As eligible Macleans students (presumably) get to posting their ballots, 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 going on around east Auckland. This isn’t a complete explanation, but a quick look at what should be concerning voters.

Public Transport

By all estimates, Aucklanders are taking up public transport faster than what anyone could’ve predicted.

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.

Chart produced by transport and urbanist lobbying group Greater Auckland

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 smashes passenger targets. 

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.

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.

With planning having dragged on for decades, construction has finally begun on the $1.4 billion project, which is due for completion by 2026. 

Look at how sad East Auckland looks.

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 Auckland Transport (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 been seen protesting 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. 

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 transformational project on a similar scale to AMETI, which if built, would unlock the rapidly growing areas of Flat Bush and Ormiston.

Image result for botany to airport

Click here if you want to learn about city-wide public transport projects.

City Rail Link

Speaking broadly, 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 (the CRL) is the most significant (and expensive) public transport project in Auckland’s history. What does it do? Well, it finally introduces underground rail lines to the CBD — with the plan being for trains to run between Britomart and Mount Eden Station. 

Drawings of an train arriving at an Auckland underground system, 1974
Drawings of a train arriving at a proposed underground train station, 1974

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.

Concept images of an underground platform at the new, planned K Road station
Concept images of an underground platform at the new planned K Road station

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.

But before you write it 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.

Part of the project is revamping Britomart so trains won’t terminate there, because of this the capacity (number of trains that can run) at the core of the rail network can be doubled from 20 to 48. Which means you could see trains running on as little as 10-minute frequencies during peak times.

When considering the catchment (how many people live next to stations), the CRL will double the number of Aucklanders within 30 minutes rail travel of the CBD

The two new underground stations, rebuilding of the existing Mount Eden Station, and revamping of Britomart is expected to be completed by 2024.

Light rail

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. 

An artists illustration of light rail running on Dominion Road

While originally introduced in 2015 as four separate lines (notably none reaching the airport), the project was then scaled back to a single line through Dominion Road and then reappropriated to also service the airport. This was seen as a cheaper and more efficient solution to run rapid transit to the airport, rather than running heavy rail tracks.

However, light rail’s primary (and original) purpose was always to reduce dependence on buses on common routes. For example on Dominion Road, buses have now hit their capacity, meaning it’s no longer feasible to put any more buses on the road, without occasionally ending up with one long bus snake.

The Dominion Road line (CBD-Mangere-Airport) has been endorsed by AT and was part of the Labour Party’s 2017 campaign pledge for Auckland, but the project is currently held up in a planning stalemate within the NZTA which the central government handed the project to, from AT. Planned construction is currently delayed until 2021, at the earliest. 

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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 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

Sewage
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.

Climate crisis
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.

Rates

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)

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