Auckland mayoral candidate Dick Hubbard favours uniting Auckland under a "super city" council that would embrace at least the four urban divisions south and west of the harbour and possibly North Shore City too. But Auckland already has a single superior body, of course. It is called the Auckland Regional Council and it is charged with most of the tasks that all cities need in common. Yet, oddly enough, Aucklanders know precious little about it.

A Herald-DigiPoll survey has found that nearly 90 per cent of Aucklanders could not name one member of the regional council, not even chairwoman Gwen Bull. That is remarkable, because it was only last year that many were complaining at the council's first direct rating demand and the votes of the 13 members have been repeatedly published. But then it probably takes more than one controversy to instil public recognition, and the ARC has not been known for contentious decisions until recently. The Government has now given it jurisdiction over Ports of Auckland and other commercial assets, and responsibility for supervising a new regional transport authority which is supposed to mastermind solutions to Auckland's road congestion.

The transport role alone could be expected to attract voters' keenest attention, though the 80 per cent holding in the port company should be kept in mind too. The ARC will not actually be making the crucial transport decisions or holding the shares in the port; both those roles will be carried out by appointed subsidiaries in line with statutory obligations. But the ARC will have the decisive say in appointing the members of the subsidiary body. Hence the council will be the nearest that voters can get to the decision-makers. It will be through the voters' choice of ARC representatives that they can indicate their preferences and priorities for roads, rail, public transport improvements generally.

In an ideal election campaign we would have two or more slates of candidates for all seats, each representing a different transport priority. In practice, as reported today, we have five slates, only one of which gives a clear view of its preference on the congestion issue. The Residents Action Movement, a team of eight candidates led by socialist Grant Morgan, promises to put "thousands" of buses on the road immediately and shift emphasis from motorways to public transport. Another centre-left ticket, City Vision, which includes a present council member, Mike Lee, and former Auckland City councillor Maire Leadbeater, can be expected to have similar priorities.

Against them are the main centre-right slate, Citizens and Ratepayers Now, which includes Auckland City Deputy Mayor David Hay, standing for the ARC this time, and sitting members Michael Barnett and Judith Bassett. They are not so far promoting the completion of the motorway network as loudly as they did five years ago, but voters who feel that only roading improvements can provide congestion relief will probably remember this ticket. Closely aligned with it is a team calling itself Advancing Auckland, which includes sitting member Craig Little and former Cabinet minister Tau Henare. Then there is the Rates Rebellion-Fresh Start group of six candidates organised by North Shore rates rebel David Thornton.

Their respective attitudes to roads, tolls and public transport should be sought wherever they appear on the campaign, though always remembering that the job of the elected is only to appoint and monitor those who must devise actual roading and transport priorities. And even those they appoint will not be able to impose a solution on the Government's appointed transport agencies, Transfund and Transit NZ. ARC candidates should not be expected to commit themselves to any plan in precise detail but they ought to be able to give clearly their view of what is practical and desirable for Auckland. Each elector in Greater Auckland has a vote for two or three seats on the ARC and this year it is probably the most important vote any Aucklander will cast.

Herald Feature: Local Vote 2004

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