By Bridget Gourlay
Like it or not, Auckland’s councils are merging and the ‘supercity’ is being formed. In October, we’ll know who will be mayor of the new area stretching from Rodney to Franklin. The point of the supercity is to unite the region under one jurisdiction — making resource consent and planning easier and to create a vision for the whole area.
The powers the new mayor will have will be enormous and unprecedented — the job will be more similar to a mini-prime minister than a city mayor. After all, this area will include a good third of New Zealand’s population.
With bureaucracy and in-fighting coming to define Auckland local body politics of recent decades, what can the new mayor do to ensure Auckland — the economic powerhouse of the country — becomes a vibrant place for businesses to grow?
Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett says the mayoral candidates need to “stop thinking of Auckland as a single city and start acknowledging Auckland as a diverse regional economy whose future success and prosperity vitally depends on building strong partnerships with central government”.
He wants the new mayor to work with central government to develop a major events strategy for New Zealand, which includes a role for Auckland.
His stance is echoed by Alex Swney, CEO of Heart of the City, a group which lobbies for a more prosperous CBD.
“We need to look across the ditch at Melbourne, Victoria. They’re the only state not digging itself up to sell to China. They are thriving with events-based tourism. It’s all man-made. Last year, a week after the Melbourne Cup, they got the golf with Tiger Woods there.”
He says Melbourne has recently spent $363 million upgrading its tennis centre on the back of securing a 25-year contract to continue hosting the Australian Open — something Swney says is a “real investment” and the type Auckland needs to start making.
Swney, who is running as an independent for a councillor berth on the Waitemata and Gulf ward, thinks Auckland is a city with huge potential but the population is exhausted with, and suspicious of, local body government.
“The new mayor will need to get us excited about being Aucklanders again. We’re bumbling along, wharf at a time, sprawling across the horizon.”
He says the mayor will need to develop a bold, long-term vision for the city and stick with it.
Tourism is a major goldmine for the country, earning nine percent of GDP and supporting one in 10 jobs. The Ministry of Tourism predicts international visitor numbers will likely grow by 27 percent during the next seven years to reach 3.1 million visits, an annual increase of 669,000.
Graeme Osborne, CEO of Tourism Auckland, has a wish-list for the new mayor. With the right investment, tourism could deliver 40 percent of the region’s economic growth in the next ten years, he says.
“If Auckland wants to be a genuine global city then we need to have a focus on our infrastructure that supports the visitor sector — happily, this includes a lot of areas that benefit the ratepayer, for example, improved regional connections, like an improved airport-to-CBD public transport connection.”
Osborne says the first experience tourists have of Auckland should not be a long, slow bus ride. A global quality cruise facility needs to be built on Queen’s wharf to enable passengers (typically wealthy tourists) easy entry to the CBD, so they can spend their time and money exploring the city. He also wants a global scale national convention centre built, so Auckland could compete for big medical conferences or APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation).
In the long-term, Osborne says the new mayor will need to position Auckland as a superior lifestyle destination for residents, visitors and investors.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that business does better when goods and people can get from A to B quickly and easily. It’s a concept not lost on Campaign for Better Transport spokesperson Jeremy Harris, who says good transport systems are good for the economy.
Councils in the Auckland area currently spend about 54 percent of budgets on transport — that’s 16 percent of the district’s wealth. In contrast, Copenhagen spends four percent. Harris says while that’s good for oil companies and car retailers, it isn’t good for the city, as that money could go into savings, investments, or on big projects.
The current government is road-focused, so the supercity shouldn’t expect to get money from it except to build more motorways, he says.
If Harris was mayor he says he would fast-track the region’s cycleway that is due to be completed by 2040.
Cycleways are cheap to create and maintain — he thinks the whole thing could be implemented for the price of one big motorway project — and would mean people would have a fast and easy way to get around without clogging up roads in their cars.
Harris would also design a better, more integrated, bus rail and sea network.
Alasdair Thompson, the CEO of the Northern Employers’ and Manufacturers’ Association, says a long term vision that expands beyond Auckland will also be crucial in terms of transport.
Auckland is in the middle of an “economic diamond” with Whangarei to the north and Hamilton and Tauranga to the south. Thompson says there are infrastructure issues with transport links between the areas, both by road and by sea, and if the routes are strengthened all of these areas will benefit commercially.
Each Aucklander on the electoral roll can vote for a mayor, ward councillors from their ward area, local board members and district health board members. Every eligible voter should have received a confirmation card in the post in July. Election day is October 9 and preliminary results will be available that night.