By Jenée Tibshraeny
Auckland mayoralty candidate and long-time Labour MP, Phil Goff, is expressing some empathy towards Auckland’s inner suburban NIMBYs (not in my backyarders).
Having last month announced he's throwing his hat in the ring for the October 2016 local body elections, Goff says he doesn’t want to see the villas in the likes of Herne Bay, Ponsonby, Mt Eden and Kingsland wiped out.
He would rather housing densification takes place in areas slightly out of the centre city.
“Let’s keep the best of our housing and the places where people love living, and let’s look at the places that are due for urban renewal, but do it around your arterial transport routes and your hubs,” Goff says.
“With intensification – I think we have to allow that to happen. It shouldn’t be as people in the leafy suburbs are fearful of – going in with a bulldozer and knocking over the old villa in the beautiful streets.
“But there’s plenty of places in Auckland where we can have higher density housing, which cuts down the cost of the housing and cuts down the cost of the infrastructure.”
He suggests we need to be looking to develop areas like New Lynn, where a high rise apartment building, Merchant Quarter, has just been built next to the railway station.
He says the car yards near the new interchange between the railway and bus stations in Panmure could also be replaced by high density housing, as the available public transport makes for a quick trip into town.
Goff also suggests some spaces occupied by car yards in Mt Wellington could be transformed into housing.
As well as growing up, he accepts Auckland may need to grow out.
“We don’t particularly want a sprawl, but if we get really big growth, you’ve got to allow that outward pressure as well, and you’ve got to stop that massive explosion in prices around the rural-urban boundary,” he says.
Goff pledges to get the central government support Brown’s missed out on
Goff is confident he can rally central government, which he maintains hasn’t done enough to support Auckland, so it plays a larger role in helping Auckland Council address the city’s housing and transport woes.
He maintains his connections with Labour won’t hamper his ability to get the support the current mayor Len Brown, hasn’t received.
“I know central government. I’ve been a Minister for 15 years. I know what makes them responsive,” he says.
Firstly, the Council needs to get its house in order so it runs more efficiently. Secondly, he says it’s a matter of making the Government aware of the fact it’ll bare the blame of a third of its constituents, if it’s seen to stand in the way of solving Auckland infrastructure problems.
“The Government has to come to the party. We are getting two thirds of the country’s growth. New Zealand can’t succeed unless Auckland succeeds,” he says.
Goff also points to Productivity Commission research which has found Auckland’s traffic congestion sees $1.5 billion worth of productivity wasted each year.
Asked why the Government would suddenly change tack and support the Council, he says, “I think they’re starting to change now. I think they have realised that Auckland is facing huge problems.
“The Government says they still want growth, they still want big immigration. If they want growth and immigration, they’ve got to be prepared to respond by helping meet the infrastructure costs to meet that growth.”
One country, two economies
Agreeing with the statement, ‘New Zealand is a country of two economies’ – Auckland and the rest of New Zealand – Goff believes Auckland Council should be handed more decision-making powers from central government.
He’s adamant one should, “Make your decisions closest to where the information exists to inform those decisions, and closest to where those decisions will impact when they’re put into effect”.
Goff says the Council agency, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) has a better understanding of the city’s needs than the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, while Auckland Transport is likewise more in tune than the New Zealand Transport Agency.
“They need to work together with central government, but there needs to be some devolution of responsibility, and of financing, to get the best decisions. It won’t happen overnight, but that should be the long-term principle governing a city the size of Auckland.
“And for Auckland, likewise, maybe to do that to some of its local boards. To devolve some of the decision-making, that is best made in a local suburb, to the local board.”
Tolling over rate hikes and asset sales
Further to getting more financial support from central government, Goff proposes tolls to help fund Auckland’s transport infrastructure.
He supports the user pays system, saying it’s unfair for his elderly father, who doesn’t travel much, to pay for him to frequently use the motorway.
“I don’t think we can avoid that. I would be misleading Aucklanders if I said there’s an easy answer and it doesn’t involve you paying in any way,” he says.
Goff maintains a rates increase isn’t the answer either, with a 1% rise only producing about $14 million – a drop in the ocean when dealing with the likes of the $2.5 billion City Rail Link.
“You’re going to have to put a huge rate rise to try to cover infrastructure out of rates. You can’t do it, the population won’t accept it. I think the mayor is talking about 2.6% at the moment,” he says.
Goff also rules out borrowing to cover operational spending, yet says it’s okay to do so for long-term investment.
He points out credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s warns Auckland Council’s credit rating will be downgraded, if it increases its borrowing from where it is now at 260% of operating revenue, to 270%.