Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Super City RIP... and it's the parents' fault

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Housing turnaround is followed by a move to strip city councillors' transport-planning powers

The sun rose on the Super City 2 years ago. Now it seems doomed. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The sun rose on the Super City 2 years ago. Now it seems doomed. Photo / Brett Phibbs

By sheer weight of numbers, elections are won and lost in Auckland, so it would seem suicidal for a government to declare war on a third of the population. But that seems to be exactly what the Key Government is doing.

Of course it's not the first government to see Auckland as "the enemy". Labour's finance spokesman, Michael Cullen, once infamously quipped to a Taranaki election audience that "Auckland now sits atop the nation like a great crushing weight".

But National's current behaviour has a pattern to it that goes beyond pre-election hyperbole. Having created the Super City less than three years ago, it is acting as though it was all a big mistake and the aim is now to emasculate the monster it created.

In recent times, the mortars have been lobbed across the Bombay Hills from Wellington in a near-continuous barrage. Last week, at a post-Budget meeting with Wellington businessmen, Finance Minister Bill English warned: "We cannot let 20 planners sitting in the Auckland Council offices make decisions that will wreck the macro economy.

We cannot let that happen, and we won't let that happen."

This was hot on the heels of the charade of the Auckland Housing Accord. This was supposed to signal the working-out of a mutually agreed solution to the city's housing shortages. Yet a few days later, Housing Minister Nick Smith was threatening to "intervene by establishing special housing areas and issuing consents for developers".

Sailing below the radar is the most concrete example of the Government's efforts to sabotage Auckland's local democracy. The tool being used is the boring-sounding Land Transport Management Amendment Bill, which will become law early next month. It will usher in a significant transfer of power in the area of transport planning, from the Auckland Council to the Government.

The new law strips Auckland councillors of their power to decide how the $459.5 million of ratepayers' money - 33 per cent of total rates income - spent on transport each year is targeted. Instead, the final arbiter will be the unelected board of Auckland Transport, which will have to follow the Government policy statement (GPS) on land transport. The only sanction the Auckland Council will have to control the board of Auckland Transport - a council-controlled organisation - if it goes feral is to sack it. But the new law insists the board's first loyalty in setting transport priorities must be to the government GPS, so what would a replacement board do differently?

In submissions to select committee hearings last October, the Auckland Council asked that regional councils, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport be consulted before any significant policy changes were made to the national policy. This was ignored.

The new act also ignores another statutory document, the Auckland (Spatial) Plan, which sets out Auckland's direction and policy, including the integrating of land-use with transport.

Speaking to the select committee on behalf of the Auckland Council, transport committee chairman Mike Lee complained of the impending loss of democratic accountability to Auckland ratepayers, pointing out that Auckland would be the only part of New Zealand where elected representatives would not set the local land transport plan.

He said that by law, the principal objective of a council-controlled organisation such as Auckland Transport was to "achieve the objectives of its shareholders, both commercial and non-commercial". He said the situation "would in effect be creating two local governments in Auckland".

It was "appropriate in terms of its statutory responsibilities and as owner, major funder and sole shareholder of Auckland Transport, that the Auckland Council continues to set the long-term direction for transport".

The select committee did the reverse, noting that it had gone out of its way to recommend changes "to ensure that Auckland Transport may not delegate its responsibilities for regional land transport plans and passenger transport plans to the Auckland Council".

It did this by repealing the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 clause that says the governing body of Auckland Council is responsible and democratically accountable for setting transport objectives for Auckland.

The Super City. Two years old. Smothered by its parents. RIP.

- 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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