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Auckland is failing to fulfil its potential and needs to be bidding for ambitious projects such as the 2016 Commonwealth Games, says Ludo Campbell-Reid, the city council's urban design champion.

Campbell-Reid, who was brought to Auckland two years ago by then mayor Dick Hubbard to give the city a cohesive design framework, has spent a month in London where normally sanguine Londoners are getting excited about the Olympics being held there in 2012.

By contrast, "you'd never know there was a Rugby World Cup happening here in 2011," he said.

"We are putting on the World Cup, which is huge, but it's gone quiet. Where are the banners? Anywhere? There's no appetite for it."

At times, Auckland is a "Jekyll and Hyde - of opportunity and missed opportunities", he says. "We lost the V8s to Hamilton - that would have been amazing for Auckland."

Campbell-Reid is frustrated by problems of governance in the city delaying major transport decisions, and he would welcome a super mayoralty to help make decisions for Auckland because, as it is, resources are being spread too thin. "The authorities are pulling against each other as Auckland sprawled."

Big projects are harder to get done here than in London, he believes, and in Australia development corporations are often set up by state governments with money, planning powers and the land. "They just get on and do it," he says.

Waterfront projects, such as the Tank Farm or Wynyard Quarter and Queens Wharf, are far more complex.

Campbell-Reid would like to see Queens Wharf redeveloped by 2011, but he's not holding his breath.

"We don't control everything. We are doing our best but are constrained by regional governance."

The council is buying strategic stakes of land so it can "have some skin in the game" in certain projects.

"If we don't have the land, then we are not in control. We can't guarantee outcomes. Our mandate is raising people's quality of life. We are not a commercial organisation, we are here to try to do the right thing."

The group manager of urban design has a $400 million capital projects budget, which will this year include the revitalisation of Aotea Square, and in the next five years will see the redevelopment of Eden Park, the new Te Wero Bridge, an opening bridge, a remodelled Auckland Art Gallery and a new marine events centre on the waterfront.

A lot of Campbell-Reid's bigger plans for the future hinge on the conclusions of a royal commission later this year. It has been asked by the Government to look at what is needed for Auckland to become a truly international city.

Most people know the answers, they are clear on what needs to be done, he says. "But will the Government be bold enough to listen?"

If there is a change of government this year, he says National supports urban design but has a lack of interest in Auckland.

Campbell-Reid, who is horrified there is still no public transport from Auckland International Airport to the city centre, says: "I think the public transport system is the thing holding us back, but it's the key to the future."

"We have no economies of scale here, we need to work better with cities. [At the moment] we waste a lot of time competing with Wellington.

"The Auckland-Wellington rivalry is not fruitful, it's distracting.

"Auckland is not getting enough money for transport yet the majority of businesses are in Auckland. It is the only city that can compete with Vancouver and Melbourne."

Campbell-Reid says he has backing from John Banks to follow his recently published urban design framework.

"I think Mayor Banks is fully on board and sees urban design as good business sense. He said to me, 'I want you to go harder and be tougher on the wrong type of developments'."

Campbell-Reid urges the business community to take more responsibility for improving its presence in the city and end its love affair with the car if it really wants to make progress. Office developments going forward will be under increased pressure to whittle down the number of car parking spaces.

"We have an unsurpassed natural environment. Why don't we have architecture that embraces that - why do we have quite an ugly city?

"Companies should be thinking, 'I want to build what's best for Auckland'. The challenge for the business community is to think more long-term. If you don't want to play ball, then we don't want you to play ball in our city. It's time that people get the message."

The remarkable buildings in New Zealand are the houses, says the design guru. Ian Athfield houses, for instance, are world leading, so why is there not the same care and attention to public and city buildings?

"In this age of competitiveness we are looking for a brand that has to differentiate us from our competitors.

"Now investors are looking for an authenticity around what it means to be Auckland. If you treat Auckland like a shop, you need people to spend money, to buy and invest. What is the product we are selling? I am unsure."

Auckland was recently voted the fifth best city to live in in the world by the Mercer 2008 Quality of Living survey - out of 215 countries - but Campbell-Reid says. "There's a difference between quality of life and quality of city."

If you don't take care of the city, the quality of life will decrease, he warns. "We are fifth in the world despite what we have done. We are quite advanced in our thinking, we're just not advanced in our delivery."

Campbell-Reid welcomes Westfield's proposals to do something with its downtown shopping centre, one of the first areas tourists stumble across when they arrive in Auckland. "That site is key. It's not performing, it's not the best use of that site and I'm sure Westfield appreciates that."

Westfield is in the early stages of discussing a 36-storey office tower with two levels of shopping on the ground level with the city council.

Out of the CBD, Campbell-Reid's influence is also being felt. The Warehouse on the corners of Balmoral and Dominion roads is likely to get a substantial facelift in the next few years.

One of Campbell-Reid's chief concerns is that as the Sylvia Park and Albany Westfields spring up, Auckland's town centres are suffering. "Look at what [Albany] is doing to Takapuna, it's sucking the life out of it," says the Devonport resident.

"We need to be thinking about fabulous town centres and reviving them."