Hybrid Trains Derailed by NZTA

An Interview with Bill Cashmore

elocal caught up with Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore to discuss progress on Special Housing Areas, infrastructure issues and the likelihood of those promised hybrid trains!

It’s been a while now since the local body elections, what evidence are you seeing that the boards are working effectively for the people of Franklin? What are the main items of concerns on the agenda?

The Franklin Local board is probably one of the most effective local boards in the Auckland area. The board works as a team and agrees on strategies most of the time and I work really closely with that board. As a rule they are dealing with a lot of the local issues and there is a whole bunch of things under that umbrella including coastal restoration, walking tracks (they are dealing with the Waikato District Council on the Hunua Cycle Trail) and much more. Whereas I'm involved more in the regional projects such as the funding agreements with the Crown and that sort of work, which has to be rehashed again now.

Let's talk about the regional projects, how are they progressing?

We have a new government now, which has come in with a fresh face and has some new and different perspectives. At the end of the day, growth is great and Franklin will be receiving a lot more housing. Plans are underway for Pukekohe, Drury, Beachlands, Maraetai and it will soon be in Clevedon. Waiuku is getting some new bits and pieces. It's happening now and I think we just need to insure the crown is truly cognisant of the fact that this is not something we can wait for. We need the Crown-funded infrastructure to be put in now and that was my message to Mr. Twyford recently and again at a function with the Mayor. Auckland is growing now and if you want to do a Government Position Statement (GSA), let's get on with it and make it happen. A lot of this stuff is going to land in the next couple of months and then we will be able to change the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) to accommodate the Crown's focus and we will also need to change some of our land transport plans, but it will all be done with speed because we have the data and we have all the figures and facts around it.

Housing and infrastructure are a top-level issue top of the agenda for our region, has the new central government made a strong start to addressing this? What is their commitment to elevating a city bursting at the seams?

They are really focused on the fact that housing is a big problem, along with congestion and people's connectivity. This includes getting from A to B by walking, cycling, train, bus or car. We have to build faster options for all modes of transport. The housing crisis is not any one government's fault, it is the result of a whole generation in the making. There's been a lack of build and an escalation of price because of that lack of build. That's a double whammy for Joe Public in Auckland because houses become unaffordable and rent goes up so it's pushing people out. Therefore, we have a whole group in society that will never be able to afford a house and they'll have no ability to afford rent, if we are not careful, so we have to do a lot more, a lot quicker. The building and construction sector recognises that we need more social housing and we need the connectivity between home and work.

So what's being done about it?

The unitary plan accounts for 420,000 houses or dwellings. So that's 30 per cent in green fields and 70 per cent inside the existing urban boundaries. Some of the green fields are around existing coastal villages or rural settlements. What we've seen in Franklin to date is the green field stuff and a little bit of an expansion of the Belmont Heights subdivision on the western side of Pukekohe, as well as an expansion of Beachlands. What we need to see now, inside Metropolitan Auckland, is the vast uptake of brown field developments. Minister Twyford is talking about Hobsonville, which is a development in the upper-harbour area and they are building a whole community. So instead of building a school last, they built the school first, then the community centres and the parkways and the houses all went in and it's been a pretty successful model. They want to roll that out on a much greater scale. That could be a very positive thing because without that urban intensification, it makes the connectivity harder and harder because continued sprawl of urbanisation from Whangarei, to Hamilton and beyond would just bankrupt everybody.

First-hand Industry commentary has been made that the council are stonewalling developers in the special housing areas and ironically contributing to the housing crisis with unacceptable delays pushing out investors and buyers beyond contractual agreements. Hasn’t the council mantra been to make systems more efficient? Quote: “To help combat Auckland’s housing crisis, Special Housing Areas (SHAs) have been established across the city where fast-track development of housing (including affordable housing) can take place”

The fast tracking you have had through the SHA process in Franklin, Pukekohe, Belmont is a special case in point. At first, It was going nowhere, very quickly and as soon as It got SHA status, it now looks almost complete and that's been a pretty fast-tracked deal. The other developers I talk to in the green field's area of Franklin are satisfied with the process. It's not perfect and sometimes we have been a bit slow in agreeing to different things that need to happen with water care and Auckland transport but we are rounding up on those things all the time and 'consenting made easy' is being rolled out and that's about getting things done in live time. In the top end categories for the consenting, we are completing around 80 per cent within ten days so that is a really good outcome. There is progress being made but these things don't happen over night because you need to change the way people think and the way they work and there's a lot of technology that needs to be made smarter and better with it. It doesn't sometimes come that cheap and we are always physically and financially constrained.

Why has the SHA in Papakura been developed with only enough wastewater infrastructure for three persons per site when most of homes being built with four bedrooms?

If the waste water wasn't adequate, it wouldn't have been allowed to go ahead. The waste water infrastructure is designed to cater for the development per se. Whether it's based on three or four people, it is calculated on the maximum occupancy and also there will be a safety provision built in there. We provide infrastructure for developments, we don't do internal work for the wastewater, or reticulated or storm water. We will provide the big pipe that goes to the edge of the development, then the developer pays for all the internal stuff.

There is a massive amount of congestion, the productivity of Auckland must be suffering?

Depending on who you talk to congestion is costing between one and two billion dollars a year in the city and if you travel through town a lot, you get to see how packed things are and people are forced to leave for work earlier. For example, I get up before five in the morning, and by the time I get to Manurewa, for the motorway onramp, there are two queues of cars. Two years ago that wasn't the case. There are now 800 extra cars a week on the network and we haven't built a motorway network or public transport system that is fit for purpose and this needs to be done and this is where the Council and government needed to be closer a long time ago. So, we are playing a massive amount of catch up.

How are you working together?

The government provides the rail and the motorway and we provide the main arterials but at the end of the day its New Zealand Inc and agreements like the Auckland Transport Alignment Project are so important because they give you that thirty-year plan and also now with the new government and Mr. Twyford's input about more public transport has to come quickly. We need to get on with some certainty about funding these projects for the next ten years. We see the gridlock in Drury every day and the public has had a gutsful but they also need to think about changing the way they travel because you can't build roads to solve congestion. You just can't build them quick enough. You have to move people on mass, and whether that's by heavy rail or light rail, or by bus it doesn't matter, but there are options that people need to think really hard about.

How can the community help?

There is a 1.1 occupancy rate per car in Auckland, so if you could get that up to two, you have halved your congestion. That is the way you need to think about it. Sometimes, those sorts of solutions will only get pushed there by desperation. You will see more T2 and T3 lanes in Auckland in the near future and more dedicated bus lanes and it will probably get harder and harder for people to continue travelling in single occupancy in cars and it may be more expensive. However, for many people in our area, that is there only option because they don't have any public transport. There are no buses coming out where I live, for instance. We have a multi-agency working with the Crown stepping through this. The whole operation and congestion charges is very complex. You have to make it fair and equitable. It's not about raising funds, it's about reducing congestion. In some cities they've tried and succeeded and in other's they have failed.

Can you give us examples?

A positive case is in Singapore, where they've built up a surge of gantries over the years, I think it's about 80 they have there. Those gantries change the toll or fee that you pay depending on the time of day and traffic. They are now doing work on a GPS-based system that will be automated and they hope to land that in 2020/21 and trial it. The intellectual property behind that piece of kit is pretty sophisticated but the country of Singapore has committed to sharing that with us at a cost and it's something we can introduce here but it would require legislation. Again, it could not be mileage based or user based. It would have to be based on how much you are contributing to the congestion. There has to be an equity basis to that and that's where we are at now. We have done stage one and looked at the options and we know that congestion is only going to get worse, there is only so much we can do. Public Transport is the only real option. How do we help people change the way they travel? So you can have more public transport, or subsidise it more from the council and government. We could have a 70 per cent subsidy rather than 50/50 to make it more affordable for more people. You also need to ask what technology is going to start coming into the transport sector? For example, the independently-driven automotive cars, like Uber, might solve a certain percentage of the problem. It's coming at us right now and we are currently working with the government but where this has fallen down in the past, however, is when politicians have run out of back bone to put it forward.

What progress do you expect on the Mill road extension this year? SHA developments are depending on this going though.

Mill Road is absolutely critical because it is serving a bit area and it is equally important that it is also where all the aggregate comes from the local quarries are all within a very short trucking distance to Mill Road. I certainly emphasise this a lot. The government is reviewing whether Mill Road continues to get a hundred per cent government subsidy or it gets the normal government assistance package for council lay roads, of 50 odd per cent. That is a conversation that still needs to be had and that will be part of the government policy statement on transport and part of the new ATAP agreement to be landed in the next month to a couple of months.

When will see the first sod being turned?

By the end of March this year we will have the decision on who will pay for what and the consenting and land packages are nearly complete for stage one and I imagine it will be lights on later this work season.

What is the ETA on development?

This will depend on the design of the road. Those things don't get built quickly. There is a five year build frame for stage one and by the time you get to Drury, It could be ten to fifteen years. In the mean time the capacity on the motorway has been increased and there is more public transport coming into Papakura and there is a station in Drury and Paerata.

Do Franklin commuters have sufficient choice around their mode of transport? If not, what does sufficient choice for Franklin commuters look like and when will that choice become available? Where are the hybrid trains?

We need a greater bus connectivity and train connectivity. Once we get electrification out to Pukekohe station, that will improve things and we need those new stations in Paerata and Drury as those developments come on stream. One great think about Franklin and Papakura is there will be more employment and that will be a very important part of everyone's lives. Because you can work, live and play in the same area. The council has voted for extra hybrids and it has to go in front of the NZTA which is a part funder of this. The NZTA board still have to make a decision but they have said that they are going to build extra electrification to Pukekohe and will buy more trains to supply that load. My argument is that doesn't help Pokeno or Tuakau. So the hybrids in my view are still the best option. So, they won't allow extension of the network south, they will allow for the extension north-west and also it allows for us, when we connect the central rail link in to the existing line, it means the trains can stay running. I don't think that's being understood that well. The last thing is it adds resilience to the network because if you get an electricity failure, the trains can keep running because they have that hybrid capacity. We have to convince the NZTA of that and they initially haven't agreed with it.

What personal projects to you hope to see come to fruition during 2018?

The Mayor wants me to carry on doing the transport work. I also want to see the projects up and running in the fastest possible time. The North-western bus way and uplifters for economy all need to be started soon. I also am working on housing and there are some answers for some of this but we need to have the courage to move forward with a bit more pace. So with housing we need to have a longer term bill. We need to build social housing to keep the capacity going and we need to embrace new technology and smarten up with new processes like 'Tall Timber' which is coming out of Scandinavia and can help multiple storeys which are lighter and stronger than concrete. We need to embrace new technology faster and we haven't been doing that. We need to.

Last year, Auckland Council voted in principal to adopt a Maori seat at the next local body elections in 2019, did you support this and why? Can every other ethnicity expect to also have a seat created for them?

I didn't support the principal and as a council we would need to change legislation for us to do that. As a council, we advocate strongly for that and whether we do or not would be up to them and whether we run with it, it would be up to us to discuss in a democratic process. There would be a public consultation around it and there is always a three-year vote for your local council. You would have to think about whether other ethnicities should be allowed a seat also. My personal feeling is that we are all Kiwis and we have a democratic process and our system is pretty good, it just needs to be reinforced. Different people have different opinions on this and people should support what they believe in and a lot of people believe that iwi should have special rights of reputation politically and that's their call. I personally support democracy.

Is there anything more you would like to add?

The new government is keen to move at quite a bit of pace and that is going to be tested in the months ahead and there may be some changes to what has already been agreed but there is nothing to be afraid of as it doesn't mean the work stops. Nothing is free but with 10-year time frames we should be able to complete projects cheaper per square metre than we did in the past with every project being in its own little silo.