CEOs cautiously back Brown bid

By Bill Bennett

Is the mayor on the path to the 'world's most liveable city' or has he squandered his opportunities?

Auckland Mayor Len Brown today at One Tree Hill. Photo / NZH
Auckland Mayor Len Brown today at One Tree Hill. Photo / NZH

Although a clear majority of business leaders say Len Brown deserves a second term as Auckland mayor, that doesn't mean he has unqualified support.

Sixty per cent of CEO respondents to the Herald survey said Brown should return to the Auckland mayoral chambers. Only 16 per cent are against Brown getting a second term.

Brown had a landslide victory in the first Auckland-wide mayoral election in 2010 beating John Banks and Colin Craig. Within minutes of being elected, Brown spoke of his ambition to make Auckland the world's "most liveable city".

His platform was dominated by a promise to improve public transport in three main areas: build an inner city rail loop, extend the railway to the airport and, eventually, to the North Shore. He also promised to defend public ownership of assets and create a more compact city.

Earlier this month Brown made the airport rail link a focus of his re-election campaign.

His rivals for the election, due in October, include American-born businessman and former TV host John Palino who plans to shift the epicentre of the city south to Manukau and activist John Minto who will stand for the Mana Party. The lack of a credible alternative mayor is noted.

CEOs gave Brown a "must try harder" report card on his first term with ratings hovering around 3.2 on a scale of one to five.

Brown gets support from Siemens CEO Paul Ravlich who said: "Len works very hard for the good of Auckland and NZ. I accompanied him as part of a business delegation to China and observed a hard working, energetic individual who did Auckland and NZ proud."

South Pacific Pictures chairman John Barnett said Brown articulated a vision for Auckland and despite enormous opposition he's stuck to it. Porter Novelli's Jane Sweeney echoes this: "No matter what your politics, Len has done a terrific job of getting across the issues, articulating a vision of the "world's most liveable city" and formulating plans in record time."

Veda NZ's John Roberts is critical. "Hopefully a one-term mayor - this guy has squandered a brilliant opportunity to set the vision of the first Super City in NZ."

Len's Unitary Plan a work in progress

Brown's Unitary Plan aims to shape the city as it adds a million extra residents over the next 30 years. An important part of this will be to intensify housing - a move proving controversial with residents in many suburbs.

There's uncertainty in the boardroom about the plan, with more than a third saying they are unsure whether it will deliver growth. A small majority, 52 per cent think the plan will enable economic growth, with only 10 per cent saying it will not. While 59 per cent of CEOs think the plan makes the right provisions for future population growth, close to a half worry it will not decrease business compliance costs.

Forty per cent of respondents think the plan will enable investment, but a little under a half are uncertain about this.

Simpson Grierson chairman Kevin Jaffe said: "The reality is that Auckland needs greater housing intensification particularly in inner city areas. This is one of the features of living in a large international city to which we have to adapt".

Kim Campbell from the EMA worries that the final plan may not resemble the current one. Matthew Cockram from Cooper and Company makes a similar point: "I am confident that the next and notified version will be more balanced and palatable."

There's strong support for the private sector having a greater role in planning Auckland's future with 71 per cent saying the private sector and government should review the plan with the council. However not everyone agrees. John Barnett said: "Collaboration is useful, but the mayor was elected to lead Auckland forward".

On the other hand Stephen Selwood from NZCID said: "This is critical. Analysis has been superficial to date and the plan is not based on evidence of actual costs on infrastructure in the Auckland context."

A sizable majority, 63 per cent, support the idea of limiting Auckland's growth with projects such as a rapid rail link to Hamilton.

How they rate Len

60 per cent of CEO respondents say Brown should return to the Auckland mayoral chambers.

3.2 out of five report card mark on his first term 52 per cent of respondents think the unitary plan will enable economic growth, and

59 per cent think the plan makes the right provisions for future population growth

Sales, tolls the right road

Government attempts to cajole Auckland Council into selling assets to pay for at least part of the planned city rail system get a strong thumbs-up from the nation's boardrooms.

Chief executives overwhelmingly want the new transport projects planned by councils to be funded with a mix of asset sales and tolls.

Eighty-six per cent of CEOs responding to the Herald survey say the council should sell assets to pay for transport infrastructure; less than 4 per cent object to the idea.

The numbers are similar for Christchurch City Council with 84 per cent in favour and less than 5 per cent against.

There is even greater support for tolls with almost 90 per cent in favour.

The idea of public-private-partnerships and congestion charges are also relatively popular with CEOs. Fuel taxes and network charges are frowned on with just half supporting a levy on petrol and less than 50 per cent in favour of network charges.

The Government recently announced a willingness to pay some the costs of the planned Auckland Central Rail Link, but said it wanted the project delayed for five years.

This has put pressure on the council to stump up more funds itself if it wants to move sooner.

Chorus CEO Mark Ratcliffe says: "All councils should sell all their Infrastructure assets."

There is scathing criticism of Auckland local government from Goodman Fielder CEO Peter Reidie who says: "They are incompetent at setting rates so why on earth would we trust them to run a business?"

Craig Stobo takes a measured view. "They need to undertake their own analysis on the costs and benefits versus the ratepayer funded and approved alternative."

Company chair Sue Sheldon says the Christchurch Council should sell mature assets to help fund earthquake rebuild "rather than increase debt alone".

There's a clear sense in the comments on other funding options that users should pay to use roads. Stephen Selwood from NZCID offers a view on public private partnerships. "PPPs are a useful form of debt but do not raise revenue.

"Some form of road pricing is the step change to raising revenue, reducing congestion and raising transport connectivity and productivity.

"Tolls on new roads only are unfair on communities forced to pay a toll (when other road users do not) and distort traffic movement. A variable motorway network charge is comparatively easy to implement and has been modelled to show very positive decongestion benefits across the Auckland region."

Dalziel for Christchurch

Lianne Dalziel may be the boardroom favourite to take over from Bob Parker as Christchurch mayor, but the nation's CEOs are not committed to her cause. Dalziel is expected to take the mayoralty by 54 per cent of respondents - 10 per cent favouring Parker who is no longer standing. Just over a third have no preference.

But controversial outgoing mayor Parker gets empathy from BNZ CEO Andrew Thorburn: "Bob Parker had a tough job. He will be seen as the face of Christchurch post-earthquake. A commercial, can-do mayor's needed now."

Among the comments is the hope Dalziel can distance herself from Labour - a challenge as she spent more than 20 years as an MP. There are also calls for a new face, preferably someone without political baggage yet with skills to manage the city and work with the private sector.

Kim Campbell EMA

Kim Campbell rates his best achievement in the past 12 month as getting the government to back Auckland's transport investment programme.

Campbell runs the EMA - one of Auckland's largest business advocacy and lobbying organisations. His three priorities for the next 12 months:

• Continue the regulatory reform program to attract capital investment in productive/export enterprise

• Gain momentum in the exploration and exploitation of natural resources

• Improve the process which allocates capital to large infrastructure projects.

Campbell believes the Government's political management of some key issues has been amiss. "Housing in particular needs a more co-ordinated and comprehensive plan." He would like to see more Government Investment in infrastructure for growth, initiatives to support innovation and commercialisation of IP and promotion of New Zealand exports in overseas markets.

He says the EMA has re-engineered its wage and salary survey using offshore and cloud services to improve and lower the cost turning a loss making venture into a sustainable and profitable one. The biggest factor for the EMA to remain competitive internationally: Complete the high-speed broadband roll out.

- NZ Herald

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