impact, miffy, given the situation:

        We have an entire transport network built on incorrect business cases. It’s a network that fails to provide children with the basics of life – freedom and opportunities to be physically active as they explore their world. That’s a failure of culture and needs urgent and far reaching attention. I’m failing to see that entirely overthrowing that business case process isn’t the solution, here.

        Given the CRL’s contribution to –
        – a better urban form,
        – safety
        – equity
        – environment
        – access for people without them having to drive –
        if these new costs wouldn’t have produced a positive business case, what big project would have?

        Certainly none of the roading projects; the costs assigned to those in the business cases don’t vaguely represent their true costs, and the benefits are knowingly miscalculated.

        1. Yes I think there’s slot of talk of the new costs but what about the new benefits? Extra station entrance & allowing for 9 car length trains for starters. I think a business case would come out on top easily.

        2. Perhaps a rethink about how we assess transport projects and how the decisions are made might be a good place to start. If models are wrong then we can fix them, if the wrong things are assessed then we come up with a better way of selecting them. But instead we will get the same old nonsense of a group of people listing their favourite projects and giving the list an abbreviated name like ATAP and pretending there is some sort of rational system when all they are doing is pushing their own agenda. TR9 and the EEM were supposed to get us away from subjective, but they failed and gave us an even more subjective system where people spend as much as they can until someone more important says ‘stop for goodness sake stop’ and then we will have another period where nothing will be spent on transport. A crazy all or nothing policy.

        3. …and meanwhile between the ‘stop for goodness sake stoppers’ and the wishful ‘all or nothing Light railers’ the NW Auckland can only expect and demand more roading ‘improvements’. The rail line to Huapai is now invisible to the those LR agenda pushers.
          The NW is now well in that ‘do nothing’ policy time afa PT is concerned.

      2. Plenty of new benefits too: higher than expected population growth, new puhinui busway, rail patronage already well above predictions, drury developments, lots of new city centre developments, etc.

        1. It’s just typical of the analysis on PT spend. Know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

          Meanwhile, highway spend seems in direct contrast.

        2. It could be easily argued that we don’t spend anywhere near enough on our highway network, it’s pretty substandard compared to peer nations. Most of it should be 2+2 or at the very least 2+1.

        3. “It could be easily argued that we don’t spend anywhere near enough on our highway network”

          It seems it will be a much easier argument for you to win if you argue with yourself.

      3. At 6% discount, the costs would ‘only’ increase by about $850M, based on an even spread of spending over 5 years.

        As others have said, we have built for 9 car sets because we demand has outstripped our model, and ridership will be higher than previously anticipated. This will drastically increase the benefits.

        I completely agree that we need to change the models and assessment though. We need to set a carbon cost that reflects the actual social cost. We need to acknoowledge objective reality and build models that show induced demand.

        Then we can decide whether inducing more demand is an overall positive.

        1. Did anyone do some sort of analysis of the extension to nine cars? Did the benefits exceed the costs? Did they apply for additional funding for it from the two partners who have to now stump up the money? What are the other $1billion of projects or spending that will not now occur so that maybe one day AT can run nine car trains? Isn’t it important that we go through that process rather than some prick somewhere just doing their own thing?

        2. Yes, it should have gone through that in the first place. This all, always comes back to the transport modeling being wrong. Blind Larry could have seen a boom in ridership coming after electrification was finished and seen the need for nine car sets. The model never shows it though.

  3. Miffy, so we have a benefit cost ratio of about 1.0, which is obviously predicated on the initial assumptions. What we know is that most predictions of public transport ridership have under estimated ridership and this will most likely be the case here given what will be a very strong period of focusing on transport emission reductions.

    For the same reason I have no concerns about the light rail to Mangere/ the airport. AIA have said that they expect car trips to and from the airport to increase by 41% by 2045. This won’t happen, it won’t be allowed to happen by a public demanding change.

    I am not concerned that light rail won’t happen. My only concern is that it won’t happen fast enough.

        1. I wonder if any level of government will understand the need for serious public education at a level that can actually match the lobbying power of corporate status quo.

        2. Heidi, you make a particularly pertinent point about corporate lobbying. Often other views simply don’t make it to the media. Here’s what a top European fund manager said, Nordea Bank’s Sasja Beslik told the BBC the protests were “just the beginning”.
          People who were worried about climate change did not feel that had many other “tools” at their disposal, he said.

          It is evident in our media that the story about climate change is not front and centre. For example, look at the headline banner on the Stuff website and you see such important topics as, “Life and Style”, “Entertainment” and “Travel”. “Environment” is relegated to a subset of “National.”

          I have no idea how to find environment issues on the Herald website.

          Media opinions are often dominated by the opinions of the same people. NZME has Hosking on radio and the Herald; and Hawkesby also for good (or not) measure. The only environmental concern likely to come from that household is how quickly we can drive from Matakana, anywhere.

          So yes there does need to be an education process, but it needs to go way further than that. It needs to ask individuals the hard questions. It is not important to become immersed in whether road tolls are an inefficient way of collecting tax, but rather to ask (and require answers) as to whether it is reasonable for those who cause the emissions to pay for them. Once that is established; and it doesn’t really matter what the individuals answer is, because the answer is clearly yes; the conversation then begins in earnest about the mechanism. (In the CGT debate what was the answer to the question, should NZ have a more evenly distributed tax base so that the government has extra revenue to lift people out of poverty entrapment?)

          Maybe the discussion about people paying the cost of their carbon emissions should start with the easier issues such as discretionary travel, particularly air travel. International travel is to hard, but local travellers should reasonably pay the carbon charge. (Simon, its not a tax, this is user pays.) Use the revenue for more carbon friendly travel alternatives such as the Golden Triangle rail; and maybe coach transport to Aoraki rather than the unsustainable FIT tourist.

          I acknowledge however that the greatest things restraining progress are self interest and political self interest.

    1. Add this to the list of statistics, from Stuff
      “The truth is, most countries are working and investing frantically in this area. The Climate Change Performance Index is an annual assessment of 60 countries emissions trends and commitments. In 2019 New Zealand ranked 44th, India 11th.”

      Given that climate change is one of this government’s two top priorities I wonder where we would sit if it wasn’t?

  4. Accepting it as a given is actually the problem. It is easy enough to introduce immigration rules making it compulsary for new arrivals to settle and remain outside Auckland.

    But, there’s an elephant in the room no one is yet talking about. In just 30 years, human population growth will stop, then go into unstoppable decline. By the end of the century it will be back to where it is now, and thereafter continue reducing until it is no longer measured in billions, but rather millions. It’s therefore prudent to not over-develop now, when it will only lead to a surplus of infrastructure for future generations.

    1. “It is easy enough to introduce immigration rules making it compulsary for new arrivals to settle and remain outside Auckland.”

      If it is so easy, why have so many countries historically failed?

    2. For it to stop the decline in Western countries and Asia has to be much larger than the booming populations in Africa and South America.

      Personally I don’t see a problem with a decline, with automation not as many people are needed anymore, it hurts our current economic model which is based in increasing the numbers of consumers, but if that’s not happening we need to change it or find new markets for our stuff ie South America and Africa.

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