The Elephant in the Room

It has been a depressing last while for public transport advocates like myself. The government’s stone-age attitude to transport funding, further delays for rail electrification (at least the funding for the electric trains) and the inevitability of having $1.4 billion wasted on the Waterview Connection make it easy to get depressed about whether we are heading at all in the right direction when it comes to transportation – or whether all the optimism of the last few years (that Auckland might actually eventually have a half-decent public transport system) was misguided. Clearly we’re not really heading in the right direction at the moment, and it’s going to take something pretty huge to get Steven Joyce and the National Party to realise that it’s stupid to keep building more and more roads, especially in a fairly large city like Auckland.

What that “big thing” will inevitably have to be is another oil spike, like what we saw in the middle of last year. It might make sense to sink $1.4 billion into a 4.5 kilometre road when petrol’s $1.60 a litre, but that might be quite different at $3 a litre. Of course, if I knew when petrol would reach that price I would be making my money as a oil trader rather than as a Planning Consultant, but there have been some interesting trends lately in the price of oil that have pretty much slipped by without notice. As most of us know, oil prices peaked in July last year at around $US147 a barrel – which translated into a price of around $2.20 a litre in New Zealand. From July until September the prices remained pretty steadily high, before totally crashing thanks to the global financial collapse. There are a number of factors that contributed to the collapse in oil prices: a reduction in demand for oil, a strengthnening of the US dollar, the popping of a speculative bubble and so forth.

So oil prices subsequently collapsed, reaching a low of around $US40 a barrel in January this year. Since that time prices have been pretty steady at around $US50 a barrel, although over time slowly creeping up. However, in the last month there have been the first signs of an economic recovery out of the USA, and oil prices (which many commentators suggest will be one of the earliest indicators of a recovering global economy) have leapt up, as shown in the graph below:

oil1This graph shows that over the last month oil has increased in price by $US16 a barrel – from $US50 up to $US66. Of course that’s still not even half the price of where we were last July, but it is still a pretty big increase from the lows in January. This lends weight to my opinion that the biggest reason for falling oil prices in the last few months of 2008 was simply a reduction in demand for oil, that itself was caused by the global recession. Since 2005 oil supply has barely been able to keep up with demand, and the 2008 oil spike was a sure sign that supply could actually no longer meet demand: otherwise it certainly would have been increased at such profitable prices. As the global economy starts to recover demand will increase and therefore prices will increase once again: it’s only really a question of how dramatically this process will happen.

So let’s say that by the end of this year the worst has passed with regards to this recession. What can we expect oil prices to be at by the end of the year? Considering they’ve risen $US16 a barrel in the last month on the merest possibility that things are starting to improve, I guess it’s not out of this world to think that we might be somewhere up near the $US100 a barrel mark again. Another interesting factor will be the exchange rate between the New Zealand dollar and the US dollar. I doubt we’ll be touching the 80c mark that we did last year, which means that $US100 a barrel oil prices will probably mean $2 a litre petrol prices in New Zealand.

This is the elephant in the room I think, that is being ignored by Steven Joyce and his cronies. Peak oil is “the issue” for transport over the next decade or two, and yet it simply gets no mention whatsoever in policy documents relating to transportation. There’s a belief that roads will drive economic growth, without realising that roads are hopeless if we can barely afford to pay for fuel to drive the cars and trucks that use the roads. Current government transport policy is encouraging auto-dependency, which in turn encourages oil dependency. Electric cars and the like are decades away from being affordable to the masses – so the government is basically setting us up to be screwed by future oil spikes over the next 5-10 years.

Pretty crazy if you ask me.

Waterview Process Bulldozing

It seems like my worst fears about the Waterview Connection are going to come true, particularly with regard to bulldozing the project through the weakened Resource Management Act.

This from an observor of an Eden/Albert Community Board meeting earlier in the week:

As we already know, the public consultation period is set to end 31 July. A report from that will then go to the NZTA Board in August and they will (naturally) confirm the option. NZTA will then prepare a NOR by Christmas to be lodged with a board of inquiry (under either the call in or the EPA). There is then a 9 month timeframe from the date it is lodged that cannot go beyond that period. By my reckoning they could start construction by October 2010 – although it is more likely to start in early 2011. Scary indeed. Gives opposition groups very little time to prepare – 4 months to submit against the NOR and perhaps a further 5 months to find funding and line up experts for the board of inquiry process. An extremely difficult task. Clive also mentioned (and I have never heard this proposed before) that they are looking to commence work much earlier to carry the motorway on from the current Maioro interchange through to Richardson Road as this area falls within the current designation they already have. If this happens, then I believe they will have made it very clear that nothing will stop this motorway going through.

Clearly the new provisions of the RMA are planned to be used. People will have a very limited say in what happens and in questioning the justification for the project and asking for good environmental mitigation.

Funding for Electrification?

It appears as though National has set aside the necessary funding for the below-track works in the 2009 Budget. Page 41 of the “Vote Transport” includes the following:

electrification-funding Now I’m a little confused by this. Is this $663 million just for ProjectDART activities (double-tracking of the Western Line and other rail upgrades that have been ongoing for years now)? Is it for the below-track upgrades necessary for electrification, which includes stringing up the wires and raising/lowering bridges or tracks where necessary? This money hasn’t been trumpeted much by the government in the budget either, which makes me suspicious.

What the money certainly isn’t, is sufficient funding to purchase the electric trains. Seems like Steven Joyce has a delusion that funding through Private-Public Partnerships might be a good idea. Experience suggests otherwise.

Waterview Connection Letter

At the end of last week I put together my letter of response to NZTA regarding the Waterview Connection and the concerns I have about it. NZTA have invited the feedback as part of their “consultation” regarding the preferred route of the Waterview Connection. People are invited to send their views to so I did.

I invite people to use the letter below as a basis for letting NZTA know about your concerns when it comes to the Waterview Connection.

Waterview Connection Feedback

Thank you for providing the opportunity for consultation and feedback on the Waterview Connection options. I certainly hope that the exact details of the motorway link are still up for some level of debate and might be changed at some stage of the development process.

I have a number of points to make on the Waterview Connection, and these are outlined below:

1) Concerns about the accuracy of the costing of the preferred option
2) Concerns about the economic justification for the project
3) Concerns about the environmental effects on Alan Wood Reserve
4) Concerns about the effect of the project on the Avondale-Southdown railway corridor
5) Concerns about the effects of the small surface area near the northern end of Blockhouse Bay Road
6) Concerns about the effects on Great North Road and immediate surrounding area
7) Concerns about the planning process

1) Concerns about the accuracy of the costing of the preferred option

The primary justification for NZTA not pursuing the ‘full tunnel option’ that have been previously preferred is that option is seen as too expensive. Whilst this may well be the case, there appear to be some anomalies around the costing of this project that lead me to believe that the $1.4 billion price tag is unrealistic.

To start with, the $1.4 billion include $240 million of upgrades to state highway 16, so those costs can be disregarded when comparing the cost of options for the Waterview Connection alone. That leaves approximately $1.16 billion for the construction of the actual Waterview Connection. When one compares the amount of works proposed for this option (including a 1.2 km bored tunnel and significant areas of cut and cover tunnelling) with the previous options identified in the Ministry of Transport’s Business Case for the Waterview Connection[1] it appears that the cost of this option are not consistent with those of previous options.

What I mean by this is that the cheapest option identified on page 18 of that report was a $1.456 billion 4 lane “Open Cut” option. The preferred option has been identified as being $300 million cheaper than that option, yet includes significant areas of tunnelling where that other option did not include any areas of tunnelling. How can the preferred option do so much more for $300 million less? That leads me to believe that there may be inaccuracies in the way that the costing of this option has been calculated and that it might end up costing a lot more than $1.4 billion (including SH16 upgrades) to build.

If that is the case, then the full tunnel option should be further analysed as it wouldn’t actually be much more.

2) Concerns about the economic justification for the project

The cost benefit analysis of the ‘full tunnel option’ detailed that most of the project’s benefits would be in the form of “time-savings benefits”. Time savings benefits are criticised internationally[2] as potentially not really existing, because over time people just make longer journeys rather than actually saving any time on their existing journeys. While obviously there are benefits for travellers from completing a motorway link such as the Waterview Connection these should be measured in a different way that is more robust.

Even if NZTA accept the use of time-savings benefits as the primary way to calculate the benefits of a project, in my opinion these benefits are likely to be significantly over-stated. Auckland’s state highways have had declining traffic flows in recent years due to higher petrol prices and better public transport services. In the future, NZTA’s own studies[3] indicate that traffic volumes are likely to plateau in the next 8 years and may even continue to decline. In the longer-term traffic volumes may not rise above current levels if land-use patterns change appropriately.

It seems highly likely that the traffic modelling done to create the $2.6 billion in time savings benefits ignores the effects of rising oil prices and ignores the current trend of declining traffic volumes. Furthermore, it appears to have a number of strange outcomes like “98% of traffic from the North Shore to the airport would use the Waterview Connection”. I strongly suggest that the traffic modelling for this project is completely re-analysed and the benefits of the project are calculated in a different manner.

Furthermore, the “costs” of the previous full tunnel option did not include social and environmental costs. I imagine this is because the full tunnel option largely avoided those costs. It is essential that this is recalculated to measure the environmental costs of the project (on Alan Wood Reserve in particular, but also the CO2 emissions and other vehicle emissions) and also the significant social costs of the project on the local community. The environmental and social costs of the project should take into account effects during the construction process and not just at its completion.

3) Concerns about the environmental effects on Alan Wood Reserve

Although the part of Alan Wood Reserve that the motorway is planned to travel through is not zoned Open Space, there are areas of the park both to the north and south of the railway corridor that are zoned either Open Space 2 or Open Space 3 in the Auckland City District Plan. The planned motorway will have an enormously adverse effect upon these parts of the park, effectively cutting the park in half. These effects need to be measured in the cost-benefit analysis, but also significant mitigation measures need to be put in place to compensate for the destruction of this park by the motorway.

The mitigation measures should include establishing a long-term stormwater solution to the Oakley Creek catchment, to ensure that it does not flood during storm events. They should also include the establishment of sound-walls on each side of the motorway to block the sound of the motorway for those wishing to enjoy the remaining parts of the park. Oakley Creek through the park should be restored to a natural condition and landscaped in a very pleasant manner to attract people to the area and also to provide a quality environment for the stream itself.

If NZTA are truly serious about mitigating the effects of the motorway through Alan Wood Reserve then they should consider burying the motorway in a trench and providing a number of walkways across it – as this would significantly reduce the effects of the motorway on Alan Wood Reserve.

4) Concerns about the effect of the project on the Avondale-Southdown railway corridor

The proposed motorway is to run directly through the area currently designated for railway purposes and for the construction of the Avondale-Southdown railway line. While the plans do show that there will be room for the railway line to be constructed to the north of the motorway, the cross-sections appear to show that the railway line would not be able to be constructed within the existing railway designation.

This is a critical problem if the motorway is constructed, as it would make it much more difficult for the Avondale-Southdown railway line to ever be constructed. It would mean that OnTrack would have to do a new designation and acquire further land, even though there is clearly enough land at the moment within the railway designation for the construction of a double-tracked railway line.

It is essential that the motorway is located in such a way that the railway line could be fully constructed within its existing designation. NZTA would be unable to designate additional land for the railway line, as they would be for something other than the purpose of the NZTA designation. Therefore it is essential that the motorway be constructed far enough to the southern end of the existing railway designation to allow for the railway line to be properly built at some stage in the future.

5) Concerns about the effects of the small surface area near the northern end of Blockhouse Bay Road

The proposal has a small area of surface motorway between the northern portal of the tunnel and the section of the motorway that will go underneath Great North Road. From an urban design perspective, and also from an air quality perspective that would seem very much less than ideal. It would appear as a huge “hole” in the neighbourhood, with the motorway well below the surface and would also generate a lot of air pollution pushed out of each tunnel by the movements of the cars.

I consider that it would be a vastly superior outcome for that part of the motorway to also be covered up in a similar way to how the motorway under Great North Road will be covered. A park could be established on top of that area and serve as mitigation for residents who will have either lost their homes or lost their neighbouring homes. In the scheme of the whole project it appears unlikely that the additional cost of doing this would be significant.

6) Concerns about the effects on Great North Road and immediate surrounding area

Clearly the work to be undertaken to put the motorway underneath Great North Road will be a challenging traffic management and engineering task. The traffic effects during the construction phase are a concern, as are the effects on residents in the immediate area during the construction phase. This will require very careful planning and excellent mitigation with regards to dust, noise and traffic during the construction phase. The works should be undertaken within the existing road corridor so that the parkland in the Oakley Creek area and the row of houses along Great North Road are fully retained.

It should be required that bus lanes are provided along Great North Road once the project is complete.

7) Concerns about the planning process

I am very concerned about the prospect of this project being “fast-tracked” under the new RMA laws. In order for local residents, who will be significantly affected by the project, to have their say heard properly I strongly request that the Waterview Connection project have a local hearing for its Notice of Requirement and not a Board of Inquiry.

The reason I place “consultation” in inverted commas is that proper consultation does not have a set outcome when you commence it. Proper consultation has an open mind to possibilities and it just doesn’t seem like NZTA are doing that. Make your voice heard.

More contact details for NZTA are here.

Bridge Crossing – the fallout & NZTA’s lies

It has been interesting, if a little annoying, over the past couple of days to see the fallout from Sunday’s Harbour Bridge Crossing. Interestingly, the NZ Herald has actually been one of the better reporters of the whole incident, with plenty of photos, a controversial story that relates to “when’s this happening next” (you can even see me in the photo for that story) and even a nice personal story about someone who crossed the bridge 50 years ago when it first opened and finally managed to cross it again yesterday. However, the TV news has generally been pretty negative about the whole thing – both TVNZ and TV3 – which is rather disappointing.

I don’t think Get Across have helped themselves particularly much either in the last 24 hours or so. It seems like they were so bewildered by the passionate support they got that they’re really not sure where to go next. Should they get in behind all those who crossed the bridge and lump the blame on NZTA, or should they try to distance themselves from those who crossed the bridge so that they can try to restore a better relationship with NZTA? I agree it’s a pretty tricky situation for them, but unfortunately they have been stuck in the middle a bit, with the best quote from them being in relation to another protest in the future “making this one look like a walk in the park”. That gives me a lot of hope that this won’t be one-off event and that eventually we will get what we want: a permanent walking/cycling way across the Waitemata Harbour.

It is interesting to have a good look through the Get Across website in a bit of detail, as they have clearly put a lot of thought into their movement, and have come up with a pretty detailed design. A few photos from their website of a possible walkway/cyclway are included below:

bridge-2 bridge-4

bridge-1 bridge-3

Now I’m a bit 50/50 on whether it should be an indoor link or an outdoor one. I imagine an indoor one (like what is proposed above) would certainly be preferable in that it would protect people from the wind and rain and would potentially be safer. However, an outdoor one would certainly make you feel much more connected with the bridge and connected with being in one of the most scenic spots in Auckland. Enjoying the weather (which admittedly was fantastic) and the view was a large part of what made yesterday’s walk so awesome.

NZTA will tell you that this option is impossible, and that any walkway/cycleway that is added to the Harbour Bridge will significantly reduce the life-span of the clip-ons. However, with a bit more digging it is clear that this is simply not true – and NZTA themselves have admitted this as recently as last year. Let’s have a look at what NZTA have said in the past about this:

  1. Transit CEO advised Parliament’s Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee in a letter, dated December 11, 2007: “the work required inside the clip-on box girders to enable the walkway/cycleway will be included in the upcoming upgrade of the clip-ons.”
  2. May 2008 LTNZ Board Paper (Agenda No. 6c), advised in paragraphs 7 & 8:
    “Transit NZ has undertaken some investigation to to ascertain whether whether future proofing for a walkway/cycleway is possible during the upgrade. While carrying out structural analysis of the AHB, Transit included a loading case involving a cycleway/walkway. The analysis found that a cycleway/walkway, which partly used the existing carriageway and also included a slight extension on the operating width, was structurally feasible.”
  3. Bryan Jackson, NZTA Board member wrotes in a letter to ARC’s Christine Rose, 19 May 2008:
    “…structural elements will be incorporated into the current strengthening works to future-proof the clip-on lanes and allow for future walking and cycling options on the box girders.”
    “the purpose of the structural upgrade of the clip-on lanes is to ensure they stay in good condition for the next 20 to 30 years. I assure you that these works do not preclude the addition of a walking and cycling facility.”
  4. The May, 2008 Transit Board Paper 6173 “AHB Strenthening project” states in Item 4:
    “Through innovative thinking, further structural elements have been incorporated into the current strengthening works at relatively low cost to future proof for future walking and cycling options
  5. Transit CEO, Rick van Barnevelt writes in a May 14, 2008 letter to Hon Judith Tizard:
    “Transit acknowledges that the provision of appropriate access for cycles and walking across the Waitemata Harbour is a priority for the Auckland region”
    “Provision of a walkway/cycleways is one proposal that will help the Auckland region increase the mode share of walk and cycling, which is a key requirement of the draft Updated New Zealand Transport Strategy”
    “Given the likelihood that the next Waitemata Harbour Crossing will be a tunnel the Auckland Harbour Bridge strengthening project must specifically include the detailed provision for a future walkway and cycleway
    Structural elements have been incorporated into the current strengthening works to future-proof for walking and cycling facilities on the box girders

So on a huge number of occasions NZTA have previously stated that provision for walking and cycling would be part of the upgrade to the clip-ons.  Clearly it is possible from an engineering perspective, otherwise they would never have even raised the chance, it’s just a lack of will on their behalf. I wonder how many times protestors will have to  shut down the motorway before they re-assess that position?

Our Bridge

What a fantastic day for Auckland! After 50 years of having the Auckland Harbour Bridge locked off to all those not in cars, today Aucklanders took back Our Bridge. I was right there at the front of the rally – impressed by the speeches (particularly that of Christine Rose) and heckling abuse at Wayne McDonald of NZTA. There were certainly a LOT of people there, perhaps more than the 2000 quoted by most newspapers.

For a while I thought we weren’t going to get across, as Wayne said “no” as we asked him nicely. But then we shifted down to the Curran Street onramp, found our way through a the trees and onto the onramp itself. The police were there but didn’t really try to stop us – the crowd was just too great. First NZTA blocked off the clip-on lanes and then, perhaps because they were afraid of having so many people on the clip-ons, they blocked traffic off from the centre lanes too. So we had the entire northbound side of the bridge to ourselves. Everyone was jumping and yelling, absolutely exhilirated in what we’d achieved. It was a huge egg on Mr McDonald’s face in the end, as I’m sure traffic was absolutely screwed throughout the city. If NZTA had avoided being such idiots they could have easily managed it, but in the end it was their stupidity that led to the entire northbound side of the bridge having to be closed.

Leila and I walked across and back, seeing heaps of people of all ages, with kid, dogs and push-chairs. It was a day when we all celebrated being Aucklanders and celebrated the bridge as linking the city, not dividing it. This is just the start of things to come I hope – a day when the tide turned against our automobile-centric thinking.

As Christine Rose from the ARC said: “Let’s burn fat, not oil!”

What a fantastic day weather-wise for us, and also thanks to all the Aucklanders who turned up to celebrate Our Bridge. And to NZTA, shame on you for being such narrow-minded fools, it is your fault that the whole motorway got shut off, you could have organised this to run smoothly. Shame on you.

Super City Analysis – II

I left off with my Super-City Analysis at section 11 yesterday, so let’s take things forward a bit more today.

Firstly, a couple of interesting points were raised in the comments thread of yesterday’s post – particularly about potential conflicts between the council and the mayor. I think it’s quite a valid point: what if the mayor prepares something in the LTCCP (which they have the job of preparing) but this is opposed by the Council? I guess the Council probably will win out, but it could lead to a fairly messy situation. This raises the issue of whether we should have a directly elected mayor or whether they should be chosen by the council. It does seem likely that the public would be more keen on having the mayor directly elected, particularly considering the rather large powers they will wield. However, the ARC has always had the councillors choose its chairperson and I think that has worked well. I perhaps sit on the fence regarding this issue, but certainly I think that the two options should be considered by submitters and people should identify what they would prefer and why.

OK, let’s get stuck into it – by looking at Section 12: Membership of the Local Boards.

rc-10 rc-11

Each local board will be required to have between 4 and 9 members (this is detailed in Section 19 of the Bill). The section above may seen fairly non-contentious although I think one interesting point that should be discussed here is whether it would make sense for someone on the Local Board to also be on the Auckland Council as a Councillor. A few people have raised the possibility that perhaps the highest polling person in the local board elections would become the Councillor for that area (which fits in well with the idea of having the same number of wards as local boards and having all councillors elected from the wards). This would simplify the electing process, as effectively all you’d be voting for are your favoured local body politicians (plus the Mayor, perhaps). The highest polling become the councillor (and perhaps also the chairperson of the local board) representing that area, while the remaining candidates who polled well enough to make it end up on the local board. I am not really an expert on finding the fairest way of putting together and electoral system, but this link between the local boards and the Auckland Council through shared personnel may well give theose local boards the “real power” they otherwise so obviously lack.

Section 13 really hammers home the lack of power the local boards have.

rc-12 Basically, the local boards have ABSOLUTELY NO defined powers. The critical part of this section is that the local board only has the powers that are delegated to it by the Auckland Council. Now I will get to section 15 in a bit, but the critical sentence in section 15 is that Council MAY delegate powers to the local boards (with some exceptions). Nothing anywhere says that the Auckland Council must delegate anything in particular, and there is nothing in section 13 that gives the local boards any powers to do anything that is not delegated to them by the Auckland Council. This means that, if the Auckland Council simply did not want to delegate anything to the local boards, they would not be required to. The only other powers the local boards have are to act as an intermediary between the Auckland Council and the local community – basically a “lobby group” to the Council.

Now how could this critical part of the legislation be improved? Now I have thought for a while that there are certain things the local boards should have complete control over. This would include managing parks within their area, looking after community facilities such as libraries and community centres. They could also be responsible for upgrading footpaths, rubbish collection and all the other local activities that a council undertakes. Furthermore, if there’s a specific project that the local community wants to embark upon (perhaps building a new swimming pool) but this project has not been prioritised by the Auckland Council, then that community should have the chance to – through their local board – fund that project via a targeted rate. Now this may all be possible if the Auckland Council was to allow it, but I certainly think that the current legislation is far too “iffy” about the powers of the local boards and there is too much opportunity for the Auckland Council to hold onto the powers and not delegate them like they should. Suggestions as to how the wording could be changed to improve the situation are most welcome!

Section 14 is pretty boring and just relates to the pay of local board members and the grounds on which they may be dismissed or able to resign. No real issues there.

Section 15 gets back in the real nuts and bolts of the issue – specifically what the Auckland Council can and cannot delegate to the local boards. Most importantly, remember that section 13 said that the Auckland Council MAY delegate responsibilities. Clearly, that implies that it also may not.

rc-13 rc-14Firstly, those powers which the Auckland Council cannot delegate (in clause 32 of Schedule 7 to the Local Government Act) are actually very significant. Let’s have a look at them:

rc-15 rc-16Now if the government was truly serious about giving these local boards some real power, then they wouldn’t limit their responsibilities in such a significant manner. Why shouldn’t a local board to be able to impose a bylaw? Some of the other restrictions are reasonably obvious and important, but by not giving the local boards any more power than current community boards, and in fact stripping them even of that title it is clear that the local boards will be even more powerless than the current community boards. Getting back to section 15 of the main bill that we’re looking at, it is certainly clear that pretty much everything relates to what the Auckland Council can’t delegate, and nothing at all talks about what it must delegate. I think this is a pretty big failure and is the main justification for calling the local boards powerless and perhaps even pointless.

There are certainly ways in which the local boards could be given more power: they could be able to draft up long term community plans for their areas, they could have jobs (like managing parks) that have been legally delegated to them and they could have clear powers to set targeted rates within their area only to fund local projects. These are absolutely critical changes to this bill that must be made in order to keep the local in local government. Otherwise I don’t really see much point in having the local boards at all.

Sections 16 and 17 are fairly technical and non-controversial from my reading of them. From Section 18 onwards the Bill starts to talk about the transitional arrangments and I haven’t read through that yet. If there’s anything that I think needs changing then I may embark upon a Super City Analysis – Part 3 post. For now, I hope what I’ve done may be of use to people.

Future Auckland Metro?

Following on from discussions earlier this week about a possible future Metro for Auckland, I have got drawing with Photoshop! This is only the Auckland City part of the East-West Metro and would certainly be built much later than the Manukau City part (which follows the alignment in this post).

The outcome is below:

East-West Metro copy

For a much more zoomed in version click here.

Blue sections may be able to be built above ground, red sections would probably need to be underground. 17 stations in all I think.

Super-City Analysis

A few posts back I briefly outlined my thoughts on the Super-City legislation and what I think – at a broad level – should be changed before it goes through parliament and becomes law. There were basically three parts to the legislation that I thought were flawed: ‘at large’ councillors, powerless local boards and a lack of Maori seats. As time has gone by in the last week I have started to realise there are other flaws with this legislation too, and it is important that the Bill, which is critical to Auckland’s future, is properly analysed. This also gives me the opportunity to start to put together what my submission will be on the Super-City Bill will be. I shall attempt to undertake somewhat of a clause by clause analysis, although this may take more than just the one post to complete.

For a start, it is interesting to read the analysis of why the government has chosen to not go with the recommendations of the Royal Commission in relation to having 6 local councils of significant size, rather than 20-30 local boards – which is what they’ve ended up choosing.

rc-1 rc-2

Now some of these issues are quite valid. In particular, I was quite worried about the Royal Commission proposing no level of local government any smaller than the current councils we have. There’s a reason for the current community boards, and if they’re criticised as not doing much then I think that is only the fault of them not being allowed to do much. Not having any council to go to smaller than the current Auckland City Council (for example) would have been quite a fundamental flaw. However, some of the other reasons to seem a little dodgy – and perhaps reveal the REAL reasons why the government didn’t want the local councils. In particular, the second reason is based around trying to remove conflict between the local councils and the main Auckland Council. Whilst conflict between city councils and the ARC may be time-consuming and costly, it does often lead to better outcomes. Having one supremely large and powerful council is quite a dangerous move in my opinion, and the local boards will now be so comparatively small that they won’t really be much of a check or balance on what the Auckland Council does.

Interestingly, the wording of the bill does have concern about the potential cost of the proposed 20-30 local boards:


OK, let’s get into some of the nitty-gritty now. Part 1 of the bill is pretty boring as it just talks about the title, commencement date and interpretation. It’s not until we get to Part 2 that we actually learn much at all.


Now this is clearly a critical part of the bill, and something which I strongly disagree with. Having 8 members of the council elected at large is not a politically fair move as it will favour candidates who have a lot of financial backing (which would be necessary to fund a region-wide campaign properly). This will lead to a political bias in the 8 ‘at-large’ councillors. The other reason why I strong oppose having at large councillors is the voter confusion that it will create. Choosing 8 people from a list of perhaps 40 to 50 is not a very rigorous way of ensuring that people actually make an informed choice. I know that in existing local government elections one can eventually get tired of all the ticking they need to do and start voting randomly (especially for the DHB elections).

So I would definitely proposed that section 8(3) is altered. I also don’t know whether 20 councillors is enough for the whole of Auckland – especially as Auckland has more than 20 members of parliament. It would seem rather bizarre to have your local MP representing you more locally than your local councillor. I think that having 30 councillors would be much better, and that they should all be elected on a ward basis. This would mean that there would be 30 wards, and they could also be the local board boundaries.

Then we get on to talking about the Mayor. Now under the proposal the Mayor will have significantly greater powers than what they do currently.

rc-6 Now that does seem like a heck of a lot of power. In particular, the ability of the mayor to appoint the chairperson of each committee of Council, and also to develop the LTCCP and the Annual Plan puts a lot of the Council’s power in one person. I’m not only worried about this because there’s a reasonable chance John Banks might end up mayor, I am genuinely concerned about the placement of so much power into one person. Some people have said the mayor would become the third most powerful person in the country (after the Prime Minister and the Minsiter of Finance). I am not quite sure how the section could be amended to reduce the amount of power the mayor has, while still perhaps increasing it to some extent. Suggestions are more than welcome.

The next issue is about the local boards. Although the government has stated the case quite strongly that these boards will have “real” power, it is clear that in the legislation they do not. Let’s start by having a look at what their role is stated as being:

rc-7rc-8I must say that I am struggling to see how the local boards are much more than just a lobby group. Sure, they are elected by the local area but it really seems like they have little more power than some “Save the Trees” group (not that I’m hassling Save the Trees groups at all). This is confirmed by Section 11, which details what the local boards actually are (or more specifically, what they are NOT).

rc-9 Now I dont’ know as much about the Local Government Act 2002 as I should, but clearly in it Community Boards are defined and are delegated specific functions and roles to carry out. By specifying that the local boards aren’t (even) community boards, it is pretty obvious that they have been designed to be as powerless as possible, to have no real functions beyond what the Auckland Council says they can do, and to really only exist to placate those who would otherwise decry the complete loss of local democracy. I’m sorry but I’m not fooled.

More to come!

Action Stations!

For now I am just going to add weight to the Campaign for Better Transport’s “Action Stations” campaign:

The Campaign for Better Transport today launched a campaign to highlight uncertainty surrounding the future of public transport projects in Auckland.

Join the campaign here.

Launched today at the Mt Albert railway station, the aim of the “Action Stations” campaign is to gain assurance from central Government that funding for a range of public transport initiatives such as integrated ticketing, new stations, ferry terminals, Onehunga rail and electric trains will proceed as originally intended before the withdrawal of the regional fuel tax.

The Auckland Regional Transport Agency (ARTA), which oversees public transport improvements in Auckland, has now been forced by central Government to apply for funding from the New Zealand Transport Agency for the funding of railway stations for Onehunga and other projects.

Campaign organiser Dr. Francis Reid encouraged the public to participate in the Action Stations campaign by sending key transport decision makers a postcard, which can be downloaded from the website.

“These projects need to be completed. The Government appointed Auckland council transition agency is threatening to delay all of these projects even further,” says Dr Reid.

Ancient tracks on the Onehunga branch line have now been replaced, but the location of passenger rail stations and how they are to be funded has yet to be determined.

“The withdrawal of $200m worth of funding through the regional fuel tax has left a gaping hole in Auckland public transport funding”, said Campaign for Better Transport Convenor Cameron Pitches.

“The ridiculous thing is the Government said they did so out of concern about rising petrol prices hurting people the pocket, but in the meantime petrol companies have increased the price by 5c a litre anyhow.”

Mr Pitches also spoke of the “deeply depressing” news that the Government had confirmed that it will slash up to $250m from public transport infrastructure spending over the next three years in order to boost expenditure on new state highways.

Total expenditure on new state highways is now set to be 22 times that of public transport infrastructure over the next three years, a multiple that Mr Pitches describes as “astonishing underinvestment, given the record 20% growth in Auckland’s public transport we have consistently seen year on year.”

“The Government is putting all of its eggs into one basket. Putting $3bn dollars into new highways which have not been assessed yet for their costs and benefits is extremely risky. If the price of oil increases again, it will look like an incredibly foolish strategy.”

“Central Government just doesn’t get it”, concludes Mr Pitches. “Aucklanders want more investment in public transport in Auckland, not more and more roads that only encourage more and more single occupant cars.”

Government Funding Comparison