Amalgamating Auckland under a single council was always going to be a big task and the first 5½ years of it have seen the council needing to make some fairly big decisions. Many of these big decisions have helped set Auckland on the path to becoming a great city and I’d argue could not have been achieved without the amalgamation. Examples include:
- The 30 year vision for the region called The Auckland Plan
- The still ongoing Unitary Plan which is effectively the rulebook to enable much of the Auckland Plan
- Agreeing to the City Rail Link with the government
- A single region wide rating system so that your rates are assessed the same way regardless of whether you live in Henderson, Hillsborough or Howick.
- The Long Term Plan which included an interim transport levy that was mostly directed to improving public and active transport.
Local body elections are just 6 months away and along with a new mayor, we’re bound to see a lot of tightly contested seats on the council. It would be easy to think that all of the big stuff has happened and the make up of the next council won’t be as important as the two we’ve had so far. That would be a wrong assumption and in fact there are likely to be a number of big issues that will come up during the next term. So as more and more people emerge to stand for council, I thought it would be good to have a look at some of these.
It’s also worth noting that local body politicians have shown time and time again that they don’t tend to conform to the traditional left/right split in politics. Some councillors have frequently voted against the ideology of the side of politics they’re associated with. As such, when it comes time to vote it’s worth thinking about how the individuals will vote on the actual topics rather than what side of the political fence they supposedly sit on.
So here are some of the key decisions the council will likely need to make in its next term.
As I understand it, Auckland Transport’ plan to install light rail on some streets continues to bubble along behind the scenes as they work though all of the technical issues that needs to be done before the idea can move to the next phase. I suspect that during the next council term a decision will need to be made as to whether the council support and more importantly will provide the funding needed to support the project moving forward.
Will candidates support the introduction of light rail to Auckland?
Updating the Auckland Plan
The Auckland Plan is the 30 year vision for the city and the intention was always that it would be reviewed after six years which will be in 2018. Undoubtedly the Auckland Plan could be improved – especially around transport – and given almost everything the council does needs to be about working to achieve the goals in the plan it’s crucial we get any changes as part of the update right. Enough councillors opposing it could see the vision for Auckland wound back with more emphasis placed on sprawl and car centric transport polices, winding back some of the gains and improvements made in recent years.
Do candidates support the Auckland Plan and/or what changes would they support?
Unitary Plan environment court appeals,
The Independent Hearings Panel are due to provide their recommendations for the Unitary Plan in July and it will then be up to the current council to accept or reject them. Given the level of discussion that has occurred in recent times and that by the time the council votes, councillors will be deep in electioneering mode I suspect we’ll see many of the most controversial aspects, such as height limits, rejected. Rejecting the IHPs recommendations will open up those aspects of the Unitary Plan to environment court appeals. If that happens the next council will need to decide how they deal with the appeals.
What are candidates views on the Unitary Plan?
Transport Funding – there are two elements to this.
Extending the transport levy
During the Long Term Plan discussion last year, the council presented two transport options, a build almost nothing plan or a build everything plan that required significant extra funding. The council also proposed two ways to raise the extra funding needed (fuel taxes or road pricing). As both options needed government support which was not forthcoming, the council in the end agreed to a transport levy of $99 for households and $159 for businesses. Over the three years of the transport levy it is enough to raise over $500 million to be spent on an Interim Transport Programme. Importantly councillors also required that the majority of the additional funding enabled by the transport levy was directed to public and active transport.
In 2018 the transport levy expires and council will once again need to make a decision about how to fund improvements to our transport system. I believe that extending the transport levy will be the easiest way to raise some or even all of any additional funding needed and if done in conjunction with continuing to prioritise good transport projects could lead to very good outcomes for the region.
What are candidates’ views on extending the transport levy and/or how will we pay for future projects?
As Auckland continues to develop the level of discussion around road pricing is only set to increase. While to date the focus of the road pricing discussion has been on revenue gathering to pay for some of the mega-projects being planned, I think it will shift to being more about being used to manage demand over time. In fact, using it as a demand management tool is something being considered as part of a wider range of options in the ATAP process.
Will candidates be supportive of a proper road pricing discussion and would they support the introduction of proper road pricing?
Of course there are bound to be a number of other big decisions over the coming 3-year council term and at the end of the day it comes down to who you trust to vote in a way you agree with one these key issues?