On Tuesday night the new Council was officially sworn in and the Committee Structure announced, best covered here. We will discuss the Committee Structure further in future posts – because it is interesting to consider the slightly different approach that has been taken to transport compared to under the previous Council. In this post though it’s worthwhile touching on a few interesting elements of the speech given by Len Brown on Tuesday evening – which can be read in full here.

One element touched upon early in the speech is how the creation of Auckland Council truly has enabled us to finally tackle the really big issues facing the city in a holistic sense:

We live well here in Auckland, but not as well as we could. We have jobs, but not as many as we could. We have houses, but not as many as we need. We have a transport system, but not nearly as good as it should be.

Some people believe that the less councils do, the better off we are. That is not a point of view I hold.

A council can, if it dares, be bold. It can imagine remarkable things and then it can find the way to make them real. We know what needs to be done.

The work began three years ago, and we start this new term today with many of the most important building blocks in place.

If you think about it, without the councils coming together the City Rail Link could have never advanced to the extent that it has – the project is simply too big and scary for any one of the previous Councils to have tackled, especially with a sceptical government. Having a single Council has enabled us to be bold and do things that simply weren’t possible before. But of course there is still a long way to go.

It’s also becoming increasingly evident that cities and their councils are far better at tackling many of the issues that impact people who live in them compared to central governments. A point made quite well in this piece.

Everywhere we look we see national governments struggling vainly to tackle the challenges of the modern world. Washington, hopelessly partisan and dysfunctional, is an extreme case. But Whitehall is in many ways clearly over-stretched. The Civil Service remains organised around silos and with a poor record of innovation. Insiders say relations between ministers and mandarins have never been as fraught.

Cities’ governments by contrast tend to display a pragmatic, can-do ethos. Their leaders are often personable mavericks — we know Ken and Boris by their first names — and good at brokering deals and forging unlikely partnerships. The remarkable improvement in London schools — once the worst in England, now the best — has been driven at least partly by the way schools, councils, businesses, charities, arts organisations and others have worked together.

Cities have always been crucibles of invention and their governments are likewise showing increasing signs of inventiveness. Think Ken’s Congestion Charge, bike rental schemes first pioneered by Paris, or the way the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre gave citizens the lead role in setting the city’s budget. Nations hang onto old identities and everywhere struggle to adapt to migration and globalisation. Cities are much more welcoming and forward-looking.

Further on from Len’s speech, there are some more fairly general statements about transport:

And linked in to that programme, at every driveway and every bus stop and every train station and every cycle path will be a transportation system that works as it should.

We are now delivering on an integrated transport system that balances quality public transport, roads, and walking and cycling.

Already we’ve revolutionised bussing, and ticketing, we’re electrifying the trains, and we have the government backing our key priorities, including the City Rail Link.

We have moved the discussion about the CRL along from “why?” to “when?”.

That’s a vital building block, and it’s a reason for Aucklanders to feel very pleased, because CRL is the precursor to everything that cures this city’s sclerosis.

If we can rebalance the transport system, with more people in trains and buses and ferries, on foot and on bikes, and with roads working as they ought to, we will all move freely.

Other cities have done it. So can Auckland.

In a 21st century economy, connectivity could not matter more. The money we invest in transportation – and more than half our entire budget is allocated to it – is an investment for generations to come.

I wouldn’t quite go as far as saying we have revolutionised bussing and ticketing just yet. If AT can get the new network rolled out and HOP working then maybe – but that still seems some way off yet. It’s interesting to note mention of “balancing modes”. Brent Toderian last night said that’s just a sneaky way of saying “business as usual” as in that situation the roading planners/engineers always manage to get their projects to the top of the list as needing to happen before the balancing can occur. The jury is still out over whether the Mayor is willing to sacrifice some of the many stupid roading projects in our current plans to help balance the budget better.

The other mention of transport is in relation to finding new ways to pay for infrastructure:

And I will be looking to alternative sources of funding – for example to help pay for investments in our transport infrastructure.

With that in mind, it’s my aim to lead a debate across New Zealand about the way we fund local government.

If it’s possible to do that in ways other than rates, let’s explore them.

As we’ve said on many occasions, raising money for transport in different ways potentially makes a lot of sense – especially if that process can cleverly manage demand. However with so much fat in the current transport budgets I think it will be a pretty tough ask convincing Aucklanders to pay an additional tax for transport infrastructure we don’t actually even need.

Overall the speech is perhaps a little disappointing in the lack of detail about what key goals the Mayor has over the next three years – a lot of general ‘fluff’ about how great Auckland is or could be. Perhaps that’s not surprising for this kind of speech, but there are many many unanswered questions that remain – particularly around how we’re going to afford the gigantic transport wishlist and when we’ll finally see someone taking a good hard look at whether the projects really deliver on making Auckland the world’s most liveable city.

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    1. Rip up the ITP and start again. Throw out all the old council’s wish lists of projects and look at the city on a grand scale.

      1. Having listened to Brent Toderian last night where Vancouver agreed not to expand roading capacity at all for cars-and giving space with a priority order of walking,cycling, transit, then freight then cars actually helped cars with all the other options introduced changing the no of trips % per mode. Think we could achieve a lot just by reprioritisation of existing roading corridors and good network planning. Start again a bit like Christchurch and restrategise the whole caboodle.

  1. Might just move to Melbourne. I was there a couple of weeks a go and I love that fricken place! so easy to get around and the precincts no wonder it was voted the worlds most livable city. Got back to Auckland and was a little depressed, where are the Trams the fast Metro> rail the awesome Myki card capped at $7.00 dollars a day in Zone 1 any mode. Why is so hard here? We Kiwis like to think we are smart blah blah and the best country to live in but are we really that smart? Cities like Melbourne just seem to have the edge that I think we will never obtain no matter how lofty our goals are

    1. Exactly right. Auckland governance is very much all hat and no cattle as they say. The spin is tiresome – you do not become a world leading city simply from reworked speeches and spending big bucks on marketing. As seen in the tourism and education industry, people eventually realise the quality is not there. How many new bus lanes in last few years for example? Or tangible changes to cycling infrastructure? These are not expensive items in the scheme of things yet would make a huge difference. Auckland is lagging so far behind other cities on transport and housing. Have found the transport in many developing nations to be far superior to New Zealand!

    2. If the new transport plan turns out how it promises, I might just move back to Chch.

      It might not be perfect but better than a city dominated by NIMBYs who want to freeze the city in the 1990s. That is Auckland’s fate unless the politicians grow some cojones and make the tough progressive choices for Auckland. Houston of the South Pacific.

      1. Comparisons to Houston are pretty ridiculous no matter how you try to spin it. Most of the time I understand the sentiment but some of you guys are so over-dramatic at times.

        1. There are plenty of people arguing that Houston/Atlanta are the models we should follow. So I dont see why it is so dramatic. No more dramatic than the anti-density NIMBYs who shriek that Auckland will become Hong Kong or Shangahi – now that is ridiculous.

          And let’s wait and see. I am saying in 30 years with 2.5m if the sprawlers and NIMBYs get their way and the MUL/RUB was scrapped with no density changes and the CRL is delayed indefinitely (like Robbie’s Rail in the 70s), density could be getting very low and housing could be solid all the way to Drury.

          I want to live in a big, vibrant city, not a whole lot of small quiet cities loosely connected with a weak centre. If I wanted to live in a small city, I would.

        2. You explicitly stated ‘Houston of the South Pacific’. Not ‘there are some people who want to follow the Houston model’. Auckland, despite its shortcomings, is no more sprawly than any other city in Australasia. Take a look at the near unconstrained sprawl to the south-east of Melbourne for a better example of Houston-style growth.

          Of course, I am not saying that I am happy with the way things are or defending the way the city has been allowed to grow, but if you are going to make analogies they should at least be honest.

        3. “That is Auckland’s fate unless the politicians grow some cojones and make the tough progressive choices for Auckland. Houston of the South Pacific.”

          No, he didn’t James.

        4. The meaning is open to interpretation.

          But either way it is a silly comparison. Auckland is a speck next to Houston and always will be.

        5. Agreed on being open to intepretation, was rude to try put words in someone’s mouth.

          But either way, it is disingenuous to state that size has anything to do with the comparison, it was obviously to do with auto-dependency and Sprawl, it is Goosoid after all.

        6. James – Yes I didnt mean that now it is the Houston of the South Pacific. I meant if things went off track with a pro-sprawl mayor like Cameron Brewer and the scrapping of the CRL, we could easily go down that path. We are more the LA of the South Pacific, though even LA is starting to make us look conservative with its new metro and bike infrastructure. I just wish we could be Portland.

          Agree 100% on Melbourne. I remember living there in the late 90s and taking a train SE. It just goes on forever. I guess one difference is that at least there are trains and there is a lot of density in the inner city. I think Melbourne is trying to rain in that sprawl now because of the huge infrastructure cost and ecological damage. The new government in Oz wont help that effort.

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