Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Warm masterplan now seems very fuzzy

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has been brave in his efforts to enhance the aura and primacy of the new Auckland Plan. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has been brave in his efforts to enhance the aura and primacy of the new Auckland Plan. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Despite all Mayor Len Brown's brave efforts to enhance the aura and primacy of the new Auckland Plan, there's not a lavatory cleaner in the land that can wash away the effluent dumped all over it last week by Local Government Minister Nick Smith.

Dr Smith was out on his ear two days later, but not because of his pledge to clip local government wings. That remains National government policy.

Prime Minister John Key joined in the bash, calling for councils to focus on "core" business and asking, "If central government isn't providing those services, then really should local government step in and fill the breach? ... There might be a very good reason why the government hasn't done it."

Dr Smith ridiculed unnamed - read Auckland - councils that raised their head out of local sewers and drums of asphalt to set targets for NCEA pass rates and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and child abuse rates in their communities.

The Auckland Plan is just such a holistic document, addressing the issues Dr Smith highlighted for mockery, along with many other aspects of living together as a community. And why does it? Because Dr Smith's predecessor as local government minister, Rodney Hide, the then Act leader, demanded such a plan be part of the pioneering legislation that created the Super City.

At the time, the concept had the support of Mr Key - then, as now, Prime Minister. Indeed, he rose at Mr Brown's Town Hall inauguration ceremony in late 2010 to declare: "The Auckland spatial plan will make an important contribution to our broader economic growth objectives, so tonight, I pledge my support, and the Government's support, to work with Len and his council to create Auckland's plan for the future."

But then was then and now is now, and if the visions outlined in the Auckland Plan can be seen as the mayor's bucket list, then unfortunately, his best hope of seeing them achieved in his lifetime rather hangs on the longevity of the Key Administration.

The concept of creating by consensus a 30-year blueprint for transforming Auckland into both the world's most liveable city and the country's economic powerhouse was always something of an impossible dream. The legislative requirement that it be achieved within a year made the task that one bit harder - though on the positive side, it also ensured the process would drag on.

The plan is supposed to be a guide that both central and local government will turn to in their infrastructure-building. But whatever goals the mayor might have inserted to alleviate poverty and educational under-achievement in South Auckland, or to complete an inner-city underground rail loop, the government seems equally adamant that such matters are its business, not his. So despite having prescribed an Auckland Plan as part of the cure for Auckland's ills, the government intends to ignore the parts it doesn't like.

That's looking at it positively. Dr Smith's promise of legislation to scrap the existing requirement of local councils to be involved "in social, economic, cultural and environment" activities must surely signal the end to the unified approach the Auckland Plan promised to deliver. Especially if the Government carries through with Dr Smith's plans to hog-tie councils to a requirement to stick to "providing good-quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible costs ..."

In the plan, Mr Brown and his councillors have dug their toes in over the CBD rail loop, but they have backed away from the mayor's vision of a compact city, with 75 per cent of future growth over the next 30 years occurring within existing urban limits.

Instead, he's redefined his definition of 'compact' somewhat and set a new target of 60-70 per cent of new growth within the old urban boundaries. This follows strong criticism from the Government and property developers.

The idea of a guiding masterplan was all very warm and fuzzy, but pretending such a document could emerge and be embraced by all, within a year, was always pushing credulity. Particularly so when the Government that came up with the whole concept rapidly went off the idea when the vision that emerged was not to its liking. Now where were we?

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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