It's a quiet war in Waitematā, compared with some parts of town. Five candidates are chasing the sole councillor spot and three of them, including the sitting councillor, Mike Lee, are front runners. Lee was formerly chairman of the Auckland Regional Council and has held the Auckland Council seat for its entire nine years.
He used to enjoy the support of the centre-left group City Vision, but this year that's gone to Pippa Coom, a member of the Waitematā Local Board for that same nine years and board chair for the last three. The third front runner is businesswoman Sarah Trotman, a newcomer to politics who is standing on the C&R (Communities and Residents) ticket.
The other two candidates are the indefatigable heritage campaigner Allan Matson and property consultant Will Maxwell-Steele, who wants to stop the council's "budget blow-outs and dodgy deals" and "end the insanity".
Trotman, Matson and Maxwell-Steele are also standing for the local board. Coom and Lee are not. "It's all or nothing for me now," she says. "I have no plan B."
The contest is unusual, because a vote for the incumbent is not a vote for the council's existing programme. Lee has voted against most of the keynote initiatives for the ward and city as a whole, including its budget. He wants things to change.
Coom, on the other hand, has been closely associated with the council's programme. She was instrumental in getting the recycling centre for Western Springs approved: an initiative of three local boards that she began in her days as a community activist with Grey Lynn 2030.
She is, she says, especially proud of the Ellen Melville Centre in Freyberg Square, on High St. Coom pushed for the building's renovation and ensured it would commemorate its original purpose as a Pioneer Women's Hall.
She's been influential in the growth of cycleways and is "very excited" about Access for Everyone (A4E), which will reduce the role of cars in the central city. "Also slower speeds, more focus on pedestrians, better air quality and a better cycling network," she says.
Coom approves the council's declaration of a "climate emergency" and says she's surprised the other candidates aren't talking about it. "It's a game changer. It's going to be the lens we see everything through."
If you like the direction council is heading, Coom could be your candidate. If you don't, the others are there for you.
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Mike Lee believes the biggest issue facing the ward is "the Super City itself. Too many people feel disaffected, marginalised and frankly disrespected by Auckland Council and its CCOs, particularly Auckland Transport and Panuku." The city, he says, deserves better.
He has examples. In Herne Bay, the "residents whose peaceful enjoyment of their homes is being degraded by a non-notified consent for a helicopter pad granted to a 'rich lister'." In West Lynn, Karangahape Rd and Albert St, the "hard-grafting small business people who feel the council considers their livelihoods expendable". In the central city, apartment dwellers "whose complaints about anti-social behaviour around their homes are routinely ignored by council 'enforcement' officers".
Lee has a long record of service. In the 1990s he helped lead the campaign to keep Auckland's port in public ownership; he secured protection in the Unitary Plan for heritage buildings in Grey Lynn, and he persuaded two successive governments to electrify the Auckland rail network. He wants to see that railway, not light rail, extended to the airport.
Both he and Pippa Coom have worked hard to bring St Mary's Bay and Grey Lynn into Watercare's "central interceptor" project, which will separate wastewater and stormwater and should stop human waste washing up on city beaches. Coom calls it the number one priority in the ward.
Lee talks of his own deep connection to the city, especially to its heritage and the islands of the Gulf. "From the historic quarters of the old city, to the Hauraki Gulf islands, Waiheke, Great Barrier Island and the most remote islands," he says, "this is the heart and soul of Auckland – the Auckland dream."
He lives on Waiheke, Coom is in Grey Lynn and Sarah Trotman is just outside the ward boundary in Mt Eden. "I'm 300 metres away," she says. "But I lived for many years in Herne Bay. I know this ward very well."
Like Lee, she thinks the council-controlled organisations are not transparent or well controlled. She'd like to see at least one councillor on every CCO board.
Trotman is a community-focused entrepreneur and business mentor. She played a leading role in founding the Lifewise Big Sleepout to support the homeless, and was the establishment CEO of Spend My Super, which helps elderly people who want to assign their superannuation to charity.
She doesn't think her inexperience in politics is a problem. "If you're wondering if I've got the strength of character for this, the answer is yes. Do I have strategic clarity over everything? No. I woke up one day and I thought, I'm 51 and I have this huge depth of experience. I know about things that need fixing and when I looked around for the adult in the room, I thought, 'It might be me.'"
She's a Goff supporter. "He's done a great job. What I like is that when he's presented with the evidence, he's capable of changing his mind. That's a sign of a strong leader. I could absolutely work with him."
Like Coom, Trotman wants to see fewer cars in the central city and a bigger cycle lane network.
Waitematā is changing fast. With 57,000 people now living in the inner city, the boundaries have shrunk: Newmarket, Parnell, parts of Grafton and Eden Terrace have all been carved off. Those apartment dwellers are a mix of empty-nest boomers, students and new New Zealanders. There's a strong and very active City Centre Residents Group, which has good relations with the local board and with Heart of the City, but nobody knows how they're all going to vote.
The ward also includes nearly 10,000 people on Waiheke Island and another 940 on Great Barrier Island. The pressures of tourism, ferry services, affordable housing and the environment all bear on the election. The islands have been Lee's stronghold, but Coom thinks that's changing.
The contest for the ward seat is closely paralleled at local board level, where the City Vision team is being strongly challenged by C&R and some independents. Dame Denise L'Estrange-Corbet is on the C&R ticket. She's on record wanting the Unitary Plan scrapped, which can't be done, so there could be fireworks if she's elected.
It's been a relatively friendly contest to date, but that started to change over the weekend. City Vision has just filed a complaint to the Advertising Standards Association over a C&R claim the Waitematā board overspent its budget by 40 per cent. The complaint says that's not true and not even possible, because of the way council finances work. C&R, it says, has misunderstood the budget.
Meanwhile, Coom has been given the delegated authority to approve the Government's proposal for the national Erebus Memorial on a site in Parnell. Critics say she should not make that decision so close to the election. She says her board has opened the matter for public consultation and she'll let that process happen before deciding.
Stand by for both these issues to blow right up.
The Franklin Rd makeover
Few issues stir up central Auckland more than cycleways. But while the outcome at the West Lynn shops on Richmond Rd made everyone unhappy, that isn't what always happens.
On Franklin Rd many years of planning, consultation and construction produced a result that Pippa Coom says locals are "generally delighted" about. You would hope so. The cost was high – $21 million, all up – although most of that money was spent underground, on new infrastructure for water, sewage, power and broadband. It's about far more than cycle lanes.
The project went through several iterations, balancing the needs of pedestrians, motorists, cyclists, local residents and local businesses. Heritage trees had to be preserved and the damage done by their roots dealt with.
The design has some special features, including raised tables on all the side streets, to slow traffic and give pedestrians more safety. It also has "catenary lights": lamps elegantly suspended by cables over the middle of the street.
What AT has learned, Coom says, is "you don't start with, 'What do you think of this plan?' You start by talking about what outcomes everyone wants. Then you move to the planning."
She thinks Franklin Rd will be a template for other streets to use. But will it? Next up is Ponsonby Rd. Auckland Transport, supported by the local board, is rolling out its "Connected Communities" approach there, working closely with the local business association. That group has proposed a pop-up cycleway during one of the famous Ponsonby Rd Market Days. Just to see how it goes.
WAITEMATĀ AND GULF
Ethnicity: European 66%, Asian 26%, Māori 7%, Pasifika 5%
Median age: 30.4 years
Median household income: $75,400
Incumbent city councillor: Mike Lee
• Transport planning
• Water infrastructure
• Central city planning
Pippa Coom (City Vision), Mike Lee (Independent), Allan Matson (Independent), Will Maxwell-Steele (Independent), Sarah Trotman (C&R).
Aotea/Great Barrier Island local board candidates
Bill Carlin (Independent), Luke Coles (Independent), Sue Daly (Independent), Izzy Fordham (Independent), Catherine Munro (Independent), Patrick O'Shea (Independent), Valmaine Toki (Independent)
Waiheke Island local board candidates
David Baigent (Independent), Cath Handley (Independent), Kylee Matthews (Independent), Norm Robins, Morgan Sobanja, Robin Tucker (Independent), Bob Upchurch (Independent), Kathy Voyles (Independent), Paul Walden (Independent)
Waitematā local board candidates
Gael Baldock (Independent), Alexandra Bonham (City Vision), Genevieve Brown (C&R), Roger Burton (C&R), Amy Calway (C&R), Adriana Christie (City Vision), Josh Doubtfire (C&R), Glenda Fryer (City Vision), Graeme Gunthorp (City Vision), Kerrin Leoni (City Vision), Denise L'Estrange-Corbet (C&R), Allan Matson (Independent), Will Maxwell-Steele (Independent), Keith McConnell (Independent), Greg Moyle (C&R), Richard Northey (City Vision), Julie Sandilands (City Vision), Ming Schaumkel (Independent), Tadhg Stopford (Hemp Foundation), Sarah Trotman (C&R)