Emmet McElhatton Interview: Waterloo Station Transit-Oriented Design
WRLC Communications & Engagement Advisor Freda Wells recently sat down for a chat with Dr Emmet McElhatton, to learn more about the Waterloo CDO Project, and his work in general….
Dr Emmet McElhatton’s career has spanned four decades in various settings including commercial management, international trade and development, and the education and training sectors. He also has a PhD in Public Policy from Victoria University.
A theme of Dr McElhatton’s career, has been working in cross-agency settings. Notably, nearly a decade in international policy and trade, first with NZQA, and then with ‘Government to Government Partnerships’ (G2G) – a joint NZTE and MFAT venture.
In his current role of Manager Policy – Metlink, at Greater Wellington Regional Council, Emmet’s cross-agency nous is being put to good use, as the Project Lead for the Waterloo Station Transit-Oriented Design Project – a significant multi-stakeholder project.
It all began with a roof repair: the Waterloo Station Transit-Oriented Design Project
Waterloo Station, in both size and patronage (traffic) is one of biggest stations in the region, second only to Wellington Station. Porirua station also has very significant patronage, but not the same complex infrastructure.
Waterloo Station was built in the 1980s, and – like some fashion aspirations from that era – its design aspirations were due for a refresh. It has also had its fair share of general infrastructure-related, and customer experience-related issues over the years.
In 2019 the huge canopy covering Waterloo Station was deemed to be approaching end of life, and its repair was to be included in the next LTP. However, due to a growing awareness of Transit-Oriented Design (TOD) innovations elsewhere, particularly in Auckland, the Council Transport Committee requested an investigation into the viabiity of TOD at Waterloo. Following a concept study of TOD at Waterloo, it was found to be a key site suitable for exploring TOD further, given the availability of land in the station precinct; it’s location in the centre of Hutt Valley, and its proximity to both Riverlink and Central Wellington.
A concept study was conducted by a large team of relevant experts, including architects, and the emerging findings resulted in Waterloo TOD being first shortlisted, and then selected, as a WRLC CDO.
Waterloo TOD ticks many CDO objective boxes: including its significant potential to contribute to regional economic development, housing intensification, to improve transport connections, and to stimulate further development intensification in the broader 800 metre radius of the station precinct itself.
Several investigations have since commenced, including a commercial investigation, to help inform what can feasibly be carried out with various partners, and to assess interest from both private and public sector for investment. This work will lead to going to market to procure the appropriate solution.
KEY PRINCIPLES UNDERPINNING GOOD DEVELOPMENT
Any development will need to contribute to a set of key principles: support community wellbeing, economic development, Hutt City Council’s economic development plans, provide social good benefits to public transport users and residents, deliver social services locally, be financially sustainable, and provide appropriate quality of services and employment in the area. It will also support Kāinga Ora’s housing development in the wider area.
As with any large development, while the potential impacts for the community are large, feasibility studies must balance ambition of the vision with available funding sources.
PROS AND CONS OF CROSS-AGENCY WORK
What, there are cons? Well, not really – if you embrace the machinery of Government, in which case there are huge benefits for the communities we serve. For Emmet, the value of CDO status for Waterloo TOD has included having the WRLC as a platform for facilitating cross-agency partnerships, coalescing a common vision, and being a connection point for the many and various different parties, bringing more clarity to all the different parts at play in multi-stakeholder projects.
The CDO status has also enabled valuable cross-agency learning and support, finding out what else is going on around the region and learning from each other, and having Central Government in the room has facilitated impetus and momentum – ultimately benefiting the region.
Key learnings so far:
- Having a shared vision is essential.
- Vital to engage and seek advice from those who know
- Administrative overhead is worth it for the resulting license to do impactful work
- It is crucial to engage the private sector very early on – recognising both the expertise we have within our agencies, and the expertise we don’t
- Establish early on, a solid understanding on what is possible from a development, financial perspective – e.g. how the mechanics of building and development work
- Ensure there is buy-in and common understanding within the agency across departments or disciplines.
- The importance of aligning with similar projects within the same geographic area – for example in the case of Waterloo CDO, with Riverlink.
1,000 cups of Tea
Emmet emphasises a final key learning: relationships, and the importance, particularly from the outset, of keeping people aware of the work. For Emmet, the ‘how’ of this is just as important as the ‘what’ – with courtesy, respect, and making people feel acknowledged as part of the bigger picture.
While this might seem obvious, it can sometimes fall down the priority list, perceived as too time-consuming, or just a ‘nice to have’. Often these early conversations are key to stakeholders understanding the benefits to them, of the work.
Why think and act collectively as a region?
A challenge with a project as large as the Waterloo TOD, is sometimes ensuring that people in other parts of the region are aware of the tangible results it will deliver to them.
While boundary lines exist on maps, in real life many residents cross these lines daily, whether for employment, education, or even essential social or health services. This is why it is so important to think holistically to mirror how communities operate for these social and economic reasons.
Economic development in one part of region, does ripple throughout the region to benefit all.
The Benefits of Collective Leadership
Thinking collectively as a region is a journey, and it comes with huge benefits, particularly with regards to being heard by Central Government. When Ministers and senior officials with very full diaries, can hear in one place, our vision and our aspirations, it makes their job easier. Why go to ten meetings when you can go to one, and get the benefit of the 10, in one?
Emmet likens WRLC to a ‘Peak body’ – with the benefits of collective messaging, channels, a central place to gather feedback, and a single source of engagement.
What’s coming up for Waterloo….
Stage 1 of Waterloo is a five to seven year timeline, because of the infrastructural issues that need to be addressed. The current plan is then for a staged approach to delivering the broader project over the next 10 years.
The Waterloo CDO will bring employment and services to the area, facilitating Kāinga Ora’s housing intensification work.
What’s the best part of your job?
Making a positive difference in the region, variety, and working with great people!
I love cross-agency work, the variety, and seeing tangible benefits in the area I live in!