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Posted by Iain on May 11, 2018, 3:47 p.m. in Auckland
The New Zealand government announce this week not one, but two landmark light rail projects for Auckland.
Auckland has long struggled with being a massive sprawling city covered in single unit dwellings. We have long cherished the back garden as a place to relax and entertain. The days where we could afford such luxuries is both environmentally and economically behind us and with changing lifestyles, less treasured. Recent changes to the planning laws in Auckland is now allowing for increased density along major transport routes. The idea being that medium density housing supports public transport and an efficient public transport system supports medium density housing. I have to say I’m a fan of the plan.
As I prepare to leave Kuala Lumpur I’m reminded of what building (often high density) housing without good public transport can do in terms of congestion, air quality and overall quality of life. It never fails to amaze me as I look down on the freeway that snakes below the Hilton Hotel in from the 33rd floor that peak hour traffic lasts around four hours. The traffic barely moves. Clearly, the city leaders recognise this and they have just completed their own mass rapid transport system to compliment a more fragmented light rail and monorail system which is groaning under demand pressure. The MRT is a delight to use — in a city that is, for the most part, filthy and disrupted by seeming constant road works, the MRT is clean, cheap and it is regular. This is a city of 9 million people living in an area not dissimilar to that covered by Auckland. Auckland only has 1.7 million people and so some have questioned the need and financial sustainability of such projects, however there are still 200,000 more people in Auckland today than lived there four years ago.
Something had to give as commutes in Auckland were also taking up to 2 hours to get to and from work for those 40 or 50 km out of the city. The motorway system, recently completed after 50 years of planning and building, cannot cope. The city was losing an estimated $1.5 billion a year through lost productivity and as a country committed to the Paris Accord on climate, we simply have to do something to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Getting cars off the road is a good start.
In response, the new government has confirmed funding for light rail from downtown Auckland all the way out to Auckland airport. That was well signalled, but what was not was a second line which will service the rapidly growing north western suburbs. It amazed me that this part of the motorway network, recently completed, is up to 10 lanes wide yet in the morning the traffic is still crawling along bumper to bumper. I could not understand (as this motorway was doubled in size in recent years) why a cycle lane was built alongside it but there was no dedicated busway nor any plans for light rail. Well, now we have a plan for it. We’re told that by 2024 all things being equal we will have both built, delivering part of a world class public transport system to compliment buses, ferries and existing rail.
When I consider my own staff's commute, two of them have traditionally come to work on a ferry (from different ends of the city), one comes by rail and at least one uses the bus service. I for one will be on that light rail as soon as it is built (I have a dislike for diesel belching buses and their aggressive, law ignoring drivers).
One issue we have had is the cost and there is no doubt in my mind that if these are not lowered for all forms of public transport it will be difficult to persuade people to get out of their cars. The grand plan seems to be an increase in the regional fuel tax on petrol and diesel which will be used to both fund the light rail and, in the longer term, perhaps subsidise the operation.
Interestingly, this week the New Zealand Super Fund (the organisation that invests for New Zealand’s pension system) has indicated interest in owning and operating - likely in partnership with a private sector operator - the two new light rail operations. An interesting development.
There’s no doubt that today Auckland still has a highly efficient public transport system when compared to most other cities, including many other first world cities around the world, but equally spending time sitting in traffic benefits no one in terms of productivity or quality-of-life.
I happen to live very close to where one of these two rail lines will go and I am less impressed with the proposal of a targeted rate (local tax) for those of us living nearby the proposed light rail. We’re told that our property values will increase as a consequence and we should therefore pay more taxes. I don’t quite follow the logic - people who live close to ferry wharfs or bus stations aren’t being charged higher local taxes and nor people who live close to motorway onramps, but they all benefit. Given within a few years I fully expect New Zealand will have capital gains tax on residential property I hope the government recognises that if my house is more valuable because it is close to such public amenities when I sell it I’ll be paying a chunk of it to them in taxation.
While I am no particular fan of the current government, on this light rail initiative I give them full marks, even if it costs me in the wallet if my house value increases.
Until next week...
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
Posted by Iain on Jan. 20, 2017, 3:06 p.m. in Auckland
In this business, certainty for clients can only come about when, as Advisers, we fully understand definitions and eligibility criteria.
Our greatest challenge is that the rules are often poorly written, vague and open to multiple interpretations. The meaning is in the mind of the reader. When you have two immigration officers reading the same rule differently, you get inconsistent decision making and this - when you are talking about resident visas - has enormous implications for clients financially, emotionally and, it is not "OTT" to suggest, truly life changing.
With the recent jump in pass marks to 160 (from 100), the only way a lot of skilled migrants can reach that new entry threshold is by having an offer of skilled employment ‘outside Auckland’.
You’d think ‘outside Auckland’ was pretty easy to define, wouldn’t you? 'Auckland' is defined as the Council’s legal regional limits in terms of its administration.
Your job is either in the Auckland City Council regional boundaries, or it is not.
However, like all the work we do, things are not what they might at first appear. Daily, we probably spend between 30-60 minutes having what we call ‘round tables’. This is where the Advisers gather and throw around and debate a particular circumstance and client situation and how a rule might be interpreted against it. A case of many heads being better than one. Even then, there are times we cannot agree.
None has caused more robust discussion this year than the question ‘when is outside Auckland in Auckland (or in Auckland outside)?
Stick with me if this is starting to sound like something out of Monty Python movie...
The rule book defines where you work as, essentially, the location/place where you primarily or customarily apply your skills. Seems pretty simple, right?
So, if you are employed by a large insurance company that has one office and that is in downtown Auckland, you operate a desk there and don’t move Monday to Friday then I think we can all agree that you work 'inside Auckland'.
Or, you work for an insurance company in Christchurch doing the same thing and you go to the Christchurch office every day and operate a desk there so you are, it seems reasonable to conclude, working ‘outside of Auckland’.
What say, however, you are employed by that same insurance company which is itself based in Auckland, you live in Auckland, but in your role as Training Manager, you physically carry your work in centres other than Auckland; say 4 days of each and every week, and that is specified in your employment agreement?
Is this is a job inside or outside of Auckland? Is it a 50 point job offer or an 80 point job offer?
There has this week been a series of emails between us and INZ over this.
If the rule is really only interested where an applicant primarily carries out their work, then in the third example above they cannot be deemed to be working in Auckland, surely? Just because the ‘head office’ is there, the company is managed from there? If the important bit is where the migrant primarily or customarily does their work and that is geographically and physically outside of Auckland, is that not an 'outside Auckland' job?
Well, not according to INZ but they have conceded that this is not a one size fits all rule and that officers have to assess individual circumstances. This, in my long experience, is a recipe for inconsistency and with inconsistency comes frustration and misery.
INZ has this week said in response to a number of emails that they look at other factors such as where the migrant lives (even though this is not part of the published rule which is only concerned about where they carry out their job), where the migrant might return for their ‘performance reviews’ (Really? Also not mentioned in 'the rule'), where the employer is physically located and so on.
This is not hypothetical. We have a client who is in sales. His employer is physically located in Auckland. The client however spends well over 50% of his time each and every week (‘primarily’ or ‘customarily’, to quote the rule book) outside of Auckland meeting with clients. Sounds to me like he works outside of Auckland.
These additional points were put in place to encourage more migrants to settle outside of Auckland in order to reduce pressure on roads, housing, schools, hospitals, etc. Therefore there is logic to this client being deemed to work ‘inside Auckland’ as that is where he lives and his family live.
Yet the rule does not mention, nor even imply, that where someone lives forms part of the definition.
If however these other (unwritten) criteria are to form part of the decision, let’s turn the situation around. A person lives with his family one kilometre outside the legal Auckland City council Boundary. Let's say he is an Electrician. The employer’s office is a further one kilometre outside of the Auckland boundary. Every day, however this Electrician travels 3 kilometres up the hill and over the Auckland boundary to wire houses in one of the massive new housing developments springing up around Auckland’s periphery.
Is he now working inside or outside Auckland and is this a 50 point job or an 80 point job?
Using INZ’s logic this week he is surely going to get 80 points. I wouldn’t trust them to rule in such a way, however.
(See why I lost my marbles a long time ago?).
I think the solution is a little simpler than INZ is making it (just for a change).
In the end it should be more a ‘where do you primarily live’ test, not a ‘where do you carry out your work’ test, in my view.
If, in the end we are looking to take pressure off schools, hospitals and housing in Auckland then isn’t a better test where you are consuming/adding pressure to infrastructure?
If you live outside of Auckland but travel to it every day then yes, there is an argument you are adding to gridlock and that is a fair point. However if your house is outside Auckland, your children go to school outside Auckland, if you drop your De Walt power drill on your toe and you go to a hospital outside of Auckland, hasn’t the aim and intent of this policy been satisfied? You are taking pressure of Auckland house prices, amenities and infrastructure.
As with all these issues there is seldom a totally ‘clean’ definition and there are always cases around the margins but INZ should be able to do better.
INZ unfortunately is so slow to identify, understand and grapple with the issues caused by their more ‘random’ definitions that often have little relation to the real world and that we end up with real people getting confused and hurt by the inevitable inconsistencies in visa outcomes. When a migrant interprets a rule one way (often logically) yet INZ interpret it another (often illogically) futures can be wrecked.
This really wasn’t an issue before October 2016 but when the pass mark jumped to 160 it was so predictable many migrants would start to look ‘outside Auckland’ for skilled employment, even though they might have been living ‘inside Auckland’; it is now a very real problem.
It didn’t take a Nobel prize winning effort to realise it was going to become one yet here we are 12 weeks fter the policy was put in place and the rule is written so poorly it is causing cconfusion.
Not sure it will need a Nobel winning scientist to come up with a better definition either. I suspect though by the time INZ gets round to it, the pass marks will have fallen or the new Skilled Migrant Category rules will be in place rendering the solution pretty irrelevant.
Yet again, a very good illustration of IMMagine’s old mantra of assuming nothing and suspending logic.
Until next week...
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
Posted by Iain on Oct. 7, 2016, 2 p.m. in Auckland
I am not really into writing dry pieces on the state of the labour market but given the reality that many of you need jobs to secure your resident visas, most of you are not all that familiar with skill demand in the NZ labour market, and your world view is shaped by local conditions in your own countries (affirmative action policies in South Africa and Malaysia, for example), it is worth the effort then to ‘paint a picture’ of the state of things in NZ though to June this year.
It is all looking very encouraging.
Looking at the full report recently issued by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment who track these things, I have never seen so many ‘hockey sticks’ in their graphs of everything from net migration through labour market participation rates to new fulltime jobs being created.
It is a good time to be an English speaking migrant looking for a job in New Zealand.
Key highlights are:
Tourism numbers continue to surge particularly from China and more airlines than ever are flying into the country – American and United are once again flying into the city and on an almost weekly basis a new Asian airline touches down.
Auckland continues to groan under the pressure of these tourists with not enough hotels being built to accommodate them all. Nice problem to have.
We are about to kick off the busiest cruise ship season ever with around 100 cruise liners expected to tie up in downtown Auckland.
Major roading and infrastructure projects are now coming online across Auckland with the last piece of our extensive new freeway network set to open by year's end transforming the travel times across this city (not before time) and driving urban and commercial growth away from the central isthmus.
It is all go!
Told you it was dry, but at least it’s a happening little corner of the world.
Until next week.
Southern Man – Letter from New Zealand
Posted by Iain on July 29, 2016, 11:19 p.m. in Auckland
Four years of wrangling with Councillors ducking for cover and refusing to stand up against vested interests and "Nimbyism", Auckland finally has a blue print for its development over the next 50 years and beyond.
Making Auckland the ‘most liveable city in the world’ has long been a catch cry of local politicians and while it is consistently voted in the top three most desirable cities in the world to live, we have of late been suffering from our own success.
Record levels of inward migration, thousands more New Zealanders concluding the grass is not greener elsewhere, record numbers of Australians pouring in coupled with not enough houses being built to cope with demand, 40,000 more cars on the road this year over last and public transport struggling to cope with demand – has made this wonderful city of ours start to groan under the pressure.
Now, however, with the release of the city’s ‘Unitary Plan’ everyone can start planning a future that integrates even better public transport, moderate intensification of housing along major public transport corridors, modest new height limits in ‘village’ shopping precincts (for retail and commercial buildings) as well as the limited (but necessary) freeing up of rural land around the fringes that will enable more housing in the surrounding satellite towns that lie 50-80km north and south of Auckland.
Our biggest city, already outward looking, globally integrated and cosmopolitan has, I believe, struck the right balance between growing out and growing up and encouraging more intense housing that will in turn reinforce a city based more on public transport than car use. With intensification of housing, it will encourage the growth of communities and allow people to meet their daily shopping needs within an easy walk of their front door.
I can tell you, as an Aucklander, we notice those additional 40,000 cars per year on our roads.
In my own street, our current 'single unit dwelling' status has been changed to allow apartments of 3-4 stories in height.
I have written before that I welcome the change principally because this intensification will (one hopes) stop the relentless rise in property values across the city and allow my children’s generation to enjoy the home ownership dream my generation and those that came before me took for granted.
On a personal level, imagining our beautiful Victorian Villa which is full of character (not to mention memories) that has stood for nearly 110 years being bowled to make way for 3-6 new and smaller apartments does sadden me on one level. There have been more than a few nights lately I have wandered around admiring the pressed steel plaster ceilings, the native timber flooring and the carved hardwood arches that line the hallway, telling myself that it would be cultural vandalism to knock it down.
Then I ask myself if such an early 20th century building represents the peak of urban architecture and I conclude that it does not. While it is a wonderful example of its period, it is cold in winter even with double the legally prescribed insulation in the roof cavity, walls and under the floors, still requiring heaters for 5 months of the year. In summer it is like a Turkish bath – the heat from outside creating heat inside where we need fans constantly whirring.
In this age of wanting to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, such houses are an aesthetic luxury we really can no longer afford to have or sustain.
The future is in smaller, more energy efficient and affordable homes close to work, schools, shopping, leisure and public transport.
Public and green spaces have been preserved (and more are zoned) in the new plan which was non-negotiable for Aucklanders who demand parks, playgrounds, trees and natural spaces for everyone to enjoy.
I can but imagine what this city will look like to my grandchildren, but I suspect very habitable and still on a human scale.
Already, with increasing density of some housing in our suburb of Mount Eden, my eldest son has all but abandoned his car (in my driveway I might add), and when he isn’t catching buses tends to use Uber. At 22 years old he can’t understand why I bother with a car; ‘it’s just an expensive hassle’, he tells me, and he may not be wrong.
Once the ‘City Rail Link’ is complete (construction is currently underway) our already excellent electric train service will become even more appealing to commuters and those looking to get from one side of the city to the other, who can also now live close by the train stations being expanded and developed along the link's winding path.
With such plans come change and while debate will no doubt rage among some over the details, having looked at the plan in some depth in recent years I have no doubt that we will end up with a city that is more liveable for more people.
The time for arguing about it is over. The plan is in place and Auckland is set now to become an exciting, even more vibrant grown up ‘big’ little city of 2 million people, equipping itself for a more energy efficient and sustainable future.
Auckland has done well in my view.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
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