The return of the V8 Supercars to Pukekohe is just the sort of tonic that Auckland needs. There is no shortage of one-off or transitory celebrations to enliven the city. But significant annual events with an international flavour have been thin on the ground in the past few years.
Attracting these has entailed Auckland dropping any assumption that they would come its way as of right because of its size. But this cannot justify in any way the flouting of proper process as the Auckland Council's strategy and finance committee voted nine to five in favour of the Supercars.
The racing over the next five years will cost the city $10.6 million. Having accepted this, the councillors' major task was to ensure ratepayers would not be subjected to any future financial shocks.
The degree of risk associated with the event had to be ascertained, and then reduced as far as possible. This need was, of course, forcefully re-emphasised by the fact that the same event had cost Hamiltonians $40 million.
What happened was a travesty of this duty. In the first instance, the committee that accepted it had just 48 hours to approve the proposal. Worse, a majority of its members were content to be denied information necessary for a considered judgment.
Astoundingly, the council's own events arm, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, refused to show the councillors a due diligence report on the parties involved in the event. Councillors and, by extension, the public, were also unable to see a detailed risk review on the spurious grounds that it did not exist as a single document.
Instead, the councillors saw only a summary of the risks and were asked to take Ateed's words that these were not substantial enough to decline the proposal. A majority accepted this even though an Audit NZ report into Hamilton's experience had severely criticised its city councillors, saying they should have asked for more information, challenged the number of confidential meetings, and asked to see the contract before making decisions. The Auckland councillors who voted for the event were guilty of much the same failings.
The Waikato debacle did not have to serve as a deterrent. A revamped Pukekohe Raceway and Auckland's population should ensure there is no repeat of the Hamilton street race's increasingly poor attendance. There also appears to be a reasonably realistic expectation of the hosting benefits.
Absent this time have been the sort of claims that accompanied the idea, subsequently rejected, of an Auckland street race back in 2004. Rather than talk of a benefit to the region of $45 million a year, Ateed reckons on the three days of racing delivering a modest $7 million.
Notwithstanding this, the councillors should not have approved the event without seeing all the information available. Nor should they have allowed themselves to be railroaded into a quick decision. In doing so, they sold themselves and their city short.
This means the return of the Supercars will not be welcomed by Aucklanders with open arms, as would surely have been the case if matters had been handled better. Ratepayers required reassurance that there would be no repeat of Hamilton. Only total transparency could deliver this. The Auckland councillors who supported the event are to be commended for thinking big, but not for thinking for themselves.