Upper North Island Needs its Version of an Auckland (Spatial) Plan

Inter-Regional Planning


Last year I gave a guest lecture to Geography and Environmental Planning students at the University of Waikato on the topic of inter-regional planning between Auckland, the Waikato and Tauranga. You can see the Guest Lecture slides and follow up commentary here: Guest Lecture: Inter-Regional Planning and Sustainability.

In essence (as of August 2017):

The main points of the lecture:

  • Cities and provinces since the 1990’s have been in competition
  • Rapid urbanisation and globalisation has seen the provinces hollowed out when industry has moved to Auckland
  • Auckland houses 37% of GDP and 34% of the population while growing at 800 new residents a week, this is unsustainable
  • Infrastructure both in terms of transport and water are not coping
  • Record suicide rate of 606 for the year in part will have come from Provincial centres being hollowed out and no real chances of employment available
  • Inter-Regional Planning connects up the smaller Centres with the bigger Centres spreading the population and employment load. Acts as control rods for Auckland
  • Tourism potential



Since then  we have had an election and a change of Government. The Labour-led Government is taking a more progressive approach with transport with the Government Policy Statement on transport to focus on:

  • Safety
  • Access
  • Resilience
  • Low Carbon 

This means no more 4-lane carriage ways like Mill Road northern section, and East West Link Option F. But rather basic safety upgrades to existing infrastructure while allowing new infrastructure including two-lane bypass roads like Mill Road southern section to occur. The GPS will also put a heavy focus on transit and heavy rail (passenger and freight).

The push for housing to be handled by the Housing Commission (the central Urban Development Authority) while not a full Planning Ministry as I would like – would be handling large scale urban development. That being not only housing but also facilitating commercial and industrial development and partnering up with other authorities to have the transport links built. There is a reason why Phil Twyford is the Minister of Transport, Housing and Urban Development – aka THUD!


Need for a Spatial Plan

In order to coordinate urban development and transport investment especially in the Golden Triangle (Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga) some large scale spatial planning will need to be done first.

A recap from my Guest Lecture:

The Urban Geography of the Regional Rapid Rail and how it promotes connectivity across the upper North Island

Over the years I have blogged and presented materials on inter-regional planning (and how authorities don’t quite get it). The central themes around this inter-regional planning are the following:

  1. Most urban growth both residential and industrial will be in Southern Auckland
  2. Industry is decamping from the Southdown-Onehunga complex and moving into Southern Auckland as land use competition with residential and commercial heats up on the Auckland Isthmus
  3. Heavy industry seeks out lower land values with good connections and little land-use competition as mentioned above
  4. Population is spilling out of Southern Auckland and like industry will see provincial places in the northern Waikato
  5. State Highways 1, 2 27 and 29 form the road spines while the North Island Main Trunk Line and the East Coast Main Trunk Line form the rail spines between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga
  6. The Golden Triangle forms 50% of the national population and 50-60%% of national GDP
  7. Role of Manukau City Centre into the future


As Auckland continues to boom satellite towns like Pokeno, Huntly and Morrinsville will reestablish themselves especially as the other major centres (Hamilton and Tauranga) continue to become major satellites to Auckland. The good thing is those places are on both established road and rail links making their connectivity back to Auckland rather straight forward. Cue the Regional Rapid Rail concept linking the smaller and larger satellites back up to Auckland.


Population load spreading – saving the Provinces and Auckland at the same time

Rapid urbanisation has seen provincial centres without decent industry hollow out while the main urban centres continue boom and expand. This is not healthy for either and can create imbalances both economic and social that impair the economy. Whether industry moves to the provincial centres or not population load spreading (that is Auckland loses some of it population to its Satellites in the south) can act as a control rod to the reactors that are our major urban centres. As noted it above Auckland to Hamilton would be 70 minutes so being in a provincial satellite between Pokeno to Te Rapa connected to the Regional Rapid Rail allows for some Aucklanders to move while still having good connectivity with their employment back in the City. If Manukau City Centre and its big industrial complexes step up then a commute from Huntly to Puhinui or Manukau becomes even shorter.

If a smaller satellite is not for you then Hamilton or even Tauranga is always available for you to live while being connected back to Auckland via the rail system.

So yes Regional Rapid Rail connecting up both the main urban centres and the provincial satellites can give pressure relief to Auckland through population spreading.

Employment and Industry spreading

Like with population rapid urbanisation consolidated heavy industry away from small towns and into the big urban centres gutting those smaller towns. Projects like the Waikato Expressway will bypass and further harm these towns (like Huntly) so enter rail to turn things around.


  • Assist the creation of affordable housing supply that is well-connected by congestion-free transit. Use transit focused residential development to catalyse the local economies of northern Waikato towns, which face potential economic decline by being bypassed by the new Waikato Expressway.


Source: Greater Auckland


Heavy industry as Auckland continues to expand will seek out places where land-use competition is not intense. Smaller provincial centres connected up by decent passenger and freight rail would be in the box seat to receive these industries as they move around. But it is not only big industry on the move. As the population load spread ramps up niche industries and commerce will follow and set themselves up in the provincial centres connected by Regional Rapid Rail. This has two positive consequences:

  1. Smaller urban centres increase their local employment base
  2. Diversified employment base better protects the smaller centres from the fluctuations of the economy

Niche industries can include tourism which is next up.



Two hours to Tauranga by train. I will certainly take that on a Friday evening returning to Auckland late Sunday or early Monday when taking a weekend away from Auckland compared to the two and a half hour drive by car I will have to do next month by car. Play the cards right and you could have a premium service going down on Friday and returning Sunday that serves food and well booze for a slightly higher fare. This would tap into the large tourism potential Tauranga offers but the smaller Centres connected by Regional Rapid Rail need not miss out. Rotorua, Cambridge, Waitomo and even Huntly should be able to tap into niche tourism offerings of various sizes that the rail system would allow.

Again diversifying your employment base gives you as a smaller centre better protections from the swings of the economy.

Productivity and environmental impacts – transforming and unlocking places!

Heavy Rail is the most efficient form of moving people and goods over long distances compared to road travel. Whether it be lower emissions, able to do work on your laptop, relax on the trip or simply beat congestion on the Southern Motorway productivity and (lesser) environmental impacts are winners from Regional Rapid Rail. Of course lowering the road toll (which costs the economy dearly) is another outcome of providing rail alternatives whether freight or passenger.

A rail corridor also has less environmental severance than a four lane highway does as well as less scaring. So not only does rail promote productivity and encourage lower emissions while travelling, rail also is less visually destructive to the rural environment than a four lane highway.

But the impact that might not be realised as quickly is the transformation and unlocking of potential for the Centres connected to Regional Rapid Rail network.

Being able to connect up to the large residential, employment and industrial base in Southern Auckland (let alone the rest of Auckland) opens up both the larger and smaller urban centres connected to the Regional Rapid Rail Network to opportunities not currently available. No matter what niche a provincial Centre takes up being able to be connected to a large population, employment and/or industrial base would allow those Centres to unlock their full potential and transform themselves through:

  • Linking regional transportation to well-planned communities with good urban outcomes. This should not just be a rapid train network but the means to create vibrant, livable towns and cities that are economically and socially sustainable.


Source: Greater Auckland

Vibrant places are productive and environmentally positive places.


Step 4 and 5 of Manukau Framework Plan
Source: Panuku Development Auckland


Source: https://voakl.net/2017/08/30/guest-lecture-inter-regional-planning-and-sustainability/


As I said above to coordinate things like the Satellite cities and towns, the transit links between the main centres and the satellites, and the movement of industry (why do people forget industry) a spatial plan will be needed to be drawn up.

Enter one Auckland Plan translated for the Upper North Island – the Upper North Island (Spatial) Plan.


First a quick look at the Auckland Plan.

From Auckland Council:

The Auckland Plan explained

The Auckland Plan is our long-term spatial plan to ensure Auckland grows in a way that will meet the opportunities and challenges of the future.

​It outlines the big issues facing Auckland and recommends the way in which Aucklanders and others involved in the future of Auckland can best respond to them.

The Development Strategy and six outcomes look ahead to 2050.

They consider how we will address the key challenges of high population growth and environmental degradation, and how we can ensure shared prosperity for all Aucklanders.

This is a draft plan. We would like to hear what you think about it, so that we can improve and finalise the plan.

The Auckland Plan is required by legislation. Read about the Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Act 2010 on the New Zealand Legislation website.


What is in the Auckland Plan?

The Auckland Plan describes Auckland in general terms, outlines the major challenges that we face, and sets the direction for tackling these challenges. It sets out the values that will shape how we work together, and it identifies key organisations that will play important roles in creating our shared future.

The plan reflects knowledge and experience gained since the first Auckland Plan was released. It also uses the latest available statistical information and research to inform us of the realities of life in Auckland.


Our research and engagement has identified six important areas in which we must make significant progress, so that Auckland can continue to be a place where people want to live, work and visit.

For each area the plan describes the desired outcome, why it is important for Auckland’s future and what we need to focus on to bring about change.

Belonging and participation

All Aucklanders will be part of and contribute to society, access opportunities, and have the chance to develop to their full potential.

Read more about the Belonging and participation outcome.


Māori identity and wellbeing

A thriving Māori identity is Auckland’s point of difference in the world that advances prosperity for Māori and benefits all Aucklanders.

Read more about the Māori identity and wellbeing outcome.


Homes and places

Aucklanders live in secure, healthy, and affordable homes, and have access to a range of inclusive public places.

Read more about the Homes and places outcome.

Transport and access

Aucklanders will be more easily able to get to where they want to go, and will have choices about how they get around.

Read more about the Transport and access outcome.


Environment and cultural heritage

Aucklanders preserve, protect and care for the natural environment as our shared cultural heritage for its intrinsic value, and for the benefit of present and future generations.

Read more about the Environment and cultural heritage outcome.


Opportunity and prosperity

Auckland is prosperous with many opportunities and delivers a better standard of living for everyone.

Read more about the Opportunity and prosperity outcome

Development Strategy

The Development Strategy shows how Auckland will physically grow and change over the next 30 years. It takes account of the outcomes we want to achieve, as well as population growth projections and planning rules in the Auckland Unitary Plan.

It provides:

  • a pathway for Auckland’s future physical development
  • a framework to prioritise and coordinate the required supporting infrastructure.


Source: https://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/plans-projects-policies-reports-bylaws/our-plans-strategies/auckland-plan/about-the-auckland-plan/Pages/the-auckland-plan-explained.aspx


The Development Strategy for the Auckland Plan talks about Nodes – or Satellites within Auckland being Cores for their respective sub-region (or in Manukau’s case inter-regional core).


The Nodes and Satellites
Auckland Plan 2050
Source: Auckland Council


I have talked about Nodes before applying to Auckland here: #AucklandPlan2050: NODES! Or Rather Auckland Becoming a Multi-Nodal City and here: #AucklandPlan2050 – The Return of the Super Metropolitan Centre with the Nodes. Nodes at the inter-regional level can also apply especially if a Satellite town becomes a focal point transport or heavy industry (the new inland port near Waikato University would be a case for an industrial/freight node servicing the Upper North Island).


Regional Rail and population
Source: Greater Auckland


Using the Auckland Plan’s Outcomes and Development Strategy an Upper North Island Plan can be drawn up to coordinate the Urban Geography elements over the next thirty years.




Do we have the capacity to handle such a large inter-regional spatial plan?

No – not like Sydney and what Sydney is achieving with its Three Cities approach. Sydney City Centre, Parramatta (the Second and fastest growing CBD of Sydney) and the up and coming Badgery’s Creek Airport is being handled by New South Wales Planning Super Ministry with details on the Three Cities seen here: A Plan for Growing Sydney


The GHD Aerotropolis exercise




Just recently the Governments in Australia have announced a multi-billion dollar north-south heavy rail link that will link up Badgery Creek to the main rail network while a “metro” rail network linking the area to Parramatta and later Sydney CBD will also soon get under-way.

In essence New South Wales and Sydney are busy building two Cities in the State/Region (one brand new, the other as regeneration and expansion) and have a master spatial plan that sits on the top guiding this development. The master spatial plan Sydney is using could be applied here for the Upper North Island – the catch is the capacity of the Government Ministries and Departments (whether it be MBIE and/or the new Urban Development Authority) needs to be beefed up – the sooner the absolute better so things can hit the ground running ASAP!


In a follow-up post I will cover what I like to see in an Urban Development Authority given we will not have a full Planning Ministry as such. In the meantime capacity needs to be built up at State level to successfully implement a spatial plan as large as the Upper North Island.


Some ideas from Otahuhu down to Pareata