In my last post I discussed a few things that I love about Auckland so as to shed some more light on our “shared but unstated values.”
One of the key values underpinning this blog, I think, goes something along the lines of ‘Auckland is a fantastic city but it could be so much better if it got its transport, land use, and urban design sorted.’ My last post catalysed an outpouring of comments on the many reasons people loved Auckland and we also gained a degree of consensus around the ways in which Auckland could do better; transport was unsurprisingly high on the list.
Also buried in among the many comments, however, was a few hints as to why readers of the Auckland Transport Blog sometimes disagree with each other. The most significant divergence seemed to reflect differences in our underlying political values, i.e. whether you fall on the right or the left of the political spectrum. This is in my experience rather common: A lot of people believe that support for public transport naturally comes from the left side of the political spectrum, whereas support for private transport is the domain of the right.
I don’t want to spend too much time on this issue right now, but I will say that I find this view infuriatingly simplistic. To provide a recent example of how such a view does not really play out in reality, we find the Labour Party pledging support for Transmission Gully while opposing Puhoi-Wellsford. For Labour it seems that wasteful transport spending is OK so long as it’s in Wellington. Well my precious social democratic petals, you can’t have your cake and eat it too: You either oppose wasteful transport spending or you do not.
One can find similar, more positive, examples of the complex interface between transport and politics at the local government level. Which brings me nicely to the primary objective of this post: I want to highlight what I think is the outstanding contribution made by Christine Fletcher – a former Member of Parliament for the National Party and now leader of the Citizens and Ratepayers Association – to Auckland’s public transport renaissance in particular and its urban renaissance in general. For those who don’t know much about Christine (who seems to be called “Chris” by her friends), here’s a photo of her enjoying a laugh at the “Fast track the City Rail Link” meeting that was organised by the Green Party in 2010, with Alec Swney in the background (photo credit).
While I have never met Christine, I personally feel a huge debt of gratitude to her for efforts to make Auckland a better place and here’s why …
In 1990 Christine was elected to represent the Eden electorate as part of Jim Bolger’s National Government. Re-elected twice in 1993 and 1996, Christine subsequently resigned from parliament over her opposition to the forced sales of public assets that had been held under the Auckland Regional Services Trust.
In 1998 Christine was subsequently elected Mayor of Auckland, where she took over from Les Mills. Under Les Mills’ leadership Auckland City’s proposal for Britomart had morphed into an enormous development consisting of an underground train/bus station and numerous sky-scrapers. The latter were supported by 5 levels of above ground car-parking and necessitated the demolition of many heritage buildings. All of this destruction would be wrought, I believe, at quite a high financial cost to rate-payers and had aroused not inconsiderable opposition from a variety of quarters, many of whom doubted the value of investing in rail full-stop.
Upon being elected, Christine worked to scale Britomart back to it’s core components (underground train station supported by surface bus stops) while engaging a private corporation to coordinate the revitalisation, rather than destruction, of heritage buildings. I understand this corporation subsequently split into two warring factions, but nonetheless by the time Christine (tragically) lost the Mayoralty to John Banks in 2001, the construction of Britomart was well under-way.
That’s not to suggest that Britomart is perfect, but by gosh at least Christine got it built – and in the process contributed to a downtown renaissance that continues to this day.
Losing the Mayoralty to John Banks was not the end of Christine’s contribution to Auckland; she then set about opposing Banks’ proposal to construct an Eastern Motorway across Hobson Bay, which I’m fairly happy to say did not proceed. Christine now sits on the Auckland Council, where she has expressed ongoing support for the City Rail Link.
We need to celebrate people like Christine for their efforts to lift transport debates above the parochial political fray; she seems to understand that the economic, social, and environmental benefits of a well-functioning public transport system are quite independent of political preferences, but are instead linked to understanding what it is that makes cities “tick”. My only (very weak) criticism of Christine would be that sometimes she has not been a particularly outspoken advocate for improving Auckland’s buses, but I guess you have to leave something for future generations to do .
So thanks Christine; consider yourself the first recipient of Auckland Transport Blog’s “hindsight hero” award. I look forward to more people on both the left and right side of the political spectrum following your lead on transport issues.