Six years in the making and finally our day of days arrived. As the curtain lifted that September evening, Auckland sparkled in perfect springtime stillness.
But under the harsh glare of a global spotlight flaws in the picture came to light. The opening night of Rugby World Cup 2011 was the city’s big chance to set a precedent, not just for a one-off event but for its future.
Instead of it being a great leap forward, launched on the back of good planning, the city of sails revealed itself to be still haunted by transport and infrastructure nightmares that have been decades in the making.
The people of Auckland passed with flying colours, turning up in double the anticipated numbers. But the overly enthusiastic participation revealed the cracks as the city’s transport infrastructure crumbled under the strain.
All this coincided with the release of the draft Auckland Plan — what the new supercity council would like Auckland to look like in 2040. Not only does it include plans to transform transport, but sets high goals to lift the city’s GDP, living standards and to accommodate a hefty population rise. Bridget Gourlay looks at the plan and reactions to it.
Embracing the waterfront
First up, there’s the waterfront. We are the City of Sails after all and the council wants to transform the waterfront into a better, brighter place.
It’s been done before — arguably one of the most successful transformations of an urban area in New Zealand’s history has been Wellington’s waterfront. Once cut off from the CBD, it is now a space where the city-dwellers walk, run, dine and play. The seafront has won about numerous national and international awards (35 in one count!) and the area is consistently rated as one of the best public spaces in New Zealand and Australia.
So for Auckland to follow in the capital’s footsteps, it is opening up more of the waterfront to the public.
The Wynyard Quarter, previously known as the Tank Farm, has just been opened up and revitalised, and is receiving positive feedback. But it’s still going to get another serious upgrade. The plan, currently out for consultation, is to turn this space into a “harbourside community” complete with parks, plazas, apartments, shops and offices. The old traditionally marine industries will also be staying on.
By 2040, the waterfront is expected to be a major driver of Auckland’s economic future contributing $4.29 billion to the city, directly supporting 20,000 new fulltime jobs and contributing indirectly to a further 20,000 jobs across the region — largely in the cruise industry, tourism and construction. The Waterfront Plan, to be completed in early 2012, aims to be a public waterfront, connected to the city. Rounding that off is the proposed additions to the Auckland Harbour Bridge — two walking and cycling pathways that run alongside the traffic lanes. This cost will be off-set by a $2 charge to cross.
In 1840 New Zealand’s first governor, William Hobson, chose the Auckland isthmus as the site for his new capital. He was attracted by the fertile soil, the waterways and the large Maori populations close by. Fast forward 160 years and Auckland is a sought after place for very different reasons.
On the fertile soil stands tall office buildings and a vibrant downtown, the waterways are used as streams cutting through city parks and backyards. Today the Maori population is one of many ethnicities that make up one of the most multi-cultural cities on earth.
One of the most interesting aspects of the new plan is the amount of new people living in Auckland by 2040. It’s expected between 700,000 and one million new residents will become Aucklanders over the next 30 years.
If Auckland continues to grow as it has in the past with its suburban settlement patterns, then we will require approximately 32,000 hectares of new land.
Here lies the catch. The plan aims to hold 75 percent of growth inside existing urban boundaries to ensure a compact city — given the environmental consequences and wide range of infrastructure costs associated with a larger city. Already famous for ugly urban sprawl, the Auckland council doesn’t want to increase this.
So the new residents will need to live within the city, meaning well designed apartment blocks and rows of houses will need to be created.
“Interestingly, some of Auckland’s more intensively developed suburban housing is in Ponsonby and Freemans Bay, showing that more intensive living can have highly desirable qualities and still provide the lifestyle choices that Aucklanders want,” the council plan writes in its discussion of this issue.
To radically improve the quality of urban living across Auckland, the council is developing an Auckland Design Compendium providing specific criteria associated with Auckland’s unique landscape, landform, climate, local context, heritage and public open space qualities.
Development will be encouraged to also consider environmental design principles.
Until recently, the CBD had the suits and the nightlife, but few called it home. A push for more apartments resulted in a dramatic rise of CBD occupants, which now number 22,000. And a good chunk of the new population is expected to live in the CBD too – the number of city centre residents is expected to soar to 50,000 plus by 2032.
Although some of the most functional and beautiful cities in the world, such as Paris and Copenhagen have dense populations, not everyone is sure the council is on the right path with its high density plans.
Orewa Councilor and former Newmarket Business Association chief executive Cameron Brewer says the Government isn’t convinced by the planners’ drive for a ‘compact city’ model.
“Ministers have asked for more work to be done to show it’s not going to lead to less affordable land and housing. That work has been less than forthcoming.”
Auckland may be famous for its shining harbour and bustling centre, but across the country the city’s traffic problems are just as well known.
Despite it only having a fraction of the population, Auckland’s gridlocked traffic is just as bad as huge cities worldwide. And with the population set to increase, the infrastructure needs to get better and better.
The Auckland plan wants to open up Britomart (which currently ends in the CBD) with a 3.5km rail tunnel, part of the much-discussed city rail loop. The plan says the proposed $2.4 billion two-way link, which would include three new underground stations, received overwhelming support in public responses to the Auckland Unleashed discussion paper. It would create the city’s “most significant place-shaping,” opportunity by allowing increases in train frequencies across the entire rail network.
A report by law firm Meredith Connell into the RWC opening night fiasco found a city loop through the Britomart station would have reduced the severity of the September 9 delays.
The rail loop has long been a cherished desire of Mayor Len Brown, but the Government has not been so eager to front up with the cash. In May, Transport Minister Steven Joyce released an upsetting review for the pro-rail contingent, conducted by the Ministry of Transport and the Treasury in conjunction with the NZ Transport Agency.
“More work needs to be done to determine the full future transport needs of central Auckland before proceeding with a project like the CBD rail link,” Joyce said.
Specifically, the review found that although the estimated construction costs for the CBD rail link were largely sound, the transport benefits of the project were estimated at $387 million rather than the $1319 million assessed in the business case; and would only have a modest impact on traffic.
Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett also isn’t sold on the CBD rail loop. He says there are three or four other big projects that need to be completed with similar if not more urgency and commitment.
“If you rank them, which (project) will provide the greatest benefit for Auckland? As well as the city rail link, the draft plan encouragingly lists (but has no funding strategy for) at least two other transformational transport projects for substantial completion by 2020 — the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) and construction of an efficient road connection between SH1 at East Tamaki and SH20 at Onehunga. But unlike the city rail link, both of these projects are supported by uncontested value for money propositions,” he says.
“Given our overarching goal for an effective, efficient and safe integrated transport system that supports Auckland’s (and New Zealand’s) economic growth — improved, more reliable commuter services and more efficient freight supply systems — it would be foolish if we make the city rail link our sole investment priority against the hard evidence of other big projects demonstrating value for money and potential to contribute to lift our GDP growth,” Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett says.
Originally a port town, Auckland has always been the nation’s primary business hub. So it makes more than a little sense that future-proofing the local economy is part of the plan.
In short it wants to shift the economy from being import-led to export-driven and encourage the emergence of “new economy” sectors. This needs to be complemented by long-term sustainable growth in the country’s internationally competitive sectors, such as tourism, food and beverage, and tertiary education and training.
“Auckland also benefits internationally from New Zealand’s long-established reputation as ‘clean and green’. While this image may be over-inflated, New Zealand’s reputation as a pristine and remote ‘safe haven’ has become increasingly appealing in an increasingly risky world.
“Qualities such as food safety, clean environment, little corruption and low crime rates are embedded in New Zealand’s tourism proposition and key export industries.
“So long as this reputation is maintained and enhanced, Auckland and New Zealand have the potential to benefit from the global shift to green growth,” the plan writes.
Some business leaders are already emphasising this reputation as a key distinguishing factor, but the plan aims to ensure we keep this reputation. And one of the best ways to do so is to walk the talk. That’s why the Auckland plan wants the city to strive towards a low carbon economy.
“The low carbon market is the fastest growing globally, estimated to be worth $4.3 trillion by 2015. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise notes that a clean economy could result in a $150 billion high-value, low carbon export economy for New Zealand by 2025,” it notes.
The plan is also for Auckland’s green-economy to centre on “development, commercialisation and deployment of clean technologies and smart thinking to transform existing sectors and create dynamic new ones, particularly low carbon sectors”.
Another idea on how to boost Auckland’s financial success is to capitalise on already strong links to the Asia-Pacific region. “The attraction of international students and the importance of ‘export education’ as a significant economic contribution has further improved Auckland’s links to Asia and the Pacific. These are strengthened through the free trade agreement with China, and potentially with India. Auckland has the opportunity to capitalise on its close connections with the engine-room of world growth.”
Also being recognised is how critical SMEs are to the city’s economy. Of the 159,000 businesses listed in Auckland in 2010, 96 percent have fewer than 19 employees. But it acknowledges something SMEs have been saying for years — that bureaucracy can be stifling.
Therefore, the council will be improving the way it exercises its regulatory functions, such as ensuring its plans are simple, transparent and accessible. It also plans on streamlining the consent process and developing consistent and fair funding policies.
Other ideas include a Maori economic powerhouse and boosting the rural and maritime economy.
The Auckland plan makes no bones about some of the poverty seen in the city, especially in South Auckland.
“The magnitude and scale of under‑achievement in education, high rates of unemployment and health inequalities make this an area of national importance,” it states.
The council estimates more than 90 percent of the new employment opportunities in the area will require NCEA qualifications. That’s a clear problem for South Auckland teenagers, as more than half of them leave school with “virtually no school leaving qualifications, and future opportunities.” Ironically, there are many employment opportunities in the area, such as at Auckland Airport.
Therefore, the council wants every young person to develop a plan while at school for further education, training or employment. It also has a raft of ideas to support the health and home ownership opportunities of the poorest Aucklanders, and wants every child under five in early childhood education.
Councilor Cameron Brewer calls these goals ‘pie in the sky’. “While the spatial plan legislation requires a broad integrated strategic direction for Auckland, it does not demand the council to spell out the likes of specific education and health targets when central government is the primary funder and driver of these policy areas.
“Let’s just say, none of these targets will appear in any political party’s manifesto this election because most in Wellington wouldn’t promise things so unobtainable. It is wrong then to lump those social policy targets on the ratepayers of Auckland. Because the council has no means to deliver them, and Wellington will never sign up to achieving them, the targets are misleading at best.”
Like any modern city staring down its own future, there are probably more questions than answers, but at the very least, addressing issues that have been assigned to the ‘too hard’ basket for too long is an encouraging start.
Submissions on the draft Auckland Plan, as well as the Auckland City Centre Masterplan, the Waterfront Masterplan and the Economic Development Strategy close on Tuesday, October 25.