The major parties agree on many things about the queen city, writes Simon Wilson.
The new government "will require Auckland Council to reopen the Unitary Plan and radically upzone across the whole city". Buildings "up to six storeys" will be permitted "in all transit corridors and in metro centres and city centres".
With the election so dominated by all things Covid, there's not much talk about other issues. But Auckland is poised for big changes and they will happen regardless of who forms the new government.
Labour's Phil Twyford, the Minister of Transport and Urban Development, and his National Party counterpart, transport and infrastructure spokesperson Chris Bishop, both spelled it out in a debate.
There will be more density, they said, and a much clearer focus on public transport, and government directives to the council to make it happen. It's already part of the new National Policy Statement on Urban Development, which the Government released in July.
Asked directly, Bishop said, "We support it."
The debate, hosted by architectural firm Warren and Mahoney, revealed there is now a remarkable degree of common thinking between the two major parties on the future of Auckland.
The Unitary Plan Twyford referred to is the council's blueprint, setting out what size and type of buildings can be built where. It was adopted in 2016 and, he said, was "a good start".
"But," he added, "we've got to stop the planning rule preventing people building and living where they want to live. Every time you do that, you make housing more expensive."
Bishop said, "Auckland is one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the Western world. We simply can and must do better.
"It's nuts, right. There are whole parts of Auckland where you drive down a major train route and you've got quarter-acre sections with one house, next to major train stations. Frankly, it's caused the outrageous house prices."
"Drive down a train route"? Or even ride the train, perhaps. That's another thing Labour and National have in common: they both believe rapid mass transit is the key to managing congestion in the new, improved Auckland. The options include the electric heavy rail we have now, rapid bus services like the Northern Busway, and light rail.
"Labour," said Twyford, "will make urban rapid transit a core responsibility of the NZ Transport Agency." A clear indication that NZTA has been too slow and that AT and the council have not done enough.
"No one in Auckland thinks now that we can build more motorways or more lanes to solve the congestion problem," he said.
"Phil's right," said Bishop. "There's been a seismic shift."
"The historic task of our generation," said Twyford, "is to build a rapid transit network. The city can't grow, can't function, without it. If we don't have rapid transit, we're condemned to permanent gridlock. It's the only sustainable solution. Whether it's dedicated light rail, or heavy rail, or busways, actually doesn't matter that much."
"Phil's right," Bishop said again. "We made a mistake. We should have built Robbie's rapid rail in the 70s. That is an historic generational mistake that Auckland pays the price for now."
Does this mean the two major parties are now having a love-in over the future of the city? Not exactly. Agreeing in general is one thing, but agreeing what projects to build is quite another.
The big issue that divides them? Light rail.
Twyford outlined Labour's transport priorities. "We need to build a pipeline of big works so there's continuous work. Light rail from the central city to Mangere, in our view, has to be the first priority. The northwest corridor has to be next, then from the airport up to Botany. And then a tunnel across the harbour and rail to North Shore."
Bishop said the "transformational intergenerational transport projects" National wants to build focus on heavy rail, including extending a line from Puhinui near Manukau to the airport and perhaps looping up to Onehunga, and also more progress on rapid bus routes and more ferry destinations.
"It makes better sense to keep building on the existing rail lines," he said. "That was the 2010 plan, and 30 years previously."
Twyford said the days of that kind of planning were gone. Those heavy rail proposals are too expensive, the engineering is "too big for existing built-up parts of city", and it "wouldn't bring rapid transit to a single extra community".
Both agreed congestion charging — tolls on some key roads into the city — should be introduced soon, to help manage demand. Twyford said this would replace the regional fuel tax, always intended as a temporary measure. National wants to scrap that tax anyway.
The Green Party supports the transit vision, including light rail, but goes further, with more projects and a series of target dates over the next 10 years.
Mayor Phil Goff has a good view of the best and worst of the city from his office on the 27th floor of the council's Albert St building. The harbour, always alive with boats, the greenery of Albert Park, construction cranes everywhere and, these last days, over there to the northwest, long snakes of cars clogged up on the motorway, their drivers desperate to get over the broken bridge.
A couple of days after the bridge malfunction, the Herald spoke to Goff about what he wants for Auckland out of the election. And what does he think should happen about that bridge?
"Well I can tell you," he said, "the biggest problem isn't the bridge itself. You could throw $10 billion at new road tunnels but it wouldn't solve the congestion at either end. Even the AA says that."
Labour and National have subtly different views about this.
Chris Bishop: "Our proposal is basically the same as that put forward in the NZ Transport Agency's Waitematā Additional Harbour Crossing analysis. New tunnels for road and rail."
But that report identified two options: tunnels for road and rail, or tunnels exclusively for rail.
Labour doesn't have a position on which is best. Twyford: "We'll be guided by the experts."
Trouble is, there are experts backing both options.
One of the reasons the tunnels might include roading, Twyford said, was resilience — especially now we know the bridge is vulnerable to extreme weather events. National leader Judith Collins made the same point last week.
The Greens disagree and say new tunnels should be rail-only. Party co-leader James Shaw: "If you add roads, you increase vehicle use, which increases congestion, and that makes the network less resilient, not more."
On the question of roads more generally, Labour and National are more aligned than their bickering over them might suggest. Despite their commitments to transit, both plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on major arterial roads like Mill Rd in the south and Penlink in the north.
As for the port, most parties agree it should move "in time" but none has yet taken a clear stand on any proposal or timeline to get it done.
Goff has three big priorities for the new government. He wants help rebuilding the city's economy, changes to address climate change and other environmental issues, and a new approach to "funding and finance".
For the economy, Goff wants a "partnership" with government to restore Auckland as the gateway city for tourists. He also wants more key workers, along with overseas students, especially from China, allowed in and put through special new managed isolation facilities, paid for by those involved and their employers and institutions.
When? "When it's safe." But what does that mean? None of the parties is clear about this, and how could they be?
Goff believes the apparent success of our Covid strategy holds great economic potential, though building up high-value industries. The screen sector is his example.
"This is our chance to identify industries like that. We need to upskill our own workforce and we need to have a safe approach to bringing in the key people we need. Will we seize this opportunity and grow those sectors? Will we target the highest value, or will we go back to what we used to do?"
Auckland's problem, Goff said, is that "everything is 10 years too late". Housing, which he called a "huge social issue", and all the infrastructure.
To address this, both parties want to create a new approach to environmental and development planning. To do it they will replace the Resource Management Act. But this is not a point of agreement: each fears the other will come up with something worse than the RMA and neither has yet spelled out what it wants to do.
In the meantime, Labour has borrowed from National's rebuild after the Kaikōura quake, with a fast-track process to get projects moving. National seems likely to keep it in place.
The key to Goff's second priority, climate action, is already underway: it's mass transit. His funding and financing reform may take longer. "Ten years ago," he said, we were set up as a Super City but we're still funded as a 1980s borough council."
Now, he says, "we need a complete rethink". He wants changes to GST that would see the tax paid on rates increases returned to council.
"It would deliver us an extra $200-$300 million this year. I'm not saying there should be no GST on rates, just give us back that portion."
Bishop wasn't keen. Twyford said it would be "when hell freezes over".
The big question for Labour: can it deliver? Or, as National likes to say, "KiwiBuild!"
Bishop: "I think Phil underestimated the level of difficulty with various things. The lesson is: don't be so ambitious with timelines. But there has been a shambolic process with light rail."
Twyford: "Can I remind you that National's Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway extension took seven years before spades in the ground?"
Labour may have been surprised at the enormity of the task of turning dreams to reality — in transport, poverty, energy, you name it. But if it's re-elected, the trainer wheels come off. We're in a crisis now and the new Government has to turn the whole next term into three years of delivery.
As for National, the big question is: how will its budget work?
Bishop: "We'll massively increase investment because our ambition is far greater. We've announced plans to spend $31 billion on transport, $17.5b of that in the upper North Island."
Twyford said he wanted to know "how you're going to fund that $31 b over and above the $48b we've already allocated".
Bishop said it would come from the Land Transport Fund (a levy on petrol) and Transport Agency borrowing.
"Borrowing is not funding," said Twyford. "You have to pay it back."