Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Prime Minister's dictatorial stance on housing a sad state of affairs

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

In recent days, it's as though Auckland has transmogrified into Isis-controlled Fallujah, and Wellington-based President John Key and his deputy, Bill English, are about to invade the Queen City to rescue it from its evil council.

On Friday, the Prime Minister was hinting darkly at appointing commissioners to seize power if the council didn't bow to his demand to open up the hinterland to new housing development - a threat he now seems to have backed away from. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bill English has resorted to the last warning, scare tactics beloved of mothers of my generation, before the old copper stick started being waved around.

He's been taking to our screens to denounce the sins of Auckland local politicians, puckering his lips with distaste as he slowly spits out the words, Auckland City Council, with a slight pause for emphasis between each syllable.

Mr English should try and keep up. He seems to have forgotten that National and their Act Party colleagues killed off that particular irritant, along with the seven other Auckland local councils, more than five years ago.

The new super Auckland Council he and his colleagues have now declared war on is of their own flesh and blood, created in their own image, we were assured at the time, to sort out the very mess they're now accusing the new council of making.

What's more, the new council is now going through the final stages of a three-year process, designed by National Party politicians, to create a Unitary Plan to co-ordinate and design the future growth of the region. Yet before it's even in place, the Government is now threatening to do a Christchurch on Auckland and introduce some sort of Beehive-led guided local democracy. First the second-largest city got rule by Gerry Brownlee. Now the largest is being threatened. The rest of the country should be very afraid.

The rationale advanced is that central government did such a great job sorting out Christchurch's post-quake housing crisis that all it will take to solve Auckland's housing non-crisis is the Beehive stepping in, running rough-shod over the yet-to-be-unveiled Unitary Plan.

Of course this comparison with Christchurch is facetious. Environment Canterbury estimates 16,600 people left the city following the 2010-2011 earthquakes. Last October it calculated that loss had since reversed, estimating population gains of 5000 in each of the last two years. At the same time, Auckland Council announced population growth of 43,000 for the year ending June 2015, more than two-thirds of that from migrants.

In February this year, Housing Minister Nick Smith declared the Christchurch housing market was "nearing recovery five years on" from the earthquakes which had destroyed 10,500 homes. He outlined a huge amount of insurance payouts plus government aid and assistance. Yet Auckland needs around 13,000 new homes a year, plus another 39,000 to make up for past shortfalls.

Auckland's crisis has not been triggered by one awful natural calamity. It has been growing for a decade. It's one reason the Government gave birth to the Super City. But instead of now helping its creation grow, it's trying to batter it into submission.

Of course all this posturing can't be disconnected from the up-coming local elections. National and its Act Party allies have failed dismally to get political control of the new Auckland Council since its creation. Late last year, National Party president Peter Goodfellow and two predecessors, Michelle Boag and Sue Wood, master-minded a new right-wing front group, Auckland Future, to contest this year's contest. Mr Key hosted the inaugural fund-raiser. Their attempt to create a team of council candidates seems to have failed. Unable to find a mayoral candidate to wear their label, they've been left to support political unknown, independent Victoria Crone.

With veteran Labour heavyweight Phil Goff the obvious front-runner for the mayoralty, National faces a third defeat in a row. Is it any surprise the Government is trying to blame this ungrateful child for every woe in sight.

It's even being vindictive, rejecting calls for additional fund-raising methods such as regional road tolls, or for infrastructure bonds that could be paid back via targeted rates. Instead, Mr Key says sell assets, such as the port company and airport, which most Aucklanders oppose.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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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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