Hard News by Russell Brown

Declaring war

Knowing John Banks, he probably was thinking of George W. Bush when he invited his enemies to "bring it on" this week. But at least Bush had men with guns for enemies. The mayor of Auckland was declaring his war with Transit New Zealand.

Banks' problem is that Transit, whose statutory duty is to keep the nation in motion, is so far dissatisfied with the Auckland City Council's half-assed planning around the proposed series of annual V8 supercar races through crucial points in the Auckland roading network.

Transit isn't alone. North Shore City has also flagged objections to the race plan, earning its mayor an attack in a silly and abusive press statement from Banks. The latest body to earn the wrath of our mayor is the Auckland Regional Council, which is also of the belief that Auckland City's planning is inadequate and wants resource consent hearings to be adjourned until some better work has been done on potential traffic problems.

The most interesting issue here is the future of the Victoria Park flyover extension. Transit's recent work on the Auckland motorway network has focused on choke-points on the CBD fringe: Grafton Gully has been reshaped and is now vastly more efficient. A new off-ramp from the North-Western motorway to the Northern is under construction, and will mean traffic doesn't have to leave one motorway to join the other. An extra lane is being built for the Southern motorway around Spaghetti Junction. This is all good stuff: effective road spending.

And probably the next choke-point to be targeted is the two-lane Victoria Park flyover - probably through the addition of an extra lane each way (the bold idea of a park tunnel appears to have disappeared). But expanding the flyover would mean the construction of permanent support columns in Beaumont Street, along one side of Victoria Park. This, unfortunately, is part of the proposed course for the annual V8 racing. It would be difficult to have both, and so - unbelievably - it appears Auckland's mayor has now declared himself opposed to a very necessary improvement to Auckland's roading network because it would interfere with his damn V8 race.

I know there's support for the racing, and that it will attract crowds, and it would be great if some way could be found of holding it. But that won't happen unless the council stops glossing over the issues and actually serves the public properly. There still seems to be no clear plan, for example, to address the fact that a major New Zealand Post depot lies inside the race course.

If you happened to be in the Auckland CBD between 5pm and 6pm yesterday, you will have seen how even minor obstructions - and there will be weeks of those with the race - can back up and create gridlock through the city. It's simply unacceptable for Banks to sit in his office firing out press releases attacking organisations that are actually doing their jobs.

Meanwhile, in this month's Metro magazine, Matt Philp makes what is the definitive assessment so far of Banks' $3 billion Eastern Transport Corridor plan. He comes to the same conclusion as most commentators: that Transit had good reason to place the road near the bottom of its priority list for Auckland; that there's no obvious way of funding the thing; and that the whole project could simply collapse. (This morning's Herald expands on another issue raised in the Metro story - where on earth do we find the skilled labour to build it?)

But my favourite part of the Metro story - because it's so John Banks - occurs when Philp queries the startling claim in an op-ed piece published under the byline of Banks and Manukau mayor Barry Curtis in the Herald, that "over the whole corridor, the benefits, including social multipliers, could reach $46 billion":

Metro: "How did you arrive at that sum, of more than $40 billion of benefits?"
Banks: "I've never used that figure."

Yes, that's our mayor. Unfortunately.