Viewpoint – Fueling the debate

The Regional Fuel Tax debate is over and the decision made to impose an 11.5 cents a litre charge on motorists. People, understandably, will differ over whether they think it’s worth it or not.

So what’s being delivered then through this fuel tax for the Hibiscus Coast? First and foremost there’s Penlink (cost $250m-$300 m). Without the fuel tax there is no Penlink – simple as that. The tax delivers a whopping $66 million to Penlink, which then has the effect of drawing in another $100 million from the government. There’s also a good chance now that it’ll be delivered ahead of schedule.

The Silverdale park and ride is one of three Auckland locations receiving new and improved facilities. The Gulf Harbour ferry benefits from improved services (sailings) and the redevelopment of the Downtown Ferry Terminal (faster trips). There are growth roading projects in Silverdale and Dairy Flat, local intersection upgrades and further improvements associated with the Whangaparaoa Dynamic Laning. In the city a new bus interchange and associated facilities primarily benefit bus commuters from the Shore and Coast at their city arrival/departure locations ($62m).

Remember these projects listed above are just the fuel tax projects. Added to them are two large NZTA projects – the Albany to Orewa bus lane extension (a $324m project to provide bus shoulder lanes between Albany and Orewa) and the Northern Motorway Improvements (a $700m project adding extra motorway lanes between Greville Road and Constellation Drive and extending the Northern Busway to Albany). The upper East Coast Bays and Hibiscus Coast are the main beneficiaries of these works

All this means that the next decade will see the biggest transport investment in the history of the Hibiscus Coast (over $1.5 billion). Without being too melodramatic this makes the Albany Ward generally and the Hibiscus Coast in particular, amongst the biggest beneficiaries of both the fuel tax and the wider transport programme.
But it does come at a cost – 11.5 cents a litre, the effects of which are not to be underestimated, especially to people already struggling. The Automobile Association predicts an average cost of $140 a year per household but it will be more for many Coast residents.

For the impact of this fuel tax to be minimised it would have to coincide with a period of low or declining petrol prices (as has generally been the case for the last couple of years). As it turns out, it’s coinciding with high and climbing prices. That’s not a good combination. The council obviously can’t control what’s happening in America, or the government’s excise duties but that’s scant consolation to the public at the pump.

Unfortunately there was no middle ground with this decision– it wasn’t multi-choice. If there is no fuel tax then none of the projects listed above would happen (and possibly some of the bigger NZTA ones would be pushed out).

Our tactic in Council is to always lobby hard for any transport improvements on the Coast, anything, whether they be smaller projects like the Whangaparaoa dynamic laning trial and Silverdale Park and Ride extension or larger ones like Penlink and the Northern busway extension. We want to ensure immediate improvements in the ‘here and now’ while the bigger projects come online.

I hope people will at least see that the Hibiscus Coast emerges as one of the real winners from this transport spend, and specifically from projects enabled by the Fuel Tax.