Auckland Transport recently cancelled Connected Communities (aka ConCom), a flagship programme launched in 2018 that was intended to deliver walking, cycling, public transport and safety improvements along 12 key corridors in the region.
These weren’t going to come cheaply, with AT budgeting to spend about $100 million per corridor. In 2021 the programme was downgraded to just six corridors.
As I said back in May this year, ConCom is a prime example of a rotten process defaulted to by a broken organisation. It was often referred to by advocates (and even some AT staff) as Con Job, because it had been running for nearly 5 years, had paid out tens of millions to consultants – and hadn’t delivered a single street improvement. Worse, it had also prevented other projects from making improvements if they were even remotely close to one of these corridors.
The only project being delivered out of this programme is the Great North Rd improvements, which were finally signed off by the AT board last month, but only after considerable community pressure. And that’s a project that was handed to the ConCom programme already designed and consulted on. The only other project that reached the stage of public consultation on a design was New North Rd.
AT blames its current funding situation for the cancellation of the programme:
Our Connected Communities programme was established with the intention of optimising key transport corridors across the region with a focus on getting the most out of the existing infrastructure and developing solutions with local boards and the community. The programme was designed to develop solutions that addressed the needs of all modes while taking a dig once approach to minimise overall cost and disruption.
With changes to our funding context, these types of comprehensive solutions are no longer affordable in the short to medium term given other competing priorities. Accordingly, the Connected Communities programme, in its current form, has been stopped.
But documents I’ve received following an official information request show that the problems with it go much deeper, and further back.
In 2021, AT commissioned KPMG to conduct a ‘Health Check’ on the programme (click here to see the full document) , which was delivered in November that year. It’s so damning, you have to wonder why the programme was still languishing about 18-months later under the same leadership. KPMG says:
The original intention of the ‘Health Check’ was [to] answer the following summarised three questions:
- Is the programme appropriately scoped to deliver best-value investment for AT?
- In the context of value for money, complexity and implementation timeframes, what level of trade-offs could be considered?
- Is the current model for delivering ConCom the best option, or is there a better alternative and are the right mechanisms in place to ensure commercial tension for delivery?
Delving a bit deeper on that first question, KPMG says:
Q1: With the work undertaken to date, the projected implementation costs are in the $100m range per corridor to deliver multi modal outcomes. Within the broader context of increasing demands for investment on the transport network, is the programme appropriately scoped to deliver the best value investment for Auckland Transport?
In the absence of a Programme Business Case, it is very difficult to understand how the current programme delivers on AT‘s strategic outcomes. We appreciate that since the inception of this programme AT’s strategic outcomes have evolved to include climate change, urban development, customer experience, safety and integrated city master-planning with Auckland Council and key Crown agencies.
The SSBC technical outputs were generated in July 2020. These were created without key overarching guidance (new management information), such as the latest AT SOI, Climate Change direction as well as key sections of the full Business Case are still outstanding to generate complete assessments (e.g. fully considered BCR’s). To date only a Technical Emerging Option was generated. These are now outdated, no testing evident post SSBC and have not concluded.
From what we’ve seen, the reduction of scope from 12 corridors to 6 corridors was performed with limited outcome focus or quantitative analysis to compare and contrast which corridors were of strategic importance and delivered the highest return on investment. Appendix A and B shows where the corridors sit on a comparative to other transport projects
KPMG used the scope to focus on some key areas, and a summary of their findings are shown in the table below. Note, all of those red and orange dots are not bullet points – they’re ratings of how AT performed on each measure. I can’t recall seeing a report card this bad before.
From the work performed we have identified that there are a number of significant issues with this programme. Whilst there has been a significant amount of solid technical work delivered, we have found an absence of ‘programme thinking and alignment’ and limited evidence to form decisions on how the programme should progress.
*Green represents the rating that the programme was originally expected to do. Orange represents the rating for what consultation could be and not reaching its potential. [Ed: Oddly, it’s not spelt out what Red represents – guess it speaks for itself?]
The comments behind those ratings are equally alarming, highlighting significant gaps in leadership, governance, strategic direction, and the fact that no consideration was given to costs. There are so many concerning comments it’s easier just to put them all here.
Unsurprisingly, KPMG recommended a substantial overhaul in how the programme was managed and the outcomes that were being sought from it. Despite this, those running the programme seem to have gotten off lightly and were left in charge of it.
In March last year, KPMG also created this document for the board outlining a programme refresh for ConCom. It’s chock full of corporate buzz words and colourful diagrams about project roadmaps and potential staffing structures, but doesn’t appear to add much new information.
As a result of all this, AT effectively decided to start again, with a new programme they called… ConCom+. A Programme Establishment Case in October last year saw a clearer focus on the objectives sought. Emissions and Carbon Reduction was given a 40% weighting, with Mode Shift and Brownfields Growth each weighted at 30%.
This led to a (re)prioritisation of the original 12 corridors, with Great North Rd and New North Rd singled out as continuing regardless, due to how far along both projects already were. Notably, one of the big drivers for this prioritisation exercise was serving the area around Mt Roskill, Wesley and Three Kings, which potentially has a lot of overlap with the current plans for Auckland Light Rail.
As with the previously mentioned document, most of the rest of this report is filled with much of the same kind of generic corporate/government waffle.
Given the state the ConCom/ ConCom+ programme has been in – and that it still seems a long way from ever delivering anything – it’s no surprise that AT has now cancelled it.
But it’s hard not to feel huge frustration at the immense lost opportunities here. For starters, as Puketāpapa Local Board member, Jon Turner noted yesterday, how many small easy-win projects didn’t take place along or adjacent to various corridors because we were told ConCom would solve everything?
Then there’s the fact that, all-up, AT has so far spent over $32 million on this programme.
Of course, AT claims it hasn’t all been wasted. Here’s what they say they’ve got out of the effort to date – although it doesn’t seem like much.
Auckland Transport will continue to use many of the successful outputs developed within the programme including:
- Community Collaboration Panels assisting in developing technical designs and incorporating Local Board representation.
- Network approach for corridor improvements incorporating safety, bus priority and cycle outcome
- Multi modal business cases for major Auckland arterial corridors
- Kerb to kerb solution development to reduce Community and business disruption and cost
- Dynamic bus and cycle lane option research and trials
- Organisational wide matrix teams and programme management frameworks
At the time of the programme stopping the following deliverables have been progressed to be utilised by other project and programme teams:
- Construction – AT Board reconfirmation of construction Great North Road, Newton
- Design – completed for Ponsonby Road Infrastructure trials for pedestrian and safety improvements
- Single stage business cases – completed for New North Road and Central Auckland Area cycling
- Corridor business cases – completed technical emerging option for Great South Road, Great North Road, Parnell Road, Mt Eden Road, Sandringham Road, Remuera Road and Ellerslie Highway / Pakuranga Road
- Investigation – Completed investigation and research into Dynamic Bus lanes
The data and outcomes forming the investigations and designs above will continue to be utilised across Auckland Transport including:
- Construction of the Great North Road upgrade
- Corridor sections incorporated into the Kianga Ora brownfield development street upgrades programme
- Northwest busway designs for the Central City area incorporating Vincent St
- Connecting development stages for Auckland Council Te Ha Noa Victoria St cycle lanes
- Development of dynamic bus lanes delivery
- Delivery priorities for bus priority, walking, safety and cycling programmes
- Delivery of priorities for AT
- Prioritization of corridor upgrades
Connected Communities wasn’t the first big corridor-focused planning exercise – readers may remember similar promising outcomes, principles, and plans that emerged from previous examples with names like Living Arterials and Corridor Management Plans – and it probably won’t be the last of its type, either.
Who knows. Maybe one day AT will actually deliver one of them. Imagine the problems that might solve.
PS As that last image suggests, the appendices of the reports are worth a look; they also contain feature things like lists of those interviewed, and benchmarking examples of corridor projects from other cities. As always, let us know what catches your eye.