We need a reset of priorities

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    Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, responding to an incendiary public meeting on Waiheke’s unregulated and very expensive ferry services earlier this month, told Gulf News this week that the ferry company is working on costing a possible fare subsidy and he has also asked Auckland Transport to do the same “because we don’t have pots of money just sitting around waiting to be used there”. 

    He said the focus would likely be solely on commuters. Talking would be best, he said.

    Good grief. Take a look around. Money is haemorrhaging out of the city – into developer and construction hands mostly.

    Fullers’ own CEO rides a ferry to work that was established and subsidised by Mr Goff’s Auckland in a sequence of nice-to-have new routes around the inner and upper harbour.  

    All the contracts went to Fullers and all of them are topped up by ratepayer subsidies (which means we pay for them too). 

    Do the runs have to justify themselves? Do their passengers pay vicious wharf taxes or stump up the capital cost of their wharf facilities? We know full well they pay, on a per kilometre basis, half the fares of the Waiheke service. 

    Waiheke came within perhaps days of getting a new and more responsive local governance model from the Local Government Commission in the last 18 months, proposals by both Waiheke and Rodney being trumped by a decision in the last days of the previous government.

    Auckland Council’s conciliatory and inclusive ‘pilot’ to give more power to local elected representatives evaporated within months.

    So Waiheke still pays hefty household rates, the Auckland wide fuel tax, feeds the city’s financial planning fees bonanza and is raked for a raft of other parking and fines revenues as officials parcel out ever more inadequate resources, usually to ensure the least inconvenience to those at the top.

    We endure an endemic lack of respect or workable consistency in council affairs. 

    Auckland Council can, and does, let certain people off sins against the community (think chopping down fine old trees) with derisory fines or, if you happen to be an effective elected representative, may sue you with the full might of the courts and an apparently bottomless legal budget.

    Auckland’s CCOs – Auckland Transport, Watercare, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), Regional Facilities Auckland and Panuku Development Auckland – were set up a decade ago by National and ACT to run most services for the Super City along commercial lines at arm’s length from local politicians. 

    Unluckily, they are not arm’s length from Wellington interference and powers of appointment and none have any publicly elected representation. 

    It’s several years since I first pointed out in this column that the airport is seven minutes across farmland from existing rail to Puhinui station and I know of few international airports with such an elegant arrival for any air traveller than a two-harbours route from Mangere through the Orakei Basin to Britomart and its hub to the rest of Auckland.

    During a meeting I had with Mr Goff during the mayoralty campaign three years ago, he agreed with me (and the opinions of veteran Auckland politician Mike Lee)  that trams are only relevant on short-distance, multi-stop routes. 

    So what happened? Instead, he has allowed former Mayor Len Brown’s airport rail priority to be stalled by AT’s lunatic prospect of trams along Dominion Road, one of the Super City’s busiest commuter routes. They exist only in the imagination at this stage and that project would have to be complete before being extended to the airport.

    It seems to be in the nature of the Super City and the same mire seems to be infesting the process of sorting out blatant anomalies in our monopoly ferry routes. 

    Auckland Transport spends $477,000 on director fees and $4.4 million on executive salaries and Mayor Goff’s huffing about “not wanting to see any more examples of CCOs being unresponsive to communities and their concerns” is unlikely to abate the AT juggernaut’s powers to spend money on whatever it fancies.

    We’ve put decades into building our visitor industry, keeping Waiheke a resilient community and striving to keep an enviable distinctiveness in our architecture and landscapes while accommodating appropriate development. Just for once, a nuanced and fairer set of responses would be very welcome. • Liz Waters

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