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:
- The quantum of funding required to meet Council’s share of the decade one ATAP deficit.
- Options available for raising this funding including:
- Access to road pricing mechanisms which might include a toll regime, regional fuel tax or congestion charging.
- Potential further use of special purpose vehicles to finance transport infrastructure projects, and what revenue streams could support these.
- Future options for the Interim Transport Levy, acknowledging the requirement for more equitable burden-sharing and the need for significantly higher revenue.
- 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.
- 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.