John McCaulay: Full agenda for a visionary leader

By John McCaulay

New Auckland mayor will be kept busy dealing with results of planning inadequacy.
The port site could be developed to make Auckland a spectacular waterfront city and the host to cruise ships that it should be. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The port site could be developed to make Auckland a spectacular waterfront city and the host to cruise ships that it should be. Photo / Brett Phibbs

With cost overruns on IT systems, its new headquarters and spending yet to be crystallised on the inner city rail loop, Auckland City's mayoral candidates should be up for psychological evaluation before being allowed to stand, because the job of steering the Super City forward looks challenging, to say the least with the chickens represented by the past 50 years of underspending on infrastructure now requiring feeding.

Examples of woeful planning are plentiful: A ring road designed in the early 70s due to open some 45 years later, public transport journeys some 30 per cent down on the mid-1950s, before they pulled up the tram tracks. Then there's the harbour bridge, too small the day it opened and Britomart Station, an elegant construction plagued with screams about its cost at the time, but a dead-end for now.

Despite its record of underwhelming planning and spending, Auckland has prospered beyond any other New Zealand city.

Jobs are being created, house prices are soaring, the eating and entertainment are great and it has become more cosmopolitan. People are flooding in and mostly want to drive SUVs or sports cars, buy houses, better themselves - all things they can ponder in gridlocked traffic.

Unfortunately for ratepayers, the direct and indirect costs of Auckland's historic procrastination are massive. Where once a gully could be cleared by edict to house a road or railway, the path forward now requires a massive amount of procedure and approvals and gigantic amounts of disruption.

Clearly our mayoral hopefuls will find that a promise to reduce spending and cut rates, while sounding good, won't be enough to achieve what needs to be done, or a second term.

Cut-through thinking will be required and less of the diversionary politicking, another example of which has recently emerged.

Is a downtown port in the biggest city the best use of the nation's most valuable real estate?

Aucklanders have done little over the last 150 years to capture and enhance the Waitemata Harbour and its surrounds, with the Port of Auckland a central culprit.

The Port Future Study Group's preliminary 50-year plus plan for the port lists three options: Constraining it to its existing footprint; enabling its growth at its existing location; or moving it to a new location, possibly the Manukau Harbour, the Firth of Thames, or Muriwai.

The group should be commended for its optimism, as these locations will no doubt be ruled out further down the track because of cost and other impracticalities, but its members were no doubt responding to the limitations of their brief.

A less parochial brief should ask how many ports does a nation of 4.5 million people require and is a downtown port in the biggest city the best use of the nation's most valuable real estate?

New Zealand's multiple ports means we are scrambling to deepen and widen our harbours to cater for the burgeoning size of ships, something that needs to be done to avoid the possibility that we will be serviced by smaller vessels operating from a hub port in Australia, or further afield.

Some say Marsden Pt should be promoted as the country's best natural deep-water port, an option that would require additional railway infrastructure.

But the best solution in my view would be shifting the bulk of Auckland's port activities to Tauranga which, together with the upgrading of the Kaimai rail tunnel already underway, would allow Tauranga to effectively service the two inland ports in South Auckland, Metro Port and the Ports of Auckland's inland establishment.

Inwards containers could be sent to South Auckland for distribution and then rerouted to the Waikato for export use, allowing KiwiRail to operate what would be a profitable point-to-point triangular service, while alleviating the need for empty containers to be stored seven high on Auckland's waterfront.

The folk of Tauranga would no doubt approve of this plan as the port there has been substantially subsidising their rates for many years while Auckland folk would reap other gains.

A cut and cover would enable the Ports of Auckland rail siding to extend to Britomart and a new port station could feature a walkway to Vector Arena, increasing off-peak rides for the new rail loop. A similar feature could perhaps persuade the local iwi to make their fast food strip in Quay St the entrance way to a new downtown stadium over the old railway yards.

As for the port site itself, this could be developed in a manner that would make Auckland the spectacular waterfront city and host to cruise ships it should be, while allowing our councillors to stop running businesses and to do what they traditionally do best, rate the hell out of properties while claiming to spend the proceeds responsibly. And that's not to mention the potential that a rezoning of the port would offer for public spaces and seaside bikeways.

Any leader who could deliver all this would undoubtedly get a second term.

- NZ Herald

John McCaulay is a retired business editor and writer who has run investor relations programmes for large corporates, including some in the ports and shipping industries.

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