Terry Dunleavy: National's 'super city' for Auckland is not working

Whichever major party campaigns on reviewing Super City governance will gain a substantial boost. Photo / 123RF
Whichever major party campaigns on reviewing Super City governance will gain a substantial boost. Photo / 123RF

For the National Party to retain its political leadership of the country in September's general election, holding its present lead in greater Auckland electorates will be vital, as will garnering the most party list votes in this populous area.

To achieve this, National needs to include in its election manifesto a key pledge to review in 2018 the governance of the enlarged Auckland Super City.

Whichever of the main parties is first out of the blocks with a binding promise to do what is necessary to fix the Auckland governance mess will be well on the way to leading the next parliamentary government.

From Rodney in the north to Franklin in the south, and especially in the solid blue seats north of the harbour bridge there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that needs to be eliminated.

The first requisite is acceptance on Parliament Hill that its politicians got it wrong when they ignored recommendations of a royal commission and imposed their own mangled monstrosity on our largest metropolis.

No point in blaming then minister Rodney Hide, the effective decisions were made by National in 2010, early in its recapture of government.

National came into power before the royal commission released its recommendations.

After the release of the commission's report the Government made the decisions that there would be one unitary Auckland Council as the first tier of governance and one mayor for Auckland with governance powers, elected at large by the region's residents and ratepayers.

In its wisdom, the Government caved into opposition to having any councillors elected at large and settled for 20 councillors elected from wards: Albany, Albert-Eden-Roskill, Howick, Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura, North Shore, Waitakere (two each), and Franklin, Maungakiekie-Tamaki, Orakei, Rodney, Waitemata and Gulf, Whau (one each).

The second tier was 21 local boards, each with very limited decision-making powers.


A major departure was the devolution of management functions to council controlled organisations (CCOs) covering fields like transport, water services, waterfront, and tourism, events and economic development.

These would be run by unelected boards operating at "arm's length" from the council.

A hotly debated recommendation was for two Maori councillors elected at large by voters on the parliamentary Maori electoral roll. This was rejected by the Government in favour of appointment of an unelected Maori Statutory Authority.

We thought we'd been promised a review after two terms. What we got was a council-organised report by an independent consultant, Gareth Stiven, in November, 2016.

Following the Stiven report, the council appointed a working party to review the findings and make final recommendations to the council's own governing body in July 2017.

The working party is made up of seven members from Auckland's 21 local boards and seven members from the governing body.

In other words, self-review by a self-interested clique, with, thus far, no provision for input by the suffering ratepayers, let alone non-ratepaying citizenry.

It is not surprising that scuttlebutt from the inside suggests the self-review is going nowhere, or, if it is, cards in City Hall are being held close to the chest (apart from a vague suggestion to reduce the number of local boards by amalgamation, a proposal already condemned).

When the Super City was introduced in 2010, we were assured the major dividends would include economies of scale that would hold rate rises and staff numbers.

The opposite has happened in staff numbers, and newly-elected Mayor Phil Goff is struggling to honour his promise to hold rate rise to 2.5 per cent, let alone deliver the capped rates implied when the new system was imposed in 2010.

Not generally debated is the transfer of effective power from local communities to centralised City Hall, and from elected council and local board representatives to unelected bureaucrats, CCO boards and Maori.

The overall result is that Auckland has been robbed of "local" governance in favour of centralised bureaucracy, and increasing numbers of citizens are saying "enough is enough", especially those in outlying rural districts, Franklin and Rodney, who never wanted to be part of it.

In the critical area of transportation costs, including the Central Rail Link, the Government needs to re-think its opposition to Mayor Goff's plea for a regional motor fuel surcharge as part of its funding.

Motorists are used to fuel costs rising and falling, and won't notice an extra 10c or 20c a litre collected at minimal cost.

What they will notice will be a monthly bill for congestion charging or road tolls, collected at considerable cost whether by new toll booths or electronic monitoring.

What about a referendum of Auckland city road users, identifiable by driver licences, asking them to vote on their preference: a fuel levy, road tolls, or congestion charging. Now, that would be "local" government decision-making.

• Terry Dunleavy MBE, a Takapuna writer, is a long-time member of the National Party, a former candidate (1969) and electorate chairman.

- NZ Herald

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