Auckland Transport is designing two new bus services for the Rodney area at the request of the Rodney Local Board.

The Wellsford to Warkworth and Helensville to Silverdale bus services are the first two priority projects funded by the Rodney Targeted Transport Rate.

Introduced by the Rodney Local Board to accelerate transport projects not already given priority or budgeted for in AT’s Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), the targeted rate will be used to investigate, design and fund additional bus services, two new Park & Ride facilities and around 30 local footpaths.

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“The local board has asked AT to design and develop the first two routes and find an operator in a relatively short space of time,” says Phelan Pirrie, Rodney Local Board Deputy Chairperson.

“In the near future, we will be able to share the finer details of both services such as the location of stops and how often the buses will run.”

The Rodney Local Board has asked AT to introduce the two new bus services by 1 February 2019.

You can keep an eye on the progress of projects funded through the Rodney Local Board Transport Targeted Rate at this web page.

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Local Board Update October 2018

Huapai Hub well underway.

Possibly many locals will not have noticed the work going on behind the Kumeu Arts Centre and Library.

The Rodney Local Board has funded the Huapai Hub group to design and develop a public space for Kumeu and Huapai. This is a community led initiative organised by a dedicated team of residents. The plans will see our first large public space available for events and when complete will have a stage and versatile multi-use public space. This is expected to be completed early next year.

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The Local Board is also providing a new building for the fast growing Kumeu Arts Centre which will be integrated into the Huapai Hub space and will be completed around the same time.

The group are looking for sponsors for the Stage which wasn’t covered by the budget, if you can help make contact via the groups Facebook page or email me.

If you want to get involved or keep up to date with this project go to their Facebook Page: ‘Huapai Hub – Community Project’.

Helensville Main Street Improvements.

There was a great turnout for the drop-in session a few weeks ago on the draft plans for the main street improvements for Helensville.  We received a lot of feedback and some interesting ideas that the designers will be considering as they prepare detailed designs.

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The Local Board has allocated funding for this project this financial year to start the first stage in the centre of Helensville so we’re keen to see things happening on the ground. There’s been a lot of talk for years on improvements and nothing much has happened, I suspect people will believe it when it starts!

The project for the whole of Helensville will take a while to complete however the designs being prepared will enable the Board to quickly allocate money in the future to each stage. You can keep an eye on the project on Facebook, search for the; ‘Helensville Main Street Improvements’ page.

Improvement to Rural Road safety on the way.

In this year’s 10 Year Plan Auckland Council allocated $120 million specifically to rural road safety projects, this aligns with the Governments focus on improving road safety.

Auckland Transport has adopted ‘Vision Zero’, also known as the Safe System. This is an international road safety movement that started in Sweden more than 20 years ago to eliminate all road deaths. Back then, Sweden had a similar fatality rate to New Zealand today. But they adopted ambitious targets, investing heavily in safety infrastructure and lower speed limits which resulted in almost halving road deaths by 2016. If New Zealand had the same rate of road deaths per head as Sweden today, 255 lives would not have been lost last year.

Rodney has one of the worst death and injury rates in Auckland and this new budget is welcome. Too many people are dying and suffering live-changing injuries on our roads and something needs to change as the accident have increased. The work has already started in some areas such as Dairy Flat Highway and will including improving road design, reviewing speed limits and other measures.

This work is in addition to the $70 million Safe Road project led by NZTA that is starting this summer from Brigham Creek to Waimauku. This will take two years to complete and will see four lanes from Brigham Creek to Taupaki, road widening, safety and median barriers for other stretches of SH16 and a roundabout at the Coatesville Riverhead intersection. Sign up for updates on this projects by Googling: ‘Safe Roads Brigham Creek’.

You can play your part in making our roads safer by being patient, driving to the conditions on our unforgiving roads, and reporting bad driving by calling *555 or 111.

Phil Twyford duplicating bureaucracy in Urban Development Authority move

OPINION: Here we go again. [Stuff.co.nz 31st August]

Housing Minister Phil Twyford is heading down the same political path as Nick Smith by overriding Auckland Council planning, in this case the ink-barely-dried Auckland Unitary Plan.

The AUP took years and millions of dollars to develop and sets out a blueprint for Auckland’s development over the next three decades.

Following extensive public consultation, it attempts to strike a balance between leafy suburbs fearful of inner city high rises (brown field development, in planner-speak) and land bankers desires for a quick buck on the urban fringes (green field development, in planner-speak).

The fact that both groups are unhappy possibly indicates that a balance was found.

Councillor Chris Darby, who chairs the council’s planning committee, has often pointed out that the AUP makes provision for up to one million dwellings. There’s not a problem with land being zoned for development.

So why is the Government duplicating a pile of consenting and planning bureaucracy and trashing the Unitary Plan?

Twyford seems to be blaming Nimbys. Apparently, it’s Nimbys who are holding up development, despite everyone else saying it’s building capacity and the lack of money needed for infrastructure.

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The AUP largely dealt with Nimbyism with sweeping zoning changes that are now seeing effect, and more than 12,000 consents issued in the 12 months – four times more what Nick Smith delivered with Special Housing Areas over four years.

With Special Housing Areas, all that seemed to happen is the land owners got directly in the minister’s ear, claiming if they were allowed to develop their land and the council’s pesky planning rules were ignored, then houses would magically appear.

It was a seductive message for a minister desperately looking for a simple political fix to a complex problem: the housing crisis.

The results not only haven’t delivered the tens of thousands of houses promised, the council has been left to sort out the resulting mess. A fine example is the Huapai Triangle SHA.

The minister plonked this into the middle of an area that council planners had already decided wasn’t ideal for development because of transport links. Never mind, we’ll make sure the infrastructure is there, the government said.

We’re still waiting. The cost of only one intersection related to this development has gone from $6m to more than $40m and construction is not expected to happen for another year or two, almost five years after housing construction started.

That money could have been better spent on other projects, as it’s not like the council is wallowing in unlimited transport funds.

Will vocal land bankers on the fringes of Auckland prove too much of a temptation for Twyford? Will there be yet more empty government assurances of infrastructure funding because the soundbite about how many houses being built will be more important that finding the cash to fund the surrounding infrastructure?

If the housing minister really thinks there is an issue with housing capacity, perhaps instead of repeating the control freak tendencies of the previous government, he could do two simple things.

The first is to amend the Resource Management Act to support the faster implementation of the Auckland Unitary Plan and deal with the issues he thinks exists with NIMBYs – something that would assist councils across New Zealand.

The second is to provide a lot more cash to the council for infrastructure funding. Don’t just stump up a bit of the money for light rail to the north west, leaving the whole project in limbo – front up with the whole lot.

How about handing back a portion of GST collected in Auckland to transport infrastructure provision? The Government could set up an NZ equivalent of Temasek, the Singapore Government infrastructure investment company.

What the Government shouldn’t be doing is overriding planning processes that took years to develop and setting up conflict with Auckland Council.

Friction between Government and the council is unhelpful. Both should be working together, not one overriding the other’s democratic processes.

New Govt Signals Shift Towards Road Safety & Public Transport

Much of what Council does is defined by central government decisions that drive and regulate the services and infrastructure we deliver.

In June the government released its National Policy Statement on transport which signalled a pivot towards road safety and public transport.

This decision shaped Council’s Regional Land Transport Plan because to achieve maximum government subsidies for its projects it needs to align with the transport agencies direction.

The change in government direction and subsequent change in focus of Auckland Transport and NZTA, the government agency responsible for State Highways, has worked in Rodney’s favour. Auckland Transport’s independence from political interference means it works on prioritising its budget on areas of need.

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Rodney has the highest road death and serious injury statistics in Auckland, these have got worse over the last few years. This was behind the government’s decision in 2017 to approve the Safe Roads Alliance’s $70 million project which will transform SH16 from Brigham Creek to Waimauku. NZTA also has a program of safety improvements along SH16 to Wellsford.

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Auckland Transport has allocated more money to Rural Road Safety improvements and a significant increase in the road sealing budget. This will see welcome improvements to our roads.

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Public transport is a major beneficiary of the new direction, we don’t have much of it in Rodney but demand will grow as traffic inevitably worsens on the motorways. The proposal for light rail to Kumeu could be described as being in ‘gestation’. It’s a partially funded idea not a reality. AT’s studies show a busway along SH16 like the North Shore’s would be quicker and cheaper to build. Rail to Huapai seems to have disappeared off the radar of the government who will ultimately be paying the biggest share of upgrades to make it work. All of these things have vague start dates past council and general election cycles that make them subject to political change.
The Local Board is well aware that scale of transport infrastructure needed across Auckland and the billions of dollars required to build it mean any solution for the North West could be a decade away and residents are clear they don’t want to wait that long.

We have an increased discretionary transport budget to $1 million pa and with the targeted rate there is now a ‘Rodney Transport Fund’ of $56 million which gives the Local Board an unprecedented budget that is purely for the benefit of Rodney. Obviously, we want to leverage this money to attract government subsidies and have started work with AT planning a park’n’ride for Kumeu and bus services that will link Huapai and Riverhead to the CBD and Albany, there is also work being done on a service linking Helensville and Kaukapakapa to Silverdale.

Your Local Board has quietly worked behind the scenes on evidence-based solutions to our issues. This requires a lot of effort and is not the easy route, but we believe that it is the one that will best serve Rodney. Our goal is to cement in long term gains for our region, this requires a collaborative approach that builds trust and confidence in the Local Board as a partner with councillors and the Mayor (regardless of who that is) who ultimately make the decisions about how funds are allocated across Auckland.

Myth Busters #1

It thought it would be useful to do a bit of a ‘mythbusters’ column. I keep hearing a regular list of issues with Auckland Council, some of these are actually issues with our previous local council in its various forms over the last 50 years, some are more recent.

One of the most common ones I come across is “we’re not getting our fair share of rates”. Always a problematic one as does this mean what I pay being spent right outside my front door? The township? or district? Some residents of Wellsford define things as anything north of dome valley for example, I tend to look at things in terms of Rodney Local Board area that I have been elected to represent.

So are we getting back into Rodney what we pay to Auckland Council in rates? It would appear so, in fact we are ahead, clocking up an additional $20 million of investment in Rodney this year above the rates contribution (just don’t tell the rest of Auckland that!!!).

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“It’s a national disgrace,” said Graeme Carter, of Silverdale specialty timber company Herman Pacific. 
District council rates on his industrial property for 2008-09 have risen from $26,600 last year to $61,900 – a 132.05 per cent rise compared with 13.2 per cent last year.  NZ Herald 10th August 2008

This is really not too surprising. No one should forget the double figure rates increases under Rodney District Council which struggled with a tiny population that was rated to finance a huge areas infrastructure. Watercare alone is now pouring hundreds of millions into failing infrastructure across Rodney and the new Auckland Transport budget is signalling a spend of over $700 million in Rodney over the next decade including an unprecedented $121 million in road sealing. Between AT and NZTA over $70 million is being spent over the next three years just of the section of SH16 from Brigham Creek to Waimauku. So are we getting back what we pay in rates in Rodney? It would appear so.

Another chestnut is the “Council has an unsustainable debt level”…

Rodney District Council struggled with its finances evidenced by bringing one of the highest level of debt of any legacy council into Auckland Council on amalgamation it may well be that this legacy is why this comes up.

Auckland Council has actually been a prudent borrower, don’t take my word for it, Standard and Poors give Auckland Council a AA rating and Moody’s a Aa2 rating. Borrowing to fund capital investment in infrastructure, which is what Council does, is a perfectly logical way of financing it’s capital spending, the government does it, and in fact so do other councils and governments across the world. The idea that council has unsustainable debt levels isn’t born out by the facts, objectively looking at other similar sized corporations or government entities it’s quite normal. Council generally doesn’t splash it’s capital spend around on pointless stuff*, since I’ve been on Council I’ve seen the lid come down on capital spending and more of a focus on core business. Operational spending is slightly different and there will always be areas where this could be done better or the value is debatable, council needs to constantly be vigilant to ensure it delivers value for it’s ratepayers.

And finally, “Council is wasting billions on a tram system to the Airport and North West”. Council is not spending money on light rail. Both proposed light rail projects in Auckland are Central Government ones and funded primarily by NZTA a government agency. In the case of the proposed North West light rail project government has pledged $2b but needs the rest of the money to come from private investors. Again, don’t take my word for it, a quick google will show this is an NZTA/Government, not Council, project.

*update… although maybe I should have excluded things like the America’s Cup which while it has some downstream infrastructure benefits, doesn’t seem like a burning priority for the city, and there are other examples…

Local Board Update – June 2018

This month I’m going to borrow from an excellent column our Local Board Chair, Beth Houlbrooke has written.

By the time you read this the Board will have made a decision which way it has headed on the ‘Rodney Local Board’s Transport Targeted Rate’ proposal. The proposal was a local targeted rate that would only be spent in Rodney on bringing forward investment in a range of projects across the Local Board area.

Whatever the outcome, this has not been an easy process for us politically. Given some of the comments directed at us online one would think that we have raised this possibility simply to make ourselves unpopular, but what could our motivation be?

We consistently hear that transport is a priority for Rodney, that the local board is “toothless”, lacks influence, and that our residents want more local decisions made locally.

You may recall where this all started. We have all been paying $114 on our rates bill as an Interim Transport Levy for the past three years.  Many people believe that we have not seen any benefit from this rate, and that the money has all gone towards central city projects. So, the local board asked: how can we ring fence the levy so that it is only spent in Rodney? The answer to that question was that the only mechanism that would achieve the objective of having 100 percent of the money collected in Rodney, spent in Rodney, was via a targeted rate.

Whatever is decided, it has been a very useful exercise for a number of reasons. It’s highlighted the constraints the local board has to work within – a very small footpath budget, and only advocacy on road sealing and parking. It’s revealed that there are options open to us if the public want us to use them. And it has given some very useful feedback that we can take to the Governing Body of Auckland Council, to demonstrate the frustrations of our residents.

We have had one of two choices: not to implement a targeted rate and continue to work with inadequate budget to address the lack of better public transport, a long list of footpath requests, and a continuation of the current rate of road sealing; or: implement the targeted rate and finally start to see things happening.  In other words, we have the ability to do something about this, make some progress, or still be talking about it next year, and the year after, and again in three years at the next long-term planning cycle.

The decision may be unpopular either way, but do you want your elected representatives to be more concerned about their re-election, or to be courageous and seek the change they came into this job to make?  In the words of another more famous (or infamous) politician: We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Be Prepared

It was a difficult few weeks last month for many residents following the storm that swept through the area destroying houses and cutting of power to thousands of properties.

The spontaneous response of residents with people helping each other and the generosity shown by so many looking out for neighbours and total strangers shows what a great community we live in.

As things slowly get back to normal it seems like a good time to emphasise some of the messages Civil Defence puts out about resilience and being prepared for natural disasters.

Everyone’s first stop should be the ‘Get Ready Get Thru’ website (getthru.govt.nz). Head straight to the ‘How to Get Ready’ page and go through the steps to get your family prepared. Civil Defence has long talked about the need for people to be prepared to look after themselves “for at least three days”.

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There is good reason for this. The only government funded organisations I have seen that know how to respond quickly to emergencies are the obvious ones of Fire, Police and St John. This is what they do on a daily basis and crew are trained to react quickly and be prepared for the emergencies they respond to.

Councils and large corporations on the other hand are not quick to react to Natural Disasters. Having been involved in a few of these situations personally through the Fire Service it is obvious that large organisations take about three or four days to crank up capacity to deal with unfolding disasters. Communications and management systems have to be rolled out, staff who are not used to dealing with emergencies on a daily basis have to fall into roles they are unaccustomed too, when the machine finally cranks up to speed it does, mostly, work. However up to that point we’re on our own when it comes to dealing with the situations we find ourselves in.

I’ve seen some comments that the situation was ‘third world’, implying that in the ‘first world’ these sorts of situations are dealt with quicker or better. A cursory glance at recent events in first world countries show that while the response is obviously far better than the real third world, it isn’t a premium quality instant reaction and there are always lots of issues – in short, it isn’t a Hollywood movie response.

We should prepare for the worst and these events should be a reminder that natural disasters are unpredictable and difficult to deal with quickly because the scale rapidly overwhelms local resources. Starting with home based resilience should be something you and your family prioritise. Civil Defence have some simple things you can do that will make disasters easier to cope with if you have a planned for the unexpected.

Another local network people may want to consider joining is Rodney Neighbourhood Support, (formally Neighbourhood Watch) this is a great network for both general security and also a mechanism for dealing with the sorts of events we have all just been through. You can join up and find out more by visiting nsrodney.org.nz  A street by street network of Neighbourhood Support groups would be a great local resource for emergency services to tap into.

There will no doubt be some soul searching with a range of organisations about what can be done better. I will be pushing for the reinstatement of local Civil Defence reporting centres and better communications that can cope with an absence of mobile phone networks. The Local Board will also look at how it can ensure targeted local halls can be fitted out to provide emergency facilities for locals to access.