Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Bold $58 billion city vision wins the day

Children aged 16 and under will have free use of swimming pools. Photo / Chris Gorman
Children aged 16 and under will have free use of swimming pools. Photo / Chris Gorman

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has triumphed over his "naysayers" to deliver a $58 billion budget for the Super City over the next 10 years.

After a nine-hour marathon meeting yesterday, Mr Brown yesterday won approval to proceed with the $2.86 billion city rail loop and fix the overall rates increase at 3.6 per cent from July.

An alternative, cost-cutting budget put forward by eight right-leaning councillors for a 2.6 per cent rates increase was defeated by 15 votes to eight at the strategy and finance committee.

Mr Brown called the five Citizens & Ratepayers and three right-leaning independents "do-nothing naysayers", while Labour councillor Richard Northey said the alternative budget "nuked" a raft of projects in the central city and the West.

But C&R leader Christine Fletcher said the effect of the higher rates would be "death by strangulation" and force people to move out of the city.

"This budget is just taking the public too far and too fast," said Mrs Fletcher, whose group was thwarted from axing a superyacht facility, extending the Wynyard Quarter trams to Britomart, a planned waterfront theatre and delaying the construction of a cruise ship terminal for three years.

Her group also wanted to set the uniform charge at $450 to take the sting out of big rate rises for wealthy homeowners. Instead, the council opted for what Mr Brown called a "fair even point" charge of $350, which he said would have the least impact on households.

Even though Mr Brown set an overall rates increase of 3.6 per cent, the introduction of a single rating system for the Super City from July will lead to large increases and decreases.

This is the because the rating system of the former eight councils are being merged into a single system based on capital value and using new property valuations.

The Government has agreed to a request from Mr Brown to limit increases and decreases to 10 per cent for three years.

Wearing his blue and white Auckland tie yesterday, Mr Brown said the 10-year budget was about seriously progressing and putting forward some stakes in the ground with the $2.86 billion city rail loop taking pride of place.

He said the council could afford the budget with a 3.6 per cent rates increase this year and increases of about 4.9 per cent over the next nine years.

There was one "bittersweet" moment for Mr Brown when he had to ditch plans to roll out the former Manukau City Council's free swimming pools across the region, but he gained support for free swimming pools for children aged 16 and under.

Right-leaning councillors favoured universal user charges for the council's 24 pools with one, Manurewa-Papakura councillor Calum Penrose, saying his position would not go down well "but I care where the dollar comes from".

Councillor John Walker, the man behind the Field of Dreams swimming programme in South Auckland, said: "This is one thing we can afford and we should do it."

Many projects that Mr Brown considers important for economic development and jobs in Auckland have survived the knife, although some, such as the cruise ship terminal, have been reduced in cost. In the case of a superyacht fitout facility at Wynyard Quarter, the council body Waterfront Auckland has been told to put it on a commercial footing and not lumber ratepayers with a $16 million contribution.

Auckland Theatre Company's $41 million new theatre on Wynyard Quarter has also made the cut, but still has to find $13.4 million before the council will release a $10 million contribution.

The council has cut tens of millions of spending out of the 10-year budget, much of it in items that do not impact ratepayers directly. Scrapped spending that will affect Aucklanders includes $26,677 a year towards the Teddy Bears Picnic, $151,240 a year for movies in parks and an end to hazardous material collection days, saving $3.5 million over 10 years.

CITY BUDGET

What's in:
* Overall rates rise of 3.6 per cent.
* $2.86 billion city rail loop.
* $18.6m cruise ship terminal.
* $16m superyacht facility.
* Free swimming pools for children 16 years and under.
* $10m for waterfront theatre.

What's out:
* Alternative rates increase of 2.6 per cent.
* Universal free swimming pools.
* Movies in Parks programme.
* Hazardous waste collection days.
* Teddy Bears Picnic.
* Spending on urban design.

- NZ Herald

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