This is a guest post by Heidi O’Callahan.
We currently have an opportunity to change how Auckland grows, and Council wants to know what you think.
It replaces the existing Auckland Plan 2050 Development Strategy 2018 and the Future Urban Land Supply Strategy 2017 [FULSS]. – FDS
A brief description of what this strategy is about
Auckland has been sprawling out over farmland for decades. Our urban area now covers such a large area that the city should never need to grow outwards again. The draft Strategy is very clear that intensification is preferable to urban expansion:
In general, urban expansion and greenfield development is likely to produce more emissions than existing urban development…
Adding additional growth at the fringes of our existing networks is the least cost-effective investment in infrastructure to support growth. The best return on investment is closer to the centre…
focusing infrastructure investment decisions in existing urban areas could influence health outcomes, accessibility, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, business and employment outcomes and development costs – FDS
The draft Strategy also shows Auckland is expanding faster than planned.
Rather than the sequenced approach provided for through the FULSS, live zoning has come through private plan changes ahead of time…
this has put more pressure on the council group’s ability to provide funding and financing to service
development – FDS
One third of the 15,000 ha of land identified for the 30 years of growth from 2017 to 2047 is already “live zoned” and under development:
In effect, private plan changes are driving the strategy… – FDS
Council rightly proposes big steps to tackle the problem, including reducing the “Future Urban Area”, and introducing “triggers” before any further development in an area is allowed:
future urban areas will be sequenced, with this sequencing linked to triggers dependent on when all the required bulk infrastructure can be provided – FDS
But here’s the snag. Companies that profit off sprawl have encouraged significant opposition. Your support for the draft Strategy really matters. Please encourage others to submit in support too.
The five questions that Council has asked are:
- Focusing Growth. What do you think of our approach to focus most of Auckland’s growth in existing urban areas?
- Accessible Local Centres. What do you think of our approach to focus development near local centres?
- Avoiding hazards. What do you think of our approach to avoid further growth in areas which are exposed to significant risk of environmental hazards?
- Resilient Infrastructure. What do you think of our approach to prioritising nature-based infrastructure that responds to the impacts of climate change?
- Do you have any other feedback?
My quick take on the first four questions is “It’s Great!” Below, I discuss the topic a little deeper.
For the fifth question, I will acknowledge the large amount of good work that has gone into this draft Strategy. The maps are awesome.
This plan is good, and – if they rezone all the Future Urban Areas that are recommended for investigation, it will make a big difference. I also think this will make further improvements possible.
In addition to my support for the plan, I’d also like Council to go further and:
- change the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) to allow better forms of development throughout the city, including in the low-density suburbs further from ‘centres’.
- shift the development nodes to sit well within the existing urban area.
- halt infrastructure projects that support expansion, so investment can be diverted to intensification projects.
- use deliberative democracy when developing policies, plans and strategies.
To have less change every few years, it’d be easier in the long run to have a more fundamental rethink that truly responds to the urgency of the climate challenge.
A more transformational development strategy
Should Council be proposing that the city keep expanding at all?
We are already struggling to maintain, improve, and service our city because it is too large. Making any more rural land “urban” simply makes all our problems harder to resolve, and more expensive.
The map below shows that, while Council proposes rezoning some pieces of land back to rural, and recommends investigating other parts further, there’s still plenty of “Future Urban Land”:
Why? The Overall Evidence Report explains that expansion is still allowed because:
- It is already committed by being live-zoned.
- It is needed to meet demand for land.
- It is needed to meet the need for more business land.
Taking these reasons one at a time:
- Much of this “live zoning” shouldn’t have happened at all, as it’s occurred in the four years since Council declared a climate emergency. Can the land still being released for development be removed from the Future Urban Area too? What about those large areas they are proposing to recommend “for further investigation” – Could they not just be removed immediately?
- Council can significantly reduce the “demand for land”, by increasing the development capacity in the existing urban area.
- As for business land, the draft Strategy claims 1400 hectares of new business land in greenfield areas is required. NZ businesses have more ability to adapt to climate-appropriate land use practices than Council seems to be assuming – they just haven’t been helped to do so. Also, economic growth must not simply continue; there are obvious planetary limitations. So, I look forward to seeing how the accompanying Business Capacity Assessment (not yet released) aligns with the IPCC expectations.
There’s a huge (missed) opportunity here
The overarching issue is how to equitably meet our climate commitments. This goal is far easier to achieve if we don’t add any more land to the city. Council seems to have misconstrued the goal as whether or not there is “sufficient” development capacity without needing to add more homes within the existing urban area:
The Future Development Strategy identifies there is sufficient residential and business development capacity across Tāmaki Makaurau…
[T]his Future Development Strategy does not focus on identifying significant additional plan-enabled development capacity – FDS
How can Council say sprawl is required due to a “demand for land” if the draft Strategy does not attempt to reduce that demand by seeking more capacity for growth within the existing urban area? Why is there no focus on making it easier to do more intensification?
Another contradiction arises in the draft Strategy’s approach to infrastructure investment. This is really good:
The council will proactively invest in a limited number of places at a time to achieve the greatest benefits, across multiple outcomes, and support development capacity in those areas to be realised. This means investing primarily in existing urban areas, with a strong focus on aligning land use and infrastructure. This is also a way to support projects which have city-shaping potential. – FDS
Will Council actually tackle the transport sector, though? Appendix 3 lists numerous infrastructure projects serving greenfield areas that are described as “either committed and funded or signalled”. That any of these projects still have a green light of any kind, four years into a climate emergency, is an indication of a lack of climate leadership.
Waka Kotahi and Auckland Transport are spending a lot of money on expansion-related projects in Auckland. Indeed, poor prioritisation of investments has tied up so much money that the Auckland Transport Board appears to have given up on meeting our climate commitments.
In a time when budgets are increasingly stretched to cover repair and recovery, a responsible strategy would stem the tide of public money being wasted on new costly sprawl infrastructure – such as in Warkworth, Drury, and the Northwest.
Let’s urge Council take this critical opportunity to divert money rapidly from sprawl projects to climate action.
Put the Nodes at the Heart of the Existing Urban Areas
The draft Strategy proposes to keep nodes at Warkworth, Albany, Westgate, the City Centre, Manukau and Pukekohe.
All these locations need people-friendly improvements, better regulations and mixed-use zoning – but the outer ones should not be nodes of growth.
As is obvious from the map, Westgate and Albany are located on the edge of the city, so half their catchments consist in low-density rural areas. Shifting the growth to the existing urban area requires shifting the growth nodes to sit within the existing urban areas. This will attract people for employment, shopping, or recreation from all over the West and North Shore, respectively, making them really fantastic parts of the city to live.
Hitch the Strategy to the Goals!
Plenty of good analysis was done in the preparation of this plan, but it was weakened by some assumptions from a paradigm that existed before climate planning. For example:
additional growth will have limited influence over travel patterns and behaviour over the next 10 years. – FDS
Our existing urban form will continue to shape how far people will travel, and is why the city mustn’t sprawl any further. Despite this, the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) still found average trip lengths can be reduced by 10% by 2030 (from +5% to –5%) as a result in development changes:
reduction in trip length possible through smarter neighbourhood design and intentional, transport-oriented development. – TERP
So the draft Strategy is wrong on this. If we can reduce trip lengths by 10% over 7 years, that means our development strategy has a large influence over the next 10 years; not a limited one.
Similarly, Council has misunderstood the emissions reduction potential in typical Auckland suburbia:
Less focussed and scattered intensification, such as that enabled by the MDRS, is not effective in reducing [vehicle km travelled (VKT)] and therefore transport emissions. – OER
This contradicts the TERP, which is focused both on development near centres and on what happens in the low-density suburbs further away:
Vibrant, mixed-use neighbourhoods for people across Auckland, where residents can easily access most of their daily needs by walking, cycling and PT. Building on the existing quality compact approach and continuing the trend to a greater diversity of land uses and an increased mix of housing typologies will transform single-use residential and commercial suburbs into vibrant, mixed-use Neighbourhoods.
Cities across the globe have made this a key component of their efforts to reduce transport emissions, with concepts such as Complete Neighbourhoods and the 15-Minute City being widely embraced. These ideas focus on retrofitting low-density suburbs into more healthy, accessible and equitable neighbourhoods, predicated on enhanced walkability and improved cycling access. – TERP
Remember, the TERP’s goals rely on decarbonising in an equitable way. Residents in all suburbs – including low-density suburbs further from centres and stations – must be provided with good amenities and effective sustainable transport options – for the plan to work well.
Another – rather large problem – is apparently in the Overall Evidence Report. Council misdiagnoses the cause of tree loss. It presents before and after aerial photos of Mt Roskill to mistakenly blame “intensive development” for the “loss of private green space and tree canopy”:
This is certainly not an example of “intensive development”. It is wasteful low-rise development that covers a lot of ground, created as a direct result of Council’s regulations.
The problem here is not intensification: it’s that the “Mixed Housing Urban” zone of the AUP allows buildings to sprawl right to the back of their sections, but severely limits their heights, including by a 45 degree “recession plane”.
Council might have faced less opposition last year if their AUP changes in Plan 78 had proposed regulations that would create an attractive new urban form. Instead, they simply made an incremental change in dimensions:
While this change will still help prevent sprawl, with a net benefit for green infrastructure, better regulations would create a beautiful and functional environment, such as in the Bern example below, which has:
- 5-storey development around the perimeter of each block,
- verdant central shared gardens,
- footpaths unbroken by so many vehicle crossings,
- far more homes for all kinds of people, with views front and back, walkable footpaths, and quiet spaces away from traffic.
Better urban forms like this can develop, site by site, throughout all of Auckland, creating neighbourhoods of perimeter block housing, organised around gardens and greenery.
The draft Strategy misses the opportunity, and instead of recommending the AUP be changed to allow this greenery-rich urban form, it only recommends:
Strengthen protection of existing vegetation and encourage or require new planting and ecological connections – draft FDS.
Everyone deserves a home in a leafy suburb. It’s called Good Density.
Focus on improving streets
The draft strategy could extend its focus on quality design to the creation of quality streets.
There is some street focus in the draft Strategy’s suggested nature-based solutions:
This is a soothing green picture. Do I spot some skinny bike lanes there? Water-sensitive design specifically includes reallocating space from traffic lanes and parking to footpaths and cycle lanes, as caring for water involves reducing both how much we drive and the area of tarmac we dedicate to the driving mode.
The picture also shows footpaths that aren’t striped with driveways. Development projects can vastly improve the footpath environment by removing vehicle crossings, with enormous improvements for safety and active travel. More often Council turns a blind eye to development making footpaths, and safety, far worse.
A transformational strategy would tackle this at last. Yet the words “footpath”, “driveway”, and “vehicle crossing” are not mentioned.
Using better democratic tools
Even though stopping urban expansion would improve our collective finances, environment and wellbeing, most Aucklanders barely give the idea a thought. Conversely, those individuals and companies who make money from sprawl are motivated to submit against. Consultations are useful for highlighting considerations that officers had not previously canvassed, but there are better ways to inform decision-makers about “the public sentiment” on the topic.
The draft Strategy is about both “climate action” and “transport decision-making“, so it’s a perfect example of where Council’s own plan (the TERP) instructs them to use deliberative democracy:
11.1. Enable deep and ongoing dialogue with Aucklanders on climate action
11.1.2. Transform engagement processes to better enable citizen participation in transport decision-making, using participatory models such as deliberative democracy – TERP
The good news is that the Transport and Infrastructure Committee is being asked, today, to approve a “Deliberative Poll” for another piece of work: the VKT Reduction Programme. I am really encouraged that Auckland Council is taking this step, and look forward to more.
Meanwhile, for this draft Future Development Strategy, it’s worthwhile to remind Council that it is not the job of the public to balance the submissions from vested interests. It is Council who has the legislative responsibility to plan for future generations. A liveable future for our collective well-being must inform what Council should do, not fear of well-moneyed backlash.
However, let’s try to lock in these improvements. Happy Submitting! The last day for submissions is the 31st July.
NOTE: All Aboard Aotearoa is currently putting together a submission based on the points in this post. We can refine our submission in response to thoughtful comments from readers, so we look forward to your insights. With a view to constructive outcomes, we also invite comments and clarifications (or direct emails if you prefer) from Council officers.