“The privatisation circus is back in town,” says Waitemata councillor Mike Lee as what appears to be a money-crazed Auckland Council launches a sale of every public asset that’s not nailed down, along with vast amounts more that one would have thought to be sacrosanct.
Parks, golf courses, Takapuna’s weekend market car park, office blocks, marinas and their waterfront car parks are on the block, with city councillors, unsurprisingly, alarmed at the tranches of assets that the property CCO Panuku wants to sell to raise a sales target of $834 million over ten years.
“We would stand condemned by the public if we didn’t take advantage of getting rid of stuff that the public don’t want and need and replacing it with what the public do want and need,” says Mayor Phil Goff soothingly.
He denies there is a sell-down and says there will be a $26.2 billion spend on new assets, 97 percent funded by borrowings, rates and revenue, with only three percent of it from this recycling of assets.
David Rankin, the chief operating officer of Auckland’s development agency Panuku, echoes the mayor, saying the sale of non-strategic assets has never been just about the money; rather, it pays for projects that would otherwise be a burden on rates and provides good public outcomes like quality urban design and affordable housing.
Unfortunately I remember a report under his signature to the Waiheke Local Board some years ago that set out the process of deciding what assets were surplus to their communities’ requirements and what were not.
It was notable that the elected local board didn’t come into the flowchart until the decision to sell was made and even then it would be competing with iwi if it wanted to retain the community asset for local use. Only in bureaucracy-land.
Do we really want to have that much power and ad hoc money in the hands of so few officials, some of whom we know and distrust by name from years of shoddy decisions and almost hysterical disregard for democratic process?
A wail from the letters pages of the NZ Herald this week lamented the two “strategic valuable properties” in Howick (which are actually a lineup of buildings from the town’s fencible history). Community organisations batter officials to be allowed to use them but they have been lying idle – for seven years.
Councillor Lee says he is a increasingly troubled at the direction Auckland is being taken under the leadership of the Mayor.
“I know many people voted for him (as I did myself) after setting aside his Rogernome past as the mistakes of a young ambitious politician. While he was widely considered non-charismatic, boring even, many people told me they voted for him simply because Auckland needed a ‘safe pair of hands’.
“Unfortunately we are learning the ‘leopard never changes its spots’ and the hands are proving to be anything but safe.”
The veteran Auckland politician and the elected representative of the Waitemata and Hauraki Gulf Islands ward is one of the ‘Albert Street Nine’, a group of elected city councillors alarmed, initially, by the appearance of yet another chimeric waterfront stadium.
A mayoral pet project with a pricetag climbing towards two billion dollars, it has already cost Aucklanders nearly a million dollars. That’s just for the first two secret Price Waterhouse Cooper’s reports that were, when dragged out into the light, proved to be so heavily redacted as to be unreadable – although already the basis of council planning.
With the pot already well stirred, there’s the news – and an immediate push back from real-time boaties – as a rich-lister is reported to be snapping up the open spaces in Auckland’s marinas for high-end housing. The City of Sails, like its housing, is being made the preserve of the wealthy.
In a letter to marina users at Gulf Harbour, David Rankin says that marina land is of ‘strategic importance’ (aka up for grabs) but also that “there was no overarching council marina strategy”.
Stealth and weasel words are feeding the pernicious ideological beast that says Auckland has an obligation to again sacrifice itself, its citizens’ quality of life and the assets of its forebears on the altar of the demon god ‘growth’.
A NZ Herald editorial writes off boating as an expensive activity although, typically, our literature and a pile of lively biographies would indicate Aucklanders, great and small, are grand at doing fantastic seagoing feats on a shoestring and in my day, something like four out of five Auckland homes had at least a dinghy in the garage.
Like Auckland itself, it’s a heritage that’s worth going to the stake for.