Too simple for our complicated minds

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    Auckland’s housing has been a problem that was, until this month, available for discussion only in Steven Joyce’s terms of ad hoc ‘greenfields’ development adjacent to the already-jammed motorways in and out of Auckland.

    Now, options are on the table for a satellite city on land south west of the city that’s neither prime food production country nor the city’s historic public parks and reserves.
    The switch of words to ‘satellite city’ is immense. Especially with Labour battler Phil Twyford New Zealand’s new Minister of Housing and Urban Development.

    News stories, right from this get-go, reveal figures to provide infrastructure for this radically different approach. Houses could be $450,000; not twice that.
    It’s a million miles away from a scramble of competing interests squabbling viciously over scarce land resources for subdivision, ad hoc urban sprawl and Government-sponsored infill.

    Imagine trains and buses, travel corridors, parks and community amenities in a well-designed city with room to make choices on clever solutions, values and identity – all in the interest of its citizens-to-be.

    It’s a concept lost to us in our western, post-War, Hollywood fixation on the suburban dream, but a Dutch friend once outlined the traditional approach in Holland where a city approaching a million citizens was, well, full. After that, a new city was planned for and established.

    As with our new Prime Minister’s proposals to slow the demand from overseas speculator money, it seems the answer to houses people could afford (as opposed to ‘affordable housing’ as some charity optional extra) wasn’t so insoluble after all.

    Phil Twyford was Labour’s spokesperson Auckland Issues and he was familiar to all of us who contributed valiantly to the first the Royal Commission and later the Auckland City legislation Select Committee hearings. He was indefatiguable about keeping the concept of subsidiation on the table. The Royal Commissioners listened to his political principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level. Rodney Hide did not.

    For Aucklanders, it’s brought us, this week, the news of a $45 million blowout in a ‘coms’ department of 234 and a five year rise in council wages of 75 percent.

    “Oh really, Mr Goff. And what, pray tell, would be an example of more cost-effective communications?” a smug council official was telling mayor Phil Goff in Guy Body’s Monday cartoon in the New Zealand Herald. It elicited a most basic response – a slammed mayoral door and a painfull boot-mark on the seat of his pants.

    Compare this to the council culture evident in a local story in one of the plethora of newspapers that circulate in Taranaki.

    Under a dim heading and a wall of grey text, the Opunake and Coastal News announced “another strong performance from the Long Term Investment Fund…saw the South Taranaki District Council’s books show a surplus of $11.98 million when it adopted its 2016/2017 Annual Report.”

    The fund itself returned $2.8 million more than budgeted and at the year end, totalled $137.43 million, up from $131.65 in the previous accounting year.

    Council chief executive Craig Stevenson said the council draws down $5.7 million each year from the investment fund, subsidising general rates by $3.87 million and putting a further $1.73 million to service loans for specific community projects.

    “In this way the council has returned around $96 million back to its communities since it was started in 1997,” he said. “All revenue over and above the $5.6 million is returned to the LTIF to create a buffer for those years when it doesn’t perform so well.”

    The annual report enumerated gains including purchase of land for an ambitious heritage, arts and library centre, roading works, a kilometre of new pathways for walk and cycleways and the first stage of a new regional landfill. A further column of capital public works followed and the story ended on the news that “a wet autumn/winter has caused widespread slips on roads across the district, particularly in the Waitara Valley, Tangahoe Valley, Rawhitiroa, Aorere, Morea Valley, Glen Nui and Wingrove Roads. All roads were cleared and reopened at a cost of around $200,000.”

    In the meantime, Standard and Poors have upgraded the council’s long term credit rating from A+ to AA- and its short term rating to A-1 to A-1+.

    This is what you’d call getting the settings right. And, as an advertisement on the same page points out, coastal land sale prices in the district in the last season ranged from $60,000 to $67,000 per hectare.

    Does any of this enthusiasm for its citizen stakeholders eminate from our own multi-million dollar ‘coms’ department? Not that we’ve noticed. • Liz Waters

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