Mood of the Boardroom: Top 5 priorities for next mayor

Auckland Mayoral candidates Phil Goff and Victoria Crone. CEOs say improving public transport should be a focus for the next Mayor of Auckland.
Auckland Mayoral candidates Phil Goff and Victoria Crone. CEOs say improving public transport should be a focus for the next Mayor of Auckland.


Chief executives overwhelmingly want the next Mayor of Auckland to improve public transport in the increasingly congested city.

Among their other top priorities for the mayoral agenda are getting large infrastructure projects funded; bringing Auckland Council spending under control; improving how council works alongside the government and implementing the Unitary Plan.

This is just one of the revelations from the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey, published in full tomorrow morning.

The research sought the opinions of 101 chief executives and business leaders on the major issues facing New Zealand and the performance of the country's leaders.

On the issues which Auckland's next Mayor must grapple with, the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development says the city's transport system is at a tipping point.

Significant progress has been made since the mid-2000s, with record levels of investment.

The completed western ring route, electrification, City Rail Link and other projects will make a difference, but in order to meet the needs of a further one million people by 2050, Auckland must accelerate progress.

NZCID chief executive Stephen Selwood says Auckland's current transport problems will be much worse unless we make a step change in investment into transport infrastructure.

"Density must be strongly targeted around rail and bus way corridors, and future urban areas will need to be concentrated where new transport capacity can be provided with urgency. Additional funding through road user charging will be fundamental to achieving the level of investment required."

"Are we spending enough? How can we finance the infrastructure we need?" questioned a company chair. "I would support the sale of local assets on the basis that money was used for infrastructure - the spend needed in Auckland is massive."

Mayoral candidate Phil Goff's own policy planks - infrastructure bonds, expanding the Government's $1 billion infrastructure fund, and public private partnerships to fund growth - obviously resonated with executives' belief that rates and debt cannot be the only funding source for transport and infrastructure.

There are also clear concerns that morning and afternoon gridlock in Auckland on main arterials are increasing to the point where it is significantly impacting on productivity.

ICBC NZ chairman Don Brash says there isn't a problem with the adequacy of electricity or water infrastructure, but "roading in Auckland is seriously deficient -- or, perhaps more accurately, is being inefficiently used because it is not being appropriately priced.

"There is also a huge need to improve our transport infrastructure and selling, for example, shares in the port would both provide funds for that purpose and improve the efficiency of the port (witness the Port of Tauranga).

"Why Auckland Council continues to own a minority stake in the airport also defies understanding -- it is a purely commercial business, and AC should sell out now while the price is very high."

Auckland Council is also seen by some as severely bloated with too many staff -- and as a consequence those staff find myriad ways of obstructing development with pointless regulations and endless delays.

For her part, mayoral candidate Vic Crone sees public private partnerships and other investment tools as the way forward for Auckland's infrastructure. She also wants to see the port moved to make better use of waterfront land.

Several of those surveyed -- including Precinct Properties chairman, Craig Stobo -- agree the best use of Port of Auckland's land is for residential and commercial use, and not for shipping. "The next Mayor needs to lead the shift of the harbour port to an inland port serviced by other harbour ports," says Stobo.

Why Auckland Council continues to own a minority stake in the airport also defies understanding -- it is a purely commercial business, and AC should sell out now while the price is very high.

A consensus is unlikely in the short-term. Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns says it is simply unrealistic to move the port in the medium term.

"If ports simply priced and invested to achieve a cost of capital return then a natural hierarchy of ports (international container hub, regional feeder, regional bulk) will emerge quite quickly.

"Ports are multimillion (often billion) dollar long-run infrastructure assets, not Regional Economic Development Agency playthings."

There is mounting concern among CEOs that without significant improvement in Auckland's infrastructure -- along with improving housing affordability -- the city will lose staff to other centres around New Zealand where the cost of living and lifestyle are becoming more attractive.

• 4 per cent of CEOs indicated they have had to increase salaries and offset the higher cost of living in Auckland in order to attract and retain talent;

• 39 per cent have found it difficult to find staff willing to relocate to Auckland, and 17 per cent have already considered relocating some of their operations away from Auckland.

A media boss noted it has been difficult to attract staff even at the senior management level because of reduced quality of lifestyle that would be offered. "While 'quality of lifestyle' can reflect access to amenities, communities etc, the biggest factor is ability to afford to provide a comparable property to live in for their family."

But Beca's Greg Lowe said Auckland tended to provide good career opportunity and the scale of the market seemed to attract people to work there. "Those who place higher value on lifestyle than career opportunity (i.e. considerations such as lower housing/living costs, easier transport, perhaps phase of life such as young children) may choose other locations."

"Salaries need to be higher, there are definite skill shortages in accounting and finance," said an exporter. "Perks like car parks are now gold."

Another suggested Auckland had potentially become too dominant in New Zealand and would encourage some businesses to move out of Auckland -- "some form of government programme?"

- NZ Herald

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