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  • Writer's pictureTeam Triangle

2020 is the year Auckland must tackle climate change and light rail

OPINION: There is nothing like a general election year to make wishes come true - and Auckland has some big ones - but it also has challenges it needs to tackle alone.

Process-entangled Light Rail risks becoming transport's Mary Celeste - the 19th century sailing ship which set off from New York and was later found adrift in the Atlantic with its crew mysteriously vanished.

Ironically, it was a 2017 Labour election promise to fund and build the city's light rail network, that caused the advancing project to be taken out of the hands of Auckland Transport and given to a series of government entities, with little progress other than an arm wrestle between two proposals. 

Mayor Phil Goff has been polite about his former parliamentary colleagues' management of the project, but with the Government in the next months due to choose which of two proposals to pursue, and with an election looming, it is time to extract firm commitments on construction timing.

The previous chair of Auckland Transport, Lester Levy, told Stuff the project would be in construction now had it remained in the city's hands, and the council cannot abdicate responsibility simply because the Government has taken on the job of paying for it.

Climate change is with us daily, yet the council currently has no significant initiatives, outside its own operations, planned for the 2020-21 budget year.

Public feedback to last year's consultation on a "draft action framework" will be revealed in March, kicking off deliberation of increased action and spending from mid-2021, but that slow shuffle has rightly frustrated advocacy groups such as Generation Zero.

Stuff's series on Auckland's readiness for a year of major events in 2021 shows significant work is on track to be ready, a reminder of what can be done when there is a firm deadline.

Just over a year after councillors signed off the budget to develop a village to house America's Cup teams, three completed team base areas will be handed over on Monday, so challenger syndicates can start building their bases, and Britain's INEOS has already started construction.

At the same time as that budget approval, Auckland Council was  awarded "Innovator City" status by the global C40 leadership group of cities committed to climate change action.

Policies to create a more compact city, with enhanced walking and cycling networks, electric trains and the issuing of "green bonds" to fund environment-improving infrastructure counted in Auckland's favour.

Now-retired councillor Penny Hulse, who headed the climate change work, at the time remind that "radical changes" were needed. The council needs to be doing, not just talking, about some of those radical changes this year, not next.

The inevitable annual increase in fares for most public transport trips - an average 2.3 per cent rise from February - is another lost opportunity to make switching from carbon-emitting car travel, more appealing.

One thing the council is getting on with, and about which we will hear much this year, is the review of how well its decade-old structure of having agencies - council controlled organisations (CCOs) - is working.

A frenzy of cries during last year's election campaign sought to paint the CCOs as out-of-control bureaucracies accountable to no-one, and spending more than half of the council's budget.

The council will spend up to $800,000 on the review, which also looks at how well councillors have used the current provisions for keeping the CCOs on the track that the politicians want. Public consultation begins soon and a draft report will be done by April.

The 2021 programme of works, and the CCO review show Auckland Council, can move quickly when it perceives the need. The need to act on Climate Change, light rail, and making travel without cars more appealing should also be on that list.

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