After nearly a year in the job, Mayor Phil Goff has finally got around to formally outlining his vision for Auckland, which unsurprisingly has a lot of similarities to his election campaign. This vision will become a key part of the updated Auckland Plan and sets the direction for the next version of the Long-term Plan (the Council’s 10-year budget).

I want Auckland to be a world class city where talent wants to live.

A city that encourages the best and brightest New Zealanders to stay in this country and attracts the skilled people, entrepreneurs and investment our city and country need.

New Zealand needs Auckland to be a city able to compete with other global cities.

Our task is to build on the incredible advantages Auckland offers.

Auckland is growing and prosperous.  Our goal is for Auckland to be inclusive so that all can share in its benefits and reach their potential.

A stable, safe and peaceful place to live, Auckland is tolerant, harmonious and respects people’s rights.

The previous vision for Auckland set by former Mayor Len Brown – “the World’s Most Liveable City” – has been Goff’s cross hairs for some time, as I discussed in October. Goff’s vision certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as Brown’s but is there a real difference between them? Do these words really matter at all? I don’t think there’s a clear yes/no answer to these questions, so let’s take a look at the issue in a bit more detail. The post back in October was in response to an interview with the Herald.

Goff has also indicated that Brown’s slogan “the world’s most liveable city” will be phased out.

“People laugh when they are stuck in hours of traffic congestion about being the most liveable city. They laugh when they see that might be our slogan; but we are the fourth most unaffordable city to live in,” Goff said.

Goff, whose slogan is “a city where talent and enterprise can thrive, said like Brown and mayors who might follow him, he wants to stamp his own mark on the city.

This was a bit of an odd criticism of the vision. It seems that by definition a vision is outlining a future that doesn’t yet exist. So criticising the goal of liveable because Auckland hadn’t yet reached this goal seemed a little bit unfair. However, as I pointed out at the time, there were some pretty valid criticisms of the “World’s Most Liveable City” name – concluding the following:

Because the word “liveability” is potentially tarnished by both its association with the Len Brown and misleading rankings, but the concept of Auckland being a great place to live, work, play or visit seems pretty hard to argue against, I wonder whether Phil Goff’s stated vision (which is by law required to be articulated in the Auckland Plan) will pick up on these more generic words and perhaps highlight the need for Auckland to be a great place for everyone (not just those well off). At its core though the vision will probably be similar, just presented differently.

In some respects this forecast seems to have played out, although the “world-class” potentially falls into the trap of overly focusing on international comparisons, while the emphasis on attracting people to live in Auckland may underplay the importance of addressing the problems those already living here face. But overall it seems to be essentially a slightly tweaked version of a fairly generic “make Auckland awesome” vision that you would hope everyone would have.

Where this gets a bit more interesting is in the more detailed direction setting for the Council’s upcoming budget, which needs to be completed and agreed by the middle of next year. Transport features incredibly strong in the key priorities for this work:

The unprecedented growth of Auckland in recent years is evidence of it being a desirable place to live. That growth however brings its own challenges. If Auckland’s infrastructure does not keep up with the demands created by population growth, the quality of life of its citizens will suffer and it will be harder to do business here.

My priorities for the 10-year budget consequently focus on the need to develop our infrastructure over the next decade, to tackle the problems of housing shortages and unaffordability, traffic congestion and pressures on our environment. We need to lift our investment in infrastructure more than has ever been the case previously.

This 10-year budget should have a clear focus on the following priorities:

  • Accelerating investment in our transport network, in particular public and active transport and optimising the existing network to address traffic congestion.
  • Facilitating the lift in scale and pace of housing construction, both through intensified housing and investment in new greenfields infrastructure to help ease the housing shortage and improve housing affordability.
  • Protecting our environment with a particular emphasis on improving water quality in our harbours and addressing climate change challenges.
  • Making Auckland a great place to live, work and visit, as an inclusive city which celebrates its unique mana whenua identity and cultural diversity.

Seven years on from amalgamation, this 10-year budget will focus on accelerating infrastructure investment and working with Government to broaden our revenue base beyond reliance on traditional rating. We will strive to promote value for money and efficiency and achieve economies of scale through group-wide shared services and procurement.

It’s good to see a strong emphasis placed on both public transport and active transport, and clear recognition of the need to accelerate housing construction in existing areas as well as greenfields. There’s further detail on transport in later sections – which really emphasise the Mayor’s desire to deliver the entire updated ATAP package of investments:

Transport needs a joined up response from Council and central government as a shared responsibility, with central government having significantly larger revenue sources. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) creates a framework for our response to transport challenges over the next decade. It has been recently updated at Council’s request to reflect higher than expected population growth requiring acceleration of the ATAP programme with expenditure increasing from $24 billion to $26.9 billion for the next decade. ATAP will form the basis of Auckland Council’s 10-year transport budget.

There is however a decade one funding deficit of $5.9 billion which needs to be addressed. I welcome recognition from Government that increased income from petrol tax and road user charges gives them more headroom, enabling them to meet the majority of the cost. Aucklanders however will also need to contribute more beyond the increased amount of road taxes Auckland already pays.

Officers need to work on providing the following advice, some of which by necessity will only be forthcoming when the policy priorities of the incoming government are known:

  1. The quantum of funding required to meet Council’s share of the decade one ATAP deficit.
  2. Options available for raising this funding including:
    1. Access to road pricing mechanisms which might include a toll regime, regional fuel tax or congestion charging.
    2. Potential further use of special purpose vehicles to finance transport infrastructure projects, and what revenue streams could support these.
    3. Future options for the Interim Transport Levy, acknowledging the requirement for more equitable burden-sharing and the need for significantly higher revenue.
  3. Investigation into how transport congestion on the isthmus might be alleviated by the introduction of light rail from the city centre to the airport and beyond and how quickly this could be done.
  4. How use of existing assets can be optimised, such as by improving car capacity utilisation, corridor improvements, new technology to facilitate car-sharing and the use of autonomous vehicles among others

Probably the most interesting point above is a vague recognition that the Interim Transport Levy might need to stay – at least in a repurposed way. As we and other groups like the AA have said before, it seems like a no-brainer to continue an established rate at a time of record high population growth. Even if the government was to fund two-thirds of the funding gap (broadly in line with their overall share of transport funding), it seems difficult to see how the Council would meet its share without new tools like a regional fuel tax.

These will be very interesting discussions over the coming months that we will keep a close eye on, and a lot will depend on the outcome of the upcoming election. During the last budgeting process there was a step-change shift towards a greater focus on public transport, walking and cycling. We’ll be taking a very close look at the details as they emerge to ensure this hasn’t been watered down and to ensure Auckland truly becomes a world-class, liveable, awesome city.

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  1. seems fairly sensible to me. I particularly liked the acknowledgement of the need to increase investment while also improving transport price signals and optimising existing assets.

    I’m interested to see how this influences the Auckland Plan, CCMP, and Unitary Plan more generally. Does anyone know the timeframes for the next versions of those documents?

  2. I object to this continual vague comparison with other cities. I didn’t vote for Phil Goff but I would have if I had known he was killing that meaningless and embarrassing term “liveable”. I share my home with a wife and an 8 month old granddaughter and I don’t go around generically comparing them to other wives and kids. I choose to live in Auckland and if I wanted to live somewhere else I would leave. There are rational Kiwis who hate the city and choose to live in isolated houses in the Kaipara; it is their choice.
    Having got that off my chest it certainly makes sense to invest in the place we live and just like the other contributors to this blog I may love Auckland but can see both room for improvement and also precious features that merit preservation.
    It does make sense to measure what is measurable (my granddaughter is 10kg which is just right for her age) and compare with other cities but preferably comparable cities such as the recent contribution about Brisbane.

    A sophisticated congestion charge is the best solution for Auckland’s transport woes. Regional fuel tax almost promotes driving beyond the region’s boundaries to fill up. It would be an unfair system with winners and losers. The only good feature of a regional fuel tax is it can be brought in fast whereas a congestion charge will need time to develop and gain public acceptance. Which is why they need to start now. It would need a link to our road tax to be effective and that would probably require parliamentary approval.

    1. Increasing parking charges so as to maintain 15% vacant slots in AT controlled parking would immediately reduce the number of vehicles and increase revenue without any legislation being needed.
      Remove on street parking on streets where they impede/inhibit public transport and pedestrian freedom.
      These changes can be made now with little cost but with the dual result of reducing traffic and increasing revenue.

  3. There’s an intriguing tension between government as service provider, and government as enabler (via regulation). For example, (1) would be things like *processing* resource consents and building consents, whereas (2) would be passing the Unitary Plan (although some pedants see the legislative process as a service in itself).

    I think at times Auckland Council confuses the two – or perhaps doesn’t balance them properly. I think it’s one of the confusing aspects of local government vs. central government – for the most part, central government is focused entirely on service provision, whereas local government dabbles in a lot of interesting waters (e.g. ATEED).

    For this Long Term Plan, I’d like (and am unlikely to see) less of an obsession with transport and a little more focus on the many other services AC and its CCOs provide. Council isn’t simply a funder of buses and roads and trains.

    1. yes I tend to agree, especially with respect to a great focus on housing. I think that comes through in the above extracts; that Goff sees transport infrastructure investment as primarily about increasing housing supply (brown or green fields doesn’t really matter).

  4. These vision things are all bollocks. The management use them as a way of saying “look over there!” while the the staff get on with doing whatever the hell they like.

      1. So the German Army achieved what they did in the summer of 1940 because some group if idiots sat round and dreamt up a daft slogan?

        1. No, but you don’t change your entire operating paradigm without a daft slogan or two.

          You have to have the concept of blitzkrieg before you can do it.

        2. I think you will find first they needed the ability to do it, then the knowledge to do it and the last and only optional thing was a buzz word. Auckland Council usually opts just for the buzz words and skips the important two steps.

  5. I always liked Mayor Brown’s vision for this city and while it can a bit fuzzy it meant we had a mayor that had a grand vision. If a mayor doesn’t want Auckland to be the best city in the world then I don’t want him or her to be the mayor of my city – maybe he could be mayor of Hamilton.
    The “sitting in traffic” argument isn’t actually an argument to give up on the vision. Rather, it is an argument to improve traffic. One of the things I like about a using a index like live-ability from an international organisation is that it is bench-marked to external features. Without some external markers we end like delusional Wellingtonians that get pathological about how “great” their city is. Clear factors give us goals to improve upon and see where the greatest needs are. All those indexes showed that Auckland needs to improve upon transport and infrastructure – I think we can all agree on that.

    1. Comments like ‘best city in the world’ are impolite to those sleeping with their kids in cars and garages and motels.

      Happy to hear comments about transport and infrastructure.

      1. I don’t understand your point? There is a difference between reality and aspiration. I want Auckland to be the best city in the world – one where kids don’t sleep in cars. What’s impolite about that?

  6. Have to say that I completely agree with Phil Goff here – and Bob Atkinson – the expression “World’s Most Liveable City” was always a hackneyed and tawdry phrase, one of which Auckland could never achieve. If any city in NZ is anywhere near that prize, it obviously would be Wellington rather than Auckland (i’ve lived in both for over a decade, so I’m entitled to make that claim!). Auckland is all very nice and all, especially if you own a boat, on a mooring, and live in a leafy green suburb, as long as you have a car. Auckland is, for all intents and purposes, still focused around the car, and that means it will never be “Most Liveable”. Wellington, fortunately, is far more liveable without a car, and has better weather than Auckland too (none of these pissy showers 4 times a day, down here it is either raining, or it is not).

    The wordy new paragraph full of aspirations by Goff is, despite it’s wordiness, an excellent summation. Auckland can and will be an excellent city, a more liveable city, and one day, a grown up world city, but until the public transport system is fixed, it is just another growing-too-fast Pacific Rim 2nd world city like so many others in Asia.

    Less cars, more public transport, more pedestrianisation, less endless suburbs – that way is the route to Liveable.

      1. Jezza – you know that Wellingtonians only exaggerate about the stormy weather down here to keep you Aucklanders and your high property prices away, don’t you? 😉

        I think that if we were to look at the bad weather over the last 2 months, Auckland would beat us hands down! I’m currently applying suntan lotion from our brilliant Wellington weather over the weekend!

        1. As the old saying goes can’t beat Wellington on the good day.

          In fairness I grew up in Southland where the best years were the ones where summer fell on a weekend.

        2. Funnily and luckily for me & my family was that the only time I’ve visited Wellington, right at the end of November, it was one of those perfect weather days absolutely no wind & perfect sun for two days.

  7. “How use of existing assets can be optimised, such as by improving car capacity utilisation, corridor improvements, new technology to facilitate car-sharing and the use of autonomous vehicles among others”

    What do you all think about this? Car capacity utilisation – what’s that? More people per car (TR3 lanes) or more cars per lane (autonomous vehicles)? Corridor improvements – what’s that? I guess it could be changing car lanes to bus lanes. But it could mean trying to get more cars through, too, with traffic light reprioritisation to cars, widening of intersections, removal of carparking.

    Optimising people flow is fine. If any of this is about optimising car flow, it’s a backward step. Research has shown that moves to optimise car flow have an induced traffic effect just like adding more road capacity. In a few years the benefits are lost, and what we’re left with is travel times where they were, more total traffic and car dependency, and reduced pedestrian and cycling amenity.

    Goff’s ideas about transport seem to be heading in the right direction. I hope he hasn’t fallen prey to old fashioned concepts on this point.

  8. Auckland could be the best city in the world. If it tried, and the National Government assisted with this vision, or at the very least got out of the way.

  9. “A place where talent wants to live” Borrowed from a brilliant Kiwi.
    This was Sir Paul Callaghan’s strategy for NZ as a whole to prevent our continued decline into poor low-wage country status. Unfortunately you have to actually do stuff and not just talk about it. It is a pity he was ignored.

    His brilliant presentation:

    His whole argument was that NZ is only rich because of farming, but we can’t intensify any more without screwing over our environment so we need to do something else. Tourism is terrible because the industry actually makes us poorer because it is a very low wage sector and we can’t handle more tourists. Our best companies are smart tech manufacturers like F&P Healthcare who pay high wages, earn good profits and are big over seas. Our two greatest scientists were a nuclear physicist and a plastic chemist. He said the government shouldn’t try and pick who will win based on what we think we are good at ie farming. Sir Paul suggested we limit tourists and use our environment to attract the talent to come to live here to provide the skilled labour that our tech companies need.

    As far as national strategies go, it is a pretty good one.

    Not sure how it works in the Auckland context though. Talent can easily live in Auckland as it is, but wages are so low and there really is nothing council can do to change that. Talent will only want to live here if we have interesting companies to work in. Our tax system favours housing as vehicles of investment. Again council can’t fix that.

    At the end of the day it just ends up being a useless slogan that achieves nothing. More talk from the politicians and no real vision or strategy to achieve that vision.

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