It’s About The Economy Stupid


The wished for City Rail Link of National Significance is the key to unlocking a transformation of the wider CBD.

That’s the thinking behind the Auckland Council’s about-to-be-released draft Auckland Plan which wants to transform public transport and offer the city centre a more pleasant place to walk around plus a light rail around Queen St and possibly beyond.

It sees the new City Rail Link station precincts offering a range of housing and work opportunities.  They are places that Aucklanders’ want to live and work in and visit.

A report to the Council’s Future Vision Committee confirming details about the plan says city neighbourhoods with an energy and pulse are places to which people gravitate.  They cannot be manufactured, but their foundations can be put in place. Access is one such foundation.

“The City Rail Link is our opportunity to create highly accessible city precincts around the stations.”

Aotea Quarter, K Road and Newton are planned locations for stations on the City Rail Link and the Plan wil argue that they have significant potential as growth nodes.

“These neighbourhoods, already distinct in their own right, have the capacity to further develop and accommodate many of the extra residents and workers the city centre will have in 2032.”

Oddly, it’s the argument Len Brown’s team has identified from day one of calling for the link yet the philosophically business-friendly National Government seems to put their head in the sand in joining the dots.

It pushed the re-organisation of Auckland’s local government arguing the previous fragmented set-up hindered the economic growth of New Zealand’s biggest city.

Here is the key yet the fossils in the government can’t comprehend any value in a rail project they debate is only about enabling non bus public transport commuters can enjoy.

Auckland Council has it right. Look at the impetus the Wynyard Quarter has given the a gloomy industrial waterfront wasteland.

I can’t believe how many people tell me they would consider moving there.

The same will happen once you rejuvenate rundown tired areas of the inner city which is exactly where the proposed rail stations have been chosen.

Auckland’s draft plan is an exciting ticking off of many of the issues we have raised on this site for four years.

Symonds St will be rejuvenated by the Newton station

The other 7  ‘place-based’ transformational moves intended to happen are to :

  • Develop the ‘Engine Room’ that is the core CBD and celebrate the waterfront opportunities.
  • Create a better-defined network of green spaces through street-based ‘green carpets’.
  • Celebrate the unique characteristics and attributes of the urban villages, quarters and precincts, and create better connections between them.
  • Transform the public transport and offer the city centre a more pleasant place to walk around.
  • Add greater depth and choice to the city centre retail, visitor, cultural and residential offer so as to ensure that Auckland’s City Centre becomes a destination, not just a gateway.
  • Develop a compelling value proposition and climate for individuals, corporate citizens and business to invest in their city centre.

It’s worth quoting from the report to the Committee of the bullet points of what is planned:


Auckland’s city centre is blessed with a fantastic waterfront and new development is opening up large sections to the public. The challenge people face is getting to these destinations on foot from the city.  Fanshawe, Customs and Quay streets, with heavy traffic flows and limited pedestrian amenity and crossing points, make the experience of walking between city centre and the waterfront difficult.  This move addresses this concern suggesting physical and activity interventions to transform the experience of this part of the city centre.

The 2032 vision is:

  • Fanshawe and Quay streets are high-quality people-friendly boulevards that provide for public transport, recreation, retail amenity and reunite the city with its waterfront.
  • QE2 Square and Lower Queen Street are postcard images of the city that reflect their significance at the point where CBD/Engine Room meets the waterfront.
  • Quay Park, Britomart, Queens Wharf, Lower Hobson Street and Wynyard Quarter are mixed-use destinations – a series of connected ‘beads on a string’ that will help transform the city centre.

Connecting the western edge of the city to the centre ‐ The East‐west Stitch

The western edge of the city centre around Victoria Park is a natural basin facing the harbour and Wynyard Quarter to the north.  On its boundary is the Nelson and Hobson Street ridge, the densest residential area in the city centre, whilst the western extent is defined by State Highway 1 and the inner suburbs of Freemans Bay, St Marys Bay and beyond.

The area faces significant challenges as it is edged and bisected by major traffic corridors.  Fanshawe Street limits walkability between Victoria Park and Wynyard Quarter, Nelson and Hobson streets are one-way streams of traffic to and from the motorway, Cook Street is a highspeed street off the motorway and to the south and west, there are limited walking routes across the motorway. This part of the city is under-performing on many fronts.

The 2032 vision is:

  • The big streets that run through the Victoria Quarter no longer break the area into unconnected pieces.  Instead, they are pleasant places to linger and to walk along.  They are easy and safe for pedestrians to cross.
  • Hobson and Nelson streets become attractive north facing tree -lined boulevards welcoming people into the city and providing high-level amenity for businesses and residents that reside there
  • Safe cycling and walking connections to Freemans Bay are enhanced
  • New, eclectic, mixed-use development in the area contributes to its character as an attractive urban neighbourhood
  • There is better pedestrian access through the big blocks, with more walking routes running north to south.
  • Victoria Quarter becomes a vibrant urban community, with housing for families, singles and students

Queen Street Valley CBD and retail district ‐ The Engine Room

More than many central business districts, Auckland is defined by a single main street, Queen Street, which  is dissected by a series of smaller, character streets.  Commerce of all types shares the area with retail creating a distinctly Auckland CBD or Engine Room. The Engine Room is critical to Auckland, and New Zealand’s economy, yet it competes for attention and resources with other commercial centres, the waterfront which has become an attractive destination for corporate head offices, and suburban shopping malls and growing subregional centres.

The 2032 vision is that:

  • The Engine Room is the location of choice for national and international head offices and corporate offices.
  • The Engine Room remains focused on Queen Street and Downtown areas. It will be enhanced by temporary road closures for events, the creation of shared space along some of its length and ultimately a light rail route.
  • A high-quality public realm along Queen Street and its precincts supports the retail and entertainment activities with colourful street-based events.

Nurturing an innovation and learning cradle 

The city centre is a hub for businesses creating and developing innovative products for export to the rest of New Zealand and overseas. This area is underpinned by an education powerhouse of Auckland University and AUT.

The 2030 vision is:

  • Auckland’s city centre is known as a world-class centre for education, research and  development; an incubator of innovative ideas, products and services with strong and flourishing links between research institutions, entrepreneurs, businesses and financial institutions.  It is a magnet to innovative firms.  It is the place where ‘start-up’ companies need support and where industry clusters are encouraged to take root and grow.

Connecting Victoria Park, Albert Park and the Domain as part of a blue - green park network The Green Link

In 2010, the renowned Danish urban design firm Gehl Architects undertook a public life survey of  the city centre.  They identified a lack of attractive walking routes between the city centre’s open spaces as our key public realm deficit.

The city centre’s larger open spaces such as The Domain and Albert Park are set apart from each other.  Smaller ‘city’ spaces, including St Patrick’s Square, Freyburg Place, Khartoum Place, and the Viaduct Harbour’s Waitemata Plaza are scattered across the city centre. Each space large or small has its own character and Aucklanders use them as spaces to rest and meet friends, observe city life, jog or kick a ball around.

The challenge is to unite our parks and open spaces through a network of tree-lined links crisscrossing the city with green streets giving city residents, workers and visitors much more access to open space.

The 2032 vision is:

  • Turning Daldy Street in Wynyard Quarter into a linear park connecting the quarter’s flagship Headland Park with Victoria Park at its southern end.
  • Transforming Victoria Street into the highest amenity green carpet link that will allow Victoria Park and Albert Park to hold hands.
  • Achieving better linkages for pedestrians and cyclists across Grafton Gully and better connecting The Domain to the city.

 Connecting the city and the fringe – City to the villages

Auckland’s central motorway junction enables efficient north-south movement past the city, but this has come at the expense of the city centre’s connections with the historic urban villages on its fringe.  These villages are vital as they house a large residential population, including a large family sector.

Walking routes into the city from city fringe from suburbs like Parnell, Devonport, Ponsonby, Newmarket and Grafton are often busy, unpleasant, inconvenient and confusing. The challenge is to make the pedestrian journey more pleasant, and also to capitalise on the motorway network’s infrastructure and vantage points.

Meanwhile Auckland Council will also continue to work on improving bus services, and will investigate the possible role of light rail in the city centre.

The 2032 vision ist:

  • The walking and cycling journey between the city centre and its inner suburbs is a pleasure, not a chore.
  • Gateways into the city centre are celebrated
  • Leafy boulevards link urban villages with the city centre and with each other.
  • Generous pedestrian and cycle connections cross the motorway taking advantage of high views.
  • Convenient and frequent bus, ferry and light rail services connect the city centre and its inner suburbs.

Revitalising the waterfront water city

With a focus on Westhaven, Wynyard Quarter, the central wharves and the water edge connection from the Harbour Bridge Park to Teal Park this transformational move is presented in detail in the Waterfront Auckland’s Waterfront Plan.

The 2040 vision for the waterfront is:

  • A world-class destination that excites the senses and celebrates our sea loving Pacific culture and maritime history. It supports commercially successful and innovative businesses and is a place for all people, an area rich in character and activities that link people to the city and the sea.

These are included in the Committee’s report:




  1. Duncan says:

    Interesting times ahead. I look forward to reading the full draft :)

  2. BD says:

    The plan forget to mention a light rail link between the new water front and Britomart. The plan also forgot to mention the removal of the ugly Victoria Park market Viaduct which represents a horrible piece of urban design which should be removed as soon as possible.

  3. Mark says:

    While it’s important to have a thriving, well designed CBD, it is not the engine of the economy.

    CBD businesses support the “real” economy - they don’t create it or increase it. Think of the banks/finance firms / accounatnts/lawyers etc - they are only used by other real businesses eg a farmer getting finance, a manufacturer getting an audit or their accounts done.

    In fact the smaller the CBD is probably the more productive the overall economy is! same as a small wgtn govt sector.

    The basic plans here are nothing new, and really just continuation of broad areas from old Ak city council.

    There are some basic issues - the office based CBD won’t grow much. these are jobs that just become more prodcutive. ie same number of people to trade $100m bonds as $10m bonds. Air New Zealand / Telecom etc won’t double their staff. So will there really be the CBD expansion they dream of? and how will they deal with old vacated buildings (back from the waterfront)?

    The biggest risk is the foreign education sector, which won’t survive at current exchange rates - and long term, the model will change to home country based education. That probably accounts for 60-70% of CBD apartment dwellers. If that declines, where is the demand for new CBD?

    And if we remain so CBD focused what happens to our other crucial parts - businesses in East Tamaki / penrose etc - how do they expand? how do they export products efficiently. Should $5.5bn be spent for them? or will they just move to Tauranga?

    I need to go through the plan in more detail, but some of the basic assumptions worry me.

  4. Patrick R says:

    Well Mark your assumption that we don’t need a vibrant centre worries me. There is no way that a bunch of disengaged suburban business parks will create any agglomeration effects, and thankfully the AK CBD is already intensifying and growing despite your views and in spite of the auto-strangulation the council is fighting to alleviate.

    I think you will be surprised- although perhaps not pleasantly. Allowed momentum the CBD should out grow dependance on any one sector, although you already concede at least three; head offices; education, and residential. You see the move to new premisses by Telecom, ASB, and Westpac as some sort of problem because their old buildings are still there, yes, could this not be instead a resource at a lower price point for new entrants? Especially if we can properly sort access to and through the centre? The quality and appeal of street life is growing enormously and this is where employers and employees both increasingly want to be.

    I was in a Britomart restaurant last a [Monday] and it was absolutely humming. Not Wynyard, so not just the novelty of the new, doing good solid business.

    As for your questions about Penrose and East Tamaki, investment in rail hubs has happened and, oh sixty years of motorway building is still going on, seriously, what more do you want? This is about serving all sectors not just serving one sector and with one mode.

  5. Bryan says:

    Some of the businesses with new premises in the CBD have consolidated staff from suburban or CBD fringe locations, and some have not yet relinquished their old office space.

    And as more companies discover the false economies of outsourcing or decentralisation, the demand for CBD office space will grow.

  6. Mark says:

    @Patrick R - I’m not saying we don’t need a vibrant City centre. But at what cost, and have we analysed all the elements of the entire region.

    Coming from a commercial background, I worry at the lack of understanding by Council of the real economy out there.

    The CBD isn’t really “growing” - it’s shifting down to the harbour edge, while leaving B and C grade buildings vacant or providing poor returns. Yes they are potentially a resource - which is why language schools etc have survived. they can’t afford to pay “A” building rents. However that is an industry that can decline very rapidly, as we saw in 2004.

    The issue with the East Tamaki / and other industrial areas, are the continuing infrastrucre eg AMETI etc etc - but also if we grow they need far greater land capacity. And again the CBD support businesses ride on the backs of these areas.

    We have to see the detail - but the city’s growth is inter-related. We group together in cities due to employment - so for me that is the starting point. You can take our current business type splits and extrapolate, and then see if land set aside meets growth plans - the region has never had enough commercialy zoned land to meet these popluation growth projections. And the Planners often didn’t undertsand the changing patterns and costs of re-building vs design/build.

    Then the scary unkown is the next 20years economic shake down. IMHO this will see a shift away from retail/service, as the “real” economy has to re-assert itself.

    The other trend against a further expanded CBD is technology / working from home, and just hot desks in CBD - eg Telecom etc, And again the productivity of the CBD type businesses keeps increasing, resulting in less space.

  7. Jeremy says:

    I would prefer to see more of my rates and tax $ spent on integrating and future-proofing AKL as a whole not on this fixation with jamming more people into the CBD. The CBD continues to decline in % terms of people employed.

    Transport and telecomms infrastructure needs to cover right across the isthmus, where people want to live and work, so they can take advantage of our natural environment.


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