Roger Blakeley: Three hot issues for Aucklanders

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As the plans for Victoria Street show, Auckland could become a quality city with a layout that encourages a shrift to more public transport use. Photo / Supplied
As the plans for Victoria Street show, Auckland could become a quality city with a layout that encourages a shrift to more public transport use. Photo / Supplied

The debate on the draft Auckland Plan focuses on three hot-button issues: the future shape of our city, housing and transport.

There has been much written in this newspaper on whether Auckland should "grow up" rather than "grow out", the supply and affordability of housing and what form our transport infrastructure should take, and, importantly, who will pay for it.

First up, the shape of our city. New Zealanders historically have had a strong emotional attachment to the quarter-acre section. Yet there is a global trend towards smaller sections and apartment living.

Across the region from Rodney to Franklin, Aucklanders tell us that suburban sprawl is not the future they want and that Auckland should not continue to develop in this way.

Mayor Len Brown and the council have therefore set out a vision of a "quality, compact city".

This means urban intensification. But it also means keeping our rural areas rural and protecting these beautiful landscapes for everyone to enjoy.

Statisticians estimate that Auckland will become home to an additional 700,000 to 1 million residents over the next three decades. Readers may have views as to whether such growth is desirable. But the job of city planners is to be flexible enough to accommodate dynamic change.

Our estimates are that we will need up to an extra 400,000 dwellings to house those new Aucklanders. Of these, 300,000 can be accommodated within the current urban boundary, through careful intensification of different types of housing in suitable areas. The remainder will have to be accommodated in new greenfields land (about 6000ha) and rural satellite towns. This equates to a 75:25 split; Sydney and Adelaide have a similar 70:30 split between urban intensification and greenfields.

A quality, compact city has the following benefits:

* Greater productivity and higher rates of economic growth and job creation.

* Lower infrastructure and transport costs, as well as lower greenhouse gas emissions.

* Making the best use of existing infrastructure that Aucklanders have already invested in.

* Lifestyle benefits of countryside experiences and recreational opportunities close to the city.

Second, housing. There has been a shortage of housing in recent years. House prices in Auckland have increased at a greater rate than household incomes over the past two decades. Housing affordability is an issue for many, with one-fifth of Auckland households spending more than 40 per cent of their net income on housing costs (including rent, mortgage and rates). And there are additional daily living costs for residents who live far from services, public transport and employment opportunities.

So what is the council proposing to make housing more affordable?

The council plans to release greenfields land in a staged way to meet market demand. We will ensure that there is always five years' "ready-to-go" land, which is zoned and serviced for residential development, and a further 15 years' capacity in the planning pipeline.

There will also be a future supply of business-land capacity, earmarked for particular purposes such as large-format industry.

The council will also:

* Significantly up-zone land to allow for greater density in development areas.

* Enable intensification through the Unitary Plan and area spatial plans.

* Ensure infrastructure and amenities are in the right place at the right time.

* Work with the private sector and the Government on redevelopment initiatives such as the Tamaki Transformation Programme.

* Investigate financial incentives that encourage intensification.

* Ensure a "can do" council that delivers streamlined planning and consents.

The council is well aware that some poor-quality developments in the past have given apartments a bad name. That's why we're committed to radically improving the quality of urban living through initiatives such as the Auckland Design Compendium.

Third, transport. The congestion on Auckland's roads has become increasingly intolerable for motorists and a major drag on economic growth. The draft plan outlines a transformational shift to an integrated transport system for all of Auckland.

Our target is to increase trips by public transport, cycling and walking through a range of measures: integrated ticketing; infrastructure projects (the city rail link, rail to the airport, an additional harbour crossing, bus lanes, bus-feeder services and park-and-ride facilities); land-use planning; intensification in rail corridors; and effective travel-demand management.

The public was overwhelmingly supportive of the city rail link in feedback to our Auckland Unleashed document. The link represents an opportunity to transform Auckland's city centre, and beyond, by slashing travel times from the south and the west to central city locations by between 30 and 60 per cent.

It will also help boost the proportion of people travelling by public transport into the city centre during the morning peak from 47 per cent to 69 per cent by 2040. The result will be reduced congestion on Auckland's roads for motorists and freight, and a removal of a roadblock to economic activity.

You have no doubt seen the ongoing debate between central government and the Auckland Council as to who will pay for all of this.

We must look for innovative funding solutions for the city rail link and other major infrastructure projects, which could include congestion charges or network pricing.

Creating a quality, compact city, which offers affordable, quality housing and encourages a transformational shift to public transport, will produce an Auckland we can proudly call the world's most liveable city.

Dr Roger Blakeley is Auckland Council's chief planning officer.

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