Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Auckland on loop of Govt inaction

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City will at least have faster rail for unhoused people.
In the aftermath of Mr Key's concession, there was much praise for retiring mayor Len Brown. Illustration / Peter Bromhead
In the aftermath of Mr Key's concession, there was much praise for retiring mayor Len Brown. Illustration / Peter Bromhead

John Key's City Rail Link "dance of the seven veils" almost breached the R18 barrier when he performed at the recent Auckland Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

But he stopped short of flashing the Government chequebook before 2020, producing an IOU instead. He is now happy to work with Auckland Council on fast-tracking the business plan so council-funded work can begin in 2018.

It's not the breakthrough proponents had hoped for, but a victory regardless, from a Government which since 2013, when it reluctantly agreed to help fund the project, has insisted on a 2020 start.

In the aftermath of Mr Key's concession, there was much praise for retiring mayor Len Brown, and it's true he has championed the project since assuming office in 2010.

But as Mr Brown acknowledged in these pages recently, a "city to Morningside" underground rail link, with a station near the Town Hall, was part of a grand plan backed by Minister of Railways Gordon Coates way back in October 1923.

With the Depression, the tunnel fell off the work schedule. In 1937, it was briefly revived as a possible work relief scheme, but the war intervened. In 1949, two Government-hired British consultants revived the idea, as part of a proposal to electrify Auckland rail. They called for a halt on new road building until the impact of the rail improvements became clear.

But by then, Auckland's love affair with cars and motorways was taking hold. It wasn't until the late 1960s that San Francisco-based engineers De Leuw Cather recommended Auckland give priority to public transport over new roads.

The 1972-75 Labour Government, egged on by Mayor Dove-Myer Robinson, supported the underground rail loop, even funding test bores. But the incoming National Government pulled the plug.

It took until 2005, two years after the opening of the new Britomart station, for the new Auckland Regional Transport Authority to officially revive the plans, calling for the electrification of the rail network by 2011 and an underground link between Britomart and Mt Eden in 10 to 20 years, along with reopening the line to Onehunga and rail to the airport.

A project then, with many parents. By the centennial of the unveiling of Gordon Coates' grand plan, it might finally come to fruition. By then the tunnel might be needed for emergency housing.

On Monday, the day the Reserve Bank revealed Auckland house prices have catapulted a record 52 per cent in four years, and a landlord with close links to the Chinese market predicted a new wave of offshore speculation, Minister of Housing Nick Smith continued to tinker.

His latest exercise in avoidance is to don his Environment Minister cape and join the court battles over the proposed Winstone Quarry housing development at Three Kings.

Locals are upset about aspects of the Fletcher Building development which plans to deliver just 1500 dwellings over eight to 10 years. Dr Smith is siding with the developers.

At a time when New Zealand recorded a net gain of 64,900 migrants in the December year - the 17th record month in a row - you might have thought Dr Smith had bigger worries. Over half these migrants will settle in Auckland.

Where are they going to stay? Students are allegedly prostituting themselves for bedspace.

Auckland is nudging the top of the world housing unaffordability stakes, and what does Dr Smith do? He takes on a group of concerned Three Kings residents as though they're the cause of the crisis.

The Fletcher's plan will, in reality, deliver just a fraction of Auckland's housing needs. The Productivity Commission said last year there was an existing shortfall of 32,000 dwellings and a need to build 13,000 new homes each year. Yet last year Auckland gained just 8900 new homes.

Unless the Government admits the market has failed and starts a major home building programme itself, by the time the City Rail Link is completed, the platforms will be full of the homeless, camping out.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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