This is a double length post, for leisurely weekend reading. You’re welcome to just flick through to the headings you’re interested in.
The Council’s Long Term Plan is under consultation, and submissions must be in by noon on Monday (22 March 2021). The plan sets out the budget for the next decade, but will be refreshed again after three years.
Here is the webpage for the consultation.
Here is the consultation document.
Here is the supporting information – where more detail is given.
It is important to be conscious of the democracy we enjoy – however imperfect it is. It created this process and gave us this voice. But democracy is vulnerable to climate change just like everything else is. We must stabilise the climate below a 1.5 degree rise, or climate change poses high risks of geopolitical instability and domestic unrest, ecological disasters and soaring costs. We cannot assume peace and democracy will survive if we don’t do everything we can to slash our emissions this decade. The plans being considered right now are critical for success.
We need to:
- Get this plan right
- Cut our emissions
- Inspire other cities to do the same
- Save the planet
- And save democracy while we’re at it
So no pressure then.
There’s no way that I can cover all the issues so instead I’ll start with examples that illustrate the mindset and belief system underlying the plan.
Amongst the key challenges, Council lists climate change, but has neglected the safety crisis. Investing in a safe transport system is investing in our people and it’s the first step to reducing our transport emissions in an equitable way.
I’ll start with something I like in the Long Term Plan, and want more of.
The plan calls for some 11,000 street trees additional to the current policy of replacement when one dies and of putting new trees in some streetscape plans. It also has a new approach to incentivising Vector to underground the powerlines. I’m interested in others’ thoughts on whether this could have perverse effects.
But is this enough? Our streets form a full 50% of Auckland’s open space. Trees reduce temperatures and provide shade, enabling people to comfortably walk and cycle on hot days, and they are critical to our success at becoming a compact, low carbon city because of their improvement to street liveability.
Auckland needs trees at a spacing of 20m – or closer – both sides of the road, and for our 7500+ km of streets, this means over 750,000 trees.
Council has advised me we currently have about 150,000 street trees – so we need to find a way to plant about 600,000 more. They need to be planted this decade so they can be providing decent levels of shade – and finding their own water – before climate change brings more extreme weather events. That means 60,000 new street trees per year.
Because street trees are part of walking infrastructure and placemaking in the road corridors, their planting should be funded as part of the basic management of the local roads. It’s as important as the concrete and asphalt, line markings and kerbs.
To scale the proposed policy up, Council needs to instruct Auckland Transport to reallocate funding from sprawl roads or “intersection upgrades” that involve widening.
Also, Council needs to overrule Auckland Transport’s position on people planting their own trees and instead provide the public with a long list of species suitable for different streetscapes which will form canopies. And maybe run some volunteer planting days.
Next, something that should be in the Long Term Plan:
Image credit: @playmeetstreet
Opening the Streets
A full city-wide Low Traffic Neighbourhood Plan is a fast, cheap way to make our city liveable and low carbon, and it makes traffic engineering easier by reducing vehicle travel demand. It’s something Council and the Local Boards could lead, tasking AT with some elements of delivery.
And there should be funding for a programme of regularly opening our streets to the people, to help demonstrate the benefits.
Next, two sorely-needed pieces of responsible fiscal management that also aid climate action but seem to be held up on ideological grounds.
Repurposing Carpark Assets
The Long Term Plan lists these assets:
The at grade carparks alone are enough land to accommodate over 50,000 apartments.
But the value of $200 million seems very low. The chart below is from an OIA request just about car park buildings. They alone were valued at $660 million in 2018/2019.
Note that the park and rides are included elsewhere, and considered part of public transport:
Perhaps the value of all this land is listed elsewhere? Either way, Council has not identified carparks as an important asset to repurpose into climate-appropriate mixed use development including housing and local green parks. Why not?
Excessive carparks are yet another subsidy to driving that worsens the experience for people using other modes and prevents modeshift. Repurposing them would reduce traffic, emissions, and improve walking and cycling considerably. It would be responsible from a housing, health, safety, climate, fiscal and equity perspective.
Car Parking Levies
Auckland is missing out on a significant source of revenue.
Sydney introduced a parking levy in 1992, which provides ring fenced funds for public transport investment. The levies currently are:
- NZD 2,677 a year for each private parking space in the city centre
- NZD 946 in selected town centres
Another example is Nottingham where a workplace parking levy was introduced in 2012. It applies to employers who provide more than 10 parking spaces and is NZD 830 per space per year. The funds were ring fenced from the beginning to extend the tramway network.
A 2017 study demonstrated its impact on reducing congestion.
Auckland had 40,463 private parking spaces in the city centre in 2007 – it’s probably similar now. If Council introduced a levy in the city centre at Sydney’s rates, that initially would reap $108 million a year. However, we could expect 10% of parking spaces to be quickly taken out of commission to avoid paying the levy, as was recorded in Perth. After this likely drop in spaces, Auckland would still see $97.5 million revenue per year.
Edit – I underestimated the parking levy revenue potential originally, as I forgot to include the “public carparks” that are privately owned. The red text above shows the revised figures.
Workplace levies city wide would be a significant revenue stream.
Council should have been requiring government introduce any legislation required to achieve this since unification, but last year when Covid affected Council’s finances, it’s unbelievable this didn’t get established quickly.
Now, onto the biggie.
Auckland Council has had plenty of time to ensure this Long Term plan addresses climate change:
- New Zealand ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002
- Council has been a member of C40 since 2015,
- Council declared a climate emergency in June 2019
- Council adopted the Auckland Climate Plan in July 2020
Since the Council renewed their C40 membership last month, there’s been no change in political or economic outlook. So Aucklanders should be able to expect the Long Term Plan to give full effect to the commitments Council made then, which include that Council will:
- be on track in 2024, to deliver the Auckland Climate Plan, including its emissions targets,
- mainstream the climate targets – using the necessary financial, regulatory and other tools – in the “most impactful city decision-making processes” such as this Long Term Plan,
- demonstrate global climate leadership and inspire others to act in support of the Paris Agreement.
The Long Term Plan has a climate package and that’s all good. Make sure you give a tick to support it (you know the silly numbers games that go on.) But it’s less than 0.5% of the budget, not “mainstreaming” the climate targets at all.
Yet Council say they would need more money to meet the targets:
As we’ve seen with ATAP, low carbon projects can easily be funded by halting the expensive and destructive projects, in a win-win reallocation of money from bad to good. Council have also had since July last year to figure out new revenue streams, and as I showed above, have ignored some big ones.
What the plan is missing is the concept of transformation – making organisational U-turns. Mindset is preventing progress.
The Development Strategy
Council lists rapid growth as a “challenge” when in fact is a climate action opportunity.
In Auckland, population growth offers us a chance to take enormous climate action: to change our urban form rapidly. If all the new housing built is achieved through intensification, the city will become more compact – bringing more amenities to walking distance of more people more quickly. This is the core climate action a sprawling city needs to take, and we could be world leaders at it.
Aucklanders know the ecological destruction sprawl is causing is unsustainable. We know that putting on barely-used bus services to new subdivisions is costly when those same homes put into existing low density suburbs would’ve increased ridership on an existing bus service, making it more economical. We don’t want the long commutes and the too-long-to-cycle distances. We don’t want the obesity and mental health problems that come with the car dependence, nor the reliance children have on being driven around.
And the costs of the infrastructure required for sprawl are just unacceptable. But we’ve been fooled that the economists’ “law of supply and demand” means we have to keep releasing land for development in order to keep prices down.
It’s a fallacy. Recently the OECD studied how to decarbonise land use and transport in Auckland, and found sprawl will send house prices up further if we persist with it:
In addition to reducing emissions, policies that increase population density may entail further social benefits by curbing the growth in the cost of housing. By implementing a set of land-use policies that enable widespread densification, the tripling of housing prices in Auckland projected in the period 2018-2050 can be reduced to an increase of 57%. The associated welfare gain of such policies is substantial. The report finds that this gain exceeds 7% of net income in 2050.
The Auckland Climate Plan signalled that the Development Strategy needs review. This Long Term Plan should have overhauled the funding in preparation for stopping all sprawl as part of the climate emergency.
The legacy of all this sprawl includes all the extra infrastructure we need to maintain. It shows up, for example, in the increasing cost of Auckland Transport’s renewals programme:
Sprawl means the cost of renewals will go from being a smaller part of our capital expenses to around half by 2031! It is an inexcusable, irresponsible legacy to be leaving for our children.
Which brings us to:
The draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP)
This transport plan is a part of the Long Term Plan. It was just released yesterday, which doesn’t leave enough time to really consider it.
At its core, it has sprawl roads inducing traffic, and is based on serious flaws of understanding about how to create modeshift, improve safety and encourage lower carbon travel.
However, at best, an investment-only approach could only hope to hold private vehicle travel to today’s levels – leaving the problem of existing travel and emissions.
The diagram below illustrates the mindset problem well. The left hand green box below includes all the emissions reductions Auckland Transport think they can muster without policy interventions from government to help with EV uptake (and pricing).
It’s as if they’ve never heard of cities that have reduced their transport emissions through modeshift before the era of electric vehicles! Remember how Ghent planned to increase its cycling modeshare by 13%age points over an 18 year period? And how instead of 18 years, it only took them 7? Berlin is aiming for 82% sustainable modeshare, and Vancouver for 67% sustainable modeshare by 2030. That’s how you reduce emissions.
We can set meaningful targets as well, and change what we do to meet them.
The transport sector seems to be pegging their ambitions on EV’s for the same reason the system has become as polluting, soul-destroying and life-threatening as it is – their methods are faulty and they are dominated by people don’t want to change the system.
Council needs to do their due diligence on this. Relying on EV’s is regressive policy that misses out on the many cobenefits of using a vehicle travel reduction strategy, increases vehicle travel (due to lower operating costs) and displaces and limits the expansion of more efficient modes.
These transport plans will be infuriating many of the Councillors who recognise the poor direction they are sending Auckland. So why did the Mayor accept transport plans that so obstinately conflict with the Auckland Climate Plan and C40 commitments?
The link between roads like Mill Rd and Penlink and increasing emissions is robust. Our mayor has claimed climate change is his top priority but he’s sat by while Councillors have lobbied for road expansion and sprawl. These Councillors are wasting our time and our money, are undermining good urban planning for climate, and causing an enormous headache for the Council officers and Councillors who are actually trying to get our emissions on track.
The Mayor should be loudly pointing out the hypocrisy of lobbying for sprawl (and sprawl roads) while simultaneously voting for climate commitments (adopting the Auckland Climate Plan and renewing the city’s membership of C40). Had he publicly explained how irresponsible lobbying for roads is, and publicly demanded more climate-responsible behaviour, government would have been less likely to include those damaging roads in the NZ UP programme. In any case, there would’ve been some integrity to then trying to get the transport plans into a responsible shape for climate:
- A few more big roading cuts, and no more motorway widening
- A whole lot of active and public transport projects funded from the money saved in making all those cuts, and
- An overhaul of a few out-of-date AT programmes.
Easy, cheap, transformational.
It required our mayor to challenge sprawlist Councillors – and sprawlist MPs – and demand they wake up to what urban planning for climate change is about.
It’s called leadership.
Other Transport Elements
We need a programme of emergency pop-up cycle lanes throughout the city, like Melbourne managed in the early stages of Covid (the thread is worth looking at):
There should be funding to implement a default 30 km/hr speed limit throughout the city, as Paris is doing. It’s an important element of a safer network for active travel, and is a quick pathway to transport transformation and major modeshift. It’s also easiest for drivers to adjust to than piecemeal area changes.
The Long Term Plan should have funding for consolidation hubs for deliveries and freight, to keep most trucks on the arterials and smaller vehicles on the smaller roads.
The Auckland Climate Plan’s emissions targets haven’t been transferred into a performance measure in the LTP for transport emissions, apart from for AT’s assets (ie buses):
Council writes nice plans about modeshift and increasing active travel, but their performance measures are heavily weighted towards “ride quality” for drivers. There is no performance measure for implementing cycling infrastructure or modeshift. These are needed.
The Long Term Plan needs to put enough money into a team large enough to actually monitor all the performance measures and give feedback automatically to change programmes when they go off track. Not once every three years or year, but on a continual basis.
And funding is also a core governance tool. Funding for Auckland Transport should be contingent on meeting sound, numerical performance measures.
Community services help ensure our diverse communities are socially connected so they are more resilient to social, economic, cultural and environmental change. This becomes more important in a recovery environment where some communities may be more impacted than others.
As a population grows, there are economies of scale and larger interest groups within society, that make it more efficient to maintain a wider array of community services.
Auckland Council is doing something seriously wrong, because they’re finding it harder:
At current funding levels we are not able to sustain the extensive community asset portfolio.
Prioritisation ensures we invest in critical renewals to maintain compliance and satisfy health and safety requirements but at current funding levels the portfolio will continue to degrade over time.
There are three options to consider how to invest in the community portfolio:
- Status quo – our current operating conditions continue
- Additional investment – increased funding to retain existing portfolio and provide for anticipated growth based on current provision guidelines
- Focussed investment (preferred) – tailor our services and reframe our portfolio to ensure it is effective and affordable.
This is outrageous, but not unexpected. It follows logically from two destructive policies:
Keeping rates low: Failing to maintain the assets built up by past generations, focusing instead on keeping rates low for the current generations, while ruining future prospects for future generations is extraordinary selfishness.
And sprawl: None of this would be true if we were intensifying, because there would be a bigger population to share the costs of a more compactly held asset base.
The investment required to provide regional and local community services is significant and continues to increase as our community asset portfolio ages and grows in size as we respond to growth in Auckland and adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts. As our portfolio has increased in size the investment requirement to support those assets over the long term also increases.
It’s important to both keep a well-maintained portfolio and to make sure it is fit for purpose. But this gap is actually reasonably small and should be funded.
The gap between capacity and renewals requirement is approximately $800 million over 10 years. Because some of our assets are old and in poor condition it is prudent to consider how well they can meet our current and future service requirements before we continue to invest significantly in them. In some instances, alternate options may offer greater value and benefit to our customers.
What is prudent is planning for climate, which means planning for people to live more locally, retaining our local community assets and increasing rates and finding other revenue streams – particularly those that would encourage behaviour change away from climate-destroying practices.
Which brings me to:
The theory of asset recycling is fine. Technology, cultural values and challenges are all changing so it makes sense to buy and sell different assets to ensure the asset base remains relevant.
But when maintenance is deferred until the asset needs “renewal” is that considered a new asset? And does that mean its “renewal” warranted the selling of another asset?
Because to my mind, that will simply erode our asset base. It is the responsibility of each generation to pay – from its rates and revenue – for the maintenance, renewal and upgrades of all the assets it needs.
We propose to increase our asset recycling target over the next 3-years from $20 million to $70 million each year. This is on top of other asset sales programmes across the group including those undertaken by Panuku, including as part of the Transform and Unlock programme, and as part of our corporate property optimisation strategy.
How many Aucklanders understand what this really means? I’d like the Long Term Plan to have the information presented in a way that makes this clear to people like me, who aren’t accountants.
In preparing the Emergency Budget 2020/2021 staff identified a pipeline of non-strategic, non-service assets that could be considered for sale or long-term lease. This work supported the council’s decision to set a target for $244 million of asset recycling in the 2020/2021 year. Alongside the work to deliver on this target staff have continued to identify further opportunities for asset recycling. To support the supply of investment capacity it is proposed that asset recycling targets are increased to $70 million per annum for the first three years of this plan.
I think the $244 million is too high and that should be for the decade? Am I right?
What is not clear to me is if Council’s real net worth is increasing or decreasing, and whether we’re simply eating through our capital to fund new “assets” that are little more than maintenance-heavy sprawl infrastructure.
Can any reader help? Because this flowchart is inadequate and has me feeling uneasy:
Climate planning is not central to this process. Instead, “Assets are not held for financial returns” is straight out of the neoliberal play book, and prevents good planning for the future.
This is EXACTLY the sort of impactful decision-making process that C40’s member requirements mean about using the necessary financial regulatory and other tools to mainstream the climate targets.
Councillors committed to mainstreaming these processes, but haven’t given oversight of what the Council officers are doing.
Developers are building sprawl roads and infrastructure every year, and vesting them in Council to form part of the asset portfolio. For all I know, Council could be slowly diminishing the assets that return an income and building up a set of assets that are an enormous liability of maintenance.
Yet our children need as many revenue-earning assets in the future as they can get to help pay for the enormous and irresponsible renewals and maintenance burden we’re leaving them.
Council, we need to see a chart of our real net worth, adjusted for the increased complexity and cost of systems and adjusted for purchasing power – given how much more property costs. Separate out the non-revenue earning infrastructure like roads and pipes that are liabilities, and, finally, it needs to be worked out on a per capita basis.
If that isn’t rising, we’re depleting the Council’s asset base and ruining our children’s chances in yet another way.
Too often, we hear that the actions we want from Council can’t happen because of various financial reporting and prudence benchmarks that Council is meant to meet. These benchmarks are discussed on pages 195 onwards:
Rates affordability benchmark
Debt affordability benchmark
Balanced budget benchmark
Essential services benchmark
Debt servicing benchmark
As these benchmarks aren’t mentioned in Te Tāruke-ā-tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan, I doubt they’ve been climate-checked. The Long Term Plan needs to have a:
Generational equity benchmark
Asset conservation benchmark
Climate readiness benchmark
Environmental stewardship benchmark
And probably several others.
We’re struggling to find the money to maintain our assets and to modernise our city for two reasons.
First, Council is failing to use the tools they have for gaining revenue:
Auckland Council has a suite of tools available to meet these funding requirements, including:
- Rating (both general and targeted)
- Growth charges, development contributions, and special purpose vehicles;
- Fees and charges for the services we provide; and
- Partnerships, for instance with central government or the private sector, working towards shared priorities.
Second, we’re continuing to sprawl, which makes everything harder to do and more expensive. The Long Term Plan is entirely ruined by three “fault lines” preventing better policy in land use and transport planning:
a) continued and very large scale spending to produce increases in road capacity in many parts in and between towns;
b) continued allocation of scarce space to car parking in preference to other uses; and
c) continued encouragement of land use planning for patterns of activity which depend on car use for access.
The Long Term Plan is continuing the same business-as-usual practices that are keeping us locked in high carbon systems, denying us the revenue we should be harnessing and investing for our future.
It is not fit for purpose and needs to be completely rewritten from a climate and people perspective.