At a time when the need to address climate change is becoming more evident than ever before, it’s astounding that Labour seem to be running scared of addressing it.

Last week we covered the government’s indicative priorities for their next Government Policy Statement (GPS). Some of the key updates over the current GPS included elevating Emissions Reduction to becoming an overarching priority, ensuring that the GPS is used to guide all transport funding, using maintenance and renewals to make a greater contribution to improving the transport system, and placing greater importance on resilience.

But yesterday, following a typical Herald beat up which insinuated that it’s all about raising fuel taxes and forcing people onto buses and bikes, it seems that by the same afternoon, the plan was moved to the scrap heap.

Under this approach, the government wanted to reallocate some of the money normally spent on road maintenance – that tallies nearly $2 billion a year – towards bus and bike lanes.

It has now U-turned on this plan. Transport Minister Michael Wood said Cyclone Gabrielle had changed the transport priorities.

“We are now working on an emergency style GPS that will focus on the huge task of reconstruction of roads and bridges washed out by the cyclone and flooding, as well as building greater resilience so our transport network can better withstand the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like we have seen this year.”

Let’s just quickly address the bus and bike issue.

This seems to largely be a misinterpretation of what is actually proposed. The paragraph that seems to have caused all of the concern is below.

For example, we maintain or renew around nine percent of the entire roading network every year. A key part of the GPS 2024 investment programme to achieve reduction in transport emissions will involve “building back better”. This means, rather than replacing like-for-like, as part of maintenance and and renewal programmes roads need to be upgraded to achieve their desired future state. This may, for example mean resilience and safety improvements, or creating additional space for a bus lane or active transport.

Digging up roads to maintain them and return them in a like-for-like state, only to have to dig them up again a few years later to implement changes we know we want/need to make is a sure-fire way to waste huge amounts of additional money while also generating more disruption and emissions.

The GPS proposal is (or was) effectively to implement what is sometimes called a “dig-once” approach and sometimes could be as simple as changing the markings on the road. This also doesn’t mean everything is all paid for out of the maintenance budget, just that the works happen at the same time.

A good example of this approach is the recent discussion over Meola Rd. AT needs to rebuild the road this year, so it makes sense to add cycle lanes at the same time.

A concept image of the Meola Road project. Image source: Our Auckland

The biggest challenge with this idea is likely to get it to filter down to become a common, everyday process at road-controlling authorities: a new, fiscally prudent and climate-savvy business-as-usual.

Labour should be able to talk confidently about this stuff and explain easily that it isn’t some kind of “culture war”, as some like to portray it, but just common sense that will save us money and frustration in the short and medium term while also taking the most sensible long term view.

And that statement goes for climate change too.

Hipkins said “a lot had changed” in the last few months that would have a bearing on the final GPS.

“It will change from what was previously consulted on. Clearly, there’s been a change in leadership of the Government but also we’ve dealt with an event that is going to have a significant impact on transport infrastructure and where we have to prioritise.”

Our transport policy shouldn’t be a case of emissions reduction OR resilience adaptation but emissions reduction AND resilience adaptation. Put another way:

There is absolutely no debate that we need to restore access to communities cut off by the events of the last few months. It’s also important that we build back appropriately, and not focus on expensive, decades long four-lane expressway solutions. Often, resilience means doing simple stuff right, clearing culverts, identifying roads prone to slips and floods, and fixing them.

As a number of articles in recent weeks have highlighted, if this is the kind of impact we get from 1.2º of warming, how much harder will everything become with warming at more than twice that – which the world is currently on track for.

The ~110m wide slip on SH25a has highlighted the fragility of some parts of our road network.

Instead of work to improve resilience coming at the expense of emissions reduction, it should instead come at the expense of the types of projects that will contribute to making climate change worse – projects like Otaki to North of Levin, Mill Rd and numerous other large road projects.

If anything, recent events should provide a clear and easy opportunity for Labour to lead on this, and to explain why change is needed.

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  1. I agree that building back in a way that’s fit for the future is a no brainer. How could you argue against it?

    Weird that the govt seems to have been so clumsy over this. Maybe Michael Wood is stretched too thin over many portfolios now? Maybe he needs better staff in his office to make sure the messaging is clear and crisp?

  2. It is clear that the Otaki to Levin expressway should not be built and the saved money put into safety upgrades of the existing road and upgrading passenger rail between Wellington and Palmerston North – and onwards to Whanganui. But it’s in a marginal electorate so any sensible climate/economic analysis goes out the window.

  3. Every time I hear that phrase it grates in my head, the grammar is horrible and distracting.
    Meola is long awaited, I’d like to know when the opening date will be.

  4. Labour are a strange beast, they seem keen on progress but run away the instant there’s pushback and don’t ever seem capable of explaining their reasoning. I read the Herald article and instantly understood that it was written to generate outrage. Labour/Wood should almost have had an opinion piece from the minister ready to go on this. They should know National and the trucking lobby will jump on any attempt not to build more roads. It’d no wonder they can’t manage to get anything built when they won’t stop reacting to every opinion.

    1. “when they won’t stop reacting to every opinion.”

      Indeed, and I am not actually sure they believe in it anyway.

      And also, I am really wondering how skilled a politician Michael Wood is anyway. I mean, he let himself be suckered by Waka Kotahi on the cycle bridge, and has allowed them to constantly drag their feet on pretty much everything. Doesn’t show good instincts.

  5. “It has now U-turned on this plan. Transport Minister Michael Wood said Cyclone Gabrielle had changed the transport priorities.”

    Now climate change is the reason why we have to double down on investing into fossil fuel infrastructure. I love that stupidity.

    NZ deserves to get what is coming. And make no mistake, this is just the beginning. Next decade every New Zealander has to pay tens of thousands of dollars just to fix all the broken roads thanks to climate each and every year.

    1. It’s not really a U-turn though. Yesterday Labour were going to raid the maintenance budget so they could spend it on stuff they thought would make them popular in election year. All that changed was they realised different stuff would make them popular.

  6. The Prime Minister on RNZ this morning said “even when we get mode shift to E vehicles they will still need roads to drive on”- someone have a word with him.! Shocking lack of understanding.

    1. Thanks Vinny – i woke up to that article on the radio and almost spat my coffee.

      The exact quote
      “Mode shift in terms of Transport means more things like EVs. EVs still have to drive on the road. So we still got to make sure that we’ve got a roading Network that can cope with that…”

      Im hoping its a brain fart, and not what he means,
      1. Massive Climate funding for reduction in Light vehicle VKT and Mode shift ($237M) could now go to EV Cars not Active Transport or Public Transport.
      2. Kiss any decongestion benefits goodbye – especially with the cheap awesome sub $9K USD Chinese EV’s about to hit our roads (yes with massive batteries and range)
      3. Cycleways and buslanes will get in the way of (new mode shift) to EVs – they will need a lot of parking space, and more roading to keep moving…

      Language is important. Mode shift is not electrification or decarbonisation. Lets hope our PM is still coming up to speed with the transport ministers portfolio. ex transport minister?

      Ok – if i swap my bike for an EV – maybe that is mode shift.

  7. The weather will probably go around the other way and we will have years of drought but don’t be fooled La Nima will return just as it has all the other times so we must make preparations for its return with better roads and rail in flood prone areas. And we know we know the vulnerable places are. Also we need to increase our efforts to decarbonise our transport fleet particularly buses and delivery trucks. We need to promote and subsidise long distant bus and rail journeys. We need to work out which roads are essential. Essential roads need to be made resilient. A road to a group of retirement and holiday homes at a remote beach doesn’t require the same treatment. Roads like Mill Road can only increase driving as it is duplicating the southern motorway. A case could be made that the Levin Otaki expressway is essential but so is the Wellington Palmerston North railway. Resilience on these main routes must be maintained and improved.

  8. Seems to be a new phrase “greater resilience” is becoming a code phrase; more roads and more expensive roads, for more cars.

    1. “and more expensive roads”

      Unless the roads also get cycleways, then it’s “gold plated”, not “resilience”.

      Labour are useless on transport, and National are regressive. What a choice for this country.

      1. Julie Ann Genter spoke well this morning.

        Labour are reacting to Nationals criticisms
        National are working in bad faith.

        It kind of sums up the last 50years of no progress really.

    1. Why would I vote for a useless party?
      They have put themselves in a useless position on the far left.
      Because of that, they will only ever get what scraps Labour gives them which is all token stuff. Labour is only in government half the time anyway, so at least half the time Greens are less than useless.
      Better to vote a centrist party like TOP who is willing to work with both major parties in order to protect the environment and actually have leverage.

  9. We are behind on maintenance and resilience funding.
    Relevant comment below:

    “At the Select Committee, ACT MP Simon Court asked what had happened to a 2020 Waka Kotahi business case for resilience which had identified 40 extreme and 143 major risks, including the Brynderwyns.

    “We haven’t addressed all of those because it’s one of the funding trade-offs constraint conversations,” said Waka Kotahi’s general manager of transport services, Brett Gliddon. “We’ve got to trade those off against the other activities we’re doing.”

    The Waka Kotahi team at the Select Committee made it clear that funding was a major constraint across the board, with many roads which had reached the end of their life now not being renewed but simply resealed.”

  10. I’m probably naive, but I wonder, is this U-turn possibly a case of (arguably) cunning political positioning? I mean, one could imagine that the plan retains the same directive about using routine renewal opportunities to make necessary upgrades etc., but don’t talk about that because it might be (stupidly) a controversy magnet; rather, distract everyone with another directive about emergency cyclone damage reconstruction?

    1. I think you might be right. Rumour is that government had already changed the GPS strategic priorities to broaden out emissions reduction into ‘climate change’ that also covered adaptation. This whole ruse potentially overplays the change, because they think that’s good politically.

      To be honest, after years of over-promise and under-deliver, maybe a but of under-promise and over-deliver could be a good thing.

    2. No, not in the slightest.

      Last year’s Judicial Review of the Auckland RLTP demonstrated that AT at least will seek legal loopholes to avoid delivering on the GPS. It became clear that having an overarching focus of emissions reductions was critical, to remove any last vestiges of manufactured ambiguity about strategic direction. Without the overarching focus, the GPS will be deficient.

      Emissions reductions as an overarching focus can deliver right-sized resilience, ie affordable, low-energy, low-VKT, space-efficient and easily repaired multi-modal networks.

      The reverse is not true. An overarching focus on “resilience” will be construed in the sector as requiring more road building – leading to increased traffic, traffic harm and pollution of many kinds. It will benefit no one but the road construction firms.

      While in theory the “resilience” could be of the “right-sized” kind described above, the evidence to date is entirely that the management of the sector’s conservative organisations will support the business as usual, entrenched ways of working.

      The idea you’ve suggested is seductive to people still believing change can happen via incrementalism, but the reality is that strong policy is required to close off every possible loophole, coupled with strong governance to demand the direction is followed.

  11. I have recently moved to Christchurch and driven some ‘older’ bits of roading. A specific example is the offramp to Ferrymead on the city side of the Lyttelton Tunnel. It starts as a slip lane exit which then tightly turns down and under the roadway it split from. It is tight and has limited visibility and is quite manageable driven with respect. It is one way, has no shoulders and opens out onto a two way road. It adequately meets requirements and is definitely not over engineered. I contrast this to the new CHC southern motorway SH1 on-ramp overbridge that spans SH76 just north of Rolleston. It is a one lane on ramp but at least three lanes wide. Over engineered to buggery and for what reason. This is not building resilience, it is glory engineering that restricts the breadth of spend by localised over spend. I think there is oodles of dosh to be found by winding back some of the design standards. After all we are low wage economy that has underspent on infrastructure for at least thirty years and need to catch up. Gold plated infra in the name of resilience won’t cut it.

    1. “Gold plated infra in the name of resilience won’t cut it.”

      But it’s a nice 1,000m dollar club to swing at the lastest 10m cycling programme, or whatever. Because one is “what people want” and the other is “social engineering”.

      The fact that this is becoming a culture war issue, and one Labour isn’t even willing to argue, is so depressing. Labour has been a long disappointment on transport from Day 1, and the only reasons I am not quite yet ready to see them burn out in flames is that the culture war shouting from National’s transport spokesperson shows that indeed things could well get even worse.

  12. Has anyone got a solution to how that slip on SH25a (in the picture above) gets rebuilt, at all, even if not better? There’s no ground at all! No soil to dig – no route to follow. There’s a start and a finish, but nothing in between. Do we just accept that the new road will be 10-20m deeper now, and make the rest of it into a tunnel? Or does Waka Kotahi need to go into the bridge-building gig now, with massive piers spanning over dodgy land? I mean, seriously, what would you do in that case?

    1. They’re still investigating what the burst solution is but will be either
      1. A bridge
      2. A realignment
      3. A large retaining wall and building the ground back up

    2. It sure is a technically challenging task! I assume whoever is designing the repair would zoom out to look at the overall geological context, in case there might be an alternative alignment that is less vulnerable. I sort of doubt it. For a direct replacement of this existing alignment, they could potentially consider a viaduct with piers that are designed to withstand soil/landslide/debris flow around them. But building structures rather than earthworks is usually more expensive. Both options will be expensive.

  13. There is a still a dominant and very strange preoccupation with cost in planning. This world is finite and it will not matter any city or nation’s debt when the waves start deleting our land masses. If we do not invest in radical climate change transport options now, we will only be sending our own children down the waka into Esk Valley to suffer worse than us. In Auckland at least, up until the 1950s, public transport dominated. Private motor vehicles are antisocial, dangerous, and the nation’s road toll has been increasing, not to mention “ram raids” and “gang agression”. What makes all these things possible is fossil fuel and the fear that the conservative and wealthy classes wish to instill in the young and potentially liberal, the old and already gold carded to Waiheke. The only justification for the road network is the trucking network and that is only necessary for lack of a rail network. A circular economy required circulation, trains, tram, bikes and the odd hikoi. The benefits to the general health of the population are also mindblowingly incalculable. But the “NZ Herald” will always represent the ignorant of Auckland, who probably don’t even bother to read Simon Wilson or Steve Braunias, the only two educated regular contributors.

    1. This sort of tedious absolutist nonsense is what makes it so easy for the ‘ignorant’ to write off comments from transport advocates.

      “The only justification for the road network is trucks”? Good grief. Neither of the two commentators you name share your zealous hatred of private vehicles or total inability to see that they do offer benefits in terms of mobility, career and educational opportunities.

    2. Irrational thinking at best.
      Fossil Fuels have enhanced our lives, allowed us all to live longer and more rewarding and yet you are blaming it on all of societies woes and the destruction of the planet.

      1. ‘Crack has made my night so much better and more rewarding and yet you are blaming it for all my troubles! This is just not fair!’

        1. Do you have evidence that crack has made your night better? If not I expect you to be banned 🙂

  14. Will Steffen’s affidavit to the Judicial Review is worth a read:

    “In summary, the risks to current youth and future generations from climate change are already significantly greater than those facing today’s middleaged and older people. However, these risks could escalate enormously into the future if the current generation of leaders do not take decisions that lead to deep and ongoing emission reductions from now.”

    Yesterday’s deficient leadership further escalated the risks our children face.

  15. The beat up of Labour is pretty shortsighted. Sure Chippy made a mistake or was misquoted as we all know moving from ICE to BEV is not a mode shift.
    However, he is correct that NZ will still need roads and we need to prioritise repairs to these. If we don’t we risk further damage to our economy and then we won’t be able to afford all the things that are actually more of a risk to our security than global warming.
    Even if NZ banned every truck and car in the country and halted farming overnight, NZ would still experience the effects of climate change. The hint is in the name ‘Global Warming’.
    So, given that the US, Latin America, China, SE Asia, the Middle East, India and the whole of Africa will continue to burn coal and use liquid fossil fuels until they either run out, or synthetic replacements are cheaper, should NZ be building bike lanes or sea walls?
    Of course cycling will reduce a tiny amount of NZ’s CO2 emissions, but for the money, we are far better off spending our taxes on mitigation and not mode shift.
    Just – perhaps – Hipkens and Woods understand that better than the activists that just want to stop people driving cars at any cost?
    Before being threatened of a banning, it should be pretty clear that NZs total CO2 could go to zero and it won’t stop global warming.

    1. Even if we prioritize repair and renewal of roads, there is little added cost to include cycleways. The problem in perception here is that, as soon as a cycleway is included, the cost of the whole road renewal is seen as a cost for a cycleway and viewed as ‘gold-plated’ and over the top.

      Cycling will, as you say, only reduce a tiny amount of NZ’s CO2 emissions, however the added savings in healthcare costs by having a more active, healthier population cannot be understated.
      Mode shift does not only have one benefit, like you seem to think. The benefits can be felt far and wide, and any savings in healthcare (healthier population), production (lost productivity due to congestion), maintenance (less cars on road) can be spent elsewhere.

      1. I agree that where it is cost effective, cycle paths should be added and certainly every city should have safe cycle networks.
        With so many people now riding ebikes, I would question any health benefit claims. OK, riding an ebike is more of a work out than lying on the sofa – but not much more.
        I stick with my point though – NZ are better off spending money on mitigation than chasing CO2 reduction. Sea walls and irrigation will save more NZ lives than mode shift.
        Of course, the correct action is in between nothing and everything. We should have some sort of biofuel mandate and we should push to energy saving practices (just better insulated homes will probably save as much CO2 as cycling) and we, especially Auckland, need a much better public transport system.

        1. Cycleways are not going to solve the climate change problem for NZ, nor will taxing kiwis out of cars.
          I agree cycle paths make cycling safer and more enjoyable but you should also agree that sea walls and better irrigation are where NZ needs to spend its money on climate change.
          It’s quite ok for us to both be right

  16. Your “Fossil fuels saves lives” username is about all anyone needs to read to see you are complete cooker.

    1. Fossil fuels save lives every day. You may not like it, but if you were lying bleeding out on a road because you ran a red light on your bike and got hit by a truck, then you would want an ambulance powered by a diesel engine to arrive asap. You would also like the first responders to start injecting you with blood plasma contained in a plastic bag and using a plastic tube.
      You would like to get to hospital as fast as possible, not caring about the diesel used in the ambulance and then you would be very happy to be wheeled into the operating theater on a trolly made from plastics.
      Eventually, you will be happy to know that your operation was possible due to electricity, of which at least 20% came from burning fossil fuels.
      Maybe, when you are lying in your recovery bed, under those nylon sheets and blankets, you then might think that given a second chance at life, no need to be a fluffy bunny.

      1. The need for actually life-saving sterile plastics is a great argument against burning their finite main ingredien.
        And I don’t know the progress on this, but given that there are plant-based everyday plastics, they may be available as hospital-grade (in the near future), too.

  17. “….the works on road surface mean the the adjacent remaining road was resealed even though it didnt need it if the project didnt happen”

    Which proves the point. Those ancillary costs should be paid for out of a separate budget. The cycling project was probably pennies in the dollar in comparison.

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