Who will plan Auckland? Answers to this question are hard to find in the public discussion about transition, Maori seats and Auckland's boundaries.

But it is an important question and it is important it gets answered publicly because Auckland planning - the lack of planning, the costs of planning, or the adequacy of planning - were high on the list of arguments in favour of restructuring Auckland local government.

Few disagreed with the need to strengthen Auckland's regional governance - particularly of regional infrastructure like water, wastewater and transport - and that the planning of regional infrastructure needed to be integrated with land-use planning.

However, there has not been universal agreement about the institutional arrangements needed to deliver this sensible objective - hence the efforts of a royal commission and a parliamentary select committee.

Important questions about organisational structures, political representation, and the jobs of more than 6000 local government employees need to be answered, but so does the question about how Auckland will be planned, and who will plan it.

Recent events suggest Government wants Auckland to be planned in Wellington by ministers, and not by councillors elected to the proposed Auckland Council.

The strongest and most worrying indication of this shift in decision-making are the pet transport projects being peddled by Minister of Transport Steven Joyce.

Topping this list is a four-lane motorway from Puhoi to Wellsford. This project has never figured on any 10-year plan before now, and certainly not the robust and well-supported Auckland Regional Transport Strategy.

Usually tight-lipped government transport officials are openly saying that the minister is not listening to them. I have been advised the minister is ignoring uncomfortable benefit/cost assessments that indicate a Wellsford motorway simply does not stack up against other transport projects.

Given the minister told the Auckland Regional Transport Committee recently he wanted "hard-headed benefit cost assessments of transport projects", this is all the more disappointing.

Mr Joyce announced all of Auckland's transport infrastructure and services will be handled by a new agency - the Auckland Transport Agency (ATA). This will replace the existing Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA), which has an exemplary record of increasing public transport patronage and for urban projects such as Newmarket and New Lynn Stations.

ARTA is required by law to "give effect to the Auckland Regional Transport Strategy". It is a regional authority, and is accountable for delivering a regionally agreed and developed transport strategy.

The minister is silent about governance arrangements for the new agency, apart from noting it will have a structure similar to the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). I have been advised the minister wants Auckland transport to be controlled from Wellington, probably by the NZTA. This suggests the Auckland Transport Agency will no longer be required to give effect to Auckland's transport strategies, and will not be accountable to the new Auckland Council.

Auckland's right to plan its own destiny has also been challenged by the Auckland Transition Agency set up to manage Auckland local government deconstruction and reconstruction. This agency wrote to Auckland Regional Council (ARC) advising that it is not appropriate for the ARC to publicly notify the reviewed Regional Policy Statement. This is the paramount strategic planning document for the region, and fundamental to delivering a compact, energy-efficient, and economically dynamic Auckland. The policy statement has not been reviewed since 1999.

These Government-driven interventions strike at the bedrock of Auckland strategic planning. Built up decision by decision, Auckland's current strategic plan started with a Metropolitan Urban Limit policy in 1999, included a transport strategy in 2005 supporting freight, private and public transport, and today recognises strengthened regional governance is needed to deliver integrated urban development.

Auckland's right to govern its water is also under threat. Very reliable sources tell me that Watercare, replete with all of Auckland's local water, wastewater and stormwater assets, is seeking the same sort of autonomy and independence from Auckland Council control as the minister is considering for the Auckland Transport Agency.

The Government has no mandate for this wholesale gutting of Auckland governance.

The recession is a problem, but it is not sufficient excuse to destroy regional planning and governance, then fast-track uneconomic roading projects, just to create make-work projects for the construction industry.

Auckland might be the city of sails, but it will not take kindly to being treated as some sort of Third-World infrastructure development project run out of Wellington.

Why not take a long-term view? Learn from government actions in the 1930s. The Waitaki Hydro Dam was built then by men like my unemployed grandfather with wheel-barrows. That is a legacy project we are still proud of despite the recessionary times that enabled its low-cost construction. Modern electric rail is today's equivalent.

* Joel Cayford is an Auckland Regional councillor.