Death of a soldier – my tribute to Ted Lees.

(Eulogy presented at St Mary’s Church, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell, 18 November 2013).

Daniel Edward (Ted) Lees. 2 March 1923 – 11 November 2013

I wish to thank Mrs Shirley Lees for asking me to speak here today. I am honoured to be given the opportunity to offer my tribute, just as I was honoured to be considered a friend – of a man of the calibre of Ted Lees.

I bring the condolences of the Mayor and members of the Auckland Council and heartfelt thanks for Ted Lees’ many years of service to Auckland and New Zealand.

When the American writer Stephen Ambrose referred to the young men and women who served in World War ll as ‘the greatest generation’, he could not have more aptly described Ted Lees as an embodiment of that generation.  A  generation which has sadly now – the menfolk at least – all but passed into history.

It could be said of New Zealand that its finest hour was in the great global struggle of World War ll.  New Zealand’s performance during that conflict was out of all proportion to its size.  During the War New Zealand had a higher proportion of its citizens in uniform than any Allied nation apart from the Soviet Union.  During the exacting years of 1942-1944 New Zealand committed in terms of war expenditure, as a percentage of national income, more than any of the other Allies apart from the United Kingdom.

As with the New Zealand Infantry Division in the Great War, the First NZ Division of the Second World War, in which Ted Lees served from 1942 to 1945 came to be considered by friends and foe alike as an elite formation. Indeed the German commander of the Afrika Corps Field-Marshal Erwin Rommell considered the NZ Division, the best in the British 8th Army.  It was hard-won accolades like these that led the British war historian John Keagan to write ‘New Zealanders whose settler independence with rifle and spade would win them a reputation as the best soldiers in the world during the 20th century.’

The quality of New Zealand’s armed services, the commitment and resourcefulness of its civilian soldiers, airmen and sailors was to bring New Zealand significant international prestige.  Because of this New Zealand and its prime minister Frazer became highly respected by the Allied war leaders Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt. This hard-won prestige earned on the battlefield meant that New Zealand, punching well above its weight, would became a key player in the post war settlement – especially in the formation of the United Nations.

As we have heard Ted trained as a commando but Ted’s war contribution was not so much with rifle and spade but as a mechanical engineer with a flare for organisation.  Mobility in World War ll was the difference between tactical success or failure – between life and death. Ted’s job was to ensure the tanks, armoured cars, bulldozers, trucks and jeeps in his care were maintained in the best possible condition – and when they were hit or immobilised to go out and rescue them, and if possible repair them and get them back into action.

He fought with the NZ Division in North Africa and Italy – all the way to Trieste.

Surviving being blown up by an enormous land mine Ted Lees came back from the war determined to live his life – to marry and raise a family and become a successful businessman in his chosen field of engineering.  His vision was not just for himself.  He saw his post-war career as extension of his service to his country – his contribution in the building of a modern post-war New Zealand.  He had seen first-hand how with the proper preparation and motivation New Zealanders could compete with the very best during times of war -  and he believed New Zealand could do it – had to do it  - in times of peace.

Proper preparation meant having the best gear, the best equipment, the best machinery – and if New Zealand didn’t have it – then New Zealand should make it – he would make it.  Ted set up his own company Lees Industries – repairing and manufacturing marine engines, agricultural equipment and equipment for airports

Indelibly influenced by his experience in that most successful of organisations, the NZ Division, Ted travelled the world as often as he could to search out the latest engineering innovations, to pick up the best ideas, to imitate, to improve and adapt for New Zealand conditions.  He built up a loyal team of friends and colleagues – many of whom were returned servicemen like himself; and together they created a real technology hub. So much so that he and his colleagues didn’t just supply New Zealand but exported and supplied Australian factories, airports and port companies, including his setting up factories in Australia and Singapore.

Out of his love and experience of travel Ted also established a large inbound travel company to promote Tourism – and a network of travel agencies around New Zealand. He became the representative for the Asia Pacific region for the American Society of Travel Agents (Asta) and  Pacific Asia Tourism Association (Pata).

Trade and travel also led to him being invited to become the Honorary Consul for Spain in New Zealand. He tackled this role with his usual enthusiasm, serving for nearly 30 years in the Consular Corps. His diligent efforts in building relations between Spain and New Zealand were rewarded with his being Knighted (Civil Merit) by the Spanish King Juan Carlos.

Ted Lees never accepted that being at the bottom of the world was a barrier for New Zealand in terms of trade and tourism.  But what he had learned about infrastructure and logistics in the war made him determined to ensure that Auckland had the best possible seaport and airport supported with the best equipment.

Ted therefore made time to serve for many years as an elected member of the Auckland Harbour Board.  The Auckland Harbour Board was close to his heart and while Ted actively pushed for continued technological and industrial improvements he always valued the wider responsibilities of the Harbour Boards – in terms of maritime planning, its harbourmaster role, its building of marinas, boat ramps and maintenance of moorings and its general support of marine-based recreation – as opposed to the more narrower, purely commercial focus of the port company which replaced the Harbour Board in the reforms of 1989.

Ted’s role in the Auckland Harbour Board chimed in well with his love for the Hauraki Gulf and his being a founding member of the former Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park Board.  Like the Harbour Boards the Maritime Park Board was to be swept away in the reforms of the 1980s. As a coherent, focused, hands-on management agency for the Hauraki Gulf islands, the old Maritime Park Board has never been matched – and its historic contribution has yet to be fully appreciated.  It was through our mutual interest in the Hauraki Gulf that I first met Ted in the early 90s.  Ted and I were involved in an unsuccessful attempt to secure Pakatoa Island into public ownership – and then in an

Campaigning for Christine in the mayoralty race on 1998. Ted leads a combined operation putting up signs made up of both Lees and Lees (plural)

eventually successful attempt to acquire Kaikoura Island off Great Barrier.

 

Ted simply loved the Hauraki Gulf and he was passionate about giving New Zealanders access to it.  His daughter Christine Fletcher recalls that during the grim winter fighting that went on around Monte Casino – Ted kept a vision of the Hauraki Gulf in his mind.

While Ted was a most canny and successful businessman it was never just about the money – there was always a bigger picture.  That is where the inspiration for Lees Marine came from – Ted wanted Auckland families to have reliable engines for their launches and runabouts – so they could get out on the water and enjoy the Hauraki Gulf.

If I could I would like to share with you some other things Christine recalls about her dad.

Dad was passionate about apprenticeships and employment. He treated staff well and always liked to include families. The annual staff family picnic was a huge affair with presents for everyone. He was exceptionally proud that there was never a strike in the history of the business, quite a feat when you think of the 1960’s and 70’s.

Growing up in the depression and his experience of war shaped Dad. He could never bring himself to throw anything away. He worked hard himself and expected that of everyone else. I know this well as I was made to work in the family business. Monday morning meetings with all the managers at 7.30AM were compulsory to get things started for the week! He was tough and frustrating at times. An ideas man, who led from the front, he was not so interested in detail. A handshake to him was all that was required to cement a deal. There had to be a trail of people behind him attending to the paperwork!

He was quite personally humble but knew to be successful for your community and business you had to get out and to sell the proposition.

He couldn’t have done any of this without Mum. They were the perfect team. Others will talk of this but I just want you to know how she was the cornerstone that allowed all of this activity to take place.”

Christine of course became a popular Member of Parliament and rose to be a cabinet minister and a Mayor of Auckland – achievements for which Ted was enormously proud – but Ted was just as proud of his other daughters Jan and Susie and their families.

In 2010, I was thoughtfully invited by Ted to join with his family and friends to the formal dinner which celebrated his well-deserved induction into the NZ Business Hall of Fame.

Shirley and Ted in 2010 when Ted was inducted into the NZ Business Hall of Fame

It was in August that I last saw Ted – he was clearly suffering and though he accepted the grim fact that he was dying – he didn’t agree with it – he wanted to live a bit longer, he had more things to do.  But for all that he was still cheerful.   He dealt with his illness courageously – just like the brave soldier he always was.  We spoke of his time in the Division – about the fighting in Italy – and the last days of the war NZ Division racing northwards through Italy, liberating Florence and then all the way to Trieste. His recollections of those days were still vivid in his memory.

Which brings home to me that in saying farewell to Ted Lees we are saying more than farewell to one man – we are closing a chapter of our country’s history – and so farewelling a unique and great generation of New Zealanders that we will never see the like of again.

I offer the most sincere condolences to the Lees family, to Ted’s dear wife Shirley and his dearly loved girls Jan, Christine and Susie and the whole family.

Daniel Edward (Ted)  Lees. 2 March 1923 – 11 November 2013

Eulogy delivered at the funeral held in St Mary’s Church at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell. 18 November 2013.

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First Tall Ship Festival – an outstanding success and reminder of Auckland’s maritime heritage

Labour weekend will stay in the memory of those estimated 200,000 Aucklanders* who witnessed the spectacular arrival and departure or who came down to the waterfront to see the magnificent tall ship fleet.  It was my privilege on behalf of the Mayor to formally welcome the eight ships and their crews at an official powhiri, after the captains and some 600 sailors, some from as far away as Great Britain and the Netherlands, Canada and Australia marched on to Queens Wharf led by the band of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

The visit of the tall ships was a reminder to us all of our beginnings in New Zealand – and in Auckland.

Auckland is a harbour city. It was the superb advantages of the beautiful Waitemata Harbour that prompted the first Governor of New Zealand – who happened to be a Royal Navy Captain – William Hobson to select this place in 1840 to found the city of Auckland.

And just as Auckland is a harbour city – a port city – New Zealand is an island nation – lying at the furthest reaches of the world – dependent on the sea and ships and the maritime trade for our very existence.  Not only is the sea our economic life blood –  the sea is in our blood – in our DNA.

We are a sea people and the great harbour of Waitemata has welcomed so many of our ancestors – from the great voyaging canoe Tainui  and the other waka which sailed here bringing the ancestors of the Maori people from tropical Polynesia – to the tall ships of the explorers and the immigrant ships from Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

My own ancestors arrived here in 1851 – my great grandmother born at sea in the Southern Ocean en route to Auckland from the Cape of Good Hope.  And most of us have similar family histories.

Aucklanders deep interest in the sea and ships is abiding – this is not just a matter of nostalgia but of ongoing economic importance to us – apart from our vital sea-based import and export trade through the Port of Auckland, growing cruise ship visits, the fishing fleet and as the principle base of the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Auckland region has a vital stake in recreational boating and competitive sailing vessel technology.  And as the recent Americas Cup demonstrated the maritime industry in New Zealand – and Auckland in particular – is a world leader in developing cutting-edge sailing technology.

During the ships stay thousands Aucklanders young and old visited Queen, Princes and Hobson wharves to see the ships up close, to marvel at the complex technology of ropes and timber and canvas and iron which brought the ancestors of so many us from half-way round the world. Many people and organisations contributed to the success of the Tall Ships Festival but special thanks must go to John Lister the inspirational Festival director, the Spirit of New Zealand Trust which first proposed the idea to the Council, and the Voyager Maritime Museum of NZ which hosted the event. And an Auckland Council family supporters including Waterfront Auckland, ATEED, Auckland Council Events, Ports of Auckland, and others.

(* Or to be precise an estimated 200,000 visits. I went to see the Tall Ships four times!)

A shortened version of this article published  in the November issue of Verve.

 

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Election battle won – but the fight goes on

First of all I wish to sincerely thank the people of Waitemata & Gulf for re-electing me with such a resounding majority.

 

During the election campaign getting out and about meeting local residents and walking the streets of the electorate – seeing the lovely old homes and gardens reminded me how uniquely lovely this place Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, and the Bays is.  We are all so very fortunate to live here and I think of myself doubly so to have the honour of representing the area which I have done now since February 1992 – both as a member of the former Auckland Regional Council and now the Auckland Council.

 

I was so glad to see City Vision’s Shale Chambers, Pippa Coom and Chris Dempsey returned to the Waitemata Local Board along with talented new members Vernon Tava and Deborah Yates.  But I was saddened to see my friend Tricia Reade did not make it back.  Tricia was a key member of the last Waitemata Local Board and a wonderful community person.  I guess the seriously large amounts of money spent by my two leading opponents while apparently making no impact in the contest for the single Councillor’s seat, did at least ensured them a place on the Local Board – which meant there was no room for Tricia.  Also unfortunate to miss out was City Vision’s Russell Hoban – who is in my view a seriously good prospect for the future. And I would also acknowledge unsuccessful independents like Gerry Hill, Alan Matson, Kris McPherson and Charlotte Fisher who fought honourable campaigns.

 

While the council election was in full swing the hearing into a planning consent application by the Australian warehouse chain Bunnings to build a big box retail outlet on Great North Road was held in front of an independent commission.

 

Though the application was non-complying, disappointingly it was supported by our ‘business-friendly’ but rather less community-friendly council planners.

I was asked to speak as a witness by Arch Hill Residents Inc, a group of local residents led by Sue Lyons, Katie Sutherland, Anita Aggrey and David Batten, which has sprung up to fight the Bunnings application.

 

The Arch Hill residents hotly oppose the application and its team of experts led by Alan Webb and Brian Putt put up a formidable legal and planning case opposing the application.  One of the key concerns is the enormous amount of heavy truck movements – up to 80 a day – and customer traffic which will have a hugely negative impact of the quality of life of the people who live in this historic part of Auckland.  Arch Hill’s steep, narrow streets are a reminder that they were laid out long before the invention of the motor car.

 

Frankly it outrages me that the ratepayers of Arch Hill and Grey Lynn are being forced to pay out of their own pockets the serious costs of running a legal case against a wealthy big business – and their own Auckland Council that is meant to represent them.  Putting a Bunnings in Arch Hill is not sustainable management – rather planning madness.

 

On the other hand, Great North Road is a major transport arterial and a key public transport corridor with over 500 buses per day planned to run along it – the site would be ideal for intensive residential housing – on top of the ridge – lying to the sun with views out over the harbour.

 

As I told the hearing ‘my message to Bunnings is that quite clearly the people and community of Arch Hill and wider Grey Lynn do not want your big box warehouse imposed on their neighbourhood.  Such a development will have significant adverse effects, on that historic quarter, their chosen homes and lifestyle,… and on them I fear, personally.  Such a development will deeply oppress them.  I ask Bunnings therefore on behalf of the community to revise your plans and consider numerous other locations across Auckland, which are more suitable in terms of the district plan and where a Bunnings warehouse would be welcome.  You are not welcome here.’

as published in the November issue of Ponsonby News.

 

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Decision time for Auckland

I have been very proud to serve the Waitemata & Gulf Ward over the first three years of the Super City.  The ward based around the parliamentary seat of Auckland Central but including Parnell and Newmarket comprises Auckland’s most historic suburbs Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Arch Hill, Newton, Grafton, Herne, St Mary’s, Herne and Freeman’s Bays, the CBD, the waterfront, and the beautiful islands of the Hauraki Gulf – is in my view the ‘capital’ of Auckland and Auckland at its best.  Similarly the people of Waitemata & Gulf represent Auckland’s at its most creative, liberal, progressive, generous and go ahead.

The last 3 years have been challenging for the new Super City but led by an energetic and visionary mayor we have achieved something which should not be taken for granted and which many thought impossible 3 years ago – a cohesive, unified Auckland which is going forward.

I have served in local government for 18 years now – most of that time as member of the Auckland Regional Council – and from 2004 to 2010 as its last chairman.

As its legacy the ARC delivered to the Super City the regional parks network, the Ports of Auckland 100% in public hands, the exciting Wynyard Quarter redevelopment, with provision for a headland park on Wynyard Point, the opening up of Queens Wharf to the public and the decision to save Shed 10 and refurbish it as our premier cruise ship terminal. We delivered a public transport system in renaissance, including hard-won approval from first the Labour, then National-led governments for the electrification of Auckland rail – and laid the groundwork for City Rail Link project.

This legacy was taken up by Mayor Len Brown and incorporated into his wider Mayoral vision for Auckland, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by Aucklanders in 2010.  Its centre-piece the City Rail Link – is now supported by the government as announced by the Prime Minister in June.

To achieve this vision for Auckland requires unity of purpose, and a shared determination to stay the course.  That is why I am seeking your support as Councillor for Waitemata & Gulf for 3 more years. I have mentioned the achievements of the recent past, but the achievements over the next 3 years can be truly transformational.  Powerful, fast, quiet, new electric trains are now arriving in Auckland and will be in service early next year.  We will be getting a completely reorganized frequent bus system – to get people where they want to go.

I will also be pushing hard for new Light Rail, extending the Wynyard Quarter tramway across the bridge to Britomart making feasible a Light Rail option for inner city Auckland. I will also be pushing to complete a heritage train station at Parnell, and as I mentioned last month, supporting Skypath cycling and walking across the Harbour Bridge, and a Headland Park on Wynyard Point.

To achieve these goals, just as I will be supporting the Mayor, we need a Local Board working supportively with the Ward Councillor. It has been a pleasure to work with Shale Chambers and his City Vision Local Board members these past three years. Shale, Pippa, Tricia and Chris are hard-working, dedicated, and eager to serve this community.  They deserve to be re-elected along with Vernon, Deborah and Russell – please vote for the whole City Vision team.

The next 3 years will be absolutely critical for Auckland and so now the spotlight turns to you the voter.  Auckland is poised as if at a threshold – with the promise of a truly great city almost within our grasp.   But it is decision time and we must not falter.  If we do we will slide back to the same-old, same-old, fractious Auckland local body politics as usual. Rather we must push on – to build an Auckland where the quality of our civic infrastructure, our civic amenities, and Auckland’s built environment aspires to the truly sublime levels of Auckland’s natural landscape.

Mike Lee

Councillor for Waitemata & Gulf

(as published in the October issue of Ponsonby News)

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Walking and Cycling on the Harbour Bridge – let’s do it

The 1954 decision by the government of the day to build an Auckland Harbour bridge with only four lanes was one of Auckland’s original ‘sins of the fathers’.  Well transport sins anyway. The others were the cancellation of rail electrification the same year and – the most mortal sin of all – the termination and destruction of Auckland’s highly successful electric tramway in 1956.

The original penny-pinching on the Harbour Bridge resulted in the ‘Nippon Clip-Ons’, but the short-sighted exclusion of walking and cycling has lasted to this day.

In May 2009 I was one of thousands of Aucklanders who walked and cycled across the bridge to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its opening.  The authorities at first tried to stop the crowd but sensibly soon gave up.

Since that time the organiser of that ‘Get Across’ rally, Bevan Woodward, has come up with an exciting proposal he calls ‘Skypath.’  This is a specially built enclosed walking and cycling lane on the eastern side of the bridge.   The $30m proposal has been ticked off technically by the bridge owners NZTA, and backed by private money (Morrison & Co and the PIP Fund).  But it needs a council underwrite to work. Over the last couple of years Skypath has worked its way through the Council bureaucracy, periodically pushed along by my Transport Committee. The Council has given leadership of Skypath to ATEED’s ‘can-do’ chief executive Brett O’Riley, and due diligence work is now underway. There are technical issues to be sorted out with the approaches on both sides of the Harbour and our Council transport staff and Skypath will be working through them with the St Mary’s Bay Association, the Northcote residents Association and the Westhaven Users Association.  Once these are sorted, hopefully by December the new council will be able to sign off on the underwrite and work can begin at last to make walking and cycling on the Auckland Harbour Bridge a reality.  The Skypath will add value to our Harbour Bridge and enhance quality of life for Aucklanders and our visitors.

In terms of dealing with the other ‘sins’ – Auckland’s first electric train arrived in the Port on 25 August, the first of a whole fleet. As for the trams, if we can extend the tramway to Britomart Auckland can look forward to a light rail renaissance in the 21st century. See: http://www.mikelee.co.nz/2010/05/sins-of-the-fathers-the-decline-and-rise-of-rail-transit-in-auckland/

This article was published in the September editions of Ponsonby News and Verve Magazine

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Unitary Plan – our historic houses and townscapes well worth fighting for

The announcement by Prime Minister John Key about the City Rail Link is enormously encouraging – I intend to deal with the issue of transport and how it affects the Waitemata ward in the next issue – but in the meantime I am keeping my focus on the Unitary Plan which is still being rushed towards a notification deadline of September.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem because in normal circumstances notification then enables a further round of public submissions.  The problem is that the Auckland  Council has negotiated a deal with the government that in return for a truncated appeal period, the Unitary Plan hearing commission would be handed over to a panel dominated by government appointees. Therefore once the Unitary Plan is notified further influence by the community’s democratically elected local board members and councillor is going to be minimal.

In a discussion about my last month’s article in the Ponsonby News a colleague asked me why I talked about urban sprawl in an article aimed at inner city Ponsonby readers.  In other words why do I feel that the Unitary Plan’s proposed 20,000 ha lateral expansion into rural greenfields would be of interest or consequence to people in Ponsonby, Grey Lynn and the Bays?  My reason in pointing this out was to demonstrate why the Unitary Plan is not really about a compact city, as has been repeatedly claimed but about intensification (which is a different matter)  – and growth – everywhere.  Because most of us would believe a compact city would be an ideal and environmentally sustainable type of urban form– we can assume most reasonably-minded citizens would be willing to make certain sacrifices to help achieve it. But if on the other hand the compact city objective is really largely hype then there are good reasons to think very carefully about plans to intensify our area, at the expensive of the present built environment and amenity – especially our unique and lovely old bungalows and villas.

For instance there is every good reason for communities to push back on council plans to replace large swathes of historic and character townscapes such as in Grey Lynn with new and more intensive apartments and units.

The Unitary Plan is a massive exercise and there is considerable momentum behind it – standing up to a juggernaut such as that is not always easy.  However pushing back is what a lot of residents are asking us to do and that’s what we are doing – and I believe pushing back is starting to pay off.

On a recent Saturday afternoon the Mayor Len Brown, Shale Chambers the chair of the Waitemata Local Board and myself met with members of the Grey Lynn Residents Association who are opposed to the planned rezoning of much of Grey Lynn into new and intensive ‘terraced housing and apartments’ zone.  Instead the ‘Grey Lynns’ are wanting the council to focus intensive housing along the Great North Road ridge and transport corridor in place of the present mixed-use car yards etc., (including the awful Bunnings proposal).    That is a great idea which I fully support. Apart from this very sensible planning advice from the community, the fact that the meeting took place at all in my view was significant. The Mayor is listening and there are signs that this is starting to filter down through the bureaucracy.  So therefore let’s keep on pushing back. Our beloved historic and houses and townscapes which have been handed down to us – are what makes Auckland unique –and what makes this place so different. They are well worth digging in and fighting for.

This article was published in the August edition of Ponsonby News.

 

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Taking up the Prime Minister’s challenge

The recent announcement by John Key swinging government political and financial support behind the City Rail Link – starting 2020 – was great news. The decision was a political
masterstroke by the PM, though apparently some of his cabinet colleagues were not so enthusiastic.   They needn’t worry no-one will regret this. The City Rail Link project will be enormously beneficial to Auckland.  An inner city underground with metro stations – apart from the obvious transport benefits – will be transformational giving Auckland a truly international feel.
But the PM’s announcement does raise some hard questions. The first is funding.   A mayoral think tank, ‘The Consensus
Building Group,’ has come up with ideas on sourcing extra funding – these (road pricing and tolls) don’t seem very appealing to me, Aucklanders are already paying their way.  And actually nor are these measures very efficient revenue gatherers.  Perhaps the best solution is the one suggested in a recent interview by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee – some of the national fuel tax being redirected into non-road projects like the CRL. In other words this is pretty much what the previous Labour government worked out with the ARC in 2007 – a regional fuel tax.

But it’s not just about funding, part of the problem in local government – indeed our public sector in general – is that we are overly focussed on the supply side (increasing funding) but not the demand side (cost  and getting value for money).  For instance our PT operating costs are too high – and our construction costs are higher than any other country I can think
of.  It’s a rather taboo subject but our vertically integrated construction monopoly (or duopoly) impacts heavily on the
costs of highways, roads, bridges, tunnels, rail …and housing.  In other words on the future affordability of our national infrastructure.  Given this privatised monopoly culture a real concern is that if the public sector somehow came up
with extra funding, costs could magically rise to match that funding.
As for the CRL, I have always thought the price ($2.8b) to be gold-plated, with an additional new electric train fleet and a lot of other network costs thrown in.  So it’s not just about funding – we need to start looking hard at the costs. Perhaps when the time comes in 2020, hopefully earlier, we should encourage some of the big Chinese construction
firms to tender -  and get some competitive tension into our construction sector. Let me give an example of what I am talking about.  Early in 2011 the then Transport Minister Steven Joyce reviewed the regional plans for a second harbour crossing which we finalised in 2008.
The agreed option was a road/rail tunnel.  The Minister had the leading options costed.  The road/rail tunnel was costed
between NZ $4-$5b.  The cheaper option according to the minister was a second harbour bridge running parallel to the
existing harbour bridge. This cheaper option according to NZTA was costed at NZ$3-4b.  But if we look at the Millau bridge in France – the highest bridge in the world which is considered to be both an engineering and architectural masterpiece the cost was only $400m Euro equivalent to only NZ$660m.  The Millau bridge is 2.56km length – the Auckland
Harbour bridge is 1km in length.   Though this bridge was completed in 2005 there is still a vast difference to the construction price per km with NZ prices.  That’s just one indication from the first world about just how far NZ prices are out of whack with the world market.  Folks we are being ripped off.

There is another problem – the PM stated that if Auckland rail passenger demand increased to the required level, the government would advance its timetable closer to the Mayor’s preferred start date of 2015.
But currently public transport patronage (rail and bus) is
flat-lining.  This I believe is the consequence
of sharp fare increases – combined with continuing substandard punctuality. We need to remember we are in competition with the private car and fare increases
in this market are self-defeating.  We can still increase rail patronage by expanding weekend services, incentivising
off-peak travel, managing fare evasion (which has been recorded on occasions to have been near 10%) and opening new stations eg Parnell. And our new electric trains will be here soon. The Prime Minister has set Auckland a challenge to
increase rail patronage.  We should accept it.

An abridged version of this article appears in the August issue of Verve magazine.

 

Michael Lee

Auckland Councillor

For the Waitemata & Gulf Ward

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Unitary Plan – test of integrity

The Auckland Council draft unitary plan has drawn an enormous amount of submissions from concerned
Aucklanders – 22,700 in all.

But rather than pause to give public submissions the time and attention they deserve, the unitary plan process hurries on.  I and other councillors objected recently when the council political working party was led through public-excluded workshops by council managers, in which the views of selected
vested interests like Fletchers and the NZ Property Council were presented but not those of community organisations. I refer to the very sensitive public issues of building heights and volcanic cone view shafts.

I must confess to still being puzzled about what the mad rush is all about.

The official answer is that a million people will be turning up in Auckland by the year 2041.  To be fair 2041 is not exactly next year – it’s nearly 30 years away.  But even those projections are questionable.  The council is working on maximum growth projections but Watercare Services, the council-owned water and wastewater infrastructure provider is basing its planning on the medium growth scenario – and Auckland Transport - already struggling with an existing infrastructure deficit is questioning how Auckland ratepayers will be able to afford the cost of the transport infrastructure, on top of the CRL, needed for the high growth scenario.

All this does raise questions about the consequences of the unitary plan if council’s own agencies can’t achieve unity on the level of infrastructure needed.  An open-slather developer-driven Auckland which the council seems to be encouraging could leave Auckland with an even greater infrastructure deficit than we have now. An Auckland which for instance exceeds the carrying capacity of its water and sanitary services is not going to do much for our environment – or our quality of life.

So the council needs to get this right.  It would be sensible to wait for the national census figures to be released later this year to get the latest data on which to base future growth projections. This period should also be spent seriously
analysing the public’s submissions – to determine what Aucklanders really want for their city and their region.

I must say I have noticed a certain cavalier approach in the way the council deals with the public. The public is regularly assembled to provide applauding audiences for occasions like unitary plan launches and is called upon to write endless submissions (‘have your say’) – and is then dismissed. In other
words the council is in danger of treating the public like a crowd of Hollywood extras. This has to stop.

The way the Auckland Council deals with the 22,700 submissions from the people of Auckland will not only be a test of the integrity of the unitary plan but also the integrity of this council.

(As published in Verve Magazine July edition)

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Begging bylaw no ban – but step towards social responsibility

There has been a lot of heat and emotion about the issue of street begging in recent days – but unfortunately not much light.  So what is going on?

The proposed Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw is designed to  replace  all the previous council bylaws with one; and because of the shared responsibilities, the new bylaw will be both an Auckland Council and Auckland Transport document.  The draft was released early this year for public consultation.

Public submissions closed in March and drew 117 submissions.  The council received responses on a wide variety of issues such as graffiti, glue-sniffing, vandalism in parks and public places.  Some of these issues came as a surprise.  For instance we received a surprisingly large number of submissions about conflicts caused by set-netting on northern beaches and surfcasting on Bucklands Beach – which had never previously been considered a nuisance or a hazard to public safety.  But lots of people in our communities think they are, and told the hearing panel so in no uncertain terms.

One issue of public concern though which came as no surprise was the issue of  begging.   In recent years this phenomenon has significantly increased, becoming more and more of a concern and a source of complaints from the public.  Especially so from mainstreet shopkeepers who say beggars permanently ensconced outside their doors are not only a nuisance but are putting off customers.  The legacy bylaws certainly dealt with begging or euphemistically termed equivalents but because of the way they were worded  they proved to be largely unenforceable.

The ineffectual wording of the old bylaws has been of concern to the police who tell us street begging is a problem which is linked with property crime, especially in the CBD.

The hearing panel therefore decided that along with all the other concerns brought to us by the public that this time we would try to do something meaningful to address  this and other  problems   – but in the most sensitive way possible.  Does this amount to banning begging – as the media and some critics have been saying? No.

The relevant bylaw clause in question is:

A person may not use a public place to: beg in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance to any person.

The ‘qualifier’ (i.e. ‘in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance to any person’) does not mean a total ban as alleged.  The council recognises that in some instances there are underlying issues as to why some members of our community are begging.  We are not interested in pursuing those who are passively begging but not causing any harm or nuisance.

However, what the new bylaw does mean that if begging – because of its location and/or duration, and the behaviour of the beggar – constitutes a nuisance or is aggressive ; and a member of the public makes a genuine complaint,  the council will now act on it.   The Council  compliance officers will talk to the beggar and ask them to leave. If necessary the beggar will be moved on from where he or she is causing a nuisance. Where the council ’s compliance officers identify an individual who needs help, assistance will be sought from the appropriate state agencies and charitable sector specialists, for counselling, medical treatment, income support and accommodation.

Recently council has utilised the New Beginnings Court to assist with individuals who have been on the streets for a number of years. Auckland City’s New Beginnings Court (Te Kooti o Timatanga hou), effectively a ‘Court within a Court’ operates out of the District Court at Auckland.

Established in 2010 the court is a pro-active multi-agency initiative aimed at dealing with persistent public place offenders, some who have continued to breach council bylaws, despite regular warnings and intervention. The court places them on programmes to address underlying issues and monitors their progress. The council intends to extend this practice to include persistent nuisance beggars under the proposed new bylaw. Without the bylaw there would be no opportunity to do this.

For too long the issue of begging has been ignored because councils have been unwilling to tackle the problem it seems due to well-meaning but misguided political pressure – this has effectively put the rights of beggars over the rights of citizens trying to make an honest living.

The process is by no means over – the draft bylaw will go before the Council Governing Body for final approval.  Hopefully the agreed provisions in the bylaw for socially responsible intervention to deal with the problem of street begging will remain intact.  Tossing a coin in the cup and walking on by is no longer a responsible option.

 

Michael Lee

Auckland Councillor

Chairman of the Public Safety & Nuisance Bylaw Hearing Panel.

Published in NZ Herald 9 July 2013.  See:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10895520

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The Unitary Plan – but is it unifying?

The public have responded to the Auckland Council Unitary Plan with a massive 22,700 submissions. .

I must confess there is still a lot about the Unitary Plan that doesn’t make sense to me.  Probably the biggest puzzle is why the almost frantic rush to get it done as quickly as possible.    To justify this some rather extravagant statements have been made by the Mayor and council planners.  Panic is contagious of course – the council’s more alarmist announcements about the need for ‘pace’ have, along with graphic illustrations of towering high rises in many neighbourhoods, spooked communities across Auckland, inadvertently touching-off a public backlash.  We should bear in mind that basically a unitary
plan should simply be about the rationalisation and folding together of the
seven legacy council district plans and the ARC regional policy statement and
regional coastal plan; to sensibly reflect the amalgamation which created the
‘Super City’.

But there is more to this of course because the council also wants to use the Unitary Plan to make big changes, citing the Auckland Plan, to enable much more and much faster development across Auckland.   The reason for all this is the claimed one million extra people who will be coming to Auckland by the year 2041.

But why are council planners basing residential development plans on the maximum growth scenario yet council-owned Watercare, whose job it is to provide the water and wastewater services for such developments is still working on a medium growth scenario?  While Auckland Transport already struggling with the present the transport infrastructure deficit is raising serious questions of the cost to ratepayers of the high growth scenario.

It’s important to remember the ‘unitary plan’ despite some of the rhetoric around it, is not an ‘everything plan,’ but if the council agencies themselves are not united in their planning, it does raise serious questions.  More importantly what happens to Auckland’s environment if we have open –slather, maximum growth development without the sanitary and transport infrastructure to support it?   To resolve this question the Council should wait until the release of the national census figures later this year and then base its projections on the best available data.  An even stronger reason for a pause is to give serious consideration to the 22,700 public submissions from the Auckland public. But I see no sign of this at all unfortunately.

While the Unitary Plan is being sold as being about a ‘compact city’ – that’s really spin.  30 – 40% of future growth  (and in reality more) is actually targeted for outside the present Metropolitan Urban Limits.  The MUL themselves will be abolished and  replaced by a ‘Rural-Urban Boundary’ and pushed out by some 20,000 hectares, plus more development is to be encouraged around coastal settlements. This, to enable the building of 160,000 new dwellings in the rural greenbelt over the next 30 years.    While this will mean a major lateral expansion of Auckland.

So the Unitary Plan is not really about a compact city. It will mean a more sprawling city, a more intensified city (there is a difference) – with infill housing sprouting up all through our garden suburbs. And of course as many people fear, a more high-rise city.  Developer driven Auckland will be growing every which way.  And whatever its stated objectives it’s not really about people and communities either.  Though major changes are planned we can be sure the deeply-ingrained council culture of non-notified secrecy in which the public are routinely excluded from a say-so in their neighbourhoods, historic character buildings are demolished, views and sunlight blocked, and grotesque developments like a Bunnings complex in historic Arch Hill are recommended by council officers, will carry on.
As your ward councillor I have pledged to fight the Bunnings proposal – as has Shale Chambers and the Waitemata Local Board – but unfortunately this is not untypical.  The Unitary Plan at this stage therefore is looking very much like a lost opportunity – it could have been a wonderful chance for community-based, ground-up, leading-edge planning as has been advocated by Ponsonby residents. A plan which could have taken Auckland well into the 21st century with a whole new paradigm.

Not only ‘unitary’ it could have been unifying.

(Published in Ponsonby News July 2013 edition).

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