Opinion: Build a bridge, make Wellington pay for it (NZ Herald)

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Last week, mayoral hopeful John Tamihere announced his first transport policy: promising to turn the existing Auckland Harbour Bridge into a two-level bridge with 10 lanes for cars on a lower level, and four rail tracks, walkways and cycleways above.

He says the superstructure could be completed within six years using the existing piers, swapping out the existing bridge with “minimal disruption to traffic”.

“My team have looked at overseas structures and costs and it is very doable,” he says. His policy document references the Milton-Madison bridge which connects Milton, Kentucky and Madison, Indiana — towns with populations of around 500 and 55,000, respectively.

Tamihere had not costed the proposal at the time of the announcement — but suggested he expects the New Zealand Transport Agency to pay for it.

Minutes after the announcement, Mayor Phil Goff shot back on twitter, claiming the bridge would cost over $10b to build and suggesting Tamihere either “intends to bankrupt the city, burden ratepayers with massive extra rates or he is making it up because he knows he is never going to deliver it.”

Goff continued: “Widening the motorway at either end to match the new lanes would see massive demolition of buildings and destruction of homes and neighbourhoods. This will cost further billions of dollars that Auckland doesn’t have and the Government won’t pay for.”

“This is total fantasy stuff and fundamentally dishonest to promise.”

Infrastructure experts and the public have largely ridiculed the idea, with some drawing parallels to President Trump’s border wall, which he insisted Mexico would pay for.

The comparison has been made before, to which Tamihere said: “it’s a very poor simile for me. I’m not a billionaire, I’m not a big white guy, my wife sold my golf clubs a long time ago… While I’m forthright, I like to be as respectful as I can be… To use a lazy simile like that on me, you’d have to actually express some specificity about that and give some evidence.”

But Tamihere risks turning his candidacy into satire. His pledge to launch a freephone hotline for the public to dob in beggars was an obvious jab at central government:

“Under my mayoralty, you will be able to ring 0800 JACINDA and a person all loving and caring that knows everything about your wellbeing will answer the phone and they will be able to dispatch a social worker,” he said.

He dug in further, saying social workers should change their work hours to work three shifts because the profession needs to “wake up to the fact that social work is a 24/7 job”.

The Social Workers Association chief executive Lucy Sandford-Reed labelled the quip provocative and poorly thought out. Once again, Goff took the opportunity to fire back at Tamihere on twitter:

“John Tamihere’s plan to set up 0800 JACINDA to report homeless people is a political stunt that demeans the seriousness of the issue. While Tamihere might be happy to criminalise homelessness, I believe we should be providing support to our most vulnerable.”

We know that local elections can be notoriously dull. Auckland’s turnout for 2016 was only 38 per cent.

As the election draws closer, candidates will continue the publicity stunts and attack lines in an attempt to get cut-through and secure a vote.

During the first head-to-head debate of the campaign last month, Tamihere announced his intention to sell 49 per cent of the council-owned Watercare, suggesting proceeds from the water company could be used to deliver cash to fund the city’s hefty infrastructure requirements. He said there was already a bid from ACC, claiming “Phil knows it, the public needs to know it.”

In some ways, the call for part-privatisation worked — it got significant exposure.

But Iain Lees-Galloway, the minister responsible for ACC, dismissed the claims. And in an unusual move, so did ACC:

“We do not normally comment on potential or actual investment opportunities; however, in this case, in relation to Watercare, we confirm that ACC has not received any investment proposal nor are we aware of any sales process.”

There is a place for imaginative thinking to help solve the infrastructure problems plaguing our biggest city. It’s just a shame they tend to be presented as hasty and ill-thought-out ideas, eight weeks out from an election.

Infrastructure: Can Auckland be a major hub?

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NZ could be a connector of China and Latin America, but it’s not without its challenges, writes Tim McCready

Developments in air travel are making longer non-stop flights possible and commercially viable. Currently, the longest distance flight is Singapore Airline’s 15,300km between Newark New Jersey and Singapore — not quite reaching the distance to fly direct to South America from China.

The Herald’s aviation editor, Grant Bradley, says new aircraft technology could allow load restricted non-stop flights from Southeast Asia to South America — but those departing from China must still stop along the way.

“By stopping over in New Zealand (or Australia), airlines do get the opportunity to tap into more passenger and freight markets,” he says.

“But in saying that, Auckland Airport’s aim of being something of a mini-hub for Southeast Asia — South America flights could be some way off too; the demand isn’t there yet.

“And worryingly for Auckland, Latam airlines will overfly the city with some of its flights from Sydney to Santiago from the end of the year, instead of calling here.”

The Building the Southern Link conference, held in Auckland earlier this year, sought to leverage the opportunity, suggesting that New Zealand’s place in the world as a major and natural connection between China and South America is an idea whose time has come. It brought together more than 200 international experts and key stakeholders, to discuss the opportunity, and develop recommendations to move forward.

“New Zealand is either first cab off the rank, or the last,” former trade minister Tim Groser told attendees.

He says that for a small country, you must have the wherewithal to not wait for good company, but to get ahead of the queue and move swiftly. This is a central lesson if you survey the history of New Zealand’s relationship with China in particular. China attributes “five firsts” to New Zealand:

  1. In 1997, New Zealand became the first country to agree to China’s accession to the WTO by concluding the bilateral negotiations component of that process.
  2. New Zealand was the first country to recognise China as a market economy in 2004.
  3. New Zealand was the first developed country to commence free trade agreement negotiations with China. In November 2004, New Zealand and China launched free trade agreement negotiations.
  4. In April 2008, New Zealand became the first country to successfully conclude free trade agreement negotiations with China.
  5. In November 2016, New Zealand and China jointly announced the launch of negotiations to upgrade its bilateral free trade agreement, a first for a developed country with China.

Groser says New Zealand has been an outlier in that respect. “Traditionally foreign ministries look for good company — political safety,” he says. “The tendency is to join queues, not to form them. If we’ve had some success, it’s because we’ve taken well calculated risks — because if we don’t, we end up at the back of the queue.”

Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker says New Zealand’s geographic location — which was once considered a disadvantage — was now a development opportunity. He says the idea of the Southern Link is one that the Government is behind — it fits with their objective of diversifying our economic linkages further.

“What do we need this southern hub to do?

“At the simplest level, the hub should facilitate seamless and convenient exchange of goods and travel for people between the eastern and western sides of the Pacific Ocean,” he said.

“In this sense, New Zealand offers a clear alternative to crowded northern hemisphere airports.”

At the conference, Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi said: “The key features of the Belt and Road Initiative are connectivity, openness and inclusiveness. In many ways, it is like a modern version of the ancient Silk Road.”

She said it has created new energy and momentum for global economic growth, and a framework for ideas like the Southern Link to take shape.

Groser agreed — saying the Belt and Road Initiative, first described in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping (and at that time known as One Belt One Road), is a “mother of a plan — you don’t get bigger vision than BRI”.

New Zealand is a small, sophisticated country — and well organised. The conclusion of working groups at the conference agreed that the potential exists to make the Southern Link a reality, but there are issues that will need to be addressed.

These include political complications, transit visas, air services, customs and biosecurity regulations, trade facilitation and border policies.

Many of these are a lot more complex than they might appear. Stephen Jacobi, executive director of the New Zealand China Council, told the conference that the Southern Link must be a partnership between government and business.

He says we need to convince government that the changes to public policy and regulation are worth making, “because the prize — in terms of increased trade, travel and tourism — is high”.

Groser wrapped up the conference by throwing down a challenge:

“A plan not backed by a vision is a nightmare. But a vision without a plan is hallucination,” he said.

“We have a big idea. I think it’s on the move — and I think we should seize the time.”

Infrastructure: Mayoral motivations

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Tim McCready put these questions to mayoral hopefuls Phil Goff and John Tamihere

  1. What are your top three priorities for Auckland’s infrastructure?
  2. How would you fund Auckland’s infrastructure requirements?
  3. What needs to happen to improve the quality of water and make Auckland’s beaches swimmable?
  4. What is your expectation for the Ports of Auckland? Should it be sold, shifted, or are there other solutions?
  5. Queen St is considered by many to be the heart of Auckland City, yet it has growing homelessness and safety concerns. What is your vision for it?

Phil Goff

Building a transport network to cater for population growth and ease congestion, infrastructure to allow home building to meet demand and cleaning up our environment are my top infrastructure priorities.

Working with Government I have increased investment in transport to a record $29 billion in our 10-year Budget. Housing consents are now running at a record 14,000 a year (3500 in 2009) and we have brought forward an end to wastewater overflows on beaches by 20 years.

Ultimately all of us as ratepayers and taxpayers meet the cost of infrastructure. We have pushed for, and got, more central government funding, and the regional fuel tax has replaced rate increases to meet our share of  building a new transport network. We are looking to use third party funding such as Special Purpose Vehicles and PPPs to meet capital costs.

I will not sell Watercare — a monopoly operation providing an essential service. That would add $200-$300 a year more to every household’s water rates, hurting most low-income people and those with children. To improve water quality, we have this week started the $1.1 billion construction of a huge interceptor from Grey Lynn to Mangere and are separating stormwater from wastewater. Together those measures will substantially stop pollution of our harbours within 10 years, 20 years ahead of schedule.

The 77ha of port land will remain owned by Auckland Council, but our goal is to shift the port operation when a suitable alternative site can be found, and the government commits to meeting the infrastructure costs of the new port. We will free up our waterfront for public access and for other uses which will make it a vibrant and interesting place to enjoy, work and live. Selling the port company now doesn’t make sense when nobody currently knows what the future holds for it. That would be a fire sale.

With light rail and the City Rail Link meeting transport needs, Queen St should be pedestrianised and become a great place to visit and enjoy. It will be people-focused, catering for a huge increase in resident population, workers, students and visitors. It will be well lit with more cafes and places to eat and drink.

John Tamihere

My top three priorities for Auckland’s infrastructure are transport, housing, sanctity of water supply and disposal of waste water.

Multiple tools will be required to fund Auckland’s infrastructure requirements, including: rates congestion charges, sale of the Ports of Auckland business — retaining the 77 hectares in citizen ownership, public — private partnerships — such as the NZ Super Fund funding CRL, releasing 49 per cent of the equity in Watercare.

Releasing the 49 per cent of equity of Watercare releases up to a minimum of $4 billion, to ensure that the work programme in treating the disgraceful sewerage outflows will be curved within the next five years. Ownership/control of Watercare will remain with the citizens.

The Ports of Auckland will over time shift from their historic 77ha on prime Auckland land.

The site of the opera house in Sydney is a case in point, given that site was Sydney’s port.

Accordingly, as the port business winds down, it is imperative that we sell the port business at the top end of its business cycle and separate the land which will return a lease stream of income back to the citizens.

Ultimately, infrastructure linking North Port and the Port of Tauranga to Auckland will occur and we anticipate both ports serving an enlarged cosmopolitan city.

In order to transform Queen St, I want to house the homeless and ban begging with compassion. This is an area where I have significant management experience, housing over 200 homeless people in the past 18 months in West Auckland.

It requires central government to ensure that social housing, mental health services and welfare services are made available to this growing group of citizens. Begging often progresses to demanding with menaces; in addition, begging teaches co-dependence and entraps a person to continue to beg.

Giving to beggars is one of the worst forms of charity known to mankind.

The present mayor has capped social housing on council land and has thereby increased homelessness. That cap will be removed.

Health and Wellness Summit: R&D Panel (University of Auckland careers day)

Opinion: The in-flight Wi-Fi dilemma – Do you really need to be connected? (NZ Herald)