Auckland at the crossroads

As I write, voting is underway for the local body elections.

Waitemata & Gulf (Auckland Central) then is a sophisticated electorate, therefore not a ‘safe seat’ for anyone. While I have won this electorate before with substantial majorities, I never take elections or this electorate for granted. Accordingly, I have been campaigning as hard as I can - door-knocking, meeting residents and hearing their views.

The feedback I have been getting is almost universally similar - that the Super City has lost direction, that bureaucrats have too much power and that the council and its Council-Controlled Organisations (CCOs) have become increasingly high-handed in the way they deal with the public.

It has also become glaringly obvious that the council spends way too much money on itself rather than on what the people of Auckland want. Sadly, too many residents - far from seeing council management as their public servants - wonder whether these people are even friends. In other words, there is a great deal of disaffection with the Super City and with its corporate culture. This has to change. Hopefully with a new mayor and council it will - but Auckland is indeed at the crossroads.

Transport is a particular worry, with rising traffic congestion and given the extensive powers of Auckland Transport a lot of dissatisfaction at the way this CCO responds to public concerns. While everyone is relieved to see the City Rail Link is underway at last, the decision by Auckland Transport and the Government to exclude the possibility of future trains to Auckland Airport is deeply unpopular with just about everyone I talk to.

Another widespread concern is about the gradual loss of our historic townscapes and heritage buildings. I intend to work with groups like the Character Coalition and our residents’ associations to ensure that the special character overlays that cover a large part of the ward are strengthened and that our unique heritage and character buildings are given better protection.

Other policies that I have been formulating after listening to small-business owners relate to the commercial vitality of high street retail in Ponsonby, Karangahape Road, Parnell and Newmarket. I spent quite a lot of time and effort during my time as chairman of the ARC to open Queens Wharf up to the public while also making Queens Wharf our premier cruise terminal. Now we receive over 115 cruise ship visits per year - some 188,000 passengers and crew with a claimed economic value to Auckland of $190 million. But how much economic benefit are Ponsonby and Parnell businesses getting out of this?

It seems most cruise ship passengers get bussed off to places like Rotorua and Matamata. If I’m re-elected, I am going to work with our business associations and the cruise ship sector to get more cruise visitors up to our retail and entertainment strips. In Ponsonby (until we get that tram service), we should make the Inner Link bus a part of a ‘ship to shop’ cruise ship visitor outing package. In Parnell, with its soon-to-be-opened heritage station, we can use the train. Getting cruise ship visitors to our inner city shops, cafes and restaurants I believe is an obvious way to inject economic activity and jobs into the ward.

Another issue that is troubling people is homelessness - the spectacle of people sleeping in the streets. I have to confess it was only a few months ago that I learned from a group of concerned citizens that Auckland is the only city in New Zealand that doesn’t have a night shelter. The one we did have in Airedale Street was closed and demolished in 2012. The Government should be the lead agency in these matters but the council also needs to lend a hand. What’s the point of upgrading street furniture and facilities if we have poor people sleeping on the footpaths. This is not the spirit of the proud, go-ahead Auckland (‘the Queen’s City’) our ancestors bequeathed to us. Leadership and contribution from the council for a night shelter would be helpful.

Finally, to take up where I left off at the beginning of this article, whatever the outcome of this election it has been a real privilege to serve as the ward councillor for the Waitemata & Gulf ward - the most progressive, sophisticated, artistic, go-ahead and generous community in New Zealand.

I am pleased to be endorsed by City Vision and have a strong working partnership with Waitemata Board chair Shale Chambers and members Pippa Coom and Vernon Tava. I am also especially impressed with City Vision’s dynamic young candidates Adrian Christie, Chang Hung and Kurt Taogaga. These talented young people are the future and deserve our support. (MIKE LEE)

Mike Lee is the Auckland Councillor for Waitemata & Gulf ward.