The Auckland plan ignores the potential for modern technology to solve our transport and other problems and, instead, pushes expensive and inappropriate 19th and 20th century solutions. They plan to spend about $3 billion on a rail tunnel that, like all tunneling projects will cost much more and will demand huge subsidies for every passenger. The tunnel is needed only because the plan decrees that people and employment must be crowded into the city centre.
The planners seem to be totally ignorant of recent advances in personal transport and telecommuting that, even now, make their plans obsolete. Their plan will make Auckland one of the most expensive cities in the world because they are deliberately restricting the availability of land and jacking up the price of housing to achieve their dream of high density living and their obsession with rail transport.
Their plans for transport are based on the assumption that personal transport technology will not change substantially over the next 30 years. They seem to hate motorcars and ignore their steadily increasing fuel efficiency. They give little consideration to the enormous benefits that personal transport has brought to everyone and do not seem to be aware that most car journeys are not to and from a single place of work. Most car journeys are for transporting children – and all the gear that now goes with them – for going to meetings, for shopping and for many other purposes.
A revolution in personal transport is imminent and inevitable and and will bring large fuel savings. You can now buy cars that can park themselves and, in a traffic jam, will follow the car ahead. All the major manufacturers are developing automatically guided (driverless) cars. They will reduce accidents by 50 to 80%, double or treble the capacity of motorways and allow us to call up a driverless car or minibus by text message to take us – and anyone else traveling in the same direction – to where we want to go. Soon people will be able to enjoy most of the advantages of personal transport without even owning a car. Driverless cars already have a proven safety record: cars developed by Google have already covered 300,000 miles all over California without a single accident. Convoys of trucks with a single driver have already driven on the motorways in Europe. The potential is enormous and everyone will benefit.
Improvements in modern communications allows more and more people to do some or all of their work from home. In many cases, these people will be traveling from meeting to meeting rather than to their normal place of work. For them, last century’s public transport simply will not work.
The Auckland plan will impose huge increases in population density in the central isthmus area where sooner or later, there will be another volcanic eruption. One of the lessons that came out of the Christchurch earthquake was "do not put all your assets in one place" – especially in areas prone to natural disasters.
Probably the worst aspect of the Auckland plan is their deliberate policy of restricting the availability of land. Everyone complains about the high cost of housing but, in fact, it is land and consent costs, not the houses themselves, that are expensive. For example, Houston, Texas is one of the most affordable major cities in America, with housing costing only 3 times the annual average income – the Auckland ratio is 6.7. Houston has no zoning and moderate restrictions on how property owners use their land. It has an innovative and growth-friendly environment that creates tens of thousands of new jobs each year. Cities dominated by town planners have the least affordable housing, the fastest growing traffic congestion, ever-increasing rates and declining services. Is that what we want?
Plenty of land is available for expanding Auckland and developing new centres where people can shop and work. Much of the area from Silverdale to Huapai and in the Clevedon area is in lifestyle blocks that have little agricultural value. Increased density would bring large benefits and there are many other areas of low agricultural value suitable for suburban development. Releasing more land and streamlining the consent process would result in a dramatic fall in the cost of new housing. If this is done we won’t need an underground railway and the billions saved would easily pay for the infrastructure needed. It is also scandalous that, having made land hugely expensive, the Council now demands government subsidies to solve the problem.
The policy of increased population density represents social engineering on a large scale. Experience overseas with high-rise apartment buildings tells us that it leads to many social problems. Our environmentally friendly suburban backyards with trees and gardens are a haven for birds and bees, provide easily supervised areas for children to play, for entertaining and workshops for our boys and girls to learn practical skills. These advantages should not be lightly cast aside. They are a key factor in the Kiwi “can do” attitude.
The Auckland Plan is hugely expensive, will force up the price of housing even further, and turn Auckland into a city with suburbs that only the rich can afford to live in. Poor people will be forced to live in high rise tenements deprived of personal transport. We should reject it.
Bryan Leyland is a Consulting Engineer with wide interests in modern technology.