On Thursday, Mayor Wayne Brown will ask the council’s Transport and Infrastructure committee to push for a legislative change in the way transport strategy is delivered in Auckland by giving Auckland Council itself a bigger say. The Mayor also wants Auckland to have the ability to make other key regulatory decisions around transport, such as the ability to set its own parking fines.
Mayor Brown says that the Council’s current levers for influencing transport outcomes “are not working” because we have “an overly complex transport ecosystem, where Auckland has multiple sets of published transport priorities that do not align and lack democratic oversight“.
He notes that:
Auckland Council is the only council in New Zealand that does not have a direct formal role in preparing and approving the strategic direction for transport and the allocation of funding in support of that direction.
Under the current set of governance arrangements, crucial decisions that shape the transport system reside in the Regional Land Transport Plan process, which council has limited input into or oversight of. Council does not make decisions on:
- The allocation of large programmes (such as safety, renewals, network optimisation) to more specific investments
- project sequencing – investments planned for delivery in the first three years of the RLTP have a higher degree of certainty than those included in years four and beyond
- the development and application of the process by which potential investments are prioritised against each other and the way in which some projects (especially larger projects) are designed and planned for delivery – both of these matters are crucial to determining the extent to which the outcomes council seeks are delivered upon in a cost effective manner.
Getting the transport strategy function out of Auckland Transport would be a good outcome. Currently, some of the biggest blockers to progress in Auckland reside in this part of AT – and without major changes in this area, either by AT via an internal restructure and/or by a more significant change such as the mayor is proposing here, then AT will continue to significantly underperform in delivering transport for the region.
The Mayor also notes that there’s been limited success from other (non-legislative) approaches to improve the council’s influence over the strategic direction for transport. This includes the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), established in 2015, which was designed to align local and central government priorities for transport in Auckland within a 30-year timeframe.
The issue with ATAP is that it has no statutory basis, and no links to the RLTP or council’s own Long-term Plan. Also of concern: despite council and government agreeing on funding, Waka Kotahi relitigate this through their business case process, meaning that even though the government may have agreed to certain levels of funding, Auckland doesn’t actually get that.
In other words – although the Mayor doesn’t spell it out quite this bluntly – the transport agencies tend to just ignore what ATAP says and do what they want anyway.
As for how we got into this situation, the Mayor’s discussion paper says:
In 2013, the government reformed the Land Transport Management Act 2003. It combined the Regional Land Transport Strategy, which was Auckland Council’s responsibility, with the Regional Land Transport Programme (which was Auckland Transport’s responsibility) into one Regional Land Transport Plan.
Developing and approving this new plan became the sole responsibility of Auckland Transport. This had the effect of removing the Auckland Council’s role in setting transport strategy and weakened the links between regional transport strategy and other council plans and strategic outcomes. The Council’s role, compared to other unitary authorities is significantly diminished. Community frustration is often directed at elected members who have limited democratic oversight of the processes.
About this, he also notes:
In their 2020 report, the CCO Review panel was critical of the amendments to the Land Transport Management Act, concluding that they were “wrong in principle and at odds with the intent of Auckland’s local government reforms”.
The Mayor’s Proposal
The Mayor instead wants a two-tier governance structure:
- at the top, a Joint Transport Committee, chaired by the Mayor and the Minister of Transport, which would develop a joint Regional Long-term Transport Plan, and
- a Regional Transport Committee – similar to those in all other parts of the country – which would do the the work of developing the RLTP and approving funding, and would also set parking regulations and fines.
Auckland Transport and its board would then be left to purely focus on the delivery of the strategy and plans received from these committees.
The big sticking point for this proposal is likely to be the Joint Transport Committee, about which the Mayor says:
However, it is likely that the establishment of the Joint Transport Committee would require central and local government agencies to cede some of their current responsibilities in the interests of a more integrated approach to transport planning in Auckland.
It’s hard to see central government giving up its existing power and responsibilities for this.
In order to progress his plan, the Mayor is says that either the government needs to lead the changes, or that Auckland would look to introduce a local bill.
The mayor wants to advance both options, as he believes this will have more chance of success “as these efforts should reinforce each other”. Therefore, this is what Thursday’s meeting is being asked to decide on:
That the Transport and Infrastructure Committee:
- whakaae / agree to support legislative change that, at a high level, provides for:
- joint decision-making between Auckland Council and the Crown on a long-term integrated transport plan for Auckland, and on the funding and implementation of that plan
- Auckland Council to have the lead role in preparing and approving the Regional Land Transport Plan, which sets the strategic direction for transport and the allocation of funding in support of that direction
- Auckland Council to be able to make other key regulatory decisions about the Auckland transport system, including setting parking fines
- tono / request the Mayor to advocate for legislative change giving effect to the principles above to be a priority for the incoming Government
- tono / request staff to draft a local bill consistent with clause a) above and to engage with the Office of the Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel Office on the possibility of Auckland Council proceeding with the promotion of the local bill, and to report back to the Governing Body with a draft local bill and further advice on next steps in September.