Super City: How to avoid unleashing a monster

By stephen selwood

Mayor Len Brown unveils the council's draft plan for Auckland. Photo / APN
Mayor Len Brown unveils the council's draft plan for Auckland. Photo / APN

Mayor Len Brown's draft Auckland Plan to create the "world's most liveable city" will be released for public comment in just a few weeks.

Top of the list of issues to be resolved is the funding and synchronisation of key city shaping transport investments, including the central city rail loop and the next harbour crossing.

A plan cannot be implemented without funding. Taken together, these two projects, along with the arterial roading, bus and other public transport investments needed, will require at least an additional $10 billion in funding. Add on rail to the airport and to the North Shore and the funding deficit doubles to $20 billion.

Borrowed over 30 years the annual repayments on a $10 billion loan would be around $600 million per annum - the equivalent of a 40 per cent increase in rates or a 40 cents per litre regional petrol tax.

Daunting as these numbers might seem, funding solutions are within the grasp of Aucklanders, if we choose to take them.

For example, a low level $2 "average" toll on every on-ramp to the motorway - maybe three dollars at peak and a dollar off-peak, capped at no more than $6 per day per user - could raise this level of funding.

A direct charge on the motorways would also encourage commuters to think about when and how they travel and prompt them to choose other options such as car pooling, going another way, taking public transport, walking or cycling. Or they could pay, and enjoy a faster trip with less traffic on the improved road network.

Deciding how we achieve a step change in funding is critical to the success of the plan. Equally critical is the need to align transport infrastructure investment and land use planning.

The CBD rail loop business case is founded on achieving a transformational uplift in residential and commercial density along the proposed rail tunnel alignment from Britomart under Albert St, to stations at Aotea, Karangahape and Newton. To be viable, the loop must be supported by a coherent land development plan for the corridor. This means appropriate phasing of the improvement of CBD commercial land and incentives to support intensification along the rail loop together with the commitment to investment in the rail system to give the private sector confidence to invest.

At the heart of the issue is the need for the CBD master-plan, the rail loop, waterfront development and the harbour crossing to be developed as an integrated plan. To date this has not been evident.

The Waterfront Development Agency is successfully promoting the development of Wynyard Quarter - an initiative that if delivered effectively will transform the western CBD. Though not served by the inner city rail loop, this significant waterfront development will compete in the same residential and commercial property market as the land adjacent to the loop.

Already the ASB Bank has committed to relocate its head office to Jellicoe St in 2013, vacating numerous floors in the ASB centre directly adjacent to the proposed new Aotea station.

Given the rail loop is designed to serve the CBD, will further expansion of Wynyard Quarter be put on the back burner? Or should the rail loop connect to Wynyard Quarter? These decisions are vital to the success of both the CBD rail loop and the Wynyard Quarter development, and will also significantly impact on the other two main rail station developments at Newmarket and New Lynn.

Just as integrated transport and land use planning is critical to the successful delivery of the CBD rail loop, it is equally central to determining the best alignment and form of the next Waitemata harbour crossing. The NZ Transport Agency currently proposes the crossing, be it a bridge or tunnel, would connect Northcote Point to Spaghetti Junction, landing on the western side of Wynyard.

The harbour crossing plan assumes the existing bridge will service five lanes of traffic to and from the city, including public transport, walking and cycling, while the new crossing will provide the main north-south link.

The new crossing will have three lanes in either direction but will be forced into just two lanes through Spaghetti Junction, with the third lane exiting into Cook St.

Traffic forecasts included in the harbour crossing business case show the corridors will continue to operate under most congested conditions after a new harbour crossing is put in place, largely due to capacity constraints on the adjacent network. These transport bottlenecks can be addressed by further upgrades to Spaghetti Junction, but the larger question is whether or not a "liveable western waterfront city" can be created by having all transport linkages to and from the north on the western side of the city where the major new Wynyard Quarter land development is proposed.

Viaduct Harbour and Fanshawe St are already congested at peak. How will the area sustain the development of Wynyard Quarter and a dramatic increase in traffic from the western ring route, the existing bridge and the additional harbour crossing, into the western CBD?

An alternative alignment would be a tunnel connection from Northcote Point to Grafton Gully on the eastern side of the city. A 2008 study on crossing alignments showed that although there were advantages to an eastern connection, this option was discounted largely on the basis of cost. However given a western crossing is also likely to require expensive future investment in the capacity of Spaghetti Junction, and that Grafton Gully will require an expensive upgrade to improve port connectivity in any case, there are considerable strategic and economic advantages to an eastern alignment.

A connection to Grafton provides better resilience through reduced dependence on Spaghetti Junction. It scored highly for economic benefits in the 2008 study. It provides a more direct connection to and from the north to the port, the hospital, the universities and to Newmarket, Penrose and other southbound destinations.

Travel to and from the port to the north is four kilometres shorter, reducing freight costs in the longer term. It reduces the risk of congestion at Spaghetti Junction and safeguards long term development opportunities by providing options for a future connection to the east.

Most importantly it better balances traffic on the eastern and western sides of the city, reducing the need for east west, cross-city traffic flows. Not only does this provide better opportunities to create a liveable and walkable city centre, it enables new development potential on the east.

The CBD rail loop and the next harbour crossing are by far the most significant investments that will shape the future development of Auckland. To give certainty to the deliverability of the plan it is critical they are supported by a credible funding plan. But more importantly it is essential they are developed as part of a coherent, cohesive and compelling plan for the future development of the heart of the new Super City.

Implemented properly these projects have the potential to contribute positively to the world's most liveable city. Implemented poorly they could create a legacy we will regret for decades.

* * *

Goals behind the Len speak

Auckland Unleashed is an aspirational strategy to make Auckland "the world's most liveable city."

Beyond the "Len-speak" - the upbeat words Auckland Mayor Len Brown uses to paint his picture of Auckland - are specific economic goals.

* Increasing Auckland's contribution to national GDP from 34 per cent to 44 per cent by 2031 - up by one-third in just 20 years.
* Improving Auckland's ranking against other OECD cities by 20 places in 20 years is another key goal.

The impact of the series of Canterbury earthquakes on the national purse means the Auckland Council will have to be creative as it seeks to leverage its $32 billion asset base to invest in new infrastructure - particularly to underwrite the three key transport projects that Brown sought a mandate for in his campaign for the Auckland mayoralty.

Among the proposals are tolls, congestion, parking and road user charges.

Public private partnerships are also expected to be part of the mix.

Auckland Unleashed has four key objectives:-

* Improve the quality of life for everyone
* Enhance socio-economic well-being
* Responsibly manage built and natural environments
* Develop a rational land use plan in the public interest.

The plan envisages world class infrastructure (particularly transport and broadband) will be a strong driver of economic growth.

It is expected to result in special zones for value-added manufacturing sectors and more efficient regulatory processes.

There is also a strong eco-city focus to the plan - for instance cutting the city's carbon emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

* * *

Keynote speech

Mayor Len Brown will give an insight into the latest proposals for the super city in a keynote address to a major conference of New Zealand's leading infrastructure specialists which is taking place over the next two days in Auckland.

Brown's address - The Auckland Plan from vision to reality - will be one of the highlights of the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development's Building Nations symposium.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce and NZ Super Fund boss Adrian Orr are also on the speaking list.

- NZ Herald

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