After two terms, yesterday was Len Brown’s final meeting as Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland and so I think it’s appropriate to look back at what he and Auckland have achieved over the last six years.
First here is his valedictory speech.
As the first Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland I think the Len and the council often faced some very unique challenges and ones that won’t exist to anywhere near the same extent for any future mayor. The bringing together of eight different councils, each with their own plans, policies and rating systems was never going to be a straightforward task and the process of making the new council omelette was always going to require a few eggs to be broken.
The government amalgamated Auckland in part to try and address some of the long standing issues that weren’t being adequately addressed, particularly around planning and transport. By and large those have been or are well on the way to being addressed. Some of the significant pieces of work such completed include: the first Auckland Plan, the Unitary Plan, Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), the standardisation of services across the region and of course combining eight separate rating systems in to one.
Simply by virtue of all of these disruptive changes having already taken place, any future mayor and council is going to look much more stable and in control of what’s going on even if they carried on exactly as things are. Also let’s not forget that Len had only one of 21 votes on the council for decisions. If all of the other Councillors didn’t agree with the changes then they could have voted against them.
But not everyone has been happy. Whether it be rates, policies, plans I don’t think he’s had a particularly fair time from the media. As we’ve repeatedly seen with the Unitary Plan debate and other debates like the Long Term Plan, the truth has often been bent to paint Len in a negative light. I do think that history will much kinder to him though. The city has come a long way in just six years and we’ve probably witnessed some of the most dramatic change the city has seen:
- The city become more walkable through developments like the Shared Spaces
- We have an internationally award winning waterfront development at Wynyard Quarter and there is now an urban regeneration arm of the council looking to replicate the success in other parts of the region.
- We’re in the middle probably the biggest building boom the city has seen. It’s hard to go far in the city centre, or even out in most of the suburbs, without seeing signs of construction and the city evolving.
- Electric trains have been rolled out across Auckland’s network and over the six years of the council, rail patronage has increased by 94%
- Bus patronage has increased by 35% while usage of the busway has well more than doubled, this has been helped in part by double deckers are an increasingly common sight on city streets.
- Ferry patronage has increased by 30% with new routes rolled out to Hobsonville Point and Beach Haven.
- The city has started to roll out good quality cycling infrastructure that is encouraging more people to ride. Some older cycleways such as SH16 at Kingland now have more than double the number of bike trips on them as they did just 5 years ago.
- The government and council now have aligned views on the future of transport for the city with the recently completed ATAP.
But by far the biggest achievement has to be the City Rail Link. Len has consistently pushed for the project since elected in 2010 despite the government originally not being supportive of it. After they agreed to the project back in 2013 he continued to advocate for it to start earlier. The council backed that and Albert St is now a hive of activity with the project now well underway. More importantly and just two weeks ago, the council and government signed a heads of agreement to fund the project 50/50. Considering how hostile the government have been towards the project at various times over the last six years, that’s an impressive achievement and one I imagine Len is most proud of.
This is far from an exhaustive list and of course some of those changes were already under way before the council came into being, but they are all things the council has had some involvement in achieving. Furthermore, the future certainly looks positive thanks to the work and focus that Len and the council have had.
In saying all of this not everything has been great. Perhaps the biggest concern I’ve had and continue to do have is that Len has spent a lot of time trying to please everyone. When it came to transport he could best be described as trying to do it all, for example in the Auckland Plan instead of making some tough calls as to which projects get included as priorities the council have opted to just do everything – something partially addressed now with ATAP.
Still on balance I think Len did a pretty decent job, most importantly being that he pushed a vision for Auckland that has been positive. Many people still think fondly of Mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson for pushing his rail scheme in the 60’s and 70’s despite it never being built. By comparison Len has actually resulted in the CRL getting funding and starting construction. I suspect Aucklanders of the future will thank him for it. His legacy will be that Auckland is and will become a much better place than it was when he became mayor. He has helped make Auckland a more liveable city.
Thanks Len and good luck for the future.