Mai Chen

Public and employment law specialist Mai Chen on current events

Mai Chen: Auckland's future needs your vote

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Councillors of good calibre will promote the partnerships the Super City has with the Government

The Auckland Council, headed by Len Brown, has to be judged a success. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Auckland Council, headed by Len Brown, has to be judged a success. Photo / Dean Purcell

Today voting for Auckland Council elections officially starts as ballot papers are mailed to ratepayers. No doubt if Dean Barker and Grant Dalton were on the ballot they'd be elected in a landslide, but off the water and in real life, it really matters who you vote for.

When Aucklanders complain to me about the actions of Auckland councillors or other Auckland local government office holders, I always ask whether they voted in the last local body election.

Voting is the most fundamental step in influencing the policy, bylaws and decisions you want in Auckland.

High Auckland house prices and supply issues are just two examples. The Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013 enacted last week provides additional tools to fix the problem of housing affordability since the Unitary Plan won't come into effect before 2016, but it will only succeed if we have Auckland councillors capable of working with government ministers.

The council has already agreed an Auckland Housing Accord with the Government, and under it, the agreed targets are 9000, 13,000 and 17,000 new dwellings and new sites based on new building and subdivision consents in greenfield areas and building consents in brownfield areas in years 1-3 respectively.

The act takes a carrot and stick approach - if the Government and council had not been able to reach agreement, then the act would have permitted the Government to declare special housing areas and, in effect, take over consenting for residential development in those areas.

The act and accord will allow the establishment of special housing areas with streamlined consenting for land and housing developments that satisfy the criteria in the act, which include height limits, prescribed numbers of dwellings, and a prescribed percentage of "affordable" housing.

A resource management application made under the 2013 act is treated differently to one made under the RMA. For example, section 29 limits the people to whom an application is notified to adjacent neighbours, local authorities, infrastructure providers and requiring authorities. Other people may not submit on an application. Various time limits are set.

Special housing areas will be disestablished by the close of September 16, 2016 and the remainder of the act is repealed by the close of September 16, 2018. So the act is a temporary measure while the Unitary Plan process is worked through. There are still more council submissions, a Government-appointed hearings panel and appeals to go before the Unitary Plan comes into effect.

The accord between the Government and council also agrees that joint work will be undertaken on, among others, exploring options for timely financing and delivery of core infrastructure. No point having great dwellings on new green and brownfield sites if there is no transport allowing people to get home or to work.

Fixing transport funding is another reason why it is important who you vote for in the elections, given Auckland's creaking transport infrastructure, and the need for significant cash injections. The Government's $10 billion commitment to kickstart Auckland transport still requires Auckland to pay its share for key projects. In some ways this will be a more challenging task for Government and the council to resolve - housing affordability is a question of how the council discharges its functions, but transport infrastructure is a matter of finding the money.

Once again, good partnerships between local and central government will be needed to work on funding Auckland's share of needed transport projects and new legislation of the sort passed for housing affordability and supply may also be needed.

Another reason why it matters who you vote for is that Auckland has worked hard to transform itself over the past three years and the new council has to be judged a success. We had no Novopay-type disasters along the way - everyone got their rates bill even if they didn't like the amount on it.

Laila Harre also told me there were also no personal grievances despite everyone getting new roles or being made redundant when she was responsible at the Auckland Transition Authority.

Auckland does now speak with one voice and can do things it couldn't do before as separate local authorities and the Auckland Regional Council.

All is not a bed of roses, and you wouldn't expect it to be after such a short time. There are always things that could be done better.

More changes will be needed. But the foundation is now laid for the city to take off.

What direction the city goes in and at what speed will depend on the calibre of the Auckland councillors, local board members and all the other office holders up for election on the ballot forms you start receiving from today. It depends on your vote.

Mai Chen is a founding partner of Chen Palmer and Adjunct Professor at the University of Auckland 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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