No Councillors on AT Board, perhaps not a bad thing

It was revealed yesterday that in a departure from the past six years, there would be none of the Auckland Councillors will be on the Auckland Transport Board of Directors.

Auckland Transport spends more than $1 billion a year running the city’s roads and public transport network, and for the last two terms councillors Christine Fletcher and Mike Lee have been paid directors on the agency’s board.

Mr Goff said removing the councillors would improve accountability, but he would keep the roles open in case it did not work out.

“The feedback I have to date is that [having councillors on the board] has not been the strongest form of accountability,” he said.

At first blush this seems like a blow for accountability and transparency, especially given transport is by far the single biggest area of council spending. But as is often the case, if you look deeper into the issue it’s not so clear that this is a bad outcome. In this post I’ll look at a couple of these issues. To be clear this isn’t about the performance of the two councillors who have served on the board to date, Christine Fletcher and Mike Lee, but more the issues having councillors in the position creates.

The key argument for having Councillors on the AT board is to provide a more direct link between them and the Council’s governing body. In theory that sounds like a good idea but in practice it just doesn’t work – and that’s not the fault of the Councillors appointed. All board directors have the same collective and individual responsibilities regardless of whether they were appointed or are an elected member. That includes keeping confidential information confidential, particularly as some discussions and decisions can impact land prices. As such the Councillors on the AT Board can’t just go back and tell the Mayor or other Councillors what was discussed. A prime example of this happening came up at the beginning of last year when AT announced they were investigating light rail on the central isthmus. Apparently, the Mayor and Councillors were only told this piece of work had been happening shortly before AT told the public.

As I understand it, some elected members were quite annoyed they weren’t told earlier by their colleagues who sit on the AT Board but those two board member simply weren’t allowed to tell them without breaching their board responsibilities. What’s the point of having them there if the rules prevent them from reporting back to council.

One answer is that it could be to push the council’s agenda. But in cases like LRT, how could they know the council’s thoughts without telling them. Further Because all the important stuff is discussed behind closed doors, we also can’t tell if the Councillors are pushing the approved council agenda or their own personal views.

We’ve been lucky that for the first two terms, Len appointed Councillors who we know have played key roles in supporting the improvement of public transport in Auckland but he or a future mayor could have just as easily appointed someone who is on the other side of the PT supporting spectrum. In that regard having no Councillors on the AT Board and better use being made of the council’s toolkit for managing AT might be a better long term approach – I’ll cover that later in the post.

Another issue with having the Councillors on the board is it gives them multiple bites at the cherry that other Councillors don’t get an opportunity to do, and this goes both ways. In one situation, a Councillor might push a project/stance that the rest of the council votes against. They can then use their position on the AT Board to try again. One case I can remember this happening in was around the debate over mowing grass berms. After council’s governing body voted to stop funding it, Christine Fletcher tried unsuccessfully to get the AT Board to agree to do it. Going the other way, a current example is Mike Lee who disagrees with decision the AT Board he is part of made over airport rail and so wants the Council to overrule that decision.

In my view having Councillors on the board then creates odd situations when those same Councillors then criticise a decision made by AT that they were involved in making, or where AT are criticised for following a policy the board approved.

And AT’s Chairman Lester Levy says this in the article above.

The mayor is my boss

It’s good to have that nice and clear. He also says this about decisions

There are differences of opinions, yes, but there are differences of opinions between normally appointed members.

Of course, none of this is to say that AT should be left unaccountable to do their own thing. The opposite is true but the council have several ways they can improve the accountability of AT. The biggest thing they could do is taking a much greater interest in setting and holding AT to their annual Statement of Intent (SOI). The SOI is the document that lays out each year what AT should be focusing on and what their targets are. From what I see the SOI is far too often not bold enough and most Councillors just seem to rubber stamp it.

There also doesn’t appear to be any serious consequences for missing targets, such as for patronage. Nor are there any consequences for AT’s seeming continual disregard for various council plans and strategies like with the City Centre Master Plan vision for Victoria St that we’ve highlighted recently. The Council beefing up their oversight role would likely reap greater dividends than having Councillors on the board – each earning an extra ~$50k per annum for doing so.

Goff’s decision to re-evaluate the decision in a year’s time seems like a good solution. If it turns out AT start making even stupider decisions then some Councillors could always be added back again. What’s not clear is if the council will then appoint some directors on a one year term to make up the board numbers.

Six years in it feels like now is an appropriate time to shake things up to change how the organisation is run at both a board and management level to ensure we get better outcomes.

Do Government Powers of Compulsory Purchase Help or Hinder Urban Development?


How do legal institutions interact with economic outcomes? I think it’s fair to say that legal institutions often don’t register on economists’ radars, mainly because life is simpler when you assume the law is exogenously determined by factors beyond your control. 

While such assumptions are valid for many types of economic analysis, legal institutions are not exogenously determined factors, at least in the long-run. By engaging with legal institutions, economists may be able to identify ways they could be improved. Of course reforms of legal institutions are slow to implement, but they do occasionally happen. Recent amendments to the RMA being a case in point. By engaging with legal institutions, economists can improve our analyses and help to identify possible opportunities for reform = Win-win.

The high-level question I want to answer in this post is whether these powers help or hinder urban development. My interest in these matters was prompted by the Productivity Commission’s recommendation for Auckland to establish an Urban Development Authority (UDA) with powers of compulsory purchase. That is, the UDA should have the power to expropriate privately-held property for the purposes of urban development. I think it’s fair to say the idea of an UDA with compulsory powers of purchase has attracted interest from across the political spectrum, including the Government (source).

In this post I consider why government’s need powers of compulsory purchase and, second, how should such powers be exercised. This post does not present conclusions or recommendations, mainly because I haven’t formed many yet. Instead, it seeks to identify some relevant economic and legal literature as a means of stimulating discussion.

I welcome your comments: Do you think Auckland needs an UDA and, if so, then should the UDA have powers of compulsory purchase? If yes, then what are the potential risks and how would you mitigate them? I’d also be keen to hear about possible alternatives. Enjoy.

Reference: The post that follows draws on an academic paper I am writing about government powers of compulsory purchase. In the interests of avoiding academic self-plagiarism, I should mention that the paper was written first, while this post was written second.


The historical development of most cities has been significantly influenced by government interventions. The Eixample of Barcelona, the boulevards of Paris, and the highways of New York are all noteworthy examples of government interventions that have left large and permanent marks on the affected cities.

The powers of compulsory purchase governments use to appropriate private property in order to undertake these interventions is a perennially controversial topic. One U.S. presidential candidate, for example, recently described powers of compulsory purchase as: “… absolute necessity for a country, for our country. Without it, you wouldn’t have roads, you wouldn’t have hospitals, you wouldn’t have anything.” (Team Fix, 2016). In contrast to this effusive support, Justice O’Connor’s dissenting opinion in Kelo v. City of New London argued that contemporary legal interpretations of the scope of the powers mean “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party … beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power …” (O’Connor, 2005).

Given these divergent views, there would seem to be value in developing a clear understanding of the economic evidence on which the powers are based, certainly before we expand the number of government institutions that have recourse to these powers. In particular, I think there is a need to understand why governments need powers of compulsory purchase and how they should be exercised. The standard economic justification for the powers is that — in their absence — information asymmetries gives market power to landowners, leading to hold-out problems. This is where landowners refuse to sell so as to capture surplus associated with the government’s investment. By annulling landowners’ market power, compulsory purchase avoids hold-out problems and enables efficient levels of government investment. It’s important to note that private actors seeking to assemble property don’t face the same issues, mainly because they can negotiate anonymously to buy properties via third-parties.

Exercising powers of compulsory purchase is not without economic costs. Perhaps the most notable costs arise from involuntary transfers of property, which may result in welfare losses for affected landowners. To counter this issue, most jurisdictions require governments to demonstrate that the proposed intervention is in the public interest, and to pay adequate compensation to affected landowners. These legal requirements give rise to two additional economic questions: How should we define “adequate compensation” and “public interest”?

Neither definition is as straightforward as it first appears. Most jurisdictions define adequate compensation using market prices. Some scholars argue the value of property to its current owners, however, includes idiosyncratic attributes, such as sentimental attachment, which are not reflected in market prices (Nadler and Diamond, 2008). Other scholars argue that these idiosyncratic attributes are already accounted for in market prices, while noting that the landowner’s loss of autonomy is not (Lee, 2013).

Definitions of public use are similarly complex. In the U.S. the definition of public use has even been broadened to include wider economic impacts arising from private activities. Under this definition, governments have been allowed to use powers of compulsory purchase to appropriate private property, which is then transferred to private third-parties. The aforementioned opinion by Justice O’Connor in Kelo v. City of New London was prompted by precisely such a situation. Even where the resulting asset is publicly-owned, there are many situations where public access is restricted, for example by user-charges and/or regulations, which are on the surface not readily distinguished from private ownership. From an initial survey, the economics literature doesn’t seem to have a good answer to the question of how one defines “public use”.

Finally, the processes involved in determining adequate compensation and demonstrating public interest may generate non-trivial transaction costs. Imagine, for example, the resource cost of the recent Unitary Plan hearings, where many highly-skilled, well-paid people were paid to sit in a room for months if not years. Is it possible that the transaction costs involved in a particular legal process outweigh its benefits? I think so. At the very least, there seems to be a need to understand potential interactions between legal processes and transaction costs. It may, for example, be more efficient to offer more compensation early in the process, so as avoid transaction costs downstream.

Answers to such questions are not a trivial academic exercise. Evidence also suggests that protection of property rights affects the incentives facing governments and citizens alike, and impacts on long-run economic development (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2005). Powers of compulsory purchase may also have implications for social justice, with some studies finding that land owned by low-income households is more likely to be taken (Carpenter and Ross, 2009). Recent experiences in Auckland, whereby wealthy neighbourhoods successfully opposed the proposed Eastern Motorway across Hobson Bay, provide some indication of why such patterns may emerge. In the U.S., scepticism over the use of powers of compulsory purchase has given rise to significant opposition from across the political spectrum.

Initially simple questions are, upon closer inspection, revealed to be anything but. Understanding why governments need powers of compulsory inspection, and how these powers should be exercised, can contribute to more informed policies on Urban Development Authorities.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to an UDA having powers of compulsory purchase. Personally, I’ve always been attracted to the notion of a “New Zealand Place-Making Authority” (NZPA) to counter-balance the NZTA’s movement focus on movement. I think the potential benefits could be significant. Nonetheless, the powers such an institution should have is an open-question.

Gnawing in the back of my mind is the fact that powers of compulsory purchase have in the past been used to pursue questionable outcomes. The highways of New York promulgated by Robert Moses, for example, were justified under the auspices of slum clearances. One of the great urban thinkers of our time, namely Jane Jacobs, was spurred into action by a government body wielding powers of compulsory purchase. Would ignoring the risk such things happen again be indicative of the “fatal conceit”?


Acemoglu, D. and Johnson, S. (2005). Unbundling Institutions Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson. Journal of Political Economy, 113(5):949–995.

Carpenter, D. M. and Ross, J. K. (2009). Testing O’Connor and Thomas: Does the Use of Eminent Domain Target Poor and Minority Communities? Urban Studies, 46(11):2447– 2461.

Nadler, J. and Diamond, S. S. (2008). Eminent Domain and the Psychology of Property Rights: Proposed Use, Subjective Attachment, and Taker Identity. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 5(4):713–749.

O’Connor, J. (2005). KELO V. NEW LONDON (04-108) 545 U.S. 469 (2005).

Team Fix (2016). Transcript of the New Hampshire GOP debate, annotated.

Further reading

Blume, L., Rubinfeld, D., and Shapiro, P. (1984). The Taking of Land: When Should Compensation be Paid? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 99(1):71–92.

Burrows, P. (1991). Compensation for Compulsory Acquisition. Land Economics, 67(1):49– 63.

Kelly, D. B. (2006). The Public Use Requirement in Eminent Domain Law: A Rationale Based on Secret Purchases and Private Influence. Cornell Law Review, 92:1–66.

Miceli, T. J. and Sirmans, C. (2007). The holdout problem, urban sprawl, and eminent domain. Journal of Housing Economics, 16(3- 4):309–319.

Strange, W. C. (1995). Information, Holdouts, and Land Assembly. Journal of Urban Economics, 38:317–332.


North Shore Councillors Decided

The final tally is in, and the Mayor along with all the Councillors for the 3rd Supercity Council are now known, most were confirmed on Saturday, however the race for the second ward position for the North Shore went down to special votes, as Richard Hills was only 70 votes ahead at the time.

The final result for the two Councillor positions for the North Shore was

1.     Chris Darby  19396 Votes

2.     Richard Hills 12651 Votes

Grant Gillion who was 70 odd votes behind at the Preliminary count finished on 12523 votes, Richard Hills increased his margin after special voting was counted to 128 votes.

Richard Hills should be a good addition to the Council from a Transport perspective, he campaigned on in his words “Better public transport, cheaper fares, more walking and cycling initiatives including Skypath and secure Rail to the Shore,”

He scored an A+ on Generation Zero’s Scorecard & has served two terms on Kaipatiki Local Board. Along with Darby it looks like the North Shore have voted 2 very PT focused candidates with both advocating for Cycling, as well as Rail for the Shore.

As far as I am aware he ran a positive campaign, and like Chloe used Social Media to very good effect.

The Final Council make is now as follows with the final votes, Bill Cashmore is N/A as he was elected unopposed.

(Note ignore text below title, these are the final not provisional results)

Confirmed Results

The final turnout was 38.5% after special votes had been counted, and 18000 votes were made on the Saturday.

The Victoria St Linear Park: Why it is vital, but not really a park.

This is one of a series of posts I intend to do about about the city streetscape we ought to be able to expect as a result of the CRL rebuild.

This one will describe the Council’s plans for inner western Victoria St, around the CRL portals, because it seems they are not well understood, especially by some at Auckland Transport, based on the recent release of a proposed design from the CRL team that appears to completely ignore the agreed streets level outcomes. In further posts I will:

  • Consider this problem; transport professionals dismissing place quality outcomes as frivolous or unnecessary, or as a threat to their authority, as a professional culture issue.
  • Have a close look at some of the bus routes through the City Centre, as these are often highly contested by multiple parties, and have a huge bearing on road space requirements



Last week Councillor Darby sent me a whole stack of work done by the Council on the Linear Park, I will reproduce some of this here, but I urge everyone interested to follow the links below; there’s a huge amount of multilayered work showing how the proposal was arrived at and just how important it is:

  1. The Green Link
  2. Aotea Station Public Realm

The first point I would like to make is that I am talking here about the finished outcomes not the interim ones that need to accommodate work-rounds of the street disruption caused by the construction of the CRL. This is about the early 2020s; what is best for when the CRL is open and running, when the new buildings going up, and about to go up, in the city are occupied, and the pedestrian demands are many times greater than currently. It may seem a long way off, but contracts are being agreed now, and if we aren’t careful we will find ourselves locked into poor outcomes that will prove expense to fix. And, remember, this is dividend time; when the city starts to reap the reward of all the expense and disruption of building the CRL itself. This is an important part of why we are doing it: to substantially upgrade and improve every aspect and performance of the whole city as possible, including its heart. Transport infrastructure is a means to an end; not an end in it self.

Second is to suggest that it has been perhaps a little unhelpful that Council called this reclamation of city street a ‘Park’. I can see why they have, this is a repurposing of space from vehicle use to people use, and it does offer the opportunity for new high quality design elements, which is similar to what happens in a park. But I think this undersells the full complexity of what is happening here. There is a great deal of functionality and hard rationality in this scheme, as well as the promise of beauty and the city uplifted.

The place to start is the CEWT study [City East West Transport Study]. This set a very rational and ordered taxonomy of the Centre City east west streets, concluding that Victoria St’s priority will need to shift to a strong pedestrian bias, be the only crosstown cycle route between K Rd and Quay St, and enable a reduced but still efficient general traffic load:

CEWT Preferred Option

Note that east west bus movements are kept to Wellesley and Customs Sts. This greatly helps Victoria St’s space location as shown below. It is becoming clear that AT now want to return buses here. I believe this is a very poor idea, and will unpack why in a following post. So many poor place and pedestrian outcomes follow directly from trying to get both buses and general traffic trough inner Victoria St, and it is still a very hard street to try to shove buses through in terms of their own functionality, and that of the other general traffic. As well as leading to the total deletion of the only Centre City east/west cycle route. Here is how it was shown in CEWT:

CEWT Victoria St

Now turning to the newer iteration from the docs linked to above. The key issue is that the sections of the ‘Park’ around the station entrances on Victoria are focussed on pedestrian capacity rather than place amenity:


Not a park as in a verdant garden, but largely hard paving for efficient and high capacity pedestrian movement under an elevated tree canopy. Very much an urban condition tailored to met the massively increased pedestrian numbers that we know will be here. Particularly from the CRL itself, but also from the rapid growth and intensification of the whole city centre as it builds up around them, and of course the considerable bus volumes on Albert and Bus or LRT on Queen St. At the core this is simply classical ‘predict and provide’ that surely even most unreconstructed and obdurate of engineers can understand. Meeting projected pedestrian demand; not just an aesthetic upgrade, though why we wouldn’t do that while we’re at it, I can’t imagine.


Because this station sits directly below the greatest concentration of employment in the whole country, as well the biggest educational centre, retail precinct, hotel location, and the nation’s fastest growing residential population, we can expect these entrances to immediately be very busy. The plan on opening is for there to be 18 trains an hour each way through this station all with up 750 people [or even 1000 when really packed] alighting and another load boarding, all milling a round; waiting or rushing. And mixing on the streets with all the other people not even using the system. This will make for a very busy place. Their will be thousands of people walking around here at the peaks. Many more than those  that use the entire Hobson/Nelson couplet in their cars over the same period. This will need space. Furthermore urban rail systems are very long term investments, what may be adequate for the first few years of the CRL is unlikely to sufficient for the years ahead, let alone decades. There is a clear need for the space for this human traffic to be generous to begin with, to err on the side of spare capacity. This really is no moment to design for the short term, once built that tunnel isn’t moving.





So has any work been done to picture this demand? Yes. Though to my inexpert eyes this looks a little light:



In particular the pedestrian traffic heading north, ie crossing Victoria St looks underrepresented. There will be no entrance to the station on the north side of Victoria street. Everyone heading that way has to come out of one of the east/west exists and crossover at street level. The document above does at least point out the pinch points between the exits and buildings on Victoria. And it is these that AT must be planning on squeezing further to get four traffic lanes back into Victoria St. One lane comes from deleting the cyclists, and the other must be from squeezing pedestrians passing the stations entrances. Just don’t AT; therein lies madness, very expensive to move a station entrance once built. And frankly a 5m width here between hard building edges is already tight and mean. Somewhere in AT the old habits of not really expecting people to turn up and low use of the very thing the agency is building seem to have crept back up to dominate thinking, and all for what? Vehicle traffic priority. The most spatially inefficient use of valuable street space in the very heart of our transforming city.

The extra wide pedestrian space that the Linear Park provides doesn’t just have value immediately around the station portals. Stretching up to Albert Park and the University beyond to the east and up on the flat plateau of western Victoria St offering a good pedestrian route to the new offices and dwellings on Victoria St West and Wynyard Quarter beyond. But as the distance increases from the big sources of pedestrians then the condition of the amenity can become more place focussed and more planting and ‘lingering’ amenity can be added, yet it will still need to primarily serve these Active Mode movement functions well:


And it is important to acknowledge this is a ‘substantial change’ from present condition. The Council recognise, and it is impossible to disagree, that there is nothing to be gained by trying sustain the status quo here. The CRL is brings huge change to the city and  how it is used and this needs to be reflected in very nature of our streets as well as in our travel habits:




The Centre City Cycle Network is hopelessly incomplete without some way to access both the Queen St valley and Victoria Park from the Nelson St Cycleway. And if not on Victoria then where? Not with all the buses and bus stops on Wellesley St.

And lastly, other than the never fully successful Aotea Square there has been no new public realm in the City Centre since the Victorians set out Albert, Victoria, and Myers parks. There are now many more people living, working, and playing in the city than ever before, and other than repurposing, or burying, motorways, or demolishing buildings, the streets are the only chance to provide quality space for everyone. This is so much more valuable than slavishly following last century’s subjugation to motor vehicle domination. We know better than this now. Vehicles will fit into whatever space we provide and people will flood the rest. And the later is the more valuable street-use for a thriving, more inclusive, and competitive, and sustainable urban centre to lead the nation this century.




Dear Phil

Dear Phil,

Congratulations on becoming Mayor. While the margin was a bit closer than some had expected, that’s what happens when you get such a low turnout – who actually votes ends up being a bit different to those who get polled. By the way, we really have to make progress on online registration and online voting to increase turnout. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Of course, I want to talk about transport and housing – Auckland’s biggest two issues.

This is a good time to become Mayor. Much of the hard work has been done: the rating systems have been pulled together, the City Rail Link just needs a few t’s crossed and i’s dotted – and a few years of exciting construction to follow. While you’ll have a few tricky Unitary Plan appeals to get through, the hard work has been done here as well. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sit back in cruise mode. Auckland has added the population of Tauranga over the past three years and it’s struggling to keep up. People are living in cars and garages, buses and trains are often overcrowded, motorways are jammed. Aucklanders are impatient to see progress so your honeymoon could be very shortlived. Here’s some advice to focus on over the next six months – mainly on transport but a few other things too:


1) Start working backwards from the 2018 Long-term Plan now 

You might not have been taking that much notice, but the 2015 Long-term Plan was nearly a disaster and only ended up being passed by a single vote. That said, it was really a triumph as it included a massive boost for walking and cycling funding, a major programme of bus upgrades to support the new bus network and – most importantly – the funding for early construction of the City Rail Link that helped in forcing government to come to the party on this key project.

As you put together the 2018 Long-term Plan you’ll need to continue this momentum – now bought into by the government through ATAP. City Rail Link will eat up a really big chunk of your available funding for transport so figuring out what’s also essential in the next three years will define your term. You’ll be pulled in all directions by the different Councillors and Local Boards wanting funding for their local ‘pet projects’ and you’ll need to sit on Auckland Transport to make sure the detailed work they do reflects your priorities and not just Central Government’s.

If we’re honest, you’d be crazy to remove the “interim transport levy” that has helped fund the current transport programme. The previous Council took the political hit over the levy to make your life easier – don’t give that away. Call it something else, change the way it’s calculated, whatever. But by keeping it, in some shape or form, you’ve now filled around $170 million per year of the $400 million funding gap. This puts the ball back into the court of the government.

You’ve got some hard transport funding discussions with the government to come. Have those conversations early, bring something to the table, remind government that there’s a general election next year that will be fought over Auckland’s housing crisis. Start planning it all now.

2) It’s time for a change at Auckland Transport

Auckland Transport has achieved some great things over the past six years. They’ve taken the CRL from a few lines on a map to a project that’s now underway. They’ve embarked on a complete revamp of the bus network that was decades overdue. They’ve introduced the HOP card in a reasonably (more on that soon) successful way and they’re starting to take cycling seriously.

But there’s still an awfully large amount of old-school thinking coming out of AT. Despite excited noises a few years back, the organisation still lacks of vision for how Auckland can be a different place in the future to what it is today. They also continue to struggle to take advantage of being a CCO to push through essential changes that annoy a noisy few (Tamaki/Ngapipi intersection is but one of many examples).

There are a lot of great people working in AT. Passionate people that are incredibly ‘tuned in’ to best practice around the world. But equally, there’s a massive amount of dead wood that just want to keep on doing that same thing they’ve always done, as is so perfectly evidenced by their stupid designs for city centre streets after the completion of the CRL. There’s far too much reliance on transport modelling, coupled with far too little focus on fixing up the models we have to reflect how the world has changed over the past decade.

You can’t be over all this detail, but you can make change where it matters. Refresh the board and senior management, update the Auckland Plan to give clearer strategic direction about what’s important (and equally importantly, what’s not), encourage a culture change to a braver and more courageous organisation that wants to help make Auckland better.

3) Get the small stuff right

There will be progress on a number of big, exciting transport projects over the next three years for the photo opportunities. The roll out of the new bus network in South Auckland starts at the end of the month. Walk the tunnel under Albert Street as it gets dug out, take the credit for the Northern Busway extension to Albany and kicking off the Northwestern Busway when government eventually agrees to fund it. But there’s also a few key niggles that, if you can sort them out, you will be thanked endlessly:

Sort out the slow trains. It’s crazy that after spending a billion dollars on electrification, our trains run slower than they did before. Don’t listen to Auckland Transport’s excuses – overseas cities run their trains much more efficiently. Demand shorter dwell times at stations, extra drivers to eliminate three minute delays at Newmarket for western line users. Speeding up the trains will not only make us passengers happier, it will also buy you more capacity on the network as train service cycles can repeat more quickly allowing more services to run as 6-car sets. You’re going to need every extra bit of rail capacity you can get.

Sort out HOP card blacklisting. The great hidden secret of the HOP card rollout is the enormous number of people who get their cards blacklisted due to expired credit cards. Get Auckland Transport to fix up their system so people are warned if a payment doesn’t go through. This shouldn’t be rocket science, yet even after months (possibly years) of complaints over this issue it still hasn’t been fixed up. Take the credit for Auckland Transport finally fixing it.

4) Get a better deal out of government

Over 186,000 people ticked your name to become Mayor of Auckland. No other politician in the country has a personal mandate of this scale. Use it.

Solving Auckland’s two biggest issues – housing and transport – is utterly dependent on working together with the government. It also requires government to change the way they do things when it comes to Auckland – which (as I’m sure you’ll know) is difficult for them. You’ll need to push hard to change government’s transport funding processes so they suit Auckland better – ATAP has given you a platform here to build on.

You’ll need to get government to ramp up building more housing in Auckland – the recent Northcote development seems like a great model to apply across Auckland. Get Panuku and Housing New Zealand sharing the same offices and planning where the next 1200 house development will go, and the next, and the next.

Depending on the results of next year’s general election, two-thirds of your term will either be with the current government or another lot that you will be pretty familiar with. Obviously you’ll need to be able to work well with either. Figure out which Ministers truly understand that Auckland isn’t just a larger version of other parts of the country, that it often needs completely different approaches and completely different solutions. John Key gets this – he’ll be your most important relationship.

5) Confirm your vision

One of the biggest pieces of work this term will be reviewing The Auckland Plan – the 30-year vision for Auckland. Naturally it will need to be updated to take account of developments over the last six years, such as the work on the Unitary Plan and ATAP, but there’s also a risk that the forces of dreary try to dominate it and remove visionary elements and targets. YOU CAN’T ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN.

Furthermore, it’s important you stamp your own vision on the region that is aspirational. A lot of cities are taking increasingly bolder steps to improve the cities and the lives the people that live in them. No area is this happening more than in the realm of transport and public urban space. It’s important Auckland does this too. Whether you keep the tagline of “The World’s Most Liveable City” or not, it’s important to have a high level goal to be able to point to and to assess the outcomes of projects against.

Don’t forget you’re also going to need to communicate that vision well to get buy in from the public.

6) Pick a great Deputy Mayor

You’ll be sorely tempted to look for someone new as a “fresh start”, but remember that Penny Hulse has held this Council together over the past three years. She knows everyone and everything. You don’t have a hope in hell of finding a better Deputy Mayor. That’s a lot to give away for “fresh start”.


Good luck!

2016 Council Election Results

Today Auckland gets a new Mayor and at least three new Councillors. As of the time this post goes up there’s only half an hour left to cast a vote. If you haven’t yet voted and still want to you better get moving fast.  Results start coming through from 2pm and if it’s anything like last time, most outcomes should be mostly known within a couple of hours.

Voting returns as of yesterday are tracking at the abysmal level of just 35.2%, only slightly above the 2013 results for the same time. Voting is also tracking behind other major cities in NZ with results for Wellington City Council tracking at 40% and Christchurch City Council slightly ahead at 36%.


And here are this year’s results by council ward. Orakei currently has the highest percentage of votes returned at 44.2%. Voting in South Auckland is particularly low and currently below 30%


Once the results start coming through we’ll update this post to keep track of how things are going.

There will of course be some things we’re keeping a close eye on. A few include:

  • Most expect Phil Goff to win and if that happens, just how big will the margin be?
  • How will Chloe Swarbrick do, could she end up third?
  • Will Mark Thomas, who has put in a huge effort in getting around the region, get fewer votes than Penny Bright as polls have indicated?
  • Who will be the minimum of three new Councillors and will any sitting Councillors be voted out?

And a few predictions to be judged in a few hour’s time. There is nothing to base this on other than gut feel but some are much harder than others

Mayor: Phil Goff


  • Rodney: Penny Webster
  • Albany: This might be the hardest to pick of all races. I’m going to pick John Watson and Graeme Lowe
  • North Shore: I think Chris Darby should win but the second seat is a tough one. Perhaps Grant Gillon will edge out the other contenders.
  • Waitakere: I suspect Penny Hulse and Linda Cooper will be re-elected once again.
  • Whau: Ross Clow to retain the seat
  • Waitemata: I think Mike Lee will hold his seat but not by anywhere near the margin he’s had before.
  • Albert-Eden-Roskill: The two incumbents of Cathy Casey and Christine Fletcher to retain their seats
  • Orakei: Desley Simpson will likely easily win this
  • Maungakiekie-Tamaki: Denise Krum to remain
  • Howick: There have been some good new faces in the campaign but I suspect the existing Councillors of Dick Quax and Sharon Stewart will hold on.
  • Manukau: Alf Filipaina and Efeso Collins to win the seat
  • Manurewa-Papakura: The two sitting Councillors of Calum Penrose and Sir John Walker to retain their seats
  • Franklin: Bill Cashmore has already been re-elected unopposed

Put your picks in the comments (before the results)

I’ll probably also keep an eye on some results from other locations – such as Wellington which is also getting a new Mayor and has had a lot of potential candidates standing, many of whom have stood on platforms of backing big roading investments.


Results are here.

Phil Goff wins by a large margin


Looks like we’ll have quite a few changes for the council with a few sitting Councillors being beaten. Peliminary results for wards are

  • Rodney: Greg Sayers has tipped out Penny Webster by a large margin
  • Albany: John Watson and Wayne Walker have both retained their seats
  • North Shore: Chris Darby wins easily and Richard Hills is just ahead of Grant Gillon. It’s going to come down to special votes.
  • Waitakere: Penny Hulse and Linda Cooper are both re-elected.
  • Whau: Ross Clow wins again
  • Waitemata: Mike Lee wins but sees his margin reduced.
  • Albert-Eden-Roskill: Cathy Casey and Christine Fletcher both easily win seats
  • Orakei: Desley Simpson was always likely to win
  • Maungakiekie-Tamaki: Denise Krum wins easily, this was a close election in 2013
  • Howick: Dick Quax and Sharon Stewart are way ahead in votes to their rivals
  • Manukau: Alf Filipaina and Efeso Collins win the two seat
  • Manurewa-Papakura: Daniel Newman and Sir John Walker win, tipping out Calum Penrose
  • Franklin: Bill Cashmore who was elected unopposed


Zoning reform: Voter turnout and “information problems” (5 of n)

This is the fifth in an open-ended series of posts about the politics and economics of zoning reform. The idea animating the series is that decisions made by local governments, in urban planning and transport planning alike, respond to the local political context. Consequently, the last few posts have focused on the factors shaping consultation participation and voter turnout. This post concludes the discussion of voter turnout.

By the way, tomorrow is the last day to post your local election ballot if you want to be certain that it will be counted. Polls close on 8 October – all ballots must be received by then. Go and vote!

In last week’s post, I looked at some possible explanations for variations in voter turnout between different councils in New Zealand. It was a somewhat unedifying exercise. Some of the things that I thought would matter – population size, the age of residents, and type of council – did matter. Other things didn’t seem to pay as strong a role as expected.

Even taking all that into account, findings from a simple quantitative analysis don’t provide us with any obvious insights about how to raise voter turnout in Waikato District (31.6% in 2013) to Mackenzie District levels (63.7%). So this week, I’m going to take a closer look at some potential barriers facing individual voters (or non-voters).

A fundamental fact here is that young people are disproportionately disengaged from local body politics. Here’s a chart:

National and local voter turnout chart

The other week, a good Radio New Zealand story explored some of the reasons for this disengagement:

A recent Auckland University-led mayoral debate drew a crowd of just 40 students, a reflection of the low turnout of younger voters in local elections.

At the debate, some came to listen, some just to eat lunch but all of the students RNZ spoke to said local body elections were inaccessible.

They said it wasn’t apathy which was the problem, it was poor political process.

Many students expressed their frustration at the lack of centralised information about the candidates and their policies.

One student said she came out of high school without any knowledge of political process.

“I don’t really have a clue about how to vote or why I should vote, for who, and which policies benefit who.”

Other interviewees identified problems like young people moving flats more often, which means that ballot papers often don’t reach the right address, and the perception that the candidates are all male, pale, and stale.

But let’s leave those aside for a moment and carefully examine the statement in bold above. Are people not voting in local elections due to a lack of information about candidates and policies?

Data from post-election surveys provides an indication of the magnitude and impact of “information problems” in local and general elections. After every general election, the Electoral Commission runs a Voter and Non-Voter Satisfaction Survey to find out what worked and what didn’t – here’s the 2014 edition. While we don’t have similar data for local elections, Local Government New Zealand undertook a similar survey of seven councils (including Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch) after the 2004 election.

This data suggests that information problems play a much larger role as a barrier to voting in local elections:

  • The 2014 Electoral Commission survey found that the most common reason for not voting in the general election was “self-stated personal barriers”, such as work commitments that prevented people from getting to the polling booth. 34% of non-voters reported this as a barrier. Only 11% of non-voters cited “not knowing who to vote for” as a barrier.
  • The 2004 LGNZ survey found that the most common reason for not voting in local elections was that people “didn’t know enough about the candidates / not enough information”. 29% of non-voters reported this as a barrier.

In other words, a lack of information about candidates is a much greater problem for local elections than general elections. Taking into account differences in voter turnout rates, information problems appear to have stopped only 2-3% of voters from participating in general elections. However, they stopped a whopping 16-17% of voters from participating in local elections.

Here’s the data in a chart:


Another way of explaining this data is that if people were as well-informed about local elections as they are about general elections, voter turnout would be 10 percentage points higher. That’s a lot of additional people turning up at the polls.

So why aren’t people more well informed about local elections? As a voter myself, here are a few things I’ve noticed:

  1. Unlike at central government level, candidates for office are not typically aligned with political parties, meaning that it’s harder to know how they will vote on major policy issues. Out of Auckland’s existing 20 councillors and mayor, eight are independents, five are members of their own one-person party, two are Labour members, and three are members of the National-aligned Communities and Residents.
  2. Even if more candidates aligned themselves with parties, it may not matter very much. Good urban policies don’t always map clearly onto left-right divides, and councillors tend to take a more “transactional” approach to voting, rather than always voting with their party.
  3. Media attention, such as it is, focuses more on the mayoral race than on races for ward councillor positions. This makes a certain amount of sense, as the mayor must be elected by the entire city, but he or she only has one vote on the governing body – same as every other councillor.
  4. Candidate statements are often confusing nonsense. They often promise mutually incompatible things, like cutting rates *and* spending more on roads. Hard to assess them without further information.

In this context, you have to assess candidates based on their reputation and track record. People who’ve lived in a place for longer have an easier time doing this, as they are more likely to know candidates from public meetings, community participation, or work, or at any rate know people who know them. In other words, access to reasonably good information on candidates isn’t evenly distributed – it tilts against young people and recent arrivals.

Youth climate activist group Generation Zero has done some good work to fill the information void. In the 2013 and 2016 local government elections, they’ve systematically interviewed candidates, assessed them against their priorities, and published the results in an accessible format. (NB: Gen Zero’s ratings reflect how well candidates aligned with their goals and values. If you value different things, you may come to different conclusions.)

You can see their 2016 candidate scorecards for Auckland here and for a number of other councils here.


This is a really useful initiative. With luck, it will continue, gain prominence, and inspire imitators and competitors. However, Gen Zero’s efforts alone can’t fill the information void. Broader changes to the way we run and report on local elections are needed to make them relevant and accessible to more people.

What do you think of the data on barriers to voting?

Confessions of an Auckland voter: Why I voted for Chlöe


Greetings from Amsterdam. A couple of issues relating to Auckland’s local government elections have exercised my mind of late, specifically:

  • Candidates for councillor in the Waitemata ward; and
  • Why I voted Chlöe Swarbrick for Mayor of Auckland.

Before I get started, I’d like to make a simple statement about democracy.

The refrain “democracy is not a spectator sport” rings true to me for several reasons. The first is that my grandmother used to regale me with stories about how her grandmother would walk to work past Parliament’s gates, where women protesting for the right to vote would be chained. Every election, my grandmother would then ask me questions about politics, and emphasize the importance of voting. Her favourite line was “I don’t care who you vote for, just so long as you vote.”

The second reason is that I think effective democracy is an important determinant of long-run socio-economic success. You only have to look at the sorts of situations currently playing out in the U.K., U.S., and elsewhere to get a feel for what happens when people don’t pay attention to democracy. In particular, when a large proportion of the electorate is uninformed and/or disengaged and/or disenfranchised, then democracy tends to come back and bite society on its ass.

Now, before I get into the details of who I voted for, I feel compelled to summarize my own values – just so y’all know where I’m coming from. I’m not expecting others to share these values, of course, but it may help you understand some of the driving forces behind my voting decisions. I also think this is useful because my values don’t fit neatly into a left-right spectrum, but are instead something of a hybrid:

  • I am socially liberal, insofar as I think people should be free to choose how to live their lives, unless there’s good reasons for society to intervene;
  • I am moderately fiscally conservative, because I am aware that debt needs to be re-paid by future generations; the same generations who are facing the twin challenges of an ageing population and climate change. For these reasons, want to ensure we only incur debt to invest in things that will benefit future generations; and
  • I have a strongly-honed sense of justice, and want to live in a society where vulnerable people are cared for. That includes future generations.

In terms of local government, my top two priorities – in order of importance – are 1) housing and 2) transport. With regards to the former, I would like to see fewer restrictions on density, so that Auckland can intensify. While I appreciate “quality urban development”, I’m not prepared to sacrifice housing affordability at the altar of aesthetic values. Let’s build a lot of houses and figure out how to do it better as we go. As for transport, I would like to see funding prioritized to projects that are 1) strategic, in the sense they support policy objectives like sustainability and equity and 2) efficient, in the sense their economic benefits exceed their economic costs.

Finally, I should say that this post is not intended to encourage you to vote for anyone in particular, but simply to explain the thought process I myself went through in determining who I would vote for. And to stimulate debate. Onwards.

Waitemata: Where men people vie for our affections

Three men people are standing for councillor in Waitemata: Mike Lee, Bill Ralston, and Rob Thomas. I voted for the latter, such that most of what follows should be read as an explanation of “why” Rob appealed compared to the others.

I evaluate Mike positions in some detail, largely because I have voted for him in previous elections. My democratic divorce from Mike has been rather slow, but was nonetheless difficult. Reason being that Mike has achieved a lot of great things, e.g. advocating for investment in rail and changes to PT contracting. Ultimately, however, I’ve become increasingly disatisfied with his positions on housing, which has in turn become a more important driver of my vote – as I now explain.

If you go to Mike’s website and click “What Mike stands for“, then you will find the following bullet points (source):

  • Make sure the people of the inner city suburbs and Hauraki Gulf islands have a strong voice at the top table
  • Protect our environment and enhance our quality of life
  • Invest in the public transport Auckland needs
  • Keep Supercity costs and rates under control
  • Protect our unique heritage and encourage quality urban development
  • Support Auckland’s thriving arts and entertainment scene

No mention is made of “housing”, which I thought was odd (NB: .“… encourage quality urban development” is too vague for my liking, as it puts “quality” ahead of “development” and is not specific about the need for housing in particular). I thought this was odd not just because I think housing is important, but also because other parts of Mike’s web-site mention the “housing crisis”. It seems odd Mike would speak of a housing crisis, yet not identify housing as a key issue under what he stands for.

Turning now to transport, one of Mike’s bullet points does mention “Invest in the public transport Auckland needs“. On the surface, this sounds promising. So I dug a bit further, and did a key word search of Mike’s website by transport mode. First I started with “rail”, which highlighted the following issues (n=47):

  • Rail to the airport, where Mike appears to support a heavy rail option; and
  • Parnell Station; which Mike wants accelerated.

I support long-term planning for public transport to the airport, even if I don’t feel too strongly about technologies. I also support a station at Parnell, provided it’s 1) in the right location, 2) supported by up-zoning of land use activities; and 3) does not negatively impact on rail operations. While I suspect the issue of Parnell Station is more complicated than Mike makes out, this is only a minor quibble – provided he acknowledges the technical complexities involved. Indeed, train stations, like people, “are complicated creatures full of quirks and secrets“. To borrow a line from the fantastic Mr Dahl.

A key word search for “buses” returned n=6 hits, all of which involved Mike saying buses were horrible compared to trains. This was disappointing given the current and future importance of buses to many people who live in Waitemata, including myself. I personally would like to see a number of small and large bus improvements being accelerated, such as the hours of operation for bus lanes on Mt Eden Road, and was disappointed Mike didn’t advocate for bus improvements more strongly.

A keyword search for “cycling” returned zero hits, while “walking” returned only two hits – both of which involved Mike referring to instances where he was walking, rather than the need for investment in pedestrian facilities per se. Again I was disappointed, because investment in walking and cycling is good in-of-itself, and complements public transport.

Basically, the over-arching impression is that Mike likes trains, and doesn’t have much time or passion for other transport modes. As someone who walks and cycles as a first preference, and who uses public transport in general before thinking about modes in particular, this doesn’t pass grade.

Turning now to Bill Ralston, I searched his website but couldn’t find much mention of housing. That essentially ruled him out of contention for my vote. In his transport policy, Bill argues we need to fix traffic congestion because it costs us $1.8 – 2.0 billion p.a. This figure is bogus: The costs are closer to $500 million p.a., as explained in this NZTA research report by Ian Wallis. To his credit – and in contrast to Mike – Bill does express support for buses and cycling (source):

More bus-ways – the Shore’s Northern Bus-way shows how well that can work, more bus-lanes, phased lights for buses, bike lanes and bike paths and while the CRL is not the silver bullet to solve the city’s transport issues – it will help. Get on with it.

All up I found Bill’s policies too light on detail. And, like Mike Lee, there were a few too many “grumpy man” statements. I don’t have a problem with grumpy old men per se, provided their gruffness is self-effacing and humorously applied. Like these guys.

Finally, we turn to the person who ultimately won my vote: Rob Thomas. Initially I didn’t expect to even consider Rob. I was, however, impressed by Rob’s statement in the candidate booklet, and even more impressed when I went to his website. There, he makes prominent mention of climate change upfront (source):

Climate Change is the biggest issue facing Auckland and our planet today. Temperature increases, sea level rise and the acidification of our oceans are just some of the issues that will impact Auckland over the next 50-100 years.

I agree. And while I’d like to see more central government leadership on the issue of climate change, I think it’s important that its strategic significance is also embodied in policies at the local government level.

In terms of housing, Rob was – from what I could tell – the only candidate to state explicitly on their website the need to “Build more homes in Auckland“. While light on details, the high-level sentiment is at least there – and that won him bonus points, especially when compared to the other candidates. On the transport side, Rob’s website mentioned the need for better public transport and cycling.

In a nutshell, I voted for Rob because his priorities aligned most closely with my own. If I hadn’t voted for Rob, then Mike would have been in second-place, and Bill in third.

Chlöe for Mayor

I voted for Chlöe for Mayor for two reasons. One is that she is passionate about democracy itself, which is extremely important to me. And I don’t mean “passion for democracy” in an airy-fairy, hand-wavy sense; I mean Chlöe seems keen to engage people with the nitty-gritty, gnarly issues that frequently arise in local government, and which ultimately have a significant influence on our quality of life, as discussed in this video.

The second reason I voted for Chlöe was because of her policies. The preamble to her housing policy, for example, reads as follows (source):

Auckland is in the midst of a housing crisis. The median property price is now ten times the median income. So too are rents rising, and our population of homeless and rough sleepers increasing. Reports of families sleeping in cars or garages are not uncommon, and have broken international news. Young families are unlikely to be able to realistically aspire to own a home in this market.

In this TVNZ interview, Chlöe makes it clear that she’s talking about bringing down property prices, which she considers to be a point of distinction from the other candidates, and something that is important to me. I’d like to see a 20-30% decline in property prices over the next 10 years, which basically means holding them constant in nominal terms and letting inflation eat away at the real value. Achieving such an outcome will require that we change expectations about future capital gains, which is where explicit statements – like Chlöe’s – about the need to reduce property values can be rather useful.

The preamble to Chlöe’s transport policy is similarly direct (source):

There is a lot of money ($1.4billion in 2015 alone) spent on transport in Auckland. But we’re not seeing that cost reflected in choice.

Choice is the freedom to choose how you, as the people of Auckland, navigate our city. Currently, many parts of our city are automobile-dependent, because the alternative options (public transport, cycling, or walking) are impracticable or inaccessible.

This lack of choice forces more people onto our roads at an exponential rate, as 800 new cars are registered for Auckland roads each week. More blind investment in roading projects at the expense of alternative transport results only in more cars to fill up those new, wider, shiny roads. This is why, in our 2013 Census, we saw that 74% of Auckland drove to work in their own private cars (70% driving by themselves).

To see our roads function properly, we need to invest in projects to get people – especially those people who don’t actually want to be there – off of those roads.

As your Mayor, I will advocate for a bold shift in focus: I will see that Auckland’s public transport system is a real, viable, and efficient option to get where you’re going. I will see Auckland thrive by becoming walkable, and cycleable.

Righto. If you read further down the page then you’ll find some explicit mention of the sorts of public transport (rail and bus) and walking/cycling improvements that Chlöe would like to prioritize. Generally mode-neutral, and focused on improving the effectiveness of our transport spend, rather than just increasing the spend itself. This subtle emphasis is important to me.

If you don’t know who Chlöe is and what she’s about in general, then I’d also suggest watching this video, which I think gives good insight into where she’s coming from and also some inner mettle.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t vote for Phil Goff. I must say that Phil ran a very close second. I thought Phil had excellent policies on housing affordability, for example, and his transport policies were also nicely balanced. Phil even mentions GPS-based road pricing, which many of you will know is close to my heart. If we had an STV voting system, then Phil Goff would have received my second ranking.

The main reason I didn’t vote for Phil Goff is simply because when I am relatively indifferent between two candidates, then I tend to vote for the candidate that brings more diversity to the table. In this case, Chlöe wins out. Notwithstanding my own vote for Chlöe, I wouldn’t be disappointed if Phil was to win.


There you have it. Even if you don’t agree, please just take the time to vote. And encourage your friends and family to do the same. I suspect low voter turn-out in local government elections is something that can only be addressed through a combination of electoral reform (online voting, ditching FPP for STV) and cultural change. Addressing the latter really begins by acknowledging that we have a problem, and starting a conversation about how it might be fixed.

Finally, some of you may be wondering what I do when I’m not pondering how to exercise my democratic right. The answer, my friends, is that I’m cycling around Amsterdam. Safely. And with an emergency potato in my pants. Tot ziens.

Farewell Len

After two terms, yesterday was Len Brown’s final meeting as Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland and so I think it’s appropriate to look back at what he and Auckland have achieved over the last six years.



First here is his valedictory speech.

As the first Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland I think the Len and the council often faced some very unique challenges and ones that won’t exist to anywhere near the same extent for any future mayor. The bringing together of eight different councils, each with their own plans, policies and rating systems was never going to be a straightforward task and the process of making the new council omelette was always going to require a few eggs to be broken.

The government amalgamated Auckland in part to try and address some of the long standing issues that weren’t being adequately addressed, particularly around planning and transport. By and large those have been or are well on the way to being addressed. Some of the significant pieces of work such completed include: the first Auckland Plan, the Unitary Plan, Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), the standardisation of services across the region and of course combining eight separate rating systems in to one.

Simply by virtue of all of these disruptive changes having already taken place, any future mayor and council is going to look much more stable and in control of what’s going on even if they carried on exactly as things are. Also let’s not forget that Len had only one of 21 votes on the council for decisions. If all of the other Councillors didn’t agree with the changes then they could have voted against them.

But not everyone has been happy. Whether it be rates, policies, plans I don’t think he’s had a particularly fair time from the media. As we’ve repeatedly seen with the Unitary Plan debate and other debates like the Long Term Plan, the truth has often been bent to paint Len in a negative light. I do think that history will much kinder to him though. The city has come a long way in just six years and we’ve probably witnessed some of the most dramatic change the city has seen:

  • The city become more walkable through developments like the Shared Spaces
  • We have an internationally award winning waterfront development at Wynyard Quarter and there is now an urban regeneration arm of the council looking to replicate the success in other parts of the region.
  • We’re in the middle probably the biggest building boom the city has seen. It’s hard to go far in the city centre, or even out in most of the suburbs, without seeing signs of construction and the city evolving.
  • Electric trains have been rolled out across Auckland’s network and over the six years of the council, rail patronage has increased by 94%
  • Bus patronage has increased by 35% while usage of the busway has well more than doubled, this has been helped in part by double deckers are an increasingly common sight on city streets.
  • Ferry patronage has increased by 30% with new routes rolled out to Hobsonville Point and Beach Haven.
  • The city has started to roll out good quality cycling infrastructure that is encouraging more people to ride. Some older cycleways such as SH16 at Kingland now have more than double the number of bike trips on them as they did just 5 years ago.
  • The government and council now have aligned views on the future of transport for the city with the recently completed ATAP.

But by far the biggest achievement has to be the City Rail Link. Len has consistently pushed for the project since elected in 2010 despite the government originally not being supportive of it. After they agreed to the project back in 2013 he continued to advocate for it to start earlier. The council backed that and Albert St is now a hive of activity with the project now well underway. More importantly and just two weeks ago, the council and government signed a heads of agreement to fund the project 50/50. Considering how hostile the government have been towards the project at various times over the last six years, that’s an impressive achievement and one I imagine Len is most proud of.

This is far from an exhaustive list and of course some of those changes were already under way before the council came into being, but they are all things the council has had some involvement in achieving. Furthermore, the future certainly looks positive thanks to the work and focus that Len and the council have had.

In saying all of this not everything has been great. Perhaps the biggest concern I’ve had and continue to do have is that Len has spent a lot of time trying to please everyone. When it came to transport he could best be described as trying to do it all, for example in the Auckland Plan instead of making some tough calls as to which projects get included as priorities the council have opted to just do everything – something partially addressed now with ATAP.

Still on balance I think Len did a pretty decent job, most importantly being that he pushed a vision for Auckland that has been positive. Many people still think fondly of Mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson for pushing his rail scheme in the 60’s and 70’s despite it never being built. By comparison Len has actually resulted in the CRL getting funding and starting construction. I suspect Aucklanders of the future will thank him for it. His legacy will be that Auckland is and will become a much better place than it was when he became mayor. He has helped make Auckland a more liveable city.

Thanks Len and good luck for the future.

Farnham Street residents looking at each other down the barrel of a gun

Caution: this post contains references to John Farnham.

I was updating the Development Tracker recently, and added another one to the list – 9 Farnham Street. It hasn’t made it off the starting blocks yet, despite a couple of attempts.

In 2008, and perhaps for some time before that, 9 Farnham Street was being advertised for a five-storey building, with three floors of office and two penthouse apartments:

9 Farnham Streetview

Source: Google Streetview

The sign was still up in 2009, but sometime after that it was taken down. The GFC put a dampener on new development in a lot of places.

In April 2013, resource consent was granted for 14 apartments, but – shockingly – only 10 carparks. This raised the ire of some local residents, who had their story told in the Herald on 1st April, 2014, the best day of the year for airing public grievances. They decided that they were not gonna sit in silence, and nor were they gonna live with fear.

The three local residents were able to bolster their group with two elected representatives, who help to add gravitas to the obligatory photo of everyone standing in front of the site looking concerned, although sadly only one person out of five had their arms crossed.

A Parnell group is upset about approval for a big new apartment building, saying office workers’ cars already clog their street.

Farnham St residents Jill Tonks, Rosa Volz and Paul O’Connor are angry that a six-storey 14-unit block with only 10 carparks has been permitted to go ahead at 9 Farnham St after Auckland Council approved it on a non-notified basis.

Councillor Mike Lee and Waitemata Local Board member Christopher Dempsey are also concerned.

The article doesn’t specifically say what has the elected representatives “concerned” – maybe the non-notification, maybe the lack of parking, maybe the idea that anyone could put up a building on this pristine site. I’ll simply note that Mike Lee has frequently taken issue with plans or policies for new housing (to be fair, so have many other local representatives, although not to the same extent. Hopefully in the post-Unitary Plan era, we can start to move past this).

Anyway, if it’s the lack of parking that has Mike concerned, I hope that there is much more to concern him in the future. I see the number of new developments being marketed with few (or even no) carparks per unit as a positive sign, and I mean this in the nicest, wanting-to-make-society-as-well-off-as-possible kind of way.

Unfortunately, nothing has quite happened with this development yet. It seems like the apartments were on sale from Nov 2014 – Jul 2015, and were then taken back off the market (the real estate ad says the building has 18 carparks, funnily enough).


The proposed building which was marketed over 2014-2015.

The site changed hands in March this year, and no action since.

Unfortunately, the nature of our local democracy means that if you’re an existing resident with a strong current attachment to the area, you’re the voice. The potential residents – who, I should point out, are all someone’s daughter, all someone’s son – don’t get much chance to say whether they’d like to live there.