Banks takes aim at water rates, Eden Park funding

By Bernard Orsman

John Banks has roared back into the Auckland City mayoralty with a stern message to the Government that he will pull ratepayer funding for Eden Park.

In a political turnaround on Saturday, voters gave Mr Banks and the right-leaning Citizens & Ratepayers a comfortable majority to manage the council's finances.

A National Party-studded victory party roared when Mr Banks said it was a good omen for next year's general election. Jeers rang out when the former National Cabinet minister said he had been called and congratulated by Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Three years of soaring rates and political infighting saw voters punish Mayor Dick Hubbard and City Vision-Labour, which lost four of its nine seats and control of the country's largest council.

Leader Richard Northey, a former Labour MP, said Bruce Hucker, who was dumped from the ticket's leadership over his hard line on water rates, "may have cost us a seat or two".

Mr Banks gained strong backing on his Eden Park funding stance from C&R leader David Hay, who said the Government had come to town with $1 billion to fund a national stadium on the waterfront and questioned why Eden Park could not be the national stadium.

Only last month, C&R councillors voted to give at least $30 million to Eden Park as part of a $50 million package, but the new C&R team has yet to discuss the matter.

First-term C&R councillor and Auckland Rugby Union chairman Ken Baguley said there was a case for ratepayers' money going towards the upgrade.

The Auckland region stood to gain $240 million from the event plus $20 million to $30 million from big events like extra test matches.

Mr Banks said he wanted to know if the council had signed any contracts guaranteeing funding for the upgrade. Council chief executive David Rankin said no contracts had been signed for a council contribution of $21 million towards the stadium upgrade or writing off a $9 million debt owed to the council by the Eden Park Trust Board.

Sports Minister Trevor Mallard did not want to get drawn into Mr Banks' latest comments on Eden Park, saying he would be dealing with the new council in a considered way, not on an ad hoc basis.

Mr Banks, who starts his second term as mayor aged 60, said the new council would review all council projects before Christmas.

The new mayor also promised an end to taking profits from the council-owned water company, Metrowater, for spending on stormwater and other city spending.

"That bad behaviour must stop. We should be using profits for [wastewater] separation so we can clean up the beaches," he said.

A disappointed Mr Hubbard accepted Saturday's 10,000-vote loss with no sense of bitterness and a clear conscience.

He said it had been a difficult three years and the council had taken the hard call on rates.

Aucklanders wanted action and while the council had not gone too fast for Auckland, it might have gone too fast for the electorate and voters.

Mr Hubbard said he would not attempt a political comeback.

He planned a trip to New York and wanted to climb Mt Aspiring.

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