Bring back Waitakere City
Auckland Super City is now 12 years old. I have been privileged to have been elected to the Waitakere Ranges Local Board from the start and I have seen Super City change and evolve. I was previously a Waitakere City Councillor and I have experience under both systems. I think that now is a good time to review how Super City is going, because I believe that significant improvements could be implemented and are needed if Super City is to reach its full potential.
It should be remembered that the original model for the super city proposed by the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance was for there to be a Regional Council and for six local councils based loosely on Waitakere, North Shore, Auckland and Manukau Council’s old boundaries and with Rodney in the north and Franklin in the south.
It is strange but it appears that the report is no longer readily available on the web and I had to use the Wayback machine to source a copy. Such an important document should always be readily available.
The Royal Commission identified two systemic problems with Auckland’s local government, regional governance was weak and fragmented and community engagement was poor.
It was right about regional governance. There were eight territorial local authorities and resolution of major issues was not always optimal.
About community engagement it said:
Consultation and decision-making processes are prolonged and duplicative, and often fail to provide a true measure of what citizens want, and what is in their best interests. These are not necessarily the same thing, and leadership is needed to draw people into well-informed debates about choices. The result of poor engagement is poor or delayed decision making, with elected leaders and officials finding it hard to do their jobs effectively.”
And about the proposal to effectively create local boards it said:
The Commission concluded that having up to 20 community councils, as a number of submitters proposed, would be costly to establish and run, and disruptive to existing staff and services.”
It proposed instead that there be six elected local councils.
… local democracy will be maintained through six elected local councils operating within the unitary Auckland Council. Local councils will oversee the delivery of services by Auckland Council staff and will undertake local engagement in four urban and two rural districts.
The boundaries of the new local councils will be centred (with some important boundary adjustments) on the existing council territories of Rodney District, North Shore, Waitakere, Auckland, and Manukau Cities, and Franklin District, thus enabling new local councils to utilise existing infrastructure and service centres.”
The Commission’s report also said:
The structure should respect and accommodate diversity and be responsive to the needs and preferences of different groups and local communities.”
Transport and roading was important. The report stated:
The Commission proposes that a new regional transport authority be established, replacing ARTA. The authority will be a CCO reporting to the Auckland Council and will have a partnership relationship with the New Zealand Transport Agency and ONTRACK. It will have responsibilities for regional transport, including public transport, as well as for strategic planning and for regional arterial roads. It will have an oversight role in respect of local roads, which will be the day-to-day responsibility of local councils.”
Unfortunately the National Government, in power at the time, and then Local Government Minister Rodney Hide, disagreed.
They proposed instead that there should be between 20 and 30 local boards and ultimately 21 local boards were established.
They also decided that Auckland Transport should have control over all roads, thereby denying local boards the ability to engage in significant place making.
The justification was that the arrangement was more efficient. Given what has happened ever since I would question this.
Bob Harvey said in 2009 that he thought that the local board model would mean that Auckland Council would not be able to meaningfully engage with local issues as they would be too numerous and diffuse. I am afraid he is right. The west would be better represented by a united council.
Currently the local boards get the opportunity to comment on and submit on a wide variety of Council proposals. Results are collated and analysed. Often the views diverge and there is no consensus. My experience is that when local boards agree on issues and adopt a unified stance then we are able to change things. These occasions are not common.
It should also be remembered that back in the day out west there used to be two regional councilors, a mayor, 14 councillors and 19 community board members. Now there is a super city mayor, two councillors and 21 local board members. If it feels like your access to your locally elected representatives has declined lately this is why.
The Council Controlled Organisations hold extensive power with limited democratic control, apart from the requirement to report on vaguely worded memoranda of understanding, and the occasional ability for Council to replace directors. There is significant interaction between the local boards and the various CCOs but interaction is not the same thing as effecting change or decision making.
I think it is time for Auckland’s governance arrangements to be reviewed. Local boards should be amalgamated into local Councils. Waitakere Ranges, Henderson Massey and the Whau make a logical starting point and we could then have a Waitakere Council. This renewed body then needs to be given control over local roads, with appropriate associated budget, so it can get on with continuing the implementation of Eco City – something that has been put on the back burner recently at the time when it is more important than ever.
In my view to properly effect the changes that the Royal Commission wanted to bring about and to improve the way that the super city operates it is time to bring back Waitakere Council.