Pounding the (Gold Plated) Asphalt

Is Government So Dense that It Can Not Deliver a Cheaper yet more Beneficial Alternative to Northland?

 

I believe yes!

From TVNZ:

$12b plan is centred on little used roads

Published: 8:43AM Sunday August 12, 2012 Source: Fairfax

 

The Government’s $12 billion roads of national significance programme is upgrading routes used by as little as 4% of the country’s traffic.

The Green Party wants the programme scaled back and says its research shows the routes carry only 400,000 of our 11 million daily vehicle trips.

Green transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said the benefits did not justify the spending.

“The spending is disproportionate to the number of trips. We are spending money on projects you are unlikely to drive on. It’s an enormous amount for a few roads that have almost no traffic growth.”

Supporters say the improved network will increase traffic flow and lead to a lift in business productivity, but Genter said the benefits would be negligible.

Transport Association chief executive Geoff Dangerfield said highways played a significant role in trade, competitiveness and economic growth.

About $50b worth of goods entered the country each year, and 92% of all freight, by weight, was moved by road.

 

Good on Julie-Ann Genter for continuing the question Central Government on these gold-plated road building scheme. VOAKL is supportive of Julie-Ann’s calling in getting these Roads of National (Party) Significance scaled back to projects that are more viable and actually deliver better benefits than the (again) gold-plated schemes our rather dense government is proposing.

My initial reaction to the TVNZ article was this:

I bet you a case of your favourite tipple (alcoholic or non alcoholic) that I turn the Holiday Highway into the Economic Highway using a highway recently “rebuilt” just south of us (as an example) that would deliver a better Benefit:Cost Ratio complete with bypasses and an interchange with State Highway 16 for no more than 50% of the gold plated proposal Government is proposing (rather stupidly). 

 

That example of a highway rebuild is actually the Mangatawhiri Bypass opened a few years ago which carries State Highway Two traffic around the Mangatawhiri black-spot which had at least a few deaths a year on that road. You can see the “bypass” HERE on Google Maps (and please do zoom in and take a close look) with the follow description on the bypass here (from Wikipedia): The section of SH 2 through Mangatawhiri had a poor crash record, and the seven-kilometre Mangatawhiri Deviation was opened in December 2008 to improve safety by bypassing it. Passing lanes in both directions provide safe passing opportunities. Grade-separated intersections improve safety for traffic wanting to cross or join the highway.

Now that very example with State Highway Two at Mangatawhiri (and soon to be Maramarua as well) being “rebuilt” allowing greater travelling efficiency and safety can be used where the Holiday Highway is going to be placed and (possibly) built. This replication of the “bypass” used on State Highway 2 for State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford for a fraction of the price of the Gold Plated Holiday Highway yet deliver the efficiencies and greater safety being looked for in that stretch of State Highway One.  And what do we get in this scaled down project – well we get this:

  • A 3-lane highway complete with median barrier separating the opposing traffic flows (3-lane highway means interchanging passing-bays at set distances for both directions of traffic)
  • Grade Separated interchanges between the highway and “local” roads (or if at-grade, similar to the Waikato Expressway set-up)
  • Full bypasses at Warkworth and Wellsford for thoroughfare traffic. Traffic wanting those two town centres would uses the grade-separated interchanges to access the access roads to the towns.
  • A full grade-separated interchange for when State Highways One and Sixteen meet at the west-end of Wellsford
  • Future proofing for allowing the 4th-lane to be added if ever required and for possible future grade-separated interchanges near Warkworth as that place is set for growth per The Auckland Plan

 

Now I am not the only one to have mentioned something similar to the proposal above, but I just find the idea so much more economically and socially sensible for upgrading that part of State Highway One which I do believe is needed.

The problem is our National-Led Government has lead for brains and can not see past their gold-plated Holiday Highway that drains our scarce resources from other projects (City Rail Link or the Marsden Point Rail Link anyone?) instead of this cheaper and more beneficial economic highway which is proven to work as State Highway Two at Mangatawhiri shows us.

Must keep hitting the Government hard and fast with sustained attacks over the Holiday Highway. Julie-Ann Genter is doing a fine job but more of us must also continue to attack our dense government on this stupidity they seem to be displaying.

 

VOAKL supports the Economic Highway mentioned in the bullet points above, not the gold-plated Holiday Highway Central Government wants. 

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Rethink Equals SOMEONE SCREWED UP!

SCREW UP With Rates Forces Council to Revisit Rates

From NZ Herald:

Auckland Council revising rate bills after outcry

By Wayne Thompson

The Auckland Council is revising 5000 rates bills after an outcry by homeowners who were denied the benefit of a 10 per cent transition cap and left with rises of up to 60 per cent to pay this year. Mayor Len Brown and councillorswere caught off guard by the size of rates rises for those who had made home improvements and the number who were hit after the Herald revealed them on Wednesday. Yesterday, Mr Brown said he had fought for the rates cap to soften the blow of bringing in a single rating system based on capital (improved) value by limiting residential rate increases to 10 per cent a year for each year for three years.”I’ve tried to be fair throughout the transition. “That’s why I’ve asked council officers to go back and do work to assess the impact of this across Auckland. “Then we can see what can be done.”

The embarrassing patch-up job goes back to transition management provisions in the Super City’s founding legislation. It applied the cap to only “unchanged properties” at the time of the revaluation on July 1 last year.

This was neither highlighted at the time nor was its explained in the brochure accompanying this week’s rates demands.

“This was news to all councillors,” said councillor Cameron Brewer. “It certainly was not discussed in our long budget meetings and debates but, perhaps, it should have been presented. “I don’t think the staff realised just how many ratepayers would be caught by it.”

 

Ouch and what a screw up by someone who was not paying particular attention. While personally not caught up by the rates increases (this would be due to my rates actually decreasing) I can sympathise with my fellow ratepayers-in-arms over the +10% rate increases they got slugged with (including Councillors Cameron Brewer and George Wood).

And so the pain from the screw up with continue as Council goes back and revises people’s rates that did not benefit from the cap.

 

One does wonder what was going on and how Council could have missed this and come 2013:

Fall in Love with The City?

 

Money Well Invested into this Grand Scheme so that “Aucklanders “fall in love” with the city again?”

 

From Stuff.co.nz:

Council plans to make locals ‘proud’

STEVE HOPKINS AND MICHELLE ROBINSON

A beautiful waterfront competitive with Australia and Asia and city linkages from Parnell to Victoria Park are among plans for a more “loveable” Auckland.

The council hopes to make Aucklanders “fall in love” with the city again by transforming the central city and waterfront which they hope will kick-start the transformation of the whole region.

Auckland Council has committed $130 million over 10 years to the project.

When people ask why so much is being spent on central Auckland, the answer is simple, deputy mayor Penny Hulse said: ”If the heart isn’t in good health than the limbs certainly won’t function either.”

But Aucklanders haven’t fallen out of love with their city completely, they have just become apathetic, Auckland Council design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid said.

Plans to bring back residents’ pride include a 20km promenade and cycleway along the waterfront, a new cruise ship terminal at Queen’s Wharf, an innovation precinct in the Wynyard Quarter along with a light rail system from there to St Heliers and  a 4.5 hectare park on Wynyard Point.

Links through public transport and wider footpaths between the Waterfront and the city centre as far as Vector Arena and Parnell are also planned, along with improved linkages between the city centre and Victoria Park.

Links between Victoria and Albert Parks and the Domain are also scheduled.

The initiatives are outlined in two major guiding documents released this afternoon, The Waterfront Plan and The City Centre Plan. Mayor Len Brown said the development of the central city had already begun with new shared spaces, the opening of Queens Wharf to the public and the development of new public spaces and commercial developments in Wynyard Quarter.

The two planning documents will be available from all Auckland Council service and libraries from Monday and online.

 

My initial reaction to this announcement was this:

Will see Monday if we do “fall in love” with “The City” again – or dump it like a bad lemon gone off. Has Council got it right with The City Centre Master Plan (which I submitted on, attended a hearing and even got a letter of commendation from Councillor Cathy Casey) and The Auckland Waterfront Plan – as somehow I don’t think they did with one of them at least.

 

That one I think Council did not get right was the Auckland Waterfront Plan. Maybe because I find it far too timid for something truly visionary and bold that is needed for our unique Waterfront. The something truly bold and visionary I believe that is needed for the Auckland Waterfront can be found in my Auckland Water-Frontier proposal I am slowly drawing up. However that is another set of posts at another time.

What I do believe Council is getting right (somewhat) and what I gave a presentation on before Ludo Campbell-Reid and other Councillors is the City Centre Master Plan. While my presentation can be found here; I did support aspects of the City Centre Master Plan, although I was pitching my own idea for a more intensified Wynyard Quarter  but at the same time rejecting Parnell Station. Heck I must have done my presentation okay on the City Centre Master Plan if I got a letter of acknowledgement from Ludo Campbell-Reid himself and a commendation from Councillor Cathy Casey.

HOWEVER, while I am supportive of the CCMP to a degree I am also somewhat wary too. The cost of $130 million for this plan (which does not include the City Rail Link nor I think Wynyard Quarter) over ten years (so $13 million) is acceptable to me as a ratepayer to spruce up the CBD. Although some millions can be saved by NOT building that Cruise Ship Terminal down at Queens Wharf, but instead incorporating it as part of my Auckland Water-Frontier renewal work further east. I am also very wary of the CCMP turning into a lemon and leaving us a legacy that is not quite wanted either. Whether that lemon be; over runs or urban design ugliness, the CCMP becoming a lemon will not sit well with Aucklanders.

 

This is especially as $130m is basically being “diverted” to the CBD away from the suburbs, money the suburbs could use for their own urban renewal projects. Look to be honest if this $130m investment into the CBD pays off (apart from that stupid cruise ship terminal and station at Parnell) that I say money well invested. If this all turns out to be a stinking lemon, well you can fathom my reaction.

So can we fall in love with the city again for a small price tag of $130m (yeah I know I am missing around $3.6b in the form of the CRL there) or are we going to dump this like a bad lemon gone off. Me personally I am willing to give this a shot – and even willing to work with Council in making sure we get it right for the City Centre Master Plan. As for the Waterfront Plan – BURN IT and start over as that is already a lemon. I’ll give the reasons why the Waterfront Plan is a lemon in an upcoming post.

 

What I support in the CCMP

  • The General Concept
  • Wynyard Quarter with some suggestions on improvement
  • The City Rail Link (See my CRL Debate Series)
  • The Modest Cost

What I do NOT support in the CCMP

  • The Auckland Waterfront Plan
  • The Cruise Ship Terminal at Queens Wharf
  • Parnell Station

 

Here’s hoping for our CBD. 

 

 

Would Len Bankrupt The City?

Len and Co – Could They Bankrupt Auckland to Build the City Rail Link?

 

Part of The City Rail Link Series

Debate on the City Rail Link continues with figures and all sorts coming out from both sides coin.

VOAKL will cut right down the middle and look at an interview with the Prime Minister in which he mentions The City Rail Link – and some strange theory

It is time for a discussion and VOAKL will provide one – for everyone with a VIEW

 

I was listening to the Prime Minister’s interview on Newstalk ZB just  few moments ago. Things covered were: rates, the uniform annual charge, and the City Rail Link. I will cover the Uniform Annual Charge  and how that could have saved a lot of ratepayers grief if the UAC was set at $450 rather than the current $350 once I trawl through a pile of paper to find those graphs. But what I will mention here is this little gem from the radio DJ who mentioned this little theory on how to build the City Rail Link NOW!

Listen to the radio interview HERE and see if you can pick up the “theory.”

Did you hear it?

 

The theory being that our resident Prude – Our Absentee Mayor and his cohorts decide to push on right ahead at flank speed and build the City Rail Link by themselves in order to get their precious construction start date on 2015 (rather than being patient and waiting for a 2018-2022 start date). By building the CRL ourselves with no Central Government or third-party backing, Auckland Council would virtually bankrupt the city thus forcing Central Government to intervene and most likely give a bail out to Auckland. Sound extreme? Well technically it is not if the Kaipara example was to be used. You see Kaipara District Council spent an inane amount of money to build a sewerage treatment system. The system came in way (and I mean way) over budget and blew a massive hole in Kaipara’s finances. Needless to say Kaipara is now the most indebted territorial authority in NZ with residents and businesses facing even more stiff rates rises than Auckland in order to get the debt back under control. Central Government has begun to intervene with Kaipara but no bailout just yet (still could happen if the Council was to collapse).

So the theory is not as extreme as it sounds in Auckland Council blowing our own finances to go build the CRL without Central Government and/or a third-party backer – if Kaipara were to show us anything as an example.

 

Would Auckland Council decide to go it alone and build the City Rail Link with no regards to our finances? I would give Council credit where it is due and say no they wouldn’t…

 

And that is one thing I DO NOT want to be proven wrong on either thank you very much Auckland Council.

 

 

Wellington Street On-Ramp to Reopen

That On-Ramp Is to Re-Open – in Six Weeks

 

A Media Release from Auckland Transport on the Wellington Street On-Ramp

 

New Zealand Transport Agency Media Release:  10 August 2012

The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport (AT) have announced plans to re-open the Wellington Street on-ramp in the city’s busy Central Motorway Junction.

The NZTA is planning to re-open the on-ramp to all traffic in about six weeks after the completion of necessary work – including the installation of ramp signals and final pavement works – to ensure it is safe to use.

The recommendation to re-open was made after a detailed investigation by the NZTA, Auckland Transport, Opus Consultants and Beca Engineering of the potential effects on Auckland’s transport network from re-opening the on-ramp or keeping it closed.

The NZTA’s acting State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Steve Mutton, said the agency and Auckland Transport would be discussing the re-opening plans with local residents and other interested parties over the next few weeks.

Mr Mutton said the NZTA and AT received 710 submissions about the on-ramp:  72% of those submissions wanted it re-opened, 18% preferred it to stay closed to general traffic and 10% wanted a partial re-opening-

“This is a strong response reflecting a high level of community interest in the future of the Wellington Street on-ramp,” says Mr Mutton.

The recommendation to re-open the ramp is based on a transport assessment which indicates there is current capacity for vehicles to use Wellington Street without affecting the performance of the motorway in central Auckland, except for a period in the afternoon peak.

“These findings, together with the feedback we have received from the community, have lead us to support the recommendation from our working group for an opening at this time.” Mr Mutton says.

Mr Mutton adds, however, that the findings also warn Auckland’s growth and development will have an impact on the performance of the city’s network in the future.

“While there is room now on the motorway network to re-open Wellington Street, capacity is expected to reduce over time as the network has to accommodate more and more vehicles. The NZTA and Auckland Transport will be working together to monitor and manage the performance of the motorways and local roads, including the Wellington Street on-ramp,”

Mr Mutton said ramp signals will be used again at Wellington Street to control access to the motorway.

“Previously between seven and eight thousand vehicles used the on-ramp every day.  The critical time is the weekday afternoon peak.  The Vic Park tunnel improvements mean traffic is moving more quickly and ramp signalling will help ensure the motorway operates efficiently and safely for all drivers”.

The on-ramp has not been opened to general traffic since May 2011 when it was re-built as part of the

Victoria Park Tunnel project.  It provides additional access from central Auckland to the northbound lanes of the tunnel and the Auckland Harbour Bridge on State Highway 1.

The working group‘s review was conducted over three months from May.

Feedback on the most positive effects of the on-ramp’s closure included less congestion and delays on the motorway, improved traffic flows on local roads near Wellington Street, and improved safety around local schools as well as for merging traffic on the motorway.

Negative effects identified by those who made submissions included delays to travel times; driver and resident frustration, “rat-running” through local streets, more heavy vehicles using local roads and an increased risk to safety locally due to drivers running red lights, making u-turns and driving too fast.

Mr Mutton thanked local communities for their patience during the on-ramp’s closure.

“We appreciate that the closure has had an impact on a large number of Aucklanders and we want to thank them for bearing with us during the tunnel construction period and for contributing to the review.

 

And I bet you a mug of coffee that this saga will continue well beyond that on-ramp being re-opened…

Rates Bill Finally Arrived

Even I Get Hit by the Rates Cap

 

Although in reverse.

My rates bill (and that being my first ever rates bill in my life) arrived today in the mail box. After opening it I took a good look at it to see what I am ending paying and what I could have ended up paying.

I knew we were in for a rates decrease with our rates bill, just not sure how much. Well now I know.

If the 5.56% maximum decrease cap was not applied we would have ended up with a 9.8% decrease in our rates bill for the 2012/2013 rates cycle compared to the 2011/2012 rates base line. But alas we got caught by the cap and only get a 5.56% decrease in our rates.

Now there will be those out there going to say why am I complaining on the level of decrease when we (they) copped an increase (with some increases beyond the 10% cap). Well believe me you too would be somewhat disheartened that your true savings on your rates got capped away by Auckland Council. Ah well so be it, I shall go settle my rates bill by the end of the month.

 

 

Rates Commentary Elsewhere.

There has been talk a plenty today on the subjects of rates and how much some of the increases have hit some ratepayers who have basically copped one in the chook pretty hard. This is a Facebook commentary from Councillor Cameron Brew’s piece on his rates rises being well above the 10% increase cap:

 

It is time for action, but the question is what. Viable alternatives are needed to get Auckland Council spending back on the control. Aaron has pointed out a few good places to start, and my submission to the Long Term Plan spelling out a debt control policy is another idea worth investigating. Needless to say to ratepayer out there I would say alternatives are being actively sort and hopefully put to the ballot next year (through candidates representing those alternatives) for your “decision” (the Local Government 2013 Elections). In the meantime I should continue on writing up my alternative ideas for Council next year.

 

 

Rates Rise Shock

Rates Rise BEYOND the 10% Cap!

 

Seems Auckland was caught out by Council spin and forgot to read the small print when it came to the rates rises and our rates hitting our letter boxes.

From the New Zealand Herald:

35 per cent increase reveals rates plan loophole

By Wayne Thompson

Thousands of homeowners who recently made improvements to their properties have been shocked by rates rises far above the Auckland Council‘s promised 10 per cent transition cap.

The council said it was softening the blow of bringing in a single rating system based on capital (improved) value by limiting the maximum rise to 10 per cent each year for the next three years for residential and farm/lifestyle properties.

The council’s first revaluation under capital value came out last year and new valuations were used for the rates struck on July 1.

But a little-known provision of the legislation setting up the Super City council in November 2010 excluded from the benefit of the cap any residents who had changed the value of their properties.

Three North Shore homeowners who opened their rates bills on Tuesday are the first to complain to the Herald, saying their rates for 2012-13 have risen by up to 35 per cent.

Brian Swann of Silverdale said the extent of his rates rise was “unacceptable” for his new home in the Millwater subdivision.

OUCH and I mean OUCH! Councillor Cameron Brewer has just had his first hand experience when he got his rates bill in the post just recently. The Councillor got slugged with a 32.47% rate increase on his property in Ellersile. His reaction can be gauged from reading his press release over at Scoop (click the link).

 

While I get a rates decrease being down in Papakura I am somewhat nervous too. The part I highlighted in bold red is the reason why I am nervous. Okay while I get a rates decrease, that can easily flip over as we are undertaking some largish capital improvement works on our property. We have had an HRV system put in and the house retrofitted with insulation in the walls (we will be doing the floor and roof over the next two years). The house is being painted both inside and out, the kitchen is getting its bench new top, and some large-scale landscaping is under way (three raised vege beds, new edging, new plants amongst other things). All in all we are working on our property to make it our unique property as well as value to the place (as you do). But seeing some of the stuff in the Herald happening in regards to rate rises beyond the cap as I said earlier is making me nervous. Time shall tell when the property gets revalued in a few years time and my rates are reset to the new property value.

So while I am nervous my end, I am somewhat disgusted (at Auckland Council) and sympathetic to the residents who got stung beyond the 10% rate rise cap. There are going to be some gnashing of teeth and some budget reworkings in some homes to compensate for the large increase in one’s rates bill.

 

And it all seems the city got pretty duped from the small print (that loophole) that allowed rates to rise beyond the much stated 10%. Talk about someone from the Mayor’s Office playing a rather successful game of smoke and mirrors to cover the true extent of what was coming! Or as Cameron Slater from Whale Oil would say, we the ratepayer just copped one in the chook – OUCH!

 

This comment came up in one of my earlier posts on rates:

Talk is great, but we need to do something collectively. I am a middle to lower-income Orakei resident who has received a 24% increase. I, like many, have not seen a wage rise in 5 years and have been reducing expenditure in a recession.
I ask you to head a public meeting and allow us to get together where we can network and perhaps refuse collectively to pay this crazy extortion. Lens vision is out of step with the current financially realities of this recessive economy. We simply CANNOT afford this!!

I agree with the commenter here entirely. As for heading a public meeting yes I can look into this although to be perfectly honest not the best person to “lead it.” The reason being is I can not speak personally on facing a rates increase as I actually got the opposite – a decrease. However I am more than happy to facilitate and continue advocacy on behalf of other Aucklanders on the rates situation. I’ll do some asking around and see what I can do.

 

In the mean time the postie has been and my letter box is err empty. No rates bill yet and its Thursday :-/

Right time for some action on the rates issue here in Auckland. Time to let Council know what we exactly think here and what we just might do about it!

We Need to Have a Chat

 

Serious Meeting Today at AT

 

It is quite amazing on who rides the trains with me to and from Britomart in any given day. Most times it is usually our resident Prude – Our Absentee Mayor on board as he goes from Homai to Britomart in the morning. Sometimes I might get Councillor George Wood on the train as he heads out checking on the rail network. But today was something more special at Britomart as I arrived at the station from my morning trip in. It is not every day you see Government MP’s floating around the station let alone a Minister of the Crown, but go figure as I ran into MP Cam Calder and said good morning to him as he boarded the train heading south. I also spied off Councillor Mike Lee (now here comes irony), Associate Minister of Transport Simon Bridges, and couple of others in Britomart as they were apparently heading to Henderson – home of Auckland Transport.

 

In the “spy off” our Associate Minister of Transport was giving what I could say the most evil of evil looks towards Councillor Lee as they made their way to their service bound for Henderson. I have no idea why they were heading to AT HQ today but I could fathom Simon is wanting either a nice wee chat or roasting some nuts.

I won’t speculate on the meeting at AT HQ today with a Minister present but any local authority meeting with a Minister present is usually going to be a case of gnashing teeth and nut roasting (which direct it goes depends).

 

We shall see what came about from a trip to Henderson to have a wee chat about things…

 

Those Rates

Rates Bills Arriving in People’s Letter Boxes

 

One thing about social media is the commenting people do on a very hot topic issue. In this case the very hot topic issue is Rates. Just glances through Facebook, Twitter and some Main Stream Media pieces show that there is two thoughts here:

1) Rates Rise = #$%^ or if you are lucky; Rates Decrease = 😀

2) Regardless of rates rises or decreases this also seems to be the mood of most ratepayers: From Daniel Newman, Board Member to Manurewa Local Board; “So my land rates arrived in the post. I don’t know which is worse, the size of the increase or the knowledge that very little of the money invoiced will be spent on local services.”

I would be inclined to agree here. Even though I will get a rates decrease (when my rates bill FINALLY ARRIVES in the post) I am also concerned that very little money from our rates will be spent on local services. And for me that means local services here in Papakura.

There are a lot of things that are both needed, and ‘nice to haves’ down in the southern fringe that is Papakura that our ratepayers money could be spent on. However Auckland Council is fixated on spending inane amounts of money on the CBD and five start junkets in places like Queenstown. I do wonder on the quality of spending our Council is doing with OUR money and whether a massive broom needs to be applied so that a major clean out can be done.

 

For me council economics are simple:

In recessionary times all luxury and the majority of “social” spending is cut right back (so cutting the OPEX back) while capital spending on things like infrastructure (so CAPEX) is increased.

In boom times you have a reverse of the recessionary times. So decrease in CAPEX and increase in OPEX.

However spending should always be as near as fiscally neutral as possible with my debt policy proposal adhered to so debt does not run away as it is currently. Savings should always be made where possible meaning once your essentials are paid for first, and maybe an odd luxury item if you have some spare cash, the rest of the cash should come back to the ratepayers as savings.

 

But I suppose we will have to wait and see until 2013 before if us ratepayers would be afforded any real savings coupled with some actual quality spending.

Here’s hoping