Yesterday I looked at the numbers behind council’s Long Term Plan, the first version of which is being worked on by the mayor for release next Thursday.
Firstly the background documents gave an overview of the key Auckland Plan transformational shifts. The Auckland Plan outlined 7 transformational shifts-
- Move to outstanding public transport within one network
- Radically improve the quality of urban living
- Significantly lift Maori social and economic well being
- Substantially raise living standards for all Aucklanders and focus on those most in need
- Dramatically accelerate the prospects of Auckland’s children and young people
- Strongly commit to environmental action and green growth
The documents show that the first two shifts, regarding public transport and urban living have been identified as the “key drivers of transformation”. Of course these are also the area the Auckland Council has the most control over.
The background information includes this slide describing what is planned over the next 10 years. Is nothing new but helpfully puts the key information in one place.
The most interesting information comes from the Auckland Transport presentation given to the workshop on July 7. This outlines for the first time 2 alternative transport networks that are being investigated.
The Auckland Plan Transport Network involves $16b of AT investment in new capital projects over 30 years – funded from Auckland Council, NZTA and Central Government. In addition, AT renewals are estimated at $10b over 30 years.
The Basic Transport Network involves $8b of AT investment in new capital projects over 30 years – funded from Auckland Council, NZTA and Central Government. In addition, AT renewals are estimated at $7.5b over 30 years.
We all know the Auckland Plan included a wishlist of pretty much every transport project that had been proposed in recent years. The existence of the “Basic Transport Network” seems to be new though, and this appears to be a severely stripped down version written to fit in with the proposed 2.5% rates rise. I assume these 2 networks have come about in the process of reviewing the rubbish Integrated Transport Program that came out in March last year.
The description of projects does seem to sound a lot like our Congestion Free Network, which was sent from the Council Transport Committee to AT for modelling as part of their ITP review in August last year. For example we see Mt Roksill Rail spur mentioned for the first time in official documents, as previous documents had referred to the full length Avondale to Onehunga/Southdown project. We also see North Western, South East busways and Upper Harbour busways mentioned.
Also on the positive side The City Rail Link will still proceed under any scenario, which suggests is still seen as the most important project which is of course correct.
It does seem to show though that a wide range of projects are cut under the basic network, which is a mixed blessing. On the negative side this would mean no rail network extensions to Roskill or the Airport, electrification to Pukekohe, no North Western busway and even no Parnell Station for which enabling works have already been done. This would also see the Regional Cycle Network to continue to proceed at a snails pace. Another interesting point is that reduction in road renewals would lead to higher maintenance costs.
However on the other hand, a large number of low value roading projects are also cut or delayed. This includes projects we have often noted are overblown in their current form such as Penlink and Mill Road as well as totally pointless upgrades like Great South and Great North Road. I have no idea what could be achieved by expensive upgrades of these roads as they are already 4 lane arterials parallel to motorways.
Figures are also shown that highlight what effect the Basic Transport Network would have on the transport budget over the next 4 years, and next year in particular.
The effects of sticking to this Basic Transport Network over the next few years would be unacceptable if we wanted to transform our public transport and cycling networks. The long term effects of a lack of investment would lead to ever increasing congestion and ineffective public transport, exacerbating the many problems our city already faces from transport. One example of the effect of these cuts would be on the new bus network. This is currently being rolled out and needs a substantial amount of supporting infrastructure to be successful. This includes suburban interchanges as well as the CBD interchanges and busways that we outlined last week. If funding is cut we will end up having to run inefficient and less frequent services, and passengers will not like to transfer is they are left on the side of the road with no shelter or security.
If the Auckland Plan goal of “Moving to outstanding public transport within one network” were followed then surely investments in quality public transport should be prioritised. Truly transforming our public transport network would mean that over the next 10 years we should move forward with the City Rail Link, North Western, Upper Harbour and South-Eastern Busways and Rail to Roskill, as proposed in the Congestion Free Network. Also at the end of the period we should be starting on airport rail, potentially staged such as first double tracking to Onehunga, and then building towards Mangere. Cycling is also a great way to improve the quality of urban living, so that should also be essential. On the other hand low value roading projects like Penlink have nothing to do with outstanding public transport, and are not in one of 10 priority areas that I outlined yesterday. They also have nothing to do with the quality of urban living given they are located on the fringe of the city. Some arterial roading projects could also undermine quality urban living by turning local streets into major highways, so we should be careful about which of these we fund.
It would be hard to believe that this level of funding cuts would be acceptable overall to the council. We have already seen suggestions that the 2.5% rates rise cap from the election campaign seems to have widened to become 2.5% to 3.5% which may allow a more acceptable range of projects to proceed. Even within this band the council will still have to prioritise projects to fit within a tighter budget. However the exclusion of low value roading projects and the prioritisation of an outstanding public transport network would help us get the right outcomes. Whatever happens we are in for a fascinating 6 months as the mayor and councillors find an acceptable way through, for the future of our city lets hope they do.