We haven’t learned how to do big urban development projects very well in New Zealand. We lack property developers committed to good urban design. We lack the capital markets to fund big projects. Neither central government nor most councils have learned how to unleash the creative potential of the private sector when it comes to big urban developments.
Solving these problems has become more urgent now we have a unified Auckland that aspires to building a world class city. Which is why the circumstances around the new Westgate development in Auckland’s north-west are particularly unfortunate. Two government agencies, Transport Agency NZ and Transpower, have been obstructing a new town centre development tipped to generate 10,000 jobs and increase the country’s GDP by $2 bn a year by 2051.
The development borders on the Te Atatu electorate where I am based. Those jobs and the impressive planned new town centre, will be a huge benefit not only to the people of Massey but all of the West.
I am amazed how NZTA has refused to build motorway ramps to service the northern end of the new town centre even though the Council has offered to pay for them. NZTA is stuck in the mindset that the new Hobsonville motorway and extension to Kumeu opened with fanfare on the weekend is fundamentally a bypass to allow people from the north to get to the airport more quickly, and bugger the idea that it should support the huge new commercial hub being built at Westgate.
Transpower has also been a nightmare for the development to deal with. The high voltage power cable obviously has to be underground but they have sheeted home the full cost to the development, causing numerous delays while refusing to sign a contract that gives certainty. Meanwhile the cost has gone from $5 m to around $20 m.
The developer NZRPG are the only NZ-owned firm who do these big retail developments. They have spent more than five years putting together the plans in conjunction with the Council, not just plonking a new mall out there but designing a town centre based on good urban design principles. They have put $228 m of their own money into it. The least the Government could do is act supportive.
That is why I have written to John Key asking him to intervene and tell NZTA and Transpower to pull their heads in. After all, it is in his electorate.
In Question Time today Steven Joyce said NZTA was in talks with the developer and progress was being made on the question of the ramps. About bloody time after five years of obstruction.