City of Sails

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    In the last few moments as the outcome of the 2021 America’s Cup challenge become an inevitability, watching a last camera pan of this magnificent harbour where some of the world’s most beautiful yachts race any summer weekend, it felt as if we were again the City of Sails.

    Knowing ourselves to be in the visceral borrowed drama of the spectacle but also the camaraderie, the sense of high endeavour, the technological achievement and the beguiling glamour of the boats themselves, we also treated the world (and ourselves) to a taste of the Southern Ocean grit that got us to this pinnacle, as well as the striking natural beauty of the Gulf.

    But even in the moment, it felt like a fragile highlight in a city and a lifestyle that has been hammered by poor governance, greed and short-term parsimony since the 1980s.

    As Covid locked us down last year, the city was being put up for sale, with Auckland Council’s development agency Panuku on track to sell surplus land and real estate around the city to the tune of $54.5 million. For starters.

    Sales of at least another $30m were to be approved by the end of the year, with the council eventually planning to declare $224m worth of property for sale in order to plug a revenue hole caused, rather conveniently, by Covid-19.

    The evolving “asset recycling” scenarios are already looking pretty ugly. This week we’re left wondering whether the residents of east Auckland suburbs should lose four of their reserves – on the say-so of Auckland Council’s finance and performance committee and against their local board’s recommendation – to meet the super city’s budgeting deficiencies.

    The open market sales  will “get the best return for the people of Auckland” according to a council spokesperson, and we all know how well that goes.

    “As part of our stewardship of public funds and resources, the properties will not be sold for less than 90 per cent of the valuation, without approval of the finance and performance committee,” said council financial officer Kevin Ramsay.

    Is this is any comfort if every small suburban park sold now will net a profligate council more than the $3m price tag Panuku put on the handsomely appointed Greys Avenue council headquarters.

    The communities that own the assets won’t even be able to see the money being reinvested in alternate facilities in their own area, or even being ring-fenced for urgent work in, say, under-resourced areas of south Auckland.

    Their park is not owned by the council, it is owned by ratepayers, as one of the citizen groups uniting to fight the heavy-handed incursion pointed out this week.

    Indeed, why should communities formed over generations give up assets and valuable green space vital for wholesome communities in what will inevitably be a more crowded future? Especially if the money just quietly evaporates, as so often before.

    Nor is it lost on most of us that all this faux austerity and fiscal tub-thumping looks pretty thin when the city is so profligate and careless of its responsibilities of stewardship or the advocacy and leadership we should have with Wellington.

    We also know full well that Panuku itself is being handsomely rewarded from the city’s coffers.

    Breathtakingly impervious to the look of the thing, Panuku boss and long-time CEO of the late and unlamented Auckland City Council David Rankin shrugged off personnel costs that jumped 23 per cent from $23.7m in 2019 to $29.1m in 2020, according to the CCO’s annual report. At the same time the executive leadership team’s earnings increased from $3.3m to $3.5m.

    None of this bodes well for the council-officer driven 30 Year Area Plan for Waiheke that is still behind the local board’s closed doors and suspiciously quiet, even as to whether the document will be put out for any further public discussion beyond the derisory month of public submissions between the first and second Covid lockdowns last year.

    The draft document’s primary aim was to fold Waiheke’s once-exemplary and highly successful District Plans into the city’s Unitary Plan, a homogenisation long desired by council officialdom but likely to impact adversely on the island’s greenbelt protections and distinctive character.

    Of course Auckland Council knows that the stern whip of austerity for the masses is past its use-by date but the hegemony is not going to waste the opportunities of a handy  crisis if it can help it.• Liz Waters

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