Letter to Mayor Goff – in defence of democratic representation on the board of Auckland Transport

31 October 2016


Hon Phil Goff,

Mayor elect of Auckland


Dear Mr Mayor,

Thank you for your letter dated 26 October 2016 (note this was emailed to me on 28 October) regarding the matter of councillor-directors on the board of Auckland Transport.

I will accept in good faith, your questionnaire about ‘arguments for and against, the appointment of councillor-directors’ and ‘competencies and personal attributes’ is a genuine quest for knowledge, despite you already making your own preferences known in such a public way.

You begin your letter with ‘as discussed’ but without going into too much detail there really has been no discussion on this matter between us, nor with my esteemed colleague Cr Christine Fletcher. That is really the problem.    Regardless of the pros and cons of the question of councillor-directors being on the board of Auckland Transport the peremptory manner in which you have gone about this has been unfortunate and could and should have been avoided.

In regard to your questionnaire

  1. The arguments for and against councillor-directors to the Board

Given your public statements I don’t propose to get into a lengthy argument regarding the appointment of councillor-directors. Transport, public transport in particular, has always been the core business of local government. This was the situation in Auckland until 1 November 2010 and it is still the situation in the rest of New Zealand. Moreover due to that aberration, the board of Auckland Transport is more than just a CCO board, it is also legally Auckland’s Regional Land Transport Committee – legally a regional council and in terms of transport, the legal successor to the Auckland Regional Council.  The arguments ‘for and against’ democratic governance of Auckland Transport (mainly ‘for’) were heard by the parliamentary Auckland Governance Legislation Committee chaired by Hon John Carter, when the ‘Super City’ was being formed early in 2010, the recommendations of which were included in the Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Act (2010). Please note:

s 43 Governing body of Auckland Transport

(2) The board of directors comprises – (a) no fewer than 6 and no more than 8 voting directors, of whom 2 may be members of the governing body of Auckland Council.’

This was step was taken by the Government, supported by Parliament to provide some reassurance to the ratepayers of Auckland that there would be at least some element of democratic representation on the CCO board of Auckland Transport.

Still even this level of democratic representation was considered insufficient by most of the 786 submitters- including the parliamentary Labour Party, which was so concerned it lodged its own ‘minority report’ on the Government Bill. This ‘minority report’ stated ‘The goodwill and high expectations generated by the Royal Commission have dissipated as concern has mounted about the loss of democracy’.   The ‘minority report’ went on to claim ‘ …this bill corporatises much of Auckland local government with no democratic mandate.’ In regard to Auckland Transport, the Labour MPs commented: We have particular concerns regarding the Auckland Transport CCO. It will be larger than any existing transport body in Auckland (and larger than the one contemplated by the Royal commission), with the power to make bylaws, and an annual budget of $1 billion soaking up 54 percent of rates. However, there is no evidence that running Auckland transport as a CCO would be more efficient than running it in-house. No other council in New Zealand has this arrangement. These reservations were shared by four Government departments – the Treasury, Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Economic Development , and Ministry for the Environment – who argued against setting up the transport agency as a CCO. They argued that it lacked transparency and accountability to the ratepayers.’

Now as the newly elected Mayor of Auckland you have revealed your preference to abolish even the minimal democratic level of oversight that the National-led government felt it was obliged to provide. Incidentally I checked to confirm who was the Labour Party leader at that time – and it was you.

The Green Party at that time had similar concerns: ‘We strongly oppose the bulk of the Council’s work and assets being put into the hands of appointed rather than elected representatives, given the near certainty that the organisations will claim that commercial imperatives can override the public’s right to know how their assets are being managed.’

In regard to arguments against democratic representation on the board of Auckland Transport – I am sorry I have none. I would refer you to the ‘minority report’ of your own party and remind you of the age-old principle ‘No taxation without representation.’

  1. ‘The specific events over the past six years where you, as councillor-director strengthened Auckland Transport’s accountability, in a way that independent directors couldn’t be expected to’

I am uncomfortable about discussing my own achievements, as if begging you for my job back (a dialogue inappropriate – for me as well as you).

Obviously I don’t have recordings of the points I have made within board room discussions and I will refrain from sending you the long list of letters and emails sent to Auckland Transport on behalf of concerned members of the public. In regard to this interface role I would note that the public is by and large completely unaware who the ‘independent directors’ of Auckland Transport are, though some have been in place for six years.

but I do have copies of numerous letters, many sent on behalf of the elected members of Auckland Council. For these please see the archived minutes of the Auckland Council Transport & Infrastructure committees. I can provide others including memos provided at the request of Mayor Len Brown.

As for information, I will point to the protocol I proposed (accepted at the time by the AT board chair and announced to the councillors) for AT to release commercially-confidential board items as soon as possible and to give councillors the courtesy of prior notice before being posted on the AT web-site. Incidentally I have found most ‘independent directors’ are quite uncomfortable with interacting with the public, as anyone who has attended an AT Board ‘open session’ will attest. And I well recall the former ‘independent’ deputy chair of the AT Board successfully arguing why a request by the former council chief executive Doug Mackay, no less, to sit in and observe a confidential board session (most AT business is deemed confidential) should be declined, adding that it was ‘inappropriate’ for him to have even asked! ( Obviously I did not allow this pronouncement to go by unanswered).

As one example for my personal efforts to seek better accountability, I also attach a bench-marking report I went to a lot of trouble researching and compiling and provided to the AT board as well as to the mayor and governing body, in 2015, highlighting systemic financial inefficiencies relating to 10s of millions per year of public money in AT’s commuter rail operations, compared to the operation of a similar operation funded by that of the (democratic) ‘Greater Wellington’ Regional Council.

Finally I would point to my willingness to challenge management policies whether it be the failure to address chonic rail fare evasion (or even to admit the true level of evasion, (now 5 years on grudgingly and inadequately being addressed by installing gates at the worst effected stations) and the deeply-flawed decision to dismiss any future possibility of train services to Auckland International Airport.

  1. ‘The competencies and personal attributes you believe Auckland Transport directors must possess’

I will not attempt to respond in regard to ‘independent’ directors but it should be glaringly obvious. However ‘independent directors’ seem to all come through one privileged recruitment company, have no special experience or interest in transport but all apparently acceptable to or actual supporters of the National government.

In regard to councillor-directors I would say this: They should be councillors with a good knowledge of transport and commitment to improving transport – public transport in particular – and ideally a track record of service (and corporate memory) in this field would be preferable but not essential. Most importantly of all, councillor-directors should have a serve-the-public ethic and the strength of character not to be coerced into corporate ‘group-think’; in other words, a commitment to advocate for the interests of the ‘shareholder’ (the council on behalf of the ratepayers) and the ‘customer’ – again the interest of the general public of Auckland.

  1. Strengths and weaknesses of the Council’s monitoring and setting of expectations for Auckland Transport.

A full answer would take some time and strictly-speaking should come from council management. However there are some existing mechanisms which need to be improved.

Statement of Intent. I have repeatedly argued for more inclusion for meaningful metrics in the annual corporate Statement of Intent which would enable direct comparability with the performance of other jurisdictions. Example: a ‘fare box return’ metric which is comparable for instance to that of the Wellington Regional Council and not ‘sandbagged and made to look better by adding in non-subsidised commercial services. Another important metric lacking despite my repeated requests is ‘percentage of public transport trips per capita’ which also would allow effective bench-marking with comparator cities who use this metric.   To be fair the weakness for failing to demand this rigour is really the council’s. Council senior management appears to be adverse to challenging Auckland Transport senior management in any way. The council itself as shareholder needs to be prepared to lift its game. This leads me to:

Contestable advice. I have also argued for the retention of those Auckland Council officers with expertise to provide contestable transport advice to councillors. My letter to the council CEO Mr Town in 2014 on this matter was never responded to, though the letter was acknowledged by his personal assistant.  Unhelpfully the small council transport planning team was soon after disbanded and the highly-respected manager who also managed the Transport-Infrastructure committee was made redundant. He now works for NZTA. I understand this was done at the behest of management of Auckland Transport who resented councillors receiving occasional expert challenge to its approach. The council’s Transport Committee (advocated by the Royal Commission) from 2010-2013 which I chaired was a popular and effective monitoring tool, of Auckland Transport, so effective that apparently Auckland Transport lobbied for its abolition. It was renamed the Infrastructure Committee in 2013 but with the subsequent disbanding and dispersal of the council’s own team of transport experts and now your own decision to abolish this committee, it has been effectively removed as a monitoring mechanism of Auckland Transport for councillors and the public alike.

Finally I recall when you were in parliament and ‘Labour spokesperson on Auckland affairs’, you did seek information and advice from me on transport matters on a number of occasions. I recall the briefing I gave you at your rather urgent request on Auckland Transport’s plans for light rail which had just been announced that day and the subsequent arrangements I made for you to have a special technical briefing from AT staff.

While I view your preferred approach, the removal of the role of elected representatives on the board of Auckland Transport as likely to result in the antithesis of better accountability and public confidence in Auckland Transport, I am bound to say am also personally disappointed at the manner in which you have handled the matter.


Yours sincerely,


Michael Lee

Auckland Councillor

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Waitemata & Gulf vote not to be taken for granted

My heartfelt thanks to the voters of Waitemata & Gulf for giving me a decisive 1000 plus majority for another term on Auckland Council. It was a hard campaign against a well-funded, high-profile opponent in Bill Ralston backed by the National Party.

I was also very pleased to see the City Vision Waitemata Local Board candidates do so well in their contest with National’s Auckland Future.   The return of board chair Shale Chambers, deputy Pippa Coom and talented Vernon Tava is a testament to their hard work and newly-elected young Adriana Christie has a great future. I was sorry to see old warhorse Greg Moyle miss out but Auckland Future’s Mark Davey will add value and blue-green Rob Thomas who raises his profile by also standing for council retains his position.

On Waiheke may I extend warm congratulations to hardworking board chair Paul Walden, John Meeuwsen and Shirin Brown for their deserved re-election and to newly-elected Board members Bob Upchurch and Cath Handley. I believe Bob and Cath both bring competencies which will certainly add value to the Board.

It is a critical time for Waiheke.  I have good reason to believe that with a new mayor and the concurrent Local Government Commission process (which by the way is taking the Our Waiheke application seriously) the door is open for a renegotiation of the Super City arrangements for Waiheke, at the very least.   At the same time the unilateral ‘out of scope’ abolition of Waiheke’s Rural Urban Boundary imposed by Council officers is being appealed before the High Court by local residents led by Paul Walden.   The Council officers applied and failed for the right to sue the community for costs in this appeal.  The RUB case is just another example of Auckland Council’s overbearing attitude towards Waiheke. This needs to change.  The same goes with the CCOs. Auckland Transport in particular has an enormous influence on our transport links and to a remarkable degree what happens on the island – and yet I have found its management too often unresponsive to reasonable requests made on behalf of the community by both myself and the Local Board. Parking at Matiatia (both free and paid) needs to be expanded to meet demand, and it is totally unacceptable that the ratepayers of Marine View Road are told that AT (with an annual budget of $1billion) will never be able to seal their street.

All of these matters are inter-related and interlinked. Over the next few weeks and months in particular, the councillor, the Local Board and the community need to work together, presenting a solid front in the best interests of ‘Waiheke Inc’ to ensure the island gets the best possible deal. While the positions on the new Local Board are entirely a matter for the elected Local Board members, may I make the point that continuity of political leadership would be enormously helpful for the interests of Waiheke Island at this critical time.

Congratulations to Great Barrier’s returning board chair Izzy Fordham, deputy Sue Daly and member Jeff Cleave and new members Luke Coles and Shirley Johnson. Great Barrier is currently an island of political stability. In terms of voting the Great Barrier people have the best voter participation rate in the Auckland region, probably in the country – yet, by universal agreement, they put up no elections signs nor hold no election meetings.   Great Barrier people know their candidates very well and vote accordingly.

Voting was up compared to 2013’s hopeless 35.5% but the average turnout across Auckland was still only 38.5% (though 41.7% for Waitemata, 59.8% for Waiheke & for 71.5% Great Barrier).

Part of this is due to the age-old problem that many people find local government dull. In 1988-89 postal voting was introduced in an effort to get participation up. It worked – for a time but now we need to look at the whole system again.

There are two elements to this problem. One is the undeniable fact that people are aware that much of the power in local government is in the hands of un-elected officers. Many feel that whichever way they vote this will not change – when in fact it must change! Despite the best intentions of the reformers of the 1980s to get the voting rate up, other reforms, especially legislation empowering council CEOs (formerly town clerks) and de-powering the role of elected councillors (what Professor Richard Mulgan called ‘Rogerpolitics’), actually worked to turn-off democratic participation.

Leaving all that to one side, City Vision is urging a return to election-day voting. While worth considering I believe quite a lot could be done to improve the present system. Auckland Council officers were so concerned at the low turn-out in 2013 that this year they spent a lot of money ($1.2m) to do something about it. Typically, they chose a PR campaign based on the theme of love, beating hearts and ‘love bus’ – (a somewhat implausible association with local government) but with little focus on the practical aspects of postal voting.   Yet a key change since the 1980s is the retrenchment in postal services. As one voter reminded me, even finding a letterbox nowadays can be a mission. I was also dismayed at the chilling effect of statements from council that Wednesday 5 October was the last day a vote could be posted and arrive in time to be counted (though you could take it to a library). Why votes can be apparently collected from far-flung suburban libraries up to the Saturday but our specialised mail agency NZ Post takes more than 2 days to transport a voting envelope a few kilometres across town is a mystery. Given the closeness of the local board race the 180 Grey Lynn votes that inexplicably just did not turn up were also significant.

Rather than spending over a million dollars on PR why didn’t the council talk to NZ Post (pay them if necessary) to organise a special Saturday morning collection? Why not employ new technologies to boost postal voting. While any IT specialist will tell you internet voting is presently just too difficult to secure from hacking, other media could be tried including automated emails, phone messages and texts reminding voters to vote until the voting papers are received and scanned on a daily basis.

Returning to politics, a disappointed Bill Ralston complained to the media that despite a determined effort by the National machine to get the vote out ‘people on the right of the political spectrum just don’t vote’. Actually they do and they did. It is a mistake to assume that people in this most sophisticated of electorates always vote the party line or the same way for local government as they do in parliamentary elections. To make the point I give the last word to Ponsonby resident of centre-right persuasion (I won’t include a name) but the email message is clear.

“Hello Mike.

I was VERY pleased to see that you had been re-elected to council (I hope my vote just added to the “avalanche!).

I voted for you because you listen and react to “the voice of the people”, and that is how democracy really works.

You must (and should be) very proud that when there is a wave of “chuck the bums out” sentiment, you have stood up, been proud of your achievements and stood for re-election based upon the voice of the people.

I am very pleased for you, AND for Auckland, to see your fine results.

I look forward to seeing your sage contribution (especially as far as Rail to the airport is concerned and perhaps the new rail network to the Shore) continue in this new term.

I am delighted for you personally Mike, but also for Auckland, as I see you as a “light in the tunnel” when it comes to the council finally getting control of the bureaucrats who think that THEY are running Auckland (when in fact they need to listen to what the punters are saying and THEN make their decisions!).

Well done you.”







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Auckland at the cross-roads

As I write this voting is underway for the local body elections.

I am seeking re-election for a third term as Auckland Councillor for the Waitemata & Gulf ward, the heart of historic Auckland. As the name suggests the Waitemata & Gulf is bounded by the harbour to the north and extends from Parnell to the east, the CBD, Freemans Bay, St Mary’s Bay, Herne Bay – as far west as Westmere. To the south it includes Newmarket, Grafton, Newton, Arch Hill and Western Springs – and the heartland of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn. Someone once called this the ’capital of Auckland’ and I guess it is. The ward also includes the Hauraki Gulf islands, Waiheke, Rakino and out to Great Barrier Island 100km away. There are smaller islands too – some with just one or two people living there. While all of these communities are unique, I have found a progressive political outlook is a unifying factor across the whole ward. I am pleased to be endorsed by City Vision and have forged a strong working partnership with Waitemata Board chair Shale Chambers and members Pippa Coom and Vernon Tava. I am also really impressed with City Vision’s dynamic young candidates Adriana Christie, Chang Hung and Kurt Taogaga. These young people deserve your support – they are the future.

Waitemata & Gulf (Auckland Central) then is a sophisticated electorate, therefore not a ‘safe seat’ for anyone. While I have won this electorate before with substantial majorities, I never take elections or this electorate for granted. Accordingly I have been campaigning as hard as I can – door-knocking, meeting residents and listening to their views.

The feedback I have been getting is almost universally similar – that the Super City has lost direction, that bureaucrats have too much power and that the council (and its CCOs) have become increasingly high-handed in the way they deal with the public.

It has also become glaringly obvious that the council spends way too much money on itself rather than on what the people of Auckland want. Sadly too many residents far from seeing council management as their public servants wonder whether these people are even friends. In other words there is a great deal of disaffection with the Super City and with its corporate culture. This has to change. Hopefully with a new mayor and council it will – but Auckland is indeed at the cross-roads.

Transport is a particular worry, with rising traffic congestion and given the extensive powers of Auckland Transport a lot of dissatisfaction at the way this CCO responds to public concerns. While everyone is relieved to see the City Rail Link is underway at last, the decision by Auckland Transport and the government to exclude the possibility of future trains to Auckland Airport is deeply unpopular with just about everyone I talk to.

Another widespread concern is about the gradual loss of our historic townscapes and heritage buildings. I intend to work with groups like the Character Coalition and our residents’ associations to ensure that the special character overlays that cover a large part of the ward are strengthened and that our unique heritage and character buildings are given better protection.

Other policies that I have been formulating after listening to small business people relate to the commercial vitality of high street retail in Ponsonby, Karangahape Road, Parnell and Newmarket. I spent quite a lot of time and effort during my time as chairman of the ARC to open Queens Wharf up to the public while also making Queens Wharf our premier cruise terminal. Now we receive over 115 cruise ship visits per year – some 188,000 passengers and crew with a claimed economic value to Auckland of $190m. But how much economic benefit are Ponsonby and Parnell businesses getting out of this?  It seems most cruise ship passengers get bused off to places like Rotorua and Matamata. If I’m re-elected I am going to work with our business associations and the cruise ship sector to get more cruise visitors up to our retail and entertainment strips. In Ponsonby (until we get that tram service) we should make the Inner Link bus a part of a ‘ship to shop’ cruise ship visitor outing package – in Parnell with its soon to be opened heritage station we can use the train. Getting cruise ship visitors to our inner city shops, cafes and restaurants I believe is an obvious way to inject economic activity and jobs into the ward.

Another issue that is troubling people is homelessness – the spectacle of people sleeping in the streets. I have to confess it was only a few months ago that I learned from a group of concerned citizens that Auckland is the only city in New Zealand that doesn’t have a night shelter. The one we did have in Airedale Street was closed and demolished in 2012. The government should be the lead agency in these matters but the council also needs to lend a hand. What’s the point of upgrading street furniture and facilities if we have poor people sleeping on the footpaths.  This is not the spirit of the proud, go-ahead Auckland (‘the Queen’s City’) our ancestors bequeathed to us. Leadership and contribution from the council for a night shelter would be helpful.

Finally to take up where I left off at the beginning of this article, whatever the outcome of this election it has been a real privilege to serve as the ward councilor for the Waitemata & Gulf ward – the most progressive, sophisticated, artistic, go-ahead and generous community in New Zealand.

This article was published in the October 2016 issue of Ponsonby News.

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The Unitary Plan. Sustainable management? – or 1980s-style ‘big-bang’ deregulation.

The deregulatory hurricane called the Unitary Plan swept over Auckland last month and it is fair to say the place will never be the same again. Goaded on by threats from government ministers, in four and half days the council approved the Plan (with a few exceptions) as presented by the government-appointed Independent Unitary Plan Hearing Panel.

The Unitary Plan is the finally and critical element of the ‘Super City’ amalgamation project, which like the Super City itself has been imposed on Auckland.

While the Plan has grown to have a life of its own – a key part of the government’s housing policy, legally-speaking it is the combining and updating of the former ARC Regional Policy Statement and the legacy council district plans. These were of course instruments of the Resource Management Act, the purpose of which, we should remember is ‘to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.’ But RMA phraseology like ‘people and communities’,  ‘life supporting capacity of ecosystems’ ‘amenity values’, ‘aesthetic coherence’ indeed the notion of environmental sustainability is notably absent from the Unitary Plan.

What the ‘Independent Hearing Panel’ has carried out is actually a radical 1980’s-style deregulation of Auckland’s planning rules. The stated objective is to enable more houses – a lot more houses, 420,000, about double the 212,000 extra houses projected as needed in the original council plan of 2013.  (The ‘Independent’ Hearing Panel was unconvinced by evidence that Auckland’s present 3.1 persons per household would be maintained or even increased (especially given immigration).  Instead they foresee a much lower household formation figure, something closer to 2.4 persons per household in the Auckland of the future. Hence the need for substantially more houses. Well, deregulation to achieve more houses.

As the government no longer actively builds houses (New Zealand built more houses in 1974), the idea is to encourage a developer-friendly market to incentivize the private sector building of more houses. This to be achieved in two ways: First, by expanding the rural urban boundary (RUB) by 30% (abolishing it entirely around coastal settlements and controversially on Waiheke Island) and enabling it to be even further extended by developer-initiated plan changes. This unprecedented urban sprawl into the rural greenbelt, including over prime horticultural soils, has not stopped the council and the Independent Hearing Panel talking about a ‘compact city’.

Secondly, by intensification. 42.6 % of single houses on the central isthmus have been upzoned for intensification. This will mean major changes to how Auckland looks and feels. The pre-1944 building demolition control overlay has itself been demolished, meaning hundreds of quality 19th and 20th century houses across the isthmus, having been upzoned are now incentivised for demolition.   Along with this, requirements for quality design standards for new intensified developments have been thrown out.

Some good things came out of the process, councillors cheered on by the public pushed back against the recommendation to urbanise the largely pristine Okura peninsula north of Long Bay. But that just restored the status quo.

The councillors also declined the Independent Panel’s removal of minimum apartment sizes and restored a minimum of 30 square metres.   I also managed to get the art deco Housing NZ apartment building on 44 Symonds Street put back into the heritage schedule Category A after the Panel had thrown it out.  Incidentally when I went to take a picture of the building to post on Facebook, I found it closed and fenced-off with razor wire, a shameful waste of an ideal inner city accommodation.  The Fraser Labour government built these smart apartments in 1948 for low income single Aucklanders or couples with no children. The present Housing NZ evicted the tenants a couple of years’ ago and put the building up for sale (and apparently demolition).   So much for official sincerity about dealing with the housing crisis.  On this point, I was also dismayed to see council’s previous requirements for a quota of ‘affordable homes’ thrown out by the Panel, disappointingly supported by council staff advice and by a majority of councillors despite the arguments of mayor Len Brown, myself and other councilors like Cathy Casey, Wayne Walker and John Watson.

What the Unitary Plan ‘blue print for growth and development for Auckland for the next 30 years’ didn’t and couldn’t deal with was the infrastructure needed to cater for the extra growth it encourages – and how will this be paid for. Even now overloaded sewerage systems are regularly spilling into the harbour and despite a massive investment in transport over the last 10 years, there is increasing traffic congestion. Despite this the government’s continues to bring more and more people into Auckland, making us the second highest immigration city in the OECD. Wouldn’t it make more sense to lower immigration rates until we get our housing and infrastructure problems sorted?

Despite its deregulatory radicalism the Unitary Plan’s provision for inner-city housing is actually quite conservative and unimaginative. A large swathe of Great North Road & Grafton for instance is still dedicated to business use and office buildings much of which should go to the CBD or moved further out.

‘Intensification well done’, will not be achieved with a hands-off ‘leave it to the market’ approach. The past – think leaky buildings – should teach us that. It also needs to have the support of the community. It is unacceptable that Aucklanders learn after-the-fact that the amenity of their homes and their neighbourhoods have been compromised and their rights of appeal removed by special legislation. At my request the council has agreed to initiate another plan change early in 2017 to deal with some of the more bizarre and unfair property anomalies that inevitably occurred in the rush to meet the government deadline.

Which brings me to another concern about the Unitary Plan. While the big property interests are understandably exultant, their allies and supporters, apparently taking a lead from the regularly red-in-the-face-angry Nick Smith, young and old enough to know better bloggers and denizens of Twittersphere (who no doubt pride themselves on their political correctness) have been vituperatively targeting anyone challenging the official narrative – especially older people. It is rather sad and unfair that the generation of Aucklanders who bought run-down villas and bungalows in Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and Westmere etc., and lovingly did them up, often with their own hands, are now meant to feel guilty. Auckland and Aucklanders deserve better than this.

A version of this article appears in the September 2016 Ponsonby News.

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Dumb and dumber – NZTA and AT decide to exclude trains to the airport

One of Auckland's new EMUs - but according to NZTA  & AT you won't be catching one of these to Auckland airport - not now - not ever.

One of Auckland’s new EMUs – but according to NZTA & AT you won’t be catching one of these to Auckland airport – not now – not ever.

When the mayor and the prime minister, launched the construction of the City Rail Link (CRL) before a euphoric crowd and performing dancers on that gorgeous morning in June, one would have assumed that this historic moment heralded a bright new era for rail in Auckland. But if so one would have assumed wrongly; for it soon became clear that the government, reluctantly log-rolled by Auckland public opinion into supporting the CRL, is determined that the CRL will be the last major project in Auckland’s 20-year rail renaissance.

This became all-too-clear a couple of week’s later when the board of the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) in Wellington voted to support a raft of resolutions that specifically excluded route protection and ‘any further option development’ of a rail connection to Auckland International Airport.   A couple of weeks later the board of Auckland Transport (AT), marching in lock-step followed suit.

Deliberately excluding route protection for future rail to the airport is one of the most irresponsible planning decisions I have witnessed during my time in Auckland local government.

Auckland International Airport is of critical economic importance to Auckland and New Zealand. With passenger movements currently 17 million per year and set to double in the next 10 years, the airport company (AIAL) realises that rail rapid transit will be vital to keep its traffic arteries open and has sought AT’s technical advice.

In September 2011 a multi-agency study that came to be called SMART, including AT, Auckland Council, NZTA, KiwiRail and AIAL, with consultants GHD, after examining the widest selection of modes, light rail, busway, heavy rail, (electric trains) decided on heavy rail from Onehunga (10km from the airport) to the airport and on to Puhinui (6.8km) on the main trunk line as the ‘most economically efficient’ long-term rapid transit solution – providing a single-seat journey to downtown Auckland and ultimately to Hamilton.

In 2012, rail to Auckland airport after much public consultation became a formal commitment in the Auckland Plan: route protect a dedicated rail connection in the first decade (2011-2020);construction in the second decade (2021-2030).

However after the mode and then preferred routes were identified, AT and NZTA became strangely reticent about protecting them, despite the council providing a budget of $30m for this purpose.

The situation became somewhat more complicated in November 2014, when AT management suddenly announced a preference for light rail (trams) rather than the previously agreed trains.

While refusing to be drawn into the argument (I am a committed tram supporter for where they work best – as an analogue for buses in the city and along the waterfront), as the council-appointed chair of the SMART stakeholders steering group, my concern has been to get the transport routes protected. However AT and NZTA have refused to deliver on route protection and persisted with the ‘light rail is better argument’ based on a dubious ‘business case’. For instance the latest costs of adding another track to the 3.5 km Onehunga Branch Line is claimed to be $578m. That compares with the $9m KiwiRail spent on building the first track in 2010. The same level of confidence can be placed in AT’s journey time ‘data’ that claims a tram coming from the airport and travelling along Dominion Road, would get to the CBD within a minute of an electric train. This despite the train being capable of travelling at 110km an hour – and despite the tram sharing the road for much of the way, having to stop at 20 tram stops, negotiating numerous intersections and keeping to the 50kph speed limit.

Based on this sort of suspect methodology AT managers claim that connecting to existing rail lines would cost over $1billion more than connecting to a light rail line on Dominion Road (that doesn’t actually exist). Of course AT never thought to ask the public or undertook an airport passenger survey. AT’s ‘business case’ also studiously avoids international best practice – which is odd given we are dealing with the transport needs of an international airport.

So last week I took myself off to Melbourne which is one major Australian city which does not have airport rail but interestingly has the most extensive light rail system in the world. At meetings with Victorian State government officials I was advised that Melbourne is planning on heavy rail for Melbourne Airport – not light rail. This on the grounds that trains provide a faster, more predictable journey time and carry a lot more people than street-running trams.

Melbourne planners point out that ‘urban rail can carry more than 40,000 passengers per hour on a single line. The same right-of-way used as a light railway or busway could carry 10,000 passengers per hour or 2,000 passengers per hour in a traffic lane.’

While such a major Auckland Plan commitment as rail to the airport can only be overturned by the elected council, the real danger is that by deliberately allowing development in the corridor Auckland Council and NZTA will render that commitment meaningless – and this is actually happening.

While on any objective assessment, heavy rail makes more sense than trams (or buses) for rapid transit to the airport, the final mode choice should be up to the Aucklanders who will build it. But Auckland Transport and NZTA, backed by the government, is determined that Aucklanders will never get that choice. Auckland deserves better than this rubbish.

This article features in Ponsonby News August issue

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North Rodney escape bid could help rest Auckland

When members of the Herne Bay Ratepayers Association Inc (HBRAI) asked to meet with me in May and included on the agenda the application by a rural northern Rodney group to break away from the Super City, I confess I was a little puzzled.

But I soon got the picture. It seems that the rather obscure events at the remote northern end of the region could well have major implications for the Auckland Council and therefore for all Auckland ratepayers.   The North Rodney Action Group had previously had its application for a hearing to break away from Auckland Council rejected by the Local Government Commission.  But the High Court ruled that their application must be heard.  Accordingly the Commission has invited submissions ‘alternative applications’ from across Auckland because the northern Rodney application could affect the whole Auckland region.  Alerted to the possibilities by the HBRAI members I am putting in my own submission.

I have had some involvement in North Rodney politics. Back in 2009 when the Super City was being set up by the government, a determined attempt was made by northern Rodney interests to take the northern half of Rodney out of Auckland and into Kaipara District and Northland.   However some northern Rodney ratepayers (apparently the majority) felt the move was ill-conceived and appealed to the Auckland Regional Council.  The ARC had its own interests to uphold, especially the eight coastal regional parks paid for by ratepayers across the Auckland region.  In the end, the government vetoed the idea.  Just as well as it turned out.   Not long after Kaipara District declared itself bankrupt leaving its ratepayers with huge debts and a government appointed commissioner.   So what is my submission about?  Well this time round the application is not to move North Rodney into Northland but to form an independent North Rodney Unitary Authority.

Under the Local Government Act (2002) s.5, a ‘unitary authority means a territorial authority that has the responsibilities, duties, and powers of a regional council …’

Interestingly the best known example of a unitary authority is the Auckland Council itself.

Becoming a ‘unitary authority’ would mean northern Rodney for all practical purposes become would another ‘region’ of New Zealand. While I personally don’t believe that tenable in terms of the population and boundary requirements of the Local Government Act, what I do argue for as an alternative is for North Rodney to become a district council.  This would give the North Rodney community a much greater level of self-government while retaining north Rodney within the Auckland region.  In its relationship with a new North Rodney district council Auckland Council would revert to being a regional council.

As I have told the Commission, the present ‘Super City’ arrangements cannot be defended as optimal in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, nor does the Auckland Council and its CCO’s have much public credibility at the present time. This is not just my opinion.  The Auckland Council’s own recent public opinion poll of 3000 citizens (Citizens Insight Monitor) include the following quite damning findings:

  • 15 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the council’s performance, while 36 per cent were dissatisfied.
  • 17 per cent of respondents say they trust the council to make the right decision, while 47 per cent do not.

The 2010 ‘Super City’ amalgamation resulted in an organisation which today has assets of over $43 billion, a debt of $8b and a turnover of $5.6b a year and 11,380 employees. This is on the scale of a major business corporation.  In the business world it is standard practice that significant corporate mergers, after 5 years or so, are subjected to a post-merger audit.   This has not happened with the ‘Super City’, nor is one planned.  Such an exercise could only be initiated by the council or the government. While the government is obviously not unwilling to give the council a jolly good kicking every now and then, any admission that its own creation could be dysfunctional is apparently to be avoided.  Despite this, a thorough-going audit or review really needs to happen.

Simply put the Super City is too big, too monolithic, too bureaucratic, too secretive and with too much of its responsibilities outsourced to the CCOs (some like Auckland Transport are also too big with too many non-transport responsibilities). In contrast, democratically-elected Local Boards are badly under-resourced in funding, powers and responsibilities.

Rodney Hide’s Super City baby was not perfect at its moment of birth and it’s certainly not perfect now.

Providing the opportunity for district councils such as for Rodney (in the north and south) and for Waiheke (also keen on breaking away) under the umbrella of the Auckland region, alongside local boards in the more urban areas, would, by using a standard and time-tested template, enable the amalgamated Auckland Council to evolve and adapt to better meet the aspirations of its citizens and its different communities. Without compromising a unified region it would also bring an element of diversity and healthy competitive tension to the present monolithic structure of the Auckland Council.  In other words more freedom and better local government for North Rodney and Waiheke could be good for all of us.

This article appeared in the Ponsonby News July issue.

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Auckland’s disproportionate growth – not sustainable nor affordable

A letter I wrote to the Minister of Building and Housing Nick Smith requesting a revocation of a special housing area (SHA) at Kelmarna Avenue, Herne Bay, provoked a furious response. It has also set off a debate about the merits of urban intensification versus suburban sprawl.

SHA’s are Nick Smith’s brain child. Under the Auckland-specific Housing Accord & Special Housing (HASH) Act, selected intensive housing developments have their approvals fast-tracked, mainly by suspending the normal rights for affected members of the public to comment on the applications. The extraordinary step of suspending Aucklanders’ civil and in some cases property rights, was considered by Minister Smith necessary to help solve the housing crisis (though confusingly the prime minister John Key and other ministers like Simon Bridges deny there is a housing crisis). 154 SHAs have been approved by the council and the government.

The problem for Kelmarna Avenue residents is back in 2007, at considerable expense, they had successfully battled a similar proposed development on the same ‘Gables’ site, in the Environment Court. This new development is considerably bigger, 70 residential units, 3 retail units, 4 storeys with 98 car parks and this time the development was approved – not only without their input – they were never even told about it until it had been signed-off by cabinet.

My letter to Minister Smith, the first I have written challenging any SHA, was based on the fact that there was clearly not the required ‘adequate infrastructure’ for the wastewater (sewage and greywater) required under section 16 of the HASH Act.

I pointed out that the wastewater and storm water collection system in this part of Auckland is over 100 years old and collected in a single pipe. According to Watercare while the combined sewer network in this area does have sufficient capacity for the present level of wastewater flow in dry weather, when it rains the system cannot cope and overflows into the Waitemata Harbour. As Watercare Services advises: ‘Currently, there are around 50 constructed points in the combined sewerage system that discharge to the environment more than 52 times per year – most of which now spill every time it rains.’ The situation is chronic and getting worse. Watercare has long-standing plans for a $3 billion central interceptor which will have the necessary capacity and which it hopes to start in 2018. This will take up to 10 years to finish but as yet no funding has been secured.

The principal discharge point for sewage overflows from Herne Bay is Cox’s Creek 400 metres from the proposed SHA.   St Mary’s Bay and the sewage outlet to the east of Westhaven is also regularly polluted with raw sewage overflows. As more and more development is squeezed in the problem becomes worse.

As I wrote Minister Smith:

‘Finally my submission is that the SHA at 1 Kelmarna Avenue does not have – nor will it have for conceivably 10 years from now – the ‘adequate infrastructure’ required under s16 of the Act, nor did the Auckland Council have regard in making its recommendation to you, to all the necessary ‘relevant local planning documents, strategies, policies, and any other relevant information’ required under the same section of the Act – notably its own Proposed Unitary Plan, the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (2014) and quite separately and even more importantly its ongoing statutory obligations under the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act (2000).’

 Given the polite tone of my letter, I have to say I was taken aback when I got the Minister’s written reply and mortified when he followed it up by attacking me on TV as a ‘nimby’ and ‘hypocrite’. When I was asked for a response I suggested Minister Smith was looking for an Aucklander to pick a fight with. If his housing policies are failing, he is after all the Minister of Housing and he needs to take responsibility – not blame others. Please see link to all the correspondence on my previous post (23 May 2016 – ‘the Nick Smith File’).

Essentially Smith believes that the solution to Auckland’s high house prices is a simple one of supply which is insufficient and the fault of the Auckland Council. But as everyone knows the council has been falling over backwards to do what it is told by the government. We recall the public backlash against the council’s clumsy attempt at widespread non-notified ‘upzoning’ of last February.

But my letter was not about housing policy as I reminded Minister Smith – it was about the environmental effects of raw sewage overflowing into the Waitemata harbour on a more or less weekly basis.

In regard to Auckland’s housing problem, government policies stoking up immigration into Auckland (demand) and its reluctance to build state houses (supply) are also contributing factors. There is also the monopoly price rort on building materials, the most expensive in the OECD, currently costing 3 to 5 times of California, that the government will not touch.

While population-driven pressure on the property market is a feature of cities in other countries – the difference is that in New Zealand a disproportionate amount of growth is loaded onto one city – Auckland.   And Auckland ratepayers are expected to pay for more and more for increasingly expensive infrastructure.

While I support intensification over suburban sprawl (subject of course to the availability of adequate infrastructure) the current debate assumes that Auckland must continue to grow disproportionately. I have long challenged this assumption as in my first speech as chairman of the Auckland Regional Council back in 2004 – (reproduced in my post of 21 May 2016).

With State Highways and motorways increasingly congested on the suburban fringes and sewerage capacity under pressure in places like the historic western bays, such growth is neither environmentally sustainable – nor in the end affordable. An intelligent government-led balanced population and development policy for the whole of New Zealand is what is needed.

If the current debate begins to question long-standing assumptions that Auckland must continue to grow beyond the support of affordable infrastructure, then the tirade of personal abuse I copped from Nick Smith would have been worth it.

This article was published in the Ponsonby News June 2016

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The Nick Smith File

Happier times with Nick Smith the Minister of Conservation and Member of Auckland Central Nikki Kaye on Rakitu Island, September 2013.

Happier times – with Nick Smith then Minister of Conservation and Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye on Rakitu Island, September  2013 (photo Rachel Bruce

Letter to Hon Dr Nick Smith from Cr Mike Lee 22-April-2016 (1)

Letter to Mike Lee from Hon Dr Nick Smith (2)

Letter to Hon Dr Nick Smith 16-May-2016 (3)

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First speech as chairman of the ARC – 21.10. 2004

Left to right Jo Brosnahan, CEO, Mike Lee, Euan Hutchinson, General Secretary

Left to right Jo Brosnahan, CEO, Mike Lee, Euan Hutchinson, General Secretary

‘Honoured guests ladies and gentlemen, I wish to endorse our Chief Executive’s welcome to you all. A special welcome to the Mayor of Auckland City and to district councillors, Management of Watercare Services, trustees of the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust and to the board members of Auckland Regional Holdings and Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

To my fellow councillors I thank you for the great honour and great responsibility with which you have entrusted me. And on behalf of all the elected members my thanks also to the people of the Auckland region for your confidence in us – we will not let you down.

It is appropriate at this time to acknowledge my predecessors in this office especially the Council chairs I knew and served with over the last 13 years during my time as a regional councillor, Mr Colin Kay, the late Phil Warren and my immediate predecessor Gwen Bull.

Now that the government has restored the Auckland Regional Council’s assets and it has assumed, in broadest terms many of the responsibilities of the old ARA, it is also appropriate to acknowledge at this time, those early Auckland Regional Authority chairmen Sir Dove-Myer Robinson, Tom Pearce, and Lee Murdoch in particular, for it was they and their fellow members of the ARA who built modern Auckland.

I was first elected to the ARC in February 1992 – a time when amidst much public alienation and dissension the bulk of the ARC’s assets were being divested with objective of privatisation.   I recall my first significant political act as a newly-elected member of this council was to co-sponsor a notice of motion along with the late Bruce Jesson which effectively halted the privatisation of the Ports of Auckland.

That notice of motion was supported by a coalition of veteran members like the late Keith Hay and the late Allan Brewster and by younger members like Ruth Norman and cr Paul Walbran who is here today. And I also acknowledge them.

Now that those assets have been returned to the ARC, the regional community can be assured that the new ARC intends to ensure, through the excellent board of Auckland Regional Holdings, that those assets will continue to be managed prudently and efficiently for the long term benefit of the people of Auckland.

At the same time we recognise that Auckland’s greatest challenge of our time is to solve the problem of transport and we intend to work as supportively as possible with the new board of the Auckland Regional Transport Authority. Because of the Government’s enlightened December 12 initiative the ARC and its organisations ARH and ARTA have now been given the tools to do the job – and do the job we will.

Much has been said in recent weeks about public attitudes to local government and to local body elections – local government is sometimes criticised for being irrelevant to people’s lives (which is quite untrue and for being out of touch (which is sometimes true). Over the last two years in particular the ARC, mainly over the vexed question of rates, has come in for more than its share of public criticism.

All of us would agree that is of the highest importance for the new ARC to rebuild its relationship with the people of the Auckland region.

I and, I the majority of members here would like to see that this council actively encourages the attendance and participation at our meetings by ordinary members of the public. To this end I will recommend that we set aside a period at the start of ARC monthly meetings for a public forum to enable better interaction and communication with the public. I also believe that we need to move the starting time of the meetings from 4pm to 6pm to enable working people to more easily attend our meetings.

The local body elections and its results are very much on our mind today. We as individual candidates were elected on the basis of certain policies, of political programmes if you will.

Without overstating the case, from what I have seen there is a significant degree of commonality with the policies of all the successful candidates – from across the political spectrum.   Most salient I believe is the question of rates increases – the voters have made their feelings clear on this issue and I believe the newly elected members of the ARC can say to the public “we have heard you”.

Ratepayers can be sure that their concerns will be taken seriously.

In regard to the recent election I will be proposing therefore that we councillors join in a workshop process as soon as possible in an endeavour to formulate a political consensus around an agreed set of basic principles and policies – which would then inform the policy direction of this council over the next three years.   It would be unrealistic to expect that total agreement on policies can be achieved in any political organisation, but let us work together on what we can agree on – in the interests of democracy and for the good of the region.

In that light let us as councillors resolve to work more closely with our fellow elected representatives of the City and District Councils of the Auckland region. I would like to see this council chamber used as place of idea exchange and of debate, in which all the elected councillors of the region would be invited to this chamber for regular briefings and discussions on regional directions and regional strategies.

The relationship between the ARC and the TLAs is a vital one – most especially our relationship with Auckland City. While relationships between our two organisations could have been better over the last three years, I am confident that there is strong desire on behalf of both councils that our relationship is strengthened and that we work closely together – the presence of the Mayor Dick Hubbard and the likely deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker and Cr Glenda Fryer is very much appreciated.

With regard to our relationship with central government – we acknowledge with thanks the substantial commitment and support that the Government is now giving to the Auckland region. The Prime Minister’s historic December 12 package provided a way forward for Auckland to solve its transport and infrastructural problems.

The new ARC and its organisations Auckland Regional Holdings and Auckland Regional Transport Authority will work closely with the government and the Auckland mayors and TLAs to ensure that this initiative succeeds. This process has already begun and I wish to acknowledge the substantial progress in this area achieved by our former ARC chair Gwen Bull and by our Chief Executive Jo Brosnahan.

We want to engage with central government on other issues – protection of the Waitakere Ranges by legislation is a priority and we wish to work closely with the Minister of Conservation, the Department of Conservation and the Hauraki Gulf Forum to breath life into the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Finally in regard to the question of Auckland’s extraordinary growth and its relationship with the rest of New Zealand.   13 years after the signing into law of the Resource Management Act, practical experience suggests that sustainable management of our natural and physical resources can not be managed merely by the regulatory instruments of district plans at city and district council level, or even by regional plans and policy statements at regional council level – sustainable development of New Zealand must also take place at a national level – by national policy statements under s42 of the RMA and  government policies to enable sustainable development of New Zealand in the 21st century.

Disproportionate development and population pressures on the Auckland region and consequent ongoing urban sprawl and traffic congestion is not necessarily good for Auckland nor indeed for the rest of New Zealand.

The Auckland region wants to work collaboratively with the rest of New Zealand in our common national interests for the sustainable management of our greatest treasure – New Zealand’s natural environment.

 Finally More than one observer has commented that this set of regional councillors is the best qualified and most experienced for many years. We are all determined to meet the challenges before us. We have been given the tools now let us get on with the job.’

Left to right Jo Brosnahan, CEO, Mike Lee, Euan Hutchinson, General Secretary

Left to right Jo Brosnahan, CEO, Mike Lee, Euan Hutchinson, General Secretary


Regional Councillors also elected for 2004-2007 – Christine Rose, Sandra Coney, Judith Bassett, Paul Walbran, Bill Burrell, Dianne Glenn, Michael Barnett, Wyn Hoadley, Joel Cayford, David Hay, Craig Little, Robyn Hughes.

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My grandfather’s letter

William Rose in his last years as groundsman/handyman, truck driver for Little Sisters of the Poor, St Joseph's home, Herne Bay.

William Rose in his last years as groundsman/handyman, truck driver for Little Sisters of the Poor, St Joseph’s home, Herne Bay.

I have had quite a long association with the Ponsonby during my time in politics, first with the Auckland Regional Council (I was first elected to the ARC ‘Auckland Central’ electorate in February 1992) and then as Auckland councillor for Waitemata & Gulf.   While I grew up in Wellington and came to Auckland aged 21, my mother was an Auckland girl and her family also had a connection with Ponsonby.   I was reminded of this recently when I came across a letter given to me by my sister Peggy who in turn was given it by our Aunt before she died. It was written by my grandfather.   My grandfather William Rose was in turn the grandson of a ‘Fencible’, James Donnelly. The ‘Royal NZ Fencible Corps’ as we know were British Army veterans (Donnelly had served in Afghanistan), many of them Irish, who were brought out by Governor Grey to defend the new colony. My grandfather’s mother, Rosanna Donnelly, later Rosanna Rose, was born at sea in the Southern Ocean in April 1852 on the sailing ship Inchinnan bound for Auckland where the family arrived in late May that year.   Rosanna, the youngest of a large family, married a William Rose in Howick in 1871 and the family went off to the Thames to work in the gold fields where my grandfather was born in in 1872. (Most Auckland families seem to have a Thames connection).

William started out as a schoolteacher but was soon working in the mines and then on the railway. In 1905 aged 33, he married an Irish girl Johanna Kavanagh who was 10 years younger and fresh from Kerry where Irish was still the first language. The couple had four children, two boys and two girls, born at railway townships up and down the Main Trunk Line. The youngest, my mother Eileen was born in Onehunga where William got a job on the wharf (unfortunately just in time for the Great Maritime Strike of 1913). Sadly William and Johanna did not enjoy a great deal of luck and by all accounts, like a lot of working class people in the early years of the 20th century their life was a constant struggle to make ends meet.   The situation was not helped by Johanna’s frail health. She eventually contracted tuberculosis and died 1918, aged 35, leaving her husband and four young children. This was a calamity that cast a long shadow over the family. My mother Eileen and her older sister Kathleen were sent to the Monte Cecelia Home (‘the Pah’) at Hillsborough where William secured a job as a groundsman to be near them. The two boys William and Laurence were brought up in the St Joseph’s orphanage at Takapuna. Kathleen (no doubt much to her father’s pride) entered the convent of the Sisters of Mercy to become Sister Mary Clare for the rest of her life (it was Sister Clare who gave my sister the letter, presumably given to her by Mother Francis). The two boys would go on to serve in the NZ Army in World War II.

In 1935, then in his early 60s, William came to work as a groundsman/handyman for the Little Sisters of the Poor at the St Joseph’s Home at Herne Bay.   He also drove the truck for Little Sisters on their begging runs down Queen Street where kindly Auckland business people would donate food and clothes for the inmates. Twenty years after the death of his wife William sat down to write this letter:

October 16th 1938.

St Joseph’s Home,

Herne Bay Ponsonby,

Shelly Beach Road.


Dear Mother M. Francis,

I cannot let this opportunity pass by, the one of your Golden Jubilee without writing to you my dear and best friend. You came to my wife and children with God’s wonderful grace and compassion at a time when we needed such a good friend as you to comfort & console us. I can never forget you dear Mother Francis for all you have done for us. You are always in my prayers. I sincerely hope you are in good health for this Glorious occasion & pray that God’s blessings may be poured down on you. I have been here a little over three years now. I had a vote here for the last two elections. I am well satisfied with the result which we were listening in to. I was up late last night, being 11 o’clock when I turned the radio off, but we heard enough today to know how the two parties stand in Parliament. I am pleased that the Labour Party were returned with such a good majority. I am feeling very well at the present, wishing you and your Good Sisters health, joy and happiness for your Golden Jubilee & that you may long be spared to us. Say a little prayer for me.

From yours faithfully,

William Rose.

Unfortunately I never knew my grandfather; (when I lived in Shelly Beach Road in 1991 I had the uncanny feeling one night, walking home from the university up College Hill, that I was walking in his footsteps]; William died seven months after he wrote the letter, in May 1939. He was buried with Johanna at Hillsborough cemetery. My mother married my father Emmett Lee exactly one year later.  I believe her middle name Frances was given in honour of Mother Francis.

Published in Ponsonby News May 2016 edition

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