It seems the fight between the council and the government is turning into an all-out war. The first front was on housing where Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith threatened to override the council who are refusing to approve three SHA’s in rural Kumeu because of a lack of supporting infrastructure. The second front was opened up by Transport Minister Simon Bridges on Saturday who attacked the council’s transport plans saying they don’t have the right mix of projects to deal with congestion well enough in 20-30 years-time. When pressed the only project he could think of as a project that he didn’t agree with was rail to the airport. I’ve already covered off how the refinements that AT have been making to their plans appear to be making them more effective.
Yesterday Prime Minister John Key joined in the battle.
The jump in rates is due to the council’s decision to implement a flat levy on households to fund the city’s future transport needs. Households will fork out an extra $114 a year over the next three years for cycle and bus lanes, regardless of the value of their home.
The Government has ruled out giving the council the power to implement a fuel tax.
“I just think their priorities are wrong,” Prime Minister John Key said on TV3’s Paul Henry programme this morning. “They’ve got to turn around and say, what is the most important issue? The most important issue has to be, in our view, provide roading solutions in the very short-term for where people live. Only 15 percent of people live in the CBD.”
The Government has also called on the council to rethink plans to build from the airport to the CBD.
“If they want more tools for funding, I think they have to demonstrate to everyone they have the right strategy,” says Mr Key.
“When the strategy they’ve got is focusing on 15 percent of where people live – not the 85 percent of where they live, or on the fact that we need to build more houses and build those houses we need infrastructure – I think the council does need to sit down with the Government and say okay, because we have a lot of experts. They are going to do that I think, because in the end, if they don’t, then their options will be limited to basically their rates, and there’s only so far rates can go.”
Firstly I’m not aware of many houses that don’t have access to a road. By talking about people needing roads to where they live it seems as if he’s trying to bring in some reference to the special housing areas issue. If so then he’s quite off the mark as people aren’t living in those places (yet). It also seems he’s getting his housing and employment figures for the CBD mixed up however some of that kind of be excused, he was talking in the heat of the moment. The things that concerned me the most are:
The short term thinking – we’ve spent decade after decade doing the quick, easy and cheap options for building suburbs and it’s left the city a mess with poor public transport, walking and cycling options. One of the key reasons given at the time for having a single council was to break through the short term thinking and why the government required a 30 year spatial plan which is meant to provide a more strategic approach to how the city develops. By just quickly throwing in roads it’s likely we’ll have to go back in 5, 10, 20 years and retrofit everything to fix up the mistakes that will inevitably be made.
The ‘We know Best’ attitude – Auckland is no small rural town, in creating a single council the government set up an organisations with access to a lot of expertise and resources. When it comes to transport expertise I suspect AT is on par with staff from the NZTA and the two work very closely together. In fact they are so close the CEO from the NZTA sits on AT’s board and the NZTA have their logo on AT’s plans. Given all this it’s hard to fathom how exactly government staff conducting any rational investigation would be able to come up with any radically different solution.
The lack of an alternative plan – So far it seems the government just want to sit on the side-lines throwing rocks Auckland without actually presenting any alternative vision for the future. As mentioned just above it’s hard to see how the government could suddenly find a massively different solution to Auckland’s needs. Perhaps the timing and state of some projects such as rail to the airport might not be right but the project is 10-20 years away which is plenty of time to make adjustments if they are needed. It seems that the real reason behind the governments stance is simply for some political power game.
It’s not just about the CBD – The government and the media have talked a lot about how the councils plans are very CBD centric however it’s clearly untrue. One of the key purposes of the New Network and integrated fares is to make it easier to travel across town and transfer between services. It significantly boosts frequency all across the urban area and is shown best in the maps from yesterday showing the difference in frequent services from now to 2018. Yes there are projects in the CBD however they’re also projects that have regional scale impacts.
If the government is playing some form of power game it would help if they got their numbers right. Yesterday Radio NZ’s Todd Niall published this excellent piece about the figures both Bridges and Nick Smith were brandishing around in public. In essence both have been caught out using wrong or misleading figures to push their arguments.
Another good piece on the issue has come from Tim Watkin over on Pundit.
If Key holds this line and refuses Auckland the power to act, he’s very much at risk of getting on the wrong side of the politics heading into 2017. The biggest bit of feedback from the recent council submissions was “get on with it”. Aucklanders may have run out of patience with Brown, but they (especially those under 40) will quickly run out of patience with a government that’s stopping the building of better public transport.
And as we all know, lose Auckland and you lose elections.
But worse, you can forget flags and surpluses. If National doesn’t let Auckland get on with it, Key’s government will have a legacy (like National governments of the 1950s and 1970s) of stopping Aucklanders getting the transport networks – and therefore quality of life – that the country’s biggest and only international city needs.
At this stage it’s very much looking like we’re heading down the road of another government leaving a nasty transport legacy in Auckland and if the previous ones are anything to go by, future residents will not be impressed.
John Key and Simon Bridges, show us your plan.