simon wilson editorial
wellington wears the pants
What will we be voting for in October?
So the super city is a fiasco, after less than a term? Is that too harsh? How else to explain the attitude of both central government and many councillors to reform of the Resource Management Act, and its links to the new Unitary Plan, and their links to the proposed underground city rail link and all of their links to the local body elections coming up later this year? Councillors have voted for the Unitary Plan — they know the city is likely to grow by a million people in the coming decades and to their credit they have set out a rational and often inspired plan for managing the growth. There will be many more apartment blocks, as well as more low-rise suburbs. Much more public transport, as well as an efficient roading network. And, to make it all work, a series of major “metropolitan centres” — think Henderson, Takapuna, Botany, Albany — that will have to be much more lively and cosmopolitan than now. To digress for a moment, that part is one of the biggest challenges. You can create more and cheaper housing away from the inner city, but if Auckland is to improve, those other centres need the boutique shops, cafes, cultural activity and streetlife that make cosmopolitan centres exciting. Yet the explosion of good places to eat in Auckland — to take just one part of what’s needed — is currently almost entirely confined to the downtown waterfront and the SkyCity megalith. We’re a long time away from growing ourselves a Surry Hills. Disturbingly, while councillors have voted for the Unitary Plan, many have also taken care to place on record their “concerns” about anything and everything relating to their own wards. The plan requires our elected leaders to lift their vision to the future and to act for the good of the whole city. Yet it comes in election year — the very time when that is least likely to happen. There should be votes in being strategic, in being able to do what’s right. After all, we all claim to admire it. But few politicians of any stripe seek those votes. “Vote for me because I’ll protect you from change” is how it usually goes. The October local body elections are shaping as a most unedifying spectacle. In this issue, we introduce the Unitary Plan on page 43 and, in a feature by contributing writer Chris Barton, consider it in depth on page 58. We also take a look at the mayoral contest, or lack of it, with the first piece by
The first term saw a lot of mayors from the smaller burgs getting elected, especially on the right. It’s Dad’s Army in there now.
our new columnist, the centre-right political analyst Matthew Hooton (page 30). Hooton explores the failure of the right to stand against incumbent mayor Len Brown, a situation that beggars belief. Citizens & Ratepayers and their various antecedents ran this city for most of the last century, and in many ways their domination in recent decades made Auckland — for better and for worse — what it is now. Hooton has revealed some of the reasons for the current failure of the right. One that he alludes to is the practice of using local body politics as a stepping stone for politicians on the way up and a retirement scheme for those on the way out. National has demonstrated a particular facility for this, with able councillors like Paul Goldsmith, Sam Lotu-Iiga and Jami-Lee Ross all forsaking the council for Parliament, and the impressive 2010 council candidate Alfred Ngaru joining them. This is not good for Auckland. A city whose economy drives the nation, which attracts almost all the country’s population
growth and which has significant problems in infrastructure and social need must be able to attract some of the best and brightest politicians, from across the spectrum. Mind you, a glance around the council room at the ranks of the centre-right today suggests the trend may struggle to continue. The first term of the super-city council saw a lot of mayors from the smaller burgs getting themselves elected, especially on the right, which means, with the honourable exception of Cameron Brewer, that it’s Dad’s Army in there now. With Christine Fletcher as Captain Mainwaring. National’s disregard for the value of getting good people on council chimes with its disregard for the Auckland Council itself. Ministers Amy Adams and Nick Smith have both signalled they will use reform of the Resource Management Act to undermine the council’s strategic plans. Minister Steven Joyce remains unmoved by the case for an underground inner-city rail link, and that threatens to block the entire thrust of council planning on housing, transport and the places we live and work. Because of this, while the super-city election in October will be fought by a bunch of people wanting to park their bums around the council table, the right’s failure to challenge Brown will make the vote not just a referendum on his vision for the city, but a roll call on whether we believe the city should plan its future, or the government should do it for us. The centre-right should not be putting Auckland voters in that position. It appears public transport use has declined. It’s not a surprise. The expansion of public transport in the past couple of years has led to more use than was officially expected, but it has also led to more frustration. Public transport works well when it’s reliable, pleasant, affordable, safe and so frequent you don’t need a timetable. The rule of thumb is, the service must appeal to young single women. If they feel good about using it, so will everyone. Yes, there have been improvements. Yet every single train and bus customer in this city knows there is still a long way to go. That’s the big picture. There are also so many small examples of things going wrong — like the new platform ticketing system for train passengers who don’t have an AT Hop card. It’s diabolically difficult to understand, and it’s also an honesty system for everyone who is not travelling all the way to Britomart, because no one checks your ticket. So now it’s harder for casual users to catch the train, and the system encourages fraud. How dumb is that?
/ april 2013