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Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Auckland's plan but Wellington calls shots

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Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Natalie Slade
Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Natalie Slade

On Wednesday, Mayor Len Brown launched the draft Auckland Plan by delivering an impassioned Dear Santa letter to his guest, Prime Minister John Key.

Like any child of the pre-electronic era, top of his wishlist was a fancy train set. Oh how he pleaded. "The inner-city rail loop is the most critical element of Auckland's transformation into a globally competitive city," and we really really need it.

Put like that, how could Santa refuse? Then, chancing his luck, he asked for a rail link to the airport once he'd got the CBD loop up and running and after that, rail to the North Shore to "vastly improve the quality of life" there. All very costly, he admitted, but not as costly as leaving it until later.

Like any cash-strapped parent not wanting to trigger a meltdown in public, Mr Key gave a noncommital "we'll see", and moved quickly on. The polite brush-off came on top of a couple of events in the run-up to the grand launch of The Plan which seemed stage-managed by the Government to remind Aucklanders who is calling the shots in this exercise.

First was the release, three weeks ago, of a series of Cabinet papers proposing that with the advent of the Super City, the Government take a more active role in planning Auckland's future. The papers painted a very different vision to the mayor's of the region's growth strategy, proposing relaxation of zoning regulations, lowering development contribution levies and other developer-friendly moves.

The papers also pushed for more roads, and queried expanded reliance on public transport, harking back to the car-obsessed growth policies of the 1960s that created the Auckland we're now trying to improve.

Then, on the eve of his big day, the Government stole the mayor's limelight by pushing forward the release of the Transport Agency's latest report on another Waitemata harbour crossing.

Journalists were invited to briefings on Thursday, but the release was suddenly fast-forwarded to Tuesday. The report put Aucklanders firmly in their place. In 2008, after decades of reports and meetings, regional politicians had decided in favour of a tunnel option.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce subsequently called for a re-evaluation and, hey presto, on the eve of the Auckland Plan launch, out comes a report which says a new bridge would cost up to $3.9 billion compared with two three-lane tunnels costing $5.3 billion. The authors said that if Auckland wanted the more expensive option "it may be appropriate that these preferences are partly funded by regional contribution".

Of course the interference is far from one-sided. Many of the goals being proposed in Mayor Brown's draft blueprint are dependent on Government actions and policy decisions Goals such as like "minimum 80 per cent participation in early childhood education Auckland-wide within three years" and "an annual increase of regional exports" are hardly the realm of local government.

The same goes for improving literacy and numeracy qualifications for adults, reduced household crowding, providing better housing and "improved levels of physical activity and residents' perceptions of health and well-being".

The mayor is also going to need outside help, both from Wellington and, I suspect, his friend above, to persuade Aucklanders to cut carbon emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030, given even the Government has set a more modest national target of reducing emissions by 2020 by 10-20 per cent.

The Plan is to be the official blueprint guiding Auckland development for the next 30 or more years, though it's not to be cast in stone. "Auckland Council may amend it whenever necessary to ensure it reflects the changing needs of Auckland."

And, one fears, the changing moods of central Government.

Over the next six months or so, the mayor will be consulting widely over the final shape of the plan. Given the Government's obvious interest, financial and otherwise, in the development of the region, its wish to contribute is natural and proper. The question is, will it eventually back off and give Auckland the freedom to decide its own future, or will the blueprint finally adopted in December end up being Wellington's Plan for Auckland.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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