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Thomas unveils multipronged shakeup plan for Auckland transport policy

Auckland mayoral candidate Mark Thomas unveiled a Better transport sooner transport policy on Friday, aimed at delivering more local transport projects, reducing congestion sooner and reforming Auckland Transport.

To achieve this, he said he would increase transport funding, restructure the way Auckland Transport works and implement a new “hybrid” mass transport plan.

“After 5 years of Auckland Council, too many key local transport priorities remain unaddressed. Auckland Transport’s plans are too disconnected from Aucklanders’ key transport concerns. A key part of my plan if elected mayor will be to use existing legislative powers to reorganise Auckland Transport to get it working better.”

Mr Thomas, a member of the Orakei Local Board, said he wanted to change Auckland Transport’s investment approach so local transport projects assumed a greater priority. He has listed the top 3 priorities in each local board area which would be part of his 10-year budget.

To implement his policy, he would introduce an Auckland Transport sub-regional decision-making capability, implementing unused provisions in the Auckland Council legislation to direct Auckland Transport to establish 6 new regional transport boards: “These will be formed with a formal delegation to approve & fund sub-regional & local transports.” Mr Thomas said this structure would save money by replacing the myriad of local board & other regional transport committees underway.

“Auckland Council funds half of Auckland Transport’s budget and, since amalgamation in 2010, there has been too much of a turf war over priorities. This has to stop, and my plan works within the existing legislative constraints to ensure Auckland Council & Auckland Transport work more effectively together so the transport policies that Aucklanders elect their mayor on actually get implemented.

“I’m confident Auckland Transport will implement these plans if I am elected, and I will appoint myself to the board of Auckland Transport if necessary.”

For funding, Mr Thomas said he’d restore the $113 million current mayor Len Brown cut from the council long-term plan transport budget by eliminating non-essential council spending: “This will see $20 million/year moving from the council’s $613m million governance, economic & cultural budget into transport. Lower priority support, co-ordination & planning work & projects will be replaced with greater investment in transport.”

Mr Thomas said he would ask Auckland Transport to work with elected members to reprioritise its $200 million/year capital renewals budget and find at least $20 million in savings by agreeing more realistic renewals standards.

He would also double the “highly valued” local board transport capital fund, used by local boards for smaller transport projects, from $10 million/year to $20 million/year, funding the increase by reprioritising local over some regional projects.

Mr Thomas said he’d lead the development of a new hybrid bus & rail plan that would draw from the city centre access study, which showed this to be the most cost-effective mass transport plan: “I expect some form of light rail may play a part in this plan, but there is currently no agreed business case or funding plan for light rail. Additionally, although central Auckland congestion will be a focus for me, as the Auckland Transport alignment project foundation report shows, the biggest growth areas in Auckland are in the north, the north-west & the south. Spending will need to be prioritised to these areas so quicker progress can happen on projects such as the North-western busway & extended rail to the south.

“Auckland Council will spend more on transport from its current budget with my changes, but if we are to make quicker progress greater investment will be needed. Therefore I will advance a new transport funding plan for Aucklanders, including congestion charging where Aucklanders agree this makes sense.”

Mr Thomas said he was optimistic the Government would agree to congestion charging as part of the transport alignment project.

“Additional funding will also come from accelerating the mixed-use development (retail, commercial & residential) of existing & new transport assets (particularly bus & rail stations and park-&-ride developments) to boost available transport funding.”

Mr Thomas said he’d also give communities greater ability to establish a targeted rate if they wanted quicker progress. He believed his plan would boost prioritisation & funding to the following regional projects:

1, The Penlink investigation
2, North-western busway to Westgate
3, A new Selwyn rail station
4, Dominion Rd upgrade
5, Stage 2 of Ameti (the Auckland-Manukau eastern transport initiative)
6, The Mill Rd extension
7, Rail planning to the south.

Mark Thomas mayoral policy

Attribution: Thomas release.

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Palino turns assault on Asians into attack on Brown

2013 mayoral candidate John Palino, standing again this year, has turned reports of violence against Asians in Auckland into an attack on retiring mayor Len Brown over the shortage of housing.

“Len Brown should man up on Asian violence,” Mr Palino said.

“Violence against Asians has its roots in pent-up anger & frustration across the 50% of Aucklanders who cannot ever afford a home. The liveable city concept that the mayor has been touting for 6 years is actually the gentrification of metropolitan Auckland and is dependent upon forever increasing house prices.

“Middle & lower income Aucklanders are being forced out of locations near employment & transport, effectively removing any hope these residents have of one day living in the same suburbs where they grew up.

“They are angry and they feel alienated. They can’t understand why in a growing economy and with better pay they can’t give their children the same opportunities they had.  They are looking for people to blame and they hear reports of foreign buyers driving up prices.

“The people committing these assaults are criminals and will be caught. But like anyone, they respond to opportunity & the kind of resentment which is building in this city because house price stress is giving these people the moral excuse to do what they are doing.

“That Mayor Brown is shocked to see this sort of thing going on beggars belief. Len Brown’s destructive policies are the real reason house prices are now so absurdly & unstably high. He should man up and apologise for creating the environment for this to happen, and Phil Goff [Labour MP & also a mayoral candidate] should explicitly reject existing council housing policy but he doesn’t.

“Increased land supply must be released so that low cost housing can be delivered. We’ve got to stop fuelling this idea that somehow Asians are to blame for high house prices and turn our attention to the real cause – the Auckland Council’s ideological approach to land supply.”

Attribution: Palino release.

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Palino regurgitates unhelpful dogma

I’ll say this for Auckland mayoral candidate John Palino: He’s bothered to send his housing affordability policy part 1 to me, although I haven’t been out chasing the views of any political candidates.

And I’ll say this against him: His policy regurgitates anti-intensification dogma without in any way examining the validity of a policy that doesn’t just oppose all notions of a compact city but militates against any intensification, as if none of it could ever be good.

Mr Palino’s starting point is to call for the removal of the metropolitan urban limit, the line drawn top & bottom of the region and around a few centres between. It was created at the end of the 1990s to limit sprawl, but needed proactive reviewing to make it work, and that wasn’t done. The regional council fought territorial councils’ attempts to move the boundary.

In the rewriting of Auckland’s district & regional plans through the unitary plan drafted by Auckland Council in 2013, and the hearing process now in its final stages, there is scope to intensify, but not a requirement to do so.

The metropolitan urban limit (as it was in 2010) remains in place, as the starting point for fixing new rural:urban boundary lines which will allow far more greenfield development while still being used to push the compact city concept.

Below is Mr Palino’s policy release, which I think shows he’s been poorly advised. From my brief acquaintance with him when he stood for mayor in 2013, and some of his comments since, I know he can do far better. At the foot I make some comments.

Palino calls for the removal the metropolitan urban limit (MUL):

The MUL has restricted land supply in Auckland, driving up house prices for ideological reasons. It is time council stopped flogging the dead horse that is the compact city and started releasing large amounts of land for residential development.

Auckland house prices are some of the most expensive in the world when compared to household income. Demographia rank Auckland as equal 4th most unaffordable city to purchase a house in, with a median multiple income to house price of 9.7 [Demographia international housing affordability survey, January 2016].

We need to be looking at Auckland as a region, rather than just the central city. It is not practical and far too expensive to concentrate all Auckland’s expansion around the cbd.

Council regulations are the biggest driver of housing affordability. The metropolitan urban limit continues to drive prices up to ever more unaffordable levels. This has been caused by an ideological desire to force Aucklanders to live in high density dwellings and use public transport.

A compact central city will not solve Auckland’s housing shortages. Previous rezoning of existing suburbs to higher density housing has not created the kind of increase in supply required slow rapidly increased housing prices. Intensifying existing suburbs is unlikely to solve the housing supply issue in the future. Buying existing dwellings, demolishing them, and rebuilding denser housing, does not provide the kind of returns developers need to undertake this type of development.

Intensifying existing suburbs also means increasing pressure on already strained infrastructure. More density means expensive retrofitting of existing water, wastewater & roading, as well as overloading schools, community facilities & emergency services.

Increasing density means existing property owners face having their views and sunlight blocked by new multilevel dwellings. Council’s insistence on density in existing areas affects the property rights of current residents, without any recompense for the loss of their views & sunlight.

Most of Auckland’s problems with house prices have come from poor regulation by council. According to the Productivity Commission, referencing a McKinsey Global Institute study: “Remarkably, in the world’s least affordable cities (including Auckland), unlocking land supply could help to reduce the cost of housing by between 31% & 47% [Productivity Commission, Using land for housing 2015].

Auckland is a relatively small city on a relatively sparsely populated land. New Zealand has a landmass approximately 20,000km² bigger than Britain, with approximately a 15th of the population, so we do not have a land supply problem. We have a regulation problem.

The regulation that is causing the most problems is the metropolitan urban limit. It has restricted land supply around Auckland, pushing up prices and stalling new home build. There is no clear, practical path to making housing affordable while the MUL remains.

For too long we have listened to the ideological warriors promoting a compact city, without understanding that cost of housing is a massive drag on Auckland’s growth.

It is also a huge financial burden on Auckland families, forcing them to spend far too much on housing, whether on mortgages or rent.

Auckland needs to expand, and it needs to quickly free up more land for housing. We need to be viewing Auckland as part of a bigger region. Creating land supply along the spine of existing infrastructure means making the most of that infrastructure at the same time as allowing greenfield development along this spine.

Removing the MUL is the first step to building a better Auckland, creating more affordable housing and bringing [affordability] across the region.

Questions that need to be asked about any affordability policy:

Mr Palino said he would be releasing more housing affordability policies to help Aucklanders afford their own homes in the coming weeks & months.

Meanwhile, the independent panel hearing submissions on the Auckland unitary plan has, as one of its primary tasks, a decision to make on the proposed rural:urban boundary, and particularly on how it should be managed – and even if there should be one at all.

The panel also has to make many decisions on zoning and, because the unitary plan is intended to introduce consistency over the whole region – distinct from the many local variations of the old councils’ district plans – it may introduce rules which reduce the importance to price-setting of the tightly held, lowrise isthmus suburbs.

The Reserve Bank has confirmed that it’s less concerned about rising house prices in Auckland than it’s previously stated, by reducing the official cashrate again. That lower cashrate gets factored into higher prices, made possible by buyers’ lower mortgages.

Mr Palino uses Demographia’s annual survey of median house prices:household incomes. You can check the value of those surveys against some of the criticism through the links below.

One factor some critics highlight is that affordability should take account of both housing costs & transport, and the links provide some examples which, not surprisingly, reduce the comparative affordability of outer suburbs.

The answer to that argument is not for the 2 sides to shout interminably at each other, but for planners – yes, the people so derided for causing unaffordability – to participate in refocusing development so home & workplace can be better related, either through the provision of public transport or through more local job opportunities.

Mr Palino threw in the diversion of total land area to demonstrate that New Zealand doesn’t have a land supply problem, therefore it must be a regulatory problem. Any calculation of total available land ought to omit the Southern Alps, and probably national parks as well. Those being used to make the point Mr Palino makes don’t make that omission.

Nor does the nature of Auckland’s landscape get factored into comparative pricing – views, extensive coastline, infrastructure difficulties heightened by not being a flat square, the location of boat ramps…

Mr Palino has also used Productivity Commission papers to support his policy. That in itself is inadvisable if he wants a robust policy. One of the most widely quoted figures from Productivity Commission “research” was a land price plucked in isolation to demonstrate how bad an influence the metropolitan urban limit was. I’ve questioned the value of much of the commission’s work.

In January last year, I also questioned “research” on building costs the Government commissioned from Motu Research. In that story, I wrote: “Building & Housing Minister Nick Smith’s new tool to justify changes to council consent processes is an unreviewed collection of whinges from developers.”

The points I make here aren’t aimed just at Mr Palino; I’ve written most of them before.

Demographia international housing affordability survey 2016
Productivity Commission housing affordability inquiry 2012
Productivity Commission, Using land for housing draft report
Australian Senate, affordable housing report
Peter Nunns on Transport Blog, 30 March 2015: Alternative explanations for Auckland house prices
Peter Nunns on Transport Blog, 24 March 2015: Demographia fails urban economics 101

Earlier stories on this website:
25 January 2016: Demographia ranks Auckland severely unaffordable
22 January 2016: Updated: The urban boundary case, and hard versus soft edge
11 January 2016: Urban boundary & zones under the spotlight
8 November 2015: Twyford talks ideas which unitary plan & council funding review likely to resolve
5 October 2015: Commission sends land for housing report to Government
10 August 2015: 
Council has forthright message for Government on land for housing
19 June 2015: 
Key points from land for housing report
19 June 2015: 
Commission looks behind high land prices
11 May 2015: Australian affordability report a 40-recommendation failure
30 March 2015: Transport specialist Litman itemises cost of sprawl
2 March 2015: Economic report for council an exhortation to relax land use rules
23 January 2015: Building cost research a onesided analysis
January 2015 series of articles:
UP1: The PAUP, the MUL, the RUB, the RPS & the LRP – the what-the?
UP2: Council tells panel the evidence backs compact city, and new urban boundary will work
UP3: Paper on preferred form an important backgrounder
UP4: Fairgray doesn’t fix on the far horizon, but says million new Aucklanders will fit in
UP5: Rule changes would shorten land supply and discourage new villages
UP6: McDermott argues for better ways than compact city to accommodate growth
UP7: Burton sees the antithesis of good planning, but says the compact city can work
27 October 2014: Sprawl, density, a worthwhile US index and our blinkered approach
8 October 2014: Affordability: An essay in response to today’s council economic quarterly & housing research
20 January 2014: More housing action a 2014 certainty – plus links for affordability story & research
22 October 2012: US research paper delves into geographic affordability
13 April 2012: Productivity Commission misses key affordability point – again
10 February 2012: 
Council presents the garbled nonsense response on housing affordability
19 December 2011: 
Housing affordability report an exercise in missing the target
19 December 2011: Auckland Council counters cost criticism with economic reasons for compact city

Attribution: Palino release, my comments.

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Election roundup

Wins & losses round the region

Auckland City:


Christine Fletcher knew she’d lost it some time ago. John Banks bolted in on the promise of a tougher regime, tighter bureaucracy, fewer & shorter meetings. Mrs Fletcher brought parties together for a while but wasn’t in control. Mr Banks may have a better chance at control or at least have sympathy with nine CitRats elected, will be more dynamic, may bring confrontation.


Planning & regulatory committee chairman Juliet Yates is the only member of the important planning fixtures sub-committee to be returned. Two sub-committee members, Dame Barbara Goodman & Frank Ryan, retired and the fourth, Kay McKelvie, lost her seat. Cllr Yates & Ms McKelvie were named to carry planning matters through until the new council sorts out committees.

The council makeup this time is Citizens & Ratepayers Now 9, City Vision 4, Labour 2, independents 2, Team Auckland 1, Faye Storer (Waiheke, no stated allegiance) 1.

In Avondale-Roskill, Graeme Mulholland (CitRats) is a new councillor.

Eden-Albert has three new councillors, Glenda Fryer (City Vision), Greg McKeown & Mark Donnelly (CitRats). Kay McKelvie (City Vision, planning fixtures, various finance committee roles) polled a losing fourth and Maire Leadbeater (Independent Green * campaigner for many causes) polled a losing fifth.

In Hobson, Victoria Carter (Team Auckland, sole representative) topped the poll ahead of two CitRats, Scott Milne & William Cairns (of Cairns Lockie mortgage brokers). Behind the winning trio, Mrs Carter’s teammates, Stephen Goodman & Alex Swney (Mr Swney, of Heart of the City) polled below Judith Dickens (re-elected to the community board) and Julie Chambers (not re-elected to the community board).

In Tamaki-Manugakiekie, Jan Welch lost her seat behind Sherryl McKelvie (also Labour) and Geoff Abbott (independent).

Auckland Regional Council:

Chairman Phil Warren topped the Isthmus poll, joined by Michael Barnett (Chamber of Commerce), Judith Bassett (ASB Trust chairman) & Catherine Harland. Ms Harland quit Auckland City Council, where she specialised in transport, and looks a sitter for the transport committee chairmanship, especially as the other hopeful for that slot, Jack Henderson, lost his seat. Mike Lee was also ousted.

In Franklin/Papakura, Dianne Glenn held off the challenge from Allan Bell, who quit the Papakura council to seek this role.

In Rodney, Brian Smith easily held his seat. He resigned to contest the Rodney mayoralty, then resumed his seat as an appointed member for the last six months after losing the mayor battle.

In Waitakere, Carl Harding was ousted. Sandra Coney & Paul Walbran, the two new members, are both in the Team West camp.

Franklin District:


Heather Maloney kept the mayoralty in a contest with Regional Growth Forum representative Don Swales.

Manukau City:


Sir Barry Curtis is back, barely challenged.


In the Howick ward, independent Jim Donald lost his seat, coming fourth behind three Howick Community Spirit councillors, Sharon Stewart, Ken Ming Yee & Alan McIntyre.

The three Labour candidates won Mangere, the four Manurewa Residents candidates won Manurewa (headed by John Walker), the two Labour candidates won Otara, Dick Quax topped the Pakuranga poll and Keith Hyland lost his seat, in Papatoetoe the three Papatoetoe Inpdendents won.

North Shore City:


One-term councillor Joel Cayford put up a strong stand though George Wood managed to get back for a second term, the first Shore City mayor to do so.


Mr Cayford’s strong showing in the mayoral race and top spot in the Central ward poll should make him a leading councillor, probably stronger than the mayor. That means more ecological consideration, an emphasis on more thoughtful planning.

Two committee chairmen, Jenny Kirk (strategy & finance) & Bruce Lilly (works & environment) lost their seats. Mrs Kirk polled poorly in the Harbour ward, where the poll was topped by Tony Holman, who has expressed considerable antipathy toward rampant growth. Mike Tafua & Heather Brown, both far weaker performers on the last council, polled second & third.

New Harbour ward councillors are 18-year-old Paula Gillon, who campaigned as “The Naked Politician,” and Tony Barker, returning after a one-term break.

Andrew Williams is the new Central ward councillor, joining four incumbents — Cllrs Cayford, Dianne Hale (deputy mayor), Andrew Eaglen & Wyn Hoadley.

In the Northern ward, former deputy mayor Alison Clark replaces Bruce Lilly. Sitting councillors Gary Holmes, Callum Blair, Julia Parfitt & Margaret Miles have been returned.

Community boards

The desire of Shore councillors to sit on the next level of democracy as well remains alive, and successful. Those with two roles are Cllrs Blair & Miles (Albany), Holman & Tafua (Birkenhead/Northcote), Parfitt (East Coast Bays), Brown (Glenfield).

Also elected in East Coast Bays was Browns Bay real estate identity John van Lierop. In Glenfield, planning consultant David Thornton was elected. He also stood for the council.

The Takapuna board has no councillors on it. Margaret Field lost her seat. Her sister-in-law [corrected; story originally said sister], Genevieve Becroft, retired as a councillor.

Papakura District:


David Buist, who won the by-election to replace David Hawkins, romped home again.


In the Ardmore ward, Vicky Adin was defeated by C Conroy.

Waitakere City:


Bob Harvey did more than bolt back into office, he brought a Team West majority with him (7 of them, 3 independents, 2 independent R&Rs). Go Waitakere, more business-oriented and keen on allowing development in the hills, was routed.


Assid Corban, standing as an independent, former mayor and community facilities & recreation committee chairman, came fourth in Henderson. Bob Stanic, deputy mayor & Go Waitakere, came fifth. Both voted off the council.

Former police commissioner Ross Dallow topped the poll there, followed by Team West’s Brenda Brady (background in management skills) & Annette Fenton (background in engineering, construction, running a business).

In Massey, Vanessa Neeson (wife of National MP Brian Neeson) topped the poll.

In Waitakere, Team West cleaned up with Penny Hulse, Denise Yates & Carolynne Stone elected.

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