We have until Monday to offer a view on how Auckland should be shaped for the next 30 years. It's a preposterous exercise but councils have to do it.

As it happened, the Auckland Council had to put its draft plan out for public discussion during the Rugby World Cup, which means the plan - or as Len Brown used to call it, "my vision" - can be read in the light of the transport debacle on opening night.

With boundless confidence in the capacity of a renovated railway the planners aim to refashion the city around it. Complete an inner-city loop, says the mayor, and we've got a metro.

Like many Aucklanders who had never set foot on the city's commuter trains, I was enticed by a free fare to the cup opener. Judging by the upraised eyes sweeping around the interior of the Britomart station I don't think many had ventured even that far previously.


"C'mon Auckland, get it right," someone remarked to me as we waited to be herded to a platform. His tone was one of hope over realism.

We were lucky. After waiting 15 minutes in packed carriages at Britomart with no idea why, we trundled off, passing some equally packed trains stalled on the tracks.

Our ordeal came after the match, waiting in a crowd for a bus home. Eventually a British visitor gave vent to a general sentiment. "Blawdy ridiculous," he said. "We've been here an hour and 20 minutes and we haven't left the stadium."

Bus companies were doing their utmost; six buses turned up every 10 minutes - I didn't know the city had so many - and they couldn't possibly clear that crowd in a reasonable time.

What happened that night was not the fault of bus or train operators, as an independent inquiry confirmed. It was the fault of planners who have lost a sense of proportion about what public transport can do in Auckland.

If you or I were planning Auckland's growth for the next 30 years we would probably start with the city we have - a sprawling suburban paradise blessed with warm weather, a big sheltered gulf with numerous bays and beautiful islands, two expansive harbours and two nearby oceans.

It was the sun and sea that brought me to Auckland 30 years ago and I think most of the million newcomers expected in the next 30 years will come for the same reason.

It is the reason Auckland has spread along its harbour and sea coasts for all of its history but especially after World War II when cars became affordable.


The harbour bridge was built in the 1950s, the motorways started in the 1960s and they are still being extended. Aucklanders are colonising the coast to Matakana, Maraetai and beyond.

But not for much longer if the Draft Auckland Plan is to be obeyed. Population growth is to be contained largely within present urban limits. Three-quarters of that additional million will be accommodated in higher density housing, preferably close to railway stations. The only areas to be zoned for new subdivisions will be in less appealing parts of the region.

Forget Matakana or Maraetai, the planners want more people in Onehunga and New Lynn.

But then, Auckland councils have been writing plans to contain urban sprawl for the past 40 years. King Canute was a realist by comparison.

Town planning cannot turn back the tide but it can cost a great deal of money in the meantime. Len's loop would leave little in the budget for all of Auckland's transport needs.

In part we have brought this on ourselves. We have grumbled so much about traffic congestion the problem has been inflated out of proportion. By comparison with big cities Auckland is not congested, the traffic is nearly always moving.


Minor congestion is the price we pay for the pleasures of living where we want and travelling in a private car. And despite the grizzling, despite an adequate public transport service, most of us still willingly drive.

Private travel is not only more pleasant and convenient, it remains quicker door to door and more reliable. When Len Brown has an appointment he takes his car.

I suspect the Auckland Council planners' carpark is usually full too. Congestion is just one excuse they invoke for dense, neatly drawn conceptions of how we should live.

There is really nothing wrong with sprawling along our lovely coast. The costs of extending services can be recovered from developers these days. The Auckland Plan invokes pollution, climate change, rising sea levels, peak oil. (Thirty years ago, it was expected oil would run out by now.) All sound like excuses for planners to design a city for the transport they like, rather than design transport for the city we love.