At least that's how it should be. But the politics of Len Brown are undermining Auckland's growth as National plays politics with transport

The tensions between Auckland and Wellington cannot be fudged anymore; it's clear that disagreements between the two are now holding the city back, as they bicker over transport funding.

Seeing the Prime Minister coming out today with some of the same lines Transport Minister Simon Bridges used on The Nation at the weekend shows that National has a lot riding on this. It could end up in the long lane, or worse, entirely the wrong side of the political road if it's not careful.

You can start the story of Auckland's transport problems a year ago, a decade ago or a generation (or two) ago. Thing is, it's our biggest city's biggest problem, we are suffering from generations of under-investment and Len Brown has won two election promising action. After much debate, consultation and expert advice, Auckland Council has come up with a plan.

And the government doesn't like it. Bridges likes to say it's "not optimal". Yet just what he thinks would be optimal remains elusive. We got the first glimpse of it on The Nation, when he said he thought that the plan of rail to the airport was a bad use of a lot of money and more should be spent on "local roads".

There are two problems with that. First, rail to the airport is far in the Council's funding future; it's already been kicked down and down the to-do list, despite it being one of Brown's election promises. Second, the research shows that local roads do sod all to ease congestion, because it just speeds up the flow to the next congestion point or the motorway on-ramp.

The change-maker is public transport, but while Bridges says on one had than the Council's plan does not make effective enough use of public transport, he (and Key) then revert back to talking about roads.

The Council's plan is not perfect, as no plan is. But it's good and it starts in the right place – the central rail link and bus-ways.

Thing is, the Council needs money to get moving, yet Aucklanders don't want to pay more rates and, anyway, Brown made a promise about that too. So the council has come up with a three year levy (one that even senior councillors such as Christine Fletcher are already saying may need to go beyond three years). It buys them time and allows them to start this term, thereby being able to show voters at next year's local body elections that they are "doing something".

But Auckland needs a lot more money. The Council wants the ability to toll, maybe a regional fuel tax. But that requires and law changes and National isn't having it.

Whether it's the influence of the roading lobby, the desire to damage this council and help create momentum for a right-wing mayor or genuine belief that more talking is the best thing, National is stalling.

Unbelievably, after generations of inaction and years of research, Bridges wants another year or two so that the council and government can reach "alignment". And by alignment, he means Auckland Council doing what he wants.

It's batty; action is needed urgently. Already the council is talking about hiring security guards for Britomart as it nears capacity and have stopped approving three special housing areas because of a lack of transport to and fro. It seems they have the sense to remember the problems Massey and other western suburbs faced back in the 1960s and 70s when they were built with no public transport, supermarkets, parks and so on.

Delaying now is pushing all kinds of costs and problems onto future generations, just as past inaction (by mostly National governments, it should be said) has created this backlog of problems today.

If it was any other council, the debate would be framed as the Council of Go v the Party of No. But the politics is that Key is backing his popularity against Brown's, and of course on that basis will win. The mood around Brown is just poisonous; he can't win even when he's played the politics very cleverly.

Brown has the plan, Brown wants to "get on with it" while the government is stopping him moving. The framing of this should be the government playing politics and stopping Auckland from getting moving.

It's certainly not, as Bridges mischievously claimed, about the government protecting "the chequebook". No, Auckland Council is asking for the powers to get Aucklanders to pay for the required work. The tolls or fuel tax wouldn't cost the government's books a cent. But because Brown is now a seen as a dirty old mayor, it looks like National thinks it can win a popularity contest and stare the mayor down.

It's a long way from the promise made by Rodney Hide – who was, you'll remember, a minister in the Key government – that with a super city Aucklanders would be "masters of their own destiny".

Instead, Auckland is speaking – pleading even – and Wellington is shrugging and refusing to budge.

If Key holds this line and refuses Auckland the power to act, he's very much at risk of getting on the wrong side of the politics heading into 2017. The biggest bit of feedback from the recent council submissions was "get on with it". Aucklanders may have run out of patience with Brown, but they (especially those under 40) will quickly run out of patience with a government that's stopping the building of better public transport.

And as we all know, lose Auckland and you lose elections.

But worse, you can forget flags and surpluses. If National doesn't let Auckland get on with it, Key's government will have a legacy (like National governments of the 1950s and 1970s) of stopping Aucklanders getting the transport networks – and therefore quality of life – that the country's biggest and only international city needs.

Comments (9)

by Judy on May 11, 2015

"Whether it's the influence of the roading lobby, the desire to damage this council and help create momentum for a right-wing mayor"


Government hates Brown, almost as much as they hate the Aucklanders who voted him in, twice.  They must do, because it is blinding them to the sure knowledge that the voters will look to vote them out, but, more importantly, vote the minister Nicky Kaye out in favour of Jacinda Ardern, because of govt delaying tactics.  Aucklanders know which government stopped Robbie from getting his wish and now they know just what it will cost them financially in 2015-???, thanks to yet another National government trying to stop egalitarian, sensible planning, listening only to roading lobbyists and disregarding public transport users' reasons for wanting 21stC public transport.

by Nick Gibbs on May 11, 2015
Nick Gibbs

I don't think National are out to replace Len with someone else. I don't think they really care who's mayor. But they do want the SHA greenfields sites to go ahead asap. 

I agree it's a high risk strategy to force further delays like this, and could cost National big time if Aucklander's feel they are being mucked around for the sake of political expediency. 

Len's not popular in Auckland and may feel like Obama that a lame duck can take big risks. 

Key's fourth term could well be in jeopardy.


by Rich on May 11, 2015

Don't Aucklanders *like* traffic congestion at some level?

If it's difficult and expensive to commute, then that drives the price of inner Auckland property up. In turn, that pulls up the price of mid- and outer- area properties, despite the stupid commutes involved. So house prices keep going up, and Aucklanders get huge amounts of untaxed capital gains, at least on paper.

And while from day to day, it might not be much fun to be living in an $800k slum at the arse end of Avondale and facing a 2 hour drive to work, not to mention the 95% mortgage to pay for it, the Aucklander doesn't think that way. They read their house pr0n and they know it's going up in value by $200k a year - that's four times their salary. They'll have the rental properties and the beach house in no time - they've already bought $30k worth of secondhand SUV to make the commute a bit more comfortable.

Not like the sad old Wellington working stiff, who might have a half hour walk to work through a forest, but who's never going to get a ahead living on their salary, for frigs sake. I bet they don't even *own* an SUV.

Traffic jams are a vote-winner.


by Rich on May 11, 2015


s/going up/keep going up

- I suppose there's no chance of an editor?


Editor: Done.

by Katharine Moody on May 11, 2015
Katharine Moody

Saw the programme and the interview, Tim, and you summed it up very nicely. And this bit of deliberate obfuscation;

It's certainly not, as Bridges mischievously claimed, about the government protecting "the chequebook". No, Auckland Council is asking for the powers to get Aucklanders to pay for the required work. The tolls or fuel tax wouldn't cost the government's books a cent.

Was particularly galling.

Opposition parties must capitalise on what I'd liken to treason committed against Aucklanders by this Executive. Any number of Ministers are just plain lying to the people - it's too kind to describe it as spin. It's more insidious than that. Children being left in day care for up to 11 hours a day due to commute times - unacceptable.

by Rich on May 12, 2015

Thank you Mr Ed!!

by Andrew P Nichols on May 13, 2015
Andrew P Nichols

Business as usual for a city within a visionless nation led by visionless people. Couldn't even accept the gift of a world class sport stadium....Endless progressive LA gridlock for decades to come. Such a pity. Auckland had so much potential. Probably another reason I'm in Brisbane - the Auckland that works. A city where it is the LNP - yes that's right the conservatives right of centre party that is spending $100m on extending cycleways in the face of opposition from the Labor Party. Credit where credit is due. We've got a better climate too. Crap fishing though.

by Charlie on May 15, 2015

There was a post here some time ago by Brian worrying about our lack of decentralization, yet here we have a proposal to milk the New Zealand taxpayer of a considerable amount of money in order to try and ameliorate a congestion problem in central Auckland...

The Left love public transport because it's a romantic, egalitarian dream but the fact is Len's train set isn't going to be much help:

> The vast majority of us don't work or live in the city,

> We'll be a rain soaked half an hour walk to the nearest station,

> if we don't live on the North Shore, in which case we'll get nothing for our money. > We'll still need a car for the weekend. > It fails to address the fact that Auckland sits astride an isthmus and the majority of the traffic on its motorways are passing through Auckland on the way from or to somewhere else. > Auckland simply doesn't have the population density to support public transport. It will need massive subsidy in perpetuity.  
by Dakota Robson on June 30, 2015
Dakota Robson

Public transportation is really very essential in cities and metros. People use bus and train services in huge numbers to travel everywhere everyday. Most of the working people use public transport services to reach their offices and other work places. Transport projects need to be done properly with required funding and necessary efforts.

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