COMMENT:

Mayor Phil Goff lost an important vote at council this week. The topic was speedway, although that wasn't what any of the councillors were really voting on. Far dearer to their hearts were questions of power and respect.

The agenda item was an officers' report, supported by Goff, on how to relocate speedway from Western Springs to Colin Dale Park, east of the airport. The debate raised an angry conflict about the roles of the mayor, councillors, local boards, council officials and council-controlled organisations. The whole supercity set up. But especially about Goff.

Some councillors also cared about the cost of things. And the future of cricket. Not speedway so much, but definitely cricket.

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There were public submissions from members of the speedway community, which showed up a split in the ranks. The most compelling presentation came from Graham Standring, a Speedway Hall of Famer, who spoke eloquently about Western Springs being a once-great site that was now too small – on the track and for crew services. The drivers, he said, wanted their sport to grow and only by moving to a purpose-built facility could that happen.

John Duncan, from the council's Investment Office, was the report's lead author. He had been to the speedway with his family, he said, and had seen first-hand the chaos of an operation that's grown too big for its venue. He presented a helmet, signed by 65 drivers who want to relocate to Colin Dale.

Cr Cathy Casey was outraged: how dare a council official lobby them like that? Mike Lee, supporting her, declared that Duncan's job was to provide contestable advice, not gimmicks to get a preferred outcome.

It was Casey who derailed Goff's plans. She moved that they put the speedway relocation on hold and debate an overall stadium strategy first.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Photo / Greg Bowker
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Photo / Greg Bowker

She was upset that Cr Chris Darby had told this newspaper the council favoured a waterfront stadium next to Spark Arena. That isn't true, she fumed. The council had not even discussed it.

She was right and not right. Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA), the council agency in charge of these things, has a strategy which the council has discussed several times since 2012. It includes speedway to Colin Dale and cricket to Western Springs, but it leaves open the future of rugby, Eden Park and the waterfront.

A majority of councillors have supported the strategy. The move to Colin Dale was decided at a council meeting in June and Casey was there.

What she was really mad about was the report on waterfront stadiums Goff had commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers and later tried to stop councillors seeing. Nine councillors signed a letter of protest about that, and Casey and Cr John Watson also complained to the Ombudsman.

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The Ombudsman ruled this week that the mayor had not acted illegally.

It's good to know Goff did not break any council rules but he did break the stupidity rule. Those protesting councillors are not a unified caucus and they are not all his enemies. Some of them were signalling primarily that they want a better working relationship.

Others, though, have different concerns. Watson fretted about the fluctuating costs of the relocation. Fair enough, but when a cost blowout was revealed earlier this week Goff insisted the officials bring it back under control. Which they did.

Watson gave Goff no credit for that, because what he really objects to is a "secret plan" to install cricket at Western Springs. But it's not a secret: that plan is part of the RFA strategy.

Watson, brother of Auckland Cricket stalwart and former Black Cap Willie Watson, reminded councillors of Auckland Cricket's opposition to the plan. "The codes," he said, referring to cricket and speedway, "don't want this to happen."

Really? The speedway and cricket communities are both split. We've only hosted three cricket tests in Auckland since 2006 and New Zealand Cricket would dearly love to have more. But that will require a venue like Hagley Park in Christchurch. Western Springs would be perfect.

Auckland Cricket is snubbing its nose at NZ Cricket. It prefers the No 2 ground at Eden Park.

Cr Greg Sayers also complained about cost blowouts. Even though Casey's motion was going to delay planning, possibly for years, which could add millions to the cost of everything.

The Māngere-Ōtāhuhu local board is upset because until recently it thought it was getting speedway at Waikaraka Park and wasn't consulted when that plan was changed.

This was a meeting of the finance committee, which is all councillors, the mayor and two members of the Independent Maori Statutory Board. But Casey's motion called for the stadium strategy to be debated by the governing body of council, which includes all the above except the IMSB.

That caused David Taipari of the IMSB to accuse Casey of deliberately excluding Māori. "Shame on you," he said, twice. Casey immediately said she was happy to have it debated at the finance committee instead.

That caused Cr Chris Darby, chairman of the planning committee, to protest that his committee, not finance, has jurisdiction over the RFA. It was so messy.

Finance committee chairman Ross Clow tried reminding the meeting that speedway is due to end at Western Springs in March. They'll get a year's extension if everyone agrees they're going to Colin Dale. But if that deal falls over, so will speedway. Was anyone even listening?

Cr Wayne Walker announced that he did not trust council-controlled organisations and RFA was "the worst". Cr Desley Simpson asked if the governing body could instruct a CCO board to revisit a decision. There was a long silence before an official said yes but he was not sure he would advise it.

That was a red rag to many already angry bulls. The council owns and "controls" the CCOs and it was astonishing to learn there is some doubt about what that means.

The key vote was Simpson's. She is deputy chairwoman of the finance committee and supposedly part of Goff's core team, but she is also an influential member of the National Party and her voting record has become more partisan this year. She voted with Casey against Goff, and they won 11:10.

It would be silly to think Goff might ever enjoy the confidence of all the councillors. But a good half of them say they don't have the respect and authority that should be their due. That's a fundamental democratic issue and it undermines the progress we need in this city.

For some, it's merely a fig leaf covering deep political antagonism, and some bear a personal grudge. But some have genuine concerns. Goff has to win them back.

HOW THEY VOTED: STOP SPENDING ON SPEEDWAY RELOCATION UNTIL AFTER STADIUM STRATEGY DEBATE
For: Cathy Casey, Fa'anānā Efeso Collins, Christine Fletcher, Mike Lee, Daniel Newman, Greg Sayers, Desley Simpson, Sharon Stewart, Wayne Walker, John Watson, Paul Young. Against: Bill Cashmore, Ross Clow, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Alf Filipaina, Phil Goff, Richard Hills, Terrence Hohneck (IMSB), Penny Hulse, David Taipari (IMSB). Absent: Josephine Bartley, Sir John Walker.