Monday, February 24, 2014

Bryan Leyland: The tunnel and the Unitary Plan

Len Brown is determined to commit Auckland to building a hugely expensive railway tunnel even though no independent and objective economic analysis has been made on the merits of the tunnel and whether or not alternative developments that do not concentrate on the city centre at the expense of other centres, would be better. If this is true, then the Council have neglected their obligation to investigate and evaluate all options before they decide upon a plan for Auckland. Given the enormous amount of expenditure involved, this  amounts to a serious dereliction of their duties.

Overseas research on in many urban rail systems reveals that the average cost overrun is 45% and the number of passengers is half the predicted amount. Has the economics of the Auckland tunnel been tested against 45% higher costs and half the passengers? If not, why not?

At best, the railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Right now, ratepayers subsidise 80% of the cost of every train fare. If the tunnel costs USD4.5 million it will need to recover at least $450 million in fares every year for capital repayment and operating expenses. If, as hoped, there are 20 million rail trips every year, it works out at an extra $22.5 per rail trip – whether or not they use the tunnel!

The Council planners are totally unaware of the imminent revolution in personal transport that will be brought about by self-guided cars, taxis and buses. By the time the tunnel is built it will be possible to buy a self-guided car that will allow twice the traffic density on roads and reduce accidents by 50% or more. It will also be possible to call up a driverless taxi or minibus by cellphone to take you where you want to go. These advances will make suburban passenger trains obsolete. For those who think that this is is the stuff of dreams, it is now possible to buy a car that, in a traffic jam, will follow the car ahead.

This technological advance, combined with telecommuting (working from home and using the Internet to communicate) will have a huge effect on commuting and the shape of future cities.  The Council should be up to speed with this imminent revolution. I am sure it is not.

To a large degree, the Unitary Plan is based on a blind belief that it is wrong to let the city spread and intensification is the only option. This is simply not true. There are large areas of low value agricultural land to the north, west and south of Auckland and much of it is already allocated for “lifestyle blocks” that contribute nothing to the agricultural economy. So the Council argument that the city must not spread because it would deprive us of valuable agricultural land is nonsense.

The Unitary Plan concentrates development in the central isthmus which is already crowded and includes the volcanic area. The Council has ignored the lesson from Christchurch that you should not keep all your assets in one place. Most of the isthmus is well-established suburbs with perfectly good houses, trees, gardens and lawns that are environmentally friendly and support large populations of birds and bees. The Unitary Plan will demolish most of these houses and gardens and substitute blocks of flats that will increase demand for parking, roads, schools, power and water supply, drainage and the like.  Expanding infrastructure in an established suburb is far more expensive and environmentally damaging than building new low cost houses on greenfield developments.  Few people realise that, per square metre of floor area, multi-storey buildings cost more than a single story house.

People will demolish good houses only if land values are extremely high and the rates make a single house on a section unaffordable.  The council has chosen to ration land and, as a result Auckland houses and the land they stand on costs seven times the average income. In many prosperous and liveable cities overseas, the cost is only three times the average income. Virtually all of the low-cost cities have flexible urban boundaries and town planners whose objective is to help people live how and where they want. This is what we could do.

The Unitary Plan will make personal transport unaffordable for poor people and this will make it extremely difficult for them to take their families to the beach or parks or out into the bush. The social effects will be enormous.

Auckland can pour vast amounts of money into city centre development in the hope of getting enough passengers to justify a railway tunnel, or the city can spread and develop satellite centres so that people can live in affordable houses and work in the same area. If houses are cheap, then it will be easy for people to move in order to be close to the work or the schools they prefer.

Before any action is taken on the Unitary Plan and the tunnel, the ratepayers of Auckland should demand that an independent and objective study is done on the social, environmental and economic benefits of allowing the city to spread compared with intensification. Nothing is more important. 


Brian said...

I do NOT live in Auckland. However what concerns me, is that the Local Government Commission backed by Parliament, seeks to impose similar structures on the rest of New Zealand.

Furthermore there has been no indication OPENLY by the present Government; or indeed by any of the Opposition Parties. That this issue, will in the final analysis, be decided by the citizens of this country!

Unitary Plans such as the Auckland debacle, will be instituted upon us unless we demand from all parties their compliance with the democratic principal of a vote.
This coming election is a final opportunity to reverse Politicians placing their POLITICAL ambitions ahead of any public consultation.

It is a democratic blot upon this country that our Parliamentarians have ignored since the introduction of M.M.P;the practice of consultation or allowing a general vote to decide a national issue.

We now are faced with ethnic appointments to all local bodies as an indigenous right.
Which in real terms, means that the practice of Blackmail employed in the settlement of claims; will be extended to the activities of Local Government through new Super Councils.

Anonymous said...

We should all have the right prior to the proposed rail tunnel expenditure as the costs are going to be gathered from the whole area to feed the inner city business withhopefully addition custom and clientell. The wharf developments appear to be feed stock for the developers and of little value for housing the lower paid. Leave the wharves to function as a port and attract commerce activity to the country.The developmentments and low profile IE single and two story homes on a plot can be placed in the poorer country north and west of the city. Len Browns dreams require shattering now.

Anonymous said...

Driving north on Tues am early observing the huge traffic build ups - you have to wonder if for the $ 3-4 billion plus the inevitable overruns planned for 3 new rail stations ( Boston Road - since when was that a high station requirement - you can easily catch a bus on Mt Eden Road ) we would be better off to build a new rail line to the North Shore ex Britomart tunnelling under the harbour.

BL is correct - we simply have not made intelligent and rigorous analysis of alternatives.

Given the nature of the problem is peak time congestion - congestion pricing at peak times would seem to be a much higher priority investment.

One only has to look at the rows of busses parked in Quay Street post 10.00 am to see why one can question if it will ever be economic to run trains every 10 minutes as most of the day and night they will run virtually empty.

Anonymous said...

Why do people expect intelligent decisions from a bunch of dummies?

Mary Murnane said...

I live in Hastings and there is much debate about amalgamation of councils in the H B area. Some say Auckland has amalgamated again and it is working well. This rail argument may make those people eat their words then again it may not.
I agree that further study has to be done regarding half full trains or nearly empty ones running every 10 minutes.
I used to live in Auckland and used to catch the bus to school in Mt Roskill over 50 years ago with my friends. There would be a bus in Dominion Rd every 15 minutes. It was a great service. My mother who had cancer didn't even need to take me to the bus stop.I would walk there with the other children in our St.
When we shifted to Mangere East in South Auckland the bus service was abysmal but our brand new single storey house was lovely. I used to run to school. My mother would be taken to hospital in the ambulance and life still went on.

Warren Sanderson said...

Bryan Leyland should read the excellent analysis work done by the team at the "Transport Blog" To date there are 1000 Posts with a new post each day and they are superior to the New Zealand Transport Authority's analysis work which concentrates almost wholly on roads.
With the completion of the North west motorway system Auckland will have a comprehensive and mature roading network. Further massive planned expenditure by the NZTA is not going to reduce congestion if Auckland remains car dependent to the exclusion of better public transport. With a population of 1,400,000 Auckland is by far NZ's premier city and we need a mindset change by government to postpone some motorway development such as the Puhoi to Wellsford project and others so that City Rail Link has the highest priority as this will enable the efficient use of the rail network most of which is already constructed and electrified. Adding extra lanes to motorways, as we always seem to do, has not and does not solve congestion.
You do not cure obesity by letting your belt out a notch.
I would expect some better analysis from Mr Leyland to support condemnation of expenditure on the rail tunnel. Most cities in the world would be very pleased to end up with a full metro system for 2.8 billion - it is a bargain and well within NZTA's ability to pay for it by deferring the hugely expensive and overkill RONs programme which costs much,much more.

Warren Sanderson