Generation Zero

New Zealand grassroots organisation Generation Zero is having an influence on both local government and central government policy in the areas of transport, density and urban planning, with successful campaigns for cycle ways among the recent victories.

Currently it is gearing up to lobby for Auckland to become a member of the COP 40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, of which Sydney and Melbourne have both become members.

The organisation is also preparing for the Paris climate talks, and is joining forces with the New Zealand Youth Delegation other NZ NGOs around climate change, Auckland convenor Leroy Beckett said.

GZ has about 20,000 supporters on its database, including members that are planners, urban designers, and professional people. It’s partner organisations include Engineers Without Borders NZ, Engineers for Social Responsibility, 350 Aotearoa and the Tindall Foundation, and corporate supporters, who contribute financially, include Sanitarium, Ceres, Whittakers, AllGood, redvespa and Commonsense Organics.

There are active groups in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Hamilton, and Mr Beckett said the groups are increasingly being consulted and listened to by local councils.

“We have had some really great successes,” he said.

These have included stimulating more people to vote in local council elections, by providing information that encourages them to engage.

A proposal developed by GZ for a congestion-free transport network for Auckland was endorsed by a couple of the parties that were fielding candidates in the Auckland council election, Mr Beckett said.

Transport is an area of focus because it is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in NZ.

“Transport is something we can easily focus on, and there are easy solutions,” Mr beckett said.

“We can get huge reductions in carbon emissions quickly and make the city better.”

A cycleways plan developed by the organisation, which it also developed a budget for amounting to $200 million over the next three years, is “very close” to the plan that has been formally adopted by the Auckland Council and backed by the NZ government with matched funding.

“We are happy with the network [they have announced] and the rollout.”

Not everyone in Auckland is happy with it though, he said, and a campaign is in the works to support a proposed cycle way that is “encountering a bit of backlash” from residents.

The Skypath – a planned cycleway and walking path funded by a private partnership that will be constructed over the bridge across Auckland Harbour is also an initiative the group has supported that is encountering opposition.

Mr Beckett said that even though the proposal has been granted Resource Consent, and received the largest number of submissions ever made on a development proposal, even though only about 15 of the 11,000 submissions were objecting, the opponents of the project have now lodged a legal appeal.

He said the reasons given for objection include concerns a cycle path will lower land values, that it will bring people into the neighbourhoods around the ends of the bridge at night, and that there either will be amenities [which might attract people] or, when the amenities were taken out of the plan in response to these reasons, that now there aren’t any.

“There are people who are below the bridge at the moment, and live below a motorway, and they think the Skypath will affect house prices,” he said.

“There are also people who are concerned about the heritage area of their road.”

Public transport is also a major focus of GZ’s activities. A Better Buses campaign aims to see more capacity and connectivity in the Auckland bus network, particularly to service outer areas where lower income households are being concentrated due to the soaring price of homes in inner Auckland.

“There has been huge growth in trains and in the electrification of the rail network, but not as much money or concern put into buses [by the council and government],” Mr Beckett said.

The organisation has also been pushing for “smart density”. Mr Beckett said that housing is being pushed further and further out because of prices, but research shows that when people have to live further away from employment and other opportunities, the lower cost of housing is offset by the cost of travel.

“If households can take away the need for a second car, there is a big decrease in their costs,” he said.

Another trend that makes the need for smart public transport and active transport solutions crucial is that fewer young Kiwis are getting their drivers licenses, he said.

“It used to be that the first $1000 a young person earned, they would buy a car. Now it’s a cellphone. A car doesn’t add that much value to our lives,” he said.

On the lobbying front, GZ undertakes considerable activity participating in submission process for Resource Consents for developments, Mr Beckett said.

Supporters and the wider public are encouraged to make submissions, or join “email your council” campaigns.

He said there is a major debate in Auckland at the moment around the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, which will set density rules for the city. The plans is currently under review, and GZ is one of the organisations that has made submissions.

“We are one of the few voices pushing for density,” he said.

The plan was first presented for public consultation in 2013, and for the past two years the review panel have been “taking things in and out and have to keep revising it,” Mr Beckett said.

“Next year they will come back with a final, final version.”

The timing of that coincides with the next Auckland Council election. Mr Beckett said that in many ways the election will be a “referendum on the changes to Auckland” under current mayor Len Brown’s six-year-long leadership.

During the current’s council’s tenure, the city saw the amalgamation of seven smaller councils into one “super city council”, the construction of cycleways, more apartments, urban renewal and other major changes.

GZ also participates in conferences and expos to develop greater public awareness and engagement, and puts considerable energy into traditional media and sending out press releases. Mr Beckett said this is still a very effective way of reaching out to people in NZ.

“We try and be positive. We try and focus on positive things and tell positive stories.”

It is active on university campuses, but Mr Beckett said it more focused on being a “young professionals” organisation than a university organisation.

One campaign currently running that is university based is working in conjunction with the fossil fuel divestment movement to try and get Auckland University to divest. He said the challenge is that the decision to divest comes down to one person, the Chancellor, who is so far not committing.

“The argument [for divestment] is so strong, it is one that can’t be put off. But it’s also not an incredibly simple process to divest.”

Mr Beckett said one of the strengths GZ has is solid relationships with local government, and that it is easier to gain access and get traction than it is with the central government.

“We have more sway with local government. We can get meetings with people on council, they are willing to have those conversations.”

A recent “Parking Day” event, where GZ members converted some car park space into a park for the day was officially opened by the Mayor, another proof, Mr Beckett said, of council’s willingness to engage.

“They understand we’re representing a lot of people that often aren’t having a voice,” he said.

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