By the time you read this, postal voting will be underway for the 2019 local body elections. It’s a strange election this one, but probably one of the most important in our lifetime. The degree of interest in local elections tends to be determined by the mayoral contest. The problem this year is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for both main contenders. This time it’s the ‘under card’ contests for ward councillor, deciding the make-up of the council’s governing body, that will be decisive. Until recently councillors, who with the mayor constitute the council’s ‘Governing Body’ have been acting virtually as an adjunct to the ‘super mayor’, passively facilitating the mayoral programme. Inclusive, personable Len Brown was able to make this ‘presidential’ model work. Phil Goff who parachuted into Brown’s job certainly adopted Brown’s presidential approach – even more so. But Goff also brought with him a personal political style derived from a lifetime in parliamentary politics. That political culture is a zero-sum game, with winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, and is rarely consensual. This Wellington party political culture, in my experience, is not helpful for good local government in Auckland.
Under the cliquish, secretive Goff, councillors have been divided into two factions. Those supporters of Goff, called by the media the ‘A team’ and those who are not – called the ‘B team’. It should be pointed out this ‘B team’ was created, not by its members – but by Goff himself virtually as soon as he was elected mayor.
Assuming Goff is re-elected (though, given the restive public mood that can’t be taken for granted) and a pro-Goff political grouping gains a majority, then this divisive, dysfunctional political environment will continue. If however, independently-minded councillors attain a majority then council politics, whoever becomes the mayor, are likely to become more democratic and transactional, with the Governing Body providing a check and balance on mayoral powers – even initiating its own policies. In other words, as recommended by John Roughan of the ‘NZ Herald’, the Governing Body will start governing.
What is much more troubling to me than the division of councillors into A and B teams, is that Auckland Council and its CCOs have also divided the people of Auckland into A and B teams. The ‘A team’ constitutes a favoured minority, among which are highly-paid bureaucrats and un-elected CCO directors, and among the public, favoured contractors, rich-listers and Johnny-come-lately property developers. Think Rod Duke and his non-notified consent to turn a heritage boatshed in Herne Bay into a ‘James Bond’ helicopter pad, and lucky developer John Love who was able to buy the council Civic Administration Building, worth at least $60m, plus half a hectare of prime CBD land, for a pitiful $3m.
The ‘B team’ on the other hand are the overwhelming majority of Aucklanders who have to pay for it all, with pending 3.5% rates increases compounding over the next three years, increased user charges, including fuel taxes and increased public transport fares. Also coming down the pipe plans being worked out with the government, still by-and-large secret, to impose a so-called ‘toilet tax’ on ratepayers to pay for infrastructure because the council’s debt is approaching $9b and nearly maxed-out. Asset sales are next. Even in the highly desirable Waitematā & Gulf ward, most people are being treated as ‘B team’. Typical ‘B team’ members are the small businesses in West Lynn and soon K Road, oppressed by over-engineered cycleways which take out the car parks upon which their likelihoods depend. Then there are the 17 Albert Street small businesses facing ruin due to two years construction delays for the City Rail Link. Despite a fair and robust model in Sydney formulated by the NSW government to deal with a very similar situation, requests for relief by these desperate people have been stymied for months by the two Phils – Twyford and Goff. Out on Waiheke, the council is formulating plans, still confidential, to impose hugely expensive reticulated sewerage on the island. This evidently in order to facilitate high-rise tourist accommodation, infill development and shoe box apartments. Ratepayers are even having pay to take their own council to court to protect their property rights. Local residents in the western bays were forced to judicially revoew the non-notified Duke consent and appeal ‘Healthy Waters’ plans (plans supported by the Waitematā Local Board), to drive a $44m plus combined sewage and stormwater tunnel from Westhaven under cliff-top homes to Erin Point, designed to discharge sewage under the harbour bridge. ‘B team’ citizens of the City Centre Residents Group (along with myself) are involved in an appeal against council’s decision to build so-called ‘dolphins’ (in reality a 100m wharf extension) off Queens Wharf.
At least the above two resource consents were among the 1% publicly notified – almost 99% are not. Such as the consent to disruptively reduce Quay Street to one lane each way (“effects no more than minor”), again cheered on by the ‘A team’ pro-Goff Waitematā Local Board, with K Road to follow. Across the ward at the Salisbury Reserve, Ponsonby Probus, Herne Bay Petanque, and Ponsonby U3A, mainly seniors, have been cast into the ‘B team’, with their longstanding parking removed and the historic Masonic Hall demolished by decision of the local board, despite their heartfelt submissions. The word ‘consultation’ or rather genuine consultation, as defined by the High Court of NZ, does not appear to be on this council and its CCO’s spell-checkers.
Same again with the proposed massive concrete and steel Erebus memorial in Parnell, where locals are complaining about being totally excluded about its design and placement. Across Auckland nearly every community has its own story. The Takapuna town centre car park privatisation comes to mind.
This increasingly bossy, elitist attitude within the council, reflecting a top-down authoritarian culture, glaringly at odds with the council’s ‘inclusive’ ‘diverse’ politically correct messaging, has got to change. This is not how local government is meant to work, nor how public servants, appointed or elected, should be behaving towards the people they are meant to serve. But once every three years the people have an opportunity to make a difference. Don’t waste it. This election I am up against candidates from both pro-National ‘C&R’ and from pro-Goff, Labour & Greens ‘City Vision’. I can promise you this – as a genuine independent my vote will not be controlled by a party boss who gets calls from the mayor. This election I ask you to set aside rigid party political loyalties and take the opportunity to send the council a message; a message loud enough to be heard in Wellington: No more Super City politics as usual.
Mike Lee is an Auckland Councillor