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ACT promises to abolish helmet laws

Cycling seems to be the issue of the week so far. We’ve had Skypath and the Northcote cycle routes followed by National then announced an urban cycling policy which finally seems them agree that urban cycling improvements are needed. Now ACT have joined in on the debate by promising to abolish compulsory helmet laws.

ACT’s plan to double cycle use without spending taxpayers’ money

“The National party yesterday announced a $100 million cycle-way that just happens to go through the marginal seat of Hutt South” said ACT Leader Dr Jamie Whyte.

“The Greens want to spend many hundreds of millions on cycle-ways. ACT’s contribution to this bidding war for the cyclist vote would double cycle use and cost nothing” said Dr Whyte.

“We need only abolish the law that makes wearing a cycle helmet compulsory. Since 1994, when Parliament established an instant fine of $150 for failing to wear a helmet, cycling has declined by over 50%. Overseas experience also indicates that laws making it compulsory to wear a helmet dramatically reduce cycling. This nanny state law does not even save lives” said Dr Whyte. “On the contrary, it costs lives. Before the legislation, few people died from cycling accidents and, of those who did, only 20% died from head injuries alone.”

” Research reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal (see http://journal.nzma.org.nz/journal/125-1349/5046/) shows that, over a 10 year period, only 20 Aucklanders were killed in cycle accidents and only 4 might have been saved by wearing cycle helmets. This same New Zealand Medical Journal article concluded that life years gained from the health benefits of cycling outweighed life years lost in accidents by 20 times” said Dr Whyte.

“The diminished health resulting from the reduced cycling caused by compulsory helmet-wearing costs 53 premature deaths a year. ACT would simply abolish the $150 fines for not wearing a helmet. That would save $100 million on cycle-ways in marginal seats, double cycle use and save 53 lives a year” said Dr Whyte

I don’t think that removing the helmet laws would see a doubling of cycle use primarily because it won’t do anything to address the reality that our roads aren’t safe to use. The perception of roads being unsafe is often cited as the biggest reason why people don’t cycling despite many people having bikes in their garages. That doesn’t mean I don’t think removing the helmet law shouldn’t happen, in fact quite the opposite. This post a few months ago looks at some of evidence mounting against requiring mandatory helmets.

Now if only we could pick and choose individual policies. A big step up in cycle infrastructure funding along with removing the helmet requirements would be a great combination.

Auckland property revaluations

The council is required to revalue every property every three years and the valuations are used in the setting of rates the council charges. The last revaluation was in 2011 which means a new one is due this year. The council have announced some early results and they present an interesting picture and show why home owning affordability is such an issue. Across the whole region property values are up by an average of 33% which is a massive increase over just three years. Here’s the press release:

Auckland’s three-yearly general property revaluation is well underway, with indicative data showing significant value movements across the region.

A report is going to Thursday’s Finance and Performance Committee:
http://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2014/08/FIN_20140821_AGN_4759_AT.PDF

Auckland Council’s Registered Valuer Peter McKay says: “At this stage we are looking at an upward movement for the Auckland region of an average 33% since the last revaluation in 2011, which is broadly in line with expectations.

“Local board areas with the largest movements – of over 40% – are Kaipatiki, Maungakiekie-Tamaki, Puketapapa and Whau, reflecting a general value increase in the more central suburbs.”

“Average movements within the remaining local boards (excluding the Hauraki Gulf islands) range between 22% and 44%, with the larger movements generally due to proximity to central Auckland, with lower increases found in outer suburban and rural areas.”

“Local value movements will vary due to the type of property, its quality and condition, zoning, views and other factors.”

Property owners receive their notices in the mail in mid-November 2014.

“It’s very important to remember that Auckland’s property revaluation doesn’t determine the total amount of rates collected by the council – rather it helps determine each ratepayer’s share of rates.

“The revaluation exercise is used by the council to determine the allocation of rates, and doesn’t affect the overall amount of rates collection.

“Capital value, or CV, used as the rating valuation, is the likely price the property would have sold for on 1 July 2014. Its new value will be used to help set rates for the three year rating period beginning next year, 1 July 2015.”

All councils are required by law to revalue every property in their region every three years. Over 525,000 properties are being revalued in Auckland.

Council’s team of experienced, qualified valuers work closely with independent organisation Quotable Value Ltd. Before valuations are finalised, they have to be approved by the Valuer-General, who’s responsible for authorising rating valuations for the Government across New Zealand.

and they’ve provided this map showing the average change by local board area.

2014 property revaluations by local board

What’s most noticeable is the strong growth in values on the areas just outside the inner suburbs while the urban fringe and rural local boards are seeing much smaller average increases. This suggests people are moving as close to the city as they can currently afford and that would fit with other trends both locally and internationally we’ve seen over the last decade or so.

In addition the council have provided some notes about some of the influences in each local board area

Albert-Eden (37%)
Value growth in this central area is strong, particularly in the Grammar Schools zone with very strong demand for properties offering redevelopment potential.

Devonport-Takapuna (37%)
Demand is strong across all housing types in this established and sought after residential area.

Franklin (22%)
Demand is increasing in Pukekohe but is slightly more subdued in Waiuku. Remote areas and rural settlements are showing modest increases over 2011 levels in comparison to other areas. Development at Beachlands is continuing with a large volume of sections coming to market at present.

Great Barrier (-12%)
Value levels have declined since 2011 and sales volumes are low. There are a large number of properties available for sale and marketing periods of 12 months or more are common. Factors associated with remoteness and a decrease in demand for coastal properties is driving value levels.

Henderson-Massey (39%)
The Proposed Unitary Plan is influencing buyer expectations particularly in areas identified for more intensive land use, such as Te Atatu Peninsula and Westgate. Demand is strong for housing in all areas. Ranui, Massey, Henderson and Glendene are seen as affordable options for first home buyers.

Hibiscus & Bays (29%)
A consolidating residential locality characterised by homes dating predominantly from the early 1980s through to more recently constructed houses of above average quality, to executive style. Growth areas include Orewa and Millwater where average lot sizes are smaller. Weathertightness issues are still a factor in the market with housing that is subject to known weather tightness issues selling close to or in some instances below the 2011 roll values.

Howick (35%)
The market has moved fairly consistently throughout, with strong growth in the area of Flat Bush driving value levels.

Kaipatiki (41%)
A diverse area including character homes with views south towards the Waitemata Harbour, with easy access to motorway connections at Northcote and Birkenhead through to the more affordable housing areas of Beachaven and Birkdale. This area is showing an above average increase, especially properties with further development potential.

Mangere-Otahuhu (37%)
Buyers are actively seeking larger sites with further development potential in this area pushing value increases. Otahuhu provides relatively central but affordable housing compared to the inner city. Mangere Bridge has seen some of the strongest growth in values across the region since 2011, which is in part attributed to the community feel of the village, enhancement of waterfront areas with views to the Manukau Harbour, and the continual development of State Highway 20.

Manurewa (32%)
The introduction of the LVR is linked to a lower increase in this area, which predominately comprises a market for first home buyers and investors.

Maungakiekie-Tamaki (44%)
Value growth has been strong as the area is seen to be relatively central. Transportation and roading including recent rail development in Onehunga and new rail station in Panmure, as well as AMETI in the east and SH20 to the west, are also drivers towards value increases.

Orakei (35%)
These central suburbs have seen strong value growth; however growth has been weaker for high value coastal land and properties at the top end of the market ($4million-plus).

Otara-Papatoetoe (35%)
Buyers are looking to this area as being relatively central but affordable compared to the inner city. Demand is particularly strong within Papatoetoe for sites with development potential.

Papakura (26%)
While the area provides a range of housing for first home buyers and is one of the most affordable areas of the region, Papakura value movements are more modest than other areas, with travel times of 30 minutes to the CBD off-peak.

Puketapapa (41%)
Similar to Mangakiekie-Tamaki, housing in the Puketapapa area is seen as an attractive option for buyers looking to locate centrally and for generally less than $850,000. Transportation is improving as State Highway 20 development continues and the area is seen as more accessible than it was 10 years ago.

Rodney (24%)
Generally residential values increases are modest in comparison to the central suburbs, and land values of coastal sites have increased a slower rate than inland property.

Upper Harbour (31%)
Housing with known weathertightness issues selling close to or in some instances below 2011 values are impacting on overall value movements. Significant development is occurring at Hobsonville, with overall section sizes being relatively small.

Waiheke (10%)
Value levels on Waiheke have seen smaller increases relative to the isthmus with land values generally only showing modest increases.

Waitakere Ranges (32%)
The overall demand is weaker than in central locations with accessibility issues and development difficulties, such as steep bush clad sites, which can impact on desirability and value levels.

Waitemata (29%)
Waitemata has two distinct markets – CBD apartments and secondly, traditional inner city housing areas such as Freeman’s Bay, Herne Bay, Ponsonby and Grey Lynn. Value movements for traditional housing areas is similar to Orakei and Albert/Eden, while average movements for CBD apartments is lower.

Whau (41%)
The Proposed Unitary Plan is influencing buyer expectations, particularly in areas identified for more intensive land use such as New Lynn. The extension of State Highway 20 and the Waterview connection has contributed to increased interest in the area, and significant value growth has occurred over the last three years

We’ll have to wait till November before the details are available for each individual property.

Council Budget Documents

Currently the Auckland Council is going through the process of setting their Long Term Plan, which sets out the councils budget for the next 10 years. This is the timeline from the council’s website.

Long-term Plan timeline

  • August 2014 – Mayor’s LTP proposal
  • December 2014 – Auckland Council adopts draft LTP
  • January and February 2015 – Public consultation on the draft LTP
  • April 2015 – Public hearings
  • June 2015 – Local boards adopt local board agreements and governing body adopts final LTP.

The first step is when the mayor presents his budget proposal on August 28, which is then discussed and amended by the councillors before a draft is released for public consultation.

Back in June some information about the Auckland Council’s budget was released to the media, and of course the Herald’s Bernard Orsman used this is say the world was going to end with threats to parks, libraries and a variety of projects. However their was no actual numbers released by the Herald or the council at the time. So I thought it would be great to get the information into the wider public domain. Therefore I decided to send a LGOIMA request into the Auckland Council to request the documents that were presented to the council and media.

The Auckland Council media team were happy to supply the details, and there is a wealth of fascinating information in these documents. Today I will focus on the wider issues around funding, and tomorrow the specifics about transport.

The following slides all come from a workshop held on June 7 where information was presented by council staff and CEO’s to councillors and local board chairs.

Firstly attendees were given a document that gave a number of key figures.

Making Choices

Current Plan

The document also included some useful background on the challenges faced, which was expanded up on later.

Opportunity to Create Capacity

The current LTP assumes an average 4.9% rates increase from 2015/16 onwards. In order to reduce this average to the 2.5% to 3.5% range – significant reductions in operating costs will be required. A 2.5% rates increase would require $90 million to be taken out of 2015/16 rising to $630 million by 2024/25. At 3.5 % the reduction is $75 million in 2015/16 and by 2024/25 rises to $430 million. To achieve reductions of this magnitude a range of options will need to be considered. Below are some indicative opportunities which could be considered and developed further.

This suggests the council is rather flexible on the 2.5% target, that was announced by Len Brown during his reelection campaign. This is good news, and not sure enough analysis was done around the effect of that target at the time.

The first presentation was the council CEO speaking on on the topic “Transforming Auckland”.

This largely focussed on how to implement the Auckland Plan, and how to prioritise projects within this.

Prioritisation

The main new information is the ten “Spatial Priorities” which are on this map below.

Spatial Priorities

The Spatial Priorities seem to be:

  • City and City Fringe
  • Takapuna
  • Avondale/New Lynn
  • Westgate/Hobsonville
  • Tamaki
  • Otahuhu/Middlemore
  • Manukau
  • Manurewa – Papakura
  • Flat Bush
  • Pukekohe

However this now means the council has a number of competing priorities, and the announcement of Special Housing Areas has confused this even further. They seem to have so many priorities that too few areas are not priorities.

Next there was a presentation by the Chief Financial Officer titled “Opportunities to create capacity and deliver better value”.

Where we start from

This slide shows where rates money is accounted for, divided between Depreciation (red), Interest (green) and Other (blue).

Rates perspective

This slide is one of the most interesting as shows the scale of savings or efficiencies that need to be achieved by 2024/2025. Which is up to $630 million if rates are kept to 2.5% and still $430 million with 3.5%. However this also does show that the issues are not urgent (as in this years budget) but are cummulative over the next decade.

Current Position

Efficiency savings targets

So what does it mean

How to resize

This highlights that while savings can be made from services and efficiencies, a large portion of the spending reduction requires cuts in capital projects.

Defer or reduce capital programme

 The capital programme is a major driver of the operating costs in the current LTP. Each new asset adds costs for depreciation, operation of the asset and, when funded by debt, interest. One way to reduce the operating costs is to defer or reduce the capital expenditure programme.

The capital programme based on the current LTP assumptions is $21 billion. Of this 50% is transport, 23% is water supply and wastewater. The next largest group is Parks, Community and Lifestyle. Water and wastewater are funded by user charges so do not impact on the rates.

In order to get a rates reduction of $350 million per annum by year 10, the capital programme would need to reduce by approximately $3.7 billion.In order to get a rates reduction of $250 million per annum by year 10, the capital programme would need to reduce by approximately $2.7 billion.

As the two biggest rates funded areas this would have the most impact on Transport and Parks, Community and Lifestyle.

Significant savings can be achieved through standardised design and a regional approach to managing renewal priorities and budgets.

The cuts suggested for transport could either be a disaster for public transport, or a great way to get rid of those useless and oversized roading projects we have been arguing against (like Penlink and Mill Road). Tomorrow I will look at transport and especially Auckland Transport’s presentation that was given to the workshop which sheds some light on the discussions surrounding this.

AMETI Busway gets design funding

Auckland Transport announced yesterday that $21 million had been approved, $11 million of which from the NZTA, to design the first stage in the AMETI busway which will run between Panmure and Pakuranga. A later stage will run from Pakuranga to Botany.

Funding has been approved to further develop plans for the South Eastern Busway from Panmure Station to Pakuranga.

The NZ Transport Agency has approved design funding of $20.9m, with it subsidising $11m, for the Panmure to Pakuranga section of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI).

It will be the next stage after the current work in Panmure, which comprised the new Panmure Station and a new link road between Mt Wellington Highway and Morrin Rd.

Proposed Panmure to Pakuranga projects also include the Reeves Rd flyover in Pakuranga, replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights, a second Panmure Bridge for the busway and a shared cycle/foot path.

Auckland Transport aims to begin construction in 2017, subject to approval of construction funding and consents.

Auckland Transport Chairman Dr Lester Levy says the popular Panmure Station and a new road, due to open soon, are just the start of major transport improvements for the area. “With the first stage in Panmure almost complete and delivering benefits already, we’re looking forward to the next stage. This funding will allow us to further develop the design of the busway and other major transport projects.

“Public transport is currently a poor option because buses get caught in the same congestion as cars, resulting in long travel times. Large numbers of passengers are expected to be attracted by quicker, frequent and more reliable buses on lanes separate to traffic.

“Buses will run every 5-10 minutes most of the day and travel times will be reliable. It will take about 27 minutes to get between Pakuranga and Britomart by bus and train, about 8 minutes quicker than currently. There will be bigger time savings when the busway is extended to Botany in the future. Together, the AMETI projects are aimed at improving people’s transport choices and better connecting the south eastern suburbs to each other and the rest of Auckland.”

The Transport Agency’s Regional Manager of Planning and Investment, Peter Casey, says support for Auckland projects like AMETI are a high priority for the Transport Agency. “AMETI ticks a lot of boxes for us in a very busy area of Auckland where there’s strong economic and population growth. Supporting Auckland Transport’s upgrades of a whole range of transport choices will improve safety, and make the time it takes to travel between destinations a lot more reliable for people.”

Mr Casey says the Transport Agency will contribute just over a 50% share of the total cost of AMETI – funding that comes from revenue gathered by the agency from the excise duty on fuel, road user charges and vehicle registration fees and is then reinvested in transport projects.

Auckland Transport will continue to consult with residents, businesses and the community in the project area before applying for a land designation in the second quarter of 2015. This would be followed by a publicly notified hearing.

So as a summary the design covers

  • Replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights and more direct pedestrian crossings
  • Panmure to Pakuranga busway on lanes separate to traffic congestion
  • Panmure to Pakuranga shared cycle/foot path separate to traffic
  • Direct connection from Pakuranga Rd to Pakuranga Highway via Reeves Rd
  • Pakuranga bus station
  • Second Panmure Bridge for busway and shared path

Phase 2 map

Here’s an earlier image of how Lagoon Dr will look once completed.

Lagoon Dr

It will be fantastic once  this has been completed as the South East is so woefully under served by public transport and is the most car dependant area in all of Auckland as a result. The other thing is even with the services that exist we’re already hearing stories of huge numbers of people transferring of buses and on to trains. This trend will continue to grow with the new network and once the busway is built will be happening in huge numbers.

O’Connell St shared space is wonderful, but

Over the weekend the latest shared space in the city was completed, on O’Connell Street. This joins the growing network of shared spaces with Lorne Street, Elliott St, Darby St, Fort St and the also recently completed Federal Street. I would argue that O’Connell Street is the best one yet. The new paved look beautifully matches the scale of the street and period buildings. The street is also all activated frontages with no parking buildings that cause issues on some of the other spaces at peak times.

OC1

O’Connell Street on late Sunday afternoon

 

OC3

A great feature is that all of the benches have little historic stories in the street. Several focussed on how the area was viewed negatively for so long. Another bench notes how the street was widened by 50% in the 1920′s, with buildings from the 1840′s demolished for this to occur. However this can party explain the wonderful character of the street.

 

OC5

O’Connell St on Monday lunchtime

 

Even though the street had been a construction site for 6 months until a few days ago, the street was buzzing with people yesterday lunchtime. A couple of cafes on the street had already set up tables on the street, and I’m sure more will follow. People we also sitting on the benches reading or otherwise relaxing. Overall had a wonderful atmosphere.

For a comparison, this is what O’Connell Street looked like at the start of the year.

O'Connell St

 

A contributing reason for the great atmosphere was that workers were still touching up a few small things, therefore street was still closed to general traffic. However as soon as barriers were removed even briefly, people drove through, and straight away someone was taking advantage of the free parking on offer. I understand later in the afternoon the street was fully opened for general traffic and there were some issues with cars driving too fast.

OC7

It is worthwhile pointing out that their are no vehicles entrances on the street, and no carparks. Therefore the only reason cars need to be on the street is for deliveries, which certainly are essential.

OC8

This sign from the end of the street makes clear that deliveries should occur between 6am and 11am. So therefore after 11am their are no reasons for cars to be on the street at all. So we really need to ask the question as to why general traffic is allowed at all. The only use is as a rat-run, or for people circling around looking for parking, both pointless activities. So why not shut the street from 11am everyday, or even better have bollards to allow deliveries only between 6am and 11am, so no general traffic is allowed at all. This will not mean any money has been wasted, but will allow the full potential of the space to be used everyday.

 

National’s Cycling policy

Some great news yesterday with the National Party releasing one part of the transport policy which is actually semi decent. They’ve said they will invest an extra $100 million into building urban cycleways over the next four years.

Prime Minister John Key has today announced $100 million in new funding will be made available over the next four years to accelerate cycleways in urban centres.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says an Urban Cycleway Investment Panel will investigate opportunities to invest in urban cycleways that would expand and improve the cycling network.

Mr Brownlee says National recognises that commuting by bike has health benefits and takes pressure off other transport networks, but says cycleways in our largest centres are fragmented and offer varied levels of service.

“This funding builds on significant investments the government is already making, with projects in Hastings and New Plymouth showcasing how cycling can be a safer, more reliable and realistic transport option.

“Many people cite safety concerns and a lack of infrastructure as reasons for not cycling, so we’re going to begin building cycleways to a standard that delivers real incentives for commuters to make a change.

“Building more comprehensive cycling networks will require new infrastructure to connect existing routes and expand the network into wider urban areas.

“And as these connections will be a mix of local roads and State highways, we’ll need a strategic approach and collaboration at central and local government level.

“Some councils are well advanced in planning and constructing local cycleways, and we want to ensure we do what we can to complement them and make them capable of being used by the widest number of people possible.

“This funding package also strongly complements other aspects of the government’s ambitious transport infrastructure programme, which is designed to ensure people and freight can reach their destinations quickly and safely,” Mr Brownlee says.

The Urban Cycleway Investment Panel will include representatives from central government, local government and other organisations. Draft terms of reference for the panel will be presented to Cabinet by 31 October 2014.

National Party Cycling Policy

I think this is fantastic news and In my view the most important thing about the announcement isn’t so much the amount of money being spent – as the Greens propose to spend more – but that we now seem to have an acknowledgement from all sides of the political spectrum that improving cycling in our cities is a worthwhile thing. Getting that agreement is the key first step and addressing the level of funding can happen separately.

One other aspect I like is the comment that they’re “going to be building cycleways to a standard that delivers real incentives for commuters to make a changeI can only hope that means building infrastructure to the 8 to 80 rule which basically means designing it so that an 8 year old child or 80 year old adult cycle can feel comfortable to cycle on. It would also be fantastic if this meant requiring the NZTA and local authorities to up their minimum standards for what can be built.

One aspect I do find puzzling is the creation of an Urban Cycleway Investment Panel. I would have thought decisions on which projects should get funding would be best handled through the existing NZTA/local government processes. The only advantage I can see is if this group is intended to be some sort of advisory group for smaller councils who don’t have the experience needed to develop better cycling networks. In our large cities in particular there are already lengthy lists of projects just waiting to be funded.

As a comparison with existing spending, according to the draft 2015 GPS, over the next four years approximately $100 million is expected to be spent. As such this investment represents a doubling of existing spending although it won’t be spread out evenly over that timeframe with this new money estimated to be split out as

2014/15 – $10 million
2015/16 – $35 million
2016/17 – $30 million
2017/18 – $25 million

All up it seems like a fairly decent policy for National and it’s one that hopefully represents one small step towards a more balanced transport policy in the future.

It’s also possible we might hear more transport announcements from the government today with John Key talking at an NZCID conference ominously titled “Mega Projects: From Vision to Reality”.

Anyone remember global warming?

As an economist, I get a bit annoyed about inefficient spending (which the Roads of National Significance are), and frustrated at the lack of economic thinking that goes into party policies (all political parties come out badly here – e.g. Labour’s Working For Families seriously messed up marginal tax rates and incentives to work more for mid-income earners). But I’m deeply troubled by the dismissive attitude displayed by the current government towards what I see as the biggest challenge of our time, and probably the biggest market failure the world has ever experienced. I’m talking about climate change, by the way.

Climate change isn’t really getting a lot of coverage these days. It’s not forming a big part of the media debate, or political conversations, or everyday conversations from what I can see. One of the few people who has been writing about climate change is Brian Fallow, the Herald’s economics editor. In 2013, he wrote that “the Government’s refusal to do much of anything to curb New Zealand’s emissions is as economically myopic as it is morally contemptible”, but he’s written a number of other insightful articles. Unfortunately, those who don’t read the Business section of the paper may have missed them.

Someone shared a link on my Facebook a couple of weeks ago – it was an image from Generation Zero, our collaborators on the Congestion Free Network. It reads: ‘Last night, we asked Bill English: how will you act to prevent the impacts of climate change?”‘ The reply reads: “it’s a non-issue because there are more pressing concerns”.

I wasn’t at the event where this question was asked, and I’m not sure if it’s a quote or paraphrased somewhat, and at any rate the Minister of Finance probably isn’t the best person to field this question. Nonetheless, the exchange above is a pretty accurate summary of National Party policy on climate change. Essentially, there isn’t one, except to ease back on the schemes put in place under the previous Labour government, which weren’t sufficient anyway.

Unfortunately, it seems that climate change is much less of a pressing concern for people these days. Unfortunate, because it continues to happen whether we’re thinking about it or not. Thanks to a Google tool called Google Trends, you can actually look back and see how interested in climate change people were, based on their Google searches. The following graph shows indexed interest in the terms “climate change” and “global warming”, compared to each other and over time, worldwide:

Google Trends Results - Worldwide

 

In 2007, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report was released, everything was going pretty swimmingly in terms of the economy, and it seemed like global warming was always in the news. Environmental stories started to get crowded out in 2008, when the world recession hit, and haven’t really made a comeback – the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, being released over 2013-2014, was barely a blip.

The graph below shows the same stats for New Zealand, from 2007 onwards – the data before that is patchy. The results are similar to the worldwide graph:

Google Trends Results - NZ

 

These trends fit with some Gallup poll results which show that, around 2008 and once the recession hit, Americans became generally less concerned with global warming, and more inclined to think it was exaggerated or made up altogether. I’m sure I’ve seen similar results for New Zealand in a report done by Roy Morgan or someone, but I can’t lay my hands on it right now.

I heard Simon Bridges (the Minister of Energy and Resources, and Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues) speak at the NERI Energy Conference in March. His keynote address was filmed (I don’t recommend watching the whole video – skip to the questions from 22 minutes in; the speech text is here but not that interesting), and Professor Ralph Sims later pulled out some of Simon’s key quotes for use in his own presentation:

“Our mixed and balanced approach to energy means that I am motivated by the opportunities petroleum development presents for New Zealand socially, economically and environmentally.”

“But remember, New Zealand is only responsible for 0.14% of global greenhouse gas emissions”.

Simon was also asked about the “90% renewable electricity by 2025″ target, which was initially set by Labour but also supported by the current government. I never got round to writing the follow-up post to the one where I talked about the technical feasibility of getting to 100% renewables, but long story short, there’s wide agreement that the 90% target won’t be reached without government intervention, which National has not been willing to provide so far. Simon made some valid points in his reply, but again long story short, the government isn’t likely to change anything. In fact, the one thing it has done in this area is lift the moratorium on new thermal (non-renewable) generation, so if anything that would make the target harder to achieve.

Similarly, Simon didn’t have much to say on what the government planned to do on climate change in NZ, and again I note that they have eased back some of the measures set in place by the Labour government. Simon said there would be an announcement on the subject later this year, and we still haven’t seen anything on this, but presumably there will be something announced before the election. Since the government has gone all in on the “more roads” approach to transport, I’d imagine any policy would involve electric vehicles.

The thing is, we can’t go on just ignoring climate change, wondering whether it’s still an issue, or putting it in the “too hard” basket. We need to take steps to reduce our climate impact and figure out ways to transition our economy appropriately. For New Zealand, that means concentrating on transport and agriculture. Building more motorways is clearly not going to help us reduce our transport emissions. And subsidies for electric cars won’t help much either. We’ve got to invest in public and active transport, and allow our cities (especially Auckland) to intensify. There are so many good reasons to do this; the climate is just one of them.

The government needs to show some initiative on this, and overhaul its transport policies. But we, the public, have to make this a talked-about issue again. Tell the politicians, the MPs and the political parties that climate change is an issue we care about. Tell them that they need to change their policies if they want to earn our votes. Whoever you’re voting for this election, or whether you’re voting at all, tell them what you think, and if they hear enough people talking about it, climate change will be back on the agenda.

Skypath to move a step closer this week

News has been fairly quiet on SkyPath for some time however that appears set to change with news that the resource consent for the project is due to be lodged tomorrow.

Auckland’s SkyPath is a step closer to construction but its chief planner admits the project is battling funding hurdles, complaints from residents and a lack of political support.

Resource consents for the shared walkway/cycleway attached to the side of the Harbour Bridge are due to be lodged next week, following more than 10 years of planning.

The SkyPath could open as early as 2016 but it would come at a cost, with entrance fees of at least $3.50 each way or $2 each way with a Hop card.

Project director Bevan Woodward said he was optimistic the latest designs would be approved but was realistic about the potential for difficulties and delays.

”With everything involved in this, it has taken longer than expected,” he said.

New Skypath Design

Resource consent represents a major advance for the project but one that will see serious opposition, particularly from a vocal minority that live in Northcote Point.

But not all have shared his optimism for the project, with several disgruntled residents arguing too many people would be parking near their homes and that users might display anti-social behaviour.

Woodward said he had looked to counter those fears by employing two security guards, and said consultations had worked with Northcote Point residents to find the best solution.

The Northcote Residents’ Association said it had major concerns about the SkyPath but was ”not in a position to make any public statement about the project”.

North Shore ward councillor George Wood has stated he was publicly opposed to the SkyPath, but fellow North Shore councillor Chris Darby said feedback he received from residents showed a ”phenomenal level of support”.

Darby said the SkyPath was 55 years overdue and would follow through on the original plan for the bridge, which, before its 1959 build, included designs for a rail line and a 2-metre walkway, similar to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

”I’m optimistic that this is a project whose time has come,” he said.

”I would suggest there’s a minority concern. But all the surveys I’ve seen for Auckland city-side residents and North Shore residents are in favour of it.”

Also now seemingly tied in with SkyPath is Auckland Transports proposal to improve cycling routes from Northcote all the way through to Smales Farm which has brought government minister Jonathan Coleman into the debate complaining about parking. Both Coleman and Wood have now setup a meeting for tonight on Northcote cycle improvements in a bid to fire up locals against the project. If you live in the area and support both SkyPath and the improved cycling infrastructure in the area I would urge you to go along and make your voice heard

Coleman-Wood Meeting notice

Coleman-Wood Meeting notice 2

The comment that there is no such thing as a residents parking zone is a bit comical and perhaps they should ask the residents just over the St Marys bay about that. Speaking of comical, George Wood has also created this video about both projects featuring highlights such as:

  • Suggesting a concrete is historic which can’t have its layout changed.
  • Suggesting a concrete road is an icon of Auckland
  • Saying parking is at a premium due to the historic nature of the area in which residents don’t have off street parking followed by a shots of houses, all of which have off street parking and in which there is still plenty of on street parking available.
  • On street parking being used to park a boat
  • The owner of the Northcote Tavern not supporting cycling improvements as he fears locals won’t be able to drive to have a drink – again notice plenty of on street parking not occupied.
  • A shot looking towards the bridge again with heaps of available on street parking.
  • George talking to a supposedly NIMBY cat
  • Scaremongering that the SkyPath will be too heavy for the bridge.

As far as I’m aware George is the only councillor who has opposedSkyPath to date which is odd considering how many of his constituents both at Northcote Point and in other areas of the North Shore would benefit from the project.

There have also been some new details starting to emerge with these two documents uploaded to Scribd. by George showing what appears to be some new images of the project.

 

While this one is the result of a research report into the potential patronage of SkyPath. From memory one of the reasons for this report was that some locals didn’t believe the previous ones completed were correct. The report says the outcome is very similar to the previous studies done which is basically that a lot of people will use SkyPath and that most would access the bridge by cycling to it, not driving like some residents like to suggest.

I’m looking forward to seeing more detail about the project when the resource consent is announced.

Of course even once constructed there is on issue about the project that is likely to be debated for some time to come and that’s the fee to access the path. The Auckland Harbour Bridge will probably be the only place in the world where cyclists pay to cross while cars can do so for free. Sadly even with a change of government that position might not change.

Eventually, he was hoping that once the SkyPath was up-and-running, a future transport minister might decide to allocate $33m to buy out the project, removing the need for tolls.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said that remained a hypothetical question that the minister couldn’t answer, while Labour’s transport spokesman Phil Twyford said ”it seems like the organisers have put together a PPP that could work and I don’t see any need to interfere with that”.

Dealing with whether we should be paying a fee to cross the bridge is something for a future discussion though and not something I’d want holding up the construction of one of Auckland’s most important projects.

“Concerned residents” want to destroy Auckland’s economy

Edit: Just to be clear, the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek. But the point of the post – that poorly thought out policies can have unintended consequences – is very serious.

The Auckland City Harbour News reports that a new cafe in Grey Lynn has drawn stiff opposition from the locals:

Concerned residents are saying a big “no” to a proposed cafe at The Little Grocer site.

The fate of the Grey Lynn property at 311 Richmond Rd will be decided by a panel of independent commissioners after Auckland Council received 62 submissions opposing the application.

[...]

Christchurch-based Hummingbird Coffee is proposing to convert the current retail property on the corner of Richmond Rd and Peel St into a 60-seat licensed cafe which will operate from 6.30am to 6pm, seven days a week.

[...]

Surrounding residents fear an increase in traffic, parking shortage and the noise and unpleasant smells from coffee roasting.

Let’s put aside, for a moment, the whole debate over whether or not homeowners should be able to impose on their neighbours’ property rights. Let’s consider what would happen to the economy if we all exhibited such reflexive opposition to any changes to our neighbourhoods.

First of all, it would probably stifle the competitiveness of Auckland’s retail sector. Banning one new cafe from opening might seem like a minor thing – but if people organised in opposition to every new coffeeshop it would give existing businesses a monopoly. Queues for morning flat whites would run out the doors, and prices would skyrocket.

If we did the same thing with, say, supermarkets or DIY shops, we’d all end up paying higher prices for lower-quality goods. Of course, deep-pocketed companies would be able to foot the bill to fight the court battles, but they’d have to pass on those costs to consumers. And, ultimately, it would result in a retail environment where McDonalds and Countdown could squeeze out their independent competition.

Second of all, if it’s this hard to get a cafe started, imagine how difficult it would be to open a new factory or warehouse. Auckland’s blue-collar economy would slowly gurgle down the tubes as the red tape imposed by residents associations forced businesses out to China or the Waikato instead. And when the blue-collar jobs went, there’d be increasing pressure for the white-collar jobs that go alongside them – from R&D to design to logistics t0 head offices – to follow.

Third, supply of new housing would slow to a trickle as existing residents would picket every attempt to build a new block of flats or subdivide a residential lot. New Aucklanders looking for housing would be forced out to the fringes, raising their housing and transport costs while offering them less amenity and fewer job opportunities. To add insult to injury, residential opposition to every new bus lane, rail line, bike path, or road widening would result in steadily increasing congestion and no opportunities to avoid it.

However, there is a bright spot in the nightmare scenario created by an effective ban on changing anything in Auckland. House prices would eventually fall to a more sensible level, as the crippled Auckland economy failed to attract new migrants and retain young Aucklanders. But that wouldn’t exactly be in the best interests of the residents associations either…

Election Debate on Transport

Auckland's Transport Eleciton Debate

 

The Campaign for Better Transport, in association with TransportBlog and Generation Zero, is counting down to Auckland’s Transport Election Debate, on the 27th August.

The meeting will be a chance for the public to find out from each party in the coming general election what they are promising to do for Auckland’s transport problems and options.

“We are hoping for some solid transport policy for Auckland from each of the parties attending,” said Cameron Pitches, Convenor of the Campaign for Better Transport.

Each speaker has been allocated ten minutes to speak, to be followed by questions from the floor from the general public.

“We’ve outlined a number of areas that we expect each speaker to cover. These include their party’s positions on the timing of the City Rail Link, and how transport projects across the different modes should be prioritised and funded in Auckland.”

TransportBlog contributor Patrick Reynolds will also be on hand to talk about the Congestion Free Network, a public transport focussed initiative that focusses on moving people effectively around Auckland at peak times.

Sudhvir Singh, a medical doctor and a leader of Generation Zero, is looking forward to the event.

“Young people are demanding that we learn from past mistakes when it comes to transport funding. A liveable low-carbon city is entirely possible if we are smarter about transport and give people choices,” said Dr Singh.

Representatives from Labour, the Greens, NZ First and ACT will be attending. National’s transport spokesperson and current Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee is unable to attend due to prior diary commitments. Organisers are hopeful that National will be able to put forward an alternative spokesperson.

“Nationwide, more than $2.5bn is collected in fuel and road taxes every year, and these taxes are increasing year on year. The public needs assurance that the Government after the 20th September will be spending our tax dollars on the right projects,” concludes Mr Pitches.

Auckland’s Transport Election Debate
Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall, Freyberg Square, Auckland Central.
Wednesday 27th August, 7:30pm sharp. Building access from 6:00pm.

Confirmed speakers:

Labour – Phil Twyford
Greens – Julie Anne Genter
NZ First – Denis O’Rourke
ACT – David Seymour

Help spread the word about our election debate and download the Election Debate Flyer.