Keeping up with the new Jafas

by Graham Adams / 22 February, 2017

As more than 800 people are added to Auckland’s population each week, transport, housing and sewerage just can’t cope.

The morning the NZ Herald told us that Auckland’s Waterview Connection tunnel will use lights at its entrances to control traffic and raised the spectre of gridlock at our newest transport hub, I opened my Auckland Council rates notice to be reminded that Auckland is growing by 825 residents and 825 cars in a “typical week”.

No matter what Bill English says about “the challenges of success”, the unfortunate fact is that we can’t build infrastructure quickly enough to cope with the tide of humanity (and vehicles) pouring into the city. Immigration into Auckland is on such a vast scale that it’s become a challenge we simply can’t meet.

Our roads can’t cope; our sewerage can’t cope; and we can’t build enough houses to meet the increasing demand. The council rates notice points out that 278 new dwellings are needed a week — or 14,500 a year — but even at peak output we can’t build anything like that number. (A Treasury report in September 2016 indicated that between June 2015 and June 2016, just under 9000 homes were added to the market in Auckland – but 16,748 buyers started looking for homes.)

Some commentators have said that the Waterview tunnel’s engineers haven’t supplied adequate ventilation and for that reason traffic lights will have to be used to make sure too many drivers and passengers aren’t trapped in noxious fumes if cars come to a standstill inside the tunnel. The New Zealand Transport Agency says the allegation about ventilation is incorrect, and it seems more likely that the planners simply underestimated surging traffic demand. Whatever the reason, it appears New Zealand’s largest roading project — costing $1.4 billion — is not going to remove congestion in the area.

NZTA Auckland highway manager Brett Gliddon admitted exactly that: “[The tunnel] is not a means of removing congestion altogether, especially in peak periods, which is no different to other major cities across the world.”

Ah, that old chestnut!… Auckland is a major world city so congestion is the price we have to pay for footing it with the big boys internationally.

Unfortunately, Auckland isn’t a major world city and jamming 825 new residents into it each week isn’t going to make it one. All we are going to end up with is a city that is unliveable on many of the measures that once made the city pleasant — easy accessibility, beautiful, swimmable harbours and decent housing for all.



* The delusions of Aucklanders

* Immigration: How much is too much?



I have never thought of Aucklanders as particularly fatalistic but we seem to be just that when it comes to accepting staggering population increases. Auckland’s Unitary Plan allows for 422,000 new dwellings to be built over the next 23 years to house a projected population increase of one million. Apart from the toll on housing and traffic congestion, has anyone stopped to consider how much more excrement will pour forth from the projected million new inhabitants to swamp our sewers? And, with more intense development, whether it’s possible to retrofit our struggling existing system to deal with it? Humans produce approximately 125-250 grams of faeces per day, so a million more of us crammed into Auckland are going to produce at least another 125,000kg a day. Or 125 tonnes. That is, literally, a shitload, each and every day.

According to a Herald investigation, 1 million cubic metres of waste water and raw sewage — the equivalent of 400 Olympic swimming pools — is already pouring into the Waitemata Harbour each year. Overflows around the inner-city suburbs happen almost every time it rains.

We can look forward to an increasing number of “No Swimming” signs at many of our beaches as the price we pay for our swelling population and more intense housing development. 

No one has ever explained to me why the trade-off between our environment and immigration numbers is acceptable or desirable. I don’t understand why the Greens aren’t jumping up and down about it. It’s true that the Greens policy includes limiting immigration but if their campaigning for the Mt Albert by-election is an indicator, they’d rather talk about cycleways and cleaner transport. 

Economically, increased population has increased GDP (and it will increase further with more citizens) but all those newcomers haven’t improved our per capita income much at all — a bigger pie divided by many more people doesn’t make anyone less hungry.

And despite the wishes of those locked out of the current insane housing market, more intensive housing won’t bring down prices either when land is so expensive and the dominant suppliers keep the prices of building materials way higher than in the US or Australia.

It’s possible that the Australian economy will roar back into life at some point and suck New Zealanders in bigger numbers across the Tasman again, but Bill English’s government is committed to keeping the floodgates open any which way. As Labour’s Phil Twyford pointed out to the Minister for Building and Housing, Nick Smith, in mid-February in Parliament, Bill English thinks “rapid population increase is the right kind of problem to have”.

That way English can brag about GDP growth, even as life becomes harder for the Queen City’s inhabitants.

Nick Smith has been trumpeting the Waterview Connection as evidence of his government’s commitment to improving infrastructure for the ballooning population. And, if he’s really lucky, it will run smoothly for a time but more than 800 cars added to the city’s total each week means it won’t be smooth for long. At the very best, we are merely buying time. It won’t be long before the tunnel becomes an expensive symbol, not of foresight, but of a city endlessly chasing its own tail.

NZTA’s Gliddon is already on the back foot a month or so before the tunnel opens. He’s right that lights are an essential way of limiting “the time traffic spends queuing inside tunnels” but it’s hardly reassuring for him to add: “Travel information and social media would also be important to spread travel times, and information about alternative routes.”

Alternative routes already, huh? How does that square with NZTA’s website claiming: Completing a motorway ring route around the city, [the Waterview Connection] will unlock Auckland’s potential to become a truly world-class city”?

It’s time the government admitted that we simply can’t build sewerage, roads or housing quickly enough to cope with the onslaught of the new Jafas. By election time, that’s going to be even more painfully apparent.

By September, another 25,000 people and cars will be crammed into our city.


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