Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A recipe for privatised roads

Today the government announced plans to "reform" the Land Transport Management Act 2003. This is being sold under the empty slogan of "cutting red tape", but looking closely at the changes, we are looking at less democratic control over roads, combined with a push to privatisation.

On the first point, its worth noting that that "red tape" binds the government, and forces it to be open about what it is doing. So various bodies are forced to prepare transport strategies and plans according to a set of statutory criteria, consult on them, and publish them. National is proposing to reduce the frequency of consultation, and restrict it by e.g. making use of the Special Consultative Process (which requires a formal proposal and hearing of public submissions) "optional". Which, in English, means that the government and councils will be able to do stuff without telling us about it. So, the usual undemocratic authoritarianism from national then.

While they're at it, they'll also be rewriting the purpose of the Act to remove "affordability" and "sustainability" as criteria for transport planning. So, we'll have unaffordable, environmentally unsustainable roads. Nice.

But the real threat is in their proposed changes to the provisions on tolling and Public-Private-Partnerships. Currently, the government cannot impose tolling without public consultation. That provision will be replaced with one requiring that the Minister "be satisfied that adequate consultation was conducted". When you combine this with the lowered consultation requirements (which lower the bar on adequacy), and the weakening of the requirement for public support, the result will be a framework which allows the Minister to impose toll roads on communities without their consent.

On PPPs meanwhile, they're planning to remove the requirement for Ministerial approval, devolving it to road controlling authorities. Which they can in turn defund to force privatisation. They'll also be increasing the maximum lease period from 35 to 49 years, so the new private road owners can gouge us for longer.

It is difficult to see how these "reforms" serve the public. Instead, they make government transport decisions less accountable and less democratic, while enabling central government to force the privatisation of our roads. National's rich mates and trucking-industry cronies will do very well out of these reforms. As for the rest of us, we all lose. Unless, of course, we vote to prevent them in November.