Ten years since Auckland Council formed, but how super is the supercity?

By Jean Bell, of RNZ

A decade on, Auckland’s supercity is still as contentious as ever.

Yesterday marked 10 years since seven district councils and a regional council were smooshed together with the aim of improving co-ordination and efficiency of the region’s governance.

The Clark-led Labour government kick started the reform in 2007 with a Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, which made a number of recommendations – including to create one unitary Auckland Council with one mayor.

The call was protested by a number of groups, among those was the now-defunct Franklin District Council.

This council requested to become a standalone council separate from the supercity, but this request was declined by the local government minister at the time, Rodney Hide.

Former Franklin District mayor, Mark Ball, told RNZ last week while there is no point going back to the multi-council structure, he believed a review of the supercity was needed.

He said his community felt like a cash cow for the big smoke.

He noted the improvement of the area’s drinking water under the new structure, but said vital infrastructure – like upgrading roads down south – has been passed up in favour of bike paths in Auckland’s CBD.

“Elected members all love to build the shiny things, they love to have the Aotea Squares and go to the opening of this and that, but nobody ever wants to bury pipes.”

Ball said some roads have been made too narrow for farming vehicles in the rural area and town centres had been stripped of car parks.

“This community has honestly had a gutsful of a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Ball said the council-controlled organisations have not worked – pointing the finger at Watercare’s handling of the regions’ drought.

“There’s a general perception here in Franklin that they’re actually council out-of-control organisations,” he said.

Former mayor of Auckland City, John Banks, thought the supercity was good in theory but the execution had been poor. He attributed this to the successive left-leaning leadership which spent up large without accountability.

Banks believed local boards should be given more power and autonomy to improve democracy.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the current council was making up for past underinvestment, with a satisfactory debt to asset ratio and credit rating to boot.

“We are borrowing to the extent we need to for the construction of long-term infrastructure which goes over generations and therefore should be paid for over generations,” he said.

Goff believed the supercity had been an overall success compared to the disjointed and fragmented collection of councils before.

“We’re a long way from perfect, but we’ve come a long way, we’ve made a lot of progress and there aren’t many people out there that would want to turn the clock back.”

He said the Franklin area had greatly benefited from improved public transport and water quality under the Supercity structure.

The review of the council controlled organisations was a start and a whole-of-council review will happen in due course.

Justice Peter Salmon, who chaired the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, thought the merger was a success but there was more to do, such as creating a third harbour crossing and improving public transport.

The Royal Commission called for a review after 10 years, which Justice Salmon said would highlight new challenges that have become more pertinent during that time, such as climate change and social issues.

He said some of the recommendations that were not put in place, such as more power for local boards and elected Māori representatives, were a wasted opportunity.

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