Politics can so often be a matter of nuances, of light and shade. None less so than local governance in a metropolis of bundled-together villages such as Auckland.

The flashpoint of Auckland Transport's (AT) non-attendance at a public meeting on April 15 to discuss the agency's plans for St Heliers sheds fresh light on the fine line so-called council-controlled organisations (CCO) tread.

That AT decided the crowd might be too hostile to handle throws plenty of shade on the CCO, but also on others too.

A statement from an unnamed AT spokesman said the changes for St Heliers were to make it safer for people walking, cycling and driving.


He said AT was "working closely with the community" around their parking concerns, saying parking restrictions could be introduced to prevent all-day parking and allow a better turnover of parking for those wishing to visit the centres and their amenities.

Quite how this "working closely" has panned out is there to see in the outraged people who are quite willing to be interviewed, named and photographed.

The AT plan for 13 raised zebra crossings, a new traffic island, widening part of Tamaki Drive and removing 40 car parks - all aimed to improve safety for people walking, cycling and driving - was always going to raise hackles. To not understand the potential fallout shows either political naivety or wilful arrogance.

One might be tempted to settle on the latter as it appears the council-controlled organisation had not even spoken with the local business association before the formal consultation process. Mayor Phil Goff certainly thought so, but we'll get to that. First a bit of how we got here.

Council-controlled organisations have long stepped neatly between two worlds, the political and publicly accountable as opposed to the commercially sensitive and privately discussed.

Quite which camp the agency in question wants to occupy depends on the situation. Promoting an ill-advised event in which an uncomfortable amount of ratepayer money is invested? Definitely a public situation where community spirit and support is expected.

Restructuring the layout of a village where people live their lives and rely on their livelihoods? Not so much, it seems.

Goff's reaction to AT's no-show at the St Heliers meeting also throws a beam on the sometimes fraught position for CCOs. "They are accountable to the people as we are," he stated. Ah, not quite.


A CCO is a company or organisation in which a local authority has the right to appoint 50 per cent or more of the directors or trustees. There is an inherent lack of political accountability built into these agencies which is intended to put them at arm's length from constant meddling by elected officials. It makes sense to position some parts of the city administration beyond electioneering and posturing by political factions.

But this degree of separation has been exacerbated further by Goff's own decision to remove elected councillors Christine Fletcher and Mike Lee from the AT board soon after his election in 2016.

Events such as have unfolded in St Heliers show in sharp relief Auckland Council is some way from getting the fine line anywhere near right for AT to be treading.

And any further episodes of overstepping the mark could throw a shadow on Goff's wishes to be re-elected this coming October.