Long term planning documents are being released by councils across New Zealand and what should be plans of promise will in fact be documents that tell most communities the scale of the problem they have.

It's the result of badly managed immigration and population growth, commoditised tourism and a failure over 50 years by local government to make decisions and invest in infrastructure and public transport.

Most of the plans will reveal a sleight of hand by councils who will claim low rate increases when in fact they should be investing in their communities, and councils who will claim tidy administrations when most are bloated bureaucracies delivering some things well, some things badly and some things that look like an extension of central government.

Local government has lost its way. We are seeing it in Auckland. We see it in many other cities in New Zealand where draft plans are signalling rate increases of around 10 per cent and up to 60 per cent, and mostly not to accelerate progress but to tread water.


Auckland Council's newly refreshed 30-year plan and 10-year Long Term Plan for consultation highlights the scale of our local government failings.

Take housing. Right now we are short of some 45,000 new affordable houses. To keep pace with demand we need 14,000 new houses (or apartments) built every year until at least 2030. Currently we build around 7000 new houses a year — getting further behind demand every year.

If our politicians were being brutally honest with themselves and business-like with Aucklanders, the Auckland Plan and Long Term Plan would set out some clear targets – we need 59,000 new houses built this year, and 14,000 every year for the foreseeable future. Here is the game plan to make it happen.

But there are no targets in the Auckland Plan, and there is nothing in the Long Term Plan indicating "business as usual" is no longer good enough.

Take transport. Suburbs like Drury and Silverdale have big housing developments under way, but no supporting road access or public transport service improvements. We continue to do things backwards. We have lost our way.

No one should therefore be surprised at the worsening congestion on nearby motorways. Under current plans within a few years, around 147,000 Silverdale and peninsula residents will be dependent on a single intersection at the Hibiscus Coast Highway to get on the Northern Motorway. The congestion is so bad, express buses are unreliable.

We need an integrated consent process, surely, that aligns housing developments with a timetable and funding to provide the supporting infrastructure, including public transport services.

This lack of clear targets in the Auckland Plan and failed planning allows politicians to never be accountable for Auckland continuing to lose its way.


There is an Auckland consensus that the city needs a vastly improved public transport network. If the Auckland Plan was doing its job, it would include some clear targets to achieve this outcome, and the supporting Long Term Plan would set a programme to deliver the target.

For example, currently less than 10 per cent of passenger trips in Auckland are on public transport. If the Auckland Plan adopted a clear target that, say, within 10 years 20 per cent of commuter trips will be on public transport, then the Long Term Plan and transport infrastructure and service providers could be given a budget and task to deliver, on time and within budget or else. Accountability for results by politicians and bureaucrats alike would be transparent.

The Long Term Plan 2018-28 identifies some $12 billion for Auckland's transport over the next 10 years. We should be asking what we spend it on to ensure we achieve our target.

That's fine as far as it goes. The problem is that every authority on transport knows our funding shortfall is closer to $20 billion and counting.

Take waste water and sewage polluting beaches and waterways. Around 16 beaches have had sewage events this year. Not before time, the Long Term Plan proposes action. But the Auckland Plan, again, lacks clear targets, urgency and accountability.

Instead, over the next decade the Long Term Plan states building water infrastructure will be a top priority that will include, "where practicable and financially viable, separating stormwater from wastewater in older areas of the city".

I am not saying the council isn't trying hard. It is, everyone is working hard but is it smart – I don't think so.

In every presentation Mayor Phil Goff makes two absolutely valid points. Increasing rates to pay for Auckland's infrastructure catch-up and meet future demand is no longer an option. Second, the council has a debt ceiling constraint meaning that borrowing is no longer an option if the council wants to keep a healthy credit rating with international agencies.

From within the council's plans there is no timely solution in sight, which is plainly no answer for Auckland.

Instead, Mayor Goff is publicly committed to a general rates rise of 2.5 per cent or less, while proposing other levies and targeted rates. Clearly these will likely increase the burden considerably on many Auckland rate payers.

It's not just an Auckland local government problem. Bay of Plenty is facing rate rises of nearly 10 per cent and Tauranga's commercial sector an increased differential resulting in 60 per cent rate increases for many. Hamilton is proposing rate increases of 9.5 per cent for two years, and other significant changes.

Based on draft Long Term Plans already out for consultation, big rate increases look to be ahead across New Zealand.

The lack of innovation within local government to identify sustainable, affordable funding solutions to its big and growing problems means just one thing, central government must step up and step in. A review of local government's rating system would be a good place to start.

Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber of Commerce.