Friday, December 30, 2011

From Australia

Article from Macro-Business Super Blog



One of the blogs and academic material sites I keep myself up to date with is the Australian Macro-Business Super Blog. In short, the site provides interesting analysis of all sorts of issues in Australia and around the world. Issues such as (and most certainly not limited too), economics, finance, global politics and urban planning/economics are all discussed in depth with plenty of links to external sources for those who wish to go exploring.

One article that caught my attention day was this PIECE from the super-blog site. The blog author was providing a basic summary to an academic paper recently published in the UK on the links between planning and economic performance.

The article from Spatial Economics Research Centre at the Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics (had to mention that as I am a Geography graduate at the University of Auckland  and hold the that Department in very high regards) I will link up below and I do recommend as a very good read.




The SERC Article

In brief the article by Max Nathan and Prof. Henry G. Overman provided a brief analysis using empirical evidence (rather than ideological as commonly seen) backed up with further academic references for further reading on how planning regulation in the UK is a direct influence on economic performance.

One particular piece in the SERC article caught my attention the most as it would relate to Auckland and The Draft Auckland (Spatial) Plan. It was on pages four and five of the SERC article and was talking about the benefits and costs of Brownfield development. 

To quote the particular section in parts and provide commentary on it especially in relation to Auckland (I recommend you read the entire SERC article before proceeding).

Many opponents of the planning reforms think that development should be heavily focusedon Brownfield – i.e. previously developed – land. This policy protects previouslyundeveloped land,
but is not costless.
The same argument is made here in Auckland especially with some of the submissions to the Draft Auckland Plan.

During the 1990s and mid-2000s, the combination of a national brownfield land target and aminimum density floor for development helped concentrate new development in urban areas – particularly core cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. These cities also benefited froma number of other important supporting factors – a benign macro environment, rising publicspending, an expanding higher education sector, a growing consumer interest in city living,and readily available finance for building and buying (Nathan and Urwin 2006).
Can be said to be true about Auckland as well, especially when the former Auckland Regional Council (now superseded by the Auckland Council) imposed the Metropolitan Urban Limits to curtail the sprawl and encourage Brownfield development. Also the Global Financial Crisis has put a massive brake on both Greenfield and Brownfield developments at the moment which does not help the acute housing shortage in Auckland. 
The national target ensured these trends played out more broadly. In 1998, approximately 50% of development occurred on brownfield land (a figure that had been remarkably stable for long periods of time). The Labour government committed itself to a target of 60% of new development on brownfield land by 2008. The target had been met by the early 2000s. In 2005, 70% of new development was on brownfield land (Urban Task Force 2005).
 Now this is where it gets interesting as I wonder if this is where Auckland Central Planners got their idea from for a percentage number set for Brownfield development. Currently in The Draft Auckland Plan, it was stated that Auckland should have a Rural Urban Boundary that clearing sets the line of the urban limits and that all new growth and development over the next thirty years should be on a 75:25 spilt between Brownfield and Greenfield developments. It is nice to know that the UK achieved their Brownfield target but at what cost - the UK is not an affordable place to live or do business and does not have the best physical or social environment as a result. Auckland should be playing close attention to the UK if it wants to set a target which can range from no target, to 50:50, to 60:40, to 75:25. Is the compact city the saviour or killer of Auckland?
From the point of view of the opponents of the NPPF, meeting the national target sounds likesuccess. Qualitative research suggests that in cities like Manchester and Liverpool, brownfield policies that targeted the urban core may have helped repopulate city centres, andencouraged commercial activity to return. These policies also may have helped local leadersreposition their cities’ public image (Nathan and Urwin 2006, Unsworth and Nathan 2006).However, somewhat surprisingly, we know of no evidence that rigorously assesses the
causal
impact of the brownfield target on the pattern of development within cities, or on the overalleffects for the city as a whole. We can speculate that in cities like Manchester, the brownfieldtarget may have led to more development across the city than previously. However, analternative strategy of focusing on (say) South Manchester might have brought higher overalldevelopment to the city, but with a different spatial pattern.
That is, skewing development towards city centres may have come at the expense of less growth for the city as a whole.
Take particular note to the italics part. We could see the very same effect in Auckland especially South Auckland which is prime real estate for Brownfield and Greenfield developments owing to the airport, major road and rail links, industry including logistic centres, commerce and around one third of Auckland's population. Also the Port of Auckland question I raised in an earlier post lingers and would have effect on the spatial dynamics of Auckland.

Brownfield land is expensive to build on suggesting that there could be an effect on overalllevels of development from the decision to prioritise brownfield land. Findings on thenegative effect of town centre first on retail productivity are consistent with this (Cheshire etal 2011). Further from the point of view of England as whole, lots of brownfield land is in ex-industrial cities where - unlike parts of, say, London and Manchester – demand for housingand commercial development is low
A point take note of. With our land prices already artificially high any Brownfield development would rightfully seek a price of return to cover those high prices. This has a knock on effect of high consumer prices at the end of the chain which can hamper economic performance if consumers are busy paying off high debt owing those high prices. In short we need to get land (and development) prices under control and affordable again if we do not want to see Auckland's economic performance hamstrung from that department.

In terms of the spatial pattern of development, large pieces of land that become available (for
example, former MOD or NHS sites) are often some way from existing settlements (working
against other stated objectives on densification). Worse, as highlighted by the coalition
government, a small but increasing share of building on ‘brownfield’ land has been building on private residential gardens – the share of new homes built on previously residential land rose from 11 percent to 23 percent between 1997 and 2008.

Word of warning to our central planners, any intensification or Brownfield development has the potential to have the same effect as what happened in the quoted piece above. We need our green in the city but it should not play second fiddle to any Brownfield development. Nothing worse than a monolithic concrete jungle.

In short, top down targets for brownfield land haven't always delivered the kind of
development people want in the places where they want it. The combination of brownfield
targets and density standards has also tended to produce large numbers of small flats in urban
areas – although there is a clear need for larger, family homes in these places (Unsworth and
Nathan 2006, Silverman et al 2006). These costs need to be offset against the benefits of
preserving undeveloped land. Undeveloped land does deliver benefits, but SERC research
suggests that these are often not as large as claimed (Gibbons et al 2011).
A word of warning as I sense this could happen here as well wittingly or unwittingly. What could make the situation acute is that not every can "live" in some rabbit clutches called flats or apartments. Some need 4-8 bedroom homes as they have extended family with them (its called part of their culture) and so the Draft Auckland Plan should make easy provision (via the market (and Housing NZ when the situation arises as it does)) for these large type houses a nice sizable plot of land. You would also find that a housing market that was more responsive to the heterogeneous needs of Auckland's population would go some distance in reducing over crowding in homes and improve the physical and social environment of the population.


Again I implore the Auckland City Council to read the SERC Document and the other articles referenced in it. I do not believe the 75:25 Brownfield/Greenfield ratio for development will work in net benefit for Auckland and the SERC article has a lot similarities to Auckland even though it was for the UK scene.

This SERC Article I will be referencing as I continue with my Draft Auckland Plan Series.
Below is the actual SERC article. All Rights of the Article belong to the article authors.


SERC - Planning & Economic Performance (2011)

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