So the 2019 Auckland Council election results are now finalised, which means it’s a good time to ahead to what might happen over the next three years. The mayor and 16 of the 20 councillors are returning from last time, so the story will likely be one of continuation as much as change. But I think the foundations are there for the new Auckland Council to achieve a lot over the next three years – and it’s critical that they do so.

Starting with the make-up of the Council, all four of the new councillors – Angela Dalton, Pippa Coom, Shane Henderson and Tracy Mulholland – were previously chairs of their local boards. They are all experienced local politicians and deeply understand their communities. I can see all of them potentially adding a lot of value – certainly more value than a couple of the people they replaced. Arguably the political balance of the council has tilted slightly further away from the Mayor, but on the other hand it seems like Dalton and Mulholland are likely to want to be constructive so they can show some wins for their communities. Being a local board chair creates a useful sense of pragmatism I think – with Desley Simpson being a case in point.

The Council will have some big jobs ahead over the next three years, of which the main ones are likely to be:

  • Overseeing a potentially fundamental review of Council Controlled Organisations, including Auckland Transport.
  • Ensuring ATAP – the 10 year transport programme – gets delivered on time and on budget, including making sure NZTA come to the party with the share of the funding. Part of this is also about accelerating Auckland Transport’s painfully slow implementation of safety improvements, bus and cycle lanes.
  • Getting serious about tackling climate change.

Let’s look at these in more detail


CCO Review

Phil Goff’s policy suggests this will be a full and proper look across whether CCOs are best placed to do many of the jobs that the Council funds:

In 2010 it was accepted by legislators and the Auckland Transition Authority that there were clear benefits from establishing Council Controlled Organisations, which were operationally independent from Council, that would carry out service delivery functions in a more effective and commercial manner than if Council itself directly delivered these services.

There are clear examples where the CCOs have been effective in carrying out their roles.

Equally there have been occasions when Council and members of the public have expressed frustration at actions seen as not consistent with the expectations of elected representatives or the community, and have inadequate means by either to hold them accountable. Elected representatives have expressed frustration in CCOs not delivering key projects and strategies event mandated by the Governing Body.

Ten years on from the amalgamation of Auckland Council is an appropriate time to independently examine whether the current model is the best way to deliver services and, if not, whether that model can be improved to address any shortcomings found, or whether more fundamental change including reversion to direct delivery of those services by Council is needed.

Some of the CCOs, like Panuku or Regional Facilities Auckland, can easily be pulled back into the Council. However, a lot of the talk during the campaign was about Auckland Transport and whether change was needed – which is different because Auckland Transport’s roles and functions are spelled out quite clearly in the legislation that established Auckland Council. While I think much of the criticism of Auckland Transport in recent times has been unfair, especially as they’ve started making long overdue (and still far too slow) steps towards making streets safer, the level of disconnection people feel from how Auckland Transport makes its decisions is understandable. Furthermore, AT haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory in some of the most important decisions they’ve made – like the complete debacle that was the 2018 Draft Regional Land Transport Plan.

What’s frustrating is not that AT were given independent powers but that they either don’t use them or when they do they do so in such a ham-fisted way we get pour outcomes. As such the relationship between Auckland Council and Auckland Transport is complex and doesn’t seem to work very well. In the past we’ve seen the council create plans only for Auckland Transport to ignore them – they even ignore their own plans at times.

One of the big things that would be good to address is the plan overloads. While some are mandated by legislation, some parts of AC and AT seem to spend all their time writing and rewriting the same documents. One area that needs focus Auckland Transport’s statement of intent process. A lot council of emphasis is put on it but it seems like this is largely determined by the Regional Land Transport Plan – over which the Council has little to no say even though it needs to align to council budgets, not to mention the challenge of triangulating all of this with NZTA and the Government’s priorities and processes. Then there’s the vast number of plans and strategies that guide transport decision-making (Auckland Plan, ATAP, GPS, RLTP, NLTP, RPTP etc.), each broadly aligned but with a slightly different perspective that makes it difficult for the public to understand where the vast amount of rates and taxes going into transport is actually being spent. Some streamlining of these plans would be useful as well!

A fairly obvious change to make would be to bring back into council much of the longer-term planning functions of Auckland Transport, as well as the investment decision-making. Both these activities are fundamentally done by the Council already – through the Auckland Plan for long-term planning and through the Council budget for investment decisions and prioritisation – so fully shifting these capabilities would likely reduce duplication and bring the politicians a bit closer to these key issues leaving AT to focus on delivery.

The split in responsibilities between the Council and Auckland Transport when it comes to placemaking in road corridors and the general integration of transport and land-use has also hampered progress, most evidently in the city centre where it seems the Council needs to battle against archaic road engineers to make the tiniest concessions to pedestrians. Again, through the City Centre Master Plan refresh and the Access for Everyone concept, it seems like the Council has essentially already taken over city centre transport planning so completing the shift would simply reduce duplication and allow faster progress.


Delivering ATAP

2018 was a huge year for transport in Auckland, with ATAP confirming an agreed $28 billion ten year transport programme. Furthermore, confirmation of the Regional Fuel Tax meant that this programme was actually now fundable and really for the first time since amalgamation Auckland could move on from endless transport funding arguments and instead focus on actually making the transport system better.

Nearly 18 months later and progress has been glacial and incredibly disappointing. Light-rail is a complete mess (although that’s the Government’s fault rather than the Council’s), the road safety programme seems to be on an endless ‘go slow’, the cycling programme seems to have completely ground to a halt aside from what’s happening on Karangahape Road and Auckland Transport have resorted to cutting bus services.

Meanwhile NZTA aren’t stumping up with the money they promised through ATAP and continue to stymie progress through endless business case processes that add no value aside from keeping New Zealand’s transport planning and engineering industry in constant employment.

The Council needs to cut through this mess and smash some heads together to get things back on track (pun semi-intended). While light-rail is no longer technically a ‘Council/AT led project’, it matters enormously to Auckland that the project is done well and meets the needs of Aucklanders rather than some Canadian pension fund with dodgy financial deals. Similarly the Council needs to make Auckland Transport ‘up their game’ – especially when it comes to public communications and engagement, to finally get past this issue where Aucklanders overwhelmingly support safer streets and better public transport and cycling facilities, but then a few noisy people endlessly delay the very projects that will deliver these gains.


Getting serious about Climate Change

A lot has changed when it comes to climate change over the past 12 months – not just ongoing scientific evidence showing the increasing urgency to dramatically reduce emissions, but also a tremendous and rapidly growing impatience of the public for governments to act on this.

Auckland Council were quick to declare a climate emergency earlier in the year, while they also produced the Auckland Climate Action Framework for public consultation. But the big serious decisions that will really determine whether the Council is serious about tackling climate change are yet to come. These will be things like:

  • Will the Council cut back on opening up land for car dependent sprawl on the edges of the city?
  • Will the Council raise rates or reallocate the transport budget to facilitate a faster uptake of electric buses?
  • Will the Council be bold about reallocating street space to make public transport, walking and cycling safer, faster and more reliable travel options?
  • Will the Council fund Auckland Transport sufficiently to avoid them having to cut back bus services, or make Auckland Transport abandon stupid investments like the Devonport shuttle.

Conclusion

I think the 2019-2022 term of Auckland Council has the potential to achieve a lot. There’s a strong bunch of highly capable councillors and a broadly supportive and aligned Government that means efforts can focus on making stuff happen, rather than forever arguing with each other. Many of the big issues previous councils have faced are now largely resolved – we have a Unitary Plan and we have a funded 10 year transport plan. Where the Council really needs to focus on is ensuring these plans are actually being rolled out on the ground. This isn’t easy – as efforts to reduce speed limits or remove parking have often shown – but after years and years of planning it is crucial that we actually now get on with transforming Auckland from an overgrown town into a proper modern city.

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41 comments

  1. There would definitely be value in having some joined up long term planning between AT and AC. For example AC has consented 2700 car parks in Newmarket for Westfield… anyone with a shred of an understanding of transport planning and basic economics knows that such a massive supply of parking is going to induce driving… same with Sky City Convention Centre… so AC in doing things like this are throwing AT a massive hospital pass. Not that AT isnt without fault, but consenting things like this are diametrically opposed to the efficient movement of people.

    1. They could at the very least see the opportunity to sell and enable development of existing council owned city centre carparking structures with the addition of Sky City’s new ones… free up Council capital locked up in old carparks, and increase city land supply for more valuable uses.

      1. Agreed. AC in consenting privately owned off street parking (e.g Westfield and Newmarket) is effectively asking the market to supply off street parking. If there is a resultant over supply (which is clearly the case – SkyCity $12 early bird) then the next logical step would be to divest of some of its own parking assets. In such a climate holding on to them but ramping up off street supply elsewhere makes no sense at all. Any argument that AT needs to stay in the market to be a price setter is a load of rubbish. Downtown went up to $40. The market has not followed!

      1. Exactly… (without going into the merits of the UP). Given all this extra parking supply is being consented and held in private hands. The logical inference is that Council is privatising parking. Therefore if there is an excess supply the public parking should go. If Council/ AT really wanted to compete commercially in the parking sphere they should stop consenting parking everywhere… particularly in CBD

        1. +1- they need to pick an ideology at least!
          Either parking capitalist overlords that should pave every green space and extricate as much value from the motorist at the expense of PT. Or move towards being the operator/regulator of the overall transport network. My description is purposely inflammatory. But AT shouldn’t they to operate like a commercial entity… it does that badly and it compromises its core function… moving Aucklanders around as efficiently as possible.Currently p1ssing in both paddling pools. I hope it is clear which ideology I would support…

        2. The fact there is some private parking in Newmarket doesn’t mean the Council is privatising parking. Privatising means selling off their asset and as far as I know the Council parking in Newmarket is all on streets which haven’t been sold. Second is there an excess supply in Newmarket? I have seen any. Finally I don’t think the Council has ever said they want to compete commercially in the parking sphere. You seem to be linking unrelated things. Kind of like saying “Bears eat porridge, therefore they are Scottish!”

        3. Should, Nicholas, but if it’s created extra traffic, and therefore extra car dependent mindsets, it can actually just make it harder to reallocate road space.

        4. They used the parking building logic for the reallocation on High St. I doubt the parking buildings in Newmarket will be operating over 80%.

        5. @Miffy – Apologies for not being clear with my language. You should be a Public Sector Lawyer.

          – By granting resource consents to private entities to increase parking supply AC is effectively consenting the growth in the privatisation of off-street parking which vis a vis makes overall parking supply held in private hands increase.

          -Of course Council has never said they want to compete in the parking supply.

          Which is why holding onto these CBD Car Parks whilst granting consents to private operators who want to maximise returns with no regard given to public good makes no sense.

          -There is an excess supply in Newmarket if you’re wanting to encourage people to not drive there. If your desired outcome is for everyone in Auckland to drive to Westfield this weekend then I guess we are woefully under supplied.

          -I like porridge, I’m not Scottish therefore am I not a bear?

        6. Nicholas, I think it’s about short term thinking vs long term thinking too.

          A local board might decide to put in heaps of offstreet parking so the public don’t get annoyed about the loss of onstreet parking for a streetscape redevelopment.

          In doing so, they’ve kicked the can down the road. More traffic makes it harder in 6 years’ time when someone tries to make another change.

          I’m seeing a lot of decisions that are the ‘easiest’ political way to make a minor improvement, at the expense of integrated planning that meets our goals, and quality precedents being set.

          Each time a rationale is given that ignores the evidence for a need to reduce parking, an opportunity for information sharing is lost, stifling progress.

        7. Arramis, as far as I am aware the Council doesn’t own any off-street parking in Newmarket. Developers provide it themselves so the Council has never needed to. The Council own some parking in the CBD. The Council does not require developers to provide parking in the CBD in fact they try to limit private parking in the CBD. The Council set out to build those parking buildings in the CBD so private owners didn’t have to. Newmarket and the CBD are different areas with different rules. Because you see something in one area that meets one set of rules doesn’t mean you can make any conclusion about another area where the rules and strategy are different.

        8. Parking supply is only one side of the coin.

          Back when I was living in the CBD, I would not have driven to Newmarket, even with plenty of parking…

          …if it were actually possible to get there in any other way. What if taking the bus didn’t take an entire hour? What if bicycling were a bit more normalized. Or if these areas (both Victoria Quarter and Newmarket!) weren’t so rabidly hostile to walking?

        9. That sounds a bit over the top. I took the bus from Newmarket (Khyber Pass) to the CBD (Anzac Ave) noon Monday. Took about 10 minutes. During rush hour the train would be a good alternative.

          Likewise I’ve walked to/from Newmarket thousands of times (literally) and it doesn’t seem especially walking-hostile to me. You can walk between Newmarket and the CBD through the Domain which is really nice.

    2. And the on-street parking directly outside 277 on Manukau Rd still remains in place preventing the bus lane running continuously along that stretch. Rediculous!!! Is this because consenting authorities can only look directly at the consent being sought and not lift their vision to include the wider implications? What is the process impediment to joined up thinking? This is the question that should be at the core COO review?

      1. Absolutely… where is the joined up thinking… the opportunity cost of those on street spaces being used for something else is a disgrace when so many parks are supplied nearby… a comprehensive audit of all parking in Auckland should be in the letter of expectation as well… need to start considering impact of privately owned offstreet parking on overall supply

    3. “so AC in doing things like this”

      Many of these consents are 5 or even 10 years old, so blaming the current Council is as understandable as it is wrong. And as for “not allowing” things like car parking – well, as long as you don’t have maximum car parking rules (which we didn’t chose to do during the Unitary Plan, except for some very limited areas, sigh), the only other thing you could potentially currently do is mandate more active mode / PT investment by developers and less roads focus. You can’t legally stop them from building car parks.

      1. I’ll blame them all I like. The Council is a Local Government Authority with a duty of care to all. It’s not the people that happen to be working there on a particular day when a decision is made.

      2. Lots of existing laws don’t serve us well, Damian, being so focused on retaining status quo rights.

        When the system is inequitable – endangering people, ruining the climate, polluting the environment, committing people to unhealthy lifestyles – status quo rights have little merit in being retained.

        Local government is required to plan for current and future generations. They aren’t achieving this. Where they can make change, they must.

        Council itself is planning and funding extra carparking, in areas with excellent public transport and excessive existing carparking.

    4. Well I would assume they’re not building those parking spots because of charity, but because they figured out otherwise they don’t have enough catchment to keep a mall of that size alive. And unfortunately a lot of people also have a strong aversion to paying for parking.

      You’re also still a bit of a second-rate citizen if you’re not driving your straight into an off-street car park. Streets are negative space, so you don’t expect customers to wander around in it.

      (I don’t see this discussed often in talks about speed limits, but slowing down cars to 30 makes streets significantly less hostile. Now, if only we can also let go of that uniquely Auckland habit of stranding pedestrians on centre lines)

    5. Yes absolutely AT should sell its parking buildings for redevelopment.
      Two years ago I asked AT about the financial performance of the different car park buildings and the reply showed that they barely made a return equal to the long term cost of capital. This is little wonder given that their prices set the base for the market. These low prices incentivise people to drive because for short duration stays the price is often less than that of a return bus fare.
      The pricing level makes any commitment that Auckland Council has to addressing a climate emergency (their words, not mine) a complete farce.

    6. In regards to the 3000+ carparks being built in SkyCity, this wasn’t something AC had any choice in. Steven Joyce and National wrote the vast expansion of parking into the contract with SkyCity for its build. Basically a way to increase car use and dependency and push back at council plans to encourage the opposite.

  2. The whole setup has achieved what Mark Ford and Rodney Hyde set out to do. Appointed managers make all of the decisions, elected people make none of them and the public never get a look in. The masterstroke was calling the Council the Governing Body while not letting them govern.

    1. Agree. The desciscions follow from that structure. A structure that differed significantly from the structure recommended by the royal? commision into Auckland Governance after all its hearings. Rodney, inflicted his structure that best maintained his private transport, and sprawl housing provision supremacy.

  3. Matt it is revealing that you do not comment on integrating transport with housing in your outline of what Auckland needs to focus on (has the housing crisis dissapeared never to return again?). Your only comment about housing is the need to stop urban sprawl. Your bias is clear to see. This website is still more about transport than urbanism.
    P.S I am not pro sprawl. My preferences are TOD and intensification along transit routes, both of these options require active policy support from Council.

      1. Wellington has been holding the country back for years. Maybe there might be some action now that it directly affects the highly paid policy wonks who have delivered zero meaningful policies for the benefit of places outside of Wellington.

        1. As a major city-state there is an argument for Auckland to have more control over it’s own affairs.

      2. Brendon, I don’t quite understand your comment that “Allowing the housing crisis to move down to Wellington is a shameful inditement”…?
        We have a housing problem in Wellington, but have done so for years. If prices have gone up, then surely it just means there is now more demand, fighting over an existing small supply? No one I know wants to live in Lincolnshire Farm – I’ve only ever met one person from Horokiwi – its the middle of absolutely nowhere – and the road to link it would incur costs amongst / exceeding the highest ever recorded in NZ. Clearly Lincolnshire Farm and the linking P2G road are not the answer for the Wellington region’s housing issues.

        But that doesn’t really make it a “shameful inditement” though, does it? Are you saying that building P2G would make more sense if it went through a more densely built up suburb? Or that a more built-up suburb would naturally arise if we built the road? I disagree with both – Wellingtonians in the growing category of young / trades / students all want to live as close to the vibrant centre as is possible. Definitely not on top of a hillside covered in cloud, miles from anywhere alive.

  4. Consolidate the planning function of the ADO, AT, Panuku and Council into one land use and transport planning agency (ALUTA)? Leave AT and Panuku as delivery entities?

  5. Yes this: “ Then there’s the vast number of plans and strategies that guide transport decision-making (Auckland Plan, ATAP, GPS, RLTP, NLTP, RPTP etc.), each broadly aligned but with a slightly different perspective that makes it difficult for the public to understand where the vast amount of rates and taxes going into transport is actually being spent. Some streamlining of these plans would be useful as well!”

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