At last month’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee (TIC) meeting on 17 August, Mayor Wayne Brown proposed reforming the governance and investment direction for Auckland Transport, with unanimous backing from councillors.

As a first step to “changing Auckland’s complex transport ecosystem”, the Mayor’s motion included a request that Council and AT work together to develop the next Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP).

Auckland Transport’s response to that request is in the agenda for this week’s Regional Transport Committee (RTC) which meets tomorrow,Tuesday 12 September.

How things got to this point

Auckland Council currently has little say in how transport investment is planned and prioritised, with legislation granting those powers to Auckland Transport as a Council Controlled Organisation. Transport accounted for 32% of Auckland Council’s FY23/24 budget—contributing towards some $30bn of investment over 10 years.

Councillors are wary (and, in many cases, weary!) of a lack of alignment between transport investment and the strategic outcomes of that investment – such as road safety, maintenance and emissions reduction – which don’t appear to be tracking in line with expectations.

A diagram showing Council's overall spend, and the transport budget within that.

When Council discussed this in August, the TIC agenda item Options to Reform Legislation Governing Transport in Auckland noted:

“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.”

The agenda item, and the resulting discussion by Councillors on the day, highlights a growing frustration around Auckland Council’s limited ability to influence transport-related decisions and outcomes for the super-city.

The frustration is particularly felt around major “city-shaping” projects, like Auckland Light Rail (ALR) and Auckland Waitematā Harbour Connections (AWHC). In June, when central government moved to make the ALR route a Specified Development Project, Mayor Brown likened it to a “bombing run”, saying:

“Enough is enough, surprises from the Minister of Housing in the South Island telling us what to do here is not welcome.”

This growing dissatisfaction has now come to a head, with the Mayor leading moves to reform Auckland’s complex transport investment and decision making ecosystem.

Council’s two big moves for change

The Mayor’s notice of motion at the August TIC included 2 distinct components:

  • A change to legislation, to give Auckland Council greater decision-making power in regional transport decisions.
  • A request that Auckland Transport and Auckland Council jointly develop the upcoming Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP).

Because legislation change can take time, a belt-and-braces approach was endorsed. Council staff will draft a local bill to be brought before Cabinet at the nearest opportunity. At the same time, the Mayor’s office will advocate to central government for legislative change to give Council a lead role in future decision-making.

These two processes are seen to be complementary, with an opportunity for a central government sponsor (from whichever party ends up in Parliament post-election) to adopt any work developed on a local bill and sponsor it through to adoption.

The motion adopted by the Transport and Infrastructure Committee

Knowing that legislative change takes time is why the Mayor also moved that the next RLTP – due to be adopted in 2024 – be co-developed by Auckland Transport and Auckland Council’s strategy team.

It’s important to note here that Council and AT haven’t always been on the same page. Council’s transport strategy team took the lead role in developing Auckland’s ambitious Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (the how-to manual for achieving the transport aims of Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri, Auckland’s Climate action plan), while Auckland Transport continues to drag its heels on climate action.

Councillors endorsed the Mayor’s call for AT and Council staff to jointly develop the next investment plan, with a request that officials report back on options the following month.

Auckland Transport’s response

Agenda items for the September 12 RTC meeting offer the first glimpse into how Auckland Transport is responding to this request from its shareholder.

The key paper is Agenda item 7, which is fairly long-winded; it provides background information on the RLTP, and Auckland Transport’s legal designation and role in the “complex transport ecosystem”.

The paper, submitted by Executive Manager Planning and Investment Jenny Chetwynd, is almost entirely a refresher on the status quo, with only a few short paragraphs towards the end offering an assessment of “possible roles for Council in jointly developing the RLTP”:

The key paragraphs from the memo to the RTC

Paragraph 22 opens by stating “While Council cannot under the statute play a role in prioritising the RLTP, its influence over the content of the RLTP can be achieved more effectively through the higher order processes.” (emphasis added)

However, this does not align with the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009, which sets out what roles and responsibilities Auckland Transport may delegate to others.

Under the Act, Auckland Transport may delegate any responsibilities, duties, functions or powers except the ability to approve or adopt a regional land transport plan. That wording is important, because the Mayor has asked that AT and Council jointly develop the plan, while final approval and adoption of that plan will still sit with the RTC and the board of Auckland Transport.

The key section of the Act.

However, the advice which Ms Chetwynd has provided to the RTC differs from what the legislation allows for, suggesting that Council can only play a role by setting funding envelopes through development of the long term plan, and endorsement of the draft RLTP before it goes to the RTC.

Last year’s judicial review of decisions surrounding the previous RLTP demonstrated the ineffectiveness of those ‘higher order processes’. In his ruling on the case, Justice Venning effectively said (to paraphrase) “what Auckland Council did doesn’t matter, because what Auckland Council could have done wouldn’t have made any difference anyway.

In short, AT’s advice to the RTC seems to be “Let’s keep doing what we’ve always done, and not what the Mayor is asking for.

What next?

Auckland Transport’s limited view on the role that it will let Council play in the development of the RLTP is revealing. This is the first formal opportunity to show an appetite for cooperating in order to achieve the strategic direction set by Councillors… and AT seems to be saying “Butt out. This is our job, not yours.”

In fact, it is well within AT’s legal responsibilities for them to delegate the development of the RLTP to Council, while maintaining the RTC’s statutory role of reviewing the RLTP before submitting it to the AT board for approval.

Let’s hope that AT can find a constructive way to “jointly develop” the next RLTP, and recognise this as a chance to work more closely with Councillors and the Council strategy team to build a stronger collective understanding of the transport challenges and opportunities that Auckland faces, and how best to address them.

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  1. So AT are saying ” we will continue to do what we want ,if you (the council),don’t like it ,you will need to get the laws changed. Neatly sums up ,Auckland,s siloed,vested interest transport approach of the last 150 years.

  2. What a mess. Looks like a complete lack of accountability and insulation from democratic process. Ratepayers and their elected councilors should certainly be able to direct where and how money is spent, and hold AT accountable for achieving targets. I’d suspect a whole layer of the cake can go.

  3. Advising the Board by misrepresenting what the legislation allows, for the purposes of patch protection, reflects very poorly on Jenny Chetwynd.

    If she is not on the chopping block in this restructure, she should be.

  4. I’m not sure why anyone thinks having Wayne Brown have more of a say in transport will benefit public transit, or the environment. People here seem to be falling into an “enemy’s enemy” approach – we know that AT leadership are climate vandals and roads goblins, so we fool ourselves into thinking that Wayne freakin’ Brown actually wants to change that in a way we would consider good.

    1. The status quo is that unelected bereaucrats develop and approve the LTP completely ignoring any democratic input.

      The proposed change is that the LTP is jointly developed by the bureaucrats and the elected officials.

      The mayor and several councilors may well have different preferences for investment to this blog (or me or you). But the elected officials overall are much more closely aligned to this blog that the LTPs that the bureaucrats have developed over the last 12 years.

      You can shit on the proposal all you want. But we all know that you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  5. Council does actually have significant power to shape transport priorities at a macro level through the “Letter of Expectation” process, and at a micro level through the budgetary process. If AT wants AC funds for a particular project, and AC doesn’t want to fund it, then it is fully able to refuse funding when the budget is debated. Projects can also be reprioritised by AC through this process. The problem in the past has been that Councillors have been too gutless to grasp the nettle. Raising one project’s priority can mean another project gets dropped, given limited funding, and Councillors have been unwilling to do this because this might set Councillor against Councillor – local project against local project. In the past they’ve declined to intervene and then felt free to criticise AT for setting the wrong priorities. Unfair to AT and pathetic behaviour by elected representatives in my view.

    1. The Council appoints all but one Board member. They could try appointing someone who knows something about transport. That might help until they can get a law change to rid us of AT.

  6. Is it frustrating that everything revolves around lawyers in our city?

    That the paranoia between our massive institutions means that we continue in this regressive time loop?

    The real cities around us, Melbourne and Sydney, have further developed and built on their existing public transport infrastructure, whilst this “supercity” of five towns continues to act like five towns.

    Is this all just Public Relations Smoke and Mirrors?

    It sure seems to make money disappear without much to show for it. A trick which Wayne Brown became famous for in the Far North, so perhaps he is the Magician we need for our real excessively consumptive world?

  7. AT could simply provide to Auckland Council an RLTP as an XL spreadsheet that enables the Council to move items within asset classes and policy outcomes, and debate them until Council are settled.

    Once LTP debate is settled, Auckland Council could be the sole entity putting both LTP and RLTP out for consultation.

    That would restore Auckland Council to being the sole political arbiter of prioritisation, and brackets AT into being pure result technicians who have to suck up the democratic result. Don’t think the above requires a law change.

    1. The plans are, as you say, made up of “items”. The bigger problem, as I see it, is that how each “item” is designed, and what its outcomes will be, is being misrepresented by AT. AT have had every opportunity to stop using the “predict and provide” planning approach in which the MSM systematically biases the designs. Instead, staff have dug their heels in – and the whole planning process is being ruined.

      Given the situation, the solution isn’t for AC to move items around in spreadsheets. The items themselves need complete refreshment, with new approaches – to renewals, to corridor improvements, to optimisation programmes, to attitudes about including cycling in everything (as the most neglected mode). The AC transport experts are simply worlds ahead of AT on this. Hence the TERP’s superiority over AT’s last RLTP, etc.

      1. Most issues would be solved in AT and AC with more democracy not less. Certainly the RLTP would.

        That’s what local boards are for, but they have been gutted of planning influence or funding. They are also closest to the demand for cycleway and footpath items – including renewals.

        It is precisely the role of AC to shift items around within asset classes, and then propose them to the public for consideration. Trust the people more and they will reward you.

        1. I certainly don’t have any confidence in my local Board to achieve anything much that is sustainable. A local Board member is currently crowing about how great free weekend parking is, implicitly saying, drive from anywhere to visit Takapuna beach.

          The only bus lane, along Esmonde Road, still appears to be at risk although there is a 200 odd unit apartment being developed there.

          Respectfully I don’t think that we need a fragmented approach to sustainability where the affluent suburbs continue to drive.

      2. Heidi, are you talking about the sorts of things that you might expect in a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan? – a frame work that sets the parameters for what needs to be achieved, and that if it doesn’t fit within that space then it doesn’t happen.

  8. Great article, team. Really gets to the source of the frustration that most of the recent articles have only scratched the surface. Love him or loathe him, Mayor Brown is actually tackling things and forcing others to show their true colours.

    1. “Love him or loathe him, Mayor Brown is actually tackling things and forcing others to show their true colours.”

      Meh. It could also be that he hates being ignored, and as a white rich guy, that JUST CANNOT BE. In this particular instance, the outcomes he seek would actually help democracy – but it doesn’t mean I’m admiring him.

  9. We’re building a transport system for 2050. How does anybody who will be under the age of 45 then get to have a say in what we do now?

    1. But what if it means that when they go to the shops in 2032, they have to walk 50m to the shops after parking their SUV – or worse, are STILL being told to consider PT or a bicycle?

      I mean, we all are willing to make sacrifices, but that’s a a bit much, isn’t it?

      1. The walkway through Albany Park n ride is 300m long.

        Nearby Westfield clocks in at over 100m as well.

        The idea that having to walk 50 metres to the shops is such a big deal says a lot about our street grid and people’s expectations of it.

        1. Although people will park at the Mall and then walk more than 50m to the shop they want to go to. They will also drive around and around the Mall car park to find a vacant space and not complain.

      1. They (the people under 45 in 2050) are not the ones paying the rates. Assuming you meant to say, “Property owners today are the ones paying the rates”.

        You then make a leap to “we live in a democracy” – implying, one assumes, that you think who pays the rates is equivalent to who has the right to make decisions.

        It might pay to learn a bit more about democracy and responsibilities, given the name you choose to use. The legislation requiring councils to plan for future generations is part of our democracy. Who pays the rates is utterly irrelevant.

  10. I am all for collaboration and working together for the betterment of Auckland and its people, however I feel this is another ploy for AK Council to disagree with an AT roading project so they can redirect it to one of their other elaborate projects.

    1. Lol. In what other environment is the *client* not the one making the main decisions? If I want a house built, I make the ultimate decisions, and my builders and consultants do what *I* want

      [as long as its legal and I give them the money to do it]

      The scenario you describe, Sand, is how it SHOULD be. Our elected representatives should make the calls where the money goes, whether sensible or vanity project is almost irrelevant in this regard. We can reward or punish them at the ballot box. But the “at arm’s length” AT does just wander off and do (a lot of) what they like instead.

  11. Whilst Auckland is a specific case, its a NZ wide issue.
    For a country of 5m pop:

    i) there are too many organisations involved in transport

    ii) transport (travel) and land use aren’t being planned by the same one organisation, e.g regional councils provide PT, district councils provide land use and roading, Waka Kotahi provide SHs. Travel is simply the outcome of the spatial land use distribution (& perceived costs of travel).

    Auckland as a unitary authority should be dealing with land use and transport (travel) under one roof.


    I’ve been hanging out for this analysis, which was promised the day the TERP was approved. Nice to see the headline figures, anyway:

    Net benefit of implementing the TERP is calculated as $111 billion by 2050.
    Given the costs are calculated at $43 billion by 2050, the total benefits and cost savings must be $154 billion by that date.

    This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone: we’re suffering in the current system. It’s a deeply flawed transport system, and fixing it will provide enormous benefits.

    First up, let’s fix Auckland Transport’s misapplication of the MSM model, which is ruining projects and programmes, one after another.

  13. “Who pays the rates should get to vote” is in line with the “deserving poor” approach, meaning that if you aren’t rich and powerful in life, then you have moral failings, that you should work on hard first, cap in hand, before you have any expectations.

    It is the gospel of the millionaires and capitalists, because it implies their position is by merit AND is meritorious in itself, and therefore any criticism of them is just a mixture of envy and foolishness.

  14. National’s funding proposal to move all motor vehicles to RUC, anyone?


    Ignoring the delicate problems of compliance, enforcement, debt and inequity, comments in Stuff included ‘figure out how to charge cyclists RUC’.

    Assuming some sort of continuity in charging; scaling typical rego of $100-ish by 4th power axle weight and my VKT of about 1/10 NZ average; the haters can look forward to $0.0002, or 1/50 of a cent per annum.

    Meanwhile I can virtuously point out that I have paid my share for the entire general traffic lane that I am oozing luxuriously along, bang in the middle, at 12kph.

    Thank you, Simeon Brown!

    1. Interesting reporting on that announcement.

      no change to plan for RUC’s for EV’s – much fanfare and nashing of teeth.
      RUC’s for Petrol cars – seemed missed entirely.

  15. It is constantly a sad thing that AT does not embrace the freedom designed into its existence to be bolder in its approach to pushing through unpopular but necessary transport revolutionary policies and projects. But it will be an absolute tragedy if we just go backwards to letting politicians make all these decisions. Politicians only care about getting re-elected and will be far worse than AT when it comes to doing things that are necessary but unpopular.

    Look at the country level – chances are we are about to get a government who don’t care in the least about climate change and public transport. They think they can win votes with a tax cut that is actually useless for ordinary people – but fools will vote for them.

    Put transport back under direct councillor control and stuff will be cut so rates don’t have to rise – because votes need to be won.

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