The two most important documents that set the transport programme for Auckland are being updated or written at present: The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) and the Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP).
Strong leadership of change will be required if they are to reflect the Zero Carbon Act and the Auckland Climate Plan, and support Labour’s work on children’s health, equity, wellbeing and poverty.
In January, the Government’s NZ Upgrade Package provided $2.2 billion for Auckland sprawl roads, including the building of Mill Rd and Penlink, and the widening of SH1 from Papakura to Drury. In April, Council put Matakana Link Rd on its wishlist for the Post-Covid Economic Recovery Package, and were “successful” in this bid.
These roads are incompatible with our emissions targets and undermine Labour’s social goals. But they weren’t included in these packages by mistake – they are there because the Auckland Development Strategy creates sprawl, and roads are being provided to serve it. The packages simply brought the roads forward.
The Auckland Development Strategy puts the majority of our planned growth into locations that demand either new roads, or ongoing widening of roads. The “Brownfields and greenfields” segment below, for example, actually includes the sprawl of Westgate, Albany and Manukau:
The strategy allowed significant sprawl for two reasons:
First, intensification was prevented by restrictive regulations within the urban area. Phil Twyford’s work on the National Policy Statement for Urban Development (NPS-UD) has directed these restrictions be eased.
Secondly, the strategy defined feasible development as:
Feasible development = The amount of development that is commercially viable, taking into account current costs, revenue and yields.
By assuming the market would provide the bulk of development and the process couldn’t be rushed, extra land had to be made available. Developing our city in a compact, environmentally and socially responsible way was thus prevented due to having to follow the then-government’s ideological aversion to large public investment in housing. Note that this feasibility wasn’t about construction capacity – Increasing the amount of land involved didn’t increase construction capacity; it swallowed up a lot of construction capacity due to the additional infrastructure required. Twyford’s NPS-UD has changed how feasible capacity can be calculated, and his Infrastructure Funding and Financing Act is intended to free up funding and financing possibilities. (I haven’t studied this in depth.)
As we can change both the type of development and the way we fund it, the Auckland Development Strategy can be overhauled, allowing us to throw sprawl roads out of our transport plans.
We must do so for multiple reasons.
First, the roads and the sprawl they enable ruin the land we need for biodiversity, ecological health and food growing.
Secondly, the sprawl requires enormous outlays of public money; money that should be going to repair and upgrade our existing urban areas. For example, Drury is requiring about $6 billion in transport infrastructure alone.Thirdly, it costs much more to maintain a larger city. Even running a programme of relatively infrequent bus services through new development areas costs a lot in opex. Maintenance of the pipes, roads, footpaths, libraries all adds up.
Fourthly, bringing these roads forward will tip the balance of development even further into greenfields.
Finally, the roads will exacerbate car dependence and induce a lot of traffic, worsening emissions, safety, accessibility, children’s development and public health.
To illustrate, here’s a 6-year-old map of emissions per commuter from a post by Peter Nunns, which shows the patterns well. The average emissions of a commuter living in outer sprawl are 10 times that of a commuter in the city centre:
Compact development allows more residents (new and existing alike) to have easy access to the things they need – as currently enjoyed by the low-emissions central residents.
Housing more people on the edge of the city makes things worse. It costs way too much to give these residents reasonable transport choice to all amenities. They drive long distances, on average. And so will anyone visiting their suburb: tradespeople, salespeople, cleaners, couriers, retail staff, consultants, friends, customers, clients, teachers.
This is true no matter how dense the new development is. Putting higher density settlements on the edge of the city is not a “compact city strategy.” As Litman says:
Density is only one of many land use factors affecting vehicle travel… residents of high-rises in isolated, automobile-dependent location tend to drive a lot, and conversely, residents of small towns and rural villages tend to drive less… density confounds with other factors that tend to reduce automobile travel such as land use mix, walkability, transit accessibility, reduced parking supply and increased parking pricing, to name a few.
High density expansion is unsuitable for Auckland. It still ruins farmland and fails to harness development as a regenerative force that can repair our many urban form problems.
“Improving the resilience and sustainability of the transport system, and significantly reducing the greenhouse gas emissions it generates”
New transport minister Wood can now use the groundwork laid by his predecessor, and support the urban Councillors to withstand pressure from the political economy of car dependence. Could action be fast enough to ensure the next ATAP and RLTP are made responsible for climate and wellbeing?
Strategies that can’t deliver on goals is a problem worldwide. An International Transport Forum discussion paper released late last month discusses how urban policy practice clashes with intentions to reverse car dependence and encourage alternative, less damaging forms of movement:
In the majority of towns – even those with the most advanced sustainable transport initiatives – there are three fault lines:
a) continued and very large scale spending to produce increases in road capacity in many parts in and between towns;
b) continued allocation of scarce space to car parking in preference to other uses; and
c) continued encouragement of land use planning for patterns of activity which depend on car use for access.
That’s us in a nutshell.
But the paper gives a hopeful message:
consideration of climate change requires more attention to ways of reducing or counteracting it. It seems that at present, while there are many examples of good practice, there are no cases where all the available policy instruments have been implemented in a consistent way. Opportunities still exist, then, for greater impact.
In overhauling our strategy, trends from overseas should never limit how fast we attempt to achieve change.
[the] population is estimated to be 1,657,200. The land area of the Auckland region is 489,363 hectares, with the core urbanised area of the city covering just over 50,550 hectares… The city’s population is projected to continue growing with an anticipated increase of 833,000 people between 2013 and 2043… the core urbanised area of the city is expected to increase in size also; the extent of the ‘urban’ and ‘future urban’ type zones the Auckland Unitary Plan (operative in part, November 2016) cover 59,453ha, potentially increasing the city’s main urban area by 18 per cent.
Using these raw figures, our average density would increase from 33 to 42 ppl / ha under the current plan. Instead, by not expanding our footprint at all we could go to nearly 50 ppl / ha.
At 50 ppl / ha, Auckland would still be far less dense than cities in Europe, South America or Asia:
Stephen Davis’s post How Dense is Dense? Part 2 gives pictures of real world examples at each density. Here are his examples around the 50 ppl / ha mark.
Greater London (55 ppl / ha):
Amsterdam (49 ppl / ha):
Auckland needs to achieve this within 30 years. To avoid widescale disruption and a wasting of embedded resources, we’ll need to have pockets of more dense development. How dense?
In a Stuff article recently, Todd Mark of Ockham – a development company providing quality housing in Auckland – said:
My building in Mt Albert (Modal) is 35 units on 700 square metres…
I’ve got 600 units across four sites, totalling less than one hectare
These figures don’t include all the non-residential land represented in the city-wide density figures, but they are still worth considering: 500 to 600 units per hectare is impressive.
How much of the city would we have to redevelop at 600 units/ha to house all our required growth?
The “medium” scenario in the Auckland Development Strategy shows we will need 319,000 new units by 2050. Developable land required for the residences themselves to meet this medium scenario, at Ockham’s average density of 600 units / hectare, is 532 hectares. I’ll round that up to 550 hectares.
Strung out along Auckland’s arterial road network, at a depth of 50m either side, we’d need to develop 55 km of arterial roads, over 30 years, or 1.8 km per year. Even at 3 km, to allow for side roads and parks and incorporating the odd heritage building respectfully, that’s not much, is it?
Not when it can replace the entire Supporting Future Growth programme. It would also relieve the pressure on suburbs to accommodate backyard infill, with all the paved driveways and loss of greenery that entails.
At the same time, we could upgrade the arterial road to a beautiful urban boulevard with better underground services, trees and safe biking.
Logistically, it would be superior to the sprawl developments because it would involve less overall construction and fewer trucks carrying aggregate to build roads. It would also be superior to backyard infill because proper safety-based logistics plans could be established that keep trucks away from children and people on foot or bike.
It’s useful to look at the land area that Kainga Ora is developing at the moment. Some of Kainga Ora’s “developable land” is illustrated below:
The projects total 667 hectares (including roads, etc, I imagine). These Kainga Ora developments are way better than most development happening in Auckland, but they could be higher density, less designed around the car, and more supported by good streetscapes. Some are already higher-than-average density. For example, the Bader Drive development is 95 units / hectare.
There’s no excuse for not having excellent bus services and connected safe biking infrastructure at a location like this, allowing for fewer carparks and more gardens and amenities, but funds are tight because we are sprawling. Bus opex is going into bus services for sprawl areas instead of here, and the capex for road building is money that could be spent creating safe biking infrastructure.
We can also harness many hectares of paved land, like car parks. What’s critical is that we leave our parks, bush and other green space alone. We can put that to better use in the future when we understand climate change better.
Our housing crisis has gone on too long. Government need to lead with a massive master planned apartment-building programme that really sets the standard of quality intensification.
Right now, the urgent task is to shift the RLTP and ATAP budgets away from road building and widening entirely, knowing the sprawl laid out by the Auckland Development Strategy is neither necessary nor desirable.