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John Banks speech: NZ Land Transport Summit

Keynote Address: New Zealand Land Transport Summit

Speech Notes - Hon John Banks QSO Mayor Of Auckland City

As you will be aware my mayoralty is built around a campaign vision that is simple and transparent: Auckland’s transport network completion by 2010.

There has been a lot happening recently in moving this vision forward. However, Aucklanders tell me we need to pick up the pace and apply ourselves with greater urgency to getting the job done.

I recall a Schubert piano score that instructed the pianist to play “as fast as possible.”

Then a few pages on was scrawled a further instruction: “faster!”

That’s the message Aucklanders are delivering to their elected leaders.

‘You have had a transport plan on paper for 30 years. Get on and implement it – just do it!’

Today I’d like to outline the progress we are making to give Auckland modern transport infrastructure and to highlight some of the road blocks – if you’ll excuse the pun – which we are shifting as we pick up the pace to move Auckland into the fast lane of progress.

Let me set the scene.

The Labour Government has a goal of returning New Zealand to the top half of the OECD.

I support that goal. But I am a realist. Auckland generates a third of New Zealand’s GDP, and is growing by the size of Dunedin every four years.

For New Zealand to lift its living standards, Auckland must lift its performance.

“As fast as possible” is no longer fast enough!

On a New Zealand scale, we may be the engine-room of the nation’s economy, with GDP more than twice the combined efforts of Wellington and Christchurch at about 13% each.

But on an international city scale, we are well behind.

In the 10 years to 2000 Auckland’s real GDP growth per capita was zero against cities we compare ourselves to:

Singapore 41%, Brisbane 22%, Sydney 24%, Melbourne 17% and Adelaide 18%.

When anyone asks what is holding Auckland back, as well as some differences in the growth and tax policies of respective governments (which I choose to put to one side here), the answer always includes “our inadequate transport infrastructure”.

Visitors from Sydney with four million people cannot work out why getting around Auckland with just one million is more difficult.

Potential offshore investors, I am told, look sideways at Auckland’s inability to get organised to do the obvious – complete a transport network that has been on plans for 30 years.

We are at a crunch point. If we are not ruthless in shifting from planning and process to design and construction – to get a network with options in place in the next five to 10 years, systemic failure is a distinct possibility.

Car ownership is growing at twice the rate of our population – meaning that in 20 years time the number of cars in Auckland will double. Traffic gridlock incidents are increasing, and will keep doing so while we muddle along on incomplete transport infrastructure and inadequate services.

Congestion costs the economy at least $1 billion a year in wasted time and energy.

It is very obvious that we can’t engage fully in lifting economic growth without committing to improving our transport infrastructure. I note that Transport Minister Paul Swain has made this very point – I agree 100% with him.

We must do two things concurrently:

We must give Auckland a modern, integrated transport network which embraces the triple bypass and affordable public transport.

We must get organised to deliver sufficient funding to complete the core networks as soon as possible with cash flow determined on a “build as becomes buildable” basis.

Let’s not keep using the shortage of money as an excuse for delaying progress. Instead, let’s get smart and find the money. By creating opportunities for the private sector to participate in solving Auckland’s transport gridlock, the Land Transport Management Bill is an important potential step forward.

As the saying goes, however, “the devil is in the detail”, and in some areas the proposed legislation is inadequate and will, if we are not smart enough to change it, slow up progress – not help us go faster.

Network completion 2010

Before I talk about the changes needed in more detail and the other hot issue of the moment - funding - I’d like to briefly expand on what is involved in the commitment to completing Auckland’s transport network by 2010.

At the heart of Auckland’s traffic congestion is a failure over 30 years to shift gears from putting transport plans on paper to implementing them in a way that ensures infrastructure provision keeps pace with the region’s economic growth and lifestyle demands.

My mayoralty is driven by a straight-forward proposition – “Shift Auckland into the fast lane.” Move the plans of 30 years off paper onto the ground.

There is no dispute on the case for completing the network. The transport routes we are seeking to build are reasonable, modest requirements of a competitive and growing city.

Our failure is largely due to one issue – inability of the region to organise its leadership to get the money needed for building the network as a whole.

Instead, reliance on drip-fed, fragmented parcels of public funding from Transfund, Infrastructure Auckland and rates on a pay-as-you-go basis spread among the different local bodies of the region and Transit New Zealand has tied the region to an inflexible and limited source of capital, offered on a part-project by part-project basis.

Over 30 years, the region has only been able to complete bits of motorway corridor routes scattered across the region as they stack up to non-strategic criteria.

The consequence is that not one full route has been completed or is planned to be completed in the next 10 years.

Virtually nothing has been done to improve region-wide public transport. The rail network is exactly as it was built in the 19th century.

Congestion on an incomplete motorway system makes efficient regional bus services a risky business.

Also over-looked has been the significant benefits of taking a “network approach” to building the entire planned regional transport system as a single project.

For example, the western bypass will benefit users of State Highway One, and so will the Eastern Corridor. Both will add public transport and cycle options to the regional network.

Equally, upgrading Spaghetti Junction will provide benefits to users of other motorways and regional arterials that do not in themselves use Spaghetti Junction.

If we persist, however, with the current funding regime, and don’t ensure that the new transport legislation will deliver the vision that we can all support - network completion by 2010 - then we simply shoot ourselves in the foot. We’d be stupid.

For one thing, Australian cities that have a 10-year jump on Auckland in applying private-public partnerships to completing their networks, will remain the favoured fast lane destinations for investment, business and visitors. Auckland will stay in the transport slow lane.

And another: the completion of the region’s strategic transport network – that is, the entire, integrated motorway and arterial highways, busway and heavy rail networks will remain where it currently is - decades away.

The triple bypass is not about one part of the network being prioritised and competing against another for completion, but doing all three routes in parallel.

Transit New Zealand is starting to make progress on the western bypass. Preparation for the Mt Roskill section is well advanced. The upper harbour bridge section has been started.

But I suggest that we are continuing to compromise the full benefits of the western bypass. The current programme puts the middle section across Avondale years if not decades away. That’s stupid.

With the western ring route option for traffic coming off State Highway One to both the north and south, but no Avondale section, 50,000 vehicles a day will end up on local streets. Imagine the mayhem and increased safety risk for residents and frustrations for everyone. It will be like the eastern suburbs as they are now without the Eastern Corridor – but worse.

Common sense dictates that the western bypass be rolled into a single “build as buildable” project. Do it once. Do it properly.

Ninety percent of Aucklanders want both the western and eastern corridors built in a way that public transport provision is included with a motorway option.

In the Eastern Corridor, Auckland and Manukau cities are taking a whole route approach. Our objective is very simple: build it.

An existing railway is under-used. Millions of dollars will be needed to bring it to an acceptable standard and attract enough users to justify the huge cost.

To meet Auckland’s future growth, we must look at the Eastern Corridor as an intergenerational project – the future, in this case, is now!

Auckland and Manukau cities are doing their bit. Auckland City is spending nearly $200 million on Britomart and extending the railway to Queen Street and Ferry Terminal at the northern end.

Manukau wants to do a similar enhancement to bring heavy rail into its city centre at the southern end.

These initiatives will lift commuter rail patronage, but in the total scheme of things will be insignificant in reducing traffic congestion.

We must not distract ourselves from the dominating demand for a coherent motorway corridor that forms an integral part of the regional network.

Long term, the Eastern Corridor logically should feed into a cross harbour tunnel. This will provide an eastern state highway to state highway route, and provide traffic travelling between east Auckland, south of Manukau and North Shore with options to avoid Spaghetti Junction and the western bypass.

There is no doubt that in the past two or three years the level of support to proceed urgently with the Eastern Corridor has increased.

I am totally confident that the corridor is aligned with national and regional transport strategies. It also has the potential to provide considerable “added value” benefits to the network as a whole, and also to improving Auckland’s environment and quality lifestyle.

As I have been at pains to say, Hobson Bay, on the Eastern Corridor route, is a treasured historic area of Auckland. It needs cleaning up.

As we build the corridor over the next few years, my vision is that we ensure that high quality environmental mitigation is an integral part of the project – and not an add-on.

The third leg in Auckland’s triple bypass, the central corridor upgrade – Alpurt in the north, Spaghetti Junction and improvements to State Highway One on the route south to Hamilton - is another area where Auckland City has drawn a line in the sand.

We strongly applaud Transit New Zealand for pushing forward the agenda and getting packets of money to do some of the “must do” upgrades of the Southern motorway underway.

Grafton Gully and Newmarket projects are now well underway. The North Shore busway is picking up speed. We could also say to Transit – “Yes, get on with the St Marys Bay and Victoria Park upgrade. Put two more lanes of concrete on either side of Victoria Park viaduct and let’s not worry about protecting the park.”

Auckland now, however, is a different city to what it was when the viaduct was built. Victoria Park is a treasured amenity that needs considering, not as an add-on to a transport project but an integral part.

The point is that high quality “mitigation” should be included in the design of all urban transport improvements. Other world cities do so – more and more they are putting roads and carpark buildings out of sight. Its part of the price needed to ensure cities stay quality places to live, work and visit.

There may be a case for Transit being opposed to paying the $100 million additional cost involved to put the viaduct out of sight because it robs another project elsewhere in New Zealand from going ahead.

On the other hand, if Auckland is declaring that it wants no more than its fair share of the nation’s funding pot, and there is a short fall for all the projects needing to proceed, then Aucklanders themselves should be encouraged to find the additional money.

Auckland’s challenge: Find $4 billion to complete transport network by 2010

Overall, the region requires a minimum of $3 billion, or if reasonable mitigation is included, between $4 to $6 billion investment to complete the agreed strategic network by 2010.

Where can we find the money? Traditional sources won’t be sufficient.

Regional mayors are looking at options for Auckland to meet the shortfall.

These include obvious proposals such as local councils forming public-private partnerships, a regional petrol tax, tolls and borrowing on the region’s rates and assets to underwrite the cost of raising the required capital.

More innovative suggestions include an Auckland Bond issue, with capital raised as key components of the network reach a “buildable” stage with returns serviced by tolls or other user pay concessions.

Another innovative option is to take a “network approach” to understanding the costs and benefits of both the regional motorway and agreed public transport networks and develop a viable network funding model.

These ideas, let me reinforce, are at a preliminary stage. They are unofficial. Some might emerge as serious options, others disappear.

As President Bush the first put it: “Watch this space, read my lips.”

But two points need to be shouted from the roof tops:

Auckland’s future depends on Aucklanders themselves working collaboratively to solve Auckland’s problems.

We agree with government’s transport vision that we must get the region’s responsive and sustainable transport network built by 2010.

But it is now up to Auckland to develop a funding model so we can do the job ourselves, and do it properly. We must communicate our intentions clearly to Wellington and just as clearly state how they can assist – and add the message: “It won’t cost you a dollar more than what’s fair and equitable against the national cake.”

Second:

The land transport legislation will need to be changed to enable Auckland to action its agreed solution to getting the network completed by 2010.

Without substantial change in the detail, the good intentions of the legislation to encourage private sector investment and additional sources of skills and capital to be applied to improving the nation’s transport infrastructure will, in my view, be undermined.

We will find ourselves in even greater strife – suffering from further delay to complete transport infrastructure not only from a funding shortfall but delays from increased processes required of local bodies and other transport providers and a lack of willingness by the private sector to participate.

We will shoot ourselves in the foot, if we persist with a Bill that creates:

A new tier of multiple consultation in addition to the already significant requirements of the Resource Management Act, Local Government Act and process requirements by public road controlling authorities and potential investors as they investigate the feasibility of any proposal.

It’s obvious that if we persist with multiple levels of consultation that relitigate proposals, it will add delays to implementation and increase the costs. The public sector, communities and road users carry these costs.

It is far from clear what additional consultation will be required to that already provided for by existing provisions of the RMA and LGA.

A two tier approval process in which the Minister of Transport has the last say.

Developing tenders for transport proposals is a costly business. There is huge uncertainty created with a two-tier approval process that requires approval first by road controlling authorities followed by the Minister of Transport.

It is difficult to believe that potential investors will be prepared to spend millions of dollars on developing proposals in which the Minister of Transport will, as a necessary part of consideration, be guided by political matters.

In my view, a better option for the Minister of Transport is to have the “first” say; that is, before tenders are offered, the public road controlling authority be required to obtain a preliminary recommendation of approval from the Minister of Transport. Once obtained (or declined), the authority and potential investors can then proceed (or not proceed) with some certainty. A set of restrictive conditions on which routes can or cannot be tolled.

In Auckland, there is serious debate underway on the significant benefits of taking a “network approach” and determining a single funding model around Auckland’s entire state highway and selected arterial road networks.

There is also a debate to have on options for using tolls on the roading network as revenue sources for achieving sustainable and responsive public transport improvements.

We need to ensure we can have this debate, and it is not constrained by laws that eliminate innovative and pragmatic options before they can be entertained.

Ladies and gentlemen, I close with this message:

For a city aspiring to do its share to help New Zealand get back to the top half of the OECD, the situation we find ourselves in respect of transport infrastructure and arrangements is a disgrace and unacceptable.

For years, the region’s mayors and elected leaders have looked to Wellington for solutions. It hasn’t worked. Part of the fresh approach today’s mayors are taking is to look for answers closer to home – in Auckland.

We do have the resources, and the private sector is sending strong signals of interest to invest in equipping Auckland’s with the badly needed economic infrastructure.

Let’s get organised to give it our best shot!

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