Mayor says rises justified to make Auckland a better place. Opponents say increased spending outrageous

Aucklanders have spent many, many years admiring what other cities have, but we're catching up now.

There's a real sense of pride growing around our region.

And we're not the only ones feeling it. People are moving to Auckland, investing in our city and visiting our city more now than ever before.

We're on the verge of getting the Auckland we want. We just need you to tell us what you think, starting today.

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We came together as a united city four years ago to help make that happen, to shrug off the parochialism and indecision that we were known for. It's been a hard slog of planning and negotiating, but 2015 is the year we can really start to see the results.

This year we start digging below the city centre to build the rail link they should have been building 50 years ago - we're going to make sure we are ready for when the Government starts to fund its share.

This year you'll see new houses and apartments built in their thousands as we continue to cut the red tape on building consents. We will be tackling our shortage of emergency houses for our Aucklanders most in need - I'm aiming to double our current 300 places to 600 across the sector in the next two years. More on this in the coming months.

This year we open a boardwalk around Westhaven. Just a decade ago it was a forgotten corner, but it has been reclaimed, and this weekend I expect to see thousands enjoying the revitalised Wynyard Quarter during the 175th Auckland Anniversary celebrations.

You'll see the iconic St James Theatre being brought back to life, more cycling projects, you may even see a start on the Skypath that really should have been put on the harbour bridge when it was built.

Look out for the music and arts centre in Glen Innes opening this year; just one of many new facilities across the Auckland region, including the new libraries now open in Ranui, on Waiheke Island and Te Atatu Peninsula and the redeveloped Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery in Titirangi.

And this year, and this is absolutely the big one, we will get a clear and emphatic decision about how we fix our transport system.

We all agree transport is the number one problem holding this city back. And we need everyone in Auckland to help us make the right decision, starting from today.

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It comes down to money.

I share Aucklanders' determination to see major improvements, but at the same time I know there is no appetite for large increases in rates or debt levels.

That's why in our draft 10-year budget, we are keeping average rate rises and debt lower than forecast in our previous budget.

Our proposed plan is still to invest more in Auckland than in any previous decade, to maintain, build and buy new assets such as the City Rail Link, roads, parks, property, libraries and stormwater systems and keep this city moving and growing.

To help us pay for this, we are proposing an average 3.5 per cent rates rise across all ratepayers. We tried to keep the average rates increase to 2.5 per cent for the next two years. This would have saved the residential ratepayer an average of $22.36 a year, but we simply would not have enough to invest in our local communities, their libraries, sports grounds and community facilities.

But by keeping rates and debt low, we can only afford a basic transport network. It is well short of what is needed to undo decades of underinvestment in Auckland's transport infrastructure.

This city faces a $12 billion transport funding gap to build the new roads, rail, ferries, busways and cycleways needed to cope with a population set to hit 2.5 million in the next three decades.

We have a choice to make. Do we accept a basic transport network which costs less, or do we invest more to get the advanced transport set out in our 30-year Auckland Plan.

If we choose to fix Auckland's transport issues, we need your input on which option we should take to raise the $300 million each year to pay for it: an increase in fuel tax and rates, or a motorway user charge.

Whatever the choice we need your views. And not just on transport. We want Aucklanders to have their say on rates and how we invest them back into this city, how we address housing and what is planned for local communities.

Over the next seven weeks we encourage Aucklanders to go online to ShapeAuckland.co.nz to register for Have Your Say events, visit service centres and libraries, check your mailboxes for feedback forms, or get on Facebook and Twitter and start shaping Auckland's future.

- Len Brown is the Mayor of Auckland.
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