Crisis and opportunity


    In more than 50 years of council reporting in Auckland, most of it from this unique vantage point on Waiheke, I long ago stopped hoping to predict election results. Especially if it felt like it mattered and looked likely to improve the lot of local humankind.

    I can, however, point to a certain prescience in last week’s editorial as the woefully low voter turnout figures came in. By mid-Saturday afternoon, the Prime Minister and Local Government New Zealand were already calling for an enquiry; the level of voting in poorer parts of the city terrifyingly low.

    In the continuum of human experience, anger is fairly powerful, and far more effective out in the world than apathy which, it has seemed, has become our lot. To be ruthlessly managed in a welter of asset sales, power grabs, dwindling services and unchecked official agendas was not doing us any good.

    New mayor Wayne Brown, swearing friendship with Efeso Collins who he defeated in a two-horse race in the weekend’s election, was already on point this week, with city-dwellers’ major irritants in his sights.

    “It is now up to me, the new governing body and the local boards to act on our mandate, fix what is broken and deliver the change you demand,” he said.

    The number one issue was transport, closely followed by crime, unfinished projects, rising costs and council waste.

    Millions of red cones – the bane and symptom of the dwindling inner city for years – will face their Armageddon, as will the generous allocation of hoarding and mesh fences in public open spaces for construction sites around big inner-city projects.

    The new mayor’s huge election margin was probably won by his promise to synchronise traffic lights alone. At long last.

    And the never-never land red-herring tram to the airport should disappear.

    The higher echelons of council and CCO executives and directors are on notice too. Senior officials may (and have before) talked their way past newly-minted mayoral ambitions to tame the city’s much-disliked bureaucracy and kept their jobs. Maybe not this time.

    Expensive cycleways seem ripe for the chop and the Ports of Auckland with its history of minimising the returns to its ratepayer-shareholders (also known as citizens who wholly own it) will also have to face the mayoral cleanout.

    What’s not to like?

    Perhaps most startling of all this news is that Mayor Brown was to meet with senior council staff THIS WEEK about the underground City Rail Link, its blow-out cost and ratepayer liability likely to be revealed to be billions – a fact which had been carefully sequestered under a deadline of December for a reckoning from the contractors.

    Not a lot of levelling up, then, but who knows?

    Breaking the stranglehold of CCOs (run by boards with no elected representatives) and a city chief executive in sole control of 11,000 staff and five billion dollars in rates and revenue – both of which have doubled since the last amalgamation – can only be good in determining the legitimate needs of citizens over all demographics in a time of urgent and increasingly angry change.

    A version of Efeso Collins’ free public transport would relieve household budgets, for example. And public input on core housing needs and resources for genuine placemaking in all local communities.

    While I might, a week ago, have cavilled at a Far North politician’s description of Auckland as broken, I now conclude that the election shows we probably are. But not necessarily in the way that media – tripping over themselves to lay the blame on Labour policies – is spinning it.

    Radically restructured and centralised twice in 30 years, mostly by Wellington political ideology, our Auckland has been drained of its 170-year legacy of lively, visually magnificent, and very distinct cities and boroughs that we had until the late 1980s. We were never asked permission for this heist on our access to resources and local democracy, and subsequent attempts to load the horrid mess on to other regions have, mercifully for them, been stopped by public opinion.

    No wonder, then, that we – insignificant cogs in the largest local government council in Oceania – weren’t happy at the way things have played out in supercity agendas, in which the top council brass survived two restructurings of their own in the 1990s and then, after the Royal Commission findings that led to the second fix-the-broken-city amalgamation 20 years later, that transferred all the same staff into a new and even more managerial structure. A bureaucrat’s dream, it’s clearly no longer serviceable. • Liz Waters

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