The lockout of Auckland

By Bernard Orsman

Aucklanders will be denied the right to take part in planning for prime waterfront areas such as Wynyard Wharf.
Aucklanders will be denied the right to take part in planning for prime waterfront areas such as Wynyard Wharf.

Aucklanders are to be locked out of decisions affecting their greatest jewels - including the waterfront - as well as important transport issues, including road congestion.

The two heavyweight contenders to be the first mayor of the Super City, John Banks and Len Brown, and an increasing number of other politicians and community leaders are aghast at a plan to set up agencies which will be virtually unanswerable to the public.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said the Government risked handing Aucklanders a lemon with its vaguely drafted plans for seven "council-controlled organisations" (CCOs).

The proposed organisations - run by directors appointed by the Government with no input from local leaders - will be responsible for at least 75 per cent of services in the new Super City.

There are particular concerns about the CCOs being set up to look after transport and a huge swathe of the waterfront.

The waterfront agency will own and manage land - excluding Ports of Auckland property - from Teal Park in the east to the Auckland Harbour Bridge in the west, including Queens Wharf, the Viaduct Harbour, publicly owned land at the Tank Farm and Westhaven Marina.

Under the Government's plan, unelected directors will have free rein to come up and implement a new masterplan for the waterfront.

They will also decide on urban and public space design, architectural design and apply for consents.

The directors will not be obliged to listen to Aucklanders, hold public meetings or front up when things go wrong.

Mr Barnett said Wellington should not be locking Aucklanders and their elected representatives out of decisions affecting the waterfront and other pressing matters.

It was unacceptable for the waterfront, transport and economic CCOs to be far removed from the democratic process.

It also neutered the ability of the Super City Mayor to deliver the vision and policies he or she was elected to deliver.

While the Auckland Council "may" require the waterfront development agency to give effect to its own planning policies and spatial plan, many people believe this provision is too weak and needs to be clearly defined in legislation.

It is hard to see how the public will have input into projects such as Queens Wharf and the 29ha Tank Farm development that will soak up $200 million of public money and $3 billion of private investment over 25 years.

Alex Swney, chief executive of Heart of the City and a champion for greater public access to the waterfront, said Aucklanders had great expectations for the waterfront from the Super City reforms.

But they were being served up the same old political conflict and fragmentation between the Waterfront Development Agency, the Auckland City Council, Ports of Auckland and the council investments CCO.

He said one had only to look at the urban vandalism of moving the Golden Bay Cement works from the Tank Farm to a new $45m plant at Bledisloe Wharf to see how easily important issues could go under the radar.

"It is highly unlikely that such a structure would ever have been countenanced if there was a political and public spotlight placed on it."

Mr Banks and Mr Brown both supported the Auckland Council reviewing the four-year-old "Auckland Waterfront Vision 2040" masterplan document and having the waterfront agency implement a new masterplan.

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says the agency will work with stakeholders and seek public input on the masterplan, but nothing in legislation says it has to do so.

The proposed CCOs were no different to those now used by councils.

"It is the Auckland Council which sets the objectives and accounts to ratepayers for the performance of CCOs. The model includes strong accountability mechanisms between the council and CCOs," he said.

Public submissions by March 26 - www.ata.govt.nz

- NZ Herald

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