Since our last issue, a lot has happened, but nothing has progressed. Considering that the election campaign and the formation of the government consumed much of the media attention, we reckon we did pretty well to maintain media presence. Thank you to TVNZ who ran articles on Seven Sharp (http://bit.ly/2heEWbA) and their Labour Weekend bulletin.
We’ve been wondering what we could include in our next issue. We get to Wednesday each week and wonder what is worthy of note.
Yup, Kowhai Park is open.
Yup, the Sandspit Road pedestrian crossing is being relocated to the traffic lights.
Yup, they could have done it at the same time as the Kowhai Park upgrade.
Yup, Auckland Transport are proposing a railway-type barrier across Elizabeth Street.
Yup, we still don’t know who’s been chosen to investigate and design the major upgrade of the intersection.
All the aforementioned was meant to known by September.
Leading up to the election, we felt pretty chuffed with our achievements. National said that they would fix Hill Street within 18 months, NZ First made fixing Hill Street an election pledge, and Labour said that fixing Hill Street was a ‘no-brainer.’ Now that there’s been a change of government, when can we expect progress?
One would think that a Labour Mayor and a Labour-led government would speed things up, especially considering NZ First made Hill Street such a priority. The Greens haven’t really delved into Warkworth issues.
When a coalition agreement is bland on detail, often feelers are sent out to either soften expectations or test the water. Only days after the announcement of a change of government, a NZ Herald article comprehensively covered The Spinoff’s Simon Wilson’s take on Auckland transport issues (http://bit.ly/2y5Nd4M). Of note is this gem:
Take Warkworth, where state highway one and the access roads to it are absurdly inefficient, congested and dangerous. The government has allowed this situation to remain for years, which has helped build the case for an entire new highway from Puhoi, past Warkworth and on to Wellsford.
Will the new government continue to tolerate that approach, or will it insist that problem spots like the Warkworth intersections be fixed much more quickly and cheaply, without having to become part of massive new highway projects?
The Spinoff and Greater Auckland have Labour’s ear and it shows.
The new transport minister is Labour’s Phil Twyford, supported by associate ministers Shane Jones and Julie Anne Genter.
Phil Twyford’s focus so far has been integrating his Housing and Urban Development with his Transport portfolios to create synergies. He has also indicated shelving big roading projects, such as the East-West Link, to fund many smaller projects. New MP Marja Lubeck will be pressuring him to deliver on easier fixes, such as Hill Street, followed by turning soil on Penlink.
Julie Anne Genter has also asked questions about the feasibility of the second stage of the Puhoi-Wellsford Northern Motorway bypassing the Dome Valley (http://bit.ly/2zgvQjl.) Her expertise has been focused on delivering bang-for-your-buck, which Hill Street certainly can deliver.
Shane Jones will want a motorway and rail all the way to Northport. Warkworth and Matakana-based NZ First MPs Tracey Martin and Jenny Marcroft will want urgency to fix Warkworth’s congested intersections.
The problem is, NZTA surrendered the Hill Street intersection and the Matakana Link over to Auckland Transport. Local developers have been dealing with Auckland Transport, expecting them to wriggle money from NZTA.
Will this government be more hands on, taking the lead rather than delegate to Auckland Transport?
Labour will be aware that National’s Opposition strategy will be to destroy NZ First and the Greens to regain power. The support parties will want to claim credit for quick and easy wins. Hill Street ticks all the boxes.
Auckland Transport are short-funded and, even when they are given money, they take their time to waste it. So when developers are eager to make hay while the sun shines, they might as well accept that their best laid plans are going to rot.
The problem for Warkworth is that much of its future roading relies on developments in the wettest parts of Warkworth. We’ve been spun that this link road and that collector is going to fix Hill Street, yet the million-dollar-plus business cases show that they won’t.
When the road alignments are revealed, they will favour the developments rather than through traffic. The future urban zoning was fast-tracked to accommodate the new infrastructure but taxpayer money has been given to Auckland Transport to fund those roads.
Warkworth was founded in 1853 as an industrial town, supplying timber, concrete, and quarried materials to build Auckland. Drive around Warkworth and it is obvious which parts have the most desirable climate and soil for urban residential while the less desirable is used as heavy commercial and industrial. The rest is boggy hinterland.
Warkworth has the wettest urban area in the North Island, with on average 1606mm of rainfall a year. The population has pretty much grown to service the surrounding area.
When the council sent out feelers for its Transport For Urban Growth – and other parts of the city said no to urban expansion – a handful of landowners on the urban fringe of Warkworth put their hands up. Now, they say that Warkworth will grow from 4,500 to over 25,000 residents.
It’s not a case of build it and they will come. The future urban areas aren’t well thought through. Just look at the new subdivisions. Each requires extensive earthworks and has a stormwater lake. How is that ‘affordable housing’?
What is more likely to happen is that, for every house built in Warkworth, two or three will be built closer to the Eastern Beaches. The traffic growth on Matakana and Sandspit Roads reflect this trend. People prefer a view of the sea or a park rather than an industrial estate.
But the Auckland Transport Alignment Project prioritises the Western Collector over the Sandspit Link. That makes the construction order of the new arterial roads look like it is favouring less desirable developments over the more desirable. It doesn’t make sense. And what happens when the market cools? What happens if the developments go bust?
We also have this crazy situation where most of the Central Business District will be overshadowed and crowded out by retirement homes and a new commercial centre will pop up at the end of the motorway. Traffic heading to the Eastern Beaches will face a new gauntlet of congested intersections.
Boom or bust, Hill Street remains.
When our core team got together in mid-2016, we had a simple goal and set about identifying the reasons why Hill Street hadn’t been fixed. At the time, Auckland Transport had internal disarray from corruption investigations, the new business association was finding its feet, the Auckland Unitary Plan had a way to go, NZTA was focussed on the Puhoi-Warkworth motorway, and local body elections were ramping up.
The conclusion was daunting. Warkworth wasn’t on the radar and there was a co-ordinated misinformation campaign about what would fix Hill Street. Basically, many believed that every other pet project would fix Hill Street instead of tackling the intersection itself.
Warkworth looked like a joke. There was disunity and positioning by politicians, developers, and vested interests. At one meeting to discuss Hill Street, key people weren’t invited, and the focus was hijacked by someone pushing their pet project.
Our message couldn’t be more transparent. Just fix the intersection first. Stop having silly and pointless meeting after meeting with officials with no budget, no influence, and no negotiating position.
When our team meets with the local MPs and ministers later this month, the focus is clear. We should let the new government take charge as, ultimately, the buck stops with them. It shouldn’t matter who turns the first sod or cuts the ribbon.
Thank you for subscribing and thank you to donors and volunteers who have got our campaign into full swing. Please contact us if you would like to donate, volunteer, or have any suggestions.
To make a donation, our bank account details are:
Account Name: “FixHillStreetNow Action Group” Bank Account Number: 12-3095-0042062-00.