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 (produced by the consulting firm Deloitte) 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 urban planning lobbying group Greater Auckland

In the previous three decades, public transport in Auckland has undergone extraordinary change. From a 1930s-era rail system on the verge of being shut down entirely, to a network which regularly breaks passenger targets across all modes.

However, this is all progress which has generally eluded East Auckland; but that’s set to all change in the next decade. East Auckland’s largest transport project is underway in AMETI or what’s more commonly referred to as the Eastern Busway. 

This project is an enormous undertaking which advocates believe will finally address East Auckland’s stubbornly forlorn slice of the rapid transit network (see the map).

Construction has already 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 kilometers of protected cycleways, the rebuilding of two bridges and the redevelopment of over eight kilometers of existing roads.

With planning having taken over 10 years, the busway will carry 7500 people during peak hour when completed; Auckland Transport (AT) says 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 $170 million Reeves Road Flyover had seen an on-again, off-again status throughout AMETI’s planning stages, with AT succumbing to significant lobbying and settling on restating its “architecturally-designed” nature in newer promotional materials. A notable proportion of AMETI is set to benefit from the recently introduced regional fuel tax — although critics say that the project could have been funded without it.

Also part of the project is a temporary transit lane on Pakuranga Road which is designed 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 had opposed the lane from day one, 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 the Airport —  with promising chances of an eventual extension through to Howick. AT is set to decide on which mode of transport the link will use in the next year — this could simply be buses and busways, light rail or newer advanced buses (trackless trams have proven to be an interesting detour for some). A $60 million upgrade to the Puhinui station will transform it into an interchange station designed to accommodate whatever mode is chosen to run from Botany and the airport.

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 an train arriving at an Auckland underground system, 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 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

The project first broke ground in 2015 and has seen significant cost rises due to redesigns and rising construction costs. 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. 

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, which reaches to the airport.

The entire project is still in the planning phase but AT intends for light rail to become a 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 add rapid transit to the airport rather than running heavy rail.

However, light rail’s primary (and original) purpose was always way to reduce dependence on buses on common routes.

The original four proposed lines of light rail
 

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 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.

While the inflamed public consultation meetings are well in the past, the effects of the plan continue to be felt today.

Want to learn about what the Unitary Plan is? A rather rosy view of the Plan is explained here in seven GIFs by climate lobby group Generation Zero.

In East Auckland a beacon of dissatisfaction with the process in East Auckland is how the rezoning of Stockade Hill has been handled under the new zoning rules. This 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 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 comes as a generation of East Aucklanders see a continuing lack of affordable housing that critics 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 (somewhat diluted) continues to pour into the city’s harbours every year. This happens because Auckland’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 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.

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 ignores 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 in the minds of voters 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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