Auckland can be in the same class as cities such as Sydney and Singapore within a decade, writes Len Brown.

This year presents exciting possibilities to deliver on the goals of the Auckland Plan. These are the six priorities that I will be working with council, local boards and our new CEO to deliver for Auckland this year. Each is based on using the strengths of our combined Super City to deliver more and better services for the region. And each is based on the idea that if we are prepared to think and act differently we can begin to transform Auckland into New Zealand's first truly international city.

1. Start building the CRL in 2016
The clearest message from Aucklanders in the past three years is that we need to get our transport problems fixed once and for all.

Auckland has suffered from decades of under-investment in public transport and a lack of joined-up planning. We are only now beginning to put in place the foundations of a world-class public transport system.

Last year the Government agreed to back the City Rail Link project (CRL) - this will be the central plank of our work to improve Auckland's transport network.


The CRL will double the capacity of Auckland's rail network - offering twice as many train journeys and passengers across the entire rail network and trains at most stations every 5-10 minutes at peak.

We welcome the Government's backing for the CRL, but the fact is their proposed start date of 2020 is too long for us to wait. Without the CRL, by 2021 Auckland's bus network will have reached capacity, and speeds on city roads will have dropped to a creeping 7km/h during peak time.

My number one priority is to bring forward the start date for the CRL to 2016.

Working with my political colleagues and Auckland Transport I have developed a proposal to deliver this earlier start, without a direct impact on ratepayers. I will be taking our proposal to Prime Minister John Key next month to kick-start discussions with the Government this year.

2. Deliver lower rates and more sustainable debt
Later this year my colleagues, local board members and I will begin a review of Auckland's 10-year plan - a chance to take a fresh look at how we manage both rates rises and our growing debt burden.

Our focus will be on keeping rate rises low and sustainable - and I am determined that 2.5 per cent average rates rise is the new ceiling.

Focusing on lower rates will constrain how much we can borrow without risking a downgrade to Auckland's credit rating (currently AA). But regardless, it's time for us to acknowledge the limits of borrowing as an investment tool, and begin to look seriously at the alternatives.

A growing city creates endless need for that investment. And the scale created by Auckland's amalgamation (we have twice the assets of Fonterra) gives us new opportunities to deliver that investment.

The first steps this year will be developing alternative funding options for transport, our first public private partnership (PPP) and new commercial sponsorships (with a major one to be announced in the next fortnight).

I also intend to start a discussion with central government on alternatives to rates funding.

We must not let an outdated model of funding constrain the opportunities we have to transform.

Our commitment to Auckland is to leave no stone unturned in the on-going quest to find innovative smarter ways to deliver on our vision for Auckland. Too many people let ideology get in the way of this sort of approach. Auckland deserves better, and that is what I will continue to deliver.

3. Partner with the private sector to deliver big infrastructure projects
At the end of last year the council and I agreed a way forward for the SkyPath project - a walk and cycle-way across Auckland's harbour bridge.

The SkyPath will be Auckland's first PPP, and will eventually enable a great vision - a cycle and walking path stretching from St Heliers to Devonport. This will act as a real game-changer for building pedestrian and cycleways around our city.

This is a chance to cut our teeth on PPPs and show that we can deliver real value for money and better outcomes for ratepayers.

PPPs are not a free ticket to be clipped by the private sector. We need to use our considerable scale and position to nail down the best possible deals for Aucklanders, learning the lessons from international experience and retaining public ownership.

Beyond the SkyPath, there will be major opportunities for transport projects, including the CRL, better waste management, provision of Wi-Fi in public spaces and other major transport projects.

4. Create a sense of community ownership
There was a lot to do in the first three years of Auckland's amalgamation. And in some cases we moved forward without taking our communities with us. As political leaders we have heard this message and we need to take our response further this year.

We need to do a lot better. We need the community to feel they have ownership in all of the major decisions we make as a council.

This year, I want us to look at new ways of linking in with the people who understand their communities the best.

This should include more innovative use of online tools, but it certainly means a return to the basics of grassroots engagement - which is all about talking to people on their terms, not ours.

5. More affordable homes
For too long affordable housing has been synonymous with low-quality or unhealthy housing. And for too long that's been Auckland's experience.

The Unitary Plan and the Housing Accord are about changing that. The housing accord is a partnership between council and government that allows us to bring forward new housing developments.

This year we will step up the pace of the housing by approving dozens of new special housing areas and pressing developers for a high proportion of affordable homes.

6. A plan for economic growth
New Zealand needs Auckland as its economic powerhouse and to achieve that we must plan and incentivise for growth.

In the run-up to the election last year I set out an agenda for boosting Auckland's opportunities for economic growth, including a global investment attraction strategy, a youth employment action plan and a digital action plan.

Working with Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development (Ateed) this has now been turned into an action plan for economic growth and employment, which I will be launching in the next fortnight.

Auckland is rapidly emerging as a city with the potential to compete on an equal footing with other world cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore. This is still an aspiration but achieving it would transform New Zealand's economy and greatly improve our rankings across a range of international measures. By targeting international investors, increasing our productivity and exports and generating greater levels of income, it's a goal I believe we can realistically achieve in the next decade.

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