A draft plan for Auckland has been released for discussion. Now the Auckland Council, led by the mayor, needs to develop and publish a comprehensive funding plan to lay out the benefits of the proposed infrastructure investments, including how they will be funded and how the cost of that will be met and paid for by users and ratepayers long into the future.

The funding plan must explain how much borrowing will be required to spread the cost over future beneficiaries, how much the council is willing to raise by selling assets, and which projects could be funded through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Such a plan would show how the required investment could be funded, and also how new revenue streams will pay for the investments over the long term.

Auckland's business community believes that in drawing up its funding plan, the Auckland Council must demonstrate greater self-reliance to fund these big infrastructure investment projects.

It has the clout and resources to do just that. The Auckland Council has assets worth more than $32 billion, including $3.5 billion in commercial assets from which the council derives an income.

Among these is its 100 per cent ownership of Ports of Auckland and airport shares, together on the books at $1.286 billion.

These are expected to return the council a dividend of $25 million a year, or less than 2 per cent.

The Auckland Council owns many other commercial assets such as parking buildings, the Westhaven boat park and other properties.

The Herald's Brian Rudman recently wrote: "The Auckland Council urgently needs a financial plan on how to make... its assets base work for the development of Auckland". He is right. And he listed a range of options.

For instance, if the inner-city rail loop is to deliver the benefits that justify the investment in it, then the council needs to sell that story and show how it can be funded. Likewise with other infrastructure projects listed in the Spatial Plan, such as the waterfront development, the airport rail link, and the rail link to Albany.

Of these, the inner rail loop and waterfront development appear to make good sense, but there are probably better solutions than rail from the CBD to the airport or Albany.

Now is a good time to borrow to fund infrastructure projects since long-term interest rates are at a historical low. There is a dearth of good, long-term bonds for investors.

Borrowing long term to fund expensive infrastructure that delivers long-term benefits is sound practice, and also provides inter-generational fairness. However, some funding for infrastructure has to be put up front. It can't all be borrowed or funded from PPPs. Some commercial assets could be sold. Ratepayers cannot be treated as a bottomless pit. Choices have to be made.

For example the Port of Auckland, with the Port of Tauranga, will survive the rationalisation process of New Zealand's ports but will need investment, especially if Auckland aspires to be the nation's hub port of the future. If the council insists on retaining 100 per cent ownership of Ports of Auckland, it will need to find the money for the investment that will require.

The question arises whether it should own the port company when private and institutional shareholders such as the National Superannuation Fund, ACC and a raft of KiwiSaver funds could provide the capital instead.

Less certain may be the benefits of selling the airport shares, but the council must at least consider whether the dividend return it is getting is better than the return it can get from its own investment in infrastructure. If investment in Auckland infrastructure provides great benefits, it's likely to be worth a lot more than dividends from the shares it owns in the Auckland airport.

Another huge Auckland asset is tied up in the $1.8 billion Vector Trust, the ultimate beneficiary of which is the Auckland Council. Until it inherits that asset in 2073, the dividends from it go to Vector's consumers by way of a rebate. Last year that rebate was $300 a customer.

This trust fund for the ultimate ownership of Auckland Council should not be broken ahead of time, unless there were agreement between the majority of its income beneficiaries (Vector customers) and the Auckland Council.

A case could be made to do that. The income beneficiaries could then be asked to vote for or against it, and if they voted against, the Auckland Council should still take the asset into its infrastructure investment plan.

The Auckland Council needs to prioritise what it needs to own and what commercial assets it doesn't need to own, and transfer the freed-up capital to areas of most need.

Many people would encourage Mayor Brown to accept that his pre-election undertaking to sell nothing should not be kept at any price. We need our council to put its capital to work where it's most needed.

Once the plan and its means of funding are in place, the mayor and council can talk to the Government and negotiate a taxpayer-funded component. But until the Auckland Council clearly demonstrates its own commitment, there's no point in it bothering the Government over its contribution.