The Project Auckland series looks at the challenges facing Auckland as it seeks to become a world-class city.
It's not just the All Blacks who have been putting on the war paint as they ready themselves to do battle in next year's Rugby World Cup.
Auckland has also been sprucing itself up as it prepares itself to host a swag of international visitors in town for one of the largest international sporting events ever to be hosted in New Zealand.
Not only is the RWC 2011 forecast to provide an additional $267m economic boost to the Auckland economy, it has also provided an opportunity to accelerate long overdue infrastructure development.
The Government has invested $190m to increase the capacity of the iconic Eden Park and jointly acquired Queens Wharf as the venue for "party central" where fans can watch live matches on big screens. Rail access to Eden Park from the CBD has been beefed up.
A major cruise ship terminal has been mooted. But it is now unlikely that a permanent structure will be in place for the Cup. Wynyard Quarter's new developments will however provide a sparkling playground for visitors and locals.
There is another sub-text to the developments.
Bridging Auckland's infrastructure deficit is important to the quality of life of the one-third of Kiwis (roughly 1.4 million) who live in the region and generate one-third of the nation's GDP.
The World Economic Forum's 2009-2010 Global Competitiveness Report ranked New Zealand's "inadequate supply of infrastructure" as the second most problematic factor for doing business in New Zealand. Major negatives included the lack of a strong roading network and occasional failures of electricity transmission infrastructure.
When John Key's government came to power it swiftly announced plans to invest $7.5bn over a five year period to build and upgrade schools, roads, housing, hospitals and telecommunications.
The four top priorities are:
* Broadband - rolling out a fibre-to-the-home scheme
* Building "seven roads of national significance"
* Boosting New Zealand's faltering electricity transmission network
* Ensuring vital infrastructure is in place for next year's RWC event
And Auckland is the major beneficiary from the spend-up.
On November 1, the Auckland Council will take over the reins, putting an end to the competing agendas of the current eight regional bodies.
Auckland Business Forum chairman Michael Barnett emphasises an integrated transport system to move freight efficiently is "paramount for business".
In 1997, Ernst & Young calculated the failure of successive governments to complete the vital ring road across the Auckland isthmus cost the economy $775m annually through unnecessary congestion ($1bn on an inflation adjusted basis.)
Transport Minister Steven Joyce - who has been tasked with "getting Auckland moving" - has confessed to not really caring about how many councils the region had until the Prime Minister tasked him with the transport, communications and associate infrastructure portfolios.
Joyce is pleased that the major Auckland roading projects now underway will be done and dusted by the time the visitors arrive.
The Government has left nothing to chance. It has appointed Auckland Transition Agency executive chairman Mark Ford as chair of the new Auckland Transport Agency on a one-year term to make sure everything is in place for the Cup. Ford's project orientation makes him the ideal person to be the city's "transport tzar" at this time.
The major contenders in the mayoral race for the new Auckland Council are spruiking new infrastructure proposals such as the CBD rail loop, and, either a tunnel or new bridge across the Waitemata linking the CBD and the North Shore.
But Joyce is resolute that other projects like the Victoria Park tunnel, the Western link road and electrification of Auckland's suburban rail network remain the Government's key priorities.
At a recent infrastructure conference he jested that Auckland was now in the "lunar cycle" when it came to such proposals. But Joyce says he would be happy to sit now with the new Auckland Council after the October election and look at what should be done next "with a certain amount of decent financial justification for whatever we're talking about".
Just who pays for the next round of major Auckland projects is the key question. Some mayoral candidates believe the Auckland Council should simply borrow money for projects like the proposed CBD rail loop, or, issue infrastructure bonds. But Joyce points out there will also be some intensification around railway lines that will also have to be funded.
While rail tunnel and a third harbour crossing are probably the "next cabs off the ranks", he doubts that construction would start on either project within the next decade.
A CBD-airport rail link has also been mooted. But Joyce believes that will become less pressing when alternative avenues using the new western corridors are available. The Waterview Connection took another step forward last week when it was confirmed it will soon be assessed by a Board of Inquiry, the first roading project to use the new national consenting process.
While congestion charges have been mooted for the city, Joyce believes the time to assess their introduction is after the ring route is completed.
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn is also focused on ensuring rail plays its part as the "backbone" for the city which other transport modes, like buses and ferries, can "hub off".
Quinn says rail is an important part of the mix when it comes to transporting freight in and out of the city. But there has also been an enormous amount of work done in recent years on passenger delivery. "The public have had to put up with a lot of disruption but by next year we will have seen the back of the heavy work." Electrification is a major project: Not only will it modernise Auckland's metro rail but also enable other investments like the proposed CBD rail loop and harbour tunnel to occur.
"As Auckland grows and develops more and continues to sprawl communities have to be linked," says Quinn. "It's not about 'rail for rail's sake' - we've got to get the right mix of modal options to enable the communities to get what they need to operate."
Joyce adds commuter rail is an increasingly important way for Aucklanders to get to work each day.
The upgrade and electrification of the rail network will provide for more frequent trains at peak times and help to meet future demand. "New Zealand's future success is tied to that of Auckland as our largest city and largest local economy," says Joyce. "Getting Auckland transport working well is crucial to getting Auckland growing faster and providing more jobs."
The Government has invested $1.6 billion in Auckland's metro rail system
$600 million for Project DART
$500 million for the infrastructure required to support electrification
$500 million for purchase of electric trains (government loan to KiwiRail)
TOP FIVE INFRASTRUCTURE PRIORITIES FOR AUCKLAND
1. Manage the level of demand so that infrastructure development is economically sustainable.
2. Demand management practices - fixing leaky water pipes, home insulation, smart electricity metering, more natural gas, recycling and reducing transport demand through mechanisms like ride sharing.
3. Implementing region wide priorities such as the Three Waters final strategic plan, securing electricity transmission capacity into the city and increased generation near the main load, completing the western ring route, rolling out broadband fibre to the home, electrifying the rail network, placing more development along key transport nodes and introducing a quality transport network.
4. A CBD development plan which clearly sets out the demarcation between future port development and the Auckland waterfront development.
5. Identifying and securing land for necessary water pipes, electricity transmission networks and substation, liquid fuels installations telecoms facilities, airport and seaport linkages, the CBD rail loop; an Eastern Corridor, Waitemata harbour crossing, regional conference centre, quarries, corrections facilities, universities and reserves.
Source: NZ Council for Infrastructure Development