Mai Chen: Super-Auckland showing the way

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All roads lead to Auckland, and other areas want to share the benefits. Photo / File
All roads lead to Auckland, and other areas want to share the benefits. Photo / File

No one south of the Bombay Hills likes to admit that the Auckland Council is having an impact on the whole of New Zealand, but there is now evidence that is hard to refute.

The Local Government Commission is receiving an increasing number of applications for reorganisation under the Local Government Act, almost all for amalgamation from several councils into one, similar to the new Auckland Council.

And what the commission is determining as its preferred option, which it can implement by order in council after consultation, is also modelled on Auckland Council.

This can be seen in the "Reorganisation of Local Government in Northland" report and also in the "Reorganisation of Local Government in Hawkes Bay" report that came out this week. The commission's recommendation for Northland is for:

• One council and one mayor to speak with a region-wide voice for Northland.

• A second tier of boards to represent diverse local communities.

• The name of the new local authority to be the Northland Council.

• The new council to be a unitary authority, combining the functions of the district councils and the regional council.

The new Northland Council would have nine councillors elected from seven wards. The mayor would be elected at large by all Northland voters, as is done in Auckland.

Northland would also borrow the community board model from Auckland, with 42 elected members.

The Local Government Commission is a permanent commission of inquiry and sees the Auckland Council as a successful model, as do local authorities outside Auckland. Otherwise, this wouldn't be happening.

The commission is now working on amalgamation applications from Masterton and Wellington.

The decline in rural population is also forcing councils to rethink how to sustain economic development and to engage with the Government. They see the way the Government has reacted to a consolidated Auckland and the power the Mayor of Auckland has to ask for resources, and no doubt they would like similar treatment.

The commission is even recommending something similar to the Independent Maori Statutory Board created by the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009. Maori apparently like this mechanism as the closest thing to co-governance in local government on offer.

Could the newly established Auckland Investment Office, which is unique to Auckland and co-ordinates investment across the entire council, be a forerunner of what the increasing numbers of unitary authorities will also set up? Perhaps the newly established Auckland Housing Project Office too?

Issues that strongly affect Auckland, such as housing supply and affordability, have resulted in the passage of national legislation.

For example, Auckland is the only region listed as having "significant housing supply and affordability issues" under schedule 1 of the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013.

The Government is also likely to support legislation to let Auckland impose fuel levies and road tolls to pay its share of the bill for the city rail loop and other Auckland transport projects.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are both from Auckland and winning the election next year means winning in Auckland.

This is important, as many of the 41 deliverables for Auckland over the next three-year term of local government (taken from the mayor's manifesto and Auckland's planning commitments), can be achieved only if the Government works with the council.

These deliverables include a global investment attraction strategy through the Auckland Investment Office, introducing ultra-fast broadband and the use of public wi-fi throughout Auckland, increasing links with Auckland's major trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region, implementing the Maori Economic Development Strategic Framework, developing the Wynyard Quarter innovation precinct, electrifying Auckland's trains, starting on the city rail link in 2016, delivering the Auckland Housing Accord to consent 39,000 dwellings or vacant sites within three years, completing the Energy and Climate Change Mitigation Strategy to cut carbon emissions in Auckland by 40 per cent by 2040, implementing the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management and the Waste Management and Minimisation Plan, working with the Government on the Te Papa North project and on projects in South Auckland, making the unitary plan operative by September 2016, and completing the by-law review programme, and all 10 local area plans, local alcohol policies, and all 21 local board plans.

This is a daunting list for the council's incoming chief executive, Stephen Town. But at least he has an established platform after the hard work of the inaugural CEO, Doug McKay, who is stepping down after steering the council through its first term. The impact of Super City Auckland on New Zealand will only increase as it embarks on its second-term agenda.

Mai Chen is a founding partner in Chen Palmer lawyers and adjunct professor at the Auckland University business school.


Dialogue Contributions are welcome and should be 600-800 words. Send your submission to dialogue@nzherald.co.nz. Text may be edited and used in digital formats as well as on paper.

- NZ Herald

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