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Helen Clark speech on Auckland Regional Growth

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Leader of the Opposition

Launch of
Auckland Regional Growth Strategy, Land Transport Strategy, & Passenger Transport Action Plan

5th Floor
ASB Bank Stand
Eden Park, Walters Road

3.35 pm
Monday 22 November 1999

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in today's launch of the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy, Land Transport Strategy, and Passenger Transport Action Plan.

I would like to congratulate all those in regional and local government in Auckland who have brought these strategies together. They have been developed collaboratively and as a result all Auckland's mayors will today sign up to them.

The degree of consensus around these strategies represents real progress. Too often, division in Auckland has enabled central government to play off one section against another. Auckland speaking with one voice cannot be ignored - and it certainly will not be ignored by the new government I hope to lead.

Labour has a very positive approach to the role of local government. And we want a new relationship to develop between central and local government which is based on mutual respect. Local government is by definition much closer to and more in touch with our communities. In recent years it has developed as a very important advocate for community interests. Central government needs to acknowledge that and work constructively alongside local government as it strives to support the development of sustainable local economies and communities and maintain and improve the quality of our environment.

The challenge facing Auckland is huge. While much of regional New Zealand is unable to grow, our city continues to grow at a pace which outstrips the capacity of our infrastructure to cope.

As an Aucklander for 36 years, I have watched these pressures develop. I see important corridors through our central suburbs gridlocked now. I see the projections for an Auckland population of two million people by 2050, with the isthmus population rising to 583,000 and know that radical improvements to public transport have to be made. I know that there is no roading solution to the traffic problems which is acceptable to the communities I represent.

My local communities want to retain their local shopping villages, and they want to retain their green belt which on present planning could be destined for sacrifice to the onward march of State Highway 20. So rest assured that I am taking a very close interest in how the movement of people and goods is managed in the central suburbs in particular.

The Auckland region's challenge to central government today is clear. You are telling us that Auckland has got its act together and you want to know how central government will assist you to implement these strategies to manage growth.

The plans before us today hinge on the development of integrated passenger transport systems and the establishment of integrated rapid transit services on the major corridors.

For these plans to succeed more people will have to be persuaded to use public transport. That in turn will only happen if public transport is improved and is affordable.

In recent years government funding for public transport has stood still. Unfortunately the problem of congestion hasn't.

Labour is committed to increasing significantly central government funding for public transport. We recognise the economic, social, and environmental benefits which come from increased use of public transport.

Labour's budget projections provide for an increase of $20 million a year for public transport subsidies. That represents a forty per cent increase on current spending. The major part of that increase will be directed towards Auckland because this is where the major transport pressures are.

The additional funding will help translate the plans developed by the Auckland Regional Growth Forum into reality.

We also recognise that the current transport funding rules can be too prescriptive. We will be reviewing the current Transfund funding cap, and will allow Transfund to consider capital contributions to public transport as well as funding the traditional fare subsidies.

On roading let me make it clear that Labour has never supported National's plans for commercialisation.

We favour accountability for roading continuing to lie with bodies which themselves are accountable to local communities. In government, we will work with local government, to identify and adopt those changes which would lead to national benefits. We do see the devolution of responsibility for the state highway system to regional clusters within a national strategy as a possibility. It may be that Auckland will want to step forward to pilot such a development, and we would welcome further discussion with Auckland local bodies on that.

Auckland's strategy also addresses the issues of road pricing which are a major part of the National Government's plans. As I have said, Labour has not agreed with those plans and I am pleased to see that the strategy you have developed is not dependent on road pricing to be effective.

I agree with your analysis which recognises that roading pricing could only be fair to motorists and be fully effective if a reasonable alternative is available. Therefore until a high quality passenger transport system is available, it is not reasonable even to contemplate congestion pricing.

Access to the Crown owned railway corridor is something which Auckland's local authority leadership has been keen to secure. You have approached the present government for support in achieving that. I can assure you that Labour in government will want to back the mediation process which is being established to try to resolve this vexed issue.

To drive the regional growth strategy, Auckland needs more than a sympathetic interest from central government. Auckland's regional and local authorities need to be able to determine in consultation with their communities the direction they will follow.

The law as it stands is far too restrictive for local government. That is why Labour supports a complete rewrite of the Local Government Act. The key feature of the new legislation we plan will be to enact a power of general competence for local authorities. That way our communities will be able to determine their own destiny. I know that this approach is greatly favoured by local government in Auckland.

We are also committed to speedy completion of the review of the Rating Powers Act. That review is long overdue.

As a committed Aucklander, I can only endorse with enthusiasm the Growth Forum's efforts to co-ordinate its strategies across local authority boundaries in the interests of the whole metropolis.

As a region Auckland is often badly misunderstood. To other parts of New Zealand, Auckland can seem as alien as Los Angeles. Yet those of us who live here know that Auckland is in reality a series of villages, small towns, and communities, each with their own identity. And our neighbourhoods do have a strong sense of community.

My vision is to build on all that is positive about Auckland to create an interesting and vibrant first world city with first world infrastructure. I want more people using better public transport. I want the village atmosphere of our local shopping areas retained. I want Auckland to be recognised for the quality and diversity of its arts and culture. I want good parks and clean beaches. I want us all to support and value what the many cultures living side by side in Auckland have to contribute. For we have become home to large ethnic minority communities in a short space of time. I am pledging more support from central government for settlement programmes which help new migrants become truly a part of our communities. Partnership with local government is essential to that process.

Today is a new beginning for Auckland. Labour in government would look forward to working with you to accommodate growth while protecting our environment and the quality of life our citizens are entitled to have.

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