Congestion wipes $2b a year from the economy - report

  • 03/08/2017

Auckland should plan much more aggressively for its growth to be south of the city's isthmus, accompanied by massive investment in public transport infrastructure, says the head of Infrastructure New Zealand.

Stephen Sellwood, commenting on a fresh assessment of the cost of Auckland's congestion to the city's economic performance, says concentrating south of the city "on hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands of homes" is one way to make the necessary public infrastructure investment affordable.

"If you concentrated the growth through intensified development beside rail and particularly large scale development in an area, we could support that growth through integrated transport investment," the chief executive of the lobby group for infrastructure providers told BusinessDesk.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report on Auckland congestion costs, commissioned by the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA), was published on Wednesday.

It found congestion probably wipes about $2 billion from annual Auckland gross domestic product and that decongestion could create a $1.3b annual economic benefit for the city.

Time for talk is over

The report makes no recommendations on solutions, but EMA chief executive Kim Campbell told The AM Show on Thursday there needs to be a fundamental change in how Auckland plans for the future.

"Even if the Minister of Finance appeared in [Mayor Phil Goff's] office with a very large sack of money he wouldn't be able to spend it anyway because the way we go about doing things.

"We have endless committees, endless rounds of engagement, and then you get caught up in the Local Government Act, you get caught up in the Land Transport Management Act, you get caught up in the Resource Management Act and a lot of other interested parties, and nothing gets done."

The recently opened Waterview tunnel is a case in point.

"That was over 20 years in the making," said Mr Campbell. "It was in fact finishing a piece of road that was planned in 1956."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges says the controversial East-West link is a good example, having been "talked about for decades".

That project however has been slammed by the Green Party as a "gold-plated motorway" whose benefits don't exceed the $1.8 billion price tag.

"This is a very trendy view on the left, it's what we're getting through the blogs. There's a lot of misinformation in those blogs," says Mr Bridges.

"NZTA has a strong up-to-date business case that makes it clear how important that project is, in terms of heavy vehicles, public transport and congestion."

Public transport network key to planning

Mr Sellwood advocated building affordable housing intensively near new public rail and other public transport services and using the residential land value uplift to help pay for ongoing investment.

He's concerned that allowing big chunks of growth both to the north and south of Auckland, as at present, is unwise from a public transport investment perspective.

"Auckland is an isthmus," he said. "It's hard to traverse. But doesn't that mean that smart growth in one location makes even more sense? I would think that a single council would think about new ways of thinking about that problem but they're still doing what they've always done."

Concentrating the city's growth south would also help the case for KiwiRail's proposed "Third Main Line" between Westfield and Wiri, where freight bottlenecks rule out passenger rail service developments.

Mr Campbell said the success of the Northern Busway and electric trains shows Aucklanders like using public transport.

"People said Aucklanders wouldn't use public transport, well, [there's been a] 20 percent increase in rail patronage this year. People are getting on the trains. Why? Because we gave them a train that was on time, was comfortable and got where people wanted to go regularly.

"People said they wouldn't catch buses - well, look at the Northern Busway, it's running at capacity. They will. People said they wouldn't ride bikes - if you kill them on the road they won't, but if you give them a safe place to go, they might."

Population concerns

Mr Bridges told Newshub Auckland's population has grown quickly thanks to record immigration, making traffic worse than expected. 

"We've got a decade by decade view of what projects need to be done, but the population of Auckland has grown faster than anticipated."

NZN / Newshub.