What the….? Another new plan to solve Tauranga’s transport problems?

What the….? Another new plan to solve Tauranga’s transport problems?

Western Bay Councils, Smartgrowth and NZTA are undertaking yet another round of planning to try and develop a plan for Transport in the WBOP. This is following the rejection by Central Government of the plan submitted as part of BOPRC’s Regional Land Transport Plan. The reason for this rejection is that it did not align with new government priorities around multi-modal solutions and was too focused on road capacity.

A series of confidential council meetings have been held, along with private briefings for selected businesses. These briefings have completely excluded the wider community and most business organisations and transport stakeholders.

Councils have paid three sets of consultants to have a bash at a new 30 year “Urban Form and Transport Initiative” (UFTI)  that they think will deliver a plan acceptable to Government to gain funding.

Greater Tauranga and others have been active in advocating for bold and evidenced-based transport and urban form solutions. Below we provide our views on the single public session about UFTI held last week, our review of recent consultants’ reports made public, and our knowledge of the disjointed series of planning attempts that have occurred to date

1  PROCESS IS A MAJOR PROBLEM

Nearly two years ago, we were told that “Tauranga City Council, SmartGrowth, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, and the NZ Transport Agency were working together to develop a 30-year direction for the city’s transport network.”* This was dubbed the Tauranga Transport Plan.

Expert consultants were employed who ran a massive engagement process with stakeholders and the wider public. The results of this engagement showed that the vast majority of Tauranga people wanted a multi-modal transport system based around a much better public transport system. Central government and the Minister of Transport have also called for this, NZTA is pushing for this approach, and council staff and consultants have repeatedly told councillors it is exactly what is needed. However, what was ultimately put forward in the 2018 Regional Land Transport Plan did not reflect this new direction.

Stakeholders were repeatedly assured that staff from all the agencies have worked together closely on the Tauranga Transport Plan, that the plan will tie into Councils’ decisions about urban development (the Tauranga Urban Strategy), and that the plan formed the basis for a new collaborative approach to transport in the sub-region. Yet now we’re told we need another, completely new approach and a brand new plan to achieve… the same old goal of a “30 to 50 year plan for transport” in the sub-region (David Cunliffe, Stakeholder Strategies Ltd).

Added to this confusion is the fact that there is a conflict between the stated goals of the Tauranga Transport Plan and the Smartgrowth Future Development Strategy – not to mention the Public Transport Blueprint and other transport plans for key highways into the City and new developments such as Te Tumu and Tauriko.

The goal of UFTI seems to be to tie all these strategies and plans together. Then presumably feed new transport projects into a revised BOP Regional Land Transport Plan.

A big concern is that the Tauranga Transport Plan seems to have been forgotten. Yet it is the 30 year multi-modal plan that councillors and residents have already backed in principle.

We believe that it is time for councillors to stop hiring more and more consultants to write more and more strategies and plans. They should:

a) Agree on a long-term, integrated masterplan for the whole entire-region – based, for example, on the TTAP proposal (see #2 below) which has been supported by many business and community organisations, and;

b) Complete the city transport plan that has already been agreed with the public of Tauranga (i.e. the Tauranga Transport Plan), and implement it as soon as possible, in conjunction with the Tauranga Urban Strategy.

2  AN INTEGRATED MULTI-MODAL MASTER PLAN

Earlier this year Greater Tauranga helped to spearhead the Tauranga Transport Alignment Project (TTAP) that proposed the broad outline of a sub-regional, integrated, multi-modal plan. The TTAP was backed by a range of business and community organisations across the Western Bay, including BOP DHB, Sport BOP, Sustainable Business Network, Tauranga Chamber of Commerce, Tourism BOP, iwi, community groups and more. It called for public transport priority between key hubs (such as the CBD, Greerton, Hairini, Poike, Tauriko, Mount, Arataki, Papamoa and Omokoroa) – to enable travel by public transport that is faster and cheaper than by car at peak times. The TTAP also advocated for a range of other incentives, such as free bus travel for school children.

The TTAP has received massive support and no opposition, yet we have not been invited to a single meeting about UFTI to discuss the TTAP, despite it being a perfect template for the UFTI project.

A multi-modal transport system based around a revamped public transport network, rideshare apps, car sharing schemes, safe walking and cycling options, and a focus on compact urban development is the only strategy that will make life better for car drivers and freight transport across the Western Bay in the medium-long term. This direction also aligns with the Government’s new GPS focus and is far more likely to gain funding.

The current improvements being made to the local bus network may be a tentative first step, but we are calling for urgent action to comprehensively upgrade our public transport system, so that many more people actually choose to use the buses. The funding opportunities are there, with a 75% subsidy from central government. Councils just need to put forward project plans to take advantage of this opportunity.

3  DUBIOUS ANALYSIS OF THE DRIVERS _ URBAN SPRAWL, DGP GROWTH, FREIGHT and TOURISM? 

Significant emphasis has been made in the various consultant reports around the drivers for investment in transport. Central to this appears to be a need to provide road capacity for urban sprawl, GDP growth, freight to the port and tourism. Two fundamental concerns of ours are:

a) The lack of any vision or idea around ‘how much growth is desired’. For example, as a city do we want to continually provide more infrastructure capacity for freight to the port at any cost (including to the wider community)? and;

b) The flimsiness of data, and selective interpretation provided, to justify the desired investment.

Urban sprawl: Urban development and sprawl is a major known issue raised in all the reports and the need to provide for more compact development is made clear. The various reports generally acknowledge that ‘building more roads is not the solution as they simply fill up”. Despite this, nearly all planned developments are at city fringe locations and there is no agreed, planned public transport investment confirmed to address these.

GDP Growth: The Stakeholder Strategies Ltd presentation that was made public provides a range of drivers for investment in transport in the region. One is related to a potential 50% GDP increase in the Eastern BOP by 2030 which may occur if all Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) related projects come to fruition. The referenced report (EBOP Regional Leadership Group Report) contains a graph (Figure 1) which contains projections developed by consultants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: Estimated Eastern BOP GDP, actuals and projections ($ Billion). From EBOP Regional Leadership Group Report (Figure 18)

The report also contains a range of caveats – one which states “The performance growth that manifests is likely to differ from the one shown above. Not all projects will be progressed for a variety of reasons: they may not receive the funding required, they may not be consented, or they may encounter some other binding constraint which cannot be mitigated. The direct benefits realised might be lower than expected if constraints cannot be managed”.

While we don’t disagree that there are significant growth pressures to manage, we think  that leading with large and uncertain GDP ‘guesses’ like this within reports paints a deliberately misleading, and ‘optimistic/extreme’ picture which has then been used to inflate the need for more freight and car capacity, at the expense of public transport.

Freight to the port: Freight appears to be the central and most important driver put forward within the range of reports prepared. A report by HenleyHutchings Ltd for Smartgrowth states – “many of those we spoke to earlier emphasised the fundamental importance of freight access to the Port of Tauranga, to the success of the local, regional and national economies”.

We have a number of comments and concerns with this narrow approach:

  1. The Port has generally been absent from most regional transport discussions. The Regional Council owns 54% of the port and therefore has a vested interest in its continued (unchecked) growth, and little incentive to intervene.
  2. What is not considered in any discussions are the impacts the Port and its operations have on local communities, the road network (congestion), safety in an increasingly residential area, and what the limits to growth are. How big does the Port want to get? And at what cost?
  3. The Government has recently commissioned an Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy. The terms of reference state that the study will “guide the development and delivery of a freight and logistics (supply chain) strategy for the Upper North Island, including ports. It will advise on the priorities for investment in rail, roads and other supporting infrastructure. It will consider a range of impacts including transport, land use and urban planning, as well as national and regional economic growth”. This is an extremely important study and should seek to answer some big questions around resolving competing interests for a ‘whole of NZ’ solution. The outcomes of this study must be considered in conjunction with any plans to increase capacity for road freight.

Our impression is that an extremely narrow local / freight-centric / GDP-centric focus is being taken within the Western BOP, at the expense of other equally important considerations.

Tourism focus: While we acknowledge the region is an important tourist destination, this alone should not be a driver for more roading capacity. We note the current and ongoing Central Government consultation on a National Tourism Strategy – which aims for ‘tourism to enrich New Zealand through sustainable tourism growth, and how it’ll work across government as well as with the tourism sector, iwi, local government, communities and other stakeholders to achieve this’.

Around NZ many cities/regions are reacting to the pressure that un-managed tourism is placing on communities and infrastructure.

We note that Tourism BOP (one of the organizations backing the TTAP) is moving to a Destination Management approach to tourism in the region, including a much bigger emphasis on sustainable tourism. They understand that our transport system needs to be multi-modal, with good public transport, safe cycleways and plenty of good walkways, as well a safe and accessible roading network.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Tauranga has the highest level of car-dependency in Australasia, and this situation will continue until Councillors make some bold decisions based on national and international best practice that provide practical, alternative ways for our people to travel around the city.

The changes we need to see in our transport networks will not be produced by re-litigating the same conservative strategies and hoping for miraculous improvements. Our Councils need to listen to the community, align with the government direction and:

a) Develop an integrated masterplan for the entire sub-region – based, for example, on the TTAP proposal which has been supported by many business and community organisations.

b) Complete the Tauranga Transport Plan which has already been progressed and consulted on.

This will take us towards a truly multimodal future.

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