Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Chch councillors in dark over 'Mr Fix-it'

Mark Ford. Photo / File
Mark Ford. Photo / File

Under-fire city councillors were kept in the dark about yesterday's announcement that a high-flying Auckland 'Mr Fix-it' has been headhunted to oversee the $2.2billion infrastructure rebuild programme.

They only learnt of the appointment of top executive Mark Ford as the independent chair of the Client Governance Group who will manage the repair and replacement of their own city's infrastructure - drinking water, waste water, storm water and roading - during a council meeting lunch break.

It appears the councillors were too busy arguing over whether to call for a pause in the demolition of the Christ Church Cathedral to know about the Government's actions.

Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button even admitted to The Star that she had never heard of the British-born Mr Ford, who masterminded Auckland's Super City campaign.

It is the latest move by the Government in bypassing Christchurch City Council on major decisions on the city's massive rebuild task.

But Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was surprised that city councillors were unaware of the move as they had a representative on the board who made the appointment.

A spokesman for Mr Brownlee's office said: "The council's Kevin Locke (General Manager Capital Programme) is on the Client Governance Group board and he certainly knew that Mark Ford was being appointed.

"At some level, they probably could've been told but they weren't. Their representative knew and would've known for quite some time. If the city council didn't have that knowledge, then it sounds like an internal breakdown."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key announced yesterday that the Government will have spent half - $2.45bn of the $5.5bn set aside for the rebuild and recovery in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Fund - by June 30.

But that news was also missed by councillors and Mr Brownlee was again unapologetic for not giving councillors wind of yesterday's pre-Budget announcement.

"It is our budget and is our own prerogative to announce it when we're ready and in the manner that we like. It's not the city council's money." his spokesman said.

Mr Ford, 60, was once described by New Zealand Herald columnist Brian Rudman as "the Government-appointed gauleiter of Auckland".

He was uniquely qualified for the new role, Mr Brownlee said, as the leader of New Zealand's largest water company Watercare Services, chair of the Auckland Transport CCO and having led the reorganisation of local government in Auckland.

As an Aucklander, Mr Ford would bring objectivity and independence to the role, he said.

Despite not knowing who Mr Ford was, Deputy Mayor Button was confident in the Government's decision-making.

"The Government has made really good decisions thus far as I've got confidence in them to continue doing so."

Asked if she was happy that major decisions are being made without council input, she replied: "I don't really see it as a problem ... but if things did start turning pear-shaped then we would have to engage."

Councillors Tim Carter and Aaron Keown was also unaware of Mr Ford's appointment, but saw no issue with it.

Cllr Keown said: "We don't need to be involved in every spending decision as long as our goals are on track."

Council opponents criticised both local and central governments for a lack of communication.

Peter Lynch of council protest group Cantabrians Unite said even he knew about Ford's imminent new job.

"There was a rumour of this guy (Ford) being appointed a few weeks back, but of course central government denied it.

"It's another glaring example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in the city."

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