Fresh faces on hoardings in the Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa ward could mean big changes for Auckland Council in the new term

With the impending retirement of councillor Cathy Casey, who has represented the area for more than a decade, the people of Auckland’s Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa Ward will be looking at some new names on their ballot sheets in the run-up to the local body election.

With two ward councillors sent forth from the area to sit around the governing body table in the new term at council, there’s space for the incumbent Communities and Residents-backed Christine Fletcher to hold on alongside the injection of new blood.

In many ways it’s an area and a voter base that represents the future of Auckland. Smack bang in the middle of the isthmus, stretching from the well-to-do streets of Epsom and Mt Eden out west to Waterview and south all the way to the Manukau harbour, covering one of the most diverse swathes of the city.

It’s home to many of Auckland’s ethnic communities, new developments and the proposed light rail corridor. In many ways it serves as a microcosm of the city.

Or perhaps Auckland itself is Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa writ large – a growingly diverse and vibrant community dealing with brutal jumps in cost of living and wanting a representative in council who listens and understands.

They’ve had the Fletcher-Casey duo going strong since 2010, but like for many regions of the city and cities around the country, this local body election could serve up a shake and a jolt to the status quo.

CityVision candidate Julie Fairey is running after 12 years on the Puketāpapa local board, and five years as chair. She says she’s moving on from her local board position to make way for a younger generation who are passionate about politics, even at a local level.

That must include her running partner, Redelond Tsounga, running for council straight from a stint as the president of the Aotearoa Africa Foundation. A refugee from Congo with a Master’s in conflict and terrorism studies who speaks seven languages, Tsounga wants to represent communities that don’t currently get a look-in to council chambers.

And on the streets of Sandringham, Mt Albert and Mt Roskill, where over 50 percent of people were born abroad and represent 168 different ethnicities, there are often language and cultural issues in between people and their engagement with the political process.

Fairey and Tsounga say they’ve been knocking on doors to help put faces to names, and are often getting surprised reactions.

“We often get told nobody has come knocking on their door before,” Fairey says.

Redelond Tsounga and Julia Fairey both count climate action and housing access as priorities in their run at council. Photo: Matthew Scott

Both candidates speak from the CityVision playbook, putting housing affordability and climate action as high on their to-do lists.

But how can a councillor hope to influence these huge issues?

Fairey says there are ways. Some of them are small, but little by little they add up. She mentions her local board managed to kick up a fuss and get public transport into an unserved area of Waikowhai after they were neglected by Auckland Transport, effectively irrigating a transport desert.

And both Fairey and Tsounga are advocates for council housing, which Fairey says used to play a bigger role in Auckland before much of it was sold to central government under the John Banks council.

And with new projects like the Carrington development being built in Mt Albert, there could be around 45,000 people who will soon call the ward home.

“In the past two years we’ve had a lot of development and people have already moved in, and there’s another wave coming,” Tsounga says. “So we need infrastructure and services to be dealing with them.”

They both come down pretty positively on intensification, a topic that has been hotly debated recently with the impending new legislation from central Government.

In fact, the central Government’s relationship with council has been a well mayoral and council candidates have returned to over and over again in the lead-up to the election, with candidates like Wayne Brown saying Wellington should “butt out” of making any planning decisions for Auckland.

Fairey is in a unique position when it comes to her political counterparts in Wellington – her husband is Labour MP for Mt Roskill, and transport minister Michael Wood.

On the local board, she was able to institute meet-ups between the board members and Wood as local MP, and his work has given her a better understanding of the mechanisms of the Beehive that she would be able to take with her to council.

It’s also a conflict of interest she says she’s been careful to manage.

“I don’t talk to him about work stuff over a cup of tea. And to be honest we don’t see each other all that much because he’s away a lot of the time,” she says. “So when we are together in an informal sense we usually talk about the kids.”

Fairey and Wood have been keeping separate political lives under the same roof for 20 years, when they both conducted rival campaigns from the same flat and from the same laptop back in 2002 – his in Pakuranga on the Labour list, and hers in Epsom for Alliance.

Representing the centre-right Communities and Residents group is Christine Fletcher, who after four terms at the table is the only candidate for the area with direct experience as a councillor.

Fletcher is optimistic about the new term and getting some fresh faces around the governing body table, as well as somebody new in the mayor’s seat.

“I do feel Phil Goff has not been a good leader,” she says, criticising his deferment to central Government on issues of light rail. (She adds if there was an Auckland-focused political party, she’d join it in an instant.)

The proposed light rail route goes right through the middle of the ward, with specific housing and commercial zones expected to accompany it. Fletcher says the looming light rail project is an issue constituents, concerned about what it means financially, often raise with her.

She says big projects like the light rail have prevented smaller options from being given enough thought.

“Because we have this possibility [of light rail], we defer the smaller solutions,” she says. “I think about Dominion Road – we’ve deferred decisions for 20 years there.”

She hopes with a new crop of councillors there will be an opportunity for a uniformity of view on some of these issues.

She views the ward as a case study for all of Auckland, as a place where changes often occur before other areas, as well as an important site for the stewardship of the city’s heritage and history, with landmarks like the Pah Homestead and Alberton House.

It’s also an area that’s been the political incubator for Auckland’s decision-makers, with Goff serving as MP for Mt Roskill back in his time.

“By virtue of the fact that Goff had been MP for Mt Roskill and the party had a sort of succession plan with Michael Wood, there has been a politicised overlay to the area,” Fletcher says.

Her running mate is current Albert-Eden local board member and resource management lawyer Will McKenzie, who is running on a platform of protecting local parks, retaining off-peak parking on arterial roads, keeping special character protections for neighbourhoods and making sure council can operate free from Wellington’s control.

Independent candidate Stewart Brown speaking to the audience at a meeting for the Mt Albert Residents Association last week. Photo: Matthew Scott

The ticket is rounded out by two independents.

Horticulture scientist Frank ‘Grassroots PhD’ Fu spoke to the Mt Albert Residents Association last week, saying he would protect green spaces and figure out traffic solutions for the area.

Meanwhile, Royal Oak businessman Stewart Brown wants to cut bureaucracy and prevent the felling of exotic trees on maunga in the area.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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