Julie Anne Genter. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Julie Anne Genter. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

OPINIONPoliticsFebruary 2, 2020

Julie Anne Genter: Why the ‘New Zealand Upgrade’ falls short

Julie Anne Genter. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Julie Anne Genter. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The Green Party transport spokesperson writes on the good, the bad and the ugly of the big infrastructure announcement.

It is election year and it is time to decide where we are heading.

The Green Party will be laying out bold plans this year for reducing our climate pollution, ensuring people have enough to thrive, and protecting nature.

This week’s announcement on the NZ Upgrade falls short of what is needed to deliver this work for the country.

We have been celebrating the wins we fought hard for in the NZ Upgrade. There is $200 million that our Green minister for climate change has won specifically to replace the coal boilers that are fuelling our schools and hospitals. This money will make a difference.

In transport, we got a lot more for the climate than you might expect. Over $1.6B for sustainable transport for rail, bus priority and a long overdue dedicated cycle and walkway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

But we have to be honest as a country that we need to go further and faster if we are to meet the goals in our Zero Carbon Act.

Generation Zero wrote in the Spinoff that they were very disappointed at some of the incredibly expensive motorway projects that make up the lion’s share of the transport spend in the NZ Upgrade.

They are absolutely right. It is nowhere near what we need.

Reducing climate pollution is not a “nice-to-have”. It is a physical imperative.

Either we reduce pollution enough to limit dangerous global over-heating, or we face an increasingly insecure future plagued by drought, fire, floods and famine.

If we’re going to borrow billions to invest in the future, we must ensure that every cent helps us protect that future.

Every one of us needs to do our bit in this fight, and every sector needs to pull its weight in cleaning up our act. Transport has been one of the worst, and increasing in recent years.

A few things need to happen for us to reduce transport pollution in line with our 1.5C goals. We need a step-change in public transport, active transport, rail and sea freight; and we need rapid electrification of our car fleet.

It’s true that the NZ upgrade transport package frees up more money in the National Land Transport Programme (the three-year transport budget). Our expectation is that public and active transport, rail freight and coastal shipping, and road safety will continue to be the priorities for future investment.

But the decision to resurrect a few very expensive highways won’t reduce emissions, won’t reduce deaths and serious injuries across the country, and won’t make it easier to get around for most people every day.

A Green Party upgrade would have prioritised differently, including:

  • Electrification of more rail lines around our major cities to shift trains away from diesel.
  • New rolling stock to increase the services for people, making rail more reliable and accessible.
  • Re-scoping roading projects to focus more on safety rather than increasing capacity far beyond what is needed.
  • Bus and other rapid transit projects, including light rail.
  • Supporting cycling and walking infrastructure in our towns and cities.
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

So what’s next?

I’ll be working to maximise the wins we’ve already won, including reviewing the scope of projects like Mill Road and the Tauranga Northern Link to make sure they include continuous bus lanes and modern off-road cycleways. It’s quite possible we can re-focus these projects to make them better for people and planet. And we will be bringing much better alternative projects to the election campaign.

To do more, to go further and faster, we will need more power in the next governing arrangement.

We have little time to act, but we have so much to gain by doing the right things in the transport space; a stable climate, cleaner air, happier, healthier more connected communities, lower petrol bills, and jobs that help people and the planet.

Keep going!