It's time to empower the mayor and make Auckland liveable again

by Bill Ralston / 17 February, 2019
Auckland. Photo/Getty Images

Auckland. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - AUckland

Making Auckland a liveable city is an unenviable task, writes Bill Ralston, but it's clear the mayor needs more power.

Why is Auckland such an unholy mess? Work takes me back for a few days every month from the peace and quiet of Hawke’s Bay, and every time I land there, I am struck by the natural beauty of the city’s siting, on a narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. The place should be idyllic but somehow, when it comes to major projects that should improve quality of life for Aucklanders, something always goes awry.

One hundred years after they should have done it in the first place, the city leaders are building an underground railway, the City Rail Link (CRL). This entails ripping up the heart of the inner city, making it virtually impassable for already heavily congested traffic. What was a $3.4-billion project in 2014 has already reportedly blown out in cost by another $500 million and is likely to be a billion dollars over by the time it is finished in 2024 – or sometime long after I’m dead and buried, probably.

The CRL, if ever finished, should carry some 54,000 passengers an hour, if people can be persuaded to divorce themselves from their cars. Unfortunately, a quick look at the gridlock on the Southern Motorway indicates it will take a lot to convince folk to leave their cars at home and take a train, because so many seem content to sit in their stalled vehicles for hours at a time.

A several-billion-dollar project to build tramlines (“light rail”) from the city to the airport may take some of the pressure off clogged traffic, but the scheme seems to be stalled in the Never Never Land of council and Government planning. Besides, the city is enormously spread out and many suburban dwellers would, in all likelihood, have to take a bus to get to the tram route, which seems a little silly.

Aside from the transport dilemma, Auckland has plenty of other, very expensive problems to fix. Its Third World sewage system renders many of its otherwise beautiful beaches unswimmable for health reasons in summer. Eden Park is loaded with an unsupportable level of debt and an equally unsupportable level of loathing from its neighbours.

Part of the city’s problem is that it is hovering dangerously close to its debt ceiling; if breached, it would push up the amount of interest the city pays on its loans, which, in turn, would put the brakes on further development.

All of which makes me wonder why Phil Goff, John Tamihere and John Palino want to be Auckland’s mayor this year. I was foolish enough to stand for council at the last election but, luckily, I lost. Auckland appears to be almost ungovernable, with shifting coalitions of rambunctious councillors thwarting the mayor’s plans to improve the city. Each councillor seems a tiny warlord of their hunk of Auckland, and their focus is almost entirely on their own patch at the expense of Auckland as a whole. Goff is an enormously experienced politician but he must be tearing his hair out at the leaden weight of the intransigent council he is trying to drag forward.

It is nearly 10 years since the Government amalgamated the city’s various councils into one amorphous, unworkable blob, and it is time that central Government moved to fix the problem it created. To my mind, the best solution would be to further increase the executive powers of the mayor to enable him or her to push through major projects over the clamouring of partisan councillors.

Auckland could be a nice city if they only finished it.

This article was first published in the February 23, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


How to enhance your dining experience – with water
103174 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Dining

How to enhance your dining experience – with water…

by Metro

A stunning dining experience isn’t just about food and wine. Water plays a big part too.

Read more
Facebook won't give up its insidious practices without a fight
103856 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Tech

Facebook won't give up its insidious practices wit…

by Peter Griffin

Facebook came under fire for its response to the live-streaming of the Christchurch terror attack, but it's digital nudging that's also concerning.

Read more
In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Christchurch
103800 2019-03-21 15:36:46Z World

In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Chr…

by Lauren Buckeridge

Countries around the world have put on a show of solidarity for the victims of the Christchurch terror attack.

Read more
The tangled path to terrorism
103777 2019-03-21 09:59:55Z Psychology

The tangled path to terrorism

by Marc Wilson

The path that leads people to commit atrocities such as that in Christchurch is twisting and unpredictable, but the journey often begins in childhood.

Read more
If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it
103768 2019-03-21 09:31:27Z Social issues

If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it

by The Listener

The little signs among the banks of flowers said, “This is not New Zealand.” They meant, “We thought we were better than this.” We were wrong.

Read more
Extremism is not a mental illness
103785 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

Extremism is not a mental illness

by The Mental Health Foundation of NZ

Shooting people is not a symptom of a mental illness. White supremacy is not a mental illness.

Read more
PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles
103805 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automa…

by RNZ

Ms Ardern pledged the day after the terrorist massacre that "gun laws will change" and would be announced within 10 days of the attack.

Read more
No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 years of GCSB & SIS public docs
103770 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Politics

No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 y…

by Jane Patterson

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of security agency documents.

Read more