Greg McKeown: Let's put Auckland Council back in control

Only 17 per cent of Aucklanders trust the council to make the right decisions. Photo / Dean Purcell
Only 17 per cent of Aucklanders trust the council to make the right decisions. Photo / Dean Purcell

• Greg McKeown is a former chairman of the Auckland City Council transport committee and a council candidate in the Albert-Eden-Roskill ward.

Across Auckland incumbent council candidates are "standing up for their ward", but if re-elected they will be advised by unelected officials (again) that they must think and vote regionally not locally, and most will. There's a fuse blown, right there.

For mayor the left have mounted Phil Goff, the right a posse that is currently a long way behind. But the mayor has only one vote at council, the other 20 are held by councillors. So every ward has a chance to make a difference, and why wouldn't they?

Only 17 per cent of Aucklanders trust the council to make the right decisions. That is an indictment of the current mayor and councillors and also the group of highly paid executives and board members who lead council organisations.

While the Super City was designed to deliver integration of citywide infrastructure, no one intended such a great loss of democratic representation and excessive influence by unelected officials, except the officials themselves.

We are all concerned about transport and housing. A less rousing but equally significant issue is the balance of power between unelected officials and elected representatives.

The Super City structure inserted by Rodney Hide seven years ago and the vacuum left by Len Brown three years ago have provided an opportunity for the unelected bureaucracy to take control.

It's astounding to hear councillors complaining about the size and power of the bureaucracy. Both are failures on their part.

Transport provides a good example. Who's finding it odd that council and government officials have just announced transport projects and priorities for the next 30 years, just weeks before the election?

Their Auckland transport alignment project (ATAP) list is a well-known collection of projects and not a game changer for Auckland. The deliberate timing was established by officials and thwarts the incoming mayor and councillors.

Drilling down, the report prioritises investing in rail and road to the current port. Earlier this year the port future study concluded that the port could shift either when it was at capacity, or when other social and economic triggers are pulled, for example growth of the city centre.

Only 17 per cent of Aucklanders trust the council to make the right decisions.

It makes more sense to work on identified alternatives first, before making the long-term port infrastructure commitments proposed in the ATAP report.

Three Kings is another clear example of the power of bureaucracy gone wrong. In 2013 a council un-controlled organisation called Auckland Council Property Ltd reached quite detailed agreements with Fletcher Building about the development of the Three Kings quarry, which included building apartments on an existing park, while the Local Board and community were kept out of the loop.

Some councillors had clearly been briefed earlier, and by the time the project reached the council formally it had a full head of steam. The interim Environment Court ruling notes that current resource consent conditions have been breached and points to both a Fletcher and council bungle.

If you are looking for a solution to these problems, the answer is to stop doing what is being done now. It starts with elected representatives providing leadership 101. The role of the bureaucracy is to provide advice and service. The role of the elected representatives is to take that advice, along with input from Auckland communities, apply judgment and lead.

Eventually there may be some structural change and tweaks in the way the Super
City is set up. But much can be done in the meantime.

Let's review the statements of intent with each of the so-called council-controlled organisations (CCOs).

Let's review the allocations of tasks between the two halves of the council (the city centre-based "governing body" and the community-based local boards), giving more oomph to local boards.

Let's shorten reports and meetings. Let's test CCOs about the social and economic benefits of projects they propose.

Auckland needs a new direction set by the elected representatives not the bureaucracy.

The Auckland Plan says we have a "widely-shared vision to be the world's most liveable city". The most liveability city mantra was dreamt up by officials and doesn't ring true with many Aucklanders, especially when the judges are overseas magazines. We should drop it and go for something less lofty and more real like "a great place to live as judged by Aucklanders".

- NZ Herald

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