Auckland is undergoing fundamental change. Whether this is in transport, building the right types of houses, or even how our sewage gets treated.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s changing around East Auckland. This isn’t a complete explanation, but a quick look at the big topics that are percolating headlines and getting politicians angry at each other about — i.e. things you should be concerned about since you’ve decided to vote! How fun.
In the previous three decades, public transport in Auckland has undergone an extraordinary change.
From a 1930s-era rail system on the verge of being shut down entirely, to now, a network which regularly breaks passenger estimates. In 2013, a Council report estimated that even in the best-case scenario, Aucklanders would only make 101 million annual public transport boardings by 2022. Aucklanders reached that target in June of this year.
Definitive progress, for sure, but practically all of it has eluded the Dunedin-sized population in East Auckland.
That’s all set to all change in the next decade.
Eastern Busway and T2 Lane
East Auckland’s largest transport project is now underway in AMETI or what’s more commonly referred to as the Eastern Busway. This project is an enormous undertaking which Auckland Transport believes will finally address East Auckland’s missing slice of the high-frequency “rapid-transit” network — a phrase used to describe high capacity lanes for buses or trains.
With planning having dragged on for decades, construction has finally begun on the $1.4 billion project, which is due for completion by 2026.
Modelled on the successful Northern Busway project — the Eastern Busway will eventually link up Botany Town Centre, through Pakuranga Plaza and the newly-redeveloped Panmure Station.
This will involve a new road overpass, several kilometres of new protected cycleways, the rebuilding of two bridges and the redevelopment of over eight kilometres of existing roads.
The busway will carry 7500 people during peak hour when completed; with AT saying it will take less than 40 minutes to travel from Botany to Britomart, during rush hour traffic.
The project has seen widespread support amongst most local candidates, with the only sticking points being the construction of the Reeves Road Flyover and how the project has been funded.
The motorway flyover had seen an on-again, off-again status throughout AMETI’s planning stages, with AT growing noncommittal to its necessity within the larger project. Costing $170 million, critics deride the flyover’s planned intrusion into the Pakuranga Town Centre, which will affect local businesses. Te Tuhi Centre For The Arts, a nonprofit art gallery currently located on Pakuranga Road, estimated the costs of moving its front entrance away from facing the motorway to be around $6 million. After significant political lobbying, AT reaffirmed its support for the roading project and has responded to urban planning critics by stating the flyover will be “architecturally-designed”, with the ability to use the space underneath for events and night markets.
A notable proportion of AMETI is set to benefit from the recently introduced regional fuel tax, with the project budgeted to benefit $200 million in funding — but critics, primarily Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown, say that the project could have been funded without it.
Another aspect of the project attracting controversy is a temporary transit lane on Pakuranga Road, which has been implemented to reduce disruption from the busway’s construction. While AT’s monitoring data suggests that there has been minimal effects on travel times, the lane has still attracted significant criticism from both current local councillors Sharon Stewart and Paul Young. The two councillors have protested the lane’s introduction with local MP Simeon Brown, who consistently opposed the lane, saying that it created safety hazards and slowed travel times.
This isn’t the only transport project underway for East Auckland though.
Botany to Manukau and the Airport
In early stages of planning is a new rapid transit link between Botany and Manukau — with promising chances of an eventual extension through to Howick or Highland Park.
AT is set to decide on the transport mode that the link will use by 2020, with suggestions the lane could be light rail or more advanced bus technology. A further $60 million upgrade to the Puhinui station will transform it into an interchange station with plans that Botany departures can easily transfer to the airport with an overall travel time of only around 45 minutes.
This is a project on a similar scale to AMETI, which if built, would provide choice to the rapidly growing areas of Flat Bush and Ormiston
The largest public transport projects in greater Auckland are the City Rail Link and light rail. These will affect East Auckland as the projects are partially supported through the rates paid by all Aucklanders.
City Rail Link
City Rail Link (the CRL) is the most significant (and expensive) public transport project in Auckland’s history. What does it do? Well, it’ll double the number of trains which can run on the rail network by pushing through Britomart and starting construction on Auckland’s first underground rail tunnels.
Serious plans for underground rail lines in central Auckland been knocking around since the 1970s, but only came to fruition in 2013 when a push by former mayor Len Brown finally led to support by the central government after stiff initial resistance.
But before you write the CRL off as a project that only benefits apartment dwellers, it’s really worth stating that the CRL is a project that will transform the entire rail network far beyond the CBD limits.
By rebuilding Britomart, the the number of trains that can run at the core of the rail network will be doubled from 20 to 48. Which means you could see a train arrive every five minutes at stations during peak times.
When considering how many people live next to stations, this means the CRL will double the number of Aucklanders within 30 minutes rail travel of the CBD, as well as making east-west trips more direct since trains don’t have to terminate at Britomart.
While the project was originally budgeted to be $3.4 billion in 2014, it has risen to an upper envelope of in excess of $4 billion dollars, after construction started in 2015. This has been pinned on last-minute futureproofing and rising tunnelling costs. The two new underground stations, rebuilding of the existing Mount Eden Station, and revamping of Britomart is expected to be completed by 2024.
The other buzzy Auckland-wide project that you might have heard of is a potential light rail network.
The entire project is still in the planning phase but AT intends for light rail to become the fourth mode of transport within Auckland — this in addition to existing heavy rail, buses, and ferries — with lines potentially running to the northwest and Manukau, in addition to central Auckland.
While it was originally introduced in 2015 as four separate lines in central Auckland (notably none reaching the airport), the project was then scaled back to a single line through Dominion Road but then also extended to reach Mangere and the airport.
The project was initially started by AT as a way of relieving increasing congestion on bus routes down Dominion Rd and though the CBD. But in 2016, the government identified extending the existing light rail plans as the most versatile option to extend rail to the airport. The rationale being about making good use of existing resources, rather than building a whole new rail line to the airport.
Light rail was then prioritised as a key infrastructure project of the current government in late-2017, and responsibility for its development was switched to NZTA.
Public transport advocates who criticise the project say it would be better if any rail line to the airport was built on the existing rail system rather than light rail, with opponents like Councillor Mike Lee pointing out that a trip to the airport on light rail would be no faster than taking the bus. Meanwhile others like the National Party believe that while a light rail network is needed, it isn’t needed just yet — or at least until 2030.
Advocates for light rail suggest that the project’s primary (and original) purpose was to reduce bus congestion first — as opposed to serving the airport second, and that naysayers have long underestimated the public transport capacity in Auckland.
Despite the support of the Greens and the Labour Party in 2017, the project is currently held up in a planning stalemate within central government. Planned construction is currently delayed until 2021, at the earliest.
Urban Planning and Housing
You can’t talk about housing in Auckland, without bringing up the Unitary Plan.
Want to learn about what the Unitary Plan is? A rosy view of the Plan is explained here in seven GIFs by climate lobby group Generation Zero.
While the inflamed public consultation meetings are well in the past, the effects of the plan continue to be felt today.
In East Auckland, a beacon of dissatisfaction with the process is how the rezoning of Stockade Hill in Howick has been handled by Auckland Council under the new zoning rules. The outrage has been seized upon by many local candidates and it’s unlikely you’ll find anyone candidates in Howick who stands with the Council.
In the initial Unitary Plan, areas surrounding the former war stockade were zoned in a way which meant that views from the top of the hill could be potentially obscured by two or three-storey housing developments. Members of local ratepayers associations banded together with the local Howick and Pakuranga Times, as well as local councillors to oppose the way the Unitary Plan zoned the area.
This resulted in the council making special amendments to ensure that views towards the sea from the hill will remain unaltered (137 degrees) in a decision that was initially backed by local councillors and then the Environment Court.
That, however, wasn’t enough to many in the community who continue to protest for full 360-degree views from the top of the hill.
The Stockade Hill issue has been seen by many as symbolic of the larger opposition to continuing intensification brought about by the Unitary Plan.
Ratepayers associations have been successfully lobbied since the introduction of the Unitary Plan to create dozens of exceptions for Howick and the surrounding areas. These include the retaining of previous height limits in Howick Village and the retaining of several areas like Cockle Bay as single-storey zones.
This opposition came as a generation of young Aucklanders, like myself, see a continuing lack of housing, which advocates say can be solved by more intensification. Whether ratepayers associations and lobby groups with long histories are representative of continually younger ward demographics, with greater concerns about housing affordability, is difficult to gauge.
Climate Change and the Environment
One million cubic metres of Auckland’s finest raw sewage continues to pour into the city’s harbours every year, which now often leaves beaches dangerous to swim at. This happens because of our city’s aging sewage tunnels overflow in stormy weather, when existing interceptors are overloaded. Therefore, one of the largest projects in Auckland’s infrastructure history is currently underway to fix it — albeit without much notice by the public.
The $1.2 billion Central Interceptor aims to reduce harbour sewage overflows by 80 percent, with construction work set to start soon. This project will also reduce pressure on the existing eastern interceptors and will increase capacity for more sewage to be processed in East Auckland, which could allow for more developments in the east.
The headlines might say that Auckland Council has declared a climate emergency. But what does that really mean? Well a few things, but it’s mostly a symbolic gesture, which aims to signal to the rest of New Zealand and the world, that the council sees climate change seriously.
A notable part of the declaration is that the council will now require officials to assess all policy proposals for their impact on climate change. This means that a new bus model, council block or bridge project will have to be reviewed for their impact on the environment.
Current mayor Phil Goff has promised to keep any future annual rate increases to an average of 3.5% annually — this is beyond projected rates of increase in inflation with critics saying rates should be frozen instead.
Comparatively to other cities in New Zealand, the promised rate increase of 3.5% doesn’t seem particularly high — Goff frequently cites the fact that Hamilton is planning an annual 3.8% increase after a 9.3% hike in the coming year.
But that does ignore many of the differences between the two cities and also the various rates and fees levied on Aucklanders which don’t apply to others in New Zealand. The most clear example being the regional fuel tax which came into effect earlier last year and promises a new funding stream for the transport projects, or the water levy which is intended to help clean up Auckland’s beaches.
The incumbent mayor says this is a logical increase is to fund many of the aforementioned transport and infrastructure projects while opponents proclaim that there are other ways for the council to raise money.
As to whether Auckland’s rates are too high or too low still remains an incredibly hard to answer question — a contentious debate sure to dominate at public meetings.
Written by Justin Hu, published on 28/09/2019. Header image: Google Maps, Images: Auckland Transport, George Bridges Collection
Learn more about the upcoming local elections:
Stuff: Auckland local body elections: How to vote, what you are voting on and key dates
NZ Herald, opinion (Simon Wilson): The reinvention of Auckland – Why the council election matters (Pressreader)