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Things to consider this election

Amalgamating Auckland under a single council was always going to be a big task and the first 5½ years of it have seen the council needing to make some fairly big decisions. Many of these big decisions have helped set Auckland on the path to becoming a great city and I’d argue could not have been achieved without the amalgamation. Examples include:

  • The 30 year vision for the region called The Auckland Plan
  • The still ongoing Unitary Plan which is effectively the rulebook to enable much of the Auckland Plan
  • Agreeing to the City Rail Link with the government
  • A single region wide rating system so that your rates are assessed the same way regardless of whether you live in Henderson, Hillsborough or Howick.
  • The Long Term Plan which included an interim transport levy that was mostly directed to improving public and active transport.

Local body elections are just 6 months away and along with a new mayor, we’re bound to see a lot of tightly contested seats on the council. It would be easy to think that all of the big stuff has happened and the make up of the next council won’t be as important as the two we’ve had so far. That would be a wrong assumption and in fact there are likely to be a number of big issues that will come up during the next term. So as more and more people emerge to stand for council, I thought it would be good to have a look at some of these.

It’s also worth noting that local body politicians have shown time and time again that they don’t tend to conform to the traditional left/right split in politics. Some councillors have frequently voted against the ideology of the side of politics they’re associated with. As such, when it comes time to vote it’s worth thinking about how the individuals will vote on the actual topics rather than what side of the political fence they supposedly sit on.

So here are some of the key decisions the council will likely need to make in its next term.

Light Rail

As I understand it, Auckland Transport’ plan to install light rail on some streets continues to bubble along behind the scenes as they work though all of the technical issues that needs to be done before the idea can move to the next phase. I suspect that during the next council term a decision will need to be made as to whether the council support and more importantly will provide the funding needed to support the project moving forward.

Will candidates support the introduction of light rail to Auckland?

Town Hall LRT_800

Updating the Auckland Plan

The Auckland Plan is the 30 year vision for the city and the intention was always that it would be reviewed after six years which will be in 2018. Undoubtedly the Auckland Plan could be improved – especially around transport – and given almost everything the council does needs to be about working to achieve the goals in the plan it’s crucial we get any changes as part of the update right. Enough councillors opposing it could see the vision for Auckland wound back with more emphasis placed on sprawl and car centric transport polices, winding back some of the gains and improvements made in recent years.

Do candidates support the Auckland Plan and/or what changes would they support?

Unitary Plan environment court appeals,

The Independent Hearings Panel are due to provide their recommendations for the Unitary Plan in July and it will then be up to the current council to accept or reject them. Given the level of discussion that has occurred in recent times and that by the time the council votes, councillors will be deep in electioneering mode I suspect we’ll see many of the most controversial aspects, such as height limits, rejected. Rejecting the IHPs recommendations will open up those aspects of the Unitary Plan to environment court appeals. If that happens the next council will need to decide how they deal with the appeals.

What are candidates views on the Unitary Plan?

 

Transport Funding – there are two elements to this.

Extending the transport levy

During the Long Term Plan discussion last year, the council presented two transport options, a build almost nothing plan or a build everything plan that required significant extra funding. The council also proposed two ways to raise the extra funding needed (fuel taxes or road pricing). As both options needed government support which was not forthcoming, the council in the end agreed to a transport levy of $99 for households and $159 for businesses. Over the three years of the transport levy it is enough to raise over $500 million to be spent on an Interim Transport Programme. Importantly councillors also required that the majority of the additional funding enabled by the transport levy was directed to public and active transport.

interim-programme

In 2018 the transport levy expires and council will once again need to make a decision about how to fund improvements to our transport system. I believe that extending the transport levy will be the easiest way to raise some or even all of any additional funding needed and if done in conjunction with continuing to prioritise good transport projects could lead to very good outcomes for the region.

What are candidates’ views on extending the transport levy and/or how will we pay for future projects?

Road Pricing

As Auckland continues to develop the level of discussion around road pricing is only set to increase. While to date the focus of the road pricing discussion has been on revenue gathering to pay for some of the mega-projects being planned, I think it will shift to being more about being used to manage demand over time. In fact, using it as a demand management tool is something being considered as part of a wider range of options in the ATAP process.

Will candidates be supportive of a proper road pricing discussion and would they support the introduction of proper road pricing?

 

Of course there are bound to be a number of other big decisions over the coming 3-year council term and at the end of the day it comes down to who you trust to vote in a way you agree with one these key issues?

73 comments to Things to consider this election

  • stu donovan

    Great post. I wonder if it would be worth whipping these questions into a standard online survey that you can email to candidates? Allowing all candidates to express their views more fully would be quite useful for the democratic process given how little attention LG elections get from normal media outlets.

    • I concur with Stu and I wonder if it can extend to:
      Mayor
      Governing Body (Councillors)
      Local Boards

      For example I am more than happy to do this standard online survey for the Papakura Local Board area 🙂

    • The problem with getting people to answer a survey is for many they’ll say what they think you want to hear but vote very differently. For example Mike Lee and Cathy Casey will talk about the need for intensification but then vote against it in the council chamber.

      • stu donovan

        Understood. But asking people to put their views down and giving them the opportunity to explain them may provide an incentive for people to align statements and actions.

      • Chris

        On some of the issues, you could compare their survey answers to their voting record to estimate the likelihood of their voting the position they claim to take.

        I emailed my councillors (Casey and Fletcher) when the council withdrew their submission to ask if they would vote against the panel’s recommendation if it recommended more intensification than the 2013 draft. They were both keen to tell me that they ‘support intensification’ (presumably in someone else’s backyard, or in some mythical future when the Time is Right) but were conspicuously silent on what I’d actually asked.

        I expect them both to vote against on the grounds of ‘process’, and I further suspect Auckland 2040 will use the Panel’s recommendations as an opportunity to whip up more misinformed panic, thereby positioning NIMBY candidates well for the election.

      • Matthew McGowan

        Perhaps have a table. What they said. What they did. Would probably be a bit of an effort to compile though.

      • Frank McRae

        Like racism no one wants to openly identify as a NIMBY. So the latest trick the NIMBYs use when asked if they support intensification is to say “yes I support intensification in area x” where area x is an area already intensified like the CBD. This is what City Vision and even Bill Ralston have been doing and I expect it will be a standard response.

  • Andrew R

    Be interesting to see how road pricing deals with the potentially regressive nature of that system.

    • conan gorbey

      You could argue that with any good you buy. Should power be more expensive for those over a certain threshold? Should you pay more for water if wealthy?

      • stephendgmail

        Yes, but there is an important point here. Suppose we switch from having something (like roads) provided through taxes to having user fees. Suddenly, there’s a new good that people have to buy, with their existing amounts of money. If the distribution of wealth otherwise remains the same, we’ve now made inequality slightly worse.

        One could argue that any user fees should be accompanied by reductions in bottom-bracket taxes and raises in benefits to compensate. Which is fine, except that that never happens in practice. Suppose, politically, you oppose increases in wealth and income inequality. Then it can make sense to oppose market pricing for a good – even if that pricing would make the use of that good more efficient – because it would increase income inequality.

        This goes double for the idea of road pricing, which is set up as an alternative to local body rates. But rates are one of the best taxes we have! Impossible to dodge, do not distort the market, and the burden is born more heavily by the wealthy.

        • conan gorbey

          You know rates are paid on capital value of the house eh? Not the owner’s income. You can assume that higher property prices means that in general those on higher incomes own more expensive houses, but there are plenty of people in my street in Grey Lynn who are clearly rich, they just happen to have purchased a long time ago.

          I would love to see a mechanism for charging more for power or water to those on higher incomes. Especially factoring in the use of trusts to distort income levels.

  • paddocks

    I think it is time for the people of Auckland to have a referendum on whether the “super City” and its structures should continue. We did not have the opportunity to have a vote on whether we wanted it in the first place. The Super City has now had several terms to prove its effectiveness and cost management. Has the Super City lived up to what was “promised”? You say that it has made big decisions that may not have been made otherwise. So let’s see if Aucklanders want it to continue or whether we want smaller borough councils and an Auckland Regional body as previously. It’s time for the referendum we never had originally.

    • cam

      Oh yeah right a return to the golden days of stagnation under multiple squabbling councils who were only interested in their own little patch and mayors who would sacrifice investment in vital infrastructure so they could keeps rates lower and stay in power. Yes please can we go back to that.

      • paddocks

        If others share your opinion then the referendum would fail to see any change. If you think the referendum would be a wast of money, then it would join the list of recent wastes of money such as the Fern Flag referendum and other referenda that the government has just plain ignored.

    • I think that one of the issues with that of the council haven’t been given a fair hearing by the media, especially the herald who have made stuff up and lied about issues. That’s given the public a perception of the council that is inaccurate and would influence many votes. For example in the constant beat up over rates rises they ignore that we’ve been going through a transition period to align rates to the same methodology which is artificially making it appear like rises are larger than they are. They also don’t say that the rises are less than has been planned by the former councils has their long term plans been implemented.

      • Sort of.

        Stop talking about the Transport Levy as a good thing !

        The transport levy DID NOT increase the amount of spending on transport in the Auckland region.
        The “targeted rate” for transport matched the reduction in funding to AT, with the council pocketing the difference.

        http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11506156

        To address your position of unfair treatment, this is not made of lies of the Herald but direct reporting from the Chief Executive of AT and if you care to look has been laid bare in the financials of AT.

        • Jeremy

          Reduce rates you reduce max debt; simple…but to ensure long-term savings they need to maximise leveraged spending, hence the targeted rate. So we save future rate payers interest and costs in re-litigating plans.

      • Nicholas O'Kane

        Can I ask how high rates are in the Super City compared to what would likely have been the case had the Super City not been created? Also is it feasible/possible to undo the Super City (perhaps into the following 4 unitary authorities: North Rodney (the old Rodney north of Waiwera and Helensville), North Shore (the old North Shore plus the Hibiscus Coast), Auckland (the old Auckland and Waitakere Cities, plus Helensville) and Manukau (the old Manukau City plus Papakura and the parts of Franklin District included in the current Super City)?

        • mfwic

          It was a money grab. For the first few years they hiked rates as high as the possibly could. To be fair they did cap the increases at 10% and differ the rest but eventually they took their pound of flesh. On the plus side we will get a $1Billion computer system that does what the old computers did.

          • Nick

            A minor correction, the new system is $157 million.

          • conan

            That is total IT spend. There’s no attempt in that article to break it down and provide accurate figures on actual spend on the project. Typical lazy herald writing.

          • mfwic

            Yes because if you break $1.1billion into smaller bits somehow it becomes more acceptable to waste that much.

          • conan gorbey

            No, the point is that any organisation will have a certain level of IT spend- buying people computers, providing day to day software, servers. This figure presumably includes that spend. I presume that the herald provide their writers computers and this isn’t considered wasteful. It’s not clear from this gross spend what the spend on newcore is. That is where the laziness is. Instead it becomes the headline figure.

      • paddocks

        Surely that is an issue with democracy in general….the media have their own agenda and will be selective in their reporting to promote that agenda and to sell copy! It is not a good reason to stop the public voting or from having the final say in what their local government structures should be.

    • Cargill_Street

      Let’s await the outcomes of the ‘North Rodney Council’ and ‘Our Waiheke’ proposals currently before the Local Government Commission. If the proposal is feasible, it actually does go to a referendum. So it’s your prerogative if you want to set up alternative local government jurisdictions.

      • Nick R

        As an aside, those North Rodney and Waiheke folk are crazy. Do they really understand what happens once the rest of the region stops subsidising them and the have to pay for everything out of their own tiny rating bases?

        • Cargill_Street

          Of course I realise that, in my opinion it’s a stupid proposal. My point is rather than complaining about an ostensible dearth of democracy, anyone can exercise their right to put a proposal before the Local Government Commission if they feel so strongly about it.

        • stu donovan

          They don’t realize it because the Herald has them convinced that auckland council is less frugal with their money than ye olde councils. As you note the actual evidence suggests the opposite: long term plans from previous councils had rates rises far in excess of what we’ve experienced.

          • Early Commuter

            Centralisation will often realise efficiencies within an organisation, but will not necessarily result in more effectiveness.

            Decentralisation (M-form) where each sub-entity is accountable for inputs and outputs usually leads to greater flexibility, responsiveness, and effectiveness.

          • Nick R

            I’m not even talking about the merits of a centralised council, I just mean the fact they will be broke immediately without subsidy from urban areas. Waiheke was always part of Auckland City, North Rodney alway hung off the urban areas of Orewa and Whangaparaoa.

            Rodney ward has about 15,000 ratepayers spread across an area three times the size of urban Auckland, which has about 400,000 ratepayers. Good luck funding your infrastructure and services, is all I can say to them!

          • conan gorbey

            If you read the North Rodney proposal closely you’ll notice a few things:

            They seem to think that the rest of Auckland will continue to pay for the maintenance of the public parks in the region
            They have not allowed any interest costs in their budgets which indicates they don’t think they would need to assume any of the Super City debt (Rodney came into the Super City with the highest per capita debt).
            They are planning on reducing the road budget, whereas I imagine many supporting the proposal will expect sealed roads to follow once local control is restored.

          • jezza

            The biggest concern for me would be Auckland Council loosing control of the regional parks up that way and out on Waiheke, I’d hate to see the hard work at Tawharanui with pest control for example be lost to a council that may well be desperately short on funds. Maybe it would need a similar arrangement to Lyttelton Port, which was owned by Christchurch City Council, despite sitting in the now defunct Banks Peninsula District Council’s area.

            As an aside does anyone know how the old County Councils managed to get enough funding for infrastructure given they were generally devoid of any significant towns to boost their ratings bases?

  • helgaarlington

    And btw Transportblog – no good asking people if they trust bloggers, when that category includes both you and Whale Oil. Well, there’s the one and then there’s the other….

  • Warren S

    But scurrilous Whale Oil never let the facts get in the way of a good story but at least Transport Blog try to stick to actual fact!

  • Early Commuter

    I think what we need the candidates to do is be really clear on what (a) they see as core Council business, and (b) within that core council business, what level of service do they desire?

    We all agree – roads, buses, and trains are core council business. Which candidates stand for 4tph? Which stand for 6tph? Which stand for 10tph? Which candidates want to reduce time on major arterials, and if so, by how much? Which candidates want to extend PT hours so EC can get to town easier? Let’s focus less on specific projects and more on the outcomes.

    We all agree – libraries are core council business. Which candidates stand for 7 day opening, 9am-7pm? Which want weekdays only?

    We might disagree on various arts and economic development activities. If candidates do support arts activities, what sort of attendance to events do they want? If they support economic development, what degree of regional GDP growth is acceptable, and what is just wasted rates money? Are gyms/rec centres core council business, and if so, what attendance (as a proxy for health benefits) is the goal?

    • Nik

      I’m all about the rail, reading and rubbish approach to local government services.

      Some might argue about roads, but I’m sure we’ve got more than enough of them.

    • Brendan

      Do we all agree that roads are core council business? The council doesn’t own the power lines or the phone lines, network companies do. Why shouldn’t network companies own the road network and then we could all live in a libertarian user-pays utopia? Different network companies could own parallel roads and then compete to provide the best access through.

      Trucks would be billed proportionally to the damage they cause, just as bikes would be billed based on the damage they cause.

      An accident would hold up traffic and prevent profits so accidents would get cleared really quickly as it would affect company profits. Perhaps a high speed bulldozer could zoom in and clean up the mess.

      • Early Commuter

        Private roads existed for centuries. Then there were collectively owned roads where particular villages had particular responsibilities for different sections of larger highways.

  • Angus Robertson

    The Auckland Plan subsidises sprawl to the tune of about $17billion, by aggressively expanding exurb development whilst curtailing addition to the city of Auckland.

    The Auckland Plan has not delivered any improvement over “traditional sprawl”, because traditionally sprawl has been sprawled about less.

  • JimboJones

    It’s almost safe to assume goff is going to be Mayor unless he does something stupid. I’m not convinced by a lot of what he has said but I think he might be the best of a bad bunch.

    • harrymc56

      Politics is invariably a choice of the least bad.
      The rest of them are so bad that Goff will walk it bar some horrendous mistake and he is much too experienced for that.

  • James B

    Alternatively, you can go with the system I used prior to the super city where I choose the candidates with the highest academic qualifications.

    • Visubversa

      Cathy Casey has a PHD. However, I will vote for her even though she is a populist because most of the time she is progressive. Mind you – you can’t rely on any of them 100% of the time.

  • Brendon Harre

    My suggested survey would be to ask Councillors and the public which of following options do they support and the degree of support (very strong, strong, weak, very weak).

    1. Build absolutely nothing anywhere, so being anti intensification -those 3 story apartments are the devil’s work and anti-extensification -sprawl is a blight on our green and pleasant lands.

    2. Building up is utopia and building out is the work of evil property developers.

    3. Building out is economic nirvana guaranteed to create affordable housing but building up is so stupid it shouldn’t be allowed.

    4. Pragmatically allow both the building up and out so that housing affordability goals are achievable and residents have a genuine choice of the type of neighbourhood/house to live in i.e. leave it to the people’s preference on what they want, after ensuring the costs have been allocated as fairly as possible.

  • Brutus Iscariot

    It would be useful for the editorial board of transportblog to develop some candidate profiles, with a view to providing “endorsements” so that we all have an accurate idea of who to vote for.

  • Auckland Transport’s artistic impression software must only have clip art for white people

  • Grant

    We definitely need road pricing to manage demand, car drivers will love it once they see how much clearer their drives become in peak. Any profit directed to PT…but I’m happy if it just breaks even.

    • David B.

      It’s too early for this idea – for demand management to produce outcomes. the price signal needs to incentivise drivers to the next best alternative (public transit). This will work when nearly all Aucklanders have access to frequent public transport, but widespread access to frequent services has yet to make it into AT’s planning.

      I’d vote for councillors who would direct AT to properly extend the frequent transit network though.

      • I disagree, I think its worthwhile to manage demand through price even without transit at all. It’s like peak pricing on electricity, the point is just to manage electricity demand, it’s not reliant on everyone having widespread access to gas or firewood.

        • Early Commuter

          Well, no, because in this case there is no spare PT capacity for road users to go onto. So they will either (a) pay and bite the bullet reducing income for other options or (b) not travel reducing their opportunities.

          Electricity pricing leads to the elderly freezing to death every winter

          • Not the point EC, its not about moving demand from one mode to another, its about managing demand. So more of your point B, but not that people don’t travel, but that they don’t all travel at peak times, in peak directions, at the same time together. So yes, driving earlier or later, driving to other locations, making different choices about where you live, work or study, sharing cars to halve the cost, etc.

            I agree some people would arguably get squeezed off, and having better transit would be desirable to not, but any consumable or service that isn’t priced despite demand exceeding supply results in perverse outcomes. Soviet bread distribution for example.

          • Early Commuter

            Which means the rich get to drive down empty highways at 8am whereas the poor are forced to drive in at 6am

            Just like Soviet Russia, actually

        • paddocks

          Yep I agree. Introduce congestion charging and those unnecessary trips will reduce and people will frequent closer shopping centres instead of going to the mega malls. Car pooling will increase and public transport will respond to increased demand. The money saved from having to build highways to cater for all those unnecessary trips involving cars with individual occupants could be put towards improvements in public transport and reduced rates.

        • Grant

          Just think that widespread recent bus strike.

      • David Lupton

        DB there is no need to expand the pt network first – this is just an excuse for doing nothing. Much of the benefit from road pricing will come from simple re-timing of car trips. Uncongested roads will also reduce bus running times and thus increase the effectiveness of the bus services. But in any case the lead time between deciding to introduce congestion pricing and having it operational will give plenty of time to invest in additional public transport capacity.

        • David B.

          Ahhh… in that case it will be interesting to discover how much flexibility drivers have to shift their travel times away from peak. I was equating road-pricing to a London-style congestion charge which works well because their transit options are so mature.

          • Brendon Harre

            I agree with David L that a congestion charge would be a useful tool to have and we shouldn’t hold off until we reach some sort of PT nirvana. I say start using it as soon as possible. See what sort of effect it has and then make adjustments -wrt providing more PT, dealing with ‘regressive tax’ type issues and so on.

  • mfwic

    My plan is to only vote for people who have surnames in the second half of the alphabet. For too long we have lived under the oppressive yoke of the Andersons to Lees. They get to sit up the front at school, enroll in the best classes at Uni and get their flu jabs before the rest of us. Enough I say!

  • Matthew

    Hi Brendon,

    I support your conceptual framework as the different possible options. I think that option #4 is the best, and to add to your idea that housing affordability goals are achievable and affordable, I think the Council should have KPIs with respect to congestion and with respect to housing affordability that are publicly reported.

    As part of that, congestion pricing and/or the transport levy is needed in general to reflect more of the true cost of getting around.

    kind regards,
    Matthew.

    • Brendon Harre

      Thanks for the support Mathew : )

    • Early Commuter

      The issue with a housing affordability target is that there are plenty of perverse ways to deliver it
      e.g.
      get rid of noise pollution laws
      allow sewage in streets
      deliberately block roads and railways with concrete blocks
      put up billboards of Mike Hosking

  • Ari

    I’ll vote for any national government that will break Auckland back up into 40 smaller councils where council staff actually live in the area they serve. Rates should be scrapped and replaced by central funding based on population. Then let them compete to attract people to their areas. The super city is a terribly inefficient, bloated, faceless, corporate monstrosity. The cons of endless rates increases outweigh any perceived benefits of amalgamation.

    As for local body elections, they are a total waste of time. Same people every cycle. All of them are useless and nothing ever gets done, but somehow it costs more than the previous year. Just vote for crazy Penny and be done with it. The majority of people I talk to either don’t vote, or just pick names at random.

    • jezza

      Who would be in charge of roading, or do you think each of the 40 micro councils should each just make their own decisions on major arterials?

      Also you appear to be one of many that fall into the trap of assuming the previous eight councils had no plans to increase rates, which was definitely not the case. Rates rises above inflation are happening all around the country, nothing to do with the size of the council.

      However, I would support more autonomy for local boards.

    • jezza

      Also are you suggesting all councils in NZ receive funding based on population or just a special case for Auckland? I can’t imagine it working well in districts that have a high proportion of visitors, such as Thames-Coromandel, Kaikoura and Queenstown-Lakes.

      • buttwizard69420

        Just be glad we’re not asking for them to repay the disproportionate flow of infrastructure spend per head from central government from pre-2007 times.

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