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Fran O'Sullivan: Hide's Super City merger mess

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Rodney Hide's high-handed approach has sparked a negative public reaction. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Rodney Hide's high-handed approach has sparked a negative public reaction. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It is hard to fathom why John Key continues to allow the leader of a minority party to drive the biggest "corporate" merger in New Zealand's history when he is making such a pig's arse of it.

It was never going to be easy to merge the Auckland Regional Council and the six Auckland councils into one new Super City. Too many egos. Too many vested interests.

But even fellow Cabinet ministers are beginning to be quite nervous over the negative public reaction Act leader Rodney Hide's high-handed approach has sparked within Auckland.

Hide has not been sufficiently attentive to Auckland politics. Instead of informally consulting with Auckland's mayors and leading political lights to find out where the pressure points are so that the rough edges of the Government's policies are tweaked before being announced - he opts for the "shoot first, aim later" mode.

The furore over the council-controlled organisations is a case in point.

Hide should have ensured right from day one that the CCOs would indeed be set up in a fashion where they were clearly seen to be subject to control by the new Auckland Council. This was not a hard ask.

Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee has singled out the plans for a new Auckland Transport CCO as particularly "anti-democratic".

This mega-CCO will spend some $650 million (more than half the total rates bill) on major roading projects and public transport as well as the more mundane aspects like fixing footpaths.

It's not as if Lee doesn't have experience in this arena.

As the ARC's chairman, he has interfaced with its subsidiary organisation - the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) - for several years.

Like the upcoming Auckland Transport, ARTA is also a council-controlled organisation.

Its mission statement is rather woolly. It has to deliver a world-class transport system that makes Auckland an even better place to live and work - both now and in the future. It hasn't delivered on all its metrics.

But critically it has to deliver the objectives of the Auckland Regional Land Transport Strategy by working with national agencies like the NZ Transport Agency and NZ Rail (and existing local councils).

The framework of core principles that ARTA has signed up to are all about being open, responsive, focused, collaborative and visionary.

The ARC can vary the existing statement of intent after consultation with the ARTA board - but it must provide reasons for changes.

It is also subject to clear ARC constraints.

Crucially the ARTA board can not enter into material transactions or establish or dispose of any organisational parts.

Nor can it sell or acquire assets without the prior written approval of the ARC.

If Hide and his officials had simply - and openly - made it clear that such governance controls would be passed across to the new Auckland Council, a considerable amount of the opposition would have been softened.

Right now ARTA is chaired by lawyer Rabin Rabindran. Other ARC appointees include: Adrienne Young-Cooper (deputy chair) - involved in the commissioning of the Britomart transport centre, the highly-skilled director also serves on the Solid Energy board; environmental policy analyst Gary Taylor; Manukau Institute of Technology chief executive Peter Brothers; charted accountant Mark Benjamin; Zespri director Tony Marks; former Labour Party president Mike Williams and strategy consultant Andrew Buxton.

It is unclear whether the Auckland Transition Agency has recommended some of these directors should be appointed to the incoming Auckland Transport board. But it would make sense for this to occur to preserve continuity.

Hide has further contributed to confusion by side-swiping as "conspiratorial" early questions over whether the Government would appoint the directors of the new CCOs.

Key has clearly swung Transport Minister Steven Joyce into play to ensure that Hide operates in a more transparent fashion.

With what's at stake, a portfolio reshuffle would make more sense.

- NZ Herald

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