Just across the Southern Motorway from Manukau Central is Mill Rd, a rural back road on the urban fringes of the Super City.
The narrow, two-lane road descends off Redoubt Rd into the countryside, weaving a path to Takanini and on to Papakura.
To the outsider, there is nothing unusual or special about Mill Rd. But to the rapidly growing population in South Auckland, politicians, planners and climate change activists, the road has become something of a millstone.
For more than 15 years, Mill Rd has been touted as a four-lane highway running parallel to the Southern Motorway between Manukau, Takanini, Papakura and Drury.
In recent years, the 21km corridor was billed as a safer, more reliable and accessible transport corridor to support an extra 120,000 people - a city the size of Dunedin - over the next 30 years.
Early last year, the Government made a firm commitment to fund and build Mill Rd, prompting a coalition of climate change activists to go to court to stop it.
Out of the blue 10 weeks ago, the Government did an about-turn and axed the four-lane highway for a two-lane safety-focused upgrade. To rub salt into the wound for South Auckland, it also scrapped the second stage of improvements to the Southern Motorway between Papakura and Drury.
Transport Minister Michael Wood gave the rising cost from $1.3 billion to $3.5b and climate commitments as reasons for not proceeding with the highway.
But a previous confidential paper, released by Wood and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, also shows the ministers were warned by the Ministry of Transport about the consequences of scaling back Mill Rd.
The Ministry of Transport paper said the shortened, two-lane version of Mill Rd at the north will improve access north of Papakura but will not have the capacity to support planned growth by Auckland Council and seven private plan changes along the corridor.
"Development of this reduced scope project would require careful balancing to ensure that the design of a new 2 lane Mill Rd addresses the immediate safety issues but is also able to be affordably expanded to 4 lanes in the future to provide for the surrounding growth areas," said the paper.
In other words, two lanes won't cut it. Four lanes are needed to support the urban and industrial/commercial growth in the South.
Wood did not say if he agreed or not with the warnings and consequences of scaling back Mill Rd, sticking with the official line that says the Government is investing $2.7 billion into the Drury area to unlock housing.
The spending included targeted upgrades to Mill Rd, three new rail stations with local transport connections, electrification of rail from Papakura to Pukekohe to speed up services and upgrading the Southern Motorway, he said.
"Our rail investments will help people leave the car at home, freeing up the roads for those that have to drive. If we continued the model of the last 50 years of focusing exclusively on roads, we would keep seeing the same results of more congestion for Aucklanders," said Wood, who has visited the area several times.
Funnily enough, at the same time the Government dashed the hopes of South Aucklanders by canning the Mill Rd highway, it gave the green light to two big new roads - the $830 Penlink project connecting Whangaparāoa with SH1, and the $1.5 billion Ōtaki to Levin project on SH1.
Of the $874m set aside for works at the northern end of Mill Rd and walking, cycling and other transport in Drury, Treasury advised Wood and Robertson in May to view the cost with a grain of salt because the plans were drawn up quickly with a high degree of uncertainty.
"All parties agree that significant further work is required to define the project before any funding certainty on the project and an investment decision can be made," said a Treasury report.
The NZ Transport Agency and KiwiRail are working up these projects for ministers to consider later this year, including the scope, costs, economic analysis and timelines, said NZTA's Robyn Elston, who oversees design and planning of the transport system.
One of the growth areas along Mill Rd is the peat fields in Takanini, where piles had to be driven 33m through the decomposed soil to hit solid ground to lay the foundations for Kauri Flats Primary School.
The school opened in 2017 when there was one development in Takanini for 1200 homes. Now there are several developments, including one for 193 houses directly behind the school. There will eventually be 3000 new homes in the school zone.
"It's like watching kids build Lego," says school principal Matt Williams.
He's referring to houses going up at breakneck speed, which, in turn, has seen the school roll skyrocket by 92 students to 306 since February. Five to 10 new students are currently enrolling every week.
Williams says the Ministry of Education is on the ball when it comes to planning for growth, including fast-tracking plans to expand the school for 700 students. A second primary school, Ngākōroa, is under construction along the Mill Rd corridor at West Drury and due to open next year.
His beef is the lack of a transport plan before housing developments got under way; he says many new homes are occupied by two to three families with two to four extra cars.
Every day there is congestion on Mill Rd near the school by 6.30am and traffic is at a standstill heading towards Manukau by 4pm.
"If you are a parent living in our zone, the train stations aren't within walking distance, there is a bus route but it's highly unreliable. Public transport is really expensive," he says.
Williams says it is ridiculous to cancel the highway, and will only cause more congestion and carbon emissions.
There are four sections to Mill Rd with the northern section between Redoubt Rd in Manukau and Alfriston Rd the only section to be designated, which allows the authorities to acquire properties and work to proceed.
The other three sections through Takanini, Papakura and Drury have been flagged, but face significant hurdles, not least the cost of buying properties, which have risen in value and in number, from 273 needed to 727.
Many of the 727 properties are along the proposed corridor through Papakura where a road through a new subdivision has been built to accommodate a four-lane highway before the corridor runs down Dominion Rd, a low-income neighbourhood on the east of town.
Brian Joyce, a kaumatua with the Papakura Marae who has lived on Dominion Rd with his wife, Lil, for 62 years, says he would be one of the few people who do not want the Mill Rd highway to proceed.
"I have no desire to move house. The thought of packing up and leaving would make me crazy," says the 87-year-old, who has also served his community as a borough and district councillor.
Manurewa-Papakura councillor Daniel Newman grew up in Papakura and recalls the fruit trees on the Joyce property as a child, but is angry with the Government's decision to retrench Mill Rd.
He says the Government is only funding two lanes of Mill Rd between Redoubt and Alfriston Rds to free up money to help pay for walking and cycling in Drury to accommodate more houses, which is the worst of both worlds.
"The whole thing is a dog's breakfast. It's like kids are in charge of the whiteboard and scribbling whatever spatial plan they can make up.
"It's totally inadequate and unworthy for the poor old South Auckland commuter," says Newman, who would like to see a bus corridor for one of the most car-dependent parts of Auckland.
Jenny Cooper, QC, of Lawyers for Climate Action, says she is sympathetic for people struggling with congestion in South Auckland but the reality is you cannot negotiate with climate change.
She is involved in All Aboard Aotearoa, the coalition made up of Lawyers for Climate Change, Generation Zero, Bike Auckland, Women in Urbanism, Movement and Greenpeace, which mounted the legal challenge against the Mill Rd highway.
The coalition believed the proposal was essentially inconsistent with Government policy and objectives for climate change, but dropped the legal action when the project was scaled back.
Cooper says the challenge now is to decarbonise Mill Rd and make far greater use of rapid buses and upgraded rail services.
"Building more roads is not the answer. A rapid transit bus network is probably a really important part of the solution, along with a bunch of other things.
"The Government and NZ Transport Agency have a huge challenge in finding a way to rethink urban transport to ensure we meet climate objectives," she says.
Auckland Deputy Mayor and Franklin councillor Bill Cashmore says if the Mill Rd project had gone to court the facts and figures would have shown congestion is what's causing carbon emissions.
"The people who are anti-Mill Rd are the privileged inner-city dwellers and not putting up with the transport poverty and pain of the south.
"Increasing congestion and carbon emissions will only result in worsening quality of life standards for business and livelihoods of those of us living and breathing in the fastest-growing area for population and economic growth in the country," he says.
Cashmore, who lives at Orere Point, 65km from the central city, says he used to get up at 6am to go to work, but with congestion getting worse he now gets up at 4am to be on the road at 4.45am and in the office by 6am. The other night it took two-and-a-half hours to drive home.
Most people in the south work in the south around the airport precinct, Manukau, East Tāmaki and Highbrook, says Cashmore, and transport poverty from congestion and lost productivity is a real factor in people's lives.
Another local headache, he says, is the growth in truck trips hauling aggregate from four quarries in Franklin and spill to three sites, including Brookby, which is taking half the spoil from the City Rail Link tunnel works.
There are currently 6000 to 7000 truck movements a day, rumbling through places like Papakura, chewing up the roads and adding to congestion as they trundle their way to the SH1 on-ramp at Manurewa.
Auckland supplies about half of the aggregate for the local building industry, most of which is carted on local roads from the Franklin quarries.
Cashmore says Mill Rd will give the trucks and other commercial vehicles a second route from SH1 to the heavy industrial areas in South Auckland.
He says Drury is planned to get 23,000 new houses for 60,000 people, Pukekohe is now the second-fastest-growing area in New Zealand; Patumahoe, Clarks Beach, Waiuku and the airport precinct are zoned for more housing and industrial/commercial growth.
Cashmore shares Williams' frustration with the lack of a transport plan.
The Government needs to be in step with the infrastructure for the South, and the West for that matter, and resolve problems around roading and rapid public transport going back 20 years, he says.
"There are a succession of decisions that have not been made in a long-term planning framework. That is what is desperately needed. If the politics is getting it wrong and slowing the whole nation down it is not a good outcome."
Papakura Local Board chairman Brent Catchpole captures that big-picture thinking at a local level.
"We understand the need to reduce carbon emissions and that we can't just keep on building roads, but thousands of our people are caught every day in gridlock.
"More trains, walkways and cycleways are welcome, but there are a lot of areas with poor public transport. It's not the city, where a bus goes by every 10 or 15 minutes."