July / August 2019

With the winter weather upon us, it’s only natural to turn our attention to flooding mitigation. The good news

is that we have budget for Council staff to work with residents’ groups along Tamaki Dr to help select options to reduce the effects of both king tides and bad weather. This is particularly important in Kohimarama and the causeway outside the Outboard Boating Club.

The bad news is that the Portland Rd flooding work has been delayed, as staff still look at detailed designs for raising the bottom of Portland Rd beside Waitaramoa Reserve. What we can all do to help is check roadside gutters for leaf build-up, especially by catchpits. If you can’t clear this yourself, please call Council on (09) 301 0101 and register an urgent clear.

Talking about budget, council has signed off its last budget before the upcoming election. This has an average of 2.5 per cent rates rise for the year beginning July 1. To put this rates increase into perspective: this year Hamilton had a 9.7 per cent rise, Dunedin 7.8 per cent, Tauranga 5.8 per cent, Christchurch 5.72 per cent and Wellington 3.8 per cent.

As you will be aware, we asked Aucklanders what they thought of several new initiatives in the budget. Interestingly, the response from our Ōrākei ward matched the Auckland regional responses.

My election promise in 2016 was to vote as per the feedback from you, the residents and ratepayers of the ward. Democracy must work. In my opinion, if you’re not willing to follow the direction from that feedback, why ask in the first place? I have not veered from that position this whole electoral term. My vote around the budget decision was no different. Whilst this is not the view of all councillors, it’s certainly mine.

Ōrākei respondents voiced their support for money to go towards addressing homelessness and for a new rates remission for religious properties. They voiced their opposition to proposed increases to the waste management targeted rate, and an increase in consenting fees. Many of those who responded expressed their anger at how the consent process currently works (slowly and inefficiently was a common response) and were worried that increases to already expensive consenting costs would disincentivise building. On top of this was the concern that ever-climbing resource and building consent fees could further worsen home affordability across Auckland by driving up the cost of construction. It’s an area staff have been directed to improve with haste.

I also voted to keep a strong focus on being more efficient and meeting our savings targets. By leveraging the council group’s size to drive down procurement costs and consolidate suppliers, we have recently slashed our annual utilities bill by $5.3 million. That’s on top of another strong annual budget operational saving target of

$23m. In fact, the Super City, for all its new population growth and record levels of investment, is now staggeringly operating on $270m less per annum than it did prior to amalgamation. But trust me, we can still do better.

Coming up soon are some decisions that will be both controversial and important for us. The new freedom camping bylaw is one. I’m not on the regulatory committee and my only vote to date has been to take this out for consultation. However, the draft bylaw currently proposes that many of our parks and potentially every residential street in Auckland could be opened up for freedom camping.

This is a huge concern for me (and I’d think for you too). I am also told that the hearings panel have not always followed community feedback which rejected certain parks and areas within this ward for freedom camping. The vote by the mayor and all councillors on this will be crucial.

Finally, I have decided to put my hand up and stand again for the position of Auckland councillor representing the Ōrākei ward in the forthcoming October elections. With the boundary changes now bringing in Parnell, Newmarket, and Grafton into the ward, I officially made this public last month. I hope to have your support, and welcome any feedback you have on how Council can improve.

June 2019

Auckland Council’s council-controlled organisations, or CCOs as we know them, were by legislation designed to be slightly at arms-length from the politicians. The idea

behind this (if you listened to Rodney Hide) was that professional, experienced directors would be much better placed to make decisions on big spend issues than politicians. So how has that played out over the last few years? Let’s look at two examples.

Panuku Development Auckland is a merger of two former CCOs, Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Properties Ltd. This CCO manages the land and buildings that council owns, and

continuously reviews smart ways to generate income for the region, grow their portfolio or release land or properties that can be better used by others. Looking back over the past few years, Panuku hasn’t had a glowing report card. Last year Panuku’s capital spend was a huge $31.6 million behind budget, with only 27 per cent of its CAPEX budget being spent.

Sadly, this follows a disturbing trend over the last three years, with 33 per cent of their capital programme being delivered in 2017, and 46 per cent in 2016. With the America’s Cup planning well in place, they have a whole lot more projects to deal with, on top of delivering those already delayed.

Locally, it’s Panuku which is leading the development of the Meadowbank Community Centre, and looking at options for the former Mission Bay Bowling Club site. I expect these projects to be delivered efficiently and professionally, supported by sound

communications and engagement with all associated stakeholders. To this end, I’m taking a very careful look at the performance of Panuku and challenging them to improve their delivery, monitoring and performance in this financial year, as currently they give a very poor performance impression to ratepayers.

Now to Auckland Transport (AT). Transport touches the lives of virtually every Aucklander, whether you walk, cycle, drive or use public transport, chances are AT has contributed to your experience one way or another. They are a slightly unusual CCO as they have not one but three pieces of legislation that govern them, but still they fit the CCO model and are responsible to council, reporting monthly to local boards, and quarterly to the mayor and councillors.

So how have they performed? In short, what they have done well, they have done very, very well, but what they haven’t, they really have done very badly. The good news, without doubt, is public transport. Numbers are well ahead of projections — very soon we will see 100 million public transport trips per year (up from 57m prior to the Super City).

But then there is the ongoing Quay St congestion, and the Parnell Business Association getting a week’s notice that AT were closing one lane of Parnell Rd for two weeks. Remuera’s Clonbern Rd carpark top level was closed without notice to the Remuera Business Association, and there is the whole debacle over the proposal to remove a number of carparks and add raised pedestrian crossings in St Heliers and Mission Bay, with very little evidence

(some say no evidence) to support these proposals. Add that to a ‘no show’ at a St Heliers public meeting, which had in excess of 600 people in attendance, and yes, there have been huge problems. In my opinion, the heart of it all lies with their communication and engagement – or should I say lack of it.

Legally there is only one tool which the mayor and councillors can use to hold these arms-length CCOs to account. It’s called the statement of intent process. Under legislation, each CCO is required in their statement of intent to outline their intentions and activities for the forthcoming year, provide an opportunity for shareholders to influence the direction of the CCO, and thirdly, provide a basis of accountability for the directors of the CCO to its shareholders .

Whilst these are great objectives, in my opinion the way they have been interpreted hasn’t worked for Auckland. In February, I moved a resolution for council staff to undertake a review of the statement of intent process for our CCOs. More recently, I specifically put up 10 resolutions to tighten our control over AT. Surprisingly to me, no councillor had ever done this before. The first resolution told them very clearly that their engagement and communication was unsatisfactory.

Only 10 of my fellow councillors, and the mayor, agreed with me. Do you?

MaY 2019

In my nearly three years around the Town Hall table, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more heated discussion than the Finance and Performance committee meeting debate on Eden Park funding. To a large degree, media coverage of this has been slight due to its timing only four days following the Christchurch mosque tragedy. But it was an important debate.

First, some background. Eden Park is not owned or managed by Auckland Council. Therefore, unlike other stadia such as Western Springs, QBE (North Harbour) and Mt Smart, Eden Park does not come under the suite of facilities managed by Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA), a Council-controlled organisation tasked by the supercity legislation to manage Council-owned facilities.

However, it can’t be ignored as it’s an important stadium for Auckland — the biggest, capacity-wise, we have. It’s been this Council that has finally made the decision to collaboratively work with and include Eden Park — along with others we don’t own or manage such as Spark Arena and ASB Tennis Centre — when we get to discuss the details of what our stadium strategy should look like, for our region as a whole.

But it has come into the mix with some serious financial limitations. A longstanding debt of $40 million arose from its redevelopment for the Rugby World Cup in 2011, which the city’s former councils agreed would be great for Auckland. But when the financial ask was actually made, the councils did not contribute one dollar. It was only the former Auckland Regional

Council (ARC) who did. It’s worth noting that some of the current councillors did serve on the legacy councils.

One of the Eden Park Trust’s objectives is, as written, “To promote, operate and develop Eden Park as a high quality multi- purpose stadium for the use and benefit of rugby and cricket (including under the organisations of ARU and ACA respectively pursuant to their rights under this deed) as well as other sporting codes and other recreational, musical, and cultural events for the benefit of the public of the Region”.

The Trust was left with its Rugby World Cup debt on behalf of Auckland. It has understandably struggled with it, and as Council was the guarantor, we had no choice but to take over the debt.

In doing so we have saved Eden Park some money in interest payments, as our interest rates are more favourable. Council resolved (with my support) to continue to charge our interest rate plus a bit more, which was still better for the Trust than what they had with the bank. It’s a lot of money, and we need to be prudent too.

So why has Eden Park been unable to pay off their debt? To date, interest payments on the debt have been costly, about $15 million since 2011. Council itself hasn’t helped either. We charge them rates and these aren’t significant, and yet Wellington’s Cake Tin, the Westpac Stadium, doesn’t pay rates, nor in fact are rates charged on any of the Regional Facilities Auckland stadia.

Thanks to Unitary Plan rules, Eden Park can only hold a maximum of six concerts a year as a discretionary activity. Concerts make money for stadia, but our rules and the time around consenting for concerts is long, costly, arduous and not at all guaranteed.

This needs to change and there is work happening around that.

So why did the majority of Councillors, led by me, agree a grant and not, as the Mayor suggested, a loan to the Eden Park Trust?

First, trust and confidence. Up until less than a week before the meeting where we were to resolve the issue, our Council staff had agreed with Eden Park representatives that there would be extra money in the form of a grant. This had been worked on for many, many months, and followed a resolution passed last year. To change our mind from a grant to a loan at the ninth hour, wasn’t, in my opinion, working in good faith.

The second reason — it’s what we usually do with other organisations and community facilities that qualify under Auckland Council’s Recreational Facilities Partnership policy. These grants are supported with funding agreements which stipulate details around those grants, rules to follow, accountability etc. Previous grant examples include those to

Vodafone Events Centre, Trusts Stadium, the ASB Tennis Arena and even our Ōrākei ward’s own Hyundai Marine Sports Centre (the newly-built Royal Akarana Yacht Club building).

The third reason was advice from the Auditor-General. The Auditor-General designed a good practice guide titled, “Principles to Underpin Management by Public Entities of Funding to

Non-government Organisations.” This document clearly gives guidance for funding and talks about grants, not loans. In fact, it specifically talks about sustainability of funding — remember Eden Park already has a big debt problem, it is not therefore helpful or good practice, to add to it. And the document also refers to fairness (see second reason).

So was the grant a gift? No.

Like all grants it comes with rules and stipulations with which the chief executive, through his staff, complies. These are packaged up in a development funding agreement. The actual resolution said ‘authorise the chief executive to agree a grant

to fund capital expenditure of up to $9.8 million over a three- year period from 1 July 2019 under a Development Funding Agreement.’

It’s a grant up to $9.8 million over three years. It’s not a set amount per year, it’s a funding envelope available to be applied for specific capital spend. I know one priority is turf replacement, which is twice its ideal seven-year age limit for use.

So in conclusion what I proposed was fair, was based on months of understanding, usual Council practice, aligned with guidelines from the Auditor-General and will go a long way to getting Eden Park over its credit crunch, so it can get on with its business of running events and wiping its financial face.

It’s only for three years, and whilst adding Eden Park into our stadium portfolio, and their hosting of events potentially saves ratepayers hundreds of millions in refurbishment of our own venues — such as the upgrading work needed at Mt Smart and Western Springs — it also doesn’t preclude a bigger discussion in the future around building a new stadium somewhere else.

April 2019

From somebody who loves numbers, here are some important ones about our city that you need to know.

30km/h

This is Auckland Transport’s proposed speed limit for vehicles travelling within the city centre, and parts of Mission Bay and St Heliers. Whilst public consultation has now closed, I will update you on the results. As yet, I am not 100 per cent convinced that the evidence is there for a 24/7 30km/h speed zone for all vehicles, in all streets, within the city centre (there are a couple being reduced to 10km/h), Mission Bay and St Heliers. I say that as:

• I have yet to receive the evidence of 50kms being wrong relative to these areas

• I don’t understand why it is acceptable for a higher speed of 40

kms to apply to school zones, yet not for the other areas flagged

• It was only halfway through the consultation period that AT revealed to me they would not just be changing signage, but would need ‘engineering solutions’ to physically slow traffic down. This would specifically include Mission Bay and St Heliers, with the suggestion of many extra raised pedestrian crossings, a roundabout and the loss of up to 47 carparks

Many people have written to me asking that pedestrian behaviour be better managed. It is absolutely frightening to have someone step from the footpath in front of your vehicle, without looking. This is one of the drivers (pardon the pun) around the slower limits. AT want to ensure that even if people make mistakes, it shouldn’t cost them their life. There is no price on a life, but with money invested in the separation of cycle lanes from vehicles and pedestrians, the suggestion of a strong campaign targeting pedestrian behaviour seems sensible to me, before potentially adding to congestion.

On the other hand, in some suburban areas (such as Meadowbank), communities are requesting lower speed limits. ‘Rat running’ in some of our narrow residential streets is causing

33,000

This is the number we were given two years ago on the vehicle numbers travelling along the section of Tamaki Dr outside the Outdoor Boating Club, every weekday. No-one wants to give me an updated one, but it reflects the number of vehicles facing congestion chaos now Quay St has been reduced to one lane each way, which happened without notice in December.

The news on this isn’t good. The changes were needed to urgently undertake wharf strengthening works. I’m told the footprint of these works, and time needed for completion, does not allow a return to four lanes, even temporarily. There have been alterations to bus routes, but until the City Rail Link is completed in 2024, we lack a true public transport connection into and through the central city, to at least reduce some of these vehicles. AT suggests our east/west route should involve travelling via The Strand, onto the motorway, and back off again, with new off-ramps. The New Zealand Transport Authority, who manage motorways, are yet to prioritise the new ramps to allow this route to be an alternative. So it’s a nightmare

in the short term. I’ve been promised regular updates from AT so please check my website: desleysimpson.co.nz

$13.5 million

$13.5 million is the savings figure achieved by Auckland Council in six months, from our half year update. It’s a relatively small number on its own but is a key part of our overall plan to save $23m this year, $60m in the next three years and $560m over the next decade. That half a billion is on top of the over $288m Auckland Council has cumulatively saved since amalgamation. It’s been identified in both cutting operational costs, and through cost avoidance and capital expenditure savings particularly identified through our Value for Money programme, which I have championed. These are ambitious targets, and savings can easily be wiped out by significant weather events or budget overruns. However I stand committed to do my part in trying to prioritise efficient and effective use of ratepayers’ funds.

March 2019

In the past, I have been critical of Auckland Council meeting reports, as they often did not include all the information needed to make informed decisions. As a new Councillor, I was the first to put my hand up to chair the political working party to improve staff report writing. I set the targets high; so high, in fact, I was cautioned I had set them too high. But I held my ground.

We changed the format, made other changes and added a financial implications category – I know you’d think that would have been there already. The new reports were implemented in key committee meetings. I am pleased to advise the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, who independently evaluate local and central government report writing, evaluated Council’s improved reports and gave them the highest score out of any council in New Zealand. In fact, the score was higher than many central government departments.

That’s the good news. Now the bad.

The Quay St lane closures are an unmitigated disaster; particularly for those in Parnell and the Ōrākei Ward. Auckland Transport closed one lane either way at the end of December, permanently reducing a four-lane road to two lanes.

Here is what they didn’t do. They didn’t advise the Mayor and Councillors of this timing. They didn’t communicate with the thousands of people who use Quay St. They didn’t communicate with residents of 300 apartments, whose homes are severely affected. They didn’t allow for any trialling of new routes for east/ west traffic in advance of the closures. They didn’t consider the impact on businesses, bars, restaurants, shops, offices, and hotels. They simply didn’t do enough to prepare for a change of this significance.

Traffic has now been at an almost standstill in peak hours, even in the January ‘holiday’ period. The Strand route is now clogged and trucks — who used this route to access the motorway from the port — are now using residential streets to access the motorway at Greenlane.

Using Customs St to travel east/west is a potential option, yet it’s full of road cones due to the huge amount of construction going on there. So at the very least, timing of the Quay St changes is completely impractical.

In January, I wrote to AT’s chief executive asking him to return Quay St to two lanes each way. I have published it, in full, on my website, desleysimpson.co.nz (under recent news) if you would like to read it. AT is supposed to be a Council Controlled Organisation. The Mayor and Councillors have a ‘no surprises’ policy. In my opinion, the Quay St decision broke that policy.

What AT has warned us of though, is a proposed bylaw to reduce traffic to 30km throughout the CBD and other places, including Mission Bay and St Heliers. The driver (pardon the pun) for reduced speed is safety. AT statistics reflect more than three serious injuries or deaths on Auckland roads each week. A pedestrian hit at 50km has an 80 per cent chance of death; whilst at 30km that drops to 10 per cent. At 60km, the chance of death is 95 per cent.

Those against the speed reduction want to keep traffic moving when it can, and say safety on our roads would be increased if those on foot walked on the footpath – crossing at pedestrian crossings as opposed to jaywalking; cyclists used cycle lanes; buses on bus lanes; and cars on the road, with serious repercussions for red light runners.

What do you think? Please have your say. Consultation is open through to the end of March. You can submit your views via the ‘Have Your Say’ section of the AT website, at.govt.nz.

To help inform your views, the AT board chairman has agreed to my request to come and speak on speed reduction at a community meeting. At time of writing, those details have not been finalised. However, I will be writing more on this in my newsletter and will post the details on my site when I have them. Please contact me at Desley.Simpson@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz to be added to the newsletter distribution list.

Finally, as promised, I have always voted on feedback from the Ōrākei Ward and hope to hear from as many of you as possible on the Mayor’s draft Annual Plan. For the first time, Ōrākei has two funded projects in this budget, which I worked hard to secure.

The plan also includes a new investment to reduce homelessness. Please go to: aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/haveyoursay or pop into an advertised local drop-in session to learn more.

January / February 2019

Over the summer break I hope you all have an opportunity to relax, enjoy some sunshine, spend time with your loved ones and recharge yourselves ready for a success-filled 2019.

This summer is the second swimming season that we have had the enhanced Safeswim website, safeswim.org.nz, which gives you an up-to-date forecast of the water quality at any given beach. Auckland’s struggle with water quality is well documented. Combined stormwater and sewerage in older parts of Auckland, many of which are in the Ōrākei ward, cause overflows into the harbour when it rains. We also have problems with dry weather sewerage overflows, which are usually caused by blockages in the pipes due to things like fats, oils and wet wipes being tipped down the sink or flushed down the toilet. All of this conspires to reduce the quality of our water and create a health risk to swimmers.

Last summer, about 10 per cent of readings taken at beaches along Tamaki Dr showed that the water failed to meet national water quality guidelines, with a further 5 per cent unsafe for children and the elderly.

Having been given a mandate by you to support the water targeted rate, I’ve been working hard to confirm projects in our ward to address this problem. These include suburban Ōrākei’s stormwater separation and outlet upgrades at Okahu Bay, along with dredging of the Portland Rd creek prior to the road raising. Further to this, we will be conducting detailed investigations of the networks in the Judges Bay, Mission Bay and St Heliers areas to identify and eliminate sources of contamination.

Staying with the summer theme, some of our visitors to Auckland over summer are ‘campers’ who use our parks and public spaces to overnight while they enjoy the city. Whilst we welcome people to explore the many beaches, parks and tourist spots in this way, we also need to ensure that their presence doesn’t prevent others from also enjoying these places. The proposed bylaw out for consultation includes preventing freedom campers in such areas as the Michael Joseph Savage memorial and Selwyn Reserve in Mission Bay, while allowing self-contained campervans to park at Ōrākei Domain and Churchill Park. Starting on December 3, we will be asking for your views on the proposed bylaw and locations. Consultation will be open through to February 18, 2019, with the decision making scheduled for April. As always, I will be closely following the feedback from the Ōrākei ward and supporting your views. Please visit aucklandcouncil.govt.nz and search ‘have your say’ to read more and make a submission.

Auckland Transport are also consulting in February on their desire to reduce speed limits to 30kph in the CBD and the town centres of Mission Bay and St Heliers. The ‘driver’ (pardon the pun) is the fact that a car hitting a pedestrian at 50kph will be fatal 80 per cent of the time, whereas a car hitting a pedestrian at 30kph will be fatal 10 per cent of the time. Whilst I agree with efforts to make our streets safer, I am also very interested in your thoughts as to whether slowing traffic down is the best way to do this, when vehicle congestion is such a problem for the 33,000-plus cars and buses entering the city from the east. At time of writing, specific dates for consultation are not known so please keep an eye out on my Facebook page or website for further details.

All aspects of road safety are important and none more so than getting children safely to school. Recently I’ve taken transport staff to Sacred Heart College to hear their concerns about crossings near the school. To assist, AT have proposed to put approximately an extra $1m for our community on top of the extra $500,000 that myself and other councillors supported for local transport projects, into each local board area. However, even with improved transport solutions, everyone needs to be mindful when driving past schools, especially before and after school. AT’s safety focus means that

we can expect to see new zebra crossings, pedestrian refuges and an upgrade to the intersection of Tamaki Dr and Watene Cres this financial year. AT will also be working to add to the 20 Travelwise schools and 14 walking school buses in the Ōrākei ward – if you know of a school that has concerns, please let me know.

Finally, 2018 ended with some interesting media stories on the relationship the mayor has with councillors and how that is reflected in voting at Council meetings. I give you my assurance that my voting is and always has been, issues based. I do not follow ‘the leader’ or subscribe to any A or B team group vote. I am there to do the best I can for you, the communities and ratepayers of Ōrākei.