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Build Auckland big and southwards for best transport outcome

Build Auckland big and southwards for best transport outcomes, says infrastructure lobbyist

By Pattrick Smellie

Aug. 2 (BusinessDesk) - Auckland should plan much more aggressively for its growth to be south of the city's isthmus, accompanied by massive investment in public transport infrastructure that such a population could support, says the head of Infrastructure New Zealand, Stephen Sellwood.

Commenting on a fresh assessment of the cost of Auckland's congestion to the city's economic performance, Sellwood says concentrating south of the city "on hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands of homes" is one way to make the necessary public infrastructure investment affordable.

"If you concentrated the growth through intensified development beside rail and particularly large scale development in an area, we could support that growth through integrated transport investment," the chief executive of the lobby group for infrastructure providers told BusinessDesk.

He was discussing the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report on Auckland congestion costs, published today, whcih was prepared for an Auckland business lobby group, the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

Using examples of tradespeople and freight-forwarders who have had to buy extra trucks and hire more staff because of increasing time wasted in Auckland traffic, the report found congestion probably wipes about $2 billion from annual Auckland gross domestic product and that decongestion could create a $1.3 billion annual economic benefit for the city.

The report makes no recommendations on solutions and has been published just ahead of a major Labour Party policy announcement on Auckland transport on Sunday. This looks likely to be the first major policy event for Jacinda Ardern, the party's new leader.

The policy is expected to reflect many of the views Sellwood has pushed in discussions with Labour's Auckland issues spokesman and Labour campaign head Phil Twyford.

Sellwood advocates building affordable housing intensively near new public rail and other public transport services and using the residential land value uplift to help pay for ongoing investment.

So-called "value capture" rating to help fund public infrastructure was a key recommendation from the Productivity Commission's 2015 'using land for housing' investigation.

He's concerned that allowing big chunks of growth both to the north and south of Auckland, as at present, is unwise from a public transport investment perspective.

"Auckland is an isthmus," he said. "It's hard to traverse. But doesn't that mean that smart growth in one location makes even more sense?"

Prior to the 'super-city' amalgamation, Auckland's local authorities had competed for residents and businesses.

"I would think that a single Council would think about new ways of thinking about that problem but they're still doing what they've always done."

There was a need for "certainty and leadership for markets to respond to" to overcome a funding shortfall as high as $7 billion for projects in the joint central-local government Auckland Transport Alignment Plan.

Concentrating the city's growth south would also help the case for KiwiRail's proposed "Third Main Line" between Westfield and Wiri, where freight bottlenecks rule out passenger rail service developments.

With a third or even fourth main line upgrade at that point, rail to the new parts of southern Auckland could also connect a rail service to the airport.

The government turned down KiwiRail's application for capital to build the Third Main Line and staff in Transport Minister Simon Bridges's office were subsequently pinged by the Ombudsman for attempting to prevent the release of the business case under the Official Information Act.


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