Answering the call
Dear ‘Ponsonby News’ readers. I have agreed to come out of retirement to stand again for council. This in response to repeated requests over the last five months from concerned local residents who are dismayed, almost desperate, about the state of Auckland Council and our city.
A case in point is the threat to our heritage suburbs posed by the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, the latest open charter for the property sector. Targeted are those heritage quarters, especially Ponsonby, St Marys Bay and Freemans Bay that we managed to save back in 2013 from the Unitary Plan. The government and the council have now made it clear they intend to replace swathes of these beautiful old homes, currently protected as ‘Special Character’ with intensified high-rise apartments and condominiums. This supposedly, to ease the housing shortage, which the government despite its promises has egregiously failed to solve. Except there is no way in the world these new apartments and condos will be affordable for ordinary first-time home buyers, despite the assertions of ‘urbanist’ idealogues. Even more absurdly, these people, for example local board chair Richard Northey, are claiming intensification is needed because of the climate crisis! Logic would suggest destroying old kauri wooden buildings thereby releasing embedded carbon and replacing these with new buildings of steel, concrete and paint would generate a whole new level of carbon emissions. The fact is when it comes to buildings ‘old is greener than new’.
There is also a looming financial crisis facing Auckland. Council rates and charges now amount to an extraordinary $5.3 billion (up from $1.9bn at the start of the Super City in 2010/11). Staff salaries are now close to $1bn per annum as opposed to $440mn at the start of Super City. Total liabilities (including debt and hedging) are $16 bn up from $5 bn and council debt per household is currently $30,000, up from $11,000 at the start of the Super City. The council is paying $1.2m per day on interest – and these are borrowings on historically low interest rates.
Despite widespread public opposition to the ‘Three Waters’ scheme the council has effectively sold Auckland’s water assets dams, pipes, wastewater treatment plants, reservoirs etc., valued at near $10 billion to the government for $508m. This year, at the behest of Mayor Goff the council is using that money to cover up an enormous financial hole in the budget. As economist Bruce Cotterill recently wrote:
‘In other words, he [Phil Goff] proposes to apply the first tranche of the Three Waters proceeds, some 25 per cent, from the sale of long-term assets that have taken more than 100 years to accumulate, to the operating deficit in the next year. Even those with the most basic understanding of simple accounting will tell you that such actions are a no-go. This is like selling the house you’ve spent a lifetime saving for, spending the money on a quick overseas trip and coming home with nowhere to live.’
The crisis is not only financial. The political culture in the Super City has also become quite toxic. This is exemplified by a climate of secrecy and intimidation of elected members who step out of line. A recent case of the use of a code of conduct charge covered in PonsonbyNews, Gulf News and the Listener, targeted councillor John Watson who blew the whistle on a scheme to transfer 21 regional parks into the control of a proposed non-elected, co-governed Hauraki Gulf authority. Fortunately the complaint by Coom and Waiheke local board chair Cath Handley was thrown out by an independent legal expert from Auckland University.
Despite my hopes of 12 years ago, the City Vision dominated Waitematā Local Board has become increasingly high-handed and dismissive of community concerns. Two prime examples are the board’s management of the removal of pines from Western Springs and the proposed Erebus memorial at Dove Myer Robinson Park, Parnell.
All of this explains why over recent months I have been urged almost on a daily basis, by good Aucklanders I respect, to stand again for Council, something frankly I had been reluctant to do. But there have been just too many calls for me to ignore. Cr Coom’s troubling scheme involving our beloved regional parks and the Hauraki Gulf and her code of conduct machinations was the tipping point. The people of Waitematā & Gulf deserve better from elected representatives who are no longer listening and acting in the community’s interests. Auckland is in crisis, the concerns are real and I cannot in good conscience be ignore them. So I will be standing for council for the Waitematā & Gulf as an ‘Auckland Independent’.
This article was published in the August 2022 issue of Ponsonby News