Michael Barnett: When to take action? Now's good

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Michael Barnett. Photo / NZ Herald
Michael Barnett. Photo / NZ Herald

After two years, we have an Auckland vision and 30-year plan that identifies a series of projects to be delivered in the short, medium and long-term.

Our shared challenge as we begin Year 3 is to stimulate action on the things that should be happening now.

It's about leadership clearly articulating to the Council team, including council-owned organisations (CCOs), their vision, strategy and expectations, it's about developing an attitude that agreed projects must be implemented as quickly as possible.

Highlighting the benefits of faster action on Auckland's big projects needs to be at the heart of Mayoral messaging. These include the thousands of construction jobs that will be created from the vital transport and urban development projects scheduled in the short-term to cope with Auckland's exploding population growth.

It's also about messaging beyond Auckland and building on a reputation that says we are an international city that is going somewhere and keeping pace with those cities we are competing with but also like to compare ourselves with.

In November 2010, the new council inherited long-running debates on the critical importance of building a national convention centre, completing the Western Ring Route and a seamless AMETI & East-West transport corridor for the fast-growing freight sector located around Southdown's MetroPort, encouraging private sector urban developments such as the Drury South, and urgently shaping a strategy to ensure Auckland builds the 13,000 new homes needed every year to cope with projected population growth.

On day one of the new Council, Auckland was short of some 10,000 houses to meet demand and managing to build only around 4000 new units. Little has changed in two years, except that Auckland's population has continued to grow - from 1.4 million to now be 1.5 million - and our unemployment rate continues to sit at around 7 per cent. As we go into year three we are still short of around 20,000 homes right now!

The urgency of making these things happen immediately, would create around 5000 new jobs, stimulate considerable downstream job creation and skills development and kick start a momentum of Auckland moving ahead in areas that will make a real difference to our economy and living standards of many Aucklanders.

In more recent days the Deputy Prime Minister has called for more land to be made available in an effort to lower the price of housing in New Zealand. I wonder if he should be looking closer to home. Increasingly we are hearing of councils, organisations and officials across NZ with strong views and delegated powers imposing time delays and millions of dollars in costs to residential and commercial projects that hold growth and employment prospects for thousands.

The huge costs being unnecessarily imposed on these projects are ultimately being passed on to consumers.

It is a given that good governance is a priority but to be effective it needs backing up by a best-practice in which all key players - central and local government and private sector leaders - commit to work together.

The irony is that right now central Government is reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of local Government and the unnecessary costs being borne by the ratepayers.

The Auckland spatial plan is being held up as a future model as it connects the aspirations of both local and central government and the agencies that will work together to deliver. This is a good model with plenty of potential to work well in Auckland, but as in business the change in leadership, a new team and a new plan does not by itself deliver change - a change in culture and in habits is what delivers change in outcomes.

When I look at the things that could make a difference in Auckland the word that comes to mind is NOW.

It's nice to have a city with an eye on the future and GDP growth through exports but right now we have roading projects, residential housing, commercial development including hotels, waterfront development - all of which would provide huge economic stimulus and employment for Auckland.

We have an economic development agency that should be focused on working closely with Auckland's private sector business organisations to facilitate these major projects to reality instead of focusing on business development which duplicates and competes with local business organisations.

I say our shared task in going forward is simple: work together with passion and urgency to build a real partnership for doing what Auckland is really good at globally and making it happen NOW.

*Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

- NZ Herald

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