Tony Garnier: Open door for Auckland business key

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Tony Garnier. Photo / NZ Herald
Tony Garnier. Photo / NZ Herald

The Auckland council clearly faces a tough challenge to make itself business-friendly and open in the full blooded sense.

Greg Clark, London-based international guru on world cities hit the nail on the head when he told an Auckland audience last year that "the number one economic development action that Auckland Council can undertake - and where it has most control - is making the Council more business-friendly and open".

Clark's message has been highlighted in Auckland's recently unveiled Economic Development Strategy (EDS) which has a clear priority to grow a business-friendly and well-functioning city.

A work programme needed to convert Professor Clark's "number one action" into the culture and best practice of Auckland Council is implied in the strategy's rhetoric.

The Economic Development Strategy is up-front in acknowledging the large revenue business contributes to the council from rates, development contributions, fees and charges, and that extra costs incurred through council inefficiency and uncertainty stand in the way of business success and ultimately Auckland's economic prosperity.

Two actions proposed to help Auckland become more business-friendly are to:

Ensure all Auckland Council plans are simple, transparent and accessible;

Achieve a better understanding of the real needs of business, and use this to inform policy development, implementation and monitoring across the whole council organisation.

The council clearly faces a tough challenge to achieve both these initiatives to make the council business-friendly and open in the full blooded sense the EDS is proposing.

For a start, a lot of work lies ahead to untangle the complicated and complex tier of plans on Auckland Council's books and make them, as the EDS wants, simple, transparent and accessible.

Auckland's new Unitary Plan and bylaws, which will replace the maze of district and regional plans of the seven former councils, is still being developed.

The EDS says the Unitary Plan will set out what activities can take place where, and which will then drive regulatory services.

It will set out clear and reasonable rules and provide certainty about what is permissible and what is not.

To meet the business-friendly and open test - i.e. simple, transparent and accessible - the plan will need to be easy to navigate and have a level of flexibility, while providing as much certainty and consistency as possible.

Auckland Council is proposing initiatives to foster a business-friendly culture and to hold regular workshops with the business community to identify and implement critical regulatory and other improvements required within council for it truly to become business-friendly.

A start has been made, mainly through a number of spontaneous initiatives and discussions led by business groups, but the conversion of ideas and submissions into results reflected in a change of policies and organisational culture are not yet apparent. And a comprehensive action plan for Auckland achieving the over-arching business-friendly city aspiration set out in the EDS is still to be sighted.

However, a cause for optimism perhaps is the positive reception some in Auckland's big business community have given to a key account management (Kam) service introduced after amalgamation to help major consent customers through the process and ensure that projects are well managed.

Kam is for developers spending $50-$100 million across large-scale residential, commercial, infrastructure, greenfield and brownfield projects.

As well as facilitating approvals for consenting, the aim of the service is to help developers navigate the council and CCOs, and be a vehicle for feedback and troubleshooting, for problem-solving and to facilitate the resolution of issues.

Winstone Aggregates Environmental Manager Andrea Cave highlights the service's usefulness in an EDS case study.

When the idea of a key account manager was proposed the company was a little skeptical about what value it would provide.

Several months on, the service has proved invaluable, she says.

- NZ Herald

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