Redefining the Auckland infrastructure conversation
2016 New Zealand Budget
By Tim Arbuckle
In a recent publication entitled State of the State New Zealand 2016: Social investment for our future Deloitte examines the investment approach to government expenditure choices across the social sector.
The hallmark of this approach is the use of evidence, data and feedback loops to define underlying problems, measure outcomes and enable the calculation of long-term benefits. The focus is on the value of the outcomes achieved, and the ranking of alternative investments is made against multiple related outcomes.
The infrastructure debate in Auckland is being redefined along similar lines. No longer is the discussion just about which individual transport project is best. It is about improving productivity and social inclusion through transport infrastructure linking the availability of affordable housing with access to jobs, education and social services.
Last year the government and Auckland Council jointly established the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) to agree on a long-term strategic approach to transport in Auckland. Under ATAP the language is already changing. The “30 minute commute” is the new rallying statement linking housing with transport and jobs. And there is acceptance that the “last mile” of infrastructure needs to be considered alongside the designation of new Special Housing Areas, with links to high-density trunk transport corridors.
The focus of ATAP is to test whether better returns from transport investment across a broader range of objectives can be achieved. But an integrated approach is more complex, and challenges traditional investment frameworks focussed on single outcomes.
This evidence of joined-up planning for Auckland is encouraging. To be sustainable, the good work needs to be supported by new investment frameworks, better data, a forum for new ideas, programme evaluation and supporting governance.
That said, funding also needs to be available.
Earlier this year, the government committed to bring forward the joint business plan for Auckland’s City Rail Link so the main works can commence in 2018. The East-West Connection road project, once final approvals and consenting is complete, could also start in 2018. And to help release land for housing, there are now 154 designated Special Housing Areas and Budget 2016 allocates a further $100 million to boost the development of Auckland housing on surplus Crown land.
The debate then returns to how Auckland will fund its share. Debt levels are constrained. Rates are always under pressure. And, new legislation restricts what developers can be charged.
This leaves new funding sources such as tolls or congestion charges (supported in a survey of Auckland ratepayers last year), increases in user pays (e.g. public transport fares), value capture, private finance and asset recycling. The answers will rest in a combination of the above, some of which may become clearer in the final report from ATAP due in August.
Certainly, ensuring New Zealand’s long-term economic health will require a productive and socially inclusive Auckland. To get there requires more evidence-based, data driven thinking and an unwavering focus on outcomes.