Auckland’s Climate Change Challenge

June 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and its adverse impacts undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development. Increases in global temperature, sea level rise, ocean acidification and other climate change impacts will seriously affect all living creatures on the planet. This video from NASA uses data from several climate models used by the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change to show how temperatures and precipitation could change by 2100.

If greenhouse gas concentrations were stabilized today, sea level would nonetheless continue to rise for hundreds of years. After 500 years, sea-level rise from thermal expansion alone may have reached only half of its eventual level, which models suggest may lie within ranges of 0.5 to 2 m.

Global Impact

This is how our global neighbours will look with a 2m sea level rise in the next 100-500 years (click on the image to enlarge):

Sea Level rise world wide 2m

Maps taken from . Elevations in urban areas shown on the map may be higher than actual values due to radar reflections from the tops of buildings and other structures. This would result in flooding being more severe than shown on this map.

Impact on Auckland

In New Zealand, the Ministry for the Environment projects sea levels to rise in Auckland by 0.5-0.8m by 2090. Global warming will result in increased storm events, increased flooding during storm events, increased coastal erosion, damage to private and public property, environmental effect of flooding of stormwater and sewage pipes, loss in productivity, reduction in fisheries, and the increase in climate change refugees from the Pacific Islands. Air pollution will continue to have a detrimental impact on Aucklander’s health with existing fuel based technology. The damage we are seeing in Auckland today is likely to be exacerbated in the next 50-100 years. Auckland has to play its part in this global catastrophe. This will be a major challenge for the next generation of Aucklanders and something has to be done about it today.

Tamaki Drive flooding Western Motorway floodingAuckland Air Pollution

Auckland is one of the world’s biggest air-polluters 

It might seem impossible to believe but the latest research from the University of Auckland’s carbon research station in Howick suggests Auckland produces an estimate 160 tons of CO2 per hectare in the Auckland urban boundary which is just below Beijing’s 180 tons and above Tokyos’s 125 tons of CO2 per hectare. This places Auckland in the top third most polluting cities in the world for producing greenhouse gases per hectare. I’ve always thought that Auckland had good vegetation cover per hectare to help mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions across the city but the latest LIDAR Council Data (2013) for vegetation over 3 meters shows Auckland is well behind the rest of the world at 19%.

Carbon vs Vegetation

Reducing Auckland’s Emissions

Auckland’s two largest sources of emissions are transport (35%) and electricity / stationary energy (31%), which together account for approximately two thirds of our total emissions. For the rest of New Zealand, emissions from agriculture dominate, and transport accounts for only 20% of total emissions. Auckland’s emissions profile is relatively unusual, particularly when compared to other similar-sized cities in Australia and North America. This is partly due to New Zealand’s large renewable energy resource base and the high levels of car usage in Auckland, where transport is a greater source of emissions than electricity.

Aucklands emissions profile

Projections suggest there could be a further increase in Auckland’s emissions of 39% by 2031 (based on 1990 levels). This projection is based on a simplistic or naïve ‘Business As Usual’ (nBAU) model of applying current consumption levels to projected population and economic growth.

For Auckland to reduce it’s greenhouse gas emissions there must be clear initiatives to reduce emissions in transport, electricity, manufacturing and waste.

Transport – 35% Emissions

Private Automobile

Auckland will never meet its carbon reduction goals without intervention over fossil fuel being burnt from automobiles. The challenge is that the average Auckland automobile is 14 years old and this is growing. Which means a car purchased today will be on the road until 2030. The adoption of electric vehicles in Auckland is slow. In the first quarter of 2016 there were just 1,128 EVs registered on New Zealand roads.

The electric and driver-autonomous revolution is starting to change the future of private technology. There are many incentives in countries to encourage the growth of EVs, such as purchasing subsidies, no road tolls, free use in bus lanes, free parking and free charging stations.

What are other cities or countries doing?

  • The Netherlands are discussing the possibility to only allow electric vehicles sales starting in 2025. Click here to read more.
  • Three trials are being undertaken in London to deliver autonomous vehicles. Click here to watch the video. Click here to watch the video of the Milton Keynes trial.
  • Driver-less cars being launched all around the world and will help to reduce emissions, congestion and increase safety on our roads. Click here to find out more.
  • Six big European cities plan to go car-free. They plan to turn central districts into pedestrian havens with less automobile congestion and air pollution. Click here to read more.
  • Jeremy Clarkson tried out the Electric Mercedes and said “nothing like I have ever driven before… a thoroughbred”. Click here to watch his video.

Public Transport

Auckland’s greatest success in carbon reduction transport of the last decade has been the electrification of Auckland’s rail network. This has created a viable alternative transport option for people living in and around train stations in Auckland. However, Auckland train commuters represent just est. 13% of all passenger transport trips which shows a massive gap in the delivery of zero emissions by bus (est. 86%) and ferry services (est.1%).

Ironically Auckland used to have a massive fleet of electric trams which were followed by electric trolley buses. After that, Auckland had  hybrid gas (turbine) electric vehicles running the old innercity run. The City Circuit free service was introduced in 2003, using three red hybrid-electric buses arriving at 10-minute intervals on a route encompassing Britomart, Queen St, the Sky Tower and university campuses. These were also taken off the road indefinitely because of reliability issues and replaced with diesel vehicles in 2008.

The latest buses to hit Auckland streets are the Envrio500 double decker buses which are not zero emissions or hybrid buses. In fact, the tendering process run by Auckland Transport’s was weak in delivering zero emissions targets but instead made reference to “(a) greenhouse gas emission reduction; (b) reduction in emissions to air, water and soil; (c) energy efficiency (on site, in Vehicles, and infrastructure facilities); (d) training/up-skilling of staff in sustainability principles“.

To-date I am unaware that Auckland Transport has any service level agreements with any bus, ferry or train operators that set out clear targets to reduce fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions. The following Auckland public transport operators have NO EMISSIONS TARGETS on their websites:

NZ Bus, Fullers Ferries,  Trans Dev (Rail Operator), SeaLink, Pineharbour Ferries, SkyBus, Howick & Eastern Buses, Ritchies Transport. In-fact, appallingly only three operator I could find made any mention about their impact on the environment which were NZ Bus, Trans Dev and Howick & Eastern Buses.

Around the world cities are moving to both fully electric, driverless and demand driven transport to deduce costs, congestion, carbon emissions and increase safety. Cities are working proactively with operators with investment strategies to implement new technology.

What are other cities or countries doing?

Driver-less Public Transport

  • Masdar City in the UAE is the world’s first carbon neutral city and have implemented a city wide driver-less technology. Click here to see the before and after videos.
  • Greece has launched their first fully electric driver-less bus. Click here to watch the video.
  • Heathrow Airport in London has the same problems as an urban environments and have implemented a fully automated POD cars. Click here to watch the video.


  • Auckland’s sister city Guangzhou in China has opened the first large-scale charging station for electric buses and will introduce 300 All-Electric Buses this May. Click here to read the story.
  • Transport for London will introduction the world’s first zero-emission, long-range, all electric Double Decker buses. Click here for more information.
  • Mumbai will soon introduce a fleet of around 25 to 30 fully electric buses to hit the road in coming months to reduce noise and air pollution. Click here for more information.
  • Seattle’s Proterra Electric Bus has been put to the test and was 231% more efficient than their diesel buses. Click here for more information.
  • Milton Keynes have trailed a wireless charge system for zero emission buses. Click here to read more.
  • New Zealand company Design Line Bus Pacific has launched it’s own Zero Emissions Bus in Dubai. Click here for more information.

Light Rail

Light rail is taking over cities all around the world that have dense walk-able neighborhoods. These high occupancy vehicles are also being implemented on existing roads where buses can no longer service because demand has outstripped supply. In my previous blog on light rail in the City of Helsinki you can read about how Helsinki regarded this transformation to light rail as the biggest move towards being a “liveable city”. Here are just some of the transformations taking place because of light rail:

  • The first light rail line opened in the sub-Saharan Africa nation of Ethiopia in 2015. Click here to see the video.
  • Bus services to be replaced on the London to Luton airport link with a light rail service. Click here for more information.
  • Even cities in the US are demanding light rail over conventional buses. Click here to read about what’s happening in the Miami area.


Diesel fumes belch out onto the Waitemata Harbour everyday as commuters and tourists jump on ferries. Over half a million tourists a year visit Waiheke Island and experience our carbon emissions first hand that bellows out across the outer deck.

The first zero emissions car ferry was launched in Norway with the Siemen’s . Click on the video below to learn about this ground breaking technology:

  • Sweden has a supercharged electric ferry that operates with very little sound. Click here to watch the video.
  • New York Cities Hornblower 400 passenger ferry service is hybrid boat which uses a hydrogen fuel cell. Click here to read more.

Marine Freight Transport

The Ports of Auckland are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and a major air polluter from trucks, trains, hoists, and idling cruise and cargo ships. Due to its low cost, most large cargo vessels are powered by bunker fuel also known as Heavy Fuel Oil which contains higher sulphur levels than diesel. The Ports of Auckland make no mention of emissions or targets to reduce emission on their sustainability section of their website.

Z Energy  operates the state-of-the-art double hulled barge “Awanuia“, which sits in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, it supplies 380cst heavy bunker fuel oil and gas oil at both the port of Auckland and Northport (Marsden Point). This barge has a capacity of 2,900MT, 380cst, and 600MT of marine gas oil.

In this day and age, it is no longer acceptable to have container or cruise ship at port with emissions burning in the city center. A major technological overhaul is required at the Ports of Auckland to protect public health, clean the environment and promote social justice and equality.

More than 15 ports around the world have implementing a number of solutions to clean up their act.  This includes a “plug-in” shore power electrical systems. The port of San Diego installed a “plug-in” electrical device for cruise ships that when run for 8-9 hours removes 1 ton of air pollutants out of their air. A similar system in Vancouver saved a ship 17,000 litres of diesel during a normal 10 hours of usage.

  • Haliifax port going green with cruise ship ‘plug-in’. Click here to watch the video.
  • Vancouver introduces shore power in the summer of 2009. Click here to watch the video.
  • Watch this promotional video that further explains the technology. Click here to watch the video
  • The port of Shenzhen had this report commissioned on the costs and benefits of shore power. Click here to read.
  • The State of California has published a Zero and Low-Emissions Freight Pathways strategy. Click here to read.


Flight is likely to be one of the last bastions of carbon reduction due to the technology required to deliver reliable long-haul renewable energy. However, a transition to bio-fuel alternative was tested successfully in New Zealand in 2008 and could be an interim solution.

Air New Zealand has aspiration to be the world’s most fuel efficient long haul oceanic operator and as such are implementing a range of initiatives that will reduce the negative environmental impacts of their operations. They have set two outstanding goals; Carbon neutral growth from 2020 and a reduction of 50% in net emissions by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. Well done Air New Zealand!!!

Airline manufactures are now testing electric planes but the technology is far-from delivering commercially viable options. However, with fuel being one of the major factors to flight costs the first to deliver a reliable option will have considerable competitive advantages.

  • China has tested its first two-seater electric plane. Click here to watch the video.
  • The Alpha Electro aircraft in Slovenia is fully electric. Click here to watch the video.

Walking and Cycling

Over the next three years over $120 million of cycleways and walkways will be built across Auckland. These cycle links will make it safer and easier for children to cycle or walk to and from school and provide an alternative and more active choice for commuters. From international experience many of the links between parks and open spaces, called Greenways, are utilised mostly by recreational users. However, cycling or walking is not an option for most Aucklanders because of the poor urban design of the city that has forced people to travel large distances from home to work. Town planning needs to encourage town centre development with people living, working and playing within close proximity to encourage more people to take these active forms of transport.

Rather than showing the flat and developed cycle communities of the Netherlands, here are some cities with similar topography and urban sprawl to Auckland and how they transform their city for walking and cycling.

  • Melbourne has an amazing network of cycleways. Click here to watch the video.
  • Portland in the USA has developed amazing bike boulevards and greenways. Click here to watch the video.
  • The BBC has done a great story on “Electric bikes; For People who don’t cycle?”. Click here to watch the video.
  • Christchurch has implemented a public art trail to reconnect people back to the city and encourage walking. Click here to watch the video.

Electricity – 31% Emissions

With 31% of Auckland Carbon Emissions coming from electricity consumption we need to look at alternative ways to increase renewable supply and reduce “dirty-supply” to the network. New Zealanders are the 17th highest users of electricity per head of population in the world and we land in the mid-range for electricity kw/hr pricing. Auckland Council needs to position itself to support those organisations and individuals that want to reduce operating costs and create a carbon free electricity network.

The single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in our electricity market is the Genesis Energy’s Huntly Power Station in Northern Waikato. With 1,000 MW of coal-and-gas-fired generations and 435 MW of gas only generators, it supplies around 17% of the country’s electricity.

Every year new power technology become available to organisations and individuals to reduce energy consumption in an effort to save money, be self-sufficient and reduce their carbon footprint.

Localised Energy

  • The City of Munich in Germany is going 100% renewable energy by investing energy production all across the city, including its elephant dung. Click here to watch the video.
  • Barcelona has started their sustainable Energy City Plan knowing fossil fuels will not be around forever. Click here to watch the video.
  • Costa Rica used 100% renewable energy for the first 75 days of 2015. Click here to watch the video.
  • China is starting the revolution with 4bn Pounds being spent each year on wind and solar power generation. Click here to read the article and watch the video.

Housing / Business

  • This BBC story shows how a building energy retro-fit can save money and reduce carbon emissions. Click here to read and watch the video.
  • The company Tesla has unveiled a powerwall batteries to support businesses and households. Click here to read an article by Understand Solar and click here to watch the video.
  • P2P is New Zealand’s only peer to peer energy provider using solar. Click here to visit their website.

Agriculture / Waste – 12% Emissions

Food Supply

New Zealand is in a unique situation that we produce more food than is consumed by local population. Admittedly that food gets shipped overseas increasing New Zealand’s carbon footprint on the world. Like many New Zealand farmers who’s knees are sore from praying for rain, many Cities around the world face both water and food shortages as a result of changes in the world’s climate.

Community gardens and farms have started springing up all over cities around the world. This is a way of people to come together, provides an opportunity for people to connect with nature, secure their food source and reduce food miles.

Auckland currently has 53 community gardens that are facilitated by Gardens4Health along with 211 Enviro-School food programs that compost school lunches, grow food and harvest. This is a good start but there is no city-wide integrated approach to compost food waste, produce compost, grow and harvest.

  • Learn about how Native Americans are Indigenizing the Local Food Movement across America. Click here to find out more.
  • The City of Detroit in the USA established a Justice Task Force for food. Click here to visit their website.
  • Knocknaheeney in Ireland has started building community gardens to “Feed the City”. Click here to watch the video.
  • The BBC report on the worst drought in 30 years in South Africa. Click here to watch the video.


One third of all human food consumption requires pollinators like bees to reproduce. Habitat destruction and disease is killing bees all around the world and this threatens not only food supply but plant reproduction. A study reported by The Guardian newspaper estimated that bees are worth US$3,250 per hectare from just food crop alone.

In 2007-2008, over a third of US beehives collapsed, while European countries estimated 30 to 50 per cent of their bee colonies were completely gone. In an effort to prevent honey-bee colony collapse, Europe has restricted the use of a insecticide called neonicotinoid in seed treatment, soil application and foliage treatment on plants attractive to bees, and cereals in flower. Neonicotinoids have been available for use in New Zealand for more than 20 years. In March 2015, the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority published a report outlining rules of “no spraying near hives” and since bees can travel up to 5kms away “people must avoid spraying within a few kilometres of a hive”.

However, Neonicotinoids are readily available at your garden centres across New Zealand and I would assume many people who buy the product or seeds will be unfamiliar with the impact spraying is having on hives. Seeds sold to both farmers and home gardeners – especially corn, grass seed and various vegetables – can be pre-coated with neonicotinoids, without any labeling. The only sure way to avoid these is to purchase certified organic or untreated seed.

Solid Waste

In 2005 Auckland Council adopted a zero waste policy: to progressively achieve zero waste status by 2040. Projections show that with current Auckland population predictions, without increased intervention, the annual amount of waste disposed to landfills will almost double within 10 years. This is a staggering increase from 1.5 million tonnes of waste to 3 million tonnes of waste. The challenge is very little has been achieved at a regional level to move away from landfills and provide alternative solutions.

One area that can easily be achieved is in the decomposing of organic waste that generates greenhouse gas like methane that is 21 times stronger when it comes to causing climate change. Around the world many cities have realised that food scraps are one of the largest remaining component of waste that can be diverted from landfill and re-used. Cities around the world have implemented successful localized composting solutions for residential and commercial food waste. Auckland Council has started trailing an organic collection on the Northshore for residents but has no plans for commercial food waste.

Auckland medical facilities burn contaminated waste which releases toxic chemicals into our atmosphere. Cities around the world have started implementing new technology through the use of ozone to sterilize waste with no atmospheric impact.

  • The city of Tokyo in Japan has implemented a plastics waste reduction project that has reduced waste to landfill by 50% and helps to heat the local swimming pool. Click here to watch the video.
  • This Japanese community takes Zero Waste very seriously and separate their trash into 34 categories. Click here to watch the video.
  • The City of Tempe in Arizona gives FREE COMPOST to it’s residents by taking organic matter from residents that would normally go to landfill. Click here to watch the video.
  • The City of Sonoma converted two thirds of their restaurants to compost their food waste. Click here to watch the video.
  • The city of Nebraska talks about their Zero Waste Community Roadmap. Click here to watch the video.
  • TedX Video has Lauren Singer talking about her Sero Waste Life. Click here to watch the video.
  • Medical Waste Treatment has come a long way with new ozone technology for sterilization.  Click here to watch the video.

Waste water

You might not want to think about where our waste water goes but the Mangere Sewage Treatment plant plays a critical role in protecting human and environmental health. The Mangere Sewage Plant is revered by international groups as world leading because it utilities naturally occurring bacteria and UV light irradiation. However, the treatment plant has three key outputs:

  • burnt methane creates electricity to run the plant,
  • non-drinkable water into the Manukau Harbour which contains plastic microbeads, and
  • sludge which is buried in a quarry with layers of plastic to prevent ground water contamination.

The issue is that industrial pollution washed down the waste water pipes is mixed with biological waste and treated together. Essentially Auckland cannot compost its raw sewage like other cities because we allow for harsh contaminates by industry to enter our waste management system.

Rather than building a new network of additional pipes for human effluent and one for commercial waste water, which would probably bankrupt the city, cities around the world are cracking down on contaminated waste water by commercial operators. They are having to treat waste water before it enters the network.  Businesses around the world are becoming more aware of their environmental impact and are implementing technology that saves them both money and their impact on the natural environment. This has created an entire new technology industry to clean up waste water before entering into the water network.

Unlike Auckland, other cities around the world are able to refine their bio-solids to create rich solids for crop growth.

  • New York City has its own program to turn human waste into fertilizer. Click here to watch the video.
  • Kenya had a chronic challenge of human waste in slums which they are now turning into fertilizer. Click here to watch the video.
  • To reduce waste water the Kapitit Coast District Council in New Zealand has a $5k assistance fund towards grey or rain water systems. Click here to read the policy.

Urban Forest

The latest Auckland Council Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) map from 2013 shows that Auckland’s Urban Canopy, in the Auckland Isthmus, shows that just 19% of the city is covered with tree canopy. Compared to other cities around the world this is an appalling result. This ranks Auckland inline with Tokyo City and far from our neighbours across the ditch in Melbourne who are aiming for 40%.

Everyone knows the benefits of carbon sequestration of trees but they also provide cleaner and cooler air. Melbourne plan to reduce their air temperatures by as much as 2-4 degrees with the introduction of more trees. The benefits of the urban forest is almost too beneficial to count; increase property values, lower utility bills, less stress, less crime, stormwater control, UV protection, habitats and much more.

What are other cities or countries doing?

  • The first vertical forest was built with 20,000 plants into two residential towers. The purpose is to filter air and create a micro climate in the city center of Milan, Italy. Click here to see the concept and click here to see the final building.
  • Learn about US cities plans to increase tree cover. Click here to learn more.
  • The City of Melbourne is on a journey to change the direction of it’s dramatic city wide loss of 44% of its trees within the next 20 years. Click here to see the video.
  • The City of Belmont in Perth Australia are implementing their Urban Forest Strategy, Click here to learn more.

Coastal Protection

The City of New York has realised the vulnerability that downtown Manhattan has to storms and sea level rise caused by global warming. As a result the Mayor has announced a project called the U-Shape with an initial US$300m investigation to building a wall around lower Manhattan. For years London, the Netherlands and  have implemented large scale coastal protection but New York has taken a step away from hard bleak infrastructure to building recreational and green space within the protective wall.


  • Kiribati is just 2-3 meters above the high-tide mark and will soon be underwater. Click here to see the video.
  • Five islands in the pacific will soon be underwater due to sea level rise caused by climate change. Click here to read the article.
  • Holland has a network of barriers to protect the land from flooding. Click here to watch the video (44mins)

The BIG DIG is underway

June 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

DiggersThe +$3b Central Rail Line project kicked off last week. This is the biggest infrastructure project in Auckland’s history which will deliver a 3.2km rail track from Britomart to Mt Eden via the Aotea and K’Road Train Stations. During peek commuter periods the rail tunnel will deliver the same number of passengers as a 12 lane motorway.

The timing of this project could not be better as Auckland’s public transport usage continues to soar with the latest figures showing a total of 81.2 million passenger trips in the past year – a 22% increase in rail passengers.

There are now 66 property developments being built in and around the city centre as residential, commercial, retail, hotel, heritage renewal and cinema development. The central rail line will continue to add significant value in the years to come for residents, workers and students.

As the city goes through an exciting transformation there will be significant disruption to how people access the city. The construction methodology for building the tunnel in Lower Albert Street requires a cut and cover approach. This will mean that many roads will be taken down to two lanes.

As part of the consenting works you will have noticed new bus priority lanes have popped up on Queen Street, Halsey Street and Wellesley Street to increase public transport efficiency. Further works are planned over the next few years to deliver a rapid bus lane from the motorway along Fanshawe Street and further cycleway improvements on Federal Street and connecting Nelson Street to the waterfront.


Many Auckland Mayors have dreamed to deliver an underground rail system through the city centre and it has now become a reality. Mayor Len Brown has truly delivered this project for the future generation of Aucklanders. Thank you Len. We should also acknowledge Sir Dove Myer Robinson for his vision, Mayor Less Miles for building the first tunnel, and Mayor Christine Fletcher for building and future proofing the Britomart transport interchange. The build is on!

Please visit the Auckland Transport website to learn more.

Rob Thomas announces his candidacy for the Waitemata and Gulf Ward

June 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

Rob Thomas-3(1) Young and rising star of the Waitemata Local Board Rob Thomas has announced his council candidacy for the Waitemata and Gulf ward.
Mr Thomas’s campaign is grounded in a firm view for the future – an Auckland city that is green, tech-driven and led by a dynamic and responsive council.
It is with great pleasure that I announce my candidacy for the Councillor for the Waitemata & Gulf Ward” said Mr Thomas.
The Council needs fresh thinking and an independent voice for our community. We need to preserve our history but we can’t rely on the ideas of the past. We have to look forward and find new ideas to take this city forward.”
Putting our environment first

Creating a green Auckland is at the top of the agenda for Mr Thomas heading into this election. 

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and its adverse impacts undermine Auckland’s ability to achieve sustainable development. Auckland needs to start investing in clean technology within our community.”

Mr Thomas is campaigning for the first electric public transport vehicles on our streets and on our waterways.

We’ve already seen the huge difference that electric trains can make to the lives of Aucklanders, so why stop there?” Said Mr Thomas.

Let’s bring our ferries, busses and council vehicles into the 21st century by going electric.”

Central to Mr Thomas’s policy platform is a commitment to greening our city, by empowering local boards and the community to plant 1 million new trees over the coming years.

Auckland has to quite literally go green.” explained Mr Thomas. “Auckland’s Urban Forest has an almost endless number of benefits from stormwater management, air quality control, natural habitat and carbon sequestration. However, Auckland has just 19% tree cover within the Auckland Isthmus and are behind Melbourne with their ambitious target of 40%

The effects of climate change isn’t just an issue for the council, this is something that all communities have to take the lead on.”

Building a better council

Housing, rates and council spending are all hot topics heading into this election, but so far no candidate has put forward a comprehensive plan to actually fund the city’s growth in a sustainable manner. For that reason Mr Thomas will be campaigning to introduce smart changes to the way the city is funded, while freeing up underutilised land within the city’s existing urban boundaries.

Auckland Council needs to get its financials books in order. The city needs significant investment in Transport and Housing infrastructure over the next two decades” explained Mr Thomas.

There is no doubt that millions can be saved within the Council’s existing processes but Auckland Council needs to develop an investment strategy that works on growing the rates base rather than borrowing or penny pinching. There are underutilised plots of land all across Auckland, in city centres and around transport hubs, that are serviced by infrastructure and are not working for us. Just one of those low yield sites is the Ports of Auckland.”

A tech-driven Auckland

Cities around the world have recognised that great ideas and collaboration turn them into great businesses. This means having a council that is actively engaged with the entrepreneurs and thinkers of our city before they decide to take their ideas overseas.

Auckland has a technology start-up sector that is teetering on the edge of major global success. Since Grid AKL was established fledgling tech hubs have already sprung up in the roof of Devenport’s Ferry Building and Grid UpTown near the Mt Eden Railway Station. These are just the start though, we need a whole new generation of startups to take Auckland into the future.”

Rob Thomas has spent two terms (six years) serving on the Waitemata Local Board. Mr Thomas first started his community service as the Chair of the Auckland Youth Council and working on the Britomart Train Station project. Since then, he has working in strategy for the City of Westminster in London and Wellington City Council, culminating in his experience on the Local Board. Mr Thomas is a keen cyclist and has cycled across the Rocky Mountains in Canada, through Switzerland and around the Mediterranean Coast in Italy.

It has been a great pleasure to represent our community on the Waitemata Local Board but now is the time for a major sea change. Auckland faces a bright and healthier future which involves a focus on the environment, technology, and sustainable investment plan in transport and housing.”


Delay to Parnell Train Station

June 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

Parnell Station Design

Further uncertainty continues to damper the opening of the Parnell Train Station. The project started in 2015 with a planned completion date of late 2016. The latest report indicates that the opening of the Parnell Station is to be considered in the first half of 2017. Despite the station platforms being completed late last year, the half-built station is now left abandoned and it seems no further works is continuing on site to meet the deadline.

To date, there has been very poor governance over this project and there is clearly no sense of priority by the Auckland Transport Committee. As the project runs over its deadline I am concerned that the $18.9m budget has the potential to blow out. There is already project creep as the Waitemata Local Board and Council’s Walking & Cycling Team are being asked to pick up the cost of funding a $700k pedestrian only connection, poorly designed because it will not be accessible for prams or part of the greenways route for cycling. It’s impossible to believe that the Parnell Train Station project would not have budgeted for a pedestrian connection from the station into the city. Now precious Local Board funds are planned to be used to prop up the project.

A six month delay on the station being fully operational will effect the journey times for more than 240,000 passengers in the morning peak (based on Auckland Transports working week peek period forecast or more than 2,000 passengers per day). The story gets worse. The advice I have been given to date suggest that the Auckland Transport Committee are only considering allowing the Papakura Train to stop at the station once operational. This will significantly hinder the environmental, social and economic benefits for Parnell until the station is fully operational.

Click here to read the Parnell Station project scope and please contact the members of the Auckland Transport Committee to express your view.

Pollinator Pathways coming to Grey Lynn

April 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

Pollinators are a critical link in our food system. It’s estimated that animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops. There are a wide variety of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, skinks, birds, bats and flies.

Unfortunately, the numbers of both native pollinators and domesticated bee populations are declining. They are threatened by habitat loss, disease, and the excessive and inappropriate use of pesticides.

Though networks in our community I meet with Andrea Reid, who is a recent landscape architect graduate, employee at ACOM and specialises in Pollinator Pathways. Andrea is the community champion for this cornerstone project and has published many reports and planting guides for food source and habitat creation. Please visit her website  and like her facebook page.

When Waitemata Local Board members Deborah Yates and I meet with Andrea we discussed potential locations for a pollinator pathway in our ward that would:
  • linked to an existing project,
  • would enhance the environment,
  • be a corner stone project,
  • delivered through partnership, and
  • challenge conventional thinking.

With more than $90m going into new cycleways and Greenways over the next three years it made sense to coordinate one of these projects with Pollinator Pathways. As a result of the great work of Andrea Reid and the notice of motion Greenways; enhancing ecological outcomes that was passed by the Waitemata Local Board this is becoming a reality. Pollinator Pathways is now a community engagement tool within the Greenways Design Manual that any Auckland Community can advocate to implement.

The Pollinator Pathways Projects

There are three unique and distinct pollinator projects taking place along the Greenway Link Between Richmond Road and the Farro site: 

Mitre 10 Butterfly Farm
The Butterfly Farm will be situated on Auckland Transport’s berm beside Mitre 10 on Westmoreland Street West. Auckland Transport are already aware of the proposal and have provided in principle support. The current space is a grass berm that varies in width and runs approximately 130 meters along the wall of Mitre 10 to the main entrance. The design incorporates swan plants, raised nettles, butterfly feeders, tussocks, cornflowers and muehlenbeckia. Mitre 10 branded educational signage will provide information on butterflies, plants and pollination.

 Pollinator Pathway Rob Thomas Andrea Reid Mitre 10 Auckland

Buzz Inn

The Buzz Inn will be situated along the new Greenways walkway and cycleway (TBC location).  A bee haven will not just be for honey bees but for other lesser known NZ bees too (there are 28 varieties of native bees). While one section of the design would focus on bees, another would focus on birds and contain a variety of feeders and shelters.The Pollinator Pathway through the site will be signposted will also be fully accessible.

 Pollinator Pathway Andrea Reid Farro Fresh Rob Thomas Auckland

Enviro Schools Insect Motel

Using masonry blocks we will create unique habitats with the assistance of local Enviro Schools. Each block will contain different forged materials such as bamboo, bark, pine cones to create these habitats. This small wall will be placed along the side of the Greenway.

 Pollinator Pathway Andrea Reid Rob Thomas Auckland Enviro Schools
Next Steps

To date Andrea and the Geko Trust have a fully funded project through a community grant and many volunteer hours. Mitre 10 has confirmed their participation from the business owner, head office and land owner. To date two Enviro Schools have confirmed their participation.

Once land-owner approval is granted, a meeting with neighbors and detail design completed the project is planned to commence halfway through this year.

It has been a great pleasure working with Andrea Reid and the enormous number of stakeholders in our community to pull this project together. This is what I believe will be the start of many other pollinator pathways in our community.

Read More

2 February 2016 – Greenways; enhanced ecological outcomes, click here

13 December 2015 – Coxs Bay Walkway Upgrade, click here

20 April 2013 – Construction update: Coxs Bay Boardwalk, click here

1 April 2013 – Column: Starting soon construction on our first walking and cycling highway along Cox’s Bay Creek, click here

10 March 2013 – Construction commences on cycling and walking highway, click here

4 March 2013 – Greenways consultation closing soon, click here

2 September 2012 – Coxs Bay Creek Boardwalk rebuild approved, click here

11 December 2012 – Waitemata Greenways, click here

UpTown business innovation hub to be investigated

April 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

At last night’s Waitemata Local Board meeting the resolution was passed to investigate the building of a new business innovation hub in UpTown, near the Mt Eden Train Station.

The UpTown innovation project is an economic development initiative aimed at cultivating an innovation community in UpTown. The Waitemata Local Board and ATEED have granted $12k to further scope the opportunity in terms of long-term value creation, activation options and costs to develop and implement the plan. A plan is expected to be available by the end of May 2016.

The geographic location of the site is the relatively small commercial area in the UpTown District that is bounded by Nikai, Ruru and Shaddock Streets. However the outcomes are expected to impact more widely. All the buildings within the specified area are owned by Auckland Transport and are currently designated for demolition due the end of 2017 as part of the City Rail Link project.

UpTown Unicorn Breeding Shed

The project’s short term focus is to tenant the buildings with innovation-related entities aimed at establishing an innovation community, or hub, and laying the foundations for longer term economic benefit for UpTown and wider Auckland.

There are currently three groups and two co-working facilities already established in and around the area:
  • Auckland Lightning Lab – curators of start-up acceleration programmes
  • Industry Connect – preparing ICT graduates with work-ready skills
  • Enspiral – providing networks, support and training for tech startups
  • Shared Space – spaces to co-habitat with other organisations
  • The Collective

The total group represents a fledgling community of innovators upon which to construct an active support programme.

Let’s Talk

Please contact me if you want to discuss further.

Media Release: Resident Parking Zone to be rolled out in Freemans Bay

April 6, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

For immediate release

Resident only parking zone

Parking in the central suburbs has become a serious issue, with locals and commuters jostling for precious parking spaces. The latest research from Auckland Transport shows there are more free carparks in Freemans Bay than the Civic Carpark in Aotea Square and during the working day Freemans Bay has more than 80% occupancy.

Waitemata Local Board Member Rob Thomas says “It’s time that we kick out commuters from resident streets in the inner-city and encourage people to us public transport. Our residential streets are not parking lots.”

With parking in the city becoming increasingly expensive, suburbs with free parking have seen an influx of city commuters searching for all day parking. The link buses have unfortunately exacerbated this problem; turning leafy suburbs into park and ride services into the city. Residents are struggling to access their homes, with no off-street parking, and commuters are forced to compete for free parking.

Mr Thomas says “Cars hawk local neighborhoods looking for free car parking. Wellington has had resident only parking for years and now is the time for Auckland to roll this out across the inner-city.”

The planned residential parking zone is planned to be rolled out by Auckland Transport in June this year. The scheme will have a 2-hour parking time-restriction (P120) that applies Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. Residents and businesses within the zone can apply for permits and coupons that give exemption from the time-restriction. A permit costs $70 and is valid for one year. Electronic coupons are also available for trades people and visitors.

Mr Thomas says “The 2-hour parking time-restriction should free-up more parking for shoppers to Ponsonby but commuters will need to start making alternative transport choices.”

Mr Thomas has concerns that Auckland Transport will not be able to meet the demand with recent cancellations of trains and regional buses reaching full capacity.

“Displacing thousands of commuters from the inner-city needs to be backed-up with reliable, frequent, affordable and high-occupancy public transport choice. We need to see more public transport investment in the region with more park-and-ride facilities at train stations and on busways.”

For more information about the Freemans Bay Residential Parking Zone visit



Previous Blogs

11 August 2015 – Resident Parking roll-out – click here

9 September 2013 – Media Release – Rob Thomas promises to kick commuters out of residential streets

1 June 2013 – Column: Parking in Auckland’s Inner-City – click here

25 July 2012 – St Mary’s Bay Parking Trial – click here


Media Release: Pizza Party planned for Symonds Street

February 3, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog


Life is flourishing at the Symonds Street Community Garden. The first vegetables are taking shape, the bee hives have grown from two to five and there are lots of bumblebees among the self-seeding wildflowers.

Volunteers are now preparing to host a Pizza Party from 10 am on Saturday 12th March for the community. Over the next few weeks the volunteers will be building a pizza oven and harvesting vegetables as toppings for the pizza. Everyone is invited to attend. They are encouraging local residents to bring their own toppings to add to the event at 257 Symonds Street.

Waitemata Local Board Member Rob Thomas says “This once abandoned, derelict site on Symonds Street has been transformed into a lush inner-city garden for everyone to enjoy. A lot of hard work, sweat and sunscreen has gone into creating this space. There is still more to be done but it’s time to reap what you sow.”

Community Garden Manager Sean Taylor says “As much as I have all loved gardening in the space, for me the best part about growing food is being able to eat it. There is nothing better than being able to eat food you grew, surrounded by greenery among new and old friends, it’s what a Kiwi summer is meant to be.”

Mr Thomas says that if residents want to get involved in the garden there are regular working bees on the first Sunday of each month or to visit the facebook page




Greenways; enhancing ecological outcomes

February 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

Pollinator Pathways 2

An aspiration of many people in our community is to enhance the ecological outcomes we generate in our parks and open spaces. Over the past six months I have been working with local Landscape Architect Andrea Reid on developing a Pollinator Pathways Strategy for our ward. At our Waitemata Local Board meeting this month I have tabled a Notice of Motion to deliver wider environmental outcomes for our Greenway Projects.

Notice of Motion: Ecological Enhancements for Greenways Development

Executive Summary

The Waitematā Greenways Plan that was adopted in July 2013 with aspirations to deliver on an overall vision:

We value our beautiful natural environment and the building and streetscapes that reflect our heritage and shape our identities. We will ensure that these environments are protected and enhanced for future generations to enjoy … we advocate for a sustainable city with connected transport options including public transport that is easy to access and increased cycleways and walkways. We will promote the health and safety of our communities as key factors in transport decisions.”

Beneath this overarching vision, we set out a key objective: 

We will encourage the use of swales (natural filtration systems), earth sinks, green roofs, green walls, grey water tanks and tree planting around streams.”

The plan goes on to elaborate on the environmental benefits of Greenways as corridors to:

Improve stormwater quality and reduce flooding events through low impact design (LID) measures, and by enhancing ecosystems, habitat sources and ecological niches.”

With NZTA and Auckland Transport investment in Greenways, for walking and cycling over the next three years, the purpose of this notice of motion is to ensure  that the greater vision that includes ecological enhancements is included in project delivery.

There are three key designs the Waitematā Local Board request Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to consider for ecological enhancements:

Pollinator Pathways Design

Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, beetles, skinks and birds are all critical links in our food system. It’s estimated that animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one-third of human food crops.

Unfortunately, the numbers of both native pollinators and domesticated bee populations are declining. They are threatened by habitat loss, disease, and the excessive and inappropriate use of pesticides.

Auckland Council actively promotes the value of pollinators to the community through a series of educational pamphlets called “Landscapes for Life”. These encourage the private planting of pollinating plants and a how-to guide on building a “Pollinator Palace” to attract pollinators to your garden. However, Auckland Council does not currently have a Pollinator Planting Schedule that would allow for a wider variety of pollinators to be incorporated into planting programmes.

Installing pollinator plantings will help to educate the community on the value of our pollinators and provide the opportunity for our Enviro Schools to participate in developing habitats for pollinators.

Water Sensitive Urban Design

Many of the areas in which the Greenway corridors are to be developed contain non-separated stormwater management adjacent to important ecological sites, streams and beaches.  Heavy rainfall often causes contamination of these sites as stormwater and wastewater combine and are discharged along Auckland’s inner-city coastal areas. Permanent warning signs are in place at Coxs Bay and in St Mary’s Bay as toxins exceed minimal health standards.

Ensuring the delivery of Water Sensitive Urban Design through Greenways will achieve multiple outcomes such as quality urban design with landscaping amenity, ecological and recreational enhancements.

Similar designs have been incorporated into the urban streetscapes in Wynyard Quarter and Hobsonville Point.  Water Sensitive Design includes swales, water filtration and carbon filtration. These are outlined in the Council’s design manual “Water sensitive design for stormwater, 2015”.

Urban Forest Design

Planting new trees provide both a design element to roads and an important habitat for birdlife. Recent planning changes to allow for the removal of trees on private land has put much of the city’s Urban Forest under threat as the city’s population continues to grow and housing intensifies. The Urban Forest also plays an important part in the carbon sequestration process to off-set human-made carbon emissions.

Auckland has always had a proud history of planting trees along road corridors to separate the road from the carriageway. That heritage is reflected in the iconic urban canopies around the Auckland Domain and Franklin Road.

The Auckland Council continues to play an important part in building and maintaining an Urban Forest and should be reflected in the planting schemes for Greenways.

Verge Gardening Design

Verge or Berm Gardening Design encourages greater community empowerment by encouraging neighbours to take ownership of planting schemes. There are great international examples of how allowing the community stewardship creates increased safety and adds local character to an area.

One of the most famous Verge Garden Designs in the world, visited by hundreds of tourists each day, is Lombard Street in San Francisco. These gardens create the perfect integration of public and private garden planning and stewardship.

This Notice of Motion is aimed at delivering greater ecological restoration within the delivery of the Greenways Programme.


  1. That Waitematā Local Board re-stipulates to Auckland Council and Auckland Transport the importance of delivering high amenity and ecological enhancement along the proposed Greenways corridors.
  2. That the following urban design and ecological restoration design principles are considered for the Waitemata and Greenways Regional Plans:
  • Pollinator Planting
  • Water Sensitive Urban Design
  • Urban Forest
  • Verge Gardening
  1. That Waitematā Local Board endorses the attached Pollinator Planting Strategy by Andrea Reid. The Waitemata Local Board requests the Auckland Council Parks Team to review the Strategy and report back on how a greater choice of pollinator plant species can be incorporated into projects such as the Waitemata Greenways Projects.
  1. That Waitematā Local Board refers the “Ecological Enhancements for Greenways Development Notice of Motion” to the Auckland Council Parks and Recreation Committee and the Greenways Regional Committee for consideration and adoption across greater Auckland.


Read More

13 December 2015 – Coxs Bay Walkway Upgrade, click here

20 April 2013 – Construction update: Coxs Bay Boardwalk, click here

1 April 2013 – Column: Starting soon construction on our first walking and cycling highway along Cox’s Bay Creek, click here

10 March 2013 – Construction commences on cycling and walking highway, click here

4 March 2013 – Greenways consultation closing soon, click here

2 September 2012 – Coxs Bay Creek Boardwalk rebuild approved, click here

11 December 2012 – Waitemata Greenways, click here


Protecting Newmarket’s Volcanic Viewshafts

February 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog

Photo:AMELIA JACOBSEN/ AUCKLAND SUBURBANS. Rob Thomas, the first person to start campaigning for the 2010 local body elections.

In support of the Newmarket Community Association I presented on the Volcanic View Shaft Protection rules for the PAUP (Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan). Based on the feedback from commissioners it looks like we might have a win.

My comments to the commissioners:

Topic 020 Viewshafts

“My name is Rob Thomas, I am an elected member of the Waitemata Local Board.

However, I am presenting to you today as an independent witness for the Newmarket Community Association.

The evidence I am presenting today is in support of keeping Auckland’s Volcanic View Shafts in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

At the heart of a city’s planning framework are rules and guidelines that are designed to prevent the adverse effects that can come from the growth of a city. As Auckland’s population continues to grow and our built environment continues to intensify, Auckland’s Volcanic View Shaft Overlay will continue to be a vital tool, in our planning framework, that will enable growth while protecting the significantly important views that creates Auckland’s unique identity.

Newmarket has experienced significant population growth in less than a decade from 1,578 residents in 2006 to 2,958 in 2013 (Statistics NZ). With significant investment, such as the University of Auckland’s new Engineering Campus on Khyber Pass (with the potential for 5,000 full time students), the planned Westfield Development, the yet to be announced apartment development on the former Newmarket Bowling Club site, Newmarket is likely to experience further intensification and population growth. This growth in my opinion is not stifled by the existing view shaft protect rules. The Newmarket Metropolitian Town Centre will continue to grow and thrive while the Volcanic View Shaft continues to protect our important connection back to both our natural and cultural heritage.

A Link to Auckland’s Natural History

Over the past five years I have door knocked over 16,000 homes in Auckland’s Inner-City and time and time again I hear from residents who tell me that our natural environment is so critical to Auckland’s future.

Auckland’s Volcanoes set the dramatic backdrop to our environment that flows into the Waitemata Harbour. It’s my view that the visual presents and dominance of our Volcanoes, unobstructed by view, is a critical part of the long-term protection of our natural environment. Auckland’s Volcanoes are an iconic feature of the cities natural landscape and that iconic status should continue to be reflected in Auckland’s Volcanic View Shaft overlay in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

A recent study undertaken at the Auckland University of Technology called “Pollinator Pathways” highlights the importance of cities maintaining pollen pathways for animals and insects. It notes that Bees can travel up to 5kms searching for pollen. The study highlights that potential barriers to pollen include transport corridors and the built environment. It is unarguable that our volcanic cones provide a food source for bird life, insects and the pollination required to grow plant species. This gives strong cause that maintaining Auckland’s Volcanic View Shafts, not creating barriers, will allow easier access for pollinators such as birds and insects. This will become increasingly important as Auckland moves towards becoming a low carbon community and reaching our own sustainability goals.

The City of Vancouver (Canada) is very similar to Auckland in many ways including its geographic topography. The City of Vancouver has a planning policy called Protecting Vancouvers Views. Within this framework, Vancouver has 27 protected view corridors, established by the City to protect the view of the North Shore mountains, the Downtown skyline, and the surrounding water.

The planning document says “Vancouver’s skyline signifies the city’s connection to nature and aligns with its goals around sustainability.” The city has used the view shaft guidelines as a key planning tool “The protected view corridors help determine the site location and design of buildings, resulting in the retention of panoramic and narrow views downtown.” More information about the Vancouver experience is available on their website

A Link to Auckland’s Cultural Heritage

The Volcanic View Shafts are an important Taonga (treasure) that date back to Maori occupation and war. The Volcanoes themselves provided sanctuary, but that sanctuary was only granted by the views from volcanoes stretching out towards the harbour and out across the horizon. For centuries these views kept Maori safe from invading tribes and a clear line of site to food source.

Today the Volcanic View Shafts continue to provide a sanctuary for Aucklanders. As Auckland’s population continues to grow the need to protect Auckland’s Volcanic View Shafts will become ever increasingly important as a public amenity and part of our own cultural identity. After all Auckland is a city built on volcanoes.

The City of London (UK) has implemented planning controls over the views of three landmark heritage and cultural icons; St Paul’s Cathedral, the Monument, and the Tower of London. The protected views document state these protected and enhanced views are “for the enjoyment of Londoners and those who visit London”. More information about the UK experience is available on the following websites:

As the UK have rules to protect views associated to a built historic environment so should the history of Auckland’s Volcanoes. Auckland’s Volcanoes are a unique part of our topography which tells a story of Auckland’s wild natural history that has shaped Auckland over millions of years.

The Vancouver and London international precedence exemplify the rational for Auckland keeping the Volcanic View Shafts as they provide an important connection to Auckland’s natural and culture identity.

At this planning hearing today, I am tabling the following documents as international evidence that view shaft protection is a critical planning tool and should continue to be used in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan:

  • Height Restriction Rules as they apply to Asia, Europe and North America
  • Protecting Vancouver’s Views Summary
  • Protecting views, Historic Environment, City of London Summary

Keeping the Volcanic View Shafts aligns with decades of Auckland planning which provides direction on how the city is to grow. Arguably and probably more importantly, it provides direction to what Aucklanders value.

For the reasons outlined, Auckland’s Volcanic View Shaft Protection should be kept in the Auckland Unitary Plan.

Thank you for your consideration.”


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