Friday, March 8, 2013

Auckland. Not London. Not even Wellington

The government has finally publicly released the so-called Auckland liveability report commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MoBIE to its friends) and the Auckland Council. In fact the report is part of a larger review of New Zealand's competitiveness, something we got our first report on way back in 1991. (A critique of that report by Brian Easton is here.) It is truly disheartening that after all this time we're still paying overseas experts to tell us what is blindingly obvious to anyone who is paying even a wee bit of attention. 

As noted by the Herald's Bernard Orsman, the liveability report (correctly in our view) unkindly points out that Auckland is not the most liveable city in the world, or even New Zealand.
The Auckland Plan, p30, brought to you by the Auckland Council PR department. Available
According to the Enright report (p3), Auckland's top priorities should include limiting urban sprawl: "Maintain or reduce the urban footprint. An overall denser Auckland will be more sustainable, vibrant and liveable...A larger population should be accommodated by "going vertical" not "horizontal". 

This collides directly with central government's desire to open up more rural land in the Auckland region for development, ostensibly to make housing more affordable. No one has produced any evidence to support this, and my spies tell me even the Property Council doesn't believe it (we'll put a link in if we can find it). However, it not housing and sprawl that are the subject today. Of more interest is the report's comment on transport:

"Mass transit, particularly the current rail plans would be the first priority. Mass transit is key to making Auckland more liveable, more sustainable, more productive, and more capable as an international gateway. Without such a transit system Auckland will never reach its potential."

No wonder Steven "roads of national significance" Joyce made sure MoBIE's website has this well out of public view. This government's hostility to mass transit as a means for Aucklanders to get around is not limited to not funding the CBD rail loop. But what about the Auckland Council itself, our guides on the journey to making Auckland the world's most liveable city? 

Transport is covered in Chapter 13 of the Auckland Plan. It has pictures of trains and cyclists but none of traffic jams. An inspection of the actual projects that have been prioritised shows that Auckland's Council and transport planners are living in a parallel universe where cars still look like rocket ships, gas is 50c a litre and the only person in the household who works and drives a car is Dad. While the CBD rail loop tops the list, next comes the Western Ring Route, (a motorway), then AMETI, another motorway and presently designed so the traffic logjam will move from Panmure to GI (in much the same way SH20 presently clogs up Maioro Street and the surrounding areas). But tacked onto AMETI, with no public consultation and not even the shadow of a business case, is something called the East-West link. This is another motorway, running from SH20 in Onehunga to SH1. What problem is it going to solve? You'll have to wait and find out like the rest of us. Then there's the Puhoi-Wellsford holiday highway, another motorway with a business case so weak NZTA basically had to redesign its cost benefit analyses to get it out of the starting gate. 

If you look at the fine print at the back, there are plenty of unfunded public transport projects and the plan only envisages 70% of the regional cycling network being completed by 2020. Does this seem 'transformational', to use the Plan's own terminology? Does any of this make you feel like Auckland is entering an era of awesome mass transit projects and easy commuting by bike? No, of course not. It's more of the same old same old.

Transformational London.
Which brings us to Boris. Now I have to confess I have a soft spot for Boris. Anyone who can get into trouble by parking his bike in someone else's stand (as I recall a paper describing it) and survive politically, all the while sporting a hairdo Peter Dunne secretly wishes he had the guts to wear, inspires a sort of grudging admiration. As London's Lord Mayor, Boris has evidently given some thought to London's transport and come up with something that is - unlike our pretentious nonsense - genuinely transformational. 

It is a cycling plan for London. Not a couple of cycleways painted on the road  but a big expensive (about 900 million pounds) plan that includes a crossrail for bikes, "mini-Hollands" in the suburbs, a network of cycle lanes and much much more. Where is our visionary transport leadership? We've ended up with a mayor who won't even take the government on about its ridiculous holiday highway. If you were a cynic you'd think slimey deals had been cut that are leaving Auckland ratepayers out of pocket. Numerous surveys and the council's own research have shown time and time again that Aucklanders want investment in public transport, and that they would ride bikes if it was safer. What we have is yet another road-building programme with a rail project cherry on top. 

We love you Boris! Please come and park your bike outside our town hall for a while. And if anyone from the Auckland Council reads this: go away and think about what transformational means, what you could offer Auckland, and what you're intending to actually deliver.