This story was updated by Alexia Russell after today’s Governing Body meeting

A review of how power is shared in the Auckland ‘Super City’ is targeting Auckland Transport — the big council-controlled organisation that politicians think needs reining in.

The Auckland Council ‘Governance Framework Review’ makes clear that Auckland Transport is seen as being beyond political influence, let alone control, on some local transport matters.

The review, conducted by councillors and local board members and chaired by deputy mayor Bill Cashmore, wants the transport company brought to heel and made to brief, consult and listen to elected representatives. It wants it to give a formal response to the Governance Framework Review within three months and then to be subject to an annual review for how it works with local boards and councillors.

Politicians have struggled over the past two terms of the Super City set-up in getting Auckland Transport to respond over its decisions on roads, footpaths and services, particularly in town centre shopping areas. Residents expect their complaints or lobbying over local roads, footpaths, kerbing and channeling or use of parts of the road corridor to be actioned by their elected representatives but this was not often possible.

Some local boards believed consultation by Auckland Transport “lacked authenticity”.

“In response to frustration among some local board members about transport decision-making and their ability to carry out their place-shaping roles, the political working party considers local boards have a critical role in place-shaping,” the review says.

“Auckland Transport should be more responsive to local boards in their place-shaping role. There should be increased use of the existing accountability mechanisms available to the council to ensure Auckland Transport complies with expectations on local board engagement.”

The review even suggests the politicians use their Long-Term plan to set aside a “significant increase to the Local Transport Capital Fund” from its current $10.8 million, to perhaps $20 million, giving local boards more of a say over more of the money.

And it wants a review of how the council can hold the CCOs accountable to consider using the Local Government Auckland Council Act 2009 to direct CCOs to act consistently with the council’s plans and strategies.

But because of Auckland Transport’s ultimate legal responsibility for the roading network, decisions on traffic and roading had to remain in its remit.

The council’s governance director, Phil Wilson, rejected the idea that the review was taking a swipe at Auckland Transport, saying there had been really good cooperation from those involved, including from AT. Referring to Newsroom’s story during the Governing Body meeting today he said “I noted it was framed as ticking off AT but that’s not fair”.  Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore, who chaired the review body, said AT had accepted the recommendations at board level. However councillor Cathy Casey said she was particularly pleased about the recommendation that directed AT to “actively engage with governing body members” about what was happening on their patch. 

An independent consultant recommended to the council last year that its 21 local boards were too numerous and unwieldy for oversight and governance. However the politicians have recommended no further consideration be given to cutting the number of local boards. 

The councillors and local board members examined an option to have ‘local rates” which local boards could spend as well as the general rates that the overall council would manage.

But it also looked at a system where local boards were allocated an “envelope” of the general rates to spend as they saw fit.

It recommended the status quo using a general rate be kept while further work was done on local rates funding of local activities. One of the concerns with local rates was the potential for large increases or decreases in rates at a local level as local boards operated more independently.

Four of the 21 local boards still want to pilot a system of local rates and council officials will be asked to consider how that might happen in the next 10-year Long Term Plan process.

In the meantime, the full council will be asked to support a three-year pilot giving the Waiheke Local Board more local leadership and power to develop policies for specific Waiheke Island issues.

Waiheke has been chosen because of its clearly-defined community of interest, as an island, and physical separation from the city wide services such as roads, stormwater and transport.

The pilot will kick off from this weekend and allow the Waiheke board to look at local policies, plans, bylaws about issues such as the high number of visitors to the island, a strategic plan for Matiatia and a proposal for a community swimming pool.

Waiheke board members were at the meeting, chair Paul Walden happy that the island community would be “better empowered”, and saying they would now be able to address some “thorny issues”, largely around resource consents. On its agenda, dealing with the one million visitors Waiheke gets annually, protection and restoration of the environment, and a much closer working relationship with CCOs including Panuku, AT, and ATEED. 

Less tactful on the self-determination issue was board member John Meeuwsen, who spoke separately as a delegation. His first words were “it cost me $18 to get here”. He is not happy with the state of affairs which he says has allowed developers to ride roughshod over the wishes of islanders. Don’t even get him started on the mess Auckland Transport has made of the place. 

“It’s not about not liking Auckland,” he told councillors. “It’s about something entirely different.” He named the two key issues as disappointment over development, and the application of the council’s Unitary Plan. “It really is a continuing sore,” he said. “Eighty percent of submissions concerning district plans from the Hauraki Gulf Islands are basically ignored or watered down. Resource consent appeals are rarely given consideration. Wetlands and iconic sites are being built on in ways we don’t like at all. There’s been a massive decision about marinas which has continually seen us fundraising to go to court over. We’re at the Environment Court now over the urban/rural boundary – no one asked for it. We’ve even gone so far as civil disobedience to express dissatisfaction on a number of occasions.” 

Meeuwsen said Waiheke had very little infrastructure (“our roads are, to be frank, a disgrace”) and there was poor quality work being done. “We are separate from Auckland in the physical sense. All the facilities on Waiheke are privately owned – ferries, power, telecoms, even the wharves.” 

Mayor Phil Goff in thanking him for his presentation joked that at least it wasn’t as bad as the Chathams, where if you leave there people say they are ‘going to New Zealand’ as if it’s another country. 

“I wish,” Meeuwsen replied. 

The full council has approved the political working group’s findings. 

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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