Schmozzle. Dog’s breakfast. Cluster. Disgrace.
These are the terms people in the northwest of Auckland regularly use to describe what’s become of the local transport network.
And you can’t blame them.
Nowhere better illustrates the scenario that’s playing out right across Auckland: new houses are going in, but they’re not being matched by new infrastructure to meet the increase.
AA surveys show this is one of the chief concerns our Auckland members have with life in their city, and it’s a yet another reason for low levels of public trust and confidence in transport decision-makers.
To their credit, Auckland Council and the Government are trying to put things right. Together, they’ve set up the Te Tupu Ngatahi Supporting Growth alliance, to plan and deliver the transport services that Auckland’s key growth centres will need over the next 30 years.
Supporting Growth has just wrapped up public consultation on a whole lot of transport projects planned for the northwest in the future – new highways and local roads, as well as public transport, walking and cycling connections.
By and large, the projects make good sense, but as is so often the case, the glossy brochures are not backed up by any firm commitment to put spades in the ground.
Five things that should happen now:
• Bring forward timeframes. None of the projects Supporting Growth is proposing will actually be built for at least 10 years, and that’s much, much too late. Whether it’s new connections to Riverhead and Whenuapai, the Kumeu bypass, or almost any of the other items on the list, these projects are immediate priorities, not long-term ones. Delaying them by a decade or more will have disastrous consequences for the transport system.
• Find the money. Funding still hasn’t been confirmed for any of the upcoming stages of the programme – not even the lower-cost planning work. Numerous Supporting Growth projects in the northwest and elsewhere have been put on hold altogether because of funding uncertainty.
• Do more to keep private development in check. If it goes ahead, the recently announced plan for an “urban village” on 108 hectares of farmland in Taupaki will have a massive impact on traffic patterns, and will require a complete re-think of the Supporting Growth Programme.
Until Auckland Council can come up with a way to better steer private development towards targeted growth areas, Supporting Growth will always be exposed to the risk of new and unexpected projects throwing a spanner in the works.
• Align with other projects. Supporting Growth appears to be overlooking enhancements to commuter rail services on the existing rail line to Kumeu. This would be a missed opportunity to provide the area’s future residents with travel choices and to deliver on Supporting Growth’s goals of increasing public transport usage.
Likewise, there’s no mention of the desperately needed rapid transit connection between the CBD and Westgate, and what needs to be done now to ensure Westgate is ready to make the most of any new service.
• Get smarter about using planning rules. Supporting Growth is missing a chance to shape transport behaviour and source some of the money it needs.
One example could be tweaking zoning rules to allow higher-density development around transport hubs – eg, opening more of Westgate to employment and education centres, and high-rise apartments. This would maximise the number of people able to commute via public transport, and increase the numbers able to avoid commuting full stop (because they’ll work or study locally).
Another could be to help fund the Kumeu bypass by purchasing and re-zoning land in the area between the new highway and Kumeu/Huapai, then selling it at a profit.
If more isn’t done, growth in the northwest will quickly erode the quality of life that brings people in the first place.
• Barney Irvine is the Automobile Association’s principal adviser – infrastructure/motoring affairs
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