Expect 4-5 centres to be earmarked in growth strategy review

Published 11 April 2007

A proactive, more aggressive approach to planning was proposed last week at the Regional Growth Forum, and the future focus would be on a handful of chosen growth centres.

The key element of the technical reports & workshop discussions is that 4-5 centres around the region would be identified as sub-regional business districts marked for more intensive development and a series of maybe 6-8 suburbs be identified as supporting centres, also to be more intensively developed.

Public development corporations could be introduced to implement the strategy. Essentially, the change would be more authoritarian – according with the Australian model of democracy.

The report, presented at the 4 April meeting of the growth forum by principal regional development advisor Brenna Waghorn, was received and will form the basis of discussion at the forum’s next workshop, on Thursday 26 April.

Details will pour out of the Auckland Regional Council through a series of reports which will go on its website, some finalised, others in preliminary stages.

New mood replaces guidance

Since the region’s mayors & regional council chairman signed the regional growth strategy in 1999, the strategy has always been said to be a guide rather than a demand: Population growth was likely to result in the Auckland region’s population doubling to 2 million by 2050, and the region’s public-sector planners & politicians needed to establish how that population increase could be accommodated.

The sticking point has been that, when any intensification has been proposed, local residents have resisted. A complication has been that intensive development has been allowed in places marked for growth – but the intensity hasn’t been as great as regional planners think will be necessary. One outcome has been that, while intensification has occurred, it may block the even more intensive development needed to turn chosen centres into the hubs that would make the compact-city concept work best.

When the Auckland City Council proposed more intensive development in Panmure in 2001, it raised the ire of locals by presenting very precise figures which were seen as targets. In the backdown, targets became guidelines and the intensification programme has never been quite the same since.

Until now. Under the programme outlined by Ms Waghorn, the key growth centres will be named, growth targets will be set, changes in transport & land use will begin.

The changed emphasis in implementing the growth strategy ties in with the new regional outlook on sustainable development, and also relates to the proposals for “one city” governance under which there would be some new over-arching policymaker for Auckland, although the present councils would be retained.

In the background, councillors around the region and central government officials have taken part in a number of workshops on reviewing the growth strategy, on the new sustainability framework, and on implementing the strategy.

Ms Waghorn said some of the key workshop conclusions were:

Considerable investment has been committed to physical infrastructure. However there is work to do to focus on & align this investment with social infrastructure
There is a disconnect between regional strategy & local-level implementation and a need for certainty about where & when redevelopment in growth areas will occur. Greater effort is needed to sequence growth so investment, particularly around infrastructure, can be effectively planned & aligned
The “business as usual” approach will not achieve desired outcomes. Agencies need to think beyond 5-10-year timeframes and challenge the traditional way of budgeting, communicating, planning & delivering
More proactive tools such as development corporations and place-based approaches are needed to achieve desired outcomes.

From a survey of developers undertaken last year, Ms Waghorn pointed to a few more issues standing in the way of intensification:

First was the lack of certainty about where, when & how growth will occur in centres
Council planning processes & procedures tend to hinder rather than facilitate intensification. There’s a lack of flexibility in existing rules to respond to intensification objectives. There’s little incentive for innovation, leading to risk-averse practices. And there’s inconsistency between council policy & practices, within councils and between the ARC & territorial councils
The cost of development is impacted by time delays caused by notification processes (through land holding costs) and the price of land
Market demand for intensification is growing. However, meeting demand is impeded by the infrastructure constraints in areas planned for growth, and due to the difficulty in amalgamating sites in key areas. Plan changes to allow intensification are slow in areas prime for redevelopment.

The regional development team has compiled a report on international trends and lessons in growth management, including a review of comparable cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Portland & Vancouver) & tools they’ve used to implement growth & sustainability objectives. Among the tools used:

Land release programmes were established to facilitate orderly & economic development through the timely provision of land, services & infrastructure over 25-50-year periods
Priority growth areas were identified, including both new urban areas on the fringe & priority centres for redevelopment within the existing urban areas
Management authorities were established for growth areas
Land & property development agencies were established to deliver strategy & area objectives, often enabled by special legislation to amalgamate sites, acquire land & fast-track planning processes
Critical projects would be fast-tracked, creating specific town-centre planning teams with delegated authority & voluntary codes of practice to supplement statutory planning tools.

Economic drivers

Ms Waghorn said a report on economic trends & drivers identified continued population growth as a primary driver of economic growth, combined with a growing domestic market. Other drivers included the extent of foreign ownership of local firms, shortages of skilled labour and infrastructure capacity constraints. Also identified were the need to make better use of Maori & Pacific skills and a drive to increase export-led production.

“Despite this export focus, the report identifies that the fastest growth is likely to be in those sectors servicing the local economy (retail, services, construction & distribution). This will flow through to affect business land. There will be strong demand for retail space, as well as manufacturing, transport & storage, distribution. The demand from sectors such as financial & insurance services is likely to be more focused on town centre locations.”

Ms Waghorn said this report concluded by identifying some policy choices that will enable councils to influence future business growth:

Allow market forces within the existing regulatory framework
Councils can direct growth through an enhanced regulatory framework, and
Councils, together or individually, can express preferences for the location of growth and pursue a consultative, facilitative approach.

Residential capacity

Preliminary results from a 2006 study on Auckland’s capacity for residential growth were presented to the growth forum at its February workshop. A final report will be published in June, but initial findings were:

In 2001, metropolitan Auckland had 16-25 years’ supply of residential capacity under current policy. This level of capacity has been maintained largely through the addition of greenfields land within the MUL (the metropolitan urban limit)
In 2006, under current district plans, capacity will be exhausted around 2022 (16 years of growth)
Assuming remaining capacity in the sector agreements is realised through district plan changes, and combined with current district plan capacity, the region has 26 years’ supply of residential capacity available
Capacity from traditional sources, ie, vacant land & infill, is continuing to decline
Development over the past 5 years has occurred on vacant land (40%), as infill (33%) and on business-zoned land, largely the cbd (27%)
Under current policy (district plan) about one-third of remaining residential capacity is vacant land, one quarter of capacity is by way of infill (including some redevelopment potential)
A large proportion of existing capacity is in commercial zones, eg, the cbd, cbd fringe, sub-regional centres & town centres
Current infill development within residentially zoned parts of growth centres may compromise the capacity for higher densities in the future.

How they do it overseas

The regional council commissioned a report on overseas metropolitan infrastructure planning (in New South Wales, Victoria & Ontario), and Ms Waghorn said it highlighted “the fragmented state of Auckland’s infrastructure and the misalignment of planning for growth and funding of infrastructure”. She said it highlighted elements of successful infrastructure, including the need for:

a strategic vision, leadership and a champion
a co-ordination agency that provides strategic planning leads, and
“city shaping” through transport & land use and supporting funding & pricing to reinforce plans.

A report on intensifying town centres & business areas has identified tools & methods for employment intensification that have been successful overseas and might be applied here. Some suggested approaches are:

Developing a coherent framework to guide redevelopment
A regional development corporation to play a role in identifying strategic sites & areas and working with the private sector to play a more significant planning & consenting role in key sites and to optimise development outcomes for the community
Strategic land acquisition & site amalgamation
Identifying specific targets for residential & business growth to support redevelopment of centres
Additional planning mechanisms to support employment intensification such as density bonuses & permissible land uses
Funds & grants directed to key sites to promote rehabilitation of blighted sites or deprived areas
Establishment of business improvement districts where local businesses are levied in order to deliver supplementary services (main street beautification, new amenities).

Barriers to more intensive housing

In the updated report on mechanisms to intensify housing, a number of discussion techniques were suggested to promote demand in areas where market barriers exist. These included:

the need to slow or stop incremental infill-type development from occurring where market demand for intensive housing is low
structure & concept planning for selected nodal areas are helpful in providing direction, but real gains can be made by upgrading the environment within the selected areas
promotion of the benefits of living in and owning intensive housing versus other housing forms
encouragement of developers to respond more to the needs of end users rather than investors when designing developments
a regional development agency, with a role in providing certainty relating to future land use & infrastructure changes in & around the nodes selected for intensification.

The conclusions

Out of all that, the regional planning team came up with criteria for identifying strategic centres & corridors, suggested a hierarchy then presented some emerging trends and conclusions of the review. First, the criteria:

Geographic positioning
Overall trip generation
Numbers of jobs
Market catchment size
Diversity of activities
Transport infrastructure, services and planned investment
Capacity for additional development (development, infrastructure & economic opportunity).

Then came the potential hierarchy:

A strong cbd that serves the entire region
A series of sub-regional business districts that serve populations of around 300,000 people
A series of major centres that support the sub-regional centres and service large catchments (maybe 6-8 suburbs)
Specialised centres that recognise important employment areas
Corridors distinguishing between those appropriate for residential growth and those suited to employment activities, and
A series of local centres to serve local populations for day-to-day needs.

Among the trends:

Urban form in the Auckland region is beginning to change and a strong market has developed for more intensive forms of urban living
Although current regional & sector policy allows for development in the identified growth centres & corridors, district plans don’t enable this. The region continues to develop the easiest growth options first (ie, on vacant land and by way of infill). As a result, the capacity for this type of residential development is continuing to decrease
Current policy provides capacity for residential development for a further 16-26 years (under medium growth projections)
There has been a steady decrease in the regional supply of vacant business-zoned land, leading to a shortage of capacity for certain types of business development
Significant future capacity for residential & business development exists within centres (largely through redevelopment opportunities), but this is not being realised. Current planning & approval processes are not encouraging centres-based development and there are a number of barriers to this occurring
There is a lack of co-ordinated provision of infrastructure at regional & local levels. Investment across the region is not being used to drive the implementation of the regional growth strategy
There has been a lot of public investment (in transport, education, health, public realm, parks, for example) and use of new tools (urban design panels, development & property companies, joint ventures) to demonstrate & direct quality development outcomes. However this is on a small scale compared to the development that is necessary.

Ms Waghorn said strategic conclusions at this stage of the review were:

The need to stick to the vision and provide stronger leadership
A multi-centred compact urban form is the way forward for a city-region seeking to become more sustainable over the long term, and
The need to take bigger steps and possibly leaps to improve implementation. The most significant of these steps could occur through the prioritisation of planning effort & improved co-ordination of investment. For example, over the next 5-10 years, planning, investment & infrastructure delivery could be focused on 4-5 key centres in the region.

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Attribution: Regional Growth Forum meeting, agenda & presentation, story written by Bob Dey for this website.

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