Alex Swney and Greg McKeown: Carve-up of city in dire need of sharper planning

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Super City local boundaries split communities, are unrepresentative and are in need of urgent review, say Alex Swney and Greg McKeown.

The central city will get just one councillor on the Auckland Council. Photo / Herald on Sunday
The central city will get just one councillor on the Auckland Council. Photo / Herald on Sunday

How should Greater Auckland be carved up under the Super City model? Where should the boundaries be drawn between the local boards and how should communities be represented both at the local level and at the new, bigger and more powerful City Hall?

"We've got open minds but not empty minds" was the phrase repeated by the Local Government Commissioners when they presented their draft plans and gave Aucklanders until tomorrow to provide feedback.

The problem is that there has been no effective communication exercise that lets Aucklanders know what the commissioners' plans are. The subject merits decent public debate. That hasn't happened and the final date for submissions is looming.

The commissioners no doubt have had a difficult task satisfying the fair representation rules in the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009, listen and respond to the numerous communities of Auckland, and pay some consideration to the way Auckland might grow over the next 20 years.

Here are some of the issues:

- The commissioners have suggested that communities are better represented by two councillors rather than one, so they have gone for huge wards, more than twice the size of general electorates, with two councillors each.

If that is such a good idea, why don't we double the size of general electorates and have two MPs per electorate? At the centre of this is a debate about parochialism - somehow two councillors will be less parochial than one. Strong local representation at all levels of local government, including the new Auckland Council, is healthy and required.

- There's a lot of talk about representation for communities of interest. But under the commissioners' draft plan, the people of Paritai Drive, Orakei, and Princes St, Otahuhu, have been lumped together in a ward with 161,400 voters and two councillors.

A cynic might suspect political influence here. A higher turnout from the wealthy eastern suburbs, which is typical of local body elections, would see two councillors from there, leaving the southern sector unrepresented. We recommend halving the ward sizes, having one councillor per ward, and improving demographic representation. This suggestion is community-focused rather than politically-focused.

- While it is argued that two councillors per ward provide for better representation, the CBD (with the Hauraki Gulf islands and some of isthmus suburbs) are then allocated only one. The two-councillor model is applied inconsistently. The success of the Auckland CBD is critical to the success of Auckland internationally but will require much more than the appointment of a single councillor for the area - that idea is a pale one.

- According to the commissioners, local boards should "not split communities of interest" but should provide "appropriate areas to perform functions, duties and powers". Every community across the region should be looking very closely at the borders between proposed local boards, but we can see none that splits a community more abruptly than the one that cuts through the heart of Mt Eden Village. A significant part of the Mt Eden community is tossed in to make up numbers in a city centre ward while half goes to a Balmoral-Epsom subdivision of a central isthmus ward. The development of town centres and villages is the direct business of local government and they should be given priority when setting local board borders.

- The name Maungawhau fits more with Mt Eden than it does with the central city. The CBD ward including the Gulf islands would more appropriately be called City and Gulf.

- Each of the 20 ward councillors on the Auckland Council should, according to fair representation rules in the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009, represent within +/- 10 per cent of the average number of electors per ward for the region as a whole. But under the draft, only eight of the 20 councillors would be elected within the recommended guideline. Waitakere gets one councillor per 83,075 residents while East Coast Bays get one per 60,200 residents, an unacceptable difference in voting power. Area unit data from the 2008 Census shows that smaller variations are possible while improving community representation on the Auckland Council.

- There is a strong case for the act to be changed to allow the Wellsford-Warkworth subdivision of Rodney to amalgamate with the Kaipara District Council. Wellsford and Warkworth are service towns far from Auckland, in more ways than one. The new toll tunnel provides a more logical split.

If the commissioners have found it difficult to satisfy the fair representation rules of the act today, and also their community-of-interest criteria, then think what happens as local populations change faster in one area compared to another. It'll be a moving feast and one that will never be well answered if we try to exactly align the local board areas used to elect local representatives with the wards used to elect city councillors. Fortunately the act is clear on this, and the local board and ward boundaries only need to be aligned "as far as practicable".

The first steps towards a better outcome for the carving-up of Auckland are better advertising of the plans and alternatives and an extension to the deadline. Let's hope the commissioners really do have open minds.

* Alex Swney is CEO of Heart of the City. Greg McKeown is a former Auckland City councillor.

- NZ Herald

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