A few weeks ago I looked at a history of Harbour Crossing options with details of various proposals for new crossings of the Waitemata Harbour from 1988 through till now. Since I published it, the post has had me thinking a bit more about how we preserve public documents and reports and if our agencies are doing enough in this regard.

Of the reports covered in the post, I came across the 1988 and 1997/98 reports in the library one day, the 2003 study was found by looking through the Wayback machine and the 2008 to now reports were hiding on the NZTAs website, only find-able via a google search.

The NZTA and the Harbour Crossing aren’t the only examples, another is light rail. Since Auckland Transport first announced light rail back in 2015, they had updated their website with information and a number of reports as to why it was needed. For example these are screenshots of the Light Rail page (left) and a separate page focusing solely on the airport and Mangere (right) from the wayback machine. It’s was never clear why AT needed two pages.

As an aside, one of the claims against light rail recently has been that there was no business case completed. As these images show that’s clearly not the case as a number of business cases had been completed and they line up with the various stages of the NZTAs business case process (below).

Once the project was handed over to the NZTA, AT removed all of the information on and just linked to the light rail page on the NZTAs website. However, the NZTA page doesn’t include any of the AT reports.

Why highlight this?

As I see it there are a few key issues at play here.

  1. Reports like these contain a huge amount of information that can help shed more light on projects and help understand why certain decisions are made. For example I know that having the information available and by having had an open mind it certainly changed my perspective on the airport debate. The internet has made it easier than ever to then disseminate this information to the public – we certainly wouldn’t exist if that wasn’t the case. This means that those reports can be put online and so don’t need to sit in a library gathering dust. At the same time, these examples show that with a few clicks of the mouse, agencies can simply remove that information. It might seem minor today but those reports could be extremely valuable to future, especially by anyone trying to to do research.
  2. These reports aren’t free and can cost tax/ratepayers often large sums of money to commission. That fact alone should mean they remain accessible in the public domain.
  3. While some of this information is available on the wayback machine, that’s not something that should have to be relied upon to provide an archive.

What should be done?

I get that agencies don’t want to be having to maintain pages for projects that have been completed, cancelled or they are no longer in charge of delivering. Similarly leaving old reports that have since been superseded on their website may not be ideal either (in certain circumstances). Instead of just cutting all the links to old pages, like AT did with Light Rail, perhaps they could put them in an archive section somewhere on the website, such as ATs publications section.

While I’ve focused largely on AT, that was just because light rail is a recent high-profile example. The same issue exists across many councils and agencies for both local and central government.

What do you think our agencies need to do to about keeping old reports available?

Finally, while the Light Rail pages are essentially gone, the documents themselves are still (currently) on ATs servers if you know the links. They’re on the Wayback machine too. However to make them a bit easier to find, I’ve linked to all of them below.

Emerging Technologies

Central Access Plan

South-western Multi-Modal Airport Rapid Transport

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19 comments

  1. Important topic, thanks Matt. We’ve become too careless with information now there’s so much of it and it seems so available. All our authorities need to keep the information, and there needs to be an archive management system that works.

  2. Read the Public Records Act 2005.
    Ask AT for a copy of its archive policy.
    Be aware that every reorganisation of a public body usually results in the loss of archive material, notwithstanding the legal requirements on all public bodies.

  3. The Harbour Bridge report is a self sustaining organism. Essentially every 10 years they change the date, add a zero on to the numbers, and reissue the same crap as last time.

  4. Yep there should be a default publishing method for public commissioned docs so it doesn’t weigh so much on the official information request teams.

    Story time- I just got a copy of Auckland city council 2009 ‘CBD Gateway walking and cycling’ study.

    I guess I requested from AT based on current relevance… Anyway council delivered it.
    But the contents in relation to work since did make me question whether our orgs really keep this stuff close enough on hand for reference and if it is available enough for the next contractors study. Lol I sound like miffy now

  5. Yes important. I’ve been filing away on Dropbox just about every transport related project around Auckland plus other various ones from NZTA and AT websites as I see them for the last few years like a pack rat if anyone wants a particular link. Also have a number of older PT timetables since around 2015. I’m running close to no free Dropbox space left.

    1. Does anyone know where you can access PT timetables of a genuinely historic age – like in the 1950s and ’60s?

    2. Should GA or somebody else start doing this in a bit more of a formal way?

      A few GB of documents behind a simple website could be fairly easy to maintain.

      1. Matt’s thinking about this, sounds like him and Grant should have a chat to see what they already both have!

  6. No offence Matt, but it is a bit strange that we have had this supposedly PT friendly government in power for coming up to 2 years and yet there has been almost no news on PT and the best thing to post is where historical documents should be stored. Does anyone else think more was actually happening under the previous government? Where is all that new fuel tax money going?

    1. Well the previous government was busy building a few expensive motorways to encourage urban sprawl and car dependence. They also oversaw several hundred Km of rail line closures during their nine year old watch. Some will think that’s a good idea.

      1. mason, you appear to have misread Jimbo’s comment; it was about the current one, not the one that hasn’t been in power for nigh on two years.

    2. Work has commenced on the Eastern Busway, that has been in the pipeline for years, work will soon commence on the Puhinui interchange that was not even in the pipeline a couple of years ago. There will be train service between Auckland and Hamilton next year.

      I agree things have gone quiet on the big projects (although the Eastern Busway is reasonably big) but you can’t claim there has been almost no news on PT.

      1. Yes Puhinui was the only one I could think of. And while I think it is a great project, it seems like it is a consolation prize after the Greens promised light rail to the airport before the America’s cup but it now seems like there won’t even be a spade in the ground by then (or even funding). I was expecting a funding announcement within weeks not years!
        Do you know where the fuel tax is going? I thought Puhinui was a govt project not AT?

  7. Great post Matt, it is the same with the Auckland Design Manual. Well researched recommendations on place making that I had referenced in my PhD simply disappeared and I could not find equivalent pages in searches either. I wish I had taken a screen shot.

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