Red Alert

Archive for the ‘roads’ Category

Hey Steven Joyce – wanna see a real Road of National Significance?

Posted by on November 14th, 2012

This is the road to the Parliament in Nay Pyi Taw (Naypyidaw), the purpose-built new capital of Burma. It is 20 lanes wide – 10 each way and you could land a 747 on it – perhaps its original purpose? Except that it is a little undulating. And it clearly fixes congestion – there is no traffic! Or is that due to the fact that you need permission to visit Nya Pyi Taw? Whatever the situation, this is clearly a road of national significance. I think Steven Joyce lacks ambition for NZ……

Smart Transport- Day Two

Posted by on August 20th, 2011

Posting from day two of the Labour/ Green co-hosted Smart Transport event in Wellington. Focus today is on groups working regionally or nationally on specific campaign issues.

Couple of stand out issues. Almost everyone has noted the difficulty they have had engaging with Steven Joyce on issues. Anyone who has observed his response to any suggestion of alternatives to roading projects will not be surprised by that. But secondly, so much of what is being discussed here is about providing people with genuine choice when the government is instead focused on entrenching the use of cars, and ignoring that it is becoming less and less affordable (not to mention the environmental, urban design, and quality of life issues.) Case in point- the CBD rail link!

And a final word to one group in particular- Rob George from the campaign for better transport in Hamilton is who driving a huge campaign for Waikato trains. Hard slog, but you wouldn’t find a more passionate campaigner. Now he just needs some political will behind him…..

Govt bypasses huge West Auckland town centre

Posted by on August 9th, 2011

We haven’t learned how to do big urban development projects very well in New Zealand. We lack property developers committed to good urban design. We lack the capital markets to fund big projects. Neither central government nor most councils have learned how to unleash the creative potential of the private sector when it comes to big urban developments.

Solving these problems has become more urgent now we have a unified Auckland that aspires to building a world class city. Which is why the circumstances around the new Westgate development in Auckland’s north-west are particularly unfortunate. Two government agencies, Transport Agency NZ and Transpower, have been obstructing a new town centre development tipped to generate 10,000 jobs and increase the country’s GDP by $2 bn a year by 2051.

The development borders on the Te Atatu electorate where I am based. Those jobs and the impressive planned new town centre, will be a huge benefit not only to the people of Massey but all of the West.

I am amazed how NZTA has refused to build motorway ramps to service the northern end of the new town centre even though the Council has offered to pay for them. NZTA is stuck in the mindset that the new Hobsonville motorway and extension to Kumeu opened with fanfare on the weekend is fundamentally a bypass to allow people from the north to get to the airport more quickly, and bugger the idea that it should support the huge new commercial hub being built at Westgate.

Transpower has also been a nightmare for the development to deal with. The high voltage power cable obviously has to be underground but they have sheeted home the full cost to the development, causing numerous delays while refusing to sign a contract that gives certainty. Meanwhile the cost has gone from $5 m to around $20 m.

The developer NZRPG are the only NZ-owned  firm who do these big retail developments. They have spent more than five years putting together the plans in conjunction with the Council, not just plonking a new mall out there but designing a town centre based on good urban design principles. They have put $228 m of their own money into it. The least the Government could do is act supportive.

That is why I have written to John Key asking him to intervene and tell NZTA and Transpower to pull their heads in. After all, it is in his electorate.

In Question Time today Steven Joyce said NZTA was in talks with the developer and progress was being made on the question of the ramps. About bloody time after five years of obstruction.

The truckies are stirring

Posted by on April 15th, 2011

Three years ago, leading into the 2008 election campaign, truckies staged a national strike, blocking the roads in protest at the then Minister of Transport’s announcement of an increase in road user charges.

It was Road Transport Forum (RTF) driven and many trucking operators put their employee drivers on the road that day to boost the numbers, which is a bit like a union paying union members to strike. It was timed well, and had an effect.  Transport Minister Annette King set up a road user charges review group which reported back in 2009.

Now parliament is considering a Road User Charges Bill that has got the truckies up in arms again because it proposes to change the definition of licence weight from nominated gross weight to a definition based on the maximum permissible on-road weight. 

The truckies are saying that this could mean increases in RUC charges for around 70% of the industry, forcing unproductive changes that could have impacts on safety, on damage to our roads, and financial consequences for SMEs. Basically, the big trucks will get off lightly, while the smaller trucks will pay more. 

In a fascinating turn of events, truckies have told the government that they are organising to protest again and this time around they will be better organised than in 2008. One operator has set up a website which is worth a look.

There’s a split in the industry. Many are supportive of the New Zealand’s unique road user charging system, which is now attracting international interest as virtually every modern economy develops and trials technology to implement similar direct charging for heavy vehicles. 

There’s some really smart modern operators in New Zealand now taking up the opportunity new technology offers to buy road user charges on-line and maximise efficiency. 

Then you have the RTF, who continue to insist that road user charges should be paid through fuel excise and who appear to treat modern technology with suspicion. 

Never thought I would be so interested in trucks.

The Debt Deception

Posted by on March 8th, 2011

As this is my first blog post since the quake, can I preface my comments by acknowledging the devastating loss suffered by too many Cantabrians and their families, of ther lives and homes shattered, and our shared determination to everything necessary to support their rebuilding and renewal.

In this immediate post-quake period we are all exercising restraint – both in the quantity and tone of poitical comment.  But the debt question has in fact been brought into starker relief by the quake, so I am moved to observe the following.   

Before the quake, National would have you believe that New Zealand had a huge international debt problem, and that the solution to that was for the Government to compress spending and services to pay down this debt. 

It was always a half truth: 90% of that debt is private debt and only 10% of it is public (government) debt.

The second deception was that this high debt was “Labour’s fault”.   The facts are that in 2008 net debt (including NZ Super Fund assets) were in surplus to the tune of 4.7% of GDP.   Virtually no government in the western world saw the collapse coming in advance, but at the least the former Labour Government had the books in strong shape.

Post quake, we are all confronted by huge costs. Families have lost loved ones.  Homes and businesses destroyed will take time to rebuild and renew.  Infrastructure is hugely dislocated.  Much of the CBD will have to come down.  Hopefully there will be proper consultation and an eye to the heritage that makes Christchurch unique.

The financial costs are also huge – in Treasury’s February Indicators, around  $12 billion (later estimates put it around $15 billion),  of which some $5 will fall to the Crown because it is not covered by EQC, its reinsurers or private insurance.  Around a further $5 billion in lost Crown revenue will occur due to the reduced tax take from decimated business activity and personal earnings in Christchurch.  (I will blog further on the “growth gap” shortly).

So, to use the PM’s very round numbers – there is $10 billion for the public to find over the next four years or so. 

Some of that can legitimately be redirected from other investments – for example the “holiday highway” north of Auckland – to help fund Canterbury roading costs.

Mssrs Key and English believe the rest can be borrowed – that is, placed on the international debt pile – and say that is now acceptable becasue it is a “one off”.   They are so far dismissing suggestions of any additional support for Canterbury through the tax system.  (Raising the EQC Levy only restores its capacity to deal with future disasters, rather than this one).

Why then was the international debt pile so huge that reducing it by slashing Government spending and prolonging the recession was necessary a month ago, but borrowing the lot is no problem now?

Forgive me, but could it be that the answer is not economic but political?  Could it be that reducing government expenditure pre-quake was the price of Budget 2009 and 2010’s – largely upper income – tax cuts; and that even Canterbury’s needs have been trumped by the need to protect National’s traditional voter base from even a temporary reduction in these tax breaks?

I feel unclean even thinking that.  But the question has to be asked: why not expect the whole community to share part of the cost through the revenue system?  Even the NZ Herald agrees with that.

MartyG on PPPs

Posted by on December 2nd, 2010

I guess it’s all in a day’s work, but MartyG on The Standard misintrepeted my position on PPPs in this recent post.

1.  His opposition to PPPs appears to be as blindly ideologically based as National’s blind ideological support for them.  Labour’s policy before and since the last election has been based on providing the best value for New Zealand taxpayers, regardless of ideology. 

2.  The vital point of difference between National and Labour on this issue is that National is committed to the private sector first and foremost, while Labour is committed to providing infrastructure in the way that works best for New Zealanders.

3.  That is why Annette King, when she was Transport Minister, set up a working group to look at the effectiveness of PPPs, particularly in relation to large projects like Waterview. 

4.  Labour has yet to be convinced of the value of PPPs for any particular project, but we are willing to weigh up the evidence. When considering the (de)merits of a potential PPP project we would take a range of critical factors into account.  I mentioned two in my recent speech:

“The project scale must be right and the PPP benefits must outweigh any increase in cost of capital”

5  Marty G and I should agree that this sets a high hurdle, because the Crown can always borrow at lower (sovereign) interest rates.  The offsetting benefits would have to be very clear, large enough in net terms (after deducting overheads like the cost of tolling), and not available by other means (e.g. non-PPP contracting) to clearly outweigh this cost of capital disadvantage.  

6.  It is also obviously necessary that whoever is evaluating a potential PPP for the state has to have the expertise and resources to really test the proposal and establish rigorous accountability.  I have not changed my view that setting a $25 million threshold for compulsory consideration of PPPs by all government departments, as Bill English has done, is ridiculous and bound to lead to bad decisions.

7.  Labour also has a longstanding policy that there needs to be a non-toll alternative before any toll-based transport projects could be approved.   That was reinforced recently in our tighter rules around foreign direct investment in monopoly strategic infrastructure.

8. Labour is not soft on privatisation. Our opposition to private prisons and SOE sales underlines that.  My recent speech explicitly ruled out any dilution of any Crown equity in any state asset or existing subsidiary.  That bright line test restates our strong “no sale'” policy that provides ongoing strong differentiation form National.

Labour is committed to an active and strong state sector.  It takes seriously its responsibility to adopt policies and projects that deliver sustainable value to Kiws.  Clear thinking and evidence-based policy are even more important when funds are tight, if we are going to get this economy going again.

No brains for guessing who will stand in Rodney

Posted by on October 27th, 2010

It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion: Steven Joyce will stand for Rodney now that Lockwood Smith has announced he will stand only on the National Party List at the 2011 General Election.

Key has been grooming his Minister of Motorways for this role since National was elected in 2008. It’s now clear why the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Party Significance is being fast-tracked. Why otherwise would a road with a rate of return of less than a dollar be given priority?

But just to show that there are better cost effective solutions to improving this road have a look at this. Transport Blog has a thorough analysis of the economics of the holiday highway.

Hawkes Bay robbed of $81m

Posted by on April 11th, 2010

One of the greatest robberies (and I do not exaggerate) perpetrated by this government is the theft of money raised locally through the implementation of the 5c/litre regional fuel levy.  In Hawkes Bay the amount raised and sitting in the Regional Roading Fund was around $81m.  The HB Regional Council had drawn up a regional roading plan that outlined five strategically important roading projects that this money was going to fund. 

Purely co-incidently, two of these roads are being built as part of the government’s economic stimulation package, but the others are not.  Two of the roads scheduled for a complete upgrade as part of the regional development plan would have had a significant impact on diverting heavy trucks away from the scenic Marine Parade and onto the current back route to the port.  The Marine Parade is the jewel in Napier’s tourism crown, and yet amazed tourists – and locals – have their pleasant strolls around the Art Deco icons and earthquake memorials interrupted by thundering trucks on the way to the port.  Amazing.

So where has this money gone?  From the Regional Roading fund into the National Roading Fund.  So money raised in Hawkes Bay from Hawkes Bay residents could well be used to build roads in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch.  If Hawkes Bay is to grow as a region then it needs to ensure that its roading infrastructure is world class.  How is this to happen if the government steals our money? We want our money back Mr Joyce.!

You know what really annoys the hell out of me – the people of the Bay are STILL paying this 5c per litre Regional fuel levy.! 

PS – there are also rumours that the government is going to close down the Gisborne to Napier rail link.  So much for regional development.!