Central Government needs to get in the loop

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Ciaron Murnane

Introduction

Monday to Friday, I commute from New Lynn Train Station into the CBD. I know first-hand the problems our city’s public transport system suffers from. Thankfully, there has been progress in recent times. The completion of the Western line’s double-tracking is almost in sight. This has resulted in a noticeable improvement in services for those who commute from Waitakere. However, there are still significant upgrades that need to occur before Auckland has a 21st century public transport system. The most important project that needs to be implemented is the CBD Rail Loop.

What would the CBD Rail Loop encompass?

After several studies, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority released its preferred route for the CBD Rail Loop in March this year. The loop as proposed would be an under rail tunnel running between Mt Eden and Britomart Train Stations. It would run parallel up Queen Street and encompass Khyber Pass Road, Symonds Street, and Karangahape Road. Three locations have been suggested as possible train stations on the loop; Symonds Street/Khyber Pass Road, Karangahape Road/Pitt Street, and Albert Street between Victoria and Wellesley Streets.

Why do we need a CBD Rail Loop?

The loop will be of considerable benefit to not only Central Auckland but Greater Auckland as well. The rail network’s capacity to carry passengers will be given a much needed boost. At present the network can sustain 24 million passenger trips a year. If the trend of booming passenger numbers continues, this capacity level will be reached within the next ten years. The loop is needed to increase this current capacity level, and to increase the frequency and reliability of services.

The loop is also an important first step to expanding the rail network into other areas not currently served in Auckland. For West Aucklanders, it would be the initial step for a train service direct from West to South Auckland. It will also be the foundation for a train line to the airport and to the North Shore.

Even if you don’t use the train you will see a benefit. More train services will mean more transport choices for Aucklanders. More people will use the train instead of driving their cars, freeing up the roads for cyclists and motor vehicle users.

The loop is also necessary for the future infrastructural needs of Auckland. Our population is predicted to swell to 2.5 million people by 2050. If our city is to cope, a comprehensive and fully-functioning transport system is vital.

Who is supporting it?

The Green Party are the main proponents of the rail loop in Parliament. On Monday the 26th of July, Green MPs Gareth Hughes and Keith Locke kicked off their “Fast-Track the CBD Rail Loop” campaign. The aim of the campaign is to pressure the Government into funding the loop.

Almost all of the main contenders in the Auckland Council race are behind the CBD rail loop. That includes the Future West and Future Whau candidates. Other progressive candidates who are in favour of the loop are the Mayoral-race frontrunner and current Manukau Mayor Len Brown, and Chairman of the Auckland Regional Council and CityVision council candidate Mike Lee.

What has central government done to support its implementation?

Unfortunately, the National-led Government is more interested in “Party Central” than “coming to the party” with funding for the rail loop. Central government funding is necessary for the loop to get on track. But the Government is refusing to support any more major public transport projects, despite committing billions of dollars to roads.

One striking comparison is the Government’s commitment to complete the Puhoi-Warkworth motorway. Both the motorway and the loop will cost around $2 billion. The loop, however, will be of far greater value long-term. With electrification of the rail network, the loop will help decrease dependence on petrol, and ease traffic congestion. A new motorway will do the exact opposite. Public pressure on the Government is needed to show Aucklanders desire the rail loop and that it is an important project for Auckland’s infrastructure needs.

What can I do to support the implementation of the CBD Rail Loop?

The first thing CBD Rail Loop enthusiasts can do is support the Greens “Fast-Track the CBD Rail Loop” campaign. The next important step is to support progressive local government candidates who are in favour of better public transport and getting the loop up and running. We need a council and local boards that are willing to solve the public transport problems Auckland commuters face. Voting for Future West and Future Whau candidates is one way of ensuring pressure is put on the Government to “get in the loop” and fund this much needed public transport project.

Nick Smith’s Contempt for Local Democracy

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Steve Tollestrup

Nick Smith’s contention this morning that ‘small’ councils do not have the expertise to make decisions on  environmental issues such as oil and gas exploration in their regions should sound alarm bells with Waitakere voters.

Nick Smith, who by the way is not an environmental specialist, but a civil engineer with a PhD in landslides, considers that the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formed to expedite resource consent favourable to the National government’s economic vision be the authority to move the process through quickly with minimal local contestability. Something this minister considers a nuisance.

His charge that small councils lack the capacity is challenged by Taranaki Regional Council Resource Management Director Fred McLay who disagrees saying his council has successfully regulated for thirty years and if anything jurisdiction should be expanded.

Future West agrees. Local councils, in touch with their constituents have the capacity and ability to make decisions affecting their own communities. Waitakere voters have been given the priviledge of living among one of this country’s most important and spectacular wilderness environments, waterways and coast. It is something we all value and take pride in. Central government appointed professionals who run roughshod over ‘small councils’ take away that basic democratic right and are not wanted in Waitakere. Remember where the expert opinion on mining wanted to take the Coromandel?

Waitakere voters want strong local democracy and the right to make decisions around their own environment . Future West will keep it local and democratic- and that’s a promise we make and keep to you.

I have no doubt National’s local body proxy, Citizen and Ratepayers, would hand that democratic right and control over to Wellington in a heartbeat.

Does Banks have any Credibility Left?

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Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

For about a month now, John Banks has occupied the huge billboard that looks over the Penrose Railway Station and the Southern Motorway. It’s a prime spot if you want to capture the Southern Motorway commuter vote.

Up until earlier this week, it was a generic Banks billboard with Rangitoto in the background. However, it’s been replaced with a new billboard:

John Banks: Less Wishbone, More Backbone.

I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I guess it’s something along the lines of being a Mayor who doesn’t promise the world but will stand up for the city? Truly strange coming from the man who – only months ago – said that he’d like to bring the 2020 Olympic Games to Auckland.

A group of us door knocked for Len Brown in my home town of Helensville recently. Right in the heart of John Key’s electorate, the Tory pick for Mayor is not popular. “Anyone but Banks” was a common reaction. This is probably why I’ve yet to spot any of Banks’ promotional material outside of Auckland City – nothing out West. I guess he knows where he’s not wanted.

UPDATE:

City Vision candidate for Waitemata Ward, Mike Lee, stated at yesterday’s City Vision launch that Banks’ new slogan means that he has no ideas and will impose his ideology on the city.

Waitakere Ranges protection – why this election is important

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Greg Presland

Protection of the Waitakere Ranges has been a major issue out west for decades.  Back in 1975 then MP Jonathan Hunt introduced into Parliament a bill that would have provided for effective protection.  Unfortunately with the change of Parliament the bill failed although the issue never went away.

The issue resurfaced in 1999 after the election of the Go Waitakere council.  Attempts to loosen up subdivisional rules failed however and the Go Waitakere councillors were voted out of office.  The next Council was dominated by members of Team West.  I must admit that I was a proud member of that Council.  One of their policies was the meaningful protection of the Ranges.  After a great deal of discussion and consultation the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008 was formulated and enacted as a local bill by Parliament with the sponsorship of Lynne Pillay.

The Act was not especially radical.  It attempted to hold current District Plan provisions in place and prevent the gradual erosion of protection in the future, the “death by a thousand cuts” talked about by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Morgan Williams.

There has already been a possible attempt to undermine the protection offered by the Heritage Act.  Under the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill an attempt was made to have the new Spatial Plan the New Auckland Council will have to complete not have to take into account the protective measures of the Heritage Act.  The Spatial plan will take the place of the Regional Growth Strategy and will have a big influence on the setting of the boundary of the City.   The Government said it was a mistake and the problem was “fixed” in the final version of the Bill but one wonders if it was a mistake or intentional.  When in opposition National had promised to repeal the Act.

The relationship between the Spatial plan and the Act will be of huge importance.  If a developer friendly Council is elected the temptation will be to try and reduce the protection offered by the Act.

The consultation for the Spatial Plan will be all important and I cannot imagine how the Super City Council will be able to manage it.  There are likely to be thousands of submissions.  I suspect that the Local Board may have an important role to listen to submissions and to present the views of Waitakere residents and villages.  Eternal vigilence will be required to maintain protection.

The Case for the Northwestern Busway

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Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

I was interested to read Josh Arbury’s update on the Northwestern Busway. ARTA have up until recently been reluctant to entertain the idea of a second public transport spine in West Auckland, claiming that it will take patronage away from the Western Rail Line, but seem to be warming to the idea.

A North Shore-style dedicated bus way on the Northwestern Motorway is exactly what the people of Te Atatu and Massey need to get out of their cars and on to public transport. With over 60% of West Aucklanders commuting to other parts of Auckland on a daily basis, the public transport services offered to those westies who don’t live near the Western Rail Line is abysmal. For example, if you catch a bus from Westgate to Britomart, it will most likely take just over an hour – even in rush hour, it’s only a 30 minute drive. Not only do the buses have to travel at the same speed as the traffic (the bus shoulders are useless on this front, as buses have to merge back into the traffic at almost every bridge or off-ramp), but they have to take in loops through all the surrounding suburbs, making the journey painfully slow.

With up to five lanes of motorway planned for the not too distant future, there is more than enough room. If bus ‘stations’ were located at every on-ramp, these could connect with local bus services to and from Henderson, Te Atatu Peninsula or New Lynn, or park-and-ride facilities. It would stand a excellent chance of moving faster than the traffic, which would be the key to increasing patronage.

Public transport is not going to be for everyone (I hardly expect trades workers with ladders on top of their vans to jump on a bus) but if more CBD workers were motivated to get out of their cars and catch public transport, it would free up the motorway for those commuters who don’t the a choice.

With planned expansion of the Northwestern Motorway and the completion of the Hobsonville Deviation, there has never been a better time to build dedicated bus lanes out west. I just hope that the Transport CCO (which will be based at Waitakere Central) will see sense in a Western Busway too.