Newsroom Pro's 8 things: Phil Twyford's big plans for Auckland transport and housing


Phil Twyford at his swearing in as Minister of Transport and Minister of Housing and Urban Development. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we look at the changes ahead for Auckland's transport and housing under a new Government.

1. Massive changes for Auckland

New Housing and Transport Minister Phil Twyford has asked his ministries to provide urgent advice on 20 streams of work that range from using the National Land Transport Fund to build two new light rail projects to legislating for a new Housing Commission by the end of next year.

I interviewed Twyford in his box-strewn Beehive office last night and he detailed a range of reforms in both housing and transport that herald massive changes to infrastructure funding and building in Auckland in particular.

I will report in more detail in the coming days from the interview, but the key changes are:

  • The creation of a Housing Commission in line with Labour's coalition agreement with New Zealand First. It will act as the Affordable Housing Authority that Labour campaigned on. It will become the over-arching Urban Development Authority for planning and greenlighting the 10-15 Hobsonville-style projects that Twyford sees as necessary to achieving the Kiwibuild target of 50,000 new affordable homes in Auckland.

  • Twyford plans to ask for an appropriation through the Budget to begin the Kiwibuild process immediately, including setting up a unit within MBIE to get the projects moving. He aims to have legislation for the Commission passed by the end of 2018, but the unit within MBIE would begin straight away with the Commission's work.

  • The Commission's satellites in Auckland and other cities would work closely with Council development arms such as Panuku to ramp up housing developments.

  • Twyford, who is also the minister for Housing New Zealand Corp, has asked for an immediate stock-take of Housing New Zealand and other government plans for house-building across Auckland in particular. He wants to see those plans ramped up and is aiming for projects that include capacity for 40 percent affordable homes. Hobsonville is currently around 20 percent.

  • Twyford sees the removal of the current Metropolitan Urban Limits (MUL) being done in tandem with reforms of infrastructure funding, including the introduction by councils of value capture uplift mechanisms, a regional fuel tax and the introduction of infrastructure bonds serviced through targeted rates.

  • Twyford wants to use the National Land Transport Fund to help fund rapid transit systems in cities, including for light rail and busways. Previously, the fund (paid for from fuel levies and road user charges) was dedicated to road building and repairs. He says rapid transit systems such as the Northern Busway made existing motorway infrastructure much more efficient and reduced congestion for car and truck drivers.

  • Twyford has ordered an urgent rewrite of the Government Policy Statement (GPS) for the National Land Transport Fund to reflect the new Government's focus on investing in urban public transport infrastructure, rather than building more motorways. It would include new directions on the use of the National Land Transport Fund. He expects a new GPS within two months.

  • Tywford expects a first meeting later this week between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, and himself with Mayor Phil Goff to include the beginning of the start of a renegotiation of the Auckland Transport Alignment Programme (ATAP), which is the 30 year plan for Auckland Transport. The renegotiation was aimed at refocusing investment on light rail lines from the CBD to the Airport and from the CBD to West Auckland alongside State Highway 16, as well as cross-town buses and a new rapid transit bus system linking the Auckland Airport with train stations at Puhinui and Manukau.

  • About $15 billion of spending on transport infrastructure is currently planned for Auckland over 10 years, but there is a $6 billion funding gap, which the previous Government had not explained how it would be funded.

  • A 10 cent/litre regional fuel tax would plug around $1.5 billion of that gap, with the rest made up of funding from the National Land Transport Fund, infrastructure bonds and value uplift capture targeted rates.

  • Twyford says the Auckland Council was working on creating targeted rates around new rail lines and motorways that capture some of the value uplift after rezoning through targeted rates. This tool has successfully been used on the Gold Coast to fund light rail and by London to fund its Cross Rail project.

  • He saw congestion charging being introduced in Auckland within five to 10 years.

  • The Government has committed to putting a third rail line through to South Auckland and to electrify the line to Papakura Pukekohe to increase its capacity for commuter trains, given it was already congested with both freight and commuter trains. A fourth line was possible, Twyford said.

  • He was positive about Infrastructure New Zealand's proposal yesterday for a new city at Paerata near Drury that straddles the rail line to the South, but he said the transport infrastructure should be upgraded before the city is built to avoid massive congestion without it.

I will be writing fuller pieces from the interview in the coming days and will link to them from the email.

2. Pressure grows over Jian Yang

Former Prime Minister Bill English struggled to explain to Guyon Espiner this morning on Morning Report why National list MP Jian Yang was removed from the Foreign Affairs select committee last year.

Jian Yang admitted training Chinese spies in the 1980s after an investigation by Newsroom found he worked at a university that was known as China's premier university for military intelligence training.

Newsroom reported in September after a joint investigation with the Financial Times that Yang's activities had attracted the interest of the Secret Intelligence Services. The New York Times has since also reported on the case, pointing to concerns in the diplomatic community about Yang's access to sensitive information, given New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence network with the US, Canada, the UK and Australia.

National Party Leader Bill English said he stood by Yang and had confidence in him in an interview this morning on RNZ. But English said he did not know why Yang had been shifted from the foreign affairs select committee and did not know if it was connected to Yang's previous involvement with Chinese military intelligence.

English told Newsroom's Lynn Grieveson while on the campaign trail at Lower Hutt on September 15 that Yang had been replaced by Todd Muller to give the former Fonterra executive experience on the committee and that it had nothing to do with any concerns about Yang's involvement with Chinese military intelligence.

Asked on September 15 if Yang's removal from the committee had anything to do with concerns expressed by the SIS, English said: "No, not at all."

Pressure for more answers from both English and new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is ramping up, in part because the New Zealand Herald's Matt Nippert has delved into it more deeply, and the Herald wrote an editorial this morning calling for Ardern to end her silence on the issue.

3. Police drop Barclay case again

A new police investigation into former National MP Todd Barclay has again found insufficient evidence to press charges, in the wake of a Newsroom investigation which led to his departure from Parliament.

Police have defended their handling of the original investigation, arguing “speculation, hearsay and third party information” was not enough to move ahead with a prosecution.

In June, Newsroom revealed Barclay’s clandestine taping of former staffer Glenys Dickson led to a secret payment from former Prime Minister John Key’s leader’s budget.

The investigation also revealed former Prime Minister Bill English knew about the recording and the payment, and that Barclay had told him of the recording and offered to play it to him.

The day after the Newsroom story broke, Barclay announced he would not seek re-election in his Clutha-Southland seat.

Police later announced they were reopening the investigation into Barclay, having originally concluded there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution.

In a written statement released on Monday, NZ Police assistant commissioner of investigations Richard Chambers said there was “no change to the outcome of the original investigation”.

See Sam Sachdeva's full article on Newsroom.

4. An academic heads for the Beehive

To the surprise of most people in and around Parliament, New Zealand First announced yesterday afternoon that Victoria University political science lecturer Jon Johansson would become the party's chief of staff.

Johansson replaces David Broome, who had been chief of staff up until the formation of the Government.

5. Briefly in NZ's political economy

China's new beachhead - China's state investment agency, CITIC Capital, has announced it has bought an 11 percent stake in New Zealand's biggest specialist listed tourism company. Citic's HB Holdings increased its stake in Tourism Holdings between October 16 and October 27, making it the biggest shareholder in the nation's biggest camper van company. China's HNA is in the process of buying New Zealand's biggest finance company, UDC, from ANZ.

Another Commission - The new Labour-led Government's Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, Clare Curran, told RNZ's Mediawatch the new government's extra investments in public service media would be overseen by a new Public Media Funding Commission (PMFC). Labour pledged to spend an extra $38 million a year on public media, mostly on creating a public television service called RNZ + on top of RNZ.

Elsewhere, Labour named Ruth Dyson as its chief whip in Parliament.

6. In the global political economy overnight

Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was indicted on tax fraud and money laundering charges in connection with the Robert Mueller Inquiry into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia. He and an associate pleaded not guilty. A member of Trump's campaign team, George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia. (NYT)

Trump is expected to appoint a Republican as the chair of the US Federal Reserve later this week, sources said overnight. (Reuters)

7. Coming up...

Jacinda Ardern announced she would be would be travelling to Sydney on Sunday to meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as her first official overseas visit to meet a head of state.

Parliament is scheduled to open the new term on Tuesday November 7. The official state opening of Parliament will be the next day with the speech from the throne by Governor General Patsy Reddy.

Donald Trump is expected to announce that current Federal Reserve Governor and Republican Jerome Powell will be the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, replacing the outgoing Chair Janet Yellen, who was appointed for one five year term by Barack Obama.

8. One fun thing

For something completely different, this poster by Giselle Draws lauding New Zealand's various brands of biscuits took my fancy. It has taken off on social media too.

And I liked Neil Finn's musings on the inner workings of Twitter:

Neil Finn: "is this what its all come to? ..spending twitter time blocking fake people like you Alexandra Takacova. I love you real people. Is this regarded as some kind of success when you get followed by robots? If those bots made some comment about how much my music meant to them I would soften my stance."

This NZ Art Parallels commentary on the appointment of Jon Johannson also caught my attention.