1.What to do with the Harbour Crossing
Auckland is divided by its harbours, and Aucklanders are divided about how to cross them. The region's mayoral and council candidates also share widely different views on whether Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency should trial cycling across Auckland Harbour Bridge, and what the Government should be doing about a second harbour crossing.
Efeso Collins says he supports the trial of a harbour bridge cycleway, and wants to see central government invest in a second crossing where mass rapid transit is prioritised. Wayne Brown believes the solution is to reduce congestion on the bridge, by making buses faster and more reliable, and getting heavy freight off trucks and on to trains. Most other mayoral candidates are firmly opposed to any cycle lane trial.
North of the bridge, many candidates in the North Shore and Albany wards oppose a cycling lane. Danielle Grant, who has discussed the issue with transport officials during her nine years on Kaipātiki Local Board, says safety and congestion are huge concerns. Wayne Walker and John Watson, who have been dealing with the issue as ward councillors, say cycle-specific shuttles are a much better option. George Wood, who is currently serving on the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, wants to see Auckland emulate Shanghai's Yangtze River Tunnel.
Other candidates see things differently. In North Shore, Planning Committee chairman Chris Darby says he's "been a strong advocate for bridging the significant gap of not being able to cross the Harbour Bridge by foot or bike". He also wants walking, cycling and light rail to be part of any second harbour crossing. In Albany, John Davies has a vision for a second crossing dedicated to motorised transport, with the Harbour Bridge becoming a walking and cycling bridge and tourist attraction.
South of the bridge, candidates in central wards generally support a walking and cycling trial, but some have reservations about another harbour crossing. Howick Ward candidate Damian Light says "Aucklanders should be able to walk and bike across the city", and a dedicated lane is "the quickest, most cost effective way to enable this". Waitākere Ward councillor Shane Henderson says an "alternative harbour crossing is affordable in tough financial times" and the short-term focus needs to be to urgent issues like the lack of rapid-transit to the north-west and Kumeuū.
2. How to balance the books
Auckland Council has made its financial quandary clear: current revenue isn't adequate to deal with the financial pressures it's facing, and costs are increasing faster than money is coming in. The next mayor and councillors will need to agree to some combination of higher rates rises, extra targeted rates, service cutbacks, asset sales or extra debt.
Most mayoral candidates want to avoid higher rates rises if they can. Efeso Collins says any increase to rates rises would need to be "properly flagged to Aucklanders". Wayne Brown says rates rises can be avoided by steering clear of "big-spending promises" and taking a tougher line on Auckland Unlimited and the port.
Some are willing to commit to rates rises of 3.5 per cent or under. Craig Lord says he can do it by using local contractors, Ted Johnston says he can do it by limiting spending to "wants not needs", and John Palino says he can do it if Auckland Council can get a share of GST on non-essential items. Michael Morris wants to slash top salaries so senior staff do the job "for Auckland and the wider community, not for money".
The debate over rates is most stark in the Waitematā and Gulf Ward. On Waiheke Island, the average household now spends 4.8 per cent of their income on rates, just below the 5 per cent benchmark threshold of affordability. In the central Waitematā Local Board area, the average household is spending just 2.2 per cent. Current councillor Pippa Coom says rates should be kept as low as possible, but "it is important for councillors to keep an open mind on any future rise". Her rival and predecessor Mike Lee is more adamant about a cap, calling for an "open book audit" and to "make cuts accordingly".
3. Whether to give Auckland Transport the power to remove car parks
Auckland Transport's latest Draft Parking Strategy will be one of the first issues for the new council to consider, and it's already proving one of the most divisive. Auckland Transport wants greater power to turn kerbside parking on main roads into bus, freight, cycle and carpool lanes, and to charge for park and ride facilities. But the AA says officials need to make the "right decisions in the right places" around the region to avoid unintended consequences, like people driving further to find a place to park.
Efeso Collins wants to see the strategy go out for public consultation, but wants to make sure any strategy "is done with the community's support, not in such a way that just antagonises communities". Wayne Brown explicitly opposes the policy, saying "we cannot sacrifice street parking for ideology" and we can't improve public transport by "punishing car owners". Most other mayoral candidates oppose the strategy or aren't sure what the strategy is.
Many candidates fear the strategy will undermine other things the council is trying to achieve. In North Shore, George Wood says it will give Auckland Transport a "mandate to make changes as and when they like without community input". Raymond Tan says he supports the strategy in part, but is concerned about parking for "people with disabilities and families with young children". In Waitematā, Mike Lee says the strategy could kill off small businesses on major roads. In Albany, John Watson and Wayne Walker say park and ride facilities should be kept free to encourage more people onto buses and trains.
Council candidates who support the strategy say it will reduce congestion on major arterials, and much of the opposition is due to misunderstanding. In Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa, Julie Fairey says people are angry about the loss of car parks on Wesley's Stoddard Road where no car parks are actually being lost. In Waitākere, Shane Henderson says "single parked cars can create traffic backlogs that are totally avoidable" on major arterial roads that lots of motorists and commuters use and the strategy will address that.
4. How much intensification to allow in different parts of the city
Auckland's election candidates are divided on the council's proposed new housing intensification rules. The changes are a compromise, allowing for the greater intensification required by Labour and National's recent law change, while continuing to protect so-called "special character areas" in inner suburbs. The anti-intensification Character Coalition says the changes will go too far, creating more than a million unnecessary homes. According to Herald reporting, Cabinet believes the changes won't go far enough, and could be in breach of the spirit and letter of the law.
Efeso Collins supports the compromise, saying "Auckland's historic character needs to be preserved and valued but we also need a sharper focus on what part of our history is worth preserving so we don't use preservation as a tool to lock people out of the housing market" Wayne Brown opposes the compromise, saying "communities should have the right to decide whether they want intensification as of right or whether to protect character and heritage in their areas, so this plan is a symptom of central government overreach".
Council candidates are also split. Chris Darby spearheaded the council's response to the intensification directive as Planning Committee chair. He wants to see better design standards "to ensure high-quality living environments". Danielle Grant says the changes are too extreme. She wants homes built near transport hubs and existing infrastructure, as identified in the multi-year Unitary Plan process, rather than in areas like Birkenhead Point and Northcote Point. Julie Fairey believes the changes aren't strong enough. She wants to see the council allow more intensification near the proposed light rail route and reduce the size of Special Character Areas.
5. Whether the City Rail Link is delivering value for money
The City Rail Link has been a constant bone of contention between Efeso Collins and Wayne Brown. Collins is a strong supporter of the project. Brown has been far more critical, taking aim at the construction footprint and the lack of current estimates on costing, and questioning whether the project will fulfil its original expectations in a post-pandemic world.
City Rail Link chief executive Sean Sweeney says putting a number on the cost of the project now could undermine negotiations with contractors, but he hopes to provide a more definite estimate before the end of the year. We asked him for his message on candidates who have doubts about the project.
"People get really hung up on cost benefits and business cases and everything else, but there are certain fundamental building blocks you need to be a modern international city, and this is one of them. You will not find one person in Auckland in ten years' time who will say this has been a bad investment, whatever it costs."
Those comments haven't gone down well with Brown, who has declined an invitation to tour the construction site with other mayoral candidates and has doubled down on his criticisms of the project's management.
"For the highly paid CEO of the CRL to wave his hands and say the level of the billion-dollar bill he's running up is irrelevant to the residents paying for it is simply astonishing. Dr Sweeney should be focusing on getting the project back on track, and leave promoting it to others. He should spend more time scrutinising costs and less time in the media, because the days of blank cheques are coming to an end when we fix Auckland."