Some Corrections to a Very Wrong Piece of Commentary on the Unitary Plan and City Rail Link

Should it have made the Herald?


The “commentary” piece that landed in the Herald and so linked below also landed in my email box early this morning as well. It is not often I hit the Gmail “Report Spam” button on such emails but today was a day I did hit it.


Because you have works of Non Fiction, Works of Commentary, Works of Fiction, and then there is just utter spam. And what Bryan Leyland wrote on the Unitary Plan and the City Rail Link despite both’s flaws and possible shortcomings falls into the utter spam department. I am surprised the Herald actually published it unchecked and unbalanced but it did and did itself no favours.

I have been mulling whether to publish a counter to what Leyland wrote and decided to do so.


So I am going to break down Leyland’s piece section by section with counter points


From the NZ Herald

Bryan Leyland: Council must get up to speed with future transport needs


The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Mayor Len Brown is determined to commit Auckland to building a hugely expensive railway tunnel even though no comprehensive independent and objective economic analysis has been made on the merits of the tunnel and whether or not letting the city spread and developing satellite centres would be better.

Auckland Council has neglected its obligation to investigate and evaluate all options. Given the enormous amount of expenditure involved, this amounts to a serious dereliction of duty.


That myth around the City Rail Link serving a very small fraction of the population has been busted more than once and will be continuously be busted again.

Here is some actual information on the City Rail Link:

City Rail Link – an Index by Transport Blog

City Rail Link – The Information from Auckland Transport

Benefits of the City Rail Link – More information from Auckland Transport


As for studying all alternatives the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) covered what Leyland said wasnt done to the point a CCFAS MK2 is either under way or about to get under way. More on CCFAS MK1 can be seen in these two posts from Transport Blog

What was wrong with the modelling done for the CCFAS

The MoT and the CCFAS

So Leyland might want to read up on CCFAS and CCFAS MK2 rather soon.


Overseas research on 44 urban rail systems revealed that the average cost overrun was 45 per cent and the number of passengers was half the predicted number. Have the economics of the Auckland tunnel been tested against 45 per cent higher costs and half the passengers? If not, why not?


Rather than make such a sweeping statement Leyland would have been wise to link those rail projects that have had such blow outs.

My Rail Fallacy posts cover the implications of such blow outs and can be seen through clicking the links below:





Now that last one illustrates what Auckland Transport might or would have done to avoid the Fallacy. The inflated costs and all reasonable considerations have been added into the final cost of the City Rail Link. This minimises The Rail Fallacy and consequential costs against the ratepayer. Thus Auckland Transport has done its homework in benefit of us.


The council planners seem to be totally unaware of the imminent revolution in personal transport that will be brought about by self-guided cars, modern taxi systems, ride sharing and buses. By the time the tunnel is in operation self-guided cars that will allow twice the traffic density on roads and reduce accidents by 50 per cent or more will be available. Not long after it will be possible to call up a driverless taxi or minibus by cellphone to take you where you want to go. For those who think that this is the stuff of dreams, it is now possible to buy a car that, in a traffic jam, will follow the car ahead and every major car manufacturer is developing self-guided cars.

These technological advances, combined with telecommuting (working from home and using the internet to communicate) and smartphone-assisted car pooling will have a huge effect on commuting and the shape of future cities. The council should take its head out of the sand and get up to speed with this revolution.


Auto-cars and tele-commuting. Stuff touted since the 1960’s and never eventuated or if so not to the potential to what the than visionaries had envisioned. Google and Yahoo are two of the big digital companies of the world that recently shunned tele-commuting and brought everyone back in-house to the office on the grounds of productivity and efficiency. It most cases (and if done properly) the office space in a city centre or even metropolitan centres and industrial complexes benefit from the mass agglomeration given by such spaces through shared resource and knowledge all in close proximity. Put it this way humans by natural order are social creatures and work better often in social rather than individual environments. This is why tele-commuting will never reach such potential.


The Unitary Plan is based on a blind belief that it is wrong to let the city spread and intensification is the only option. This is simply not true. There are large areas of low-value agricultural land to the north, west and south of Auckland and much of it is already allocated for “lifestyle blocks” that contribute nothing to the agricultural economy. So the council argument that the city must not spread because it would deprive us of valuable agricultural land is nonsense.

The Unitary Plan concentrates development in the central isthmus, which is already crowded and includes the volcanic area. The council has ignored the lesson from Christchurch that you should not keep all your assets in one place.


If Leyland had bothered to even read the opening remarks to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan he would know that the PAUP allows between 60-70% of all development in existing urban areas known as Brownfield Areas with the remaining balance in the Greenfield areas (rural or virgin land).

If Leyland had also read the Interim guidance from the Unitary Plan Panel on Rural Urban Boundary he would have also noticed that Council is not getting it easy with the Rural Urban Boundary (a line that separates urban Auckland from rural Auckland) from the Panel either.

The link above takes you to that interim guidance with respected commentator Bob Dey giving his own thoughts here: Unitary plan panel at odds with council on boundary

Some extracts from Bob Dey’s piece:

Unitary plan panel at odds with council on boundary

The independent panel hearing submissions on the Auckland unitary plan has told submitters the council’s proposed provisions for the new rural:urban boundary “may be overly stringent” and that a more flexible boundary would be better.The panel also said in interim guidance it issued on Monday: “A rural:urban boundary is the most appropriate method to achieve the objective of a quality compact urban city when compared to the principal alternatives of the operative metropolitan urban limit & no boundary.”


The panel said the basis for establishing or changing the rural:urban boundary should be determined by criteria in the regional policy statement “which include at least the following” – a feasible developable area, infrastructure able to provided efficiently (including on a timely basis) & resiliently, and an appropriate timeframe for development.

The panel produced another caveat on the council view of restricting growth, essentially adopting an anti-compact stance while basing the guidance on the council’s compact city strategy: “There do not appear to be any plan methods which would achieve any objective or policy which seeks to allocate growth within & outside the current metropolitan area, other than using future urban zones as a restriction on growth.

“The panel is not satisfied that such restrictions would promote either the overall growth objective or the purpose of the Resource Management Act. The use of the words ‘greenfield’ & ‘brownfield’ in this context is accordingly not supported.”

In the interim guidance on rural subdivision, the panel said the unitary plan should provide for rural lifestyle subdivision “to a greater extent”: “It may be discouraged or constrained, but should not be effectively prevented. There should be no requirement to use existing rural sites rather than create new ones.”


Source and full blog post:


So the RUB needs to be more flexible and the Future Urban Zone is a flawed device into guiding future Greenfield development.


The Unitary Plan concentrates development in the central isthmus, which is already crowded and includes the volcanic area. The council has ignored the lesson from Christchurch that you should not keep all your assets in one place.

Most of the isthmus has well-established high-density suburbs with good houses, trees, gardens and lawns that are environmentally friendly and support large populations of birds and bees. The Unitary Plan will demolish these suburbs and substitute blocks of flats that will increase demand for parking, roads, schools, power, water supply, drainage and the like. There will be serious environmental and social impacts. Expanding infrastructure in an established suburb is far more expensive and environmentally damaging than building new low-cost houses on greenfield developments.


Apart from the Christchurch bit that section from Leyland is pure utter bollocks and should have never made it into the Herald unchecked. For starters thanks to NIMBYism on both sides of the political debate the Unitary Plan does not concentrate development on the Isthmus it actually forces development out into the fringes against the freer market and against the wishes of people interacting in that freer market.

The only place taking a real increase in development is the City Centre itself rather than the rest of the Isthmus. Using the term high density is disingenuous at best and down right false at worst. The only high density areas on the Isthmus are those that contain high rises (9 storeys or more) and that again is mainly the City Centre and parts of Newmarket.

High Density development in the Unitary Plan is also only allowed in the City Centre Zone, nine of the ten Metropolitan Centres, and Pakuranga Town Centre (the Heavy Industry Zone allows for higher density industrial development compared to the Light Industry Zone). The rest of Auckland either has low or medium density development depending on the incoming zones.

The Unitary Plan will not demolish the existing Isthmus suburbs as we are not China nor the former Soviet Union on some State Building exercise. What the Unitary Plan allows in conjunction with the Auckland Design Manual is for the Isthmus to naturally evolve to the demands of the people via the freer market.. Meaning if they want a three storey terraced housing complex in a Terrace Housing and Apartment Zone that allows six storeys then that three storey development can be built. If there is demand for that six storeys then the six can be built instead.

The point being is that the zones are enablers and when applied properly allow the people to choose the housing typology needed for a given area.


As for the myth around Brownfield being more expensive to provide infrastructure; that was refuted in the recent Cost of Growth Study that went to Auckland Council. In short that study concluded independently (from Council) that neither Greenfield nor Brownfield had any advantage or disadvantage over the other in terms of infrastructure costs. How so?

I outline it here (backed up with extra commentary and the report itself): COST OF RESIDENTIAL SERVICING REPORT BEFORE COMMITTEE – UPDATED


The council’s objective is to ration land and artificially inflate land values so as to force people to demolish good houses and force them to build apartment buildings to spread the rates burden. Auckland houses and the land they stand on now cost seven times the average income. In many prosperous and liveable cities overseas, the cost is only three times the average income. Virtually all of the low-cost cities have flexible urban boundaries and town planners whose objective is to help people live how and where they want. The objective of the council planners seems to be to dictate where and how people should live.


Leyland has contradicted himself for reasons I have pointed out earlier in this post.


The Unitary Plan will make personal transport unaffordable for low-income people and this will make it extremely difficult for them to take their families to the beach or parks or out into the bush.


Who says low-income people want personal transport. If the public transport figures and feed back to the Long Term Plan is anything to go by people want more invested on public and active transport and less on “roads.” Heck even Grey Power are saying less on roads:Grey Power joins fight against major road projects



Auckland can pour vast amounts of money into city centre development in the hope of getting enough passengers to justify a railway tunnel, or it can allow the city to spread and develop satellite centres so that people can live in affordable houses and work in the same area.

Before any action is taken on the Unitary Plan and the tunnel, ratepayers should demand that an independent and objective study is done on the social, environmental and economic benefits of allowing the city to spread, compared with intensification. Nothing is more important.


If you used actual facts rather than conjecture Bryan, and that both the Unitary Plan and City Rail Link were that deeply flawed then yes another independent review of both would be needed. But both the Unitary Plan and the CRL are not deeply flawed. They both have some shortcomings but they are being worked through very methodically. The Unitary Plan Panel has not being giving Council and easy ride and on a few occasions have savaged the Council for less than ideal evidence and methodologies for their claims with the Unitary Plan. The Regional Policy Statement Interim Guidance has been a very clear example of that. I also expect the Port of Auckland rules issue to be another example too other the next few months.


So should have the Herald published Leyland’s spam (not even worth putting into the Fiction Section of a Library)? Yes it should have as it does trigger an automatic rebuttal on the true facts. True facts that need to be put out into the public to the point drilled into them. That said I hope the Herald has contacted Deputy Mayor, Auckland Development Chair thus overseer of the Unitary Plan – Penny Hulse for a reply to refute Leyland’s conjecture and put the solid actual information out there……


Source of Herald material:


%d bloggers like this: