NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann: The stalemate is cracking at last

When Left and Right come together, big projects can get off the ground, writes business editor Liam Dann

Liam Dann: recent pragmatic politics have been a relief.
Liam Dann: recent pragmatic politics have been a relief.

The Waterview Connection is an awesome thing to drive past - as I do each day on my way in to the Herald office. It is a vast work-site dotted with concrete pillars worthy of the Roman Forum.

These pillars will soon support a knot of on-ramps and off-ramps to rival Spaghetti Junction. It is - to paraphrase Darryl Kerigan - a monument to progress.

Not exactly the progress of humanity, projects of this scale are a dime a dozen across the world, but it represents political progress in a city that has been tied up in stalemate for far too long.

Something is finally being built of a scale that will make a meaningful difference to the fabric of the city.

Of course, these things are always politically contentious. So it is perhaps worth remembering that the Waterview Connection will one of the more concrete legacies Helen Clark leaves to the city. It was her baby as Mt Albert MP, and though it is being finished off on National's watch she gave it the push it needed to finally begin.

When the Left and Right work together on big projects then things that the nation needs can actually get built. So bring on the inner city rail loop and the second harbour crossing.

And bring on some major - as in historically significant - residential development and redevelopment.

Auckland is blossoming and becoming a truly world-class city. We have no trouble getting on the trendy international lifestyle lists. And we have great food and booze and plenty of cool young people and all that stuff.

But we have been letting ourselves down on infrastructure investment, even more so in the extent to which we have been ignoring the need to house future generations within the city limits.

Earlier this year the Mercer Quality of Living index ranked Auckland the third most liveable city in the world. That was a particularly impressive performance given the same research ranked Auckland at just 43rd for the quality of its infrastructure.

Meanwhile we remain near the top of global lists for housing inaffordability. Auckland is a nice place to live and that is the market for you, but let's not kid ourselves - it is not New York or Shanghai.

We won't stay a hip and cosmopolitan metropolis for long if living within 20 kilometres of the Sky Tower requires a million-dollar mortgage. That's the path we're on.

Even if you don't buy in to regulation as a solution to the demand side of the market equation - LVRs, capital gains taxes and so on- dealing with the supply side is surely a no brainer.

At least we now have a SuperCity.

Not that it has changed my world much. From a day-to-day perspective I'm winning on the access to extra libraries and losing on getting my berms mowed. But what I hope is that the single council will mean improved communication between central and local government. New Zealand is just not big enough to have these two crucial layers of democracy at stalemate. These people are our employees after all. We can't afford to pay them just to argue.

So it is a relief that Auckland has this year seen some of the most pragmatic politics in its recent history.

We've seen a left-leaning council and right leaning central Government both shift ground and accept the best bits of each other's respective ideas on how to move forward. In theory we should now see some sizeable rural fringe developments as well as some clever urban intensification. Plus there has been a commitment on the development of the inner city rail link and a second harbour crossing.

But there is a long way to before we can count on any of these things as certainties. Anyone who has followed the progress in Waterview since the 1970s can vouch for that.

We can't afford to lose momentum now.

The Government's goal of building 39,000 homes in three years still looks highly ambitious. But if successful it will have benefits beyond Auckland and take pressure off the rest of the economy. You can bet that the Reserve Bank will be watching closely for signs of progress. Meanwhile the scale of the big infrastructure projects requires constant action if we are to see them completed within our lifetimes.

And this is about more than the lifetimes of those of us living in and enjoying the city now.

The harbour bridge, the existing motoway network, our parks and waterfronts - all these things required vision and foresight from planners and politicians that pre-date my life.

We need to build a city we are proud to pass on to our children, grandchildren and those generations after them.

- NZ Herald

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NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann is business editor at large at the New Zealand Herald. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy. He hosts The Economy Hub video show every Thursday.

Read more by Liam Dann

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