Bernard Orsman's timely article, City of Fails (NZ Herald, October 3) listing problems with power supply, water supply, bridge crossings, airport runway problems, congestion issues - and missing others, such as the fuel pipeline from Northport, prompts a fresh look at our biggest city.
With New Zealand's largest population, the concentration of its media outlets and big voting pool, Auckland commands attention from fawning politicians and celebrity shock jocks resulting in a series of rose tinted myths about the city that Orsman's article reminds us are either not true or misrepresent how the rest of the world see Auckland.
Myth #1 is that Auckland is the driver of our economy. That was never true and certainly isn't now.
Auckland is the driver of consumption. It has 33 per cent of the population, enjoys about 36 per cent of GDP but contributes a paltry 6 per cent of our exports and these figures were based on education of foreign students and tourism which are both dead in the water right now.
It is mainly rural NZ that earns the country's income and this has been proved recently by the positive balance of payments during Covid-19 when exports kept going but Aucklanders bought less stuff. Drive through the countryside and everything you see is export orientated, meat, timber, dairy, fruit and wine all growing to pay the country's bills.
Currently politicians are promising all sorts of fixes to Auckland's perceived problems but haven't stood back and thought about them from a nation-wide perspective. The massive promised infrastructure spend is a huge risk as too often big decisions associated with Auckland have been knee jerk politically driven responses to the failures identified by Orsman but without understanding why these keep cropping up or listening to the lessons from those called upon to fix them.
Right now there are sudden calls for another harbour crossing without any understanding of what actually caused this latest inconvenience. What happened was a truck carrying an empty container was blown into a bridge strut during high, but not exceptional winds.
None of those screaming for a new bridge have linked it with other lessons from other failures. Why was that truck there? It was carrying an empty container to a profitless port sited on the most valuable land in New Zealand. Had the port been shifted north then that truck would never have been there. It would have been taking that container to the inland hub at Kumeu that would be servicing Auckland's big growth areas which are in the north and west of the city. Nor would the 27,000 additional trucks mentioned by the new bridge proponents have been using the bridge, indeed a hell of a lot less truck traffic would be on the bridge at all.
Myth #2 is that all the growth in Auckland is the the south towards the mythical "Golden Triangle" of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.
In fact, Auckland City's own District Plan shows 50,000 new houses in the south but 86,000 in the north and west and those who really know about growth being the big retailers are all heading north west, look at IKEA and Costco for a start and Bunnings biggest store is there too. All these would be way better served from an inland port at Kumeu fed by rail from the north.
As for the Golden Triangle, this was based on growth in the Waikato that was fed by growth in the dairy industry but there is no farmland left that hasn't got a cow already and environmental pressures will reduce herds and with it growth. The last undeveloped land left in New Zealand is all in Northland and Aucklanders aren't aware of the rush on to plant golden kiwifruit in Kerikeri and avocados north of Kaitaia.
Memories of those who can affect Auckland's future are short.
The last failure that Orsman missed was a digger cutting the fuel supply line from Marsden Point to the city. This nearly shut down our airlines and should have been a better planner for an unlikely event like Covid. A debate should be raging now about increased fuel storage somewhere in Auckland and how increasing fuel supplies will come from Northport, by truck which is very risky or by train?
What Auckland has lacked is visionary leadership with a nation building view.
The last such leader was Dove-Myer Robinson who saved the Waitemata Harbour with his big sewerage system that collected and treated city waste and discharged into the Manukau which some fools think is a possibility for a new port in spite of insurers stating no large ships entering there will be covered.
Sadly Robinson couldn't get support for his underground rail network. Imagine if that was in play now. Not only would it have changed the city in the way that the harbour bridge did but it would have woken up Parliament to the stupid land ownership laws we still have that have added so much cost to the current ludicrously expensive rail tunnel network being put in place now.
The opportunity to learn from mistakes was missed after the one-time Auckland became internationally famous back in 1998 when the CBD went without power for six weeks due to incompetent asset management in the hands of non technical people, which is a common theme to all the city's failures. Wrong people in place.
The solution then was a tunnel from Penrose to bring power into the city. Sadly this tunnel was started by the same non technical people who presided over the CBD failure.
This tunnel doesn't go in a straight line as rational people think but follows the roads because of the same silly old English law that bedevils the current Central Rail tunnel. Either the law should have been changed back then or they should have dug a concrete channel just below the road so it could be used by other infrastructure users such as water, sewer, telecoms, fibre etc. Another opportunity lost by dumb thinking.
Government responses to these problems seem to revolve around creating new commissions then appointing exactly the wrong people, such as bankers, lawyers and accountants. When things do fail, the urgency of the situation and the need for technical knowledge brings in the experienced Infrastrucure engineers who should have been present before. Once the crisis has passed the cult of management by financial directors soon sees the engineers gone again until the next big failure.
The Transpower failure of 2006 was publicly predicted by the engineer brought in to lead Transpower after the failure and to plan and implement the much needed 400kva line up though Waikato and then the upgrade to the north of the city and to Northland. Lawyers followed into command of an enterprise they just couldn't understand.
What Auckland needs is an experienced, technically-aware group from private and public sectors to look at all the infrastructure needed for not just Auckland but for at least the upper North Island and consider it as a whole network providing power, water, sewerage, road and rail, telecom, shipping, industrial and residential land, even health provision and support to our increasingly important export sector.
Planning rules force developers to consider all these but for some reason big government and councils don't.
We need to get past doctrinaire nonsense like the belief that rail doesn't pay its way but roads do, which resulted in New Zealand being the only developed country that didn't spend the last 10 years frantically building freight rail.
Similarly ill-informed but well intentioned calls for expensive but non commercial stuff like high speed passenger rail over lines that are barely capable of freight rail need to be dismissed. If it's greenhouse gases you want to stop, get freight off trucks and onto rail, then make the rail electric. Way quicker, cheaper and faster than hoping we all buy a Tesla.
While we are at it, does anyone really think Auckland should have three district health boards?
Other well intentioned failures were the fast fibre rollout, put into the hands of bankers and accountants, this good idea was wrong from the start. Informed advisers would have started at the extremities like Invercargill and Kaitaia and worked towards the cities which were already awash with unused fibre, hence giving an uplift to remote citizens still waiting for the arrival of this much hyped service.
• Mangonui-based developer Wayne Brown is a former Far North mayor and was leader of the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group.