Housing affordability and urban form

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Hugh Pavletich of Demographia has released its annual review of housing affordability. The results are not surprising. New Zealand continues to perform poorly on any matrix associated with affordable housing.

From Radio New Zealand:

The annual Demographia International Housing Affordability shows New Zealand has continued to be one of the most unaffordable countries in the world to buy a house, with the median price more than six times the median annual household income.

Of the eight New Zealand markets looked at, none were considered affordable.

Palmerston North-Manawatu was the least expensive at 5.0, then Christchurch at 5.4, Dunedin at 6.1, Wellington at 6.3, Napier-Hastings at 6.7, Hamilton-Waikato at 6.8, then Auckland at 9.0, followed by Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty as the most unaffordable at 9.1.

Anything more than three times household salary is deemed unaffordable and homes more than five times a median annual household income is considered “severely unaffordable”.

Auckland was the seventh most unaffordable major city in the world, behind Hong Kong, Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, San Jose and Los Angeles.

The measurement seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary and I could not believe the statement that Tauranga was less affordable than Auckland unless wages there are really out of sync.

Report co-author Hugh Pavletich then blamed the current Government for the problem despite the long term nature of the issue. And expected that somehow it should have been solved in the last 12 months.

“Unfortunately, this has been created, in large measure, by the government just dithering through 2018 in dealing with these issues.

Mr Pavletich said housing unaffordability was “solvable”.

“They just [need to] allow affordable housing to be built. In other words, getting out of the road more than anything on this land supply issue and bringing in proper debt financing for infrastructure.”

He told Morning Report the Labour Party was in trouble at the next election if it didn’t tackle the issue and that Housing Minister Phil Twyford had been “dithering” on the issue.

“Mr Twyford and the Labour-led government know exactly what needs to be done and if they don’t do it this year, and we visibly don’t see more social housing I think they are going to be toast at the 2020 election,” he said.

He said the government’s flagship policy to tackle housing needs, KiwiBuild, needed immediate revision.

“KiwiBuild has been so badly-conceived that it’s just been a joke … and regrettably the government needs to really go right back and revamp that whole thing or continue to lose credibility promoting such rubbish,” he said.

“To be talking about affordable housing at $650,000 is just an insult to everybody’s intelligence.”

His comments about price completely misrepresent the affordability of KiwiBuild houses. $650,000 is the top price payablefor stand alone houses with three or more bedrooms. Terraced houses and apartments are anticipated to costbelow $500,000.

And his proposed solution, opening up land supply and letting urban sprawl happen, shows his philosophical beliefs very well.

Thankfully not all economists agree. Again from Radio New Zealand:

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the reality was there had been so many different failures around land use, infrastructure building and design.

He thinks councils need to have the power and the ability to build more houses if affordability is to be fixed.

Mr Eaqub said the government was heading in the right direction with regulations around infrastructure and local government.

“But the big fixers are very slow to move, and we won’t see the benefits of that for some time to come.”

I thought I would have a look at some of Demographia’s work. The website is, how shall I put this politely, visually challenging.

Some of the linked to sources are also fascinating.

There is this cluster fuck of text about climate change in this article:

There are at least two ways to comprehensively reduce GHG emissions — not surprisingly, a right way and a wrong way.

The wrong way is typified by the conventional wisdom among many puritanical urban planners, These social engineers have been frustrated for decades, failing to herd automobile drivers into transit and new residents into pre-War densities. All the while, their demons — the expansion of home ownership that could only have occurred by building on cheap land on the urban fringe and the greater mobility provided by the automobile — have been major contributors to the democratization of prosperity. Throughout the first world, from the United States to Western Europe and Japan, poverty levels have fallen markedly as more households take part in the quality of life mainstream. Women have been liberated to become near-equal economic players and low income households, including many that are African-American or Hispanic, have entered the middle class and beyond.

Yet, for years, much of the planning community has exhibited an inestimable contempt for the lifestyles that have been chosen by most households. The Puritan planners have identified this once-in-a-lifetime chance to force their confession of faith on everyone else.

This is evident, for example in a new Brookings Institution report (Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America purporting to demonstrate that GHG emissions are higher in the suburbs than in more dense cores. Using this debatable conclusion — directly at odds with the findings of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s far more extensive study (Australian Conservation Atlas) (Note 1) — they jump from rhetoric to their time honored litany of anti-mobility, anti-home ownership and pro-poverty commandments, skipping right over the economic analysis that any disciplined analysis of trades-off would require.

The article is painful in that it does not address what happens if we do not successfully address climate change, that is wreck the planet, and thinks that there is some mythical balance point where economic interests can “properly” be balanced with environmental interests.

There is also this paperwhich comments, back in 2008, on the cause of the global financial crisis. The causes were apparently profligate lending by banks and, get this, planning restrictions on land. 

Not fraud and the greed of Wall Street and the Merchant Banking sector but too much lending and not enough land.

This belief, that we only have to open up land supply and all will be fine, is not the sole preserve of Pavletich.

National leader Simon Bridges thinks the same. Again from the Radio New Zealand article:

National Party leader Simon Bridges said the main driver of house prices was the lack of land for new homes.

“We’ve artificially constrained land,” he said.

“Were the government today to come up with a comprehensive RMA [Resource Management Act] reform on both planning and the environment, we would be collaborative on that.

If the RMA is such a problem I do not understand why National did not solve this problem during its last term in Parliament.

Auckland Councillor Greg Sayers has also claimedthat limitations on urban spread are the problem and has written a book claiming that Auckland has to dump the ideology of a compact city and spread out and grow to make housing affordable.

Are they right? Is the restricting of land supply causing increasing house prices and worsening urban performance?

Greater Auckland has this very credible critiqueof an earlier report from Demographia. From its post:

This raises a quite obvious question: Why are people willing to pay so much more to live in some places? Why live in “unaffordable” San Francisco when “affordable” Houston is just down the road? Why live in Auckland when housing is relatively cheaper in Dunedin?

Urban economists have studied this phenomenon in detail, and observed that there is an omitted variable in Demographia’s equation: the differing amenities offered by different cities. If a city offers good natural amenities or consumer amenities, people will be willing to pay more to live there. Conversely, if a place isn’t particularly nice, people won’t be willing to pay much for houses there. (Common sense, really.)

And the failure to make any allowance for how unsustainable and how environmentally damaging sprawl is creates I believe a major weakness in Pavletich’s analysis.

As said by Greater Auckland:

If we wanted to accomplish that, we’d have to destroy most of the things that make great cities great. This might make housing cheaper, but it wouldn’t make us any better off in a broader sense. That’s because it would require us to:


Bulldoze the Waitakere Ranges and use the spoil to fill in the Hauraki Gulf – to ensure that Auckland didn’t have any natural advantages over a flat, inland city like Hamilton.
Dynamite the historic boulevards of Paris and replace them with American-style subdivisions and malls – to ensure that Paris didn’t offer anything that Houston doesn’t.
Ban any venture capital or startup activity in San Francisco, to ensure that it doesn’t offer any agglomeration economies that don’t exist in Detroit.
Build large screens over sunny cities like Tauranga and Brisbane – to ensure that they don’t have nicer weather than Moscow or Toronto.


But Demographia’s not aware of this. Their analysis is overly simplistic. The only thing it reveals is the authors’ grievous failure to understand the basics of urban economics. It’s no wonder that Demographia has never tried to have its studies peer reviewed or published in academic journals. Their claims aren’t supported by any valid conceptual model 

Well said.  If we want to save the Ranges and we want to improve the quality of urban centres then urban sprawl, with the attendant need for motorways and infrastructure, is the last thing that we should be doing.  We should aspire to be like Paris, not Houston.

The National Anthem in Te Reo

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One of the best parts of the job is attending citizenship ceremonies. My job is to preside over the ceremony and to administer the oaths of allegiance. People from many countries and cultures gather together to pledge allegiance to the Queen of New Zealand and become proud kiwis. At the end of the ceremony we all stand and proudly sing the national anthem in Te Reo as well as in English.

The Te Reo version is a more recent addition to the national anthem but it has made in my view a vast difference. Now the anthem feels so much more appropriate and relevant.

And Te Reo is so important. It needs to be infused into everything that we do. Why?

Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Māori. The language is the life force of the mana Māori.

As the Waitangi Tribunal said in one of its most important decisions:

The ‘guarantee’ in the Treaty requires affirmative action to protect and sustain the language, not a passive obligation to tolerate its existence and certainly not a right to deny its use in any place. It is, after all, the first language of the country, the language of the original inhabitants and the language in which the first signed copy of the Treaty was written. But educational policy over many years and the effect of the media in using almost nothing but English has swamped the Maori language and done it great harm.

We have recorded much of what we were told of the effect upon Maori children of our educational policy and it makes dismal reading. It seems that many Maori children leave school uneducated by normal standards, and that disability bedevils their progress for the rest of their lives.

We have recommended that te reo Maori should be restored to its proper place by making it an official language of New Zealand with the right to use it on any public occasion, in the Courts, in dealing with Government Departments, with local authorities and with all public bodies. We say that it should be widely taught from an early stage in the educational process. We think instruction in Maori should be available as of right to the children of parents who seek it.

But there is still a residue of red neckery in the country that opposes any suggestion that we should recognise the importance of Te Reo Maori.

Like New Plymouth Councillor Murray Chong. From Stuff:

A New Plymouth councillor previously censured for making offensive and divisive comments has posted on Facebook about his “shame” in singing the Māori version of the national anthem.

Under a post made on Steve West’s Facebook page, which asked people to “name a song you are ashamed of singing” Murray Chong replied with: “The te reo version of the NZ national anthem”.

West, who alerted Stuff to the Facebook exchange, then asked Chong if he was threatened by it.

“Not at all but I only need to sing the original version,” Chong replied. When questioned further by West, Chong said it was “because that’s the original. If we all have to be made to sing the anthem in 2 languages, then the haka should be sung in 2 languages too.”

He was then asked by Stuff for a response and this response was provided:

When contacted about his view on the te reo Māori version of the national anthem, Chong – who declined to speak directly but responded via text message- was unapologetic.

“Firstly why would anyone have to sing the national anthem again when they have just sung the original version that they are accustomed to. And secondly since being a councillor (I) have also noticed on many occasions other councillors that don’t sing it twice and only sing the English version,” he said.

He said he felt he was not the only councillor to hold these views but seemed “to be the only councillor to state their true opinion on how they actually think on this issue.”

To be frank his comments are appalling. He should learn from his previous Mayor Andrew Judd who as Mayor went through a profound change of opinion and became a huge supporter of Maori representation on Council.

The next time I sing the National Anthem I am going to sing the Te Reo version even more loudly and proudly. To try and make up for the views that Murray Chong has expressed.

Not as beautifully as this, but you get the drift.























































































What can we do about climate change – air travel emission offset

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Reprinted from the Standard.

So it is 2019. We may have a decade left to get on top of the climate change crisis our world is facing.

Imagine the year is 2050. The polar ice caps are gone. The centre of the earth is pretty well uninhabitable. There are a couple of billion climate refugees seeking a safe haven to live in. Numerous states have failed because the issues were too immense and we are in some Mad Maxian future where life and the environment are brutal.

When your grandkid asks you what did you do to stop this from happening what are you going to say to them?

Of course the politics is all important. Us activists have to steel up the parties on the left to make sure that they make the hard decisions especially in Government. There is no substitute for the power of the state and the immense good that it can achieve. But there are also the myriad of personal things that we can also do.

I enjoy air travel. That ability to get on a plane and travel anywhere in the world in a remarkably short time is something that I really look forward to. And in the past 12 months I have had the pleasure of travelling to Rarotonga, the Philippines, Singapore and Fiji not to mention Wellington and the South Island.

But I am very conscious of the environmental cost of air travel. David Suzuki estimates that it contributes between 4 and 9% of the total effect of greenhouse gas emissions. And because manny of the emissions are deposited straight into the upper reaches of the atmosphere they are more potent.

Most if not all of the major airlines now offer offset programmes. For instance this is a link to the Air New Zealand programme. It advises me that my trip to Dunedin has generated just over 300 kilograms of CO2 and that this can be offset for the very modest price of $6.96.

It seems almost too good to be true.  And I have the nagging question inn the back of my mind, are offset programmes greenwash designed to assuage the consciences of middle class air travellers or are they something we should do religiously if not compulsorily.

Air New Zealand use Climatecare.org. The organisation claims to have sequestered 33 million tonnes of CO2. There are carbon credits and there are carbon credits, as the experience with some of the Eastern Union Kyoto credits shows.  But on the face of it climatechange.org appear to be reputable.

In the hope that it will make a difference I have decided to offset every plane trip that I take from now. And to review the literature to make sure that I am getting the most efficient spend for my money.

I have no view about the efficiency right now except the optimistic hope that reforesting part of the planet will be a counterbalance to the greenhouse gasses that my travel is generating. Best to start now and hope it will be sufficient. Of course we may reach the stage when international air travel has to b e severely regulated and curtailed.  But if asked in 2050 what did we do to address climate change we should be able to say that we addressed every aspect of our lives and sought to make it carbon neutral.

Auckland Council is investigating online voting

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Auckland Council wishes to conduct a trial of online voting at next year’s local government elections and the local boards are being asked to comment.

People that know me will be aware that I am a somewhat self confessed technophile. I have owned a computer for 30 years now and my MacBook Pro is rarely not by my side.

But I must admit having misgivings about the proposal to test run electronic voting and wonder if this will be too soon.

The report that the Waitakere Ranges Local Board is to consider this week says this:

The internet has become an integral part of everyday life. Many of the transactions that used to be carried out by post have long been replaced by online options, to the extent that people expect online facilities for their day-to-day activities. Online voting is therefore a natural progression and constitutes an opportunity to modernise the operation of local democracy in New Zealand.

The current postal voting method relies entirely on New Zealand Post providing an effective and reliable service. It is a reality that the postal service is declining. Fewer New Zealanders choose to communicate via post, particularly first time and younger voters, many of whom have never posted a letter. The frequency of delivery is decreasing and the cost of sending mail is surging. The postal cost for the 2019 Auckland local elections will increase by an estimated 77 per cent compared with 2016, because of a postage price increase of almost 60 per cent and an increase in the number of electors of approximately 70,000.

It will become increasingly difficult to deliver postal voting effectively and affordably. Therefore, it is crucial to have a viable alternative to postal voting in place, and online voting is the obvious choice.

While complaints about the mail system are appropriate this should not of itself be a reason to change systems.  And there is a cost in making democracy function properly.  If you want an example of a local election with problems the recent election for the Auckland Consumer Energy Trust is a prime example with turnout less than 13%.  It did not help that the independent electoral officer was banned from promoting the election.

After the recent US elections and the multitude of complaints arising from the conduct of different elections particularly in Texas, Georgia and Florida I believe that some caution is warranted.

The complaints from those elections are numerous, voting machines that preferred Cruz to Beto even though voters had selected the all Democrat option, voting machines locked away, voters purged from voting lists because of slightly mismatched signatures, one candidate for Governor also being the chief electoral officer, and voting resources favouring wealthy over poor areas.

And the Internet does not have a good reputation when it comes to the enforcement of democratic norms, as shown by the various complaints over Facebook, the spread of fake news and possible Russian interference in the US election show. It has even been shown that there is a sustainable business model involving the spread of fake news, and it seems the faker the news the more profitable the spread.

I appreciate that many of these examples are not relevant for the proposed electronic voting model but they can show what happens when things get skewered.

Stanford Computer Professor David Dill has provided these reasons for not trusting computers with online voting:

  • There’s no way with any reasonable amount of resources that you can guarantee that the software and hardware are bug-free and that they haven’t been maliciously attacked.
  • There exists the opportunity for phishing emails being answered for the unwary and for those credentials to then be used to vote in a way contrary to the intent of the voter. Although given the size and scale of local elections the prospects would appear to be remote there is still the possibility that this could occur.
  • The benefit of a paper based voting system is that there is a fully reviewable chain of evidence that can be checked to make sure that the intent of the electorate has been properly ascertained.
  • The perception of election trustworthiness is important. A result needs to be generally accepted as being accurate and credible.  And breach of security around internet voting could irretrievably taint an election result.

And he said this about the use of paper ballots:

Paper has some fundamental properties as a technology that make it the right thing to use for voting. You have more-or-less indelible marks on the thing. You have physical objects you can control. And everyone understands it. If you’re in a polling place and somebody disappears with a ballot box into a locked room and emerges with a smirk, maybe you know that there is a problem. We’ve had a long time to work out the procedures with paper ballots and need to think twice before we try to throw a new technology at the problem. People take paper ballots for granted and don’t understand how carefully thought through they are.

Auckland Council’s proposal is for there to be a variety of voting techniques and I agree this is important.  Having digital to the exclusion of others would discriminate against those for who the internet is a somewhat foreign place, including the elderly and the poor.

The report itself says this about security:

No information technology (IT) or voting system is 100 per cent secure, but the Online Voting Working Party is committed to developing an online voting solution that will guarantee a similar or higher level of security than currently offered by postal voting.

I am not sure this will be enough.  Reputation wise any breach of an electronic system could be disastrous.

I am interested in feedback on this issue.  Hit me with your thoughts.

Auckland Transport’s reorganisation – no walking and cycling unit?

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One aspect of corporate life that I have never understood is the random and occasional destruction of office morale by a good old staff restructure.  Whole departments are consigned to oblivion and individuals face the terrifying prospect of sudden unemployment at the signing of a pen.

Of course there is always a consultation, and the need to discuss the proposal, carefully consider the feedback and then make a final decision.  I have not however yet witnessed a restructure where the original proposal was changed in no more than a superficial way.

The end result is inevitably destroyed morale, and often a dumbing down of the organisation as those who are capable move elsewhere to other work places where terror will not be such a prominent feature.

To be honest I do not understand why large reorganisations have to happen.  My preference would be that there was incremental change that was respectful of the employee rather than revolutionary change that is challenging to them.

And there is always a cost.  Even if a worker manages to avoid the cut morale tanks.  And there is a hiatus before and after the reorganisation as people settle into new roles.

So I was dismayed that Auckland Transport is going through a reorganisation, and disrupting some of the most important areas of work that it is involved in.

Simon Wilson in the Herald has the details.

Auckland Transport is axing 84 positions and creating 112 new ones in an attempt to change an internal culture it says is based on “avoidance and oppositional behaviour”. The changes include disbanding the dedicated walking and cycling unit.

The move comes a year after the appointment of a new chief executive, Shane Ellison, and follows a major internal review by the council-controlled organisation.

AT spends more than half of Auckland Council’s rates income and often comes under fire for the way it manages roading projects, bus lanes, cycle ways and even, most recently, e-scooters.

Ellison told the Herald that AT has known all year that it needs to transform the way it works.

Well it did but I cant see how this was the fault of the walking and cycling unit.  If anything it is evidence that the unit should be strengthened, not disbanded.

It seems that problems with the West Lynn village upgrade were a major feature.  Again from Wilson at the Herald:

One of the best-known examples of AT dysfunction is the West Lynn shopping village, where a cycleway became hopelessly compromised by poor consultation, demands about car parking, under-road infrastructure repairs, safety issues, bus issues, landscaping and a very poorly developed sense of how to create an appealing suburban village.

In the community and inside AT, it seemed like every group was fighting every other group, with local citizens forced to watch on in horror.

“We learned an awful lot from West Lynn,” Ellison said.

The Herald asked him what they had learned.

“That walking, cycling and placemaking are inherently linked,” he said.

But didn’t the active transport unit keep telling them that?

He said they would be working more closely with the council’s Auckland Design Office and independent consultants. AT will not be attempting to do so much of its own urban design.

And there were major problems earlier in the year with AT’s draft regional land transport plan.  Again from Simon Wilson at the Herald:

How embarrassing. The board of Auckland Transport (AT) has rejected the draft of its most important planning document, prepared for it by AT staff. The reason? The recommendations in the draft ignored AT’s own policies. They also ignored the policies of Auckland Council, which AT is supposed to answer to. And they ignored the clearly stated wishes of the new government, which has a say because it co-funds so much of the city’s transport programme.

Will heads roll? Unlikely, but possible.

It started last week, when AT published, under the signature of Shane Ellison, its brand-new CEO, the draft of its new 10-year plan. Nearly half the funding for commuter rail was gone, light rail was ranked so low it would not get any funding at all, and the cycling and walking budget was slashed by 90 per cent.

Cue immediate scrambling for cover. The chair of the AT board, Lester Levy, even rang the Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford, to apologise. Twyford tweeted: “I’ve had sincere apology from AT chair Lester Levy for internal ‘budget’ document mistakenly made public. The doc certainly doesn’t reflect my conversations with @phil_goff and @AklTransport board and our shared commitment to building a modern transport system for Auckland.”

So the solution to these problems is to dumb down AT’s urban design capacity and do away with the walking and cycling unit?

It appears possible that Kathryn King, bike protagonist extraordinaire, may struggle to find a new role.  Again from Simon Wilson:

Ellison declined to discuss individual roles, but the Herald has been advised the changes include disbanding the Walking, Cycling and Road Safety unit and disestablishing the position of its manager, currently held by Kathryn King.

King is well-known to cycling advocates in Auckland as an enthusiastic spokesperson for AT’s cycling programme. Certainly none of her seniors have a public profile associated with cycling.

The lobby group Bike Auckland has called on Auckland Transport to “explain how disestablishing its walking and cycling team will enhance its focus on walking and cycling and help remedy historic underinvestment in these modes”.

Ellison told the Herald that active transport had become a priority for the whole organisation and a steering group, led by a member of the executive, would help ensure it stayed that way. But this would not be the only responsibility of that executive.

This would be a major shame.  Kathryn has been a vocal and passionate advocate for cycling.  She is just what is needed at AT.

As an indication of her passion this is a picture I took of her holding a Guinness Book of Records certificate at the conclusion of Glen Eden Intermediate’s successful attempt at a cycling world record.

Bike Auckland has expressed concern. From their press release:

Bike Auckland, the nonprofit advocacy organisation for people on bikes, is deeply concerned by reports that Auckland Transport proposes dismantling its dedicated Walking and Cycling team, at a time when the city needs world-class infrastructure for people on foot and on bicycles more than ever.

Auckland Transport advised stakeholders on November 1st that “internal structural changes” will “provide an increased focus on strategic priorities” but gave no specifics. However, reports that specialist roles for walking and cycling within the agency are being disestablished have raised concerns about a loss of key experience and expertise – risking a downsizing of capability in the very modes Auckland Transport has been instructed to invest in by Auckland Council, the NZ Transport Agency, central government and the majority of Aucklanders.

Bike Auckland calls on Auckland Transport to explain how disestablishing its walking and cycling team will enhance its focus on walking and cycling and help remedy historic underinvestment in these modes; and to clarify who will continue to champion active transport within the organisation.

Bike Auckland is especially concerned at a loss of focus and dilution of expertise at a time when Aucklanders are demonstrably embracing reliable, affordable, nimble, sustainable and congestion-free ways to get around our growing city and connect to public transport, in ever-expanding numbers.

Others with deep interest in Auckland transport issues have similar views.

I do not know how Auckland Council will respond to the proposal, presumably do nothing as it is an AT management decision. But if I was to have a say in what was happening I would say that urban design and provision for walking and cycling should be at the centre of AT’s thinking and that it needs loud dedicated advocates. And getting rid of these roles is not the way to achieve this goal.

Light rail in Auckland

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There has been some push back against the Government’s light rail proposal for Dominion Road from some unlikely sources.

Councillor Mike Lee, former NZ First candidate and public transport enthusiast Jon Reeves and others have formed a new organisation NZ Transport 2050 Incorporated to advocate for the Puhinui spur, a rail line that will link the Airport to the Southern line.  There are people involved in this group who have taken a long term interest in public transport and who have been effective advocates for change.

They recently held a public meeting and then following on from this had some media exposure.  The advert for the meeting contained this pessimistic analysisof the Government’s proposal:

NZ Transport 2050 Chair, Paul Miller, says “The Government and Auckland Council have been sold a lemon which won’t solve the massive congestion issues caused by the trending growth at Auckland Airport. It seems that officials have been hi-jacked into something which simply does not solve the congestion problem, wastes the billions we have spent on trains, will cause significant issues for those living on Dominion Road and won’t remove a single truck from the roads trying to reach the expansive airport logistics and surrounding manufacturing zones.”

Radio New Zealand had this reporton the meeting:

At a public meeting last night, the Public Transport Users Association and NZ Transport 2050 said the government had got it wrong.

In April the government and Auckland Council released the details of a $30 billion plan for transport in the city. It allocated an initial $1.8bn for a light rail network for trams connecting the city and Auckland Airport.

The Transport Agency, which is leading the development of the light rail, said the route and total cost will be released later this year.

Paul Miller of NZ Transport 2050 said the trams should be ditched in favour of trains to and from the airport.

“The airport itself is growing rapidly and by 2030 it’ll have 40 million passengers. Auckland will be the only airport of the size of it is with 40 million passengers in the world that only has a light rail connection to the airport.”

Mr Miller said Auckland desperately needed to focus on building infrastructure that would grow with a fast-growing city.

“Anyone that’s been down the south western motorway near the airport in Wiri would know that it’s pretty much all grassland between there and the actual airport itself – a distance of about six and a half kilometres.

“We’re saying that that should be a track with heavy rail tracks and linked up to the main line,” Mr Miller said.

Simon Wilson analysed the claims in this articlepublished last Friday.

The Puhinui advocates have preferred to stress that their proposal offers the quickest route from downtown to the airport and would also be good for freight haulage. Both those points have merit.

But the advocates also say we should build the spur instead of running trams from the inner city through Mt Roskill to Mangere. That does seem to miss the point about trams.

Forget for the moment the air travellers. Think instead of modern transit vehicles, each with a capacity 10 times greater than a bus. Running down the middle of the road every five minutes in both directions. Going slow in the inner city and on Dominion Rd but fast once they get to the motorway at Onehunga.

They’ll go all the way to the airport so, yes, they will offer an airport transport option. But that’s the least of their roles.

They will provide everyone living on their route with a frequent and reliable commuter transport service, which will take both buses and private vehicles off the roads, easing the mounting traffic crisis on Dominion Rd. Other benefits: fewer cars means less air pollution at ground level and fewer greenhouse gases; fewer cars means safer streets.

Those trams will replace many of the buses that currently choke up Symonds St, Britomart and Victoria St East, thus freeing up capacity to allow more buses into the CBD from elsewhere in the city.

This is one of the most-overlooked benefits of the new tram lines: they will help build public transport capacity not just along their own routes, but everywhere it’s most needed.

And at Greater AucklandMatt L agrees with Wilson’s reasoning.

[I]f you compare a Puhinui spur with light rail, you get a bit of a win for people travelling between the city centre and the Airport, but at a huge loss for everyone else. Instead of helping to fix many of Auckland’s most significant transport and housing problems, you get a line that’s probably going to be mainly used by international tourists and business travellers. That doesn’t make any sense to us, which is why we much prefer what’s outlined in ATAP and our Congestion Free Network: a light-rail link from the north and a bus rapid transit connection from the east.

I also agree with Wilson.  The light rail proposal is much more than just dealing with airport requirements.  It will improve public transport to a significant part of Auckland.

And eventually, once the construction disruption has ceased, Dominion Road will be a far superior place, able to be accessed with ease and devoid of the current car congestion that is a blight on the area.

Twyford’s proposal is brave and will no doubt cause considerable local opposition.  But if we want to fix our city and convert it into a properly functioning 21st century city then this is the sort of project that will have to be proceeded with.

Reprinted from the Standard.

RIP Penny Bright

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There was some sad news overnight. Auckland political activist Penny Bright finally succumbed to ovarian cancer and died overnight.

Penny was one of Auckland’s unique political activists. She was a regular attendee at protests and had that endearing characteristic of saying exactly, precisely what she thought.  Without fear.

She railed against what she said was corruption at Auckland Council and urged there to be greater transparency.

She engaged in a rates strike, refusing to pay rates on her home until transparency was improved.

This led to claims and counterclaims and High Court action. Simpson Grierson’s legal bill to Auckland Council was over $100,000. Rates arrears at the time were $33,000.

She offered to settle the defamation suit by being given an apology and $10,000. Council turned down this very economically rational offer.

The crazy thing in relation to the rates arrears is that Council could have sat back and not spent a thing and made more money. Arrears attract a 10% penalty per annum and Bright did not have a mortgage, preventing Council from seeking that the mortgagee pay the arrears.

And the defamation suit was I thought overblown.  People say awful things about Council all the time.  Thicker skins should have prevailed.

The stress of the court action clearly had an effect on her. I recommend people never go to court unless there is absolutely no alternative. Life is too short for that sort of stress.

She also stood for public office. She was almost elected as a Councillor in the early 2000s in a by election. Imagine what would have happened if she had won …

She also stood in each of the Auckland super city Mayoralty elections. She achieved 2,700 votes in 2010, nearly 12,000 in 2013 and over 7,000 in 2016.

She has been unwell for a while. It is a sign of her fortitude and strength of will that she survived as long as she did.

And one of the most touching things I have read for a while was this description by Bernard Orsman in the Herald of her meeting with former nemesis John Banks.

John Banks took the frail hand of his old foe Penny Bright at her bedside in Auckland Hospital today and held it for a good 15 minutes.

“I haven’t met anyone with more fight than you,” said Banks, who knew he was in her good books when she telephoned and referred to him simply as “John”.

“Whenever you referred to me as John Banks I knew I was in trouble,” said the former mayor of Auckland City Council.

On a Wednesday night in 2002, Banks stared down a group of protesters at the Auckland Town Hall and said he was not going to tolerate “boorish and childish behaviour by a small minority of Aucklanders hell-bent on disrupting the council”.

He ruled the protesters could not bring placards into the council meeting. That was followed by chaotic scenes with 20 security guards and several police officers dragging protesters outside and making 17 arrests. Bright was in the thick of the action.

Banks accepted Bright’s invitation to visit her in hospital today, turning up in a Ralph Lauren puffer jacket carrying a large bunch of red lilies and a friendly smile.

He had barely pulled up a chair and wrapped his right hand into hers when Bright launched into a tirade against the injustices of Auckland Council in pursuing her for not paying rates and trying to sell the Kingsland house she had called home since 1990.

“It’s a bit of a dag while I’m busy fighting for my life that I’m fighting to expose Auckland Council for what they have done to me … there needs to be a full-blown forensic inquiry,” said Bright, gravely ill in hospital with a life-threatening diabetic condition, ovarian cancer and a perforated bowel.

That last comment summed up Penny perfectly. She always fought and she never gave up.

I did not necessarily agree with what Penny said but I could never fault her passion or bravery.

Rest in peace Penny.

Reprinted from the Standard.

Glen Eden gets three Pataka Kai

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I have been heavily involved in the Glen Eden community since 1988 when I set up my law practice here. I have always liked the place. It is full of good people and has a strong and proud community. And it is a generous community. You just have to see the multitude of groups and organisations that exist here to realise that many people give freely of their time.

The latest example of this is the establishment of three free road side pantries in Glen Eden. A number of people have been involved but Heather Tanguay, Joy Bennett, Lisa Sherwood, Ecomatters Trust, Levelled up Builders, the Glen Eden Residents Association and many others should be praised and thanked.

The idea of the pantries is simple. Locals with plenty can deposit food into the pantries so that locals who are struggling can receive free food. From each according to their ability and to each according to their need. Micky Savage would have been proud.

Even the large businesses have been involved with Fresh Choice Glen Eden making a significant donation.

I am not sure where the proposal came from although Heather Tanguay was the first person I heard raise the idea. She then floated it on facebook and the idea took off. Clearly a number of generously minded local people also thought it was a really good idea.

If only social media worked more often like this!

This is a local example of the Pataka Kai movement, the translation of which is Food Pantry. The movement is a resident led, grassroots, crowd sourced solution to helping locals that are in need.

At the same time it builds and strengthens community.

Donation is totally discretionary. Those in need can take what they need with the only expectation that they leave enough for others.

This is not a new idea. Historically it has always been a feature of our community that we look after each other. It is only in these more recent dog eat dog days that this generous community spirit has been reduced.

Congratulations again. If you do drive past one of these Pataka Kai and you have more than enough think about leaving something for those in our community who struggle more than we do.

Trixie Harvey acknowledgment

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Text of my acknowledgment made to Trixie Harvey at the last Board meeting.

Trixie Harvey, half of the prodigious BruceandTrixie Harvey died recently.

I have known Trixie for 25 years. I met her and Bruce on election night in 1993. They were stalwart members of the Titirangi Labour Party and I had become active in the party again after a Rogernomics caused hiatus. Suzanne Sinclair was elected MP of the seat in an upset and we had a really enjoyable night toasting her success and working out how to right all that was wrong with the world.

And after that night I slowly become quite active in the party and the more active I became the more time I spent with Bruce and Trixie.

Our engagement with each other increased considerably after I became part of the team that saw David Cunliffe elected to Parliament to represent the local area in 1999. This election night party was another occasion to celebrate and to reflect.

Then when I became active in local body politics in 2000 I began seeing them very often. Because they were so active. It seemed that every time there was an environmental issue or a community issue Bruce and Trixie were there.

I was amazed at how much they were involved in. How could two nominally retired people achieve so much?

Their commitment to protection of the Waitakere Ranges was legendary. They were both staunch supporters of the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society and of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area. They were instrumental in the production of the Waitakere Ranges book “Ranges of Inspiration”. In their forward they said this:

“We hope the book will be a reference and an inspiration for Aucklanders for many years., To do justice to the noble Waitakere Ranges and the great forest of Tirana would require several books, but we hope this volume will give a strong appreciation of one of New Zealand’s greatest environmental assets.”

Their typically understated forward does not do justice to the outstanding manuscript they produced.

Other groups also benefitted from Bruce and Trixie’s passion and dedication. In no particular order these included friends of Whatipu, Forest and Bird, Waitakere Conservation Network, pretty well any group you could imagine.

But Trixie was not only an energetic dedicated activist. She was highly intelligent and contributed significantly to New Zealand’s understanding of and reliance on kiwifruit. She was the mother of Lindy, Mark and Hannah. In a lifetime she packed in so much, achieved great things and touched so many.

Her funeral was a touching, uplifting event, a real celebration of her life.

It left us all in awe that she had achieved so much and with such style.

Commiserations to Bruce and the Harvey whanau. Trixie will remain in our thoughts and memories.

The future of Glen Eden

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I have had a rather strong link to Glen Eden for over 30 years. Back in 1988 I decided to open a law office. The premises at 208 West Coast Road were central, comfortable, available and cheap and I rented a room.  Since then through gradual growth I have taken over the other rooms and now occupy the floor.

The neighbourhood was and still is really good. The immediate vicinity was surrounded by other businesses owned by people trying to make a living. There were no chain stores and nothing flash but many in the business area we’re getting by and doing ok.

The suburb was full of good old sorts. Ordinary families who had set up home in Glen Eden many years ago and then worked to build a community. There were the churches, the Glenora Rugby League club, the Playhouse. The sense of community was very strong.

Since that time there has been gradual change. The railway station has been improved and the old station moved into place many years ago.  A new library and community hub were constructed. The 3 Guys supermarket was closed and replaced by the buildings to the rear of the shopping centre.

But the pace of change has quickened recently.  It is clear however that more recently major change is happening and more is just around the corner.

Public transport usage is surging.  The double tracking and electrification of the rail have caused significant change.  Last year there were over 650,000 train boardings and alightings through the station. In 2014 there were 427,000.

And Auckland City is growing quickly. It is predicted that by 2031 the current population of just over 1.6 million will have increased to 2.2 million.

Auckland has two options, grow out or consolidate. Growing out creates all sorts of problems, such as taking up our fertile areas and the Waitakere Ranges as well as increasing congestion and the expense of running the city. Sprawling cities are inefficient and unsustainable cities. The cost of infrastructure is higher and because everyone has to drive further congestion is a feature.

This is why Council has decided, and I agree with the decision, that Auckland should consolidate with up to 70% of future growth in the forseeable future occurring within existing boundaries.  To make this work the intensification has to be concentrated in those areas where there is the greatest potential for improved transport network performance. And this is on the public transport routes, particularly on the train lines.

This is not some academic theory. Big cities overseas such as London, New York, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo have shown how growth can be handled. And Los Angeles shows why over reliance on the car for transport does not work.

China and in particular Shanghai has shown what is possible.  In order to address out of control air pollution and congestion China has been on an underground metro binge since the early 1990s.  Shanghai is at the forefront of these efforts and now has 640 kilometers of underground rail after opening up its first metro rail line in 1993.  To put this into perspective Auckland’s city rail link currently being constructed is 3.4 kilometers long.

It is clear to me that to handle growth you have to put in place quality public transport, preferably train, that can move large numbers of people quickly and efficiently.  Which is why the city rail link is so important.

Glen Eden is one of the areas the city rail link will benefit the most. When it is finished train trips to the centre of the city will take only 35 minutes and the train frequency will be every 6 minutes.  I can’t imagine many people wanting to do this trip by car when the link is in place.

And already development in anticipation of growth is happening.  The Ted Manson Foundation towers are being built right now and are expected to be completed by June next year.  And Housing Corp is intending to start the construction of another apartment block in Glen Eden in early 2019.

This is why I believe Auckland Transport’s current plan to upgrade and slow down traffic through Glen Eden is a welcome and important step to take.  The area is too car dominated.  Making the area  more people friendly and safer is an imperative.

Following are some photos showing what is being consulted on.

This is the West Coast Road Captain Scott Road intersection.

This is further down the road showing Glenview Road.

And this is the Glendale Road intersection.

There are few aspects of the proposal that have already attracted comment.

One question that has been asked is where are the cycleways and I agree.  There may be a case for the local board to supplement the spend with some of our own transport capital project funds to make sure that cycleways are installed now although clearly my preference is that Auckland Transport pays for this.  The local board’s draft greenways plan should be incorporated into the design work.

Safe pedestrian crossing over Glenview Road from Waikumete Road is important.  Currently people take their hands in their lives when they cross this area.  Safety improvements in this particular area are vital.

People are worried about parking.  My understanding is there will be limited loss of parking further up by the Wilson Road intersection and this project will not cause other parking spaces to be lost.  I should acknowledge that in the longer term the loss of car parks inevitable.  Land will become too valuable to be the preserve of a single car for extended periods of time.

I am sure there will be other concerns and other proposals for improvement.

The consultation ends on September 9, 2018.  Feedback can be provided online here.