A counter opinion for a future mayor to contemplate!
A diverse and fast growing city faces many challenges. All the legacy councils brought varying quality infrastructure and community facilities. They also brought different rating systems that are now finally all aligned.
There has definitely been pain in that process where some of us have faced substantial increases and others who have had their decreases withheld. Amalgamation was never going to be easy.
Let’s look at some facts from the Annual Report, as audited by the Office of the Auditor General.
Capital expenditure in 2014-15 was $1.533 billion. It provided a number of vital assets.
This was achieved under budget, delivering $38 million in additional savings and a surplus of $80 million.
Debt as at 30 June 2015 was $7.334 billion, keeping interest paid on that debt under 12% of rating income, and sustaining Auckland Council’s AA credit rating. Yes it is a big figure but it is a big business and the credit rating reflects the conservative management of the finances.
That debt is only used to fund the construction of new assets, like libraries, leisure centres, new bridges, cycleways, and roads.
Some of these assets attract government subsidy, but some do not. Debt does not and cannot fund operational expenses.
Operating expenditure rose in 2010, then dropped in 2011, but has since flat lined. We’re managing this, despite accommodating an extra 40,000 people every year. So some folks do take the capital gain and move elsewhere and good for them and many others arrive. Long term projections suggest that Auckland will come to accommodate half of NZ’s population growth and 90% of additional employment.
We are undoubtedly a growing and popular city with ever increasing employment opportunities and must be equipped to support that.
Remember last summer and all the action in town. 232,000 people attended events from the Pukekohe V8’s to concerts in the park. This directly added $10.3 million to the local economy and visitors added a further $73.1 million in accommodation and general spending.
And thinking about the longer term, 11,000 hectares of land has been identified to accommodate that growth in population over the next 30 years. This Future Urban Land Supply Strategy shows where housing can go in 5 year tranches to inform infrastructure providers where and when to build the pipes, roads and parks. More detail around this work will be out early 2016. This approach to planning hasn’t been done before but is absolutely essential in the delivery of cost effective infrastructure.
This work will be reviewed every 5 years to ensure we can adapt to the realities of intensification.
In addition to this there is collaborative work being done with the government on a 30 year transport plan called the “Auckland Transport Alignment Project”. The aim here is to have council and the government agree on the delivery of the essential improvements required in all modes of transport for the whole of the city. That could be tracking third train line to increase passenger and freight rail services, extensions to train electrification, improvements to motorways, arterials and feeder roads, and safe cycleways and walkways. It might also include light rail, technological innovations such as driverless cars, dedicated freight lanes, or robotics at ports. Whatever new options become available, priority transport projects can be aligned to the land supply expectations, the long term funding requirements and the inputs from the crown.
In essence, this is weaving a strong rope of information, project prioritisation and delivery.
Again, this has never been done before and the council is encouraged by the engagement with this work from the Ministers of Finance and Transport.
But it’s not all roads and houses. A large undertaking over the past 5 years has been reviewing legacy council by-laws. There were 158, there are now 20! This required thousands of hours of consultation and deliberation.
Council’s policy and compliance staff manage and uphold these bylaws. This is not easy work yet has to be done to ensure compliance is practical. Challenging.
Lastly, there must be mention of the “Empowered Communities” policy. This is simply a series of programs to enable the thousands of wonderful volunteers in our communities to be able to effectively and safely deliver projects.
That may be a park bench, a playground, a tree planting project, or a recreational space.
Driven by Local Boards, the focus will be on local experts and active community involvement.
A couple of great examples are the Waiuku Mudlarks and the Whau Walkway project.
The focus remains on effective delivery.
Auckland Council by its very nature will always be a challenge. We are NZ’s international city and must compete internationally. Auckland also needs to have people putting their shoulder to the wheel, doing their bit, and working with the city. We do have a place to be proud of in this multi-faceted town of ours, this Auckland. Are you up for the challenge?
Bill Cashmore, Franklin Ward Councillor
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