Herald on Auckland Royal Commission

March 28th, 2009 at 2:26 pm by David Farrar

I agree with a large amount of the NZ Herald editorial on the Royal Commission’s report:

The royal commission on has been as radical as its instigators could have hoped. Under its proposals all existing councils and community boards would be abolished. In their place a single Council, so named, would be the sole rate-collecting body and repository of all local government power in the region.

And that is a big step forward. One level of rates. One district plan. One set of resourcing consents. One set of bylaws. One Council to decide things (and in the darkness bind them 🙂

Crucially, it would be led by a directly elected mayor. The commission has not listened to arguments that only celebrity dilettantes would be likely to win such a race. It suggests the mayor be invested with a degree of executive power, to appoint a deputy and council committee chairs, establish an administrative office, propose an annual budget and initiate policy for the council’s assent.

That sort of role ought to attract the sort of leader Auckland sorely needs, inspirational and, in the commission’s words, “inclusive in approach and decisive in action”.

Again the proposed powers for the Mayor look very good. The Mayor can not rule by fiat, but the Mayor will have significant authority. What this means is that the Mayor can stand on a platform, and be held accountable for what they achieve or do not achieve.

The person would doubtless lead a ticket of candidates for the 23-seat council, 10 seats elected by the whole region, 10 from wards, two from the Maori electoral roll and one appointed by the tribe with mana whenua status. That composition, though, does not look like a recipe for unity, particularly if there is pressure to use proportional representation for the seats elected across the region.

As I said yesterday I am not a fan of the Maori electoral roll, and mana whenua seats. I do like having the at large seats so not everyone is an area rep.  Personally I would divide the four urban wards into smaller wards so each ward has only one Councillor from it. Incidentially the elections will be FPP.

Today’s four cities of Manukau, North Shore, Auckland and Waitakere, and the districts of Rodney and a redrawn Franklin would be wards of the council. Each city would fill two seats and the districts one each. The six would also keep their own elected Local Councils, so called, but they would be comparable to today’s community boards.

On page 322 of the Commission’s report (yes I am reading all 800 pages) they look at an alternative to six local Councils – namely a 20 Council model and 11 Council model. They say the 20 model Council would cost too much and 20 local Councils would be too hard for the Auckland Council to support and manage. But their 11 Council model is well worth considering as an alternative to their six Council model. With 11 local Councils (and I would call them Community Boards) you would have:

  1. Hibiscus-Albany
  2. North Harbour
  3. Waitakere
  4. Auckland West
  5. Auckland North
  6. Auckland East
  7. Howick-Pakuranga
  8. Manurewa-Papkura
  9. Manukau Central
  10. North Rural
  11. South Rural

This gets away from the new Councils being seen as similiar the existing Councils, and brings them closer to the community. Each local Council would have population ranging from 54,000 to 198,000. Under the six Council model they range up to 397,000.

They would be subservient to the Auckland Council, financed by it to oversee the delivery of its services, with certain functions spelled out by Parliament and others delegated by the parent council. There would be no third tier of local representation. Today’s suburban community boards would disappear.

The royal commission was asked to satisfy two divergent aims: to give Auckland unity and to keep decision-making reasonably close to the people concerned. If it has erred, it is in the direction of unity. Its prospectus for the Auckland Council offers all the power and cohesion that is lacking in the present regional set-up. But some will question whether the existing cities and districts are as small as community representation need be.

I agree they are not. I think the 11 council proposal is superior to having just six Councils. And even the Royal Commission didn’t see much differences between six and 11. They did make a strong case against 20.

The commission pretends they would be more than community boards. “They will be a new type of body – a local representative body, which operates within a larger local authority and which provides services and acts as an advocate for the residents …” It is describing a community board.

To be fair, they will also have powers to hear resource consents etc.

Local councils will be further reduced in the public eye by their lack of a directly elected leader. Each will be chaired by someone elected by the council. The commission has rather neatly turned their submissions against “celebrity elections” on themselves.

I think it is more having just one directly elected leader for the Region.

But it is the powers of the proposed Auckland Council and its mayor that deserve most attention.

The commission proposes they go far beyond water mains, drains, land use and transport planning to encompass electricity supply, broadband, telecommunications, social and economic development.

The nervousness of central Government at some of the proposals can be imagined. Auckland is being offered a prescription for a level of self-government greater than any New Zealand city has known. It is a plan that assumes there are capable city leaders ready to step up to the platform the commission has designed. Some of those who instigated the exercise may have to stand for election to prove it has been worthwhile.

I think the ambitions of having the Auckland Council also take on a role for social well-being may be too ambitious – at least for now. I would be tempted to advocate that you don’t expand the aims of the Council for now, so they can initially concenrate on a smooth transition, and making sure current services get done well. And maybe five years or so down the track look at whether the Council is doing well enough to take on additional responsibilities.

17 Responses to “Herald on Auckland Royal Commission”

  1. Owen McShane (1,193 comments) says:

    Councils should not hear applications for REsource Consents – or at least applicants should have the choice of a commissioner or councillors.
    Councillors should have a say on the land use elements of their plan writing even though the environmental standards will be the same presumably.

    I still don’t get it. The Herald seems to have the maps wrong. There are six councils including Rodney but behind Rodney the rural hinterland seems to be a part of the Super City but with no representatives of its own.

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  2. tvb (5,518 comments) says:

    Auckland has a number of very distictive suburbs, something the monolithic Welljngton does not understand about Auckland. Wellington is the Central City with dormantary suburbs. Auckland conversely is in fact a series of small towns. It would be a very good idea to have a number of local councils built around these small villages, they would not be equal in population but would be a community of interest. Such local councils would have a number of delegated powers over by-laws to preserve the distinct character of the village. I am thinking of Takapuna, Parnell, Devonport, Birkenhead, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, New Lynn, Otara, Onehanga etc It is these “villages” that give Auckland its very special charm.

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  3. Chris Diack (872 comments) says:


    Definately two rural Councils but as you say the maps have them in grey.

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  4. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    tvb, spot on. A lot is lost in supersizing beyond the local community. Not least is the opportunity for some to innovate and others to learn from their success or failure.

    Decisions should be as decentralised as possible for optimal outcomes. Centralising them loses information and costs flexibility and adaptability. Its fine for turning out a million widgets but not for complex things like human living environments and communities.

    I don’t see any signs this RC had a clue.

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  5. kiwipolemicist (393 comments) says:

    A single council for Auckland is just the socialist/commie way of disempowering individuals, restricting their choices, and giving more power to the rulers in ivory towers. In other words, it’s all about power, control, and subjugation.

    The Maori seats are more Liberal Left reverse racism. The Royal Commission even wants the new council to be involved in social issues, i.e. be the junior Nanny State:


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  6. Owen McShane (1,193 comments) says:

    You have got it right in more ways than one.
    I shall writing about the fact that Auckland’s problem has always been that its natural tendency has been to become a truly multi nodal city like London or Los Angeles but its political leaders have always been trying to force it into the mould of a moncentric city like New York or Chicago.
    All cities are now tending to become multi nodal – broadband will simply hasten it as will the new vehicle technologies coming on stream.
    The infatuation with rail is part of the monocentric urge – the transport tale wags the urban dog.
    So we shall watch and see if form follows function or whether function is forced to follow form.
    On the face of it this restructuring reinforces the mental image of the monocentric city but a set of legislative mandates could require the city to be allowed to find its genuine multi nodal form.
    Scrap the trains sets for starters and get rid of nonsense like MULs and this fixation with the urban rural divide.
    It’s history.

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  7. Gooner (929 comments) says:

    This sounds a lot like another beehive but in Auckland. Monopolies on infrastructure and services. 5-6,000 bureaucrats. And for all this we……………..get to do away with Community Boards! Whoopeee!

    The new community councils are not reduced in size one iota in terms of councillors. All that is reduced is their powers which are now centralised in a massive bureaucracy.

    Communities *will* miss out if these recommendations are carried through religiously.

    How can this be bold, as the Herald called it. I could have recommended this. Indeed, it was what many punters did predict so it’s hardly bold.

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  8. PhilBest (4,978 comments) says:

    I’m with Owen and the other sceptics on this. I’m all for anything that increases accountability and choice. I understand that in Texas, it is not uncommon for large developers to incorporate a new municipality for each new development, which will have the features that they know the vast majority of people will want to pay for, and no more. Then it is over to the residents of that municipality if they want to combine with the neighbouring ones.

    This country needs more differences between municipalities, not less, so that there is more chance of “best practice” becoming evident.

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  9. jcuknz (697 comments) says:

    Having lived for some years [decades] in a city with wards I was all in favour at the start but in practice it is very frustrating that of the twlve councillors I can only vote for one person and have absolutely no say [vote] on others who may or may not vote the way I want on local body issues. It is enough to put one off voting. It means effectively that the vote is a farce and the voters have no say as to the direction the council should go.

    I have always thought the Auckland situation was/is absurd and at last something is likely being done about it. Though I guess Dunedinites will be miffed becuase no longer will Dunedin be the largest city in the country, teritorial wise.

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  10. kevin_mcm (141 comments) says:

    I think they need to be more careful in the boundary setting. The new Auckland city should cover the metropilitan areas anly, and should be bounded by the urban edge of Auckland in the north (around Albany) and the same in the south (pukekohe?). The bits outside of these should either have their own control or merge with their rural neighbours.
    I have two other concerns:
    1. The realisation of the savings – I worked at ACC as a contrator doing a system implementation, so I have some exposure to the sector. I doubt they will realise the savings, and I doubt if it will happen at the expected cost level, so as a ratepayer I am not optimisitic of any benefit
    2. Social welfare – is this more transfer of central government responsibilites to ratepayers without any reduction in central taxes. I can see an on-going blowout of rates, similar to what we have already seen.

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  11. jcuknz (697 comments) says:

    I think Owen is living in the past with his comment of scrapping the train set becuase light rail coming into, through, across, the city from various directions is the commonsense way to go instead of building multi-lane highways. The problem with Auckland and Wellington is that the train set is just that and ends in a large terminus [ St Pancrous, Waterloo style] instead to going through the city to take people where they want to go as with Denver Chicago, Portland, Manhatten to name cities I am familiar with, with efficient and co-ordinated bus services filling the gaps and providing cross route transport.

    It is absurd for single people to drive a four to eight person vehicle to get into the city, for the vehicle to spend the day in a city parking lot. With todays driver so accustomed to using their vehicle for short journeys the intermediate situation is to have the cars parked at suburban stations [as I saw in Denver]. The ground rent for suburban parking areas should be much less than centre city and correspondingly cheaper for the parker.

    Sadly much of the discussion is getting hung up on red herrings of liuttle relevance the suggestion.

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  12. jcuknz (697 comments) says:

    Even Los Angeles was expanding their rail system with the advantage for me of instead of a $30 taxi fare into the city one could do it for about a dollar using the free buss [G] from LAX to the local station and then by train, one change, to get to AMTRAK in the city, or other parts of the city served by rail.

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  13. Straight Shooter (140 comments) says:


    Boy, can you imagine what the Auckland City Council Planning Department is going to look like in 10 years if the Royal Commission is adopted? They already have the Southern Hemisphere’s largest planning department. With the blanket tree protection proposed to be removed I would hate to think how big the Auckland District Plan is going to be!

    Over to you Nick Smith and your dancing partner Rodney! Don’t drop him on his head!

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  14. Will de Cleene (470 comments) says:

    Have had a quick skim of the 800+ page doc. I may have missed it in the once over, but I haven’t noticed any way of addressing the low turnout of local body elections. If this new scheme is to be implemented in time for next year’s local body elections, the turnout will be the acid test of success.

    Am not such a fan of at large councillors as you, DPF. How 10 councillors can successfully represent 1.2 million people without SOME form of slice and dice is beyond me. While it’s OK to choose the head weasel from the city at large, everyone else must be responsible for their own patch. I also agree with Idiot Savant when he notes the democratic deficit with the proposed recommendations. Something’s missing. Tvb picked up on it a bit too. Not quite community boards but something like it. Definitely less Death Star required.

    There’s also a lot to like in the report though. And if Auckland can do it, it will be a breeze when everything south of Kapiti and the Rimutaka Incline is ruled as a body too.

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  15. Owen McShane (1,193 comments) says:


    We call your response “the Tourist Syndrome.” THere are many reasons tourists use trains rather than buses. The trains electronic ticketing means there is no language problem and you have all the time in the world to plan your route before paying..
    When I was studying BART in Berkeley the black leaders used to say “the rich get the stations and the poor get the tracks.”
    I suggest you read “Trains are for Tourists” here.: http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=1110

    As for light rail in Auckland. Can you really believe that putting two tram tracks down Auckland city streets will relieve congestion?
    Why do you think we tore them up in the fifties. Trams can at least operate in cities like Melbourne with wide boulevards on flat land.
    Trams in Auckland would simply lead to Auckland city losing population faster than it is now.
    Move into the present. If trains had not been invented in the past we would see no need to invent them now.

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  16. Murray (8,822 comments) says:

    Murray on royal Comish:

    Yawn, its only jafas and associated hangers own so diligaf.

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  17. jcuknz (697 comments) says:

    Owen … I’m not talking about trams but light rail which is a different animal. There would need to be a culture change following the introduction of the trams. Getting away from the drive yourself to using public transport. Setting aside more of your day to travelling, though maybe that is not the case when you repeatedly get stuck in traffic jambs. The arrogance of the car driver, which I’m sure includes me, is one of the problems …. the ME ME ME attitude to life. I’m sure a couple of light rail track down principle Auckland streets would cause no more conjestion than exists at the moment and gradually as people found their public transport worked and was ecconomical with the reduction in parking costs the number of private vehicles would decrease and conjestion would ease. The fly in that argument were the jambs I experiencedin Manhatten. The city needs to organise itself with service roads and public roads. Cities designed for the horse and buggy, such as Dunedin, have problems whereas it works in places like Denver, Portland.

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