Newmarket Viaduct Closure

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Newmarket ViaductJeremy Greenbrook-Held

For much of the weekend of 4-5 September, the south-bound lane of the Newmarket Viaduct will be closed so the final alterations can be made to bring the new viaduct online. The New Zealand Transport Agency is recommending that people either find other forms of transportation, or stay at home during the 36 hours that the switch is undertaken – particularly on Sunday.

The NZTA have recommended that all south-bound (Airport and Manukau) traffic from West Auckland and the North Shore be diverted down the SH20 motorway. Given that the roads between the Great North Road offramp at Waterview and the start of the SH20 motorway at New Windsor are suburban roads, I shudder to think how far traffic will be backed up in both directions on the Northwestern Motorway. Anyone traveling across town for Father’s Day should expect a slow trip.

Interesting to see that NZTA has recommended people look at public transport options:

Auckland’s public transport system has been revitalised in recent years. Rail links between Auckland, Waitakere and Manukau, and bus and ferry options from the North Shore, will provide viable transport alternatives this weekend throughout the wider region. Visit www.maxx.co.nz to find out your best option.

Here’s an idea – why doesn’t the Auckland Regional Transport Authority use the weekend see how popular public transport options would be if they were free?

Imagine the savings that would be made across the region if Aucklanders were given free (or nominal cost – say $1) public transport on an on-going basis. Auckland’s roads would be freed up for those that actually need them, and increased patronage would led to more frequent and more reliable services.

I’ve started a Facebook campaign for free public transport for the weekend, and I’ve drafted a letter to ARTA asking them to explore the possibility.

Photo credit: Auckland Motorways.

Len Brown embraces Eco City

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It is good to see that Len Brown has decided to embrace the concept of “Eco City”.  Future West supports his election and hopes that Waitakere City’s “eco city” concept can be applied to the Auckland super city if and when he becomes Super Mayor.

The Eco City concept is based on the Agenda 21 document formulated at the Earth Summit conference held in Rio de Janeiro during 1992.  It involves taking a holistic approach to sustainable development, and in particular recognises the inter-relationships between people, the environment, and the economy.

It encourages a cautious and long-term view on future development and present activity and encourages community-led initiatives in the areas of economic and social development, environmental protection, and community involvement in decision making.

It is structured around 7 key focus areas:

  • community empowerment,
  • urban consolidation,
  • involving local people in the protection of their environment,
  • promoting a holistic view of health and safety,
  • reducing the need to travel and encouraging public transport, cycling and walking,
  • encouraging resource use which results in using less energy, generating energy from renewable resources, using resources more wisely and producing less waste, and
  • facilitating economic development by targeting and attracting economic activity while working with the existing business base to encourage more sustainable practices.

As can be appreciated there are a wealth of approaches that are anticipated by these focus areas and it is important that these are at the forefront of thinking when local decisions are being made.

As well as the environmental benefits there are very sound practical reasons why these concepts are important. Reducing traffic makes towns more enjoyable to live in as well as reducing our dependance on overseas oil supplies.  Enhancing community activity has a strong beneficial social consequence as people’s lives are enriched.  Reducing the need to travel through encouraging local businesses increases the amount of free time that people have.  And the wiser use of resources has a direct beneficial financial effect as we reduce our material needs.

The concepts are complex.  But they are ideas that will improve people’s way of life.

It is great that Len agrees with this.  He deserves our support for doing so.

Westgate and Cars

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Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

I wonder how often your average West Harbour resident walks across the motorway to Westgate? I have to say, considering I live less than a kilometre from the shopping centre, I can count the number of times I’ve walked there on one hand. And with good reason – like many of Auckland’s shopping centres, Westgate is not particularly accessible.

Unless you have a car that is.

Josh Arbury over at Auckland Trains has run a small series of posts highlighting how car-centric many parts of Auckland are – illustrating his point with satellite photographs of Botany Downs in East Auckland, and Smales Farm on the North Shore. Here’s the same view of Westgate:

Westgate

(This image was taken from Google Maps and is a few months old now – there is now a bridge that replaces the roundabout in the top right hand corner.).

Anyone who walks from West Harbour to Westgate will face  four sets of traffic lights (only two sets if you drive). From the end of the motorway, it’s another 150m until there’s an entrance to the shopping centre (illustrated by the red line). I’ve seen several keen walkers jay-walk the lights at motorway on and off ramps – literally risking their lives given the speed at which traffic enters and exits the motorway. The story isn’t much better for residents in the Westgate subdivision (orange line) or Massey West (yellow line), except they don’t have a motorway to contend with.

Public transport obviously wasn’t given too much serious consideration by the developers – while there is kind-of a bus station at Westgate (green shaded box), and buses do have a dedicated right-hand turn at the lights on Hobsonville Road, the prolific use of fiddly little roundabouts within Westgate (one at each end of the bus station) makes driving a bus through Westgate a little hazardous.

I’ve worked out that approximately half the space which Westgate occupies is taken up by parking spaces. This seems to be a huge waste to me. I’m not advocating getting rid of all the car parks (grocery shopping at Countdown without a car wouldn’t be a lot of fun – although I know it’s reality for some), but if Westgate was served by a decent public transport system, I think that some of that space could be put to much more valuable use – more retail space, perhaps medium density living space, or even (gasp!) community space?

The Kiwi Income Property Trust saw the benefits of integrated public transport when they build Silvia Park – investing a significant amount of money in building the mall’s own train station (yes, the developers paid for the Silvia Park train station themselves). Westgate would be a prime beneficiary of a dedicated bus-way on the Northwestern Motorway – this needs to be a priority for the Westgate Town Centre development which is currently on the cards.

As an aside, when Westgate was first being built (while I was still a student at Kaipara College) there was a rumour (more urban legend I suspect) that the original plans were for a Westcity-style shopping mall with parking on the roof. However, some bright spark worked out that if someone  jumped up on top of their car in the roof-top car park, they would be able to touch the high-tension wires which pass overhead. The plans for a mall were subsequently scrapped. I don’t know how true that story (probably entirely fiction), but I wonder how different the above image would be if there was a mall at Westgate instead of the open shopping centre that’s there now.

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.

Welcome to Future West

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Future West has formed to make sure West Aucklanders get the best possible outcome from the ‘Super’ city mess. The coalition’s goal is to get strong, progressive local people elected, so the Waitakere way is kept alive in the new, amalgamated structure. The coalition backs community-power and keeping community assets like libraries, pools and water in community control. It wants safer streets, local jobs, better public transport and to see the Eco-City values spread across the region. It also supports Maori representation on Council.

Future West will co-ordinate, support and fundraise for a group of candidates that share these values and invites applications from people interested in standing in the Waitakere and Whau wards for Council, the Local Boards, Health Board and Licensing Trust seats this year. The coalition will be working with the City Vision team to select the best possible candidates for the Whau Ward.

Future West is also asking for volunteers to fundraise, deliver leaflets or display signs. People from all walks of life, all ages and all ethnicities are warmly invited to seek support as candidates or to get involved in the campaign.

The coalition includes independent West Auckland community groups and is supported by both the Green Party and the Labour Party. The first ‘Super’ City elections will be held in October this year and will be crucial in determining the future West Aucklanders enjoy.

For more information, to lodge a nomination or to volunteer contact:

Mels Barton on 021 213 7779 or mels@wombatsenvironmental.co.nz
Tony Dunn on 021 812 840 or tony.dunn@greens.org.nz
Or Greg Presland on 021 998 411 or walaw@paradise.net.nz