I’ve been to many meetings recently that have been about or interested in Len Brown’s new Auckland Plan. Quite diverse meetings, of quite diverse communities. The opinions have been nowhere near as divergent, and one issue is constantly at the forefront: Public Transport.
At an ethnic forum I went to, public transport seemed to come up in the answer to nearly every problem. Improve the local economy? Easy, fast public transport so you’re not wasting time queuing in traffic. Improve social cohesion? Public transport allows people to not be isolated in their homes. Education – we need public transport to get the kids to school or university. Environment – well it’s just obvious.
At a meeting in Sunnynook, North Shore, people were very supportive of rail to the airport, alongside the need for more local buses.
But National don’t seem to get it. They have given more than $10 million dollars in the Budget 2011 to uneconomic road projects like the Holiday Highway, while refusing to back the incredibly necessary inner-city rail loop or other public transport projects. Rail in Auckland – growing at over 10% each year – cannot expand much more without the loop, but Steven Joyce wants to spend our sparse resources on a highway that will return 20 – 80c in economic benefits for each $1 the government spends on it (and less if petrol continues to increase in price).
At the excellent Environmental Defence Society meeting on Auckland Unleashed (as the plan is currently known), it was made clear that there were 3 areas that the government differed from Auckland.
When National helpfully delivered their response papers shortly before the unveiling of the Auckland Plan, it was clear that there were only small differences on Economic Development policy, and, surprisingly, Social Development. But the government had very different views on transport, urban form and Auckland’s eco-city concept.
On transport National continue to frustrate Aucklanders’ clear desire for a push on public transport – having elected Len Brown on that platform. Locally Maggie Barry has said that “our rates being spent on a rail link to the airport from the city is obviously of no use to us” and Wayne Mapp that he saw “no case” for rail to the North Shore. National’s point of view is that historically more than 90% of journeys were made by car, so therefore money should be spent in those proportions for car vs public transport. There is no vision for the future, which, with ever higher oil prices, will have ever fewer car journeys. The success of the Northern busway (20% passenger growth in the last year, with ever more buses needing to be added at peak times) and public transports general huge growth seems to have passed them by.
On urban form there is the problem of 10,000 new homes needing adding to Auckland each year to keep up with population increase of 640,000 in 30 years. National want to remove urban limits to growth and allow the city to sprawl. The Council – seeing that such growth would mean building ever more facilities ever further away and ever more roads to get there – want only a few limited expansions to the limits, with growth concentrated in certain existing centres. Sprawl would mean longer commutes, less efficient transport (particularly for public transport), more pollution, and far more money spent on building the schools, parks, council centres on the new far away communities. The region that the Auckland Council presides over is in fact 90% rural – and sprawl would mean the consumption of productive farmland that is currently used to feed the region and its economy. National want sprawl because it would mean cheaper houses – although those prices would be balanced by increased transport costs.
The first two points link in to the third: the eco-city. Car transport and urban sprawl are both bad for the environment. They consume productive, green land and they pump out far more emissions. And the Council has set an ambitious Greenhouse Gas Target of a 40% reduction of 1990 levels by 2030. The Government is aiming for 10-20%. The current projection on our current course is that there will be a 46% increase in emissions. Despite this National don’t think Auckland should be focussing on keeping themselves 100% pure.
So there is a strong contrast between a city that wants to be sustainable (ecologically and economically), and a government that doesn’t want it to have its way. Now that the city is united it speaks with a much stronger voice, so we’ll have to see how well that voice is heard – either now or in November.
Submit your views on The Auckland Plan by the end of the month.