The unfolding disaster that is the Auckland Super City

When I was in Papakura for a job interview at Papakura District Council in 2008, the people who were supposed to interview me were running late. When they turned up, one of them, who would be my prospective boss apologized and said that they had been giving the P.D.C.’s submission to the Auckland Super City Royal Commission of Inquiry. They did not tell me what they said but

The Auckland Supercity formed on 01 November 2010 when the Auckland Regional Council, seven District Councils and several City Councils combined to form a “Super Council”. This was in response to concerns raised in the previous decade that Auckland’s large number of councils was hindering the development of Auckland. Some of the critics of the multi-council Auckland were pro-business/pro-National Party, for whom council regulations were deemed philosophically unfavourable.

I have desisted commenting on the Auckland Super City so far as I was not sure until recently how a Super City would work. But now with acute problems very obvious and a host of smaller, interconnected ones just below the surface I can see that the concept is not working as it should. I have never supported the idea of a super council anywhere in New Zealand. However, I wanted to give Auckland the benefit of the doubt and bit my tongue. For me, the biggest problem has been the number of District Councils that exist in New Zealand, and whether or not given the very small populations that some of them service, it would not be better to combine some of the smaller District Councils. This would enable them to pool resources and rate payer funding for infrastructure needs that otherwise might not have been possible without outside input.

So, what is wrong with Auckland?

To be totally honest, quite a lot.

One of the major problems that I have become aware of is the significant number of key recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry that have simply not been implemented, and which might significantly improve the quality of performance by the Auckland Council.

A second problem is the significant change in geographical representation of Aucklanders electorally when their respective councils disappeared did not take into account in an appropriate way, the needs of individual District and City Councils. Were Aucklanders adequately consulted on where the new boundaries would be?

A third problem  is the structure of the Council, with a set of elected boards which have significantly reduced power, and a centrally based council that might not be able to appropriately represent such a big and geographically diverse region. Numerous concerns were raised that too much power was concentrated in the hands of too few.

A fourth problem is the formation of Council Controlled Organizations which are governed by unelected boards, whose formation is allegedly the result of local politicians having not delivered the “results expected of them”. They include Watercare Services Limited and Auckland Transport.

So, what do I suggest?

It would be very difficult, expensive and possibly politically impossible to wind the clock back and implement this properly from the outset. Ideally in my estimate Auckland should have:

  1. Kept its Regional Council
  2. Reduced the number of District Councils to three or four recognizing Auckland’s rural hinterland and that the ratepayers in these areas might not want to be beholden to a single entity run from Auckland
  3. Retained its city Councils, possibly with boundary alterations
  4. If C.C.O’s really had to be introduced, make them answerable to the City Council

However, as I have admitted that is probably not going to work, so I suggest:

  1. Review with a view to implementing those Royal Commission recommendations that were not
  2. Offer Auckland the opportunity to have a binding referendum in 2020 – by then a whole council planning cycle should have been completed
  3. Have an inquiry into the form and function of the C.C.O’s

Or watch this get much, much worse.

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