The government has today announced some pretty big changes are being proposed to the Land Transport Management Act (LTMA). This is a pretty vital piece of legislation, forming the legislative framework around which most of the country’s transport plans, policies, rules and guidelines are created. The proposed changes to the legislation appear to seek to simplify things quite a lot – and I can definitely see value in that (currently we have a huge number of plans: a GPS, NZTS, RLTS, RLTP, NLTP and probably others as well). However, some of the changes are pretty scary in terms of their potential impact.
- Put in place a clearer, more straightforward, statutory purpose for the LTMA to drive better decision-making
- Significantly reduce the number of assessment criteria used throughout the LTMA
- Rationalise national level strategic documents and clarify their relationships with lower level documents, to allow for clearer national guidance
- Extend the role of the Regional Land Transport Programmes so they identify the outcomes, objectives and interventions proposed for at least 10 years, and remove the requirement to produce a separate Regional Land Transport Strategy
provide more flexible, less prescriptive consultation requirements
- Enable Regional Transport Committees (RTCs) to be smaller and more focused by removing the requirement to have appointed members to represent various transport objectives. RTCs can still use external advisers if they wish but this will not be prescribed by the legislation
- Create more flexibility in the LTMA to use borrowing to support land transport investment should future circumstances make this desirable
- Improve the tolling and public private partnership (PPP) provisions in the LTMA to reduce barriers to their use
- Repeal the provision for regional fuel taxes.
There’s always a tricky balance between making a system too complex, which potentially the current transport framework is, and leaning too far the other way towards a system that could end up with giant holes in it. It’s a bit too early to tell whether the legislative changes swing too far the other way, but there are a few issues which I have some pretty big concerns about.
Perhaps the most obvious concern relates to the balance between regional and national influence over transport decisions. Obviously this is a huge issue in Auckland at the moment, with Auckland Council having a very different viewpoint from the government on transport priorities. Legislative change that gives the government even more power to ignore the transport wishes of Auckland would be a giant step in the wrong direction. It will be interesting to see what the details of the legislation say on this matter – I’m suspicious that Steven Joyce is using this as a way of getting around the Council.
Fitting into this concern, to some extent, is another concern I have about the removal of the Regional Land Transport Strategy as an important document in the formulation of transport policy. While past RLTS’s did often seem to involve a lot of waffling and very little action, the most recent one did list major transport projects over a 30 year timeframe and discussed how they could be sequenced and potentially funded. Having a 10 year Regional Land Transport Programme as the only regionally-based transport policy/strategy seems inadequate to me: many of our larger transport projects clearly need to be assessed, discussed and sequenced over a longer period than 10 years. Yet again I’m suspicious that this change has occurred simply because the government disliked the most recent RLTS, because (horror of horrors) it proposed to spend around the same amount of money on roads as public transport over the next 30 years.
It’s also concerning to note that the preparation of this extended 10 year RLTP will be done by the Board of Auckland Transport, rather than involve elected councillors (as will happen everywhere else in the country). In the new Super City set-up, it was to be the responsibility of Auckland Council, and not Auckland Transport, to prepare the RLTS – reflecting the need for the wide-ranging strategy to have political buy-in. While the Auckland Spatial Plan will obviously serve this purpose to some extent, the proposed change will clearly take a bit more power away from the Council to influence transport decisions in Auckland.
The other changes, such as making it easier for toll roads to be established, enabling the borrowing of funds for transport projects (where the NLTF cannot cover their cost) and repealing the regional fuel tax provisions, are a mixed bag. I have nothing against toll roads – and I’d actually prefer to see tolls cover the cost of many of the new roads being proposed, freeing up funding for a more balanced approach to transport. But I am suspicious of the other changes: enabling borrowing for state highway projects seems like a pretty ugly path to go down: not enough money in the NLTF for the various roads of national significance? Right, let’s just borrow more money to build these pet projects. Finally, it does seem bizarre that the government dislikes regional fuel taxes so much (after all, the regions need to wear the political cost of applying such a tax) – presumably the problem is that such taxes give the regions more power over deciding what their transport priorities are.
Overall, while the desire to improve the simplicity of the transport policy framework is laudable, the details of the proposed changes to the LTMA seem to me as though they’re more based around a continued centralisation of power with the government over the transport decision-making process. In particular, the changes seem to be an attempt to stymie the ability of regions such as Auckland to have more say over their transport priorities. It does seem as though this is perhaps Steven Joyce’s revenge against Auckland for having such different transport priorities to that of central government. He’s going to do everything he can to legislate away Auckland’s ability to implement its vision.
I hope I’m wrong.