Mayors pull plug on big projects (+video)

By Bernard Orsman, Wayne Thompson

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Two mayors have swept into office and announced dramatic turnarounds on major projects their predecessors had supported for the Auckland region.

The North Shore's new leader, Andrew Williams, says his priorities will not back further moves to build a commercial airport at Whenuapai.

And John Banks, who took back the Auckland City mayoralty, gave a stern message to the Government that he would cancel the planned $50 million ratepayer contribution to Eden Park.

"I would be prepared to commit ratepayers' money to economic infrastructure around the precincts of Eden Park and leave the funding of the grandstand upgrades inside Eden Park to the cash-rich Government and the rich and powerful Rugby Union," Mr Banks said yesterday.

On the North Shore, Mr Williams said most on the new council were opposed to a commercial airport at the air base because their city would be under the flight path.

He was speaking after his surprise win over the mayor for nine years, George Wood,

Mr Williams said the first meeting of the new council would address the previous council's decision to join Waitakere City Council, Rodney District Council and investor Infratil in an airport company.

"We will send a strong message to Waitakere and Infratil that we won't have a bar of it.

"If they then proceed on that basis, we won't let it rest and if push comes to shove we won't roll over and allow them to upset the lifestyle of the North Shore, upset property values and upset our urban development."

Mr Williams, 48, said he was also alarmed that an official engineers' report on the Auckland Harbour Bridge said a traffic jam of fully laden trucks could result in catastrophic failure of the deck.

"There is very significant concern about the bridge, and the more I read the more I'm determined to move with haste to have discussions with the government, MPs and Transit on speedily moving towards a harbour tunnel.

"I don't think it should be 15 years away; I think it should be in place in 10 years."

The Government had a budget surplus and the Cullen Fund (for superannuation) to provide the $2 billion or $3 billion needed for a tunnel.

Mr Williams is married to Jane and has three children - Sam, 21, Nicky, 18, and Bryony, 14.

He said he would quit his post of the past nine years as trade commissioner representing Belgium in New Zealand but stay as honorary vice-consul of Belgium.

Mr Williams' success was a shock to many. Weeks ago, he was behind in polls against an established mayor with a 2004 majority of 25,241 votes out of 47,000 cast.

Mr Williams was voted out as a councillor in 2004 after achieving national notice for trying to have an opening prayer dropped from the council meeting agenda.

"I won't be revisiting the prayer issue," he said yesterday. "I will be going along with councillors' views."

In his campaign, he attacked Mr Wood and the council for high rates hikes, ballooning bureaucracy and wasteful expenditure.

He used to his advantage the mayor's comment last year that ratepayers should consider "downsizing" their homes if they could not pay the rates rise.

And he harnessed dissatisfaction in the council's northern ward over the mayor's backing of the use of the RNZAF air base at Whenuapai for civil flights.

Mr Wood said yesterday the Whenuapai airport issue was a major factor in his election loss.

Rates rises for the council's programme of infrastructure improvements also counted against him.

His successor promised a full review of council spending and budget priorities.

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday said the local body election results were "all over the place" and showing no particular trend.

Former Labour Party president Bob Harvey saw off John Tamihere to secure a sixth term as Mayor of Waitakere and Labour man Len Brown had a big win to replace Sir Barry Curtis as Mayor of Manukau.

Helen Clark said she was very surprised at Mr Wood's loss, and Auckland City had always "struggled to shrug off" Citizens and Ratepayers majorities. After three years of soaring rates and political infighting, Auckland voters punished Mayor Dick Hubbard - who ousted Mr Banks in the 2004 election - and City Vision-Labour, which lost four of its nine seats and control of the council.

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