The Taniwha Tax Report

April 16th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The latest report or paper from the Taxpayers’ Union is on Auckland’s Taniwha Tax. And before people cry our racism, I’d remind people the first and most prominent critic of it was Shane Jones. Some key points:

  • The provisions may affect the value of perhaps 18,000 properties, costing them up to $4.000 each
  • The Archaeological Association says what Auckland Council is doing is not even necessary to protect heritage because it is already covered under specific legislation
  • The Auckland Council has declared 3,600 sites as being of value to Mana Whenua without even establishing whether all the sites are genuine, still exist, or are ‘of value’ to iwi.
  • The Mana Whenua provisions make cultural impact assessments (CIAs) compulsory for certain resource consents
  • Where there is doubt, the Council will rely on the Mana Whenua groups to determine whether a CIA is required. That alone creates a vested interest, with CIAs likely to create a significant income stream to iwi, who are also able to determine to what extent they are required.
  • The extents of the Sites and Places of Value to Mana Whenua have been defined by drawing an arbitrary 200m diameter circle around the centre point of all sites, and then requiring an additional 50m buffer around those circles, with which the rules are applies (i.e. a diameter of 300m, affecting an area of 7ha)
  • The number of mana whenua sites of value could grow from 3,600 to 183,000
  • A Cultural Assessment Impact report for a submarine cable in Waitemata Harbour took over four months and delayed the cable project significantly
  • Sir Bob Jones has written of a building owner that had to consult 13 different Iwi to get permission to put a shop window in his building

The provisions should be scrapped.  There are existing laws to protect sites of heritage, without this regime.

 

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And a third panelist goes

March 26th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A disability advocate recognised in the New Years Honours list has quit an Auckland Council panel, saying it’s no longer independent.

Huhana Hickey is the third member of the council’s community advisory panels to step down over concerns they are ineffectual.

Last week Ali said he did not feel comfortable getting paid $500 a meeting to chair a panel that had no legal mandate to give advice that made any difference.

A council the size of Auckland had enough competency and expertise to openly engage with the various communities without setting up “token” panels, he said.

Exactly. You don’t need a token panel costing $150,000 or so.

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Another panelist quits

March 25th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Another member of the Auckland Council Ethnic People’s Advisory Panel has resigned, and the Herald understands at least two of the nine remaining panellists are on the verge of quitting.

Kafeba Pergoleze Alvis Mundele, one of only two on the panel who also served in the previous term, tendered his resignation at the weekend.

His resignation follows that of panel chairman Feroz Ali, who quit last week saying the panel was a “token” body, had no real status and that he was unhappy about what it was costing ratepayers.

Excellent. If they all quit, then easy to abolish the costly panels.

“As a pastor and someone who works with the refugees, he was very concerned about how much money the council was wasting on running this panel … which is pretty much just a joke, really.”

Abolish the panel, and split the money saved 50/50 into rates reduction and a community project.

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Auckland Council panel chair says they are a waste of time

March 23rd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

One News reported:

The chairman of Auckland Council’s ethnic people’s advisory panel has quit, saying he can’t keep claiming his $500 meeting fee in good conscience.

Feroz Ali says he has resigned after nine months chairing the panel because he doesn’t feel like his advice was making a difference to the council’s policy decisions.

“I could go on ticking the boxes, attending the dinners and collect $500 but I have ethics and I can’t do that.”

Good on him.

Each panel costs around $150,000. They should abolish pretty much all of them.

Council could invest more in getting its 9300 staff to consult with community leaders themselves, he says.

Exactly – you don’t need a panel to consult. In fact having an in house panel can undermine proper consultation because staff then think that talking to the panel is the same as consulting the community.

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The other side of the kauri tree issue

March 20th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale blogged an e-mail from an Auckland Council manager which gives us a lot of information that we never got through the media:

From: Julie Bevan
Sent: Monday, 16 March 2015 5:02 p.m.
To: GRP AC Resource Consenting – All Resource Consenting
Subject: Information about kauri tree issue last week

Dear all

 Most of you will have seen or read the media coverage on the issue of the kauri tree at Paturoa Rd in Titirangi last week, in which the decision to give consent to fell the tree to clear a building platform was hotly debated. As always, a lot of context and accurate information was missing. Here’s a summary of what happened:

Two resource consents were granted by Independent Commissioners for the construction of two houses on adjoining sites in Titirangi. The sites are bush-clad and are zoned Bush  Living – which is a residential zoning in the Waitakere section of the District Plan.  It is also a Significant Ecological Area under the Unitary Plan and the removal of vegetation and trees for an access way and building platform is provided for within this overlay.

When the consent application involving the section with the kauri tree was processed, the council had communication with the local board and received the opinion of two separate arborists, ecologists, a landscape architect and an engineer. The applicant contacted iwi. Careful consideration was given to a range of options for locating the building platform that would cause the least impact on the bush, and ensuring the shortest driveway to minimise effects, etc.  

The final proposal placed the house close to the road, leaving a large area of trees and bush undisturbed at the rear of the section, allowing a “green corridor”along the rear of a number of properties which preserved the habitat of birds and fauna. However, that did mean that a kauri tree closer to the front of the section would need to be cut down. This kauri tree is estimated by several arborists to be approximately 150-200 years old. There is no evidence to support the claim that the tree is 500 years old. There was a thorough assessment of options to retain the tree, but it has a lean on it and if it was left, it would be susceptible to wind effects, and would be so close to the house it would be considered hazardous. 

There are two larger kauri trees at the road berm which will be retained, as well as other trees at the rear of the section, including an old Puriri tree.

After having considered all options, council presented its recommendation to an independent commissioner for a decision. The independent commissioner agreed with the council recommendation and the consent was granted subject to strict conditions around construction, including intensive monitoring during the building process. 

Another story appeared suggesting that a council staff member presented a report with a different recommendation – the reality is that an initial report, based on limited information presented by the applicant, did have a different recommendation. However, when our landscape architect assessed the comprehensive information given during the consenting process, the recommendation was changed. This recommendation was confirmed by the commissioner.

On Thursday last week, the Auckland Development Committee debated the issue and decided to have an independent review of the process. They wanted to make very clear this was not a revisitation of the decision, but rather a review of the communication process with iwi and Local Boards. The Mayor Len Brown, the Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, our COO Dean Kimpton and various councillors explicitly expressed their support of staff and acknowledged that balancing issues of development and environment is frequently challenging.

I would also like to express my support of staff at the Western office, especially our arborist Natalie Marsden, team leaders Matthew Wright and Lee ah Ken, business coordinator Michelle Tomkins and the unit manager David Oakhill. David has spent long hours last week in meetings, media briefings and councillor sessions discussing this consent. He has remained clear, calm and resilient in the face of significant pressure.

Our work often involves challenges and situations where there are differences of view and position. Our role is to carefully work through the relevant plans, processes and procedures in a professional and ethical way.

I thank you all for doing your job and for doing it well.

We will keep you informed as the review gets underway and I know if asked you will assist in any way.

Kind regards

Julie

So who suddenly decided the tree was 500 years old?

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Ratepayers funded an image consultant for accounts staff

March 20th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

One News reported last week:

Auckland Council has apologised to ratepayers for spending several thousand dollars teaching staff how to dress better.

ONE News has learned the council paid for an image consultant to teach accounts staff how to apply makeup and choose colours that suited them.

The council spent over $3500 on two sessions with an image consultant at the council buildings on Albert Street with a view to lifting dress standards of the 150-strong accounts team.

Incredible. Were they told fewer cardigans? :-)

“Ironically these are the very staff that are supposed to be keeping a lid on the costs at the council, instead they’re off getting makeup and hair advice funded by ratepayers,” Jordan Williams from the Taxpayers’ Union says.

This story was exposed by the Taxpayers’ Union. This is one of the reasons I helped fund the Taxpayers’ Union. Both central and local government take a much more cavalier approach to spending our money than we would take. The NZTU is almost the only organisation out there dedicated to exposing such waste, and keeping spending down. All the other lobby groups want more spending.

It may only be $3,500 – but it is the attitude that it is okay which is really costly.

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$120,000 for a panel!

March 17th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Auckland Council committee will consider establishing a ‘Rainbow Community Advisory Panel’ on Wednesday at an annual unbudgeted cost of $116,880.

Community development and safety committee chairwoman Cathy Casey said the creation of the panel will provide an important voice for the community in the same way other communities are represented.

Communities can have voices without panels.

The council already has disability, Pacific, ethnic, youth, rural and seniors advisory panels.

There’s some cost savings to be made! Instead they are cutting library hours!

Council officers have estimated a one-off cost of $35,000 to recruit members to the panel and an annual cost of $116,880 to operate the panel.

The chair of the panel would be paid $3180 to attend six meetings and 12 members $1500 each.

Why pay panelists? If people want to represent their community to the Council, I’m sure they’ll do it happily for free.

The panel would have a discretionary fund of $20,000, $9000 to hold a community summit, plus mileage and catering costs.

The panel would mean the council hiring an additional democracy adviser at a cost of $65,000.

A full time staff member just for one panel that meets six times a year!!!

How about no fees for panelists, no new staff member, no $20,000 slush fund and say just $9,000 for a community summit plus say $1,000 for mileage and catering costs? That’s $10,000 a year instead of $116,880.

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Brian Edwards saves the day

March 9th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

On the 5th of March Brian Edwards blogged:

Brian and Judy think Ken is a great guy. Their haircuts are testimony to the fact that he is a brilliant hairdresser. So are all his staff.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago Ken had an unexpected visit from a a representative of the ACBDD, the Auckland City Business Discouragement Department.

Ken was cutting a nun’s hair at the time. (No, this is not a joke!)

Now no self-respecting hairdresser will abandon a client in the middle of a cut. And certainly not a nun, God forbid. So Ken continued with his work, while the ACBDD official talked to the back of his head. Ken was in serious breach of a local body by-law.  

Drugs? Pornography? Sly grog? Dodgy Massage? No, the small table and two small chairs which you can see in the photograph just outside Ponsonby Hair . Ken must remove them from the footpath immediately or face the consequences, which could include shutting up shop. …

A day or so later the agent returned with reinforcements in the form of a second high-vis-jacket-toting colleague. Ken had three days to comply. If he did not, his officers would forcibly remove the small table and two small chairs and charge him for their trouble and subsequent cost of storage.

This is a great example of the petty bureaucracy that people hate. Any local body that has a culture that allows this, needs a radical culture change.

Luckily Brian’s blog had an impact, and the Council backed down:

Following yesterday’s post “Shock! Horror! Local Hairdresser breaks law with small table and chairs!” Ponsonby hairdresser and all round good guy Ken Beguely,  owner of Ponsonby Hair, this morning received a gracious apology from an Auckland Council manager, an assurance that no further action would be taken to compel him to remove the small table and two chairs outside his salon, and an invitation to contact the manager at any time if he had further problems.

A small victory for the little guy. We need more of them.

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The Auckland man in London

February 22nd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

Aucklanders now have their very own man in London, at a cost to ratepayers of more than $230,000.

Auckland Council’s economic development arm has created a special contract in London for one of its senior executives, Grant Jenkins, who has moved his family to England.

His English-born wife, Kate, was homesick and had been longing to return home for several years, according to a former council staffer.

The Jenkins have set up home with their two children outside London in the village of Bourne End in Buckinghamshire.

As well as paying about $196,000 for a 12-month contract, ratepayers are picking up Mr Jenkins’ work expenses and office costs at New Zealand Tourism’s headquarters in New Zealand House near Trafalgar Square.

Ratepayers have paid an administration fee of about $15,000 for his contract and contributed $19,841 to the family’s relocation costs.

Here’s how you can tell if this is just jobs for the boys. Was this position advertised or tendered? No. An existing employee decided to move back to London, so ATEED created a new job for him there.

Outrageous. Was this signed of by the ATEED Board? Did they ask questions?

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Auckland Council pays $200,000 for a cock and balls

February 6th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

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Photo (c) Nick Reed, NZ Herald

The Herald reports:

A $200,000 public sculpture being installed in Auckland is causing a stir with locals, who say it resembles a penis.

More than resembles I’d say!

The Auckland Council-commissioned Transit Cloud has been created as part of a project to breathe new life into traditionally working class New Lynn.

Will Mayor Len Brown launch the sculpture? That would be a photo op!

“What the hell is that? It’s certainly not a cloud. It looks like a penis,” said Joy Dale, of Mt Roskill.

She said the sculpture was a waste of ratepayers’ money and the council would be better spending the money on more security and patrols in the area.

Indeed.

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Shearer blasts Auckland Council and Brown

February 3rd, 2015 at 7:50 am by David Farrar

Mt Albert MP David Shearer facebooked:

There was a disastrous meeting in my electorate tonight. About 150 local people turned up in good faith to consult on a frankly overdue Mt Albert town-centre upgrade, only to find half the funding had been cut by Auckland Transport.

This is the third time the community has been promised an upgrade but everything up until now has come to zero. What an arrogant waste of local people’s time and money.

Auckland Council has totally lost control of Auckland Transport. This time, the dysfunction showed in public. By the time the meeting ended, half the people had gone home.

At this rate, the mayor and councillors can kiss their jobs goodbye at the next election.

A Labour MP slamming the Council headed by a Labour Party member, and controlled by left Councillors.

Some have suggested to me this is part of a campaign to get his mate and neighbouring MP Phil Goff made Mayor, but I think the anger is real.

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7.6% rates rise vs 0.8% inflation

January 23rd, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Household rates could rise by 7.6 per cent this year if the city adopts a motorway toll of $2 or a regional fuel tax to tackle the city’s transport challenges.

The Auckland Council today releases a draft 10-year budget for public consultation, which includes some difficult choices on the costs and services of the Super City.

Among the options are paying less for transport and getting less, or a scheme involving a motorway toll or a fuel tax to raise $300 million a year to fill a $12 billion transport funding gap over 30 years.

The council is considering a targeted rate this year until revenue from tolls, a fuel tax or higher rates is in place by about 2018.

In the meantime, about $1.7 billion of $3.4 billion of additional transport projects over the next 10 years will be funded by debt.

Council finance officer Matthew Walker said the targeted rate would collect $30 million this year, the equivalent of a 2 per cent rise in rates, to fund the revenue shortfall.

This would raise the overall rates increase from 3.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent.

Household rates would increase on average from 5.6 per cent to 7.6 per cent.

The Council is out of control with its spending. Time for a team to stand for Council who will pledge to keep rates rises down, and resign if they fail to do so.

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Mayoral Contenders

December 4th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Former Act leader John Banks and Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett are contenders to challenge Len Brown for the Auckland mayoralty in 2016.

I don’t think Len Brown will stand again. Many on the left say Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse will stand as the left’s candidate.

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Transport users should pay, not home owners

December 1st, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is locking future ratepayers into paying at least $90 million a year for operational costs once trains begin using the City Rail Link some time from 2021. …

Council figures show the net operating and repayment costs to ratepayers will be $90 million a year if the CRL is opened in 2021, or $112 million a year if it is opened in 2023.

I think it is wrong for this to be funded by rates, which is basically homeowners. That means someone who owns an expensive home (such as a retired pensioner) will pay more towards the CRL than someone is a less expensive home, despite the latter commuting to work every day and gaining the benefits of it.

Transport projects should be funded by transport charges – petrol taxes, vehicle registrations, toll charges, user charges, congestion charges etc. You shouldn’t have someone who may be on a low income and only uses the transport system once a week having to pay more than someone who uses it 10 – 12 times a week.

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Len breaks his rates promise

November 6th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Council’s budget committee has voted 16-7 for a proposal to increase rates by 3.5 per cent for each year of a new 10-year budget.

The proposal got the backing of Mayor Len Brown, who promised voters to hold rates at 2.5 per cent this term.

Unable to control spending, Len instead has broken his word and voted to sock ratepayers with huge increases.

For a 3.5 per cent increase: Len Brown, Penny Webster, Arthur Anae, Cathy Casey, Bill Cashmore, Ross Clow, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Alf Filipaina, Penny Hulse, Mike Lee, Calum Penrose, John Walker, Wayne Walker and Maori Statutory Board members David Taipari and John Tamihere.

Against: Cameron Brewer, Chris Fletcher, Denise Krum, Dick Quax, Sharon Stewart, John Watson, George Wood.

You now know who to vote for.

The new proposal is for rates increases of 3.5 per cent for each of the next 10 years – a cumulative total of 41 per cent over the next decade.

The latest inflation figure is 1 per cent for the year to September.

Rates are increasing three times faster than inflation.

The new proposal is for rates increases of 3.5 per cent for each of the next 10 years – a cumulative total of 41 per cent over the next decade.

The latest inflation figure is 1 per cent for the year to September.

Exactly.

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Sensible to wait until 2020

November 3rd, 2014 at 10:11 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The $2.4 billion City Rail Link could be deferred until 2020 because of mounting concerns by councillors about its impact on rates, debt and big cuts to community services.

A number of councillors are having second thoughts about an early start on the rail project and support deferring work until the Government comes on board with funding in 2020.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has locked $2.2 billion into a new 10-year budget to begin work on the 3.5km underground rail link in 2016 and completed by 2021.

On Wednesday, all 20 councillors and the mayor will debate the budget and make decisions on the rail project for public consultation.

The Government has agreed to fund half the project, but will not make a financial commitment until 2020, unless the council meets rail patronage and downtown employment targets.

If the Government funding only comes on board in 2020 (and even a change of Government in late 2017 wouldn’t see funding until 2019 probably), why cripple the Council with debt by insisting on a 2017 commencement.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are proposed to be cut from community projects, parks and local works; one-in-four households are up for double-digit rates increases; and motorway tolls and regional petrol taxes have been announced to plug a $12 billion transport funding gap over the next 30 years.

No wonder Councillors are getting queasy. They realise a vote for Len’s Budget may see them out in 2016.

The first option is for an overall rates rise of 2.5 per cent next year and 3.5 per cent for the next nine years.

The second option is for a 3.5 per cent rates rise every year and an additional $3000 charge for new houses. Mr Brown’s rating policy was for rates increases of 2.5 per cent for the first two years, and 3.5 per cent thereafter.

That will help with affordable housing!

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Auckland should be allowed congestion charges or tolls

October 31st, 2014 at 11:44 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The Transport Minister, Simon Bridges, may not be as loud and brash in his pronouncements as his predecessors but the message yesterday remained the same. He was, he said, “very sceptical” about the options presented by an independent advisory board to the Auckland Council to plug a $12 billion transport funding gap over the next 30 years. Shorn of euphemism, that represented yet another Government thumbs-down for the recommended solutions to the city’s congestion woes.

The board suggested a toll of about $2 as drivers entered the city’s motorways, or a mixture of a rates rise of about 1 per cent and a 1.2 cents a litre higher regional fuel tax. The first would require Government approval which, clearly, will not be forthcoming. Mr Bridges said the motorway system was built by taxpayers, and any revenue raised from it would belong in the first instance to taxpayers. Never mind that the on-ramps are half-funded by ratepayers and offer an ideal and simple charging point. In the case of the second recommendation, the minister noted that rates were a matter for the council, but said the Government did not support new taxes or raising the national tax for the benefit of one region.

I support user pays for transport. A congestion charge is the best form of user pays – a market charge. A toll charge is also an efficient mechanism of making sure users of the transport system pay for the benefits they get from them.

So I don’t think the Government should rule out congestion charges or tolls for Auckland Council, or other councils.

However I do think their position that any charges should not apply to roads already paid for by the taxpayer is reasonable. They should ideally be used on new roads not existing ones. So the Government should allow tolls and congestion charges, but set down some rules for how they can be applied.

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Bob Jones on Auckland Council’s cultural impact requirements

September 10th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Sir Bob Jones writes:

Recently, a shop tenancy changed in a modern 17-storey Auckland CBD office building owned by my company. The previous tenant had blocked off some of its window which we now intended putting back to the conventional shop front.

At this stage, sit down with a stiff drink and accept my assurance I’m not making this up.

For we were then informed by a planner my Auckland office uses for council dealings (which can be laborious) that under the new council rules, changes to a building’s appearance require resource consent and we would be subject to penalty if we simply put back the window.

If that’s not outrageously absurd enough, things then became truly Kafkaesque and illustrate why the Government, against ill-considered opposition parties’ objections, wishes to tone down the Resource Management Act.

For we were then told that under the new Draft Unitary Plan, not yet enacted, our building being within 50 metres of a designated Maori heritage site, we needed RMA approval (for a new shop window, for God’s sake), this instantly forthcoming at a cost of $4500 plus the approval of 13 iwi.

$4,500 for a new window!

The council refused to advise the addresses of these iwi outfits, yet added that without their consent, we can’t put back the window.

So the planner located then wrote to the 13 iwi, ranging from Taranaki to Whangarei.

Five replied stating they had no concerns while others said they were considering the matter, presumably calling huis to weigh up this window crisis.

Unbelievable.

One respondent bearing that fine old Maori name of Jeff Lee, representing something called Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki, contacted the planner.

Look up their website if you have tolerance for Maori “sacred footstep in the earth” guff, although it’s 100 per cent on the mark with its proclamation: “Our vision is only limited by our imagination.”

I’m sceptical about Mr Lee’s vision but have no doubt about his imagination, for after advising the planners verbally that no Cultural Impact Assessment Report was required for the window, he nevertheless asked them to consider it – brace yourselves – given his ancestors, centuries ago, gathered in the vicinity.

Lee then wrote, outlining his terms for “assessing the window’s cultural impact” which, he said, would take him “a total of six to eight hours”.

For this he sought $90 per hour plus GST and “travel expenses of 0.77c p/km.”

Very reasonable!

The council has designated 61 sites across Auckland and nominated 3600 others “of interest”. Undertake earthworks (swimming pool, building foundations, a shed etc) within 50m of a scheduled site and one must engage (pay) iwi.

None are of Stonehenge moment but instead claptrap such as “our ancestors beached canoes nearby” and the “feather-gathering” ilk.

A candidate for Mayor in 2016 should pledge to get rid of this nonsense, and they’ll win in a landslide. Shane Jones attacked the policy when he was an MP as political correctness gone mad or something like it. It does nothing for actual cultural heritage – it is simply a massive compliance cost.

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Auckland rates to go up up up

August 29th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is talking of selling council carparks and naming rights to swimming pools to help balance the books in his new 10-year budget.

Mr Brown released his first draft of the budget yesterday, which contains overall rates rises of 2.5 per cent in the first two years and 3.5 per cent thereafter.

But due to a plan to reduce business rates at the expense of households, residential rates will increase by about 3.5 per cent in the first two years and 4.5 per cent over the next six years.

A Mayoral candidate in 2016 pledging that rates will not increase faster than inflation will easily win I’d say.

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Labour’s Auckland Council policy

August 15th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Cameron Brewer points out:

Labour leader David Cunliffe’s tough talk today around future local government amalgamations does not hide the fact that Labour’s 2011 policies to overhaul Auckland’s “over centralised and corporatised  super city” have all been dropped, infuriating those on the Left hoping for further changes, says Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer.

“Mr Cunliffe’s roaring like a lion about proposed and future local government amalgamations, but when it comes to further reforming the super city structure that Labour promised three years ago, he’s turned into a big pussycat.”

Mr Brewer said in 2011 Labour’s manifesto vowed to “fix the super city’s democracy” including enshrining local board powers, replacing the Independent Maori Statutory Board with elected Maori seats, abolishing “a corporatised” Auckland Transport, and reviewing all laws and structures pertaining to Auckland Council’s governance and democracy. Back in 2011 Labour was also promising to tie in central government plans with Auckland’s priorities by promising to establish a “Common Accountability Platform for Auckland”.

“Labour’s policy pertaining to Auckland Council this election has been watered down to absolutely nothing which rest assured will be upsetting a lot of centre-left local body elected representatives,” he says.

“Labour shouts that it does not want another Government-imposed corporate-like model like Auckland’s, however Mr Cunliffe is no longer prepared to change anything to do with the super city. 

“Rather, despite all the bravado, Labour is now standing completely aside when it comes to Auckland. The most Labour is now promising is to encourage the council to hold some kind of public inquiry into how Auckland should be governed in the future. No promises of greater powers for local boards, scrapping the IMSB, or repealing super city legislation this election.

“It’s embarrassing for Mr Cunliffe that all his tough talk on local government amalgamations nationwide completely excludes anything changing in the super city – a model that Labour still claims to despise,” says Cameron Brewer

Brewer provides the two policies to compare:

The Labour Party’s 2014 Auckland local government policy: “Restore the power to Auckland Council to decide on its own structures for the delivery of transport and roading services, on which CCOs it retains, affirmation of the roles of Pacific, Ethnic and others, and on land use and housing planning and provision.  We will encourage Auckland Council to hold a full public inquiry into how best Auckland should be governed in the future.”

The Labour Party’s 2011 manifesto: “Labour will fix the super city’s democracy: enshrine powers of local boards, transition from the appointed Maori Statutory board to elected Maori seats, repeal the law that imposes a corporatised transport agency, and review the governance and democracy laws and structures after two years. Labour will set up a Common Accountability Platform for Auckland – Ministers, officials, and representatives of central government will agree common priorities with Auckland Mayor and Council, and ensure better, fairer better alignment between Aucklanders’ voices and needs, council capabilities, national policy and budget commitments.”

So their policy now is to basically ask the Council to have a public inquiry!

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How many hours until business class is justified?

July 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A group of Auckland councillors have managed to retain a business-class-travel perk, but a bid to give them free parking has been voted down.

The move comes as reduced library hours, street cleaning and an end to inorganic rubbish collections are on the table for sweeping budget cuts.

George Wood, Christine Fletcher, Denise Krum and Calum Penrose were among those who voted yesterday to defeat an amendment by councillor John Watson to restrict business-class air travel to health grounds only.

Councillors get to keep the perk of sitting in business class when taking flights of more than six hours and conducting council business within 24 hours of landing at an overseas destination.

It took the casting vote of finance committee chairman and Labour councillor Ross Clow to keep the status quo in the elected members’ expenses policy, despite many of his left-wing colleagues voting to tighten the rules.

Right wingers Cameron Brewer and Dick Quax supported the left to tighten the rules.

Mr Clow justified his decision on the basis that elected representatives needed to turn up fresh and fully prepared to represent Auckland after long-haul travel beyond most of Australia.

I’m not an advocate of no business class travel ever for Councillors. If you are flying to London  for example, I think business class is appropriate, as otherwise it takes ages to recover from a 24 to 30 hour plane trip.

But a threshold of six hours seems too low for me. You don’t need business class to Perth or Hawaii or some of Asia. A fair policy I think might be:

  • Economy for flights up to six hours
  • Premium Economy for flights of six to 12 hours
  • Business for over 12 hours
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A $1.5 million sculpture funded by Auckland ratepayers

July 24th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Of all the plans for Queens Wharf, none has invited as much debate as the planned $1.5 million sculpture of a state house featuring a 4.5 tonne Venetian glass chandelier.

Yet any discussion can be no more than conjecture because the public is being denied images.

The Auckland Council says concept outlines are still being developed and will be released as soon as they are finalised.

That is not good enough.

Anything is better than nothing. The available images should be released if the council wants to avoid the suspicion that it is trying to put a lid on controversy.

There is much to be debated. Is the two-storey state house, to be built on a blue basalt plinth, a suitable object at the end of the wharf?

Or will it be, as the Waitemata Local Board contends, an out-of-place intrusion that will impede sea views? Would it, in fact, be better located at Wynyard Pt?

Why was the cost allowed to balloon out beyond the plentiful $1 million gifted by Barfoot & Thompson? And given the necessity for ratepayer funding, why has the project been fast-tracked with scant regard for normal council procedure?

It’s not clear if the $1.5 million is the ratepayer contribution, or just $500,000. But either amount is too much.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a cultural philistine. I’m actually a member of the Wellington Sculpture Trust. When a Council has its books in order, and rates are not rising faster than inflation, then some investment in stuff such as sculptures can be okay. But Auckland Council is in a funding crisis. It is not business as normal. $100,000 on curtains and $1.5 million on a sculpture are luxuries that it can’t afford.

UPDATE: I understand that the Auckland Council has underwritten the Parekowhai sculpture to $500,000.

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Auckland Council costs

July 14th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett says Brown has done what politicians have done to Auckland for years – offered low rates increases but not stuck to a spending plan that aligns with this.

He says if Auckland really wants to build a city that people want to live in there must be investment to attract people, investment and tourists.

Where the Auckland Council has gone wrong, he says, is not aggressively reviewing what it does with an eye on doing things better with less.

He asks: Does the council need 900 staff in planning and 600 in policy? Should Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency combine in Auckland? Does Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) need a $60 million budget?

“This is all stuff that should have been challenged over the last three years.”

900 planning staff? 6oo policy staff? My God.

And while some spending on tourism and events can be justifiable, $60 million is way over the top.

Quax said the mayor had shown no ability to say no to anyone who came knocking at his door, whether it be Maori, the Rescue Helicopter Trust, Holy Trinity Cathedral or Skypath.

Another right-wing opponent, Cameron Brewer, says the mayor has over-promised and rolled over to the wish lists of the former councils when he should have prioritised and cut projects at the outset.

Local body financial commentator Larry Mitchell, who produces annual “league tables” of council financial performance, said the council had substituted disciplined financial management with four years of “borrow and spend”.

Borrow, borrow and spend indeed.

UPDATE: Maybe a start could be made by not spending $100,000 for a silk curtain at the Devonport Library.

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Auckland Council facing reality

July 8th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Cutting back funding for park maintenance, reducing library hours and scrapping inorganic rubbish collections are among options being considered by a cash-strapped Auckland Council.

Its finances have reached crisis point where severe cuts are necessary in a black budget to put rates and debt back on an “affordable” and “sustainable” path. But families fear the proposals will leave the city’s youngsters worse off.

To rescue finances, slashing up to $2.8 billion of new spending is required, as well as stripping up to $486 million a year for each of the next 10 years.

The first overview of the new 10-year budget discussed by Mayor Len Brown, councillors and decision makers yesterday included the $2.86 billion City Rail Link, which has an enormous flow-on effect.

The more you spend on one item, the less you have elsewhere. It is elementary.

“We’ve been looking at a situation where on one hand we’ve got this ambitious programme but on the other hand we’ve got this constrained funding envelope.”

Welcome to fiscal reality.

The council has also identified parks and community services for cuts of up to $60 million a year with talk of closing “under utilised” halls, recreation centres and swimming pools. Fewer arts and culture festivals and events are under consideration.

The proposed cuts are on a scale never witnessed in Auckland before, and are certainly bigger than those of Auckland City Mayor John Banks’ razor gang of 2001, headed by former Finance Minister Sir William Birch.

Ratepayers should not be used as a never-ending source of increased revenue. Rates increases should be no more than inflation.

Under his first four budgets – based on the budgets and assumptions of the former councils – debt soared from $3.9 billion to $7.3 billion and households were hit with cumulative rates increases of up to 38 per cent.

The more debt you have, the greater the interest payments are.

Mr Brown has not ruled out breaking a key election promise to hold rates to no more than 2.5 per cent this term.

It will be his final term if he does. He may of course realise he won’t be re-elected regardless, so decide he has nothing to lose by breaking his promise.

However Councillors who vote for higher rates increases may face a challenge with re-election if they do.

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Public transport is for everyone else, not us!

June 25th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

First it was the mayor catching the train while being followed by his ratepayer-funded chauffeur-driven car.

Now, Len Brown’s staff have been riding in special shuttles zipping around Auckland – apparently because it’s faster than the public transport they provide to ratepayers.

Oh they are far too important to catch public transport. Public transport is for everyone else to use, to leave the roads free for the elite!

It reminds me of interviewing Green MP Sue Kedgley a few years ago. She spent most of the interview going on about the importance of public transport. I then askeed her how she was enjoying using the Snapper card, and she said she didn’t have one – it was obvious she never actually used buses herself much!

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