Michael Barnett suggests that the newly created Waikato-Government urban growth partnership offers a pathway for Auckland to solve its infrastructure problems.
The recently signed urban growth partnership between the Government and Waikato councils and mana whenua to strategically manage development between Auckland and Hamilton sends a "catch-up" signal to Auckland.
It is the first time two regions, along with central government, have joined together to co-ordinate the planning of building housing and transport services.
The idea is to make sure housing and development will align with three key transport networks: The Waikato and Waipa Rivers, the Main Trunk Rail Line and the Waikato Expressway.
A key priority is to unlock Hamilton and Waikato's growth potential.
The partnership encompasses the settlements along the transport corridor between Cambridge and Papakura.
What's significant is that the partnership includes Government and agencies together with councils sitting at the same decision-making table.
And the agreement has been agreed in a timely way — in June 2018 a group of ministers, mayors and chairs requested joint officials to undertake an inquiry into the Hamilton-Auckland corridor, and to report back by December with a draft of shared spatial intent for future urban growth and a draft programme.
I suggest Auckland urgently needs a similar shared development plan. Within 10 years Auckland's population will be two million.
Car numbers are projected to grow by 25,000 a year; public transport use is set to continue its massive uptake yet still account for just 7 per cent of all trips by 2028.
Congestion is costing the city $2 billion-plus a year. Auckland is the second most congested city in Australasia.
With the growth of new suburbs on the city fringes, fast, affordable and convenient public transport services would reduce the need for commuters to take a car.
Despite congestion spreading through the working day, less than 2 per cent of journey-to-work trips are by public transport.
We all know "ready to go" strategic builds would help reduce congestion — Mill Road to Drury in the south, Penlink to unblock Silverdale in the north, and the East West Link between Onehunga and Mt Wellington.
There are other initiatives sitting on plans: A trail of congestion charging on the motorway has been discussed for nearly 10 years. Park-and-ride facilities could be doubled.
There is no shortage of money, but Auckland Council has a debt-management issue and pay as you go model for NZTA projects has issues. The private sector is offering options, but awaits a response.
Meanwhile the urban growth issue remains a challenge: Do we continue building large fringe suburbs with long transport links to where people work. Or do we focus growth in the south, closer to where people will work?
Or do we encourage more business to establish in the North Shore, reducing the long congestion queues delaying the need for an expensive third harbour crossing?
Our problems and their solutions are a mix between Auckland Council and central government and agencies — housing, transport, employment, education and amenity planners.
Our congestion problems are the result of a catch-22 mix of dislocation and siloed planning arising over decades.
The Waikato solution with Cabinet ministers at the top table offers Auckland a positive way forward: for key agencies to form a partnership with a single programme agreed by a shared governance, guaranteed funding and designed to deliver results.
With around 40 per cent of New Zealand's GDP and wellbeing generated by Auckland, the next council would seem to have a strong case to show some leadership to create a game-changing decision-making method for fixing our beloved city.
●Michael Barnett is chief Executive of the Auckland Business Chamber