Much to do before we achieve world-class rail services in Auckland

Britomart and electric trainsA couple of weeks ago I took the train out to Henderson to attend a Council meeting. Riding the brand new EMU as it powered quietly and smoothly along a corridor now amazingly free of graffiti and weeds, past attractive modern stations (the opening ceremonies of each I recalled attending over the past 10 years), I mused on the long struggle to get where we are today. I confess readers to feeling felt a momentary glow of pride.   But enough of that. The recollection that 90% of the complaints I receive about Auckland’s public transport are about rail services soon brought me back to earth. The truth is there is still much to do before we achieve world class rail services in Auckland. Despite the brand new EMUs, on-time performance is definitely non-world class. For instance punctuality on the Eastern Line in June was a hopeless 60.9%! – and with new electric trains. This is not some technical teething problem, electric trains had been running the Eastern Line for many months at that point. And passengers and train staff complain of unacceptable levels of anti-social behaviour and fare evasion (the two go hand-in-hand). The evasion problem is largely due to the lack of station gates outside of Britomart and Newmarket to go with the ‘Hop’ smart cards. The lack of these gates over most of the network means in effect we are operating a voluntary payment system on our trains.

Disconcertingly, after recent time-tabling changes, rail services on the western line are running slower than they did back when Britomart first opened. We didn’t really spend $1 billion on electrification to have slower services, did we?   And despite strenuous public objections, passenger services to Waitakere have been withdrawn (for the first time in over 100 years) and planned extensions to Kumeu despite the enormous growth in that area have been put on the never-never. I was recently told by a disgruntled Pukekohe train commuter of a widespread belief among her fellow passengers that the Pukekohe shuttle services have become so unreliable that Auckland Transport management must be trying to drive away customers (as some critics claimed happened with Waitakere), thus removing the need to electrify the line to Pukekohe. The conspiracy theory is baseless but sadly that’s what these customers believe.   Even more serious for the long term financial sustainability and expansion of Auckland’s rail services is the disproportionately high operational costs of running the network.   This year ended June it was a staggering $159m. For the previous year, June 2014 when Auckland and Wellington rail services carried almost an identical amount of people (11.5 million trips), not counting the large NZTA subsidy, Auckland ratepayers coughed up $43.3m for train services whereas Wellington ratepayers paid only $18.8m for theirs. At the same time Wellington Metro collected $43.26m in fares whereas AT managed to recover only $30.63m. This year ended June, Auckland ratepayers’ contribution increased to $52m and while patronage went up by 22% to 13.9 million trips per year, revenue increased only by 16%. Auckland Councillors under pressure from the public fed up with rates increases, have called for an investigation into this, which is now underway. A contributing factor may lay in the fact that in Wellington services are a matter between the Wellington Regional Council and KiwiRail. In contrast the Super City’s rail services management system is a complex, unwieldy ‘too many cooks’ arrangement of Transdev, KiwiRail, and of course Auckland Transport (AT) – which is demonstrably too expensive, inefficient, and allows too much room for dodging accountability. Auckland’s long-suffering rail passengers and ratepayers deserve better than this. Along with the brand new electric trains, which AT promotes as ‘quieter, better, smarter’, we need a similar level of improvement to the way we manage our rail services, if Aucklanders are indeed to get world class public transport.

Mike Lee is the local councillor for Waitemata & Gulf ward, the chair of the Council’s Infrastructure Committee and a director of Auckland Transport.  He is also a member of the Public Transport Users Association.  He writes in his role as a councillor.

A variation of this article appears in the September issue of Ponsonby News and a short version is on the NZ Herald website.

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Chunuk Bair Day speech

Chunuk Bair centenary memorial service

Michael Lee Auckland Councillor and chairman of the Auckland Council World World One Centenary Memorial Working party

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Today, just over one year into the centenary of the Great War we commemorate a most important war anniversary for New Zealand.  The capture of Chunuk Bair was one of New Zealand’s greatest feats of arms.

Three months after the ANZAC landings in April 1915, after the failed offensive at Cape Helles, the Gallipoli campaign had become stalemated.  An audacious plan to outflank the Ottoman Turkish defenders by seizing the heights of the Sari Bair range was conceived.  From these heights the narrows of the Dardanelles, the seaway to Constantinople and to the Black Sea could be seen and dominated. While the August offensive was to be undertaken by the British and French armies, soldiers of many nations were involved. apart from New Zealanders and Australians there were Irish, Welsh, Indian, English, French, French African colonial troops and the French Foreign Legion.  The task of spearheading the assault though was given to the New Zealanders.

The offensive began on 6 August when British, French, Irish and Indian troops at the cost of heavy casualties launched attacks at Cape Helles.  French troops also attacked Turkish positions on the Asian side of the Dardenelles; and the British landed troops at Suvla Bay to the north of ANZAC cove. At the southern end of the ANZAC perimeter, Australian infantrymen, climbed out of their trenches and charged the Turkish machine guns at Lone Pine. Nearly 2000 Australians were to become casualties at Lone Pine alone.

That night the main attack got underway, spearheaded by 1600 men of the Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles and the 480-man Maori contingent.   Their job was to clear out the Turkish defensive positions guarding the approaches to the heights.  The next morning with four out of the five strong points taken, they were relieved by the NZ Infantry Brigade, which was to scale the final kilometre to the summit of Chunuk Bair.

Meanwhile down below, at the Nek, Australian light horsemen (like the NZ mounteds their horses were left back in Egypt), charged in three waves; 375 light horsemen were killed sacrificing themselves in this way.  The episode is immortalised in the closing scenes of the 1981 movie ‘Gallipoli’.

Then ordered to attack at mid-morning, three companies of the Auckland battalion assaulted up the slopes.  Despite taking heavy casualties, (300 men, nearly half the battalion was wiped out), the Aucklanders captured the position called ‘the Pinnacle’, just 200 metres from the summit.  The Wellington Battalion was ordered up next but its commander Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone refused to send his men, as he put it to ‘commit suicide’, arguing for a night attack instead.  A row ensued. Malone got his way.

In the pre-dawn darkness the attack went in and as the sun rose 700 or so Wellingtons assisted by Auckland mounted riflemen and elements of the Gloucester and Welsh Pioneer regiments captured the summit. The Dardanelles and victory was in sight.  Malone’s men now had to hold against the inevitable Turkish counterattacks.

The late Maurice Shadbolt was inspired by the drama and heroism of the Chunuk Bair saga to write his famous play ‘Once on Chunuk Bair’.  In his book ‘Voices of Gallipoli’ (1988), Shadbolt quoted the decorated Gallipoli & Western Front veteran Ormond Burton.  After the War Burton became a Methodist minister and an outspoken peace activist.  (Some of you may remember the old man in the 1960’s and early 70’s preaching and leading marches against the Vietnam War). Burton was also an historian, rated both as a soldier and as a writer by his commander Major-General Sir Andrew Russell.

In his 1935 book chronicling the history of the NZ Army in the Great War, The Silent Division – New Zealanders at the front 1914-19’, Burton wrote of Chunuk Bair: ‘Every man on that ridge knew that the thin line of New Zealand men was holding wide open the door to victory, and that it must not close – must not.’

All that day, 8 August, New Zealand-led forces on Chunuk Bair, principally the Wellingtons, running low on ammunition and water, fought off wave after wave of Turkish counter-attacks.  Personally led by Malone they mounted desperate bayonet charges to push back the enemy. Burton wrote: ‘How men died on Chunuk Bair was determined by how men and women had lived on the farms and in the towns of New Zealand.’

Battle of Chunuk Bair

By nightfall, all but 70 of the 700 or so men who had captured the heights that morning had been killed, Malone with them.  The exhausted survivors were finally relieved by the Wellington Mounted Rifles and the Otago Battalion.

The New Zealanders held on for another long day of grim fighting until relieved that evening by two battalions of British troops that had come up from Suvla.

But within hours a massive counterattack by five thousand Turkish troops organised by their commander Mustafa Kemal, (later Kemal Ataturk, the first president of modern Turkey), swept them from the summit.

Again it was only the grim defence of New Zealand troops that stopped this human wave from sweeping all the way to the beaches. 9000 Turks had been killed or wounded in the fighting around Chunuk Bair.

But for the Allies, with the loss of the heights, chance of victory at Gallipoli, the capture of Constantinople; the dream of ‘knocking Turkey out of the war’, linking hands with Russia and a quick end to the War was all over.

Instead Great War would drag on for more than three more years, millions more would die.  The heroism and sacrifice of our young soldiers, it could be concluded then, was all for nothing.   But Ormond Burton for one, would not accept this. He saw at least some good in it.

He wrote: ‘The way men died on Chunuk Bair is shaping the deeds yet to be done by generations still unborn in this land of ours…When the August fighting died down there was no question but that New Zealanders had commenced to realise themselves as a nation.’

It is important if those bloody and desperate events are to have any meaning, the present generation of New Zealanders must ensure that Chunuk Bair, and its significance for this nation is not forgotten; and that the memory is passed on to future generations.

Let us do so, so that the heroic sacrifice of those brave young NZ soldiers, pakeha and Maori – indeed the soldiers of all those nations in that battle 100 years ago was not completely in vain.

To this end I am reminded of the words of the 18th century statesman Edmund Burke:  ‘Our society is a contract between three interested parties, the dead, the living and the unborn.

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As part of our duty to honour the contract Burke spoke of, the Auckland Council, as announced by the Mayor Len Brown on ANZAC Day, with the help of the NZ government, has pledged to build and complete by 2018, the centenary of the ending of the Great War, a memorial to honour not just the fallen, but all those generations of Aucklanders affected by the tragic consequences of that conflict – and by wars in general.

After much thought we have decided not to embark on a separate new monument – the Auckland War Memorial Museum and cenotaph must be one of the most superb war monuments ever built.  Rather it is to complete broadly the scheme what was envisaged in the 1930s by that generation of Aucklanders most affected by the War, the people who built this Museum and cenotaph.

Our preference is for something simple and understated.  Integrated into the Museum complex it is to form what is best described as a pedestrian or processional way, on the northern grassy slopes before the Museum, aligned on the central axis of the Museum, designed to enable both casual pedestrian and formal ceremonial access from Domain Drive, where there will be an entrance ‘contemplative feature’ connected to the pathway progressing up the slopes to the Court of Honour and the War Memorial Museum.

It is still early days, but engagement with stakeholders will commence shortly and key stakeholders and the public will be kept up to date on progress throughout the project. A design brief has been completed; expressions of interest are soon to be sought from professional designers.

The selected designers will provide concept designs which are expected to be provided by the end of this year, and will be made public at that time.  We are requiring proposed centenary memorial must respect, harmonise with and complement the Auckand War Memorial Museum building.

With this announcement we renew the pledge of remembrance bequeathed to us 100 years ago and pay our homage to the heroism of all those young men in the Battle of Chunuk Bair and in the fighting yet to come.

We will remember them.

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Chunuk Bair must not be forgotten

 

Battle of Chunuk Bair This month we will be already one year into the centenary of the Great War. August 2015 brings a most important war anniversary for New Zealanders, one of New Zealand’s greatest feats of arms, the capture of one of the key heights of Gallipoli, Chunuk Bair.

Three months after the ANZAC landings in April 1915, after a failed offensive at Cape Helles, the Gallipoli campaign was stalemated. An audacious plan to outflank the Ottoman Turkish defenders by seizing the heights of the Sari Bair range was conceived. From these heights the narrows of the Dardanelles, the seaway to Constantinople and to the Black Sea could be seen and dominated. The task of spearheading the assault was given to the New Zealanders, but it was long odds. One problem was that approval for the plan came too late. The Turks had realised the vulnerability and had fortified the heights.   When the offensive finally got underway on 6 August they were ready. At the southern end of the Anzac perimeter, wave after wave of Australian infantrymen, climbed out of their trenches and charged the Turkish machine guns at Lone Pine in a diversionary attack. Nearly 2000 Australians were to sacrifice themselves in this way.

As part of the same offensive, British and Indian troops launched a diversionary attack at Cape Helles, while French troops did the same on the Asian side of the Dardanelles.   British forces landed in force up the coast at Suvla Bay.

That night the New Zealanders launched the main attack, spearheaded by 1600 men of the Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles and the 500-man Maori contingent.   Their job was to clear out the Turkish defensive positions guarding the approaches to the heights. The next morning their job  done, they were replaced by the NZ Infantry Brigade, which was to scale the final kilometre to the summit of Chunuk Bair. Meanwhile down below, Australian light horsemen (without their horses) charged at the Nek, 375 men were killed. The episode is immortalised in the 1981 movie ‘Gallipoli’.

Ordered to attack at mid-morning, three companies of Aucklanders charged up the slopes. Despite taking enormous casualties, (300 men, nearly half the battalion were killed), they captured the position called ‘the Pinnacle’, 200 metres from the summit of Chunuk Bair. The Wellington Battalion was ordered up next but its commander Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone refused to send his men to ‘commit suicide’, arguing for a night attack instead. He got his way.   In the pre-dawn darkness the attack went in and as the sun rose 700 or so Wellingtons assisted by Auckland mounted riflemen captured the summit. The Dardanelles and victory was in sight. The New Zealanders now had to hold against the inevitable Turkish counterattacks.

The late Maurice Shadbolt was inspired by the drama and heroism of the Chunuk Bair saga to write his famous play ‘Once on Chunuk Bair’. In his book ‘Voices of Gallipoli’ (1988), Shadbolt quoted the decorated Gallipoli & Western Front veteran Ormond Burton. (After the War Burton became an outspoken peace activist. Some may remember the old man’s impassioned speeches against the Vietnam War in the 1960s). In his 1935 book The Silent Division’, Burton wrote of Chunuk Bair: ‘Every man on that ridge knew that the thin line of New Zealand men was holding wide open the door to victory, and that it must not close – must not.’ All that day, 8 August, the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair, running low on ammunition and water, fought off wave after wave of Turkish counter-attackers. Led by Colonel Malone they mounted desperate bayonet charges to push back the Turks. Burton wrote: ‘How men died on Chunuk Bair was determined by how men and women had lived on the farms and in the towns of New Zealand.’

 By nightfall, all but 70 of the 700 or so men who had captured the heights that morning had been killed, Malone with them. The exhausted survivors were finally relieved by the Wellington Mounted Rifles and the Otago Battalion.   These held on for another long day of grim fighting until relieved that evening by two battalions of British troops who had come up from Suvla Bay. But within hours a massive counterattack by thousands of Turkish infantrymen organised by Kemal Ataturk swept them from the summit.

The chance of victory at Gallipoli, the capture of Constantinople; the dream of ‘knocking Turkey out of the war’, of joining hands with Russia, and a quick end to the war was all over.

The Great War would drag on for more than three more years, millions more would die. The heroism and sacrifice of our young soldiers, it could be concluded then, was all for nothing.   But Ormond Burton would not accept this. He saw at least some good in it. ‘The way men died on Chunuk Bair is shaping the deeds yet to be done by generations still unborn in this land of ours…When the August fighting died down there was no question but that New Zealanders had commenced to realise themselves as a nation.’

This 8 August then it is up to us, the present generation of New Zealanders to ensure Chunuk Bair is not forgotten and that the heroic sacrifice of those New Zealand soldiers 100 years ago was not completely in vain.

 This article features in the August issue of Ponsonby News

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Remembrance and legacy – Saving St David’s

The following is a speech I made at a very special commemorative event organised by Paul Baragwanath and the Friends of St David’s on Thursday 23 July 2015.

I wish to thank Paul Baragwanath and the Friends of St David’s for inviting me here to speak this evening. Apart from being the local ward councillor (Waitemata & Gulf) I am also the chairman of the Auckland Council’s Heritage Advisory Panel – and it was through this role that I first made the acquaintance of the remarkable Paul, the Friends, and of this wonderful church.

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I want to talk about heritage – which another way of saying ‘remembrance’ and ‘legacy’ This is what this event this evening is all about.  When you think about it ‘remembrance’ and ‘legacy’ are reciprocal terms presupposing a relationship, specifically our relationship – and our duty to the past and our obligation to the future. In this I am reminded of the words of the 18th century statesman Edmund Burke: ‘Our society is a contract between three interested parties, the dead, the living and the unborn.’

On this theme, the 20th century German art philosopher Walter Benjamin, went somewhat further when he wrote. ‘There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power to which the past has a claim – that claim cannot be settled cheaply.’

In this season of remembrance – during the centenary of the Great War, it is important that we acknowledge the claim of the past and our duty to honour that claim.

St David’s and what it stands for is an important element of that past. Not just a notable example of Auckland’s built heritage – but St David’s is also quite unique.

It was built as Auckland’s soldier’s church by the generation of returned Great War soldiers and by the bereaved and damaged families of the soldiers who never returned.  Accordingly, its foundation stone was laid on ANZAC Day 1927; and when it was completed it was formally dedicated as ‘the Soldiers’ Memorial Church.’

St David’s was built with features, innovative for the time, for returned soldiers: a ramp for the wheel chairs of the disabled, specifically the many young men who had lost their legs, or who had been paralysed by battle wounds.

There are also electric listening posts along the pews for the many who returned with their hearing impaired.

A number of carved marble and gold-leaf embossed plaques inside the building remind of us the special relationship with the fallen of both World Wars. Another distinguishing feature are the beautiful stain glass windows.   Among the most striking is a unique depiction of Christ among the Maori and blessing the people of Oceania and the people of Jerusalem. (The artist depicts Christ breaking through barriers of time and space between the Palestine of the time of his ministry, Aotearoa and the South Seas.)

One of the superb, unique stain-glass windows at St David's church

One of the superb, unique stain-glass windows at St David’s church

The relationship with the military has been reinforced by the long association of the Royal NZ engineers with St David’s. The soldier’s church has stood resolutely and proudly on this site for more than 88 years.

In recent times the future of St David’s has been under some discussion – there are financial concerns and the need to adapt to a changing social environment. But a group of congregation members, led by Paul Baragwanath have made it clear that they wish St David’s to be retained and to this end they have formed the Friends of St David’s. Many thousands of Aucklanders would agree with their cause.  Certainly my Heritage Advisory Panel does. We wish the St David’s parish community well in their endeavours to find a solution.

Art of Remembrance Project website http://www.RememberThem.nz
 Friends of St David’s Trust website http://www.SaintDavidsFriends.org.nz
Col. Louisa O'Brien, Paul Baragwanath & Mike Lee at St David's

Col. Louisa O’Brien, Paul Baragwanath & Mike Lee at St David’s

On the evening of ANZAC Day this year, (I know many of you were here for that event) which of course was the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, St David’s was reverently bedecked with a most special artwork. The artwork, by Max Gimblett ONZM, entitled ‘the art of Remembrance, comprises thousands of brass quatrefoils.

For the last three months, the spangled quatrefoils – as if to remind us of the true value of this building and what it stands for – has shone with a golden aura. The effect is particularly striking in the rays of the evening and early morning sun – bringing to mind the words of the Ode: ‘At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.’

Each quatrefoil has been silk-screen-printed with seven unique designs. I have remarked on their collective aura but taken individually each quatrefoil is the about the size of an outreached soldiers’ hand. The designs on each artwork are abstract – for some, they represent the human presence – perhaps even the splash of blood. For others they see in the quatrefoil, the form of a cross or the form of a flower.

This artwork was a gift from Max to the Friends of St David’s and to the people of Auckland – but it has captured the imaginations of people right across New Zealand.. There have been responses and messages from Invercargill to Kaitaia.   The quatrefoils have been a very popular means of fund-raising and I am told there are still some available. The Art of Remembrance display comes to an end this Monday.   On behalf of the people of Auckland I want to say to Max Gimblett – thank you.

And I also again wish to express my thanks and admiration to Paul Baragwanath and the Friends of St David’s.

Saving St David’s for future generations would be a noble way of honouring the claim the past has on us – to honour the fallen soldiers and that generation of Aucklanders who built this church.

To return to the theme of the Great War centenary, I wish to draw your attention to an auspcious forthcoming anniversary. The capture of the heights of Chunuk Bair in August 1915 was one of NZ’s greatest feats of arms and the nearest the ill-starred Gallipoli campaign came to military success. Hundreds of NZ soldiers – hundreds of Auckland soldiers – gave their lives in that heroic action. It was where Cyril Bassett earned the Victoria Cross. The centenary of the Battle of Chunuk Bair will be the 8th August, 2015. A memorial service and wreath laying to honour the memory of the fallen and the men who fought there, will be held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum at 11.00 am 8 August.

Lest we forget.

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Historic judgement a huge victory for harbour campaigners – and well deserved kick in the pants for the Auckland Council.

Justice. What a sweet word that is and how heartening it is to witness such a resounding example of it. Justice Geoffrey Venning’s decision to throw out the resource consents granted to Ports of Auckland by the Auckland Council to extend the Bledisloe container terminal with wharf extensions nearly 100 metres, is more than justice – it is a liberating breath of fresh air for Aucklanders fed up with the high-handeded behaviour of the Auckland Council. The resource consents, presaging a major harbour reclamation, were not only not publicly-notified, they were kept secret by council management from the public, from the councillors – even from the mayor.

Justice Venning ruled the consents should have been publicly notified on two counts.

  1. the technical applications should have been ‘bundled’, meaning they therefore would have been considered under the more restrictive ‘discretionary activity’ which requires notification.
  2. Under the ‘controlled activity’ rule of the Regional Plan Coastal used to authorise the wharf extension, the ‘special circumstances’ (s.95 (4) RMA) provisions of that rule were simply ignored. The Judge found there were ample grounds to treat this application as a special circumstance, given amongst other things the very high public interest.

All Aucklanders owe a debt of gratitude to Urban Auckland and its generous backers that successfully took the council and port company to court on behalf of the public, and also to ‘Stop Stealing Our Harbour’ the group that organised the mass public opposition in the streets and with full-page newspaper ads. We should also acknowledge the role of the NZ Herald. The monolithic power of the super city means that the free press has become an even more important safeguard for the people of Auckland.

 As a politician I feel personally vindicated because the Judge’s finding in regard to ‘special circumstances’ is exactly what I argued from the beginning.   It would be fair to say that since the story leaked out on 12 February it has not been one of the most pleasant periods that I have experienced in my time in local government.

The morning the story broke (I hadn’t at that stage read it), I was bemused to hear a senior planner justifying secret consents by referring to the “ARC coastal plan” (meaning the Auckland Regional Plan Coastal). The “ARC Plan” refrain was soon taken up as a thinly-disguised taunt by certain other councillors. As the councillor for Waitemata & Gulf, a longtime environmentalist and the former chairman of the ARC, coming on top of my dismay at the secret consents and the council’s back down on harbour reclamation, the ‘ARC’ taunting certainly added insult to injury – as it was meant to. When the mayor Len Brown in desperation also resorted to it, it was the final straw and I gave him a well-deserved public bollocking.

 Interestingly when I made enquiries of officers for the legal grounds for the consents, I was given photo-copies of relevant pages of the Regional Plan Coastal – with the sentences the officers thought relevant, helpfully highlighted. But I was intrigued to see that while the ‘special circumstances’ condition was a part of the ‘controlled activity’ rule (25.5.28) the officers used – it was not highlighted. Was this deliberate I wondered? Or did the officers just not ‘see’ it because of a mind set springing from the council’s own institutional bias against notification. Of course the council planners were working with the port company lawyers not only to get the consents through on a non-notified basis, but to keep those consents secret. Council officers in these situations nowadays work through contracted commissioners – so-called ‘independent commissioners’ – who almost always act on the officers’ recommendations.

As Justice Venning pointed out:

On the face of the decision of both Commissioners, it appears that the principal reason they decided special circumstances did not exist is that the extension was a controlled activity, and an expected form of development. In coming to that view I consider the Commissioners have misdirected themselves. The relevant rule in the Coastal Plan itself contemplates that even though the activity might be controlled there may still be special circumstances justifying public notification in accordance with s 95A(4) of the RMA.

 Justice Venning also thought it appropriate to comment on the interaction between council planners and one of the two ‘independent commissioners’, Ms Macky, referring to an email from a council consultant planner, one Ms Halpin to the council lead planner Ms Valentine. Judge Venning wrote:

‘I also note that the evidence before the Court suggests Commissioner Macky had some issues with the notification decision recommended to her. Ms Valentine asked Ms Halpin to speak to Ms Macky. There is a record of Ms Halpin reporting to Ms Valentine after speaking with Commissioner Macky that:

‘I have spoken with [Commissioner Macky] and she is all good. She really appreciated being able to talk through the application with me as she was having a wee bit of concern around notification! She is feeling much more comfortable now – phew! Give me a call and I can enlighten you further.’’

‘Phew!’??? Like Justice Venning, I will leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

There is a lot more to come out about this affair. The council has allegedly spent an incredible $500,000 of public money in legal fees defending itself – which itself raises a number of questions. Will officers argue to spend yet more money to appeal or will they accept the judgement that they were plain wrong? In regard to the related issue of the council’s Unitary Plan back-down on harbour reclamation, the public needs to know why a senior council planning manager advised the council members (on 12 February the same day as the secret consent story broke) that no legal advice could be found that would support the council’s 2013 decision to make harbour reclamation ‘non-complying’ and for that reason no council planner could or would support it, when in fact council officers were in possession of legal advice which not only supported the non-complying policy but advocated extending it?

While the directors of the Port company will have to pay the consequences for their foolishness and arrogance that has badly damaged the credibility and long-term interests of the Port Company, they no doubt imagined in their narrow, blinkered way, they were being ‘commercial’; but the cardinal culpability for this fiasco lies within the Auckland Council.   I believe there will be consequences and these may go on for some time – up until and beyond the next election. Justice Venning’s historic judgement I believe will cast a very long shadow.

 This article is featured in the July issue of Ponsonby News.

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Trams to make a comeback? – Auckland’s 21st century Light Rail future

Everyone loves a comeback - trams set to make a 21st century return to Queen Street

Everyone loves a comeback – trams set to make a 21st century return to Queen Street

Auckland Transport’s announcement in January that it was seriously investigating a Light Rail solution for Auckland as a part of the draft Regional Land Transport Plan, came as a surprise to a lot of people but it’s the best news on the transport front for Auckland since the go ahead for rail electrification.

Auckland Transport (AT) has taken this remarkable step – leap more like it – because its modelling and number crunching in the City Centre Future Access Study kept pointing to the inescapable conclusion that by 2021, the recommended maximum of 130 buses per hour on key city corridors like Symonds Street will be seriously exceeded – even with the City Rail Link. This means chronic grid-lock.

AT is therefore scoping a modern Light Rail Transit (LRT) system comprising four lines, Dominion, Sandringham, Mt Eden and Manukau Roads, converging on Queen Street and Symonds Stree, with the first stage a 7 km Wynyard Quarter, Queens Street, Dominion Road line. Much more modest than Auckland’s historic 72km electric tramway but, in our time, without doubt a bold and visionary concept.

Auckland’s position is not unique. The world-wide revolution in urban mass transit which occurred 60 years ago, that saw light rail, (electric trams) replaced, mainly by diesel buses is now turning full circle – but this time buses in inner cities are giving way to modern high-tech light rail vehicles or trams. This is happening in small to large cities across Europe, North America and Asia. There are now 400 cities with LRT now operating. In Australia, in addition to Melbourne, the smart exception that held fast to its trams, Sydney has a major LRT construction underway, Gold Coast has completed the first 13km stage of its light rail system, Adelaide its expanding its light rail system and Canberra is a tender stage. Across the world 60 LRT networks are under construction and another 200 are planned. Apart from its basic transport efficiencies Light Rail has been a proven catalyst for urban development. Modern trams on the Gold Coast for instance have dramtically transformed the place, rescuing the Gold Coast from what once seemed an inevitable fate of tackiness, instead giving the place a European-style gravitas.

Light Rail Transit is more efficient and more economical, emission-free and much quieter than buses. As LRT carries more people, 300 – 450 passengers on a modern tram versus 60 people on a bus, it is passenger and therefore revenue rich. This heavy patronage (low-margin, high-turnover model) was of course a feature of the historic tram systems. Because of this facor all the NZ tram systems in the 20th century were unsubsidised and indeed ran at a modest profit. In regard to the Auckland tramway, when it was terminated in 1956, it was carrying over 80 million passengers a year when Auckland’s population was only around 300,000 people. After the trams were withdrawn public transport patronage levels in Auckland collapsed. Despite the population now being around 1.5 million, and the expenditure of billions of dollars in subsidies over recent years, public transport in Auckland has yet to fully recover from that disastrous decision. It is now just 79 million trips per annum for all modes. Yet in its first year of service in 1904, the Auckland Electric Tramways Co Ltd carried over 13 million trips per year (Auckland’s current train patronage level). This at a time when Auckland’s population was only 70,000 people. The company made a net profit of £20,823.00 in its first year and this increased modestly with patronage growth over the years.

The strength of LRT is its flexibility in the way it can operate. Running through inner cities, sharing the road with cars, buses and pedestrians, and then running through the suburbs, often on dedicated tracks, more like a train.

The private sector lobbying (from the oil motor industry interests) which was a feature in the removal of the trams in the mid-1950s, right across the world, is again a factor in the world-wide light rail revival. This time from international operating and infrastructure companies, interested in public-private partnerships These see Light Rail as mutually profitable for both cities (in terms of city building and transport solutions) and their shareholders.

This innate ‘bankability’ also makes start-ups financially feasible. A note of caution. If Auckland were to adopt Light Rail we would need to ensure that the financial efficiencies to be gained from the expected high patronage and lower cost operations are not cancelled out by the twin menace of local government gold-plating on the one hand, and rorting by the construction sector on the other – a particular danger in New Zealand’s monopolistic construction environment.

Auckland Transport first signalled its intentions for Light Rail in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan and despite this being a major surprise, the idea was well received by Aucklanders.. A total of 1390 public submissions were received on Light Rail and of those, the vast majority 1250 (89%) were in support, 73 were opposed and 74 not indicating an opinion either way.

Declaration: Mike Lee is a director of Auckland Transport and a qualified (heritage) tram driver.

This article appears in the Ponsonby News June 2015 edition

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With hundreds of millions of ratepayers and taxpayers money going into public transport, the question is, are we getting value for money?

Memorandum

To: Mayor and Councillors

From: Michael Lee, Auckland Councillor.

Date: 7 May 2015

Subject: Rail Operating Costs

I am providing this memo at the request of the Budget workshp of 6 May. I have periodically raised with Councillors and management serious concerns I have about the sharply increasing levels of operational costs of commuter rail and whether this is justified and ultimately affordable. I have raised these concerns with the Auckland Transport Board in my role as a director. Given the far-reaching rating decisions that are required to be made by the Council for the Long Term Plan, this matter is of material interest to the Governing Body.

Attachment 1 to this memo outlines a comparison between rail operations in Auckland and Wellington. Overall, while the two systems carry a broadly similar number of passengers (Auckland has pulled ahead in the past year), the Auckland rail network had a gross cost to operate of around $139m per year (2013/14), whereas Wellington’s gross cost is just over $85m for the same year. Furthermore, fare revenue received in Wellington is over $43m while in Auckland it’s just over $30m. Overall this leads to some major differences in the net cost per passenger of rail in Auckland and Wellington, as summarised below (2013/14 data):

  Auckland Wellington
Total subsidy per passenger $9.37 $3.68
Total subsidy per passenger km $0.65 $0.16

As explained further in attachment 1, I do not believe there are any fundamental reasons why the net cost of rail in Auckland should be more than twice that of Wellington on a per passenger basis. The introduction of electric trains and integrated ticketing should be driving down the cost of providing rail service in Auckland ( as predicted in the business cases for both these projects) yet this is not reflected in the total operational cost we are providing each year to Auckland Transport which continues to increase significantly.

I therefore propose an additional recommendation as part of our LTP decision-making process to encourage Auckland Transport to deliver better value-for-money from rail operational costs. If there are significant savings to be found in this area then that enables a lower level of rates increase in future years of the LTP, and frees up more funding for further investment in transport. My proposed recommendation is outlined below:

That the Budget Committee notes the significantly higher rail operating costs for Auckland compared to Wellington and requests the Chief Executive to work with Auckland Transport and report back on options for potential savings in these costs as part of developing the 2016/17 Annual Plan.

 

Attachment 1 – Comparison of Auckland and Wellington rail operating costs

Please find the results of bench-marking between Auckland and Wellington commuter rail operations. The key figures are publicly available in detail in the Wellington Metropolitan Rail 2013/14 Annual Report released in December 2014. Auckland’s figures are extracted from the Summary of Financial Results 29th July 2014 (AT Board open agenda).

Auckland Wellington
Pax boardings per year June 2014 (m) 11.435m 11.6m
Fare revenue received $30.63m $43.26m
Fare received-per-recorded boarding (average) $2.68 $3.72
Total Operating Costs (Including security) $139.285m $85.09m
Farebox Recovery 22% 50%
Ratepayer Subsidy ($m) $43.3m $18.84m
NZTA Subsidy ($m) $63.92m $23.9m
Total Subsidy rates & NZTA ($m) $107.2m $42.74m
Total Subsidy per passenger $9.37 $3.68
Total passenger km (m) 165.5m/km 274m/km
Opex per passenger km ($) $0.84 $0.32
Fare per passenger km ($) $0.19 $0.16
Subsidy per passenger km ($) $0.65 $0.16

 

Please note that despite almost identical numbers of passenger boardings recorded in year ended June 2014, the cost/revenue disparity between the two operations: Wellington Regional Council/KiwiRail and Auckland Council/Auckland Transport Transdev/Kiwirail, has increased markedly since my previous benchmark exercise in March 2014.

Note Wellington’s station train security costs ($1.711m) are declared in the WRC Metropolitan Rail Annual Report, whereas Auckland’s are commercially confidential and so I have not detailed them. However they are significantly higher than Wellington’s both in real terms and proportionately given the similar numbers of passengers carried. Auckland train/station security costs are increasing significantly.

Please note the total operating cost differential between the two operations (gross figures) over two financial years 2012/13 and 2013/14:

2012/13. Auckland $116.06m.Wellington $81.20m.Auckland $34.86m more costly (ie 43%) more costly than Wellington.

2013/14.Auckland $139.285m Wellington $85.09m.Auckland $54.20 million more costly (ie 61%) more costly than Wellington (for a very similar amount of recorded passenger boardings).

In regard to revenue received, the difference is:

2012/13. Auckland. $27.13m. Wellington $40.40m

2013/14.Auckland $30.63m. Wellington $43.26m

Therefore in 2013/14, Auckland’s train fare revenue received was $12.63 million (29.2%) less than Wellington’s for a similar number of recorded passenger boardings.

Net figures. Deducting revenue from total operating costs reveals a greater disparity.

2012/13. Auckland net costs: $88.93. Wellington net costs $40.80m.

Auckland net costs $48.13 million more than Wellington.

2013/14. Auckland net costs $108.66m. Wellington net costs $41.82m.

Therefore Auckland’s net costs are $66.84 million more than Wellington’s. That is 2.6 times that of Wellington’s – or to express it differently – the net coperational costs of Wellington rail would need to increase by 160% per year to be at the same level as Auckland.

Netting out these figures not only compounds the significant cost difference but also reveals a major revenue disparity. In other words Auckland not only has a cost problem it also has an apparent major revenue loss problem.

In a report to the AT Board last year management stated that ‘many key differences will be mitigated when Auckland introduces a new electric fleet of trains.’ Management also pointed to the ‘mature’ nature of Wellington’s public transport usage and also pointed to ‘topographical differences’ between the two cities. The weight placed on the last two points is however debatable when it comes to proportionate cost and revenue numbers. However it is fair to say Wellington’s electric service is fully operational while Auckland’s is not yet completely rolled out. But it is important to remember Wellington also runs diesel SA/SD type trains (SW) on the Wairarapa line and to Palmerston North and diesel operations in Wellington will continue for the forseeable future. The actual fuel & traction cost differences for 2012/13 (last figures available) were Auckland $11.29m and Wellington $4.2m – Therefore Auckland’s fuel/traction costs were just over $7m more than Wellington’s. But even the if there was elimination of fuel/traction costs differences with the full roll out of Auckland electric trains, this will make only a marginal difference to the overall cost disparity.

More significant are ‘labour’ cost differences revealed in 2012/13 (I do not have more recent figures): Auckland $44.2m. Wellington $25m. ‘Labour’ costs for Auckland’s operation in 2012/13 were $19.2 million more than Wellington’s.

This labour cost differential persists and is difficult to explain given Wellington has a manual ‘clippy’ staff system and Auckland has a full automated smart card system but (and I think this is absolutely critical to the whole problem), only three stations, Britomart, Newmarket and Manukau are gated. Most telling are the fare box recovery figures: Auckland 22% Wellington 50%. This is slightly down from 2012/13 (Auckland 23.3%, Wellington 50%). Government expectations are that fare box ratios should be 50% but Auckland has been moving in the opposite direction. Fare increases, especially those of two and three years ago, were corelative with a lower fare box ratio, presumably because of higher evasion and a period of patronage decline.

In 2010/11 Auckland’s rail operating costs were $56.1m. Opex costs for the current 2014/15 are budgeted to be $158.668m. Patronage for 2010/11 was 10.3m pax, the current year’s patronage is likely to be 13.5m.

Summary

The issue of significant cost/revenue differences between the Auckland and Wellington commuter rail operations appear to be systemic and is suggestive of much more detailed analyses to explain them. However two simple facts are clear. The Auckland commuter rail operation has a major cost problem as well as a significant revenue loss problem. A similar benchmark exercise for year 2014/2015 is likely to reveal an even greater disparity between the cost of Auckland and Wellington operations and raise questions about the ultimate sustainability of these costs which ultimately fall on Auckland ratepayers and taxpayers. It would not be unreasonable to ask in light of the circumstances, are ratepayers and taxpayers getting value for money from this service?

Please find link to the Greater Wellington Metro Rail annual report:

http://www.gw.govt.nz/assets/council-reports/Report_PDFs/2014.648a1.pdf

 

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Waitemata Harbour, Port and waterfront – Auckland Council leadership in over its head

Despite the mayor and council chief executive’s belated warnings, the Ports of Auckland appears to be pushing ahead with the $22m first stage of extending the Bledisloe container terminal nearly 100 metres out into the harbour. Thumbing its nose at its legal shareholder and the people of Auckland.

The public interest group Urban Auckland is taking the port company to court (all power to them) but the case won’t be heard for weeks. Meanwhile an unprecedented collision appears inevitable.

What has become clear over the last year is that the Auckland Council leadership, both elected and appointed, is out of its depth when it comes to dealing with Auckland’s port, harbour and waterfront. In the case of the Ports of Auckland reclamation, the council has lurched erratically from ‘nod-nod, wink–wink’ to talking about a ‘thermo-nuclear’ response. In fact Auckland Council has been guilty of sending mixed messages to the port company – conniving in issuing resource consents and keeping those consents secret for weeks, despite the obvious public interest – until their existence was leaked to the media by a ‘waterfront source’. The port company is obviously assuming the council’s tough talk is just for public consumption. In some ways there is a sense of inevitability about this latest crisis. The council leadership has been almost desperate to be ‘business-friendly’ and this attitude is reflected down the chain of command. This is especially noticeable when it comes to the issuing of resource consents, of which only around 1% are publicly-notified in Auckland. As we have seen, it is this more than anything else that is really generating public anger at the council. While this has been going on all over the Auckland region, it largely passes unnoticed (the exception being the council’s non-notified consent to cut down a mature kauri in an area ostensibly protected by the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act). But anything related to the harbour or waterfront is a deeply sensitive matter to Aucklanders.

The latest example of this is the Barfoot & Thompson $1.5m ‘state house’ sculpture, to be subsidised by ratepayers up to half a million, and intended to be plonked on a prime spot at the end of Queens Wharf. While this creation is deemed to be ‘public art’, the council and its ‘public arts’ officers are responding to public concerns exactly like the Ports of Auckland – by ignoring them. They too are pushing ahead in the face of public opposition.

Instead of listening, again like the Ports of Auckland, the council is engaging in a spin campaign, changing the name of the proposed artwork from a ‘state house’ (a somewhat counter-intuitive reference to its sponsor, the real estate corporate Barfoot & Thompson) to a ‘lighthouse’. Presumably this is an attempt to give the artwork some sort of maritime context. Ok that’s not a crime in itself, but what I find objectionable is to have council officers assert in a public meeting that the artwork never was a ‘state house’.   There was some irony here, as just before that particular meeting, one councillor colleague, a supporter of the ‘state house’, circulated a gushy piece from Metro that praised the yet-to-be artwork in fulsome terms. Sample: “First, let’s get the definition right. This isn’t a state house. It’s a sculpture, based on the form of a state house. Parekowhai’s work won’t provide anyone with shelter, but it will have profound metaphorical force, as a reminder of a time when we managed to marry massive national wealth to progressive social values.” And so on.

But the sketches of the proposed sculpture never looked like a ‘state house’ and even less so a ‘light house’. Moreover lighthouses are not located inside ports, or on wharves but on exposed capes and islands as a warning and signpost to ships at sea. But my concern here is not to bag the artwork or the artist, or indeed his admirers. It’s not about that.

As the elected representative of Waitemata and Gulf and the former ARC chairman who led the acquisition of Queens Wharf to open it up for the public, my concern is to see that the public’s concerns and aspirations for the waterfront and the harbour are respected. Given the council has chosen so far to ignore the public opposition to the ‘state house/lighthouse’, it should at least ensure that the resource consent for the erection of this edifice on Queens Wharf is publicly notified – as indeed it should be under the Regional Plan (Coastal). This would provide the opportunity for the public to have its say on whether it should go there, or somewhere else. But instead Auckland Council and Waterfront Auckland (the CCO allotted the task of delivering the artwork) are once again seeking to cut the public out of the legal process. No wonder there is rising anger at the arrogance of Auckland Council and its unlovely ‘family’ of CCOs. This is not how a democratic society is meant to work. Auckland deserves better than this.

 

This article was published in the May issue of Ponsonby News.

 

A few days after the magazine went to print, the Council agreed to public notify the resource consent for the statehouse/lighthouse art work. One week later led by the mayor, deputy-mayor and chief executive the council backed down from its tough talk with the Ports of Auckland by accepting a so-called ‘compromise’ of a one wharf extension. This was achieved by use of the mayor’s casting vote.

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The battle for the Waitemata Harbour. ‘Hitherto shalt thou come – but no further’

The way the council has gone about backing down on its agreed September 2013 Unitary Plan policy of making reclamations of the Waitemata Harbour ‘non complying’ is deeply worrying.   The original policy was soundly-based, had strong political support and was in response to widespread public concern that it was time that 150 years of harbour reclamation was brought to an end. That the public have any idea at all about what has happened in regard to council decisions about the fate of this policy over the last month is largely due to unauthorised leaking of information.   First of all leaking of details of the secret committee meeting by a person or persons present at the meeting and secondly leaking to the media about a legal opinion, the existence of which was kept from councillors.

The details that appeared in the NZ Herald articles are substantially correct. As reports revealed, at the first behind-closed-doors meeting in February a senior council planner told the councillors that in the planner’s professional view the original policy could and would not be defended by that officer or any other council officers, and therefore if the councillors wished to retain the policy, outside experts would have to be hired to defend the policy before the Unitary Plan commissioners. But that in itself, the planner was careful to point out, would clearly signal to the commissioners that the council officers were not in support of their Council’s policy.   It was made clear that if the councillors wished to avoid that embarrassment, the policy would have to be weakened to make smaller harbour reclamation consents non-notified and the larger reclamation consents discretionary, and only notified subject to the usual officer ‘tests’ of notification (and we all know how that works).

But the day after that meeting I was stunned to learn in the NZ Herald of the existence of a legal report said to be in the possession of council officers that argued quite the contrary. In fact when the legal opinion was finally provided to a subsequent meeting of the council, we were to discover it was commissioned in 2013 in response to assertions by the Ports of Auckland legal counsel Mai Chen that the council’s ‘non-complying’ policy was ‘illegal’. This was absolute nonsense of course.

In fact the opinion by the very reputable RMA lawyer and coastal specialist, Ian Cowper pointed out that as well as there being no basis to the claim that the policy was illegal he went on to advise that all forms of reclamation should be ‘non complying’. It worries me deeply and it should worry everyone, that council officers would make a case to the councillors to back down on an agreed public policy position without telling us of the existence of this legal opinion, the advice of which was in fundamental conflict with their own.

Then, directly related to the proposed future harbour reclamation, we learned (again via the newspaper), that non-notified consents had been given for two new wharves extending nearly 100 metres long out into the harbour, off Bledisloe container terminal on either side of the planned reclamation.

Information is power and the full sharing of information is axiomatic to sound decision-making in a democratic society. The suppression of vital information in this affair, about a matter of the highest public interest – the future of the Waitemata Harbour – is a cause for grave concern.

 As public anger grows, not just at the u-turn in policy but at the very questionable way this was achieved, a protest organisation has been formed, ‘Stop Stealing our Harbour’. Its campaign was launched in the Herald with a full-page ad featuring the names of 110 prominent New Zealanders, followed by a big protest meeting on Queens Wharf. This is just the beginning.

 The Waitemata Harbour has been repeatedly reclaimed, hundreds and hundreds of hectares of it, since the 1860s. Now is the time to draw a line. The Waitemata Harbour must be saved for present and future generations. This is an enormously important issue for Aucklanders. The mayor and those councillors and council planners who continue to ignore their own legal advice to defy the public will must change their attitude. The message to Ports of Auckland and the Auckland Council comes from the Bible, the Book of Job. ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.’

 

This article is dedicated to the late Darcy O’Brien, former Commissioner of Crown Lands, who first raised the alarm about Waitemata Harbour reclamation in the 1970s, and who campaigned against reclamation right up to his death at 96 in July 2014.

This article was published in the April 2015 issue of Ponsonby News

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Ports of Auckland and Auckland Council – ‘rogerpolitics alive and well

The last month has seen a series of unhappy incidents that remind us that the neo-liberal reforms of the 80s and 90s still have a baleful influence on our public life – even in our ‘most liveable’ super city.

 We rightly associate ‘rogernomics’, with the privatisation of publicly-owned assets. But there is much more to it than that. Neo-liberalism isn’t just about privatisation, it is about the wholesale colonisation of the public sector by the private.   At a basic level in the council this means work that was originally carried out by council works and parks staff is now invariably contracted out to private businesses.

 When the bright sparks in Wellington first brought in this policy they argued it would mean council costs would come down. That didn’t happen – after the laying-off of the council works staff, trucks and bulldozers and years of local knowledge and know-how, costs to ratepayers sky-rocketed and continue to do so. But there is also a mental colonisation where all too often ‘busy-friendly’ councils place the interests of big business and developers ahead of the public interest.

 There is yet another aspect to rogernomics – what Professor Richard Mulgan famously called ‘rogerpolitics’. By this Mulgan meant public bodies that were once governed by democratically elected people, harbour boards, power boards, water and wastewater utilities and the like being replaced by corporatized entities. The argument from the reformers in Wellington of the time was that as these entities were revenue earning they would be better off run by private business people, (and suites of high powered managers – and eventually privatised).  Auckland Transport was the brainchild of the architects of the Super City, Steven Joyce and Rodney Hide. They argued in 2009 that even though public transport is not revenue earning (in fact it costs ratepayers and taxpayers a lot of money), it needed to be corporatized – become a ‘council controlled organisation’, or CCO. However in response to widespread criticisms voiced in the select committee process, pointing out that over 50% of council rates go into public transport, the government gave ground. As a concession it made provision in the legislation for two elected councillors to be appointed to the board of Auckland Transport. Cr Chris Fletcher and myself were nominated by the mayor on the basis of our experience in public transport. This arrangement, a board comprising a mixture of commercial people and councillors has been in place since 2010. However early in February I learned via the media that the deputy mayor, Penny Hulse was recommending that councillors should be removed from the board of Auckland Transport. This on the alleged grounds that councillors (representing the ratepayers), have an innate ‘conflict of interest’. This is complete nonsense of course and the idea raised a media storm – it was postponed and remains to be resolved politically. Following hard on that ideological flatulence, came the shock disclosure that the council-owned CCO, Ports of Auckland acting like a rogue private company, had wangled non-notified consents from council bureaucrats to build two massive wharfs extending 100 metres into the harbour from the present Bledisloe reclamation. Then, as revealed in the Herald, (though it was meant to be a secret meeting) councillors were persuaded to back down on provisions in the Unitary Plan that would have made it tougher for Ports of Auckland to extend reclamations into the harbour. This, the Herald reported was on the advice of a senior council planning officer that the policy was legally un-defendable. However, I was shocked to learn from the same Herald article that legal advice commissioned by the council but never shown to the councillors states the opposite. That in fact the original policy, strongly supported by the public, was indeed legally sound. It appears that critical information was knowingly withheld from the councillors by council officers who appear to be putting the demands of the port company and its lawyers ahead of those of the wishes of the public. If this wasn’t bad enough a few days later, the port company revealed it had began to demolish the historic Marsden Wharf, obviously to up the ante on its demands for more cargo (car parking) space.

 However I can end my article on a happy note. I am proud to say the board of Auckland Transport rejected the advice of its management and the recommendation of the planning commissioner and voted to save the Great North Road pohutukawa trees. Congratulations to those concerned Aucklanders and the Waitemata Local Board who campaigned tirelessly to save these trees – and to my Auckland Transport director colleagues for their wise decision. Destroying six pohutukawa trees for another lane of roadway was an ill-conceived, foolish idea – but it pales compared to the plans now underway by Ports of Auckland to reclaim vast areas of the Waitemata Harbour to park more cars.

 

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