Q+A: Jessica Mutch interviews Len Brown 22 Jul 2012
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Q+A: Jessica Mutch interviews Len Brown
"Quality compact city" plan recognises new green-fields development. but also more compact growth. "Don't want to end up as an LA."
Land capacity already for 18,000 new houses if the demand was there for development.
Operating towards delivery of rail link, buying land towards protection of 3.5km route, looking to finalise funding in next two to three years.
Has a mandate from voters to sort out transport – not going to postpone, critical to act now.
Government and council agree on much of what needs to be done in Auckland, need to "iron out" other issues.
Current Local Government Act "isn't broken, don't need to fix it" as being proposed by Government.
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Q + A
JESSICA MUTCH INTERVIEWS LEN BROWN
SHANE Well, as we’ve heard, New Zealand’s population might be growing slowly, but it’s going to grow disproportionally faster in Auckland. All of which means the long-term plan to get the city working is more important than ever. Auckland Mayor Len Brown has unveiled some big plans around transport. Some would say bold; others might say outlandish. And this week the Government made it clear they weren’t going to support the Mayor’s proposals to fund those plans. So are we heading for a showdown, and what happens to the plans now? Auckland Mayor Len Brown is with Jessica Mutch.
JESSICA Mayor Len Brown, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
LEN BROWN – Auckland Mayor
Great to be here, thank you.
JESSICA Over the next 30 years, Auckland is set to get 60% of the population growth of New Zealand. How are you preparing for that?
LEN Well, we’ve basically planned for that through the Auckland plan, a unique document called a spatial plan, and this highlights– one, it anticipates the growth, so we expect to grow by an extra million people over the next 20, 25 years. And the plan sets out a prospectus, a plan for action to deal with our growth, to manage it, to deal with our infrastructure requirements, in particular, and obviously, in particular, transport in amongst that.
JESSICA We’d like to talk about that a little bit later—
JESSICA Just dealing firstly with this population growth. The urban sprawl – are you prepared just to let Auckland get bigger and bigger? Or do we need to focus on going up?
LEN No, so, of course, the plan has one of its major themes – quality compact city. So we recognise the need for a green-field development, but we’re also looking for some more compact growth. So presently as it stands, we’ve got about a four-year envelope of land availability, so if the demand was there right now, if the capacity was there in terms of building, we could build 18,000 new houses right now for people. Obviously, there’s an issue around affordability at the moment and we’re coming through the back end of a recession, but we are planning for both building up and building out, but we don’t want to end up as an LA.
JESSICA Professor Paul Spoonley in the earlier interview mentioned what a multicultural city Auckland will look like in the future. How are you preparing for that as mayor?
LEN Okay, so the plan – the Auckland plan – talks very much about a inclusive city, a city that is very much embracing its multicultural roots – 200 different ethnicities and cultures within our city. We do that through, in the very most fun way, lots of cultural experiences and events and occasions, you know, Lantern Festival, Pasifika and the like. So we do that through our recognition; we do that through democracy. We’ve got an Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel, we’ve got the Pacific People’s Advisory Panel, so we’re looking to reach out into the community and embrace the different communities. But I have to say, our groups and organisations like the Auckland Regional Migrants Services – they’re presently struggling. It’s a key service in dealing with our migrants and assisting them to settle. A key service at the moment suffering funding cuts. So we’ve got challenges short term in being that inclusive city, the city that really reaches out. But medium and long term, I think, you know, our diversity is the most exciting thing and the thing that the global visitors are looking to come and experience.
JESSICA I want to talk a little bit now about your transport priorities. You’ve talked about a rail loop in the central city. You’ve talked about a rail loop or a rail out to the airport and also a second harbour crossing. How are you going to pay for that?
LEN Okay, so in terms of— well, let’s talk about the city rail link for a start. What we’re doing right now – we’re in focus and are operating towards the delivery of that rail link. As agreed with the Government, we are now in the process of protecting the route, so we’re buying land towards the protection of that 3.5km route. And so, you know, we will be looking to finalise the funding for that and the discussion for the funding of that with the Government over the next two or three years—
JESSICA Let’s talk about some of that local funding. We’ve got a regional fuel tax which the Government has basically ruled out, a congestion and network charge, which they’ve altogether ruled out.
LEN No, that’s not right.
JESSICA Well, you’re left with car parking—
LEN So if I can just clarify it, and I think it’s important because we really need to keep our eye on the facts as things are developing and be quite clear about what people are saying and not. The Minister did talk about the congestion charge, but we’re also talking about a network charge, most well advocated by NZCID. So, you know, there are issues that are on the table. I think the one thing that I want the Government to be aware of, and I opened the National Party conference yesterday with the Prime Minister and asked the Government to allow Auckland its time to reflect on options. We know we’ve got a big transport bill coming at us. We know rates and taxes aren’t going to do it. We are looking at petrol tax, congestion charges, network charges, visitors’ taxes, all of those things. We want to go through a process over the next 12 months, and we’re asking the Government to allow us to do that, and I think they will.
JESSICA You were at the National Party conference over the weekend, and you would’ve heard the overwhelming message of belt-tightening. Are they really going to hand over this much money, or is it just bad timing for you at the moment?
LEN If I was asking for it tomorrow, there’d be a problem But we’re looking about a transport build transformation of our transport system into a true integrated system not tomorrow, not even next year, but over the next 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years. A $65 billion spend and build which is critical to transform Auckland into a true international city and a powerhouse economy. And so, you know, we want the framework of this discussion to be in a more measured and clear focus around the fact that this is just not tomorrow, it’s over a period of time.
JESSICA Is this the right time to be asking Aucklanders to pay extra for their roads? I know there are no firm figures yet, but a dollar in non-peak times and $3 in peak times. Can people afford it at the moment?
LEN It’s never the right time for this type of work that is critical for the future development of Auckland. We’ve got Christchurch. The country has to deal with that through, you know, taxpayer support, and of course we support that. We’re coming through the back end of a recession. But we’re talking a timeframe here and critical investment over a timeframe. And I know that Aucklanders know there’s a challenge. They voted me in to deal with that challenge, to sort out our roads, to deal with the congestion, to invest in public transport, get the city rail link in. That’s my mandate. It’s the mandate of this council.
JESSICA Isn’t this going to hurt poorer Aucklanders, though?
LEN Look, over time what we’re doing with our transport, to get Auckland moving, it’s about underpinning the development of building a much stronger export-focused economy. That’s what it’s all about, and Aucklanders get that. They see it, they know it, they understand it. It’s my mandate to do that to not only sort transport out, but to build a much stronger export-focused economy and really invest in that. And so, you know, we know what it is that we want to achieve, that we have to achieve. We know it’s not going to happen overnight. But, you know, the things like the city rail link – Dove-Myer Robinson talked about this 40 years ago. We didn’t do it then. We’re not going to postpone this stuff any more. It’s critical that we act now. We know there’s a price to pay, and we’re trying to work that out with due consideration and the very best analysis, working with the Government, with all the agencies, so NZTA, MOT. All of the government agencies are working with us towards this resolution.
JESSICA Is this just a case of the National Government being unhelpful?
LEN Oh, look, it’s easy to highlight differences, but I sat with Bill English and half the Cabinet on Friday with our council – a very good collaborative and conducive discussion towards the future of Auckland Much of what we see in Auckland we agree on. There are one or two issues that we don’t agree on and we’re not yet joined up on, but we’re working towards that. And I think it’s critical that media in the community allow us the time to do that. We’re still new – only 18, 20 months old with a new vision and new plan. And my hope is that we would be able to just be allowed the latitude to work with the Government to iron out some of the issues that aren’t giant, but most of it is.
JESSICA I want to talk now about the changing function of local business. The law is looking to change to say ‘providing good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost to households and businesses’. What do you think of this change?
LEN Look, I think Local Government New Zealand as a whole had their conference last week. I wasn’t there. Wish I’d been there. And they voted unanimously to support the existing purpose of local government And the reason is that every year our people in our communities through our annual plans say, ‘This is what we’ll accept and pay for, and this is what we will not.’ There are natural governors around what local government does and does not do. And so that’s the first thing. I’m totally supportive of the present purposes as they stand, and the reason why is because if you so strongly prescribe local government within those sort of set parameters, the next thing any person who decides that they’re not satisfied with what I do, the first thing is they’ll be off to court to sue us because we’re outside of the parameters of local government. It’d be wasting ratepayers’ money dealing with that sort of thing. The second thing is I do not want to be ringing up the Minister of Local Government every second day, saying, ‘Is this inside the purpose of the Local Government Act or outside?’
JESSICA So do you feel like you’ve been given this power as a supercity mayor and then you’re being effectively nobbled by the government?
LEN Well, it is fair to say that the legislation, which requires us to do a spatial plan, includes at the very heart of it the four well-beings which are presently in the heart of the Local Government Purposes Act. And so, you know, my view is that it ain’t really broke, don’t try and fix it, particularly the purposes. We’re very— you know, I’m really comfortable about constantly being held to account on issues around accountability and transparency for our economic performance, but the great governor on what we do in local government is our people What do I cut out? Do we stop doing Rugby World Cup? Do we stop, you know, supporting the work that we need to with the cruise ship terminal, with economic development in our city? What is it that we cull out? Do I stop under 16-year-olds from having free access to our pools?
JESSICA And we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Mayor Len Brown.
LEN It’s my pleasure.
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