Len Brown: Down to business

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A better, fairer Auckland is mayor Len Brown's aim for his second term in charge

Auckland mayor, Len Brown.
Auckland mayor, Len Brown.

Building a new Auckland was never going to be a three-year job. But Auckland is already better, and fairer, because of the work we have begun.

Over the past three years Auckland Council has kicked off the largest planning exercise in the country - producing a single district plan with affordable housing at its heart.

We made overdue investments - rolling out the largest transport investment programme in the country, and securing backing from the Government to do it.

We found $1.7 billion in savings for ratepayers through Auckland's first 10-year plan, allowing us to reduce the projected rates burden by two-thirds.

Because of the pace of growth (we have added a population the size of Tauranga over the past seven years) we also faced a growing debt burden to help pay for roads, water and facilities. We drove that down too - delivering debt increases much lower than projected.

But this was never going to be a three-year job. And the Super City doesn't yet feel fairer or better for all Aucklanders.

Some households faced 10 per cent rate increases as we moved to a single rating system.

Free swimming pools for under 16s across the region, left part of South Auckland having to find their own funding for free swimming pools for all ages. And residents in the old Central Auckland had their berm mowing aligned with the rest of the region.

Some had to make sacrifices. But with the building blocks we now have in place, we can begin to move from being "under construction" and 'in development' to being able to start opening doors and gates and giving people the services they've been waiting for.

We can make serious progress to rebalance the transport system with more rail, cycling and a new bus network all under way.

We will use the Housing Accord agreed with the Government to deliver thousands more affordable homes for Auckland.

And we will aim to deliver an average increase in rates of no more than 2.5 per cent, lower than any of the past three years.

Not surprisingly people look at the cost of running the largest council in Australasia (a bigger balance sheet than Fonterra) and want to know that we have the right financial controls in place and are managing their money, and their assets, prudently.

That's why our focus on spending and fiscal prudence will sharpen further in this term.

As part of this I intend to introduce a policy across the Auckland Council, and council-controlled organisations (such as Auckland Transport and Auckland Tourism and Events), to ensure greater transparency and accountability around pay for senior staff across the council family. But we also need to ensure council is able to balance responsible pay with the need to attract and retain the technical specialists and minds Auckland needs.

And we will take the next step to investigate alternative funding sources to rates and debt - for example to help pay for investments in transport infrastructure.

I will also be reviewing the entire structure of "council-controlled organisations" inherited from the Auckland Transition Authority. This was based on a corporate model and is not delivering at the level Auckland requires.

The review will deliver more transparency, cut out duplication where it is found, and ensure more accountability to Aucklanders through their elected representatives.

As far as debt is concerned, I will be looking to deliver actual increases below projections. Debt per se is not an issue while our city continues to grow. Borrowing is fairer - it helps us spread the cost of roads and water supply over several generations (a bit like a mortgage on a house), and it avoids asking the current generation to pay for assets that will benefit many generations, through big increases to their rates.

We owe it to our children, though, not to buy into simplistic notions that all debt is bad. Cities have died through not investing in their futures, and that cannot be our ambition for Auckland.

As Aucklanders manage their own household budgets, and the pressures that come with it, they will be looking to Auckland Council to do the same, and we need to be as accountable to them as we can be.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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