Hard News by Russell Brown


The Eastern motorway - whichever of the multiple versions you're talking about - is toast. There can hardly have been an Aucklander who didn't know it was an issue when he or she voted in the local body elections, and to take anything other than a huge rejection out of the weekend's result is daft.

The trick for Auckland's new centre-left council will be to take its thumping 13-7 majority in stride, and avoid appearing as bigoted as the last council. I hope - and trust, actually - that the new council won't behave with the spite and arrogance that the CitRats did three years ago. Brian Rudman is concerned that there are now too many academics on council. He may have a point.

But this doesn't mean the end of road-building in Auckland - far from it. If the centre-left stance is to be gauged from Bruce Hucker's pronouncements, then the State Highway 20 extension will proceed, along with various other projects which (unlike the Eastern motorway) have met state funding criteria. I wouldn't even bet against the widening of the Victoria Park flyover.

It is central government, and not the mayor's office, that has driven these projects and it follows that the change of governance at Auckland City will not derail them. You can't go anywhere in Auckland at the moment without seeing a crane or a grand excavation, and the city will not - as the mayor frequently seemed to suggest - grind to a halt without John Banks chivvying it along.

Anyone who travels into the Auckland CBD - and that's more than a quarter of a million people a day - will be aware of the work in progress to remedy the city-fringe choke-points. It would be wise to see what effect, say, the widening of Spaghetti Junction has before rushing into a multi-billion dollar spend an another motorway - especially one whose effect would be to create another choke-point.

The other key question, which was never answered by the last council and its mayor, was how the eastern motorway would be paid for. Anyone who thinks tolling was going to do the trick might want to have a look at what's happening to a relatively modest project in Tauranga. Tolling and congestion charging (much on the mind of the Herald's editorial writer this morning) ought to be regarded as a separate issue from that one, doomed road. It is not necessarily anathema to a centre-left council - it was, after all "Red" Ken Livingstone who introduced congestion charging in London - but it would be useful to dispense with the idea that it will make buckets of cash magically appear. It won't.

The new mayor, Dick Hubbard, already appears to have had a lesson in political reality - in that he might yet be able to contrive that elusive cost-benefit analysis to save face, but 13 votes say that the motorway plan won't be proceeding. It is reasonable to say that he didn't win the election, Banks lost it, and therefore, he has a lot to prove. Where he and his new councillors do agree is that genuine steps have to be made towards building Auckland a better public transport infrastructure.

The V8 race is also history - unless Hubbard can offer an early demonstration of consensus and creative thinking by working out a plan to stage the race in a slightly less lunatic part of Auckland. I'd be happy with that - hell, I even spent too long watching Greg Murphy win Bathurst yesterday - but really, the middle of the Auckland motorway system was just not the right location.

In his concession speech, Banks displayed the sort of grace that was rarely on offer during his mayoralty. Perhaps if he hadn't spent so much time as mayor spouting contempt for his political opponents, and for his peers in other cities, he might have had more of a shot.

I also think he was correct in saying the election did not turn on the Brian Nicolle affair. It was patently a bit bigger than that. The result ought to provoke a crucial rethink in Citizens and Ratepayers, which has allowed itself to become a debased political brand. The arrival of Action Hobson has demonstrated to Auckland's wealthier suburbs that they have choices apart from the same old firm. If the current council screws up mightily, the CitRats will be back next time - if not, they'd better start thinking about what people actually want.

Finally it's perfectly in character for Banks to muse to reporters about a return to national politics with the National Party. It's a bit more curious that Don Brash should be making cooing noises back on Morning Report today. Banks has been trounced after a single term by a political novice. He has presided over the centre-right's worst result in 70 years; a result so bad as to have implications for the next general election. And National wants a piece of that? Helen Clark will be delighted.