There is growing frustration among National Party members in Auckland over the Government’s refusal to review the activities the Auckland Council.
Several party members attended an ACT conference on Saturday which was addressed by the National MP for Papakura, Judith Collins.
Larry Mitchell from the Rodney electorate said party members were fed up with the Government’s failure to review the Auckland Council.
Another well-known Auckland National Party figure, Terry Dunleavy warned that unless it did it could face losing seats in the Auckland region at the next election.
The Rodney electorate had moved a motion calling for a review of the Council at the northern regional conference of the party but after it was forwarded to Local Government Minister Paula Bennett no more was heard of it.
“We pushed very hard through National Party circles to try and get that debated as a public interest issue but they didn’t want to know about it,” Mr Mitchell said.
“So where the hell are they coming from.”
Mr Dunleavy asked Ms Collins to make sure she raised the issue at this week’s caucus.
“Some of us feel — and ‘JK’ (John key) ought to know this because he lives in Auckland — that there is a real problem that we could lose Auckland simply because of the way the National Party has ignored the problem,” said Mr Dunleavy.
And Ms Collins, who devoted much of her speech to the failures of the Council, told POLITIK that she would raise the issues in Caucus and write to Paula Bennett today seeking action.
Ms Collins focussed in her speech on the Council’s economic performance — and particularly how it was reacting to the Cameron and Partners/EY report detailing the value of the city’s assets and what they might be worth if they were sold.
She said the report showed that the Auckland Council had $42 billion in assets.
Infrastructure made up 70 percent of those assets to a value of $28.6 billion. This included storm water, water, waste water, transport, roads and public transport.
Commercial assets such as stakes in Auckland Airport and Ports of Auckland had book value of $2.8 billion.
Community assets which include parks, sports facilities, community facilities, stadium, libraries, the Zoo etc. had a value of $7.6 billion.
She said that the community assets were generally non-income generating but offered potentially very large proceeds if sold..
“For example, the balance sheet value of 13 golf courses owned by the Council is $61 million but if that land was used for housing then the land value is $1.4 billion,” she said.
“I’m not suggesting that Councils shouldn’t own golf courses but I’d hope the ones they own are well used like our parks.
“I’d expect the Council was making a reasonable return on them if they’re not open to the general public.”
She said that EY suggested non-core assets could be partially or fully sold down, the Council could look at sale and lease back options, sell surplus property assets and seek better commercial value from Council Controlled Organisations.
“For example, the stake in Auckland Airport could be partially or fully sold down and the proceeds used to pay down debt, reduce rates or accelerate infrastructure investment,” she said.
“What was Auckland Council’s response to the Consultants’ reports?
“A workshop in February to discuss and to decide on preliminary further investigations. Doesn’t sound like the Council will be making decisions any time soon.
“There are critical issues facing Auckland – infrastructure, housing and transport must be addressed urgently.
“The reports from EY and Cameron Partners have some “controversial” options. Auckland Council should not shy away from considering them. “
She also questioned the Maori Statutory Board which she pointed out was appointed rather than elected and suggested in hindsight that the Government may have been wrong to rejected the idea of elected Maori seats.
And she queried the judgement of Mayor Len Brown in going to the climate talks in Paris.
She told POLITIK that there was “quite a lot of support” from within the National Party for a review of the Council.
“There are some things that are working okay but there are some things that are not working as well as others and this is a good opportunity for me to write to Paula as the Minister and that’s what I can do representing the people of Papakura,” she said.
Meanwhile Mr Seymour, who had similar criticisms of the Council to Ms Collins, had a more radical solution.
He suggested”flipping” the local board and the Council so that the Council became the client of the boards.
“What we really should be doing is reviewing some of the fundamental questions,” he said.
“I believe that the world is going more local.
“I believe that people would rather go to their local farmers’ market than to a chain supermarket.
“I believe people would rather buy craft beer than go to an industrial producer.
“I believe that ultimately we are on the right side of history by saying that people’s primary local government relationship should not be with the big tower in Albert Street but with their own local board in the their neighbourhood.”
Whilst many of the arguments made by Ms Collins could be answered with different politicians sitting at the Council table, Mr Seymour’s proposal is much more far reaching and implies that former ACT leader Rodney Hide got it wrong when he set the so-called super-city up.
Yet, in a way, Paula Bennett has already responded to that by saying she will not impose any more super-city type mergers on local bodies.
Instead new legislation she will introduce next year will allow Council controlled infrastructure bodies to form their own alliances and mergers while the political entities governing them stay the same.
But though that policy and legislation may prevent future “Aucklands” from being created – it still doesn’t address the problems that clearly many on the centre right in Auckland are worried about.
Now that Ms Collins has attached herself to the critics in Auckland, the stage is set for a fascinating political debate within the National Party.