My Thoughts on the Royal Commission’s Report (in a bit more detail)

I’m slowly getting through reading the entire report by the Royal Commission on Auckland’s local government, and I have also read quite a few articles giving differing opinions (and a few nice summaries of the important bits) on the Report as well. So I’m starting to get a reasonably well-informed opinion on what it means for Auckland’s local government future, and whether or not it’s a step in the right direction.

As I said the other day, I think overall the changes are good. Auckland needs to be unified and that is what’s largely proposed. The functions of the existing District Councils will be legally shifted to the new Auckland Council, along with the functions of the ARC. There will be six local councils, but their functions will only be what the Auckland Council decides they can do. This is most likely to be focusing on local roads, parks, rubbish collection, footpath upgrades and the like. Planning will be centralised, most major decision will be centralised – with the local councils being basically more powerful community boards. I’m a bit mixed on this, as I think we’d be better off with a few more local councils or with community boards being retained in some form or another. The effectiveness of community boards seems to vary throughout Auckland, and in many cases they have so little power that they are fairly meaningless – but they are the most local form of local government. It would seem that the proposal does “take the local out of local government” to some extent. Maybe that will be something the government messes around with – perhaps deciding on more councils (11 was another proposal) or perhaps insisting that community boards are retained to some extent. I wouldn’t put too much faith in the government sorting it out though – as they generally do the opposite to anything I would think is a good idea.

So what’s good here? The best outcome of the Report is that it has recommended significant change. We could have had a really half-arsed outcome which said “things should stay the same, but everyone should work together more”. This would have been a tragedy, and I’m glad that hasn’t happened. Instead, we are going to (hopefully, if the government agrees) end up with significant change to Auckland and the biggest outcome of it is that we are going to have a Super City. There will be only one REAL Auckland Council, and that’s a good thing. There will be one District Plan, one rates bill, one transport organisation (more on that soon) and one voice for Auckland’s issues. That is the biggest gain, and will do a lot of good things for Auckland in the long-run I believe. The Report also gives special status to the central city and waterfront area – which will hopefully allow for significantly better regional planning for Auckland’s CBD. We might even have a bit more power to kick Ports of Auckland off the precious waterfront wharfs that are used as used-car storage at the moment. Another thing that’s good is that the local council boundaries are split between urban councils and rural councils. This creates a much more fixed division between urban and rural areas, and will be a significant step in minimising future urban sprawl. While the Metropolitan Urban Limits (MUL) have achieved this outcome fairly well over the past decade, they have been under pretty much constant attack from developers and from many councils – so it’ll be good for that rural/urban divide to be set in concrete by a little more than one map in the Regional Policy Statement.

Now, for transport. I have plucked out the transport chapter of the Report so that it’s a bit easier for people to find if they want to read it. I do need to probably read over it a little more, but effectively the big change here is that we get a new Regional Transport Agency (known as the RTA I guess). This agency takes over the roles of ARTA – but also has many more jobs than before, having equal status with NZTA about state highway development in Auckland and also having many responsibilities that are currently undertaken by city and district councils – like maintenance and improvements to arterial roads, the provision of bus lanes and bus stops, setting policies regarding levels of off-street parking provision and so on. In short, this is fantastic news. One of the biggest reasons Auckland’s transport is so problematic is because there are just too many agencies involved, often with incompatible agendas and differing priorities. All this kind of stuff leads to stupid situations where Manukau City looks after its rail corridors well but Auckland City ignores their; or how you have bus lanes in Auckland City, transit lanes in North Shore City but basically nothing in Manukau City. Having all of this stuff under the control of one agency, and as a bonus having that agency somewhat separated from the day-to-day politics of councils, will be brilliant.

Of course, nothing is set in concrete yet about what’s going to happen. As a few people have mentioned, the government doesn’t seem particularly happy about what’s in the Report and may not decide to implement all of its recommendations (or indeed any of them if it so pleases). It’s likely that Central Government might also be rather worried about Auckland having such a strong council – potentially undermining Wellington’s authority. Well apparently we will have a “government’s response” within the next week or two so that will be interesting to look out for.

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