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Joyce gets defensive

Last week wasn’t a good week for Transport Minister Steven Joyce. Starting on last Sunday, highly acclaimed business journalist Rod Oram wrote a superb article completely slamming the business cases for a variety of the roads of national significance that Joyce is so fond of. Then on Wednesday the business case for the CBD Rail Tunnel comes out – a project that he has been very very lukewarm on. Worst of all, the business case is ‘compelling’, mainly on the grounds of things like boosting productivity, transforming Auckland into an ‘international city’, freeing up the roads of 10,000 vehicle trips a day to the central city – so that roadspace can be used for freight, other business trips and so forth. Heck, the business case speaks so much his language – or the language of this government – in terms of things like labour productivity, increased wages and so forth that you would almost think he’d written it himself.

Except he hasn’t – and his good mate Bill English has said that there’s no more general government funding for rail ever again because KiwiRail’s turnaround plan has used up far more than his limited goodwill when it comes to rail. So really, Joyce know that if the government is to contribute to this CBD Rail Tunnel with the annoyingly good business case there’s only one place for the money to come from. And that is from his beloved Roads of National Significance. Most annoyingly (for him) the particular road of national significance that most people are talking about stopping – or dramatically cutting back – is his particular pet project: the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway. To make matters worse, current MP for Rodney electorate Lockwood Smith is retiring from being an electorate MP at the next election and he’s been eyeing up this electorate for a long time. Cancelling a huge motorway project that he’s championed so strongly to divert the funds to a darn railway project – who uses the trains in Auckland anyway, none of his mates that’s for sure – is the last thing in the world he wants to do.

It’s a pretty tricky situation. The cost-effectiveness of your pet project is being attacked left, right and centre. There’s another project – one that you’ve never been keen on – waiting in the wings to take most of your favourite project’s funding – and it seems to have a compelling business case. What do you do?

Well, you go on the attack of course. First you slam the business case for this annoying rail project – even if a bit of what you say isn’t quite comparing apples with apples. Then you scramble around to try and appeal to the masses that the column written by Mr Oram last week wasn’t correct and in fact you have the best interests of the general public at heart after all – even if they voted overwhelmingly for a pro-rail mayor. (Oh, and you work out who the idiot was who thought up of this whole Super City idea – didn’t they know it would make Auckland an annoyingly powerful beast?)

The result is a rather bizarre opinion piece in today’s Sunday Star Times (when was the last time a Minister wrote an opinion piece in a Sunday newspaper I wonder?) Cam Pitches over on the Campaign for Better Transport blog has a great paragraph by paragraph analysis of Joyce’s opinion piece – so I’ll focus more generally. His defence of the roads of national significance is pretty weak – as the only real thing he says is that “they weren’t plucked out of thin air and that they are crucially important to the country’s economic future”. I would say that’s possibly true of a few of them: like the Victoria Park Tunnel and completion of the Western Ring Route – but for others the benefits appear relatively minimal when looked at by the experts, particular when the benefits are weighed up against the pretty significant cost. Once again, I think it’s useful to show the graph below – which illustrates how the benefits of the CBD Rail Tunnel stack up against the seven roads of national significance: Joyce then goes on to tell various lies about investments in the rail network – claiming that $4.5 billion will be spent on turning around KiwiRail (only $750 million is being spent by government on that, the rest is to come from within KiwiRail); claiming that the current government is spending $1.6 billion on Auckland’s rail network (the $600 million Project DART was funded in the 2006 budget, $500 million for electrification infrastructure was funded in the 2007 budget and the $500 million for rolling stock is the subject of a lengthy ongoing debate and may be paid for by Auckland ratepayers in the end.)

But perhaps what I find most insightful – and most concerning – is what’s written in the last few paragraphs of his piece:

Some people believe the way our cities have grown is wrong. They think the quarter acre section is a fool’s paradise. People should live more in apartment buildings and less with a backyard, or heaven forbid, in a small town outside of the city.

It’s a philosophy that argues that urban planners should have much more say about how we live our lives; and it’s an agenda that the old ARC had in Auckland for a long time: have a cast-iron metropolitan urban limit, force up the price of sections, increase the density of our suburbs, have people live in high-rise apartments, don’t let people get off the highway at Puhoi. And so on. If you follow that logic too far, the Auckland Harbour Bridge would never have been built, and the North Shore would still be a couple of seaside villages.

The truth is more prosaic. Yep, we should allow the city to increase in density (watch councillors run a mile when it comes time for the district plan changes), and we should support cost-effective transport options that support that. But we also have to understand that people like to live where they want to live, and provide cost-effective transport options (roads even!) for those people too. Amusingly, Auckland has increased in density in recent times. But largely not where the central planners said it would, (along the transport corridors) and instead in the beach-side suburbs. Fancy that.

And that will be the challenge for Auckland’s spatial planners. Not to impose their ideal Auckland on us, but allow for an Auckland that reflects the varied ways in which the people of our biggest city already choose to live.

Well, there’s certainly going to be an interesting battle between local government and central government when it comes to the final details of Auckland’s first spatial plan. I must say that I get really annoyed by the line of thinking that Joyce is peddling here – that naturally our cities want to sprawl and we should allow and encourage it to happen. The corollary of this statement is also very annoying – that supposedly this whole public transport and intensification push just comes from a few nasty planners wanting to tell us how to live our lives.

What this debate – and Joyce’s position – completely misses is the fact that sprawl doesn’t just occur naturally. In fact, around 95% of our current planning rules actively promote sprawl: minimum lot sizes, maximum building heights, minimum parking requirements, minimum building setbacks, maximum site coverage, maximum density limits – they all seek to do nothing but limit the intensity of development. While in many cases this is perfectly understandable – it must be recognised that just about every rule in the planning books actually works to encourage – not discourage – low density, single-use, auto-dependent development patterns. Sprawl doesn’t just occur by magic, and in fact cities built before we had lots of planning rules tend to be higher-density, mixed-use, walkable settlements. The kind of places that supposedly are being forced onto an unwilling public by nasty planners at the Regional Council.

The other issue that Joyce completely ignores is the whole question of economic efficiency. How much money has been spent in Flat Bush – for example – building all those brand new schools, all those brand new roads, all that fancy new parkland and so forth? Furthermore, as areas like Flat Bush inevitably tend to be auto-dependent, all the car trips generated by that area need to be accommodated around the region – hence the “need” to spend up large on projects like AMETI, the Highbrook motorway connection and so forth.

An ARC study earlier this year compared the economic efficiency of a sprawl-based future with that of a compact city based future. The results were very interesting: In short, the expansive scenario (that Joyce seems to be promoting) has infrastructure costs around $10 billion more than the other scenarios – but provides the worst outcomes in terms of accessibility and trip reliability. So even if people supposedly “prefer” sprawl (and yet again I would point towards most planning rules promoting sprawl by stopping more intensive developments that it would seem to me most developers actually want to do), if it gives the city overall the poorest outcome for the highest price – why would you do it?

28 comments to Joyce gets defensive

  • Swan

    So Joyce thinks that exporters are the most important part of the economy and should therefore be subsidised, in this case via government funded roading projects. I thought that kind of thinking went out about 25 years ago.

  • rtc

    I’m just thankful that we have a sane Auckland Council at present to at least get some balance against Joyce and co., thankfully Len Brown has made it clear that the rail plans will be reflected in the upcoming spatial plan, something that I daresay Banks wouldn’t have much of an interest in ensuring. I wonder whether someone has ever asked him why it is that cities like Atlanta, which have never tried to control urban sprawl have such low standards of livings in comparison to small compact cities like Zurich…

  • Matt L

    I think SJ is treading a thin line attacking journalists as they have a tendency to fight back and that ends up attracting more attention to the issue. This is already starting to happen with Brian Rudman this morning highlighting the stupidity of the governments decision. The story hasn’t been posted online yet but I will post a link when it is.

    Unfortunately the herald has also done an editorial piece on it which basically says the councillors don’t know how to read business cases, claims there is no critical analysis of costs and says we can’t rely on international experiences so this is just a dubious theory which could turn out to be a white elephant. It goes on to say that Auckland should pay the lions share of it.

    Editorial: If we really want it, we’ll have to pay

    • Matt

      I commented to the effect that the Herald needs to start calling Joyce on his inclusion of WEBs for Puford while denying their use on CBDRL, and actually do their job of checking the bull-poo that spouts forth from his mouth. Coz goodness knows he’s not going to listen to the lumpenproletariat.

      • James B

        Good comments Matt. I like the fact that the other commentators are saying that no one will use it. Just like no one uses Britomart or Newmarket Station or the Northern Busway. We clearly are a bunch of idiots for not realising that 20%+ p.a. in rapid transit growth means that no one is using the recently built facilities.
        I note that people are also arguing for a new harbour crossing before by saying that the bridge is completely overwhelmed. I always found that getting onto the Vic Park Flyover was the worst part and what coincidentally is being built now.
        I also despise the I won’t use it so don’t build it attitude. I rarely use Albany to Orewa and have never use Orewa to Puhoi but I don’t consider it a waste of money. I don’t even mind if the motorway is extended to Warkworth as it is at least a decent sized town and has a few towns around it, but all the way to Wellsford is a bit much.

    • Jeremy Harris

      As they say Matt L, “never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the gallon”…

    • Matt L

      And the Rudman piece

      Yawning space between versions of our spatial plan

  • Cam

    “Not to impose their ideal Auckland on us” -This is exactly what Joyce and the rest of the government are trying to do. It’s just that they are so arrogant that they believe everyone shares their view despite all evidence to the contrary. This article reveals him to be what he truly is a baby boomer ideologue stuck in another time totally oblivious to how the world has changed around hime. I mean seriously 1/4 acre sections?? What planet does this guy live on?

    He’ll lose in the end because what he’s pushing for makes no sense.

  • Matt

    Question: Admin, why not try get your own opinion piece in the NZ Herald?

    That way you could address some of the FUD around rail and take on the likes of SJ. Some vigorous & informed democratic debate around the CBD rail/holiday-highway issue would be valuable and thrilling.

  • Sanctuary

    Heh. I tell you what – you’d have to long, long way (possibly to another star system) to find a comments section more wallowing in woeful ignorance than the one at kiwiblog. Whilst willful idiocy can explain some of it away, the Stygian swamp of miserable ignorance on display also should be a warning that the general public is quite uninformed of the fact around PT – and therefore the minister may be able to get away with telling some considerable porkies.

  • John Dalley

    It is time for the Auckland Council to start talking about funding options (not including rate rises) and put more pressure on Stephen Joyce and National. I read the Sunday article by Joyce and concluded that he is the complete retard/plonker that i thought he might be.

    • Matt

      Without rates rises, there really are no funding options. We’ve got a $200m loan from the government to pay back for the dubious privilege of being amalgamated. It’s not expected that Megatropolis will save money through rationalisation of council costs for a while, if ever – Rodders was very clear about that, obnoxious little man.

      Certainly if Joyce persists with his “You fund it all” stance, it cannot possibly happen with or without rates rises. At least not without raising rates so far that the increases would be unaffordable to a majority of the city’s residents. Servicing a $2.5b loan would be horrendously expensive, and the city has other debt to service as well.

  • It’s interesting that Bill English denies funding for the CBD tunnel because he’s already allocated excessive amounts to KiwiRail’s turnaround plan. Perhaps that’s why they wanted KiwiRail to oversee the tunnel project, even though it’s not KiwiRail’s core business. This is an Auckland region project, and its funding shouldn’t be influenced in any way by KiwiRail funding. It has nothing to do with their turnaround plan.

  • The sad fact is that most people (including all of Cabinet by the sounds of things), actually see the way our cities have developed as somehow natural or inevitable. They simply fail to see that Auckland is a totally planned city, and that form and function it has is a direct product of planning laws and regulations. Our planning laws basically only allow for a low density, sprawling car based form of living.

    So if anything, a shift to rail transport and densification would simply be a broadening of the ‘way planners tell us how to live our lives’, it’s not like people really have any choice at the moment.

    • Doloras

      Rule 1 of public discourse: if something is convenient for those in power and wealth, it will be “natural”, “simple common sense”, etc. Anything that’s inconvenient for them, no matter how rational or logical, is repulsive socialist fascist central planning. And those in power and wealth love living in what the Americans call “exurbs”, connected by motorways down which their chauffeurs can drive them.

  • Nick you are right to a point, sprawling exurbia does feel natural to the hick boy from the Naki, but also this policy also is on behalf of Big Trucking, Land Banking Developers, and other natural allies of and big contributors to the National Party cause. Not to mention businesses with future room round the boardroom table….. My pick is that this is part of the haste, Joyce doesn’t want to be in Welly for too long, just long enough to set up a limitless future of comfort and praise from fellow bully-boys out there in the private sector…. And long enough to kill off for ever a number rail lines to give his mates a natural monopoly… don’t be too kind to these guy; the more they say competition is good the more you know they are trying to create total control. All funded, of course, by that happy fool: the taxpayer.

  • Peter

    Surely the fairest way to fund the project is to get various parties that benefit from it to stump up with the money. One way this could be achieved:

    1) NZTA (ie. drivers) effectively benefit through the project as it takes around 10,000 vehicles a day off the road. Most of these vehicles do really long trips to the CBD, which generate a lot of congestion. By the sounds of it, drivers get about 51% of the $1.3 billion transport benefits the tunnel will generate. So let’s hit up NZTA for around $660 million.

    2) Train users themselves. They benefit around 49% of the transport benefits, so fares should look to cover around $640 million in the longer term. This is likely to mean an increase in fares – but that’s understandable, in most overseas cities train fares are higher than bus fares – Auckland’s weird in having the opposite.

    3) The employment benefits (higher wages, greater productivity) should lead to an increase in tax take, so it would be fair for central government to chip in a decent amount as their coffers will benefit in the longer term.

    4) The appreciation of land-values outside the CBD along the rail corridor. Some sort of ‘value capture’ tax should perhaps be used to capture some of the increased land-value resulting from better rail services. Zoning for higher densities around the rail network can help this further.

    5) The appreciation of land-value within the CBD. Some sort of targeted rate for the CBD seems logical to capture this.

    Chapter 6 of the business case provides some interesting ideas about funding.

  • Matt L

    And he is now claiming that running the trains will push rates up 7.5% or more. Where did he get this figure from?

    “The Minister of Transport has pointed to the existing operating shortfall in rail funding and the proposed extention will push rates increases to 7.5% or even higher” … payers.htm

  • Ross

    Speaking of what we “should” be living in. Heartland has just been showing NZ development from slum to 1/4 acre Pavlova Paradise, the rise and rise of the state house, the cleaning up of the city slum from the beginning of the 20th century.

    The demise of the trams and rail is a story in itself. Especially demonstrated below. I wonder if there is any evidence of the oil companies having the same influence in NZ??

  • Jennifer N

    and here’s a comment from Mike Lee:

    end para is:
    “Clearly this debate has got a fair way to run – but it would seem clear to me that sooner or later if the National government wants to be re-elected next year it will have to concede that unlike the Puhoi to Wellsford Highway with its BCR of 0.4 – the CBD Rail Link does stack up. The National Government would dearly love to kill it off – but if they are not careful what comes roaring out of Auckland’s underground rail link could end up running down the National government.”

  • James B

    I’ve just asked John Key what he thinks of the CBD tunnel on the Stuff chat. It will be interesting to see if they post it. Although they do seem to be more interested in stupid fluff like what his favourite shows are, Biggest Loser, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy in case you’re interested (terrible taste IMO).

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