Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Auckland Council puts focus on city's poor areas in south

Under the initiative, another 100 centres would join South Auckland's newest early education centre, where teacher Renee Maxell works. Photo / Natalie Slade
Under the initiative, another 100 centres would join South Auckland's newest early education centre, where teacher Renee Maxell works. Photo / Natalie Slade

Auckland's new council is plunging into social policy with a plan to boost education, housing and public transport in the poorest parts of South Auckland.

A Southern Initiative, aimed at strengthening families in the Manukau and Manurewa-Papakura wards, is one of two strategic initiatives in last week's draft Auckland Plan. The other is transforming downtown Auckland into "a global city centre".

It includes ambitious targets of 100 new early childhood centres across South and West Auckland by 2020, ensuring that every young person leaves school with a plan for further education or work, new housing in Mangere and improving public transport services within a year.

But Manurewa Local Board chairman Daniel Newman said the initiative had been drawn up without reference to local boards and without funding. The plan provides detailed costings for other projects but has none for the Southern Initiative.

"What we need in the south is a focus on concrete initiatives that will drive investment and generate job opportunities for local people," he said.

The document says the 300,000 people in the wards have the country's highest rate of overcrowding, below-average numbers leaving school with NCEA, and above-average youth unemployment. A third are Housing New Zealand tenants.

They sit near one of the region's fastest-growing job generators, Auckland Airport. Auckland Airport property general manager Peter Alexander said jobs in the corridor from Kirkbride Rd to the airport would grow from 22,000 to 32,000 by 2031.

But poor education means many locals lack the skills required for those jobs, and poor public transport makes it hard to get to them. The Maxx website shows that it takes two or three buses, $5.20 and up to 79 minutes to get from Mangere East to the Bendon warehouse near the airport.

Mayor Len Brown said Auckland Transport was tendering for new services from southeast to southwest Auckland and was looking at "the possibility of an additional east-west Otara-Middlemore-Mangere Town Centre service".

The initiative aims to start tackling the educational deficit before school. Nationally 95 per cent of children now attend early childhood education before starting primary school, but only 86 per cent do so in Manukau and 88 per cent in Papakura.

A joint project between the Ministry of Education and local groups co-ordinated by the City of Manukau Education Trust (Comet) opened 51 new early childhood centres in Manukau between 2006 and 2009. More have opened since then, most recently at Homai School in Manurewa last month.

Comet chief executive Susan Warren said the former Manukau City Council had fast-tracked planning consents and provided many of the sites on parks and other council land. The ministry provided space on many school grounds.

"That has only existed in Manukau, but the Southern Initiative includes Papakura and Otahuhu so there are opportunities for that initiative to be extended," she said.

Mr Brown said the initiative also aimed to dovetail with a recent Government decision to make schools inform state agencies every time someone leaves school aged 16 or 17 and link those who need help with local agencies. Mr Brown set up an employers' group to guide a local agency in Manukau last year, focused initially on Mangere.

"That fell off the radar at the back end of the mayoral elections," he said. "Now we are back into it. That will be a programme that we'd like to extend right across the whole of the region."

He said the council was working with the NZ Housing Foundation, which is building large four-bedroom houses off Robertson Rd in Mangere for sale on a shared-equity basis where buyers only have to pay 75 per cent of the value, or about $310,000, up-front.

The foundation is also working with Pukaki Marae on possible new housing in Pukaki Rd near the airport.

"The council is looking to have a catalyst role and/or provision of land if appropriate," Mr Brown said.

He said funding would be allocated for this and other parts of the initiative when details were finalised.

- NZ Herald

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