The advertisement below is from the last local government elections. Here Councillor Denise Krum rallies against the draft Unitary Plan, especially the degree to which it enables “intensification”. Denise’s advertisement claims the draft Unitary Plan is “too intense” and will “change our streets forever”. Instead, Denise advocates for greater restrictions on the degree to which property owners can develop their property in the urban area, and more expansion of the city. Denise was subsequently elected.
Denise is particularly critical of 3 storey height limits, and goes to the trouble of hoisting herself up (some might say by her own petard) in a scissor-lift so as to highlight differences in building heights.
From this advertisement it seems clear Denise does not support the draft Unitary Plan and instead considers restrictions on intensification as being necessary to preserve community well-being. It is notable the advertisement does not contain any references to any research or surveys which support the positions Denise adopts on these issues. Is it too much for me to expect political advertising to include references to evidence supporting the positions being advanced? Perhaps.
When it comes to planning, however, evidence matters. Recent 2013 amendments to the RMA increased the burden of proof with regards to S32 reports, especially in terms of the economic analysis that should be undertaken to support proposed policy provisions. For those who are not familiar with planning jargon, a “S32 report” attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of proposed policies in comparison to potential alternatives. The 2013 RMA amendments requires S32 analysis to identify, and where practicable quantify, the economic benefits and costs of proposed policies. Some smarty-pants lawyers had this to say about the RMA amendments at last year’s NZPI conference (source):
“Arguably the most significant and material change is an expansion and detailed elucidation of the reference to “benefits and costs”, in the context of assessing efficiency and effectiveness … Post 2013s 32(2) requires, in much more detail, the following:
An assessment under subsection (1)(b)(ii) must—
(a) identify and assess the benefits and costs of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects that are anticipated from the implementation of the provisions, including the opportunities for—
(i) economic growth that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and
(ii) employment that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and
(b) if practicable, quantity the benefits and costs referred to in paragraph (a).
The task of complying with these requirements is not insignificant. A systematic approach will need to be taken in preparing s32 reports to ensure that they are compliant and address environmental, economic, social and cultural effects, including opportunities for economic growth and employment.”
Ever since the RMA amendments came into force I have pondered how they might impact on the proposed Unitary Plan, especially with regards to density controls? I have also been wondering how the strategic direction established in the Auckland Plan, which I think was developed under the auspices of the LGAAA, would be relevant to the Unitary Plan?
My interest was further piqued when councillors, such as Denise, dramatically reduced the level of intensification that could occur in metropolitan Auckland, since which time house prices have soared. The differences between the draft and the proposed Unitary Plans is highlighted in the map below. Areas of red show areas where down-zoning occurred, which includes most of the isthmus. These are the areas where property prices are high (and increasing), i.e. where market-driven intensification seems most likely to occur.
From this it seems fair to say that proposed Unitary Plan imposes tighter density controls. The question is whether these controls are supported by economic evidence that meets the requirements of the (amended) RMA? And, moreover, how apparent tensions between the strategic direction of the Auckland Plan and the approach adopted in the proposed Unitary Plan would play out in a hearing context?
The economic costs of density controls are relatively intuitive: They forgo and/or displace land use development. This means we get less of it, especially in higher In terms of the economic benefits of density controls, those who are opposing intensification, such as Denise, will need to present evidence to show that levels of density which are common-place elsewhere, e.g. cities in Australia and Europe, will cause significant harm to communities should they be replicated in Auckland.
I’m skeptical as to whether this evidence exists. Most of the research I’ve read, such as this review by UNSW for Queensland Health, finds no conclusive evidence that higher density development has negative impacts on well-being. In fact, there’s evidence it’s beneficial to many outcomes, such as childrens levels of physical activity and obesity rates. So much for the meme that children need a big backyard to stay fit and healthy!
In my experience living in Auckland and overseas, buildings of approximately 6 storeys seem to have relatively negligible negative impacts on well-being and/or amenity. The photos below illustrate two buildings from Amsterdam and Auckland, but I could have easily added many more photos of multi-storey buildings from Brisbane, Sydney, and Stockholm. While there are large differences in style, I find both buildings quite attractive (the first photo is used under license from myself; the second photo belongs to Ockham).
For these reasons, I have been somewhat heartened to read the interim guidance on view shafts that was issued by the Commissioners who are overseeing the Unitary Plan hearings process. In this guidance the Commissioners note “the objectives, policies and rules in relation to viewshafts do not meet the s32 requirements of the Act” for several reasons, most notably “amendments were made to s32 in 2013 to require employment and economic growth opportunities (including lost opportunities) to be taken into account and these post-date many if not all of the legacy plans.” The Commissioners go on to note the “PAUP is the first substantive planning process to propose increased levels of intensification to achieve a quality compact city so it is appropriate that the viewshafts are now re-evaluated within that strategic context” and more importantly “… if it is possible to quantify those costs of the viewshaft provisions, then that would assist in decision …”
I want to emphasise from the outset that I don’t have a strong view on the relative merits of view shafts. This post is less concerned with the nitty-gritty of viewshafts than it is with understanding how the 2013 RMA amendments and the Auckland Plan may impact on the Unitary Plan, most notably:
- First, the presence of planning provisions in legacy plans is not strong evidence (in of itself) that those provisions should be retained in the Unitary Plan, mainly because the legacy plans pre-date both the 2013 amendments and the Auckland Plan. Hence, they have not been tested under the current legislative and strategic context.
- Second, the Commissioners appear to consider that the strategic context provided by the (non-statutory) Auckland Plan, in addition to the Regional Policy Statement, is relevant to the provisions of the Unitary Plan, especially with regards to the development of a quality compact urban form.
- Third, in light of the 2013 RMA amendments the Commissioners appear to place a higher expectation on economic analysis, especially where proposed provisions do not appear to align with the aforementioned strategic direction of the Auckland Plan.
The Commissioners thus seem to be attempting to strike a balance between strategic outcomes and economic analysis, and do not seem to be placing too much weight on legacy plans. This is heartening because, frankly, the legacy district plans contained many provisions that are of dubious value. Moreover, where provisions proposed in the Unitary Plan run contrary to the Council’s stated strategic direction, then there seems to be an expectation from the Commissioners that this misalignment is supported by robust economic analysis.
Of course, whether this preliminary guidance on view shafts is indicative of the Commissioners’ ultimate position and/or whether it apples to other topics, e.g. minimum parking requirements, is something that will only become clear in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.
Professional and personal disclaimer: The views expressed in this post represent the theoretical and philosophical musings of a not quite defunct economist. This economist is not a planner nor is he a lawyer (so don’t expect to be able to sue me for much money). The views expressed herein should not be construed to represent the views of my colleagues, clients, friends, or pets. They do represent the views of my Mum, whom I love very much. Nor do they necessarily represent my own views in the future – at which point my views may have changed in response to further evidence and information.
In which Councillor Cameron Brewer tries extremely hard to find a possible cost to ratepayers in a privately funded and user pays addition to our transport networks, while ignoring the real cost of $13m to ratepayers for a free-to-use walking and cycle project in his ward [just one example].
Here at transportblog we are very keen on value for money for all publicly funded projects, which means every single transport project in the land. Except one. The SkyPath. To campaign that this project is some kind of burden on ‘the poor suburban ratepayer’ is so silly as to be beyond parody.
Ratepayers’ watchdogs play a potentially valuable role. But they need to be coherent and consistent, oh and factually accurate. Especially when they are taking a ratepayers salary to do it. Here Brewer is complaining about a user pays route but ignoring the fully subsidised one that happens to run through his ward. So either he really has no idea what’s going on or is being more than a little deceitful in order to score some kind of political point.
Don’t get me wrong, I am entirely in favour of both the taxpayer and ratepayer funding of the Eastern Connections route, but also think the SkyPath should be so funded. And it is also clear which route costs ratepayers more. A certain $13 million versus a possible future liability.
Basically the people of Auckland are getting a huge bargain with the SkyPath. Either it costs nothing, or a much lower sum than it would if funded like every road, bus lane, train station, or cycleway in the city. And this doesn’t even begin to calculate the years of free work contributed by those who have made it happen. And all to make up for what is essentially an institutional failure in transport provision. SkyPath is listed as the region’s most import Active route yet our current institutions weren’t able to get started on it themselves, somehow.
Perhaps it really is time Councillor Brewer took his financial expertise into the private sector…?
Last week the latest iteration of the National Land Transport Programme was announced. This is largely a business as usual plan, dominated by the big spend on a few massive state highways projects. However there are a few things to be celebrated, especially for cycling, and even more in the language and thinking in the supporting documents. This was repeated at the launch too, especially in the words of NZTA CEO and AT Board representative Geoff Dangerfield, and NZTA Auckland/Northland Regional Director Ernst Zöllner.
The high level aims are all strong and commendable. The focus on ‘economic growth and productivity, safety, and value for money’ are incontestably valuable. If they were to add ‘resilience, energy security, and environmental performance’ it would probably be a perfect list. But of course this is really set by the Government Policy Statement.
Dangerfield was his usual clear and persuasive self, setting a high level context and skilfully bating away questions. Zöllner was particularly articulate about both the dynamic nature of the situation in Auckland and the unformed quality of Auckland’s PT networks; especially the incomplete nature of the core Rapid Transit Network. Both noted the strong growth of PT ridership numbers, which will see a rise in the PT opex spend.
Here’s what the agency says about the Transit and Active modes, in the Providing Transport Choices document:
All incontestable good sense, and exactly the sort of points regular readers here would recognise, especially the emphasis on the value of the high quality own-right-of-way Congestion Free networks of rail and dedicated busways.
People using public transport on high-quality public transport services with a dedicated right of way, like the Auckland Northern Busway or metropolitan rail networks, can now enjoy fast, efficient journeys on comfortable modern buses and electric trains, while freeing up road space for other people and freight.
There remains, however, some considerable daylight between this analysis and the actual projects being funded. This is especially the case with the comparatively tiny sum of $176m for Public Transport Capital Works in Auckland out of a total $4.2 billion spend over the three year period in the region [~4%] and $13.9 billion nationally. This sum [half of which is from the Council’s Transport Levy] will bring much vital kit, like the Otahuhu, Manukau City, and Te Atatu bus interchanges. But is a long way from fixing those big gaps in the RTN network. In response to my questions on this they quite reasonably countered that some funding for bus capex is in other budgets, notably under the AMETI programme, as part of the North Western massive highway works, and the Northern Busway extensions.
However the two Busway sums do not result in the construction of even one metre of additional RTN. For the Northern Busway the previous minister deleted construction of the proposed extension from the accelerated motorway package [a loan to be met from future NLTF], so all we are left with is ‘future proofing’ and no one can ride on a busway that has only been future proofed for. On the Northwestern we do get the improvement of bus shoulder lanes and a station at Te Atatu; but no RTN. AMETI is the best of the bunch, but that’s only if the proposed BRT does happen instead of the place-ruining flyover that appeals more to some entitled voices there.
Then we come to the great problem that the National Land Transport Fund is barred from investing in rail infrastructure yet Auckland is now showing the huge value of using this separate network for moving increasing numbers of people completely outside of traffic congestion. And some RTN routes are clearly best served by rail. Just as well the Council has the courage to just get on with the CRL first stage by itself so at least this vital gap at the heart of the RTN is getting a start.
The case for near term investment in PT and especially for completing the RTN can be summarised thus:
- current demand growth of 20+% on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network,
- the RTN is showing improved operating cost effectiveness as it grows,
- the strongly voiced value the agency sees in quality PT networks especially their positive effects on traffic congestion and economic growth,
- the well known relationship between what is invested in and what then grows in use plus the positive externalities of increased PT use,
- and the observed sub-optimal nature of the city’s current PT networks in both quality and extent, ie the clear opportunities for improvement.
So despite the good work being undertaken by many in all our transport agencies: NZTA, AT, and MoT, there seem to be structural problems that are leading to important opportunities
being missed in our only city of scale
. It is this context that I wrote to NZTA Auckland and Northland Director Ernst Zöllner with concerns about two specific projects that embody these issues. As this post is already quite long I will run the letter tomorrow morning in a follow-up post…
Yesterday was really a day of funding news with the other big talking point being the Council finally adopting the Long Term Plan. The budget agreed yesterday is significant as for transport it represents probably the biggest single shift in funding priorities in many generations. Unimaginable just a few years ago, over half of the council’s transport funding (if you exclude renewals) is going towards public transport combined with around 10% going to walking and cycling – not including projects funded as part of other road projects.
The step change in funding has come about in part due to the transport levy now agreed – $99 for households and $159 for businesses. The impact the levy has is shown below as it enables the Interim Transport Programme.
*some of the figures might have changed slightly from when this table was produced
In many ways I think Auckland has not been served well by it’s councils (and governments) who for decades have been too scared to make some tough choices and as such failed to invest enough in transport. The budget passing at 10-9 (two who most likely would have voted for it were away) shows that a large number of councillors wanted to continue this trend.
While I understand that people don’t want to pay more rates, the fact the money is going towards significantly investing in modes that we’ve neglected for decades and that are growing strongly is a positive thing. I suspect that if measured based on a return on investment metric we’d be getting a pretty good deal.
We and future generations should thank the 10 councillors from across the political spectrum who were brave enough to look to the future when making this decision. Those that voted for the budget were:
- Len Brown
- Arthur Anae
- Bill Cashmore
- Linda Cooper
- Chris Darby
- Alf Filipania
- Mike Lee
- Calum Penrose
- Wayne Walker
- Penny Webster
Of course the Herald ran with the story that many would see rates were going up over $1000. The council clarified that today with the following figures.
If there’s one area I think people should be upset it’s that the they have to pay GST on top of the transport levy. With around 454,000 households that’s almost $7 million a year extra going to the governments coffers that could be spent elsewhere. It perhaps wouldn’t be so bad if the government would promise to invest that GST back in to Auckland, that’s potentially a lot more cycleways or bus lanes.
The High Court has agreed with incorporated society Urban Auckland that the Council and the Port company were in error when they decided they don’t need to consult Aucklanders to expand further into the harbour, here for the full judgement:
It is important that the Council accepts this decision and furthermore firmly *encourages* ACIL and the Port company to do so too. The Council alone spent $500,000 directly on this case to defend their earlier poor decision. Clearly this is just a part of their spending on our behalf following the rogue path of our wholly owned Ports of Auckland Ltd. Somehow the Council legal team got captured by the Port’s view of the world and their role in it. I accept the Council has a responsibility to back their officers’ earlier position but enough is enough.
And enough is more that enough with the Port Company. It really is time to part with the governance direction of the current board. They seem to have had two big ideas; first to fight their employees, second to trick and fight their owner. In both cases the courts taken a dim view of their approach. Also in each case I have no issue with the general aim but it is the path chosen to pursue these goals that is clearly crooked and unwise. I support the port seeking to improve their opoerational productivity, and I support the port seeking to right-size its physical footprint. But in each case this board and management have chosen the most confrontational and devious means to try to achieve these goals. And have been found to be sneaky and duplicitous by the courts; in ways that we would abhor in a privately owned company, let alone one representing the people of Auckland. In his written judgement Justice Venning is clear in pointing out that the Ports’ strategy is not clever on any level, especially on one of fiscal prudence:
 To the extent that there will be further delay and cost to POAL it has to a degree brought that on itself in the way that it urged the Council to proceed on the non-notified basis in the knowledge of the reaction that was likely to engender. In doing so it took a commercial risk in proceeding in that way.
It shouldn’t come to this. Citizens should not have to take legal action against people handsomely paid to serve them. It takes a hell of an effort and is a vast distraction, and costs everyone a fortune. Board Chair Hawkins has said he would rather resign than not build these extensions. Well the High court has stopped the extensions…..?
There is a lesson here too for other organisations that may lose sight of the fact that they only exist as servants of the people, and not just as facilitators for particular special interest groups. For example NZTA’s habit of deciding what it wants to do in our name without any real consultation, except with those business interests it is close to, should take heed from this decision. The process around what is now called the East West Connections and the Kirkbride Rd intersection give much room for disquiet. But these are nothing compared to what is likely to erupt as the Agency proceeds with one plan for a new Waitemata harbour crossing without any kind of serious process to discover the people of Auckland’s view on all the options. Especially without a real search for innovative solution including options without adding any additional traffic lanes. For despite all the rhetoric around the urgency to ‘solve’ congestion this agency is still rushing to spend billions on traffic inducing mega-projects; the greatest generators of traffic growth and therefore congestion.
So many of the worst features of Auckland’s current infrastructure are the result of public officials or central government deciding what is best for the city without allowing sufficient wider input into these decisions. This port extension issue should be a warning that the people of Auckland will no longer put up with being left out of these decisions.
Links, especially for donations towards our legal case:
Urban Auckland and Stop Stealing our Harbour
Over the years there have been a wide range of patronage targets for public transport. There are high level targets in the 30 year Auckland Plan, 10 years of annual targets in the Long Term plan which are updated every three years and three years of annual targets updated annually in both the council’s Annual Plan and Auckland Transport’s Statement of Intent. Of course there is also the government’s target to start construction of the CRL earlier than 2020.
The targets are important as they are used to monitor how AT are performing – not that I’m sure anything happens if the targets aren’t met. We’ve talked before about patronage targets. In particular how following the drop in patronage in the 2012/13 year AT pushed for the targets to be lowered which the council agreed to in 2014. That left the ridiculous situation where the rail target to the end of June this year was only 12.1 million trips, an increase of just 700k over the year before despite the roll out of electric trains happening. As it happens patronage is currently at 13.5 million trips and predicted to reach 13.8 million by the end of June.
AT pushing to have the targets reduced has also been used by the Ministry of Transport to justify their position that Auckland won’t meet the CRL targets of 20 million trips prior to 2020. A bit of an own goal really.
On to the point of the post. Just over a week ago the council agreed on new patronage targets that would go into their Long Term Plan which were revised from the earlier drafts. You can see the figures that were agreed by the councillors which are slightly different from those originally on the agenda.
As you can see, by 2025 the target is for patronage to be 110.7 million trips which is a bit short of the 140 million trips by 2022 the Auckland Plan envisioned – although to be a little bit fair some projects like the CRL were expected sooner. Given the time-frame and PT growth I think we can expect in Auckland through all the changes planned I think that 110 million tips is a bit light. Based on current population projections it would represent a per capita usage of less than 60 trips per year (currently we’re just over 50). As an example over the next few years the last of the electric trains will roll out along with the New Network and integrated fares. Those alone should see big boosts to patronage numbers and as the charts below show. The problem is only the rail network seems to have any step change factored in.
Of course around 2022 or 2023 we should also see the City Rail Link open and again we should see significant boosts in numbers, especially on the rail network. One of the reasons for this might be because while the LTP’s are a 10 year document, the focus is only really on the first three years till the next revision.
So here are the charts showing the changes and how they compare to the previous targets from the 2012-22 LTP plus the 2013 and 2014 versions of Auckland Transport’s Statement of Intent. As mentioned only the rail network sees any significant change from figures previously expected and if we meet the new target the CRL patronage target will be achieved some time around 2018.
And below is an indication of the how much change is expected in each year. I find it odd that patronage would drop off just as the new network is likely being completed as that alone should provide a big boost from more people transferring from bus to train.
Slightly related, a presentation I saw recently contained a version of this next chart showing what level patronage could be at over the next 30 years out to 2046. I think it shows quite well the impact the CRL and light rail – even though buses will still dominate the modes.
What do you think of the targets, are they ambitious enough?
The Nelson St Cycleway is one of the most exciting projects currently underway in Auckland and will make use of the old disused motorway off-ramp to give people on bikes another way to access the city. The council are now looking for feedback to help shape the design of the ramp so it’s not just an old ramp.
Auckland Council would like your input on the potential streetscape design of the disused Nelson Street off-ramp.
The off-ramp will be transformed into a new cycleway and walkway by the end of the year, forming part of the Nelson Street Cycle Route – a joint project of the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport.
Councillor Chris Darby, the political urban design champion, says “This new walking and cycling route will provide speedy access into the city centre, accompanied by stunning views across the city and harbour. It will be one of the new beacons for biking in Auckland.
“Attractive surface finishes will make it even more distinctive and grab both local and international attention. It will add an important link to our emerging city-wide cycle network and trigger more people to walk or bike when they make their daily travel choices.”
Transforming the off-ramp – closed since 2006 – was one of the projects highlighted in the council’s City Centre Masterplan in 2012, and received strong support.
The route aligns with the shared long-term vision of the NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport and Auckland Council to build world-class cycling infrastructure that promotes cycling as a safe and convenient mode of transport.
Barbara Cuthbert, Cycle Action Auckland chair, says “It will be a ‘must ride’ route and loved by Auckland visitors, families, roadies, cruisers and people riding to work and shopping in town. I can see it featuring in tweets already, raising the profile yet again for cycling in Auckland.”
The new cycleway will begin at Upper Queen Street, travel along Canada Street and connect to the off-ramp via a new bridge that is currently under construction. The route will continue down Nelson Street, with phase two next year connecting to Quay Street. It will also connect to the north-western and Grafton Gully cycleways, providing easier and safer access to, from and within the city centre.
The online form asks Aucklanders how they might use the cycleway, and their preferences for the surface treatment – bold, subtle, modern, classic, fun, abstract, or incorporating words or lyrics. It takes two minutes to complete and is available at www.shapeauckland.co.nz until 22 June 2015.
The feedback will help shape the design, along with input from iwi and consideration of safety and technical requirements. This will be included in the off-ramp when it is opened at the end of the year.
The main question is shown below.
This is the concept from the City Centre Master Plan of 2012 (which doesn’t feature a very useful cycle path and I doubt trees would be practical simply on weight grounds.
If only takes a few minutes to complete the survey
I guess this is just one of those ones we should have on high rotate. The advice from the North American consultants in 1965 for Auckland at the height of the sprawl era was this: ‘a co-ordinated bus and rail Rapid Transit plan‘ to go along with the gradual construction of motorways. How prescient this looks as the following 50 years have shown how inefficient and expensive a monomodal autodependent transport plan is for cities.
And now as we finally inch towards the partial delivery of just such a system it is plainly obvious how rational it is; ongoing 20% growth on the Rapid Transit Network settles the long running claims that it would never work in Auckland.
It is extraordinary that the government claims Auckland Transport and Auckland Council don’t have a good plan. It’s only the same plan that we’ve always had, but have never been allowed to implement. First because the various councils ‘couldn’t agree’ but now because there is insufficient ‘alignment’ with the government’s plan, which is undisclosed in any holistic form, but clearly is just more motorways everywhere. The Auckland plan, is evidenced, popular, already working, but starved of cash.
‘To 1986 and beyond…‘
And here, on a projected future motorway map you can see the core rail part of the ‘coordinated bus and rail Rapid Transit plan‘:
*Thanks to the excellent Auckland Library archive.
The government aren’t the only one discussing budgets today as the Auckland Council are holding a session of their budget committee. It will see the council discuss the recently approved Accelerated Transport Programme which has been brought about by the introduction of a $99 levy per residential property to pay for transport. I’m not sure if the councillors who have since written to Len Brown asking to discuss the levy again will be able to do so or not. As we know the Transport Levy allows for around $170 million a year worth of extra investment in Auckland for three years. We already have a rough idea of where the money will be spent, this is shown below.
We also had a decent idea of what projects will be funded and it looks pretty good – although for most of it we didn’t know just how much money had been assigned to individual projects. One part of the agenda for today’s meeting finally gives us that detail. The most interesting parts are in Attachment A & B.
The first attachment lists each project in the council’s overall Auckland Plan Transport Network (APTN). Three separate columns list how much the was budgeted for the project over the next ten years based on the APTN, the do not much Basic Transport Network (BTN) and a third column what will the outcome is under the levy funded Accelerated Budget.
The tables show there has been quite a bit of change among some projects, presumably reflecting additional thinking that has gone one since the LTP analysis was done. As an example some projects have been re-scoped which has resulted in increases or decreases in costs or changes in timing has brought funding forward that was previously outside the 10 year horizon of the LTP. An example of some of the changes are below.
However changes over the 10 year plan are in some ways a bit meaningless as there will be another LTP in three years that will likely rehash the priorities and also have to deal with changes in funding that will likely result from the proposed Transport Accord. As such it’s only really worth focusing on the next three years and the tables below show just how much funding is proposed for each project over that time. Unfortunately it’s not the highest quality but if needed click through to the PDF linked earlier to get a slightly better version.
By the time you read this the council will likely have already discussed this item so feel free to add to the comments if any changes happen.
Over recent days and weeks the suggestion of an agreement between the Council and the Government – a Transport Accord similar to the Housing Accord agreed to in 2013 – have grown stronger and stronger. It’s easy to see why an accord would be desired from both parties. The council want a secure source funding from the government to help address the city’s growth. Similarly the government seem keen to have more definition around the cost implications but also there seems to be some political motivations at play. I think they want to be seen to be doing something and I suspect they may also want to get an accord signed before the main local body elections heat up as it’s likely transport will be a major talking point.
While there’s a lot of talk that an accord there’s not a lot of detail about just what it may entail. That’s because what work that has already happened is firmly behind closed doors and will likely stay that way for some time. The media so far have largely being playing the idea that an accord is primarily about agreeing on a set of projects and this has focused a lot around Simon Bridges interview on The Nation just over a week ago when he said he dismissed rail to the airport. I increasingly think that his comments reflect more of an ideological hiccup than any serious discussion that’s been had. By that I mean that when pushed to name projects that shouldn’t be on the list he retreated to the only one possible. For ideological reasons it had to be a rail project as criticising road or bus projects would have just made the rest of his comments seem absurd and it couldn’t be the CRL as the government have already committed to that – albeit not in the time-frame it is needed.
Thinking through what’s actually been said about the accord so far it seems that perhaps it’s not so much about specific projects but instead something more fundamental. Below are a few excerpts from recent articles. First from the interview on The Nation
What would a transport accord do exactly?
First and foremost, alignment. It would mean that— I think the questions you’re asking me would be answered. We’d have a sense of agreement on the problem, on the congestion numbers. We’d have a sense of the priorities and what we’re trying to achieve. Is it that fewer big projects, more projects around the city, or what is it? And then it’s that mix of projects that at the moment we don’t know.
And from Saturday in the Herald.
“It’s really about seeing if we can get better alignment between Government and council on transport priorities,” Mr Bridges said. “We’re conscious that we don’t want to make this too pointy-headed but it will be a quite complex, involved process, taking at least a year. We want to test each others’ assumptions and see if we can get alignment on the numbers.”
What we appear to be seeing is a continuation of the same kind of response from the government that was seen in the wake of the City Centre Future Access Study. Basically the government and it’s ministry’s don’t even agree with Auckland Council/Transport on key inputs into the decision making. That includes assumptions like how fast the city will grow (i.e. population or land use etc.), how costs and preferences will change and likely many other areas. They also don’t agree on the outcomes we should be focusing on i.e. should we be discussing congestion or access and how should the outcomes be measured.
The reason those aspects are so important is that sometimes even small changes in the assumptions you use or the outcomes that you need to achieve can significantly change the types of projects that will be needed. What’s more the less agreement there is between these fundamental issues the more changes there is for politicians to swing priorities without basis. An example is like the ruler in this video below. The ruler represents transport policy with the tip being specific transport projects while the finger represents the impact that politicians have. Currently we’re like the fourth example and swinging around like mad from even a little political pressure. Where a transport accord should hopefully be useful is to move us more towards the first example where there political pressure doesn’t exert that much change in policy
Essentially the process sounds like it’s doing a back to basics approach first and justifying each and every step and this time ensuring that all groups agree on the details. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing it does kind of seem like redoing much of the planning work that AT have already been doing over a number of years. Given the amount of work AT have already done I’d then expect the results to come out similar to what they have already shown in planning documents like the RLTP. I covered whether Auckland has an effective transport plan just over a week ago. Here’s one of the outcomes showing a substantial lift in public patronage over the 30 year window from the more expensive plan.
Just how the transport accord will end is unknown however I would hope that at least at a technical level there would be some fairly close alignment in most of the inputs and outcomes needed.
In saying all of this I think that in any criteria there also needs to be recognition from the government as to just what Aucklanders say they want for their city. This is especially important if the people making these decisions are sitting in a desk in Wellington. We have a good idea of what residents want from the LTP consultation as shown below and it is backed up by other surveys that have been conducted over the years. Just measuring outcomes based on impacts of a few measures such as congestion or required vehicle flows could lead to distorted and negative outcomes such as removing pedestrian, cycle or PT infrastructure in a bid to find more space for cars, the very things Aucklanders say they want more of.
Lastly I also hope that a Transport Accord could lead to innovation in how we plan for transport in Auckland. I think it’s absurd that given the interrelated nature of the regions transport systems that we have different organisations planning local roads/PT, state highways and rail projects. While I know the various organisations do work together there still seems like there’s a disconnect that leads each organisation of focus on their specific areas rather than seek the best overall solution to Aucklands issues. Perhaps it’s time for at least the planning and financing functions to be joined into one team – even if physical implementation is left with the various organisations.