One of the most interesting aspects of following transport this year has been the emerging divide between what central government in Wellington wants to be the direction for transport to take, and what the Auckland Regional Council – and increasingly other local politicians – want. Perhaps most obviously, this difference shows up in the respective transport strategies of the two parties – the Government Policy Statement and the Regional Land Transport Strategy. Let’s compare paragraphs from their respective introductions to get an idea of the gap we’re talking about here.
First, the Government Policy Statement:
The GPS closely reflects the modal choices that are realistically available to New Zealanders. Approximately 70 percent of all freight in New Zealand goes by road, and 84 percent of people go to work by car, truck or motorbike, so we need good roads to move freight and people. The government supports some mode shift over time, especially in our major cities of Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, but considers that this should not be accelerated to the point where the outcomes are economically inefficient.
And the Regional Land Transport Strategy:
There will inevitably be scepticism over perceptions that this is a ‘green’ transport strategy because it places increasing importance on developing public transport and anticipating and responding to sustainability challenges such as ‘peak oil’ and climate change, despite the Government’s priority of developing national roads. Roads have their place in any transport system as do trains, ferries and buses particularly in urban areas. A balanced investment is needed to ensure Auckland and Aucklanders are able to achieve their full economic and social potential with minimised environmental costs.
So yeah, quite a difference there. At times this difference has led to quite heated debate between Auckland and Wellington – particularly over the prioritisation of the Puhoi-Wellsford Road, known to most as “the Holiday Highway” (credit to Mike Lee for that name).
With Auckland becoming a “Super City” next year, the potential for this battle between Auckland and Wellington to intensify seemed to me as a fairly likely outcome. For as long as Auckland has been the biggest city in the country, yet Wellington remaining the capital, I think central governments have been quite happy to “divide and rule” over Auckland, to ensure that no Auckland local government would be strong enough to be a viable “counter-point” to what happens in the capital. The Super City is effectively an end to that tactic, as there is little doubt in my mind the future Auckland Council will be a very powerful body, and its future Mayor a very powerful person.
Bringing that same logic to transport matters, I would say that central government would have been pretty freaked out by the possibility of Auckland becoming a more powerful entity, particularly because of the diametrically opposed transport strategies that we have seen emerge over the past year. This would have presented a huge problem for the Minister and for NZTA, who are dead keen on spending around $11 billion on new state highways over the next decade, while Auckland’s local and regional politicians seem more focused on things like the CBD rail tunnel, rail to the airport and other public transport improvements. It would have been a pretty ugly and messy battle.
So what to do about this situation? Clearly there was a lot of discussion between those setting up entities such as the future Auckland Transport Agency, the drafters of the third Super-City bill, and others who find themselves involved in transport/local government matters. This is where ARC Councillor Joel Cayford, who has looked into the details of this bill in far greater depth than I have, provides some excellent analysis on his blog:
What Auckland Transport is, and how it differs from other CCOs
According to the Bill, this entity is “a body corporate with perpetual sucession” and “a council controlled organisation of the Auckland Council”.
But – and it’s a big “but” – various Local Government Act provisions relating to CCOs will not apply to Auckland Transport.
For example, Auckland Transport, does not have to comply with ss. 59, 60, 64 and 74 of the LGA. This means:
a) (s 59 does NOT apply) Therefore the principal objective of Auckland Transport is NOT to achieve the objectives of its shareholders (in this case Auckland Council), as specified in the statement of intent; and it is NOT to exhibit a sense of social and environmental responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates….; (My interpretation: Auckland Transport does NOT have to deliver the objectives of Auckland Council – which might be embodied in annual plans, policy statements, spatial plans.)
(b) (s 60 does NOT apply) Therefore decisions relating to the operation of Auckland Transport DON’T have to be made in accordance its statement of intent; and its constitution…; (My interpretation: Even if Auckland Transport has a Statement of Intent – or Constitution – its Board can make decisions that are not consistent.)
(c) (s 64 does NOT apply) Therefore Auckland Transport DOESN’T have to have a statement of intent that complies with the detailed information requirements set out in clause 9 of schedule 8 of the Local Government Act…; (My interpretation: The SOI requirements for Auckland Transport are totally undefined. It appears to be able to decide its own direction, with little reference to Auckland Council. Strangely, however, s34 of the Bill requires that Auckland Transport “must have a statement of intent that complies with the LGA” – so – I don’t know. Can’t have it both ways…)
(d) (s 74 does NOT apply) Therefore the usual official information provisions of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act DON’T apply to Auckland Transport. (My interpretation: Auckland Transport will NOT be publicly accountable in the same way other CCO’s have been. However this is qualified by a specific provision which DOES make Auckland Transport subject to parts of LGOIMA.)
Those are important, although relatively technical matters, the real crunch is a bit harder to find:
One of the key functions of Auckland Transport is to “prepare the regional land transport programme for Auckland in accordance with the Land Transport Management Act 2003…”.
This is the area – as former chair of Auckland’s Regional Land Transport Committee, tasked with establishing Auckland’s Regional Land Transport Strategy – that I wanted understand. Took a little time to unwind. Not a happy experience….
The difference between the requirements for preparing the RLTP under the current system (on the left below) and the proposed system under “Auckland Transport” (on the right below) take a bit of analysis to figure out, but are quite telling:
You’ll see that s15(b) has gone. The key thing here is the loss of the power or influence of the Auckland Regional Land Transport Strategy to drive transport investment in Auckland. Previously, ARTA was required to “give effect to the RLTS”. Under these changes, the RLTS and the GPS are on the same policy level. Who knows how the Board of Auckland Transport will resolve any differences?
I think I know.
Once it’s all pulled together the consequences of this potentially minor difference in wording become clear:
What does it all mean?
Auckland Transport is not your usual “Council Controlled Organisation”. Because there are so many exceptions (noted above), and exemptions (noted above), and freedoms (noted above), really, Auckland Transport is a Crown Entity.
It is a Government Controlled Organisation.
If Auckland Transport is established as proposed, Auckland will lose something significant. It will lose its ability to determine its transport future. Auckland Council will become little more than an entity set up to extract rate revenues from Auckland ratepayers, and these revenues will then be directed to Auckland transport investments that central government considers are priorities in delivering its objectives, and not Auckland Council objectives.
So I guess that’s how central government has worked out how to avoid battling with regional and local councillors over transport matters. It will simply bypass them through the establishment of Auckland Transport, and the legislation which requires Auckland Transport to take into account central government’s policy directives as what the Auckland Council wants to do.
When we remember that Auckland Transport won’t have any say over what happens to state highways and railway lines anyway, it’s starting to become pretty obvious that the future Auckland Council won’t have much power at all when it comes to transport matters.