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Source: Auckland Council

Aucklanders voted overwhelmingly for me because of my five key policies.

Accountability is important to me, and coming up to my first anniversary as Mayor, I think it’s a good time to do a stocktake of my progress on these so far. Commentators have said my first year has seen me lead a council through what’s been perhaps the most difficult period since the supercity amalgamated in 2010. Yes, there were the catastrophic Anniversary weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle. On top of that, I inherited a heap of debt and an ever widening $325 million budget hole. I swore I would face issues head-on, make tough decisions, and fix Auckland.  

A majority of Aucklanders voted to stop wasting money. They said they wanted better, cheaper, and faster services. My councillors and I managed to agree on a budget that cut costs following lengthy discussions articulating the reality of our debt situation. It involved compromise, but I don’t see that as a weakness. It means we listened to Aucklanders and made decisions, which is our job. We reduced our operating spend by $83 million in the Annual Budget. Just by being grumpy and asking for better returns, the Port of Auckland increased their dividend by $10 million this year. I also asked council to accelerate their office consolidation programme, which was good but going too slow for my liking. As of today, this acceleration has really shrunk the number of offices council and CCO’s have in the CBD, a move that will contribute to $13 million a year in savings. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that CCO’s share offices with the council to reduce costs. Councillors agreed to the partial sale of Auckland Airport shares, which is now saving around $25million a year in interest costs.  

What I am also trying to get across to our organisation is the need to sell investments that don’t return our cost of capital. If it is costing Aucklanders more money to keep owning assets than they return in cash to us, then it’s time to sell up and invest in something that can help reduce rates in the long term. Right now, in this high interest rate environment, the best investment we can make is to pay down debt. This isn’t politics; this is good decision-making.  

I also campaigned on finishing the big projects and making the most of what we have before starting any new projects.  This couldn’t be more true than in transport and infrastructure. I am leading the development of an integrated transport plan that we will agree with central government, which is already underway and has many priorities already adopted. I want to prioritise rail infrastructure and the use of rail to get big trucks off the road. Early in my term I secured government funding for completing the Eastern Busway; the next priority is the Northwest Busway, and it is my vision that these will be up and running as smoothly and efficiently as the Northern Busway already is. I’m pushing to make better use of transponders on buses to wake up traffic lights when a bus approaches. I’m pushing for more dynamic lanes to move traffic better in peak times and exploring the options here. I’m also looking at where time-of-use charging might be helpful. Funding is underway for level crossings to get the most out of the City Rail Link (CRL) and I look forward to seeing this mega project finished. It is unfortunate that light rail has turned into the expensive political football it is. With my background, I know we could do it better, faster, cheaper. This makes more sense than building more motorways and tunnels. When we look at overseas models, surface light rail could be 20 times cheaper than the proposed model; it does not need to be tunnelled, and making use of existing infrastructure couldn’t ring truer here when we consider cost-saving measures.  

On infrastructure, we have a significant capital programme being delivered for more efficient growth, and our Making Space for Water programme, as well as things like the Central Interceptor to deal with wastewater overflows, under construction. These are important moves following the catastrophic floods at the start of the year. I’m sure I don’t need to emphasise the need for Making Space for Water in our region’s infrastructure.  

I also promised to take back control of Council-Controlled Organisations (CCOs). I have been reminding staff that while they are experts in their field, it is their job to advise elected officials, and it is the role of elected officials alone to make the decisions on behalf of Aucklanders. That is how democracy works. On that note, I’ve been able to get councillors to provide stronger and clearer direction to CCOs, and even Auckland Transport is beginning to change its approach. Legislative change is also on the way here.  

The Long-Term Plan is our next big challenge to get consensus on what we invest in for the next ten years. So far, I have ensured it is done differently from the start, bringing councillors in from the beginning with a joint direction document for the council group on what our priorities are and what we want to see in the LTP (Direction document). We are getting more information than we have had before to make the best decisions for Aucklanders on the things that matter to them. 

I am looking forward to a new relationship with Wellington and to making an Auckland Deal with the government that is in lock-step with Aucklanders and why they voted for me.  Stopping waste, getting Auckland moving, taking back control of CCOs, fixing our broken infrastructure, and making the most of our environment and harbour.