- Steven Joyce’s revenge? Big changes proposed to LTMA
- Should NZTA be allowed to borrow for the RoNS?
- LTMA Bill debated in parliament
- Keeping the option of a regional fuel tax
According to information from the Ministry of Transport, the changes to the LTMA will focus on the following:
- 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.
Since the Ministry of Transport put together its summary of the bill it seems some further changes have been made. These are largely around enabling NZTA to borrow a whole pile more money, as explained in more detail in one of the posts above. Essentially it looks like most of the changes are really bad, except perhaps for the inclusion of the PTOM public transport contracting system will is getting rolled into the LTMA, making the PTMA a redundant piece of legislation (and therefore it gets repealed).
Let’s now go through the bill in a bit more detail – from the explanatory statement:
This is the first rubbish part of the Bill. By removing the Regional Land Transport Strategy we effectively lose any long-term transport planning in New Zealand as these new Regional Land Transport Plans will be focused much more on which projects will get funded rather than setting a long-term vision. In Auckland perhaps this problem will not be so great because there’s the Auckland spatial plan, but nowhere in the legislation do we see reference to any RLTP having to give effect to the Auckland Plan. In terms of changes to the GPS, as no national land transport strategy has ever been prepared (presumably the Ministry of Transport couldn’t be bothered) perhaps there’s no huge change there, although I’m wary of the GPS getting even more power and influence as the last two have been so completely horrific.
Looking at the provisions of the Bill in a bit more detail on this issue of the GPS and the RLTP, it does seem as though the Bill attempts to require greater alignment of these regional plans with the government’s GPS – another example it would seem of ramming the government’s unpopular transport policies down the throats of the regions, whether they like it or not.
I don’t have so much of an issue with this change as some of the Regional Transport Committees got pretty unwieldy with having so many members. The real issue is that in Auckland it will be the unelected Board of Auckland Transport which acts as our RTC whereas throughout the rest of the country it will be the Regional Councils who co-ordinate this work. As I noted above, perhaps this isn’t a problem if there’s a link requiring the regional land transport plan for Auckland to give effect to the Auckland Plan, but as far as I can see there isn’t such a connection proposed.
The fact that NZTA currently have to fund their transport programme out of the money they take in through fuel taxes (give or take a bit) is a really really good check and balance on any government going insane with transport spending. It’s largely for this reason that we aren’t seeing projects like Puhoi-Wellsford or Transmission Gully kicking into action just yet: because the money is all going on the Waterview Connection, remaining sections of the Waikato Expressway and the Tauranga Eastern Link. Allow NZTA to borrow masses of cash and this check disappears. We could see all the RoNS (and whatever other projects the trucking lobby can dream up) shifting into construction activity all at the same time spending a simply vast amount of cash and then limiting our ability to do anything in the future because most of the transport budget will be going into repaying the vast amount of debt for these white elephant roads that are hardly being used.
As I explained in this recent post, there’s absolutely no need for the regional fuel tax provisions to be removed as the government already has the ability to say no to a scheme (or to even cancel a scheme already in place). Plus regional fuel taxes are pretty efficient ways of the regions raising additional money for transport. As my previous post noted this is all about power: the government doesn’t want local councils to have much say at all over what happens to transport and certainly doesn’t want them to have additional revenue sources which would reduce councils’ utter reliance upon central government for approving subsidies for each and every local project.
There are some changes to the procedures for toll roads which seem fairly minor and also the necessary legislative changes to enable the PTOM contracting system for public transport, which seems largely OK but with a few potential fish-hooks (that I should look at more in future posts). However the big issues are as outlined above:
- The removal of long-term (30 year) transport strategies
- No reference to giving effect to the Auckland spatial plan
- More power to the Government Policy Statement (GPS)
- The unelected board of Auckland Transport become our Regional Transport Committee, whereas everywhere else in the country it is the Regional Council
- Enabling NZTA to borrow so they can complete the RoNS projects and curtail our ability to build more sensible projects in the future as money will largely be going on debt repayments
- Repealing the ability to apply for a Regional Fuel Tax
There’s also a change to the purpose of the act, which narrows down the focus and removes references to things like sustainability, because who’d want a transport system that was actually sustainable?
Pretty much all of these changes will have a negative effect on trying to create a better, more balanced transport system. The changes centralise even more power over transport decisions, away from local councils and towards the government (even though people never vote on transport matters in national elections but very much often do in local elections). Plus they potentially stuff up the transport budget not just in the near future, but potentially for a very very long time to come if NZTA goes truly berserk in its borrowing (which I think the government will pressure it to do).
In short it’s an utterly rubbish piece of legislation. Something well worth opposing in a submission before October 25th (scroll down to the bottom and click “Make an Online Submission”).