Labour Party polling for the Northcote byelection puts candidate Shanan Halbert just 2.1% behind National's Dan Bidois. Sources close to the party confirmed that, in a poll conducted last week, Halbert was preferred by 46.3 per cent of those asked, and Bidois by 48.4 per cent.

That's a change from a poll conducted by Labour in early May, which had Bidois leading Halbert by a more comfortable margin, 50.8 per cent vs 44.4 per cent.

National Party sources dispute these numbers. They say their polling shows a gap of about 8 per cent.

National's Jonathan Coleman won Northcote in the 2017 general election with a 6200 majority, but the Labour polls suggest the seat is now highly marginal.

Labour's Shanan Halbert at his campaign for the Northcote by-election. Photo / Supplied
Labour's Shanan Halbert at his campaign for the Northcote by-election. Photo / Supplied

Northcote has not always voted National. It tends to vote with the governing party, preferring National in each election from 2005, Labour in 1999 and 2002, and National before than in 1996.

Advance voting in the byelection started today and polling day is in less than two weeks, on Saturday, June 9.

Both parties have been calling in the heavyweights. Former Prime Minister John Key did an interview on Facebook with Bidois last week, and Halbert has been joined by a steady stream of Cabinet ministers in the electorate.

National candidate Dan Bidois. Photo / Doug Sherring
National candidate Dan Bidois. Photo / Doug Sherring

Meanwhile, Act Party candidate Stephen Berry will reveal a remarkable Auckland transport policy at a Northcote candidates' debate in Beach Haven tonight.

Berry will announce formally that Act wants to build a new six-lane motorway with a bridge over the harbour at Pt Chevalier.

The motorway would begin at the Northwest Motorway near the Waterview interchange, head north around the zoo and then cross the Motat 2 site and Meola Reef Reserve, with a flyover bridge to join it to the North Shore near the Chelsea Sugar Refinery.

To avoid demolishing houses in Northcote there would be three tunnels and much of the route would be through parkland. The tunnels would be under the Highbury shops, Eskdale Rd and Upper Harbour Drive.

The motorway would run above ground from one greenway to the next: through Kauri Point Centennial Park, with a bridge over Duck Creek by the sugar refinery, and then through Chelsea Heritage Park, Birkenhead War Memorial Park and Eskdale Reserve. It would follow the line of the Kaipatiki Creek near Bayview with a bridge linking it to the Greenhithe bush.


The plan proposes several other new motorways, although the details for them are less developed. One would run from Takapuna south through Belmont and Devonport, across the harbour to the central city, then across Hobson Bay and through the eastern and southern suburbs to Manukau. This route last saw the light of day in John Banks' failed Auckland City mayoral campaign of 2004.

The whole plan comes from a Ministry of Works strategy for a "motorway network" developed in 1972. Act says these new motorways and related works would "complete the motorway network" and should be built within the next 10 years.

I met Act's candidate Stephen Berry this week so he could explain it all to me. He wore a bright blue suit and a yellow tie. He was trim and focused, his voice sharp, his speech always on message.

Berry is an experienced campaigner and he can surprise: he was the third-highest polling candidate for Auckland mayor in 2013. "The dark horse, they didn't see me coming," he said. Right now he's taken leave from his job as a troubleshooting executive with Countdown supermarkets to campaign fulltime.

"I'm off door-knocking after this," he said. "I'm out every day." He reckoned "nine out of 10" people name traffic as the number one problem.

I asked if there was a certain irony that Act, resolutely small-government and private-enterprise focused, was putting forward a plan developed by the Ministry of Works.

"Yes, a bit," he said. "But the whole thing was canned by Muldoon and he was the ultimate socialist."

Did he really think people would like the idea of a new flyover from Pt Chevalier? "Yep."

Why did he think no one else had proposed it? "It's a mystery to me. The feedback has been phenomenally in favour."

Act proposes to fund all this work by raising the age of eligibility for National Superannuation to 67. Berry said that would free up $58 billion for spending elsewhere.

Act also wants to remove the fuel taxes imposed by Labour and National and replace them with electronic road pricing. You pay more to use the roads on the busiest times or if you go to the busiest places like the middle of the city.

In fact, most political parties are keen on this and the Auckland Council has been working with the Government for some time to work out how best to do it. Did Berry know why it wasn't in place already?

"Lack of guts from the Government, I would imagine."

Council and government say the technology is complex and they're moving as fast as they can. Berry listed other cities that use the technology, like Singapore and London. "So we already know that's not true".

I asked him about public transport.

"Yeah, sure," he said. "Light rail is expensive, inflexible and the demand is not there." But buses are good. "Our motorway through Northcote would have three lanes each way and one could be a bus lane."

Did it worry him that the central city would eventually run out of places for buses to park?

"No. I think it would be great if we got to that stage. It's not a problem."

I asked him why he thought Act polled so poorly these days.

"We have too many messages. We used to talk about the economy a lot more but now there are a lot of non-economic issues we're involved in."

Like euthanasia? "Yes, I support it and would vote for it, but it's not core message."

Like aligning with the Sensible Sentencing Trust? "Yes, I support being tougher on crime but there is no political tribe out there that supports economic liberalism and being tough on crime."

Berry made the point, several times, that Act MPs did not have to follow a party line in their voting. Party leader David Seymour is not going to tell him what to do.

"And," he added, "I'm in it to win. Unlike the Greens, who are in it to wave the flag."

"If people want a centre-right government in the future," he said, voting for Act was "an excellent foundation for that".