All of us who chatter about the council know it’s a spendthrift outfit, too many overpaid people with time on their hands, happily spending our money on work that doesn’t need to be done.
I know that, because every day in the first 5 years of the super-city Auckland Council I’ve heard countless people say it. Therefore it must be true.
What I also know – from changes in personnel, from demeanour, from a growing understanding not just of the complexity of the business of a vastly bigger council but of how to deal more sensibly with it – is that the new council formed out of 8 old ones in 2010 was served up with an ideologically driven model that was never going to work well.
But it’s being tweaked. Silo walls – erected to stop politicians tampering with publicly owned commercial operations – were effective in making the council far less efficient than it might have been, and the walls are starting to be broken down.
One item of council business that floated quietly into the public realm last month was a short release outlining the merging of 2 offices involved in transforming Auckland, the Housing Project Office and the City Centre Transformation Unit.
Mid-September, the council began its search for a general manager of an office to be formed, the Development Programme Office. Council chief operating officer Dean Kimpton (pictured above) anticipates having this new office operating by 1 December.
The merger & the appointment have a great deal to do not just with each other, but with how the council’s finances are used wisely rather than profligately, with how Auckland can move forward positively instead of floundering.
Mr Kimpton – an engineer who became managing director of international consultancy Aecom’s New Zealand operations before moving to the council in 2013 – saw how the silos worked against efficient business, and also how the council left it to others to sort out the details.
“Particularly at complex developments, we leave it to the developer or infrastructure provider to negotiate out the complexities to get approval, and also to get the budget & the public infrastructure component.” His answer: “So we need to provide a programme office, the interface.”
Mr Kimpton had seen individual offices around the council group trying to create an interface, but those small efforts weren’t going to succeed on a wider scale. And it is a wide scale – take the Housing Project Office dealing with the requirements for nearly a hundred special housing areas, for example, and the involvement of various council arms in Stevenson Group Ltd’s 361ha Drury South industrial subdivision, which will also have a 1000-lot special housing area nearby.
Within the council, Mr Kimpton sees a range of new roles being required because the housing & city transformation offices combined don’t deliver all the function needed to map the path for developments.
It will differ from Panuku Development Auckland, the entity resulting from the merger of Waterfront Auckland & Auckland Council Property Ltd, which has roles to develop council-owned land and to facilitate transformative development, but also has to look for development partners.
“The Development Programme Office is a response mechanism. These partners need to engage with the council – who do they talk to? The office won’t own any land and won’t be looking to develop anything in a certain time. It will be responsible for operating plans and the long-term plan, and it will have responsibility for partnership with Auckland Transport & Watercare.”
Mr Kimpton rattled off a few of the silo-inspired questions that council partners might ask, but currently can’t be answered: What is the infrastructure capacity across Auckland? How does growth consume that capacity? How does our infrastructure investment over a 15-year profile impact on the capacity of the infrastructure to support the growth? Am I doing it at the right time? Have I got enough parks?
He said big divisions of the council & the organisations it controls were setting strategies for their own performance without having the ability to see the wider picture – for land release, infrastructure, for the 30-year Auckland Plan on a rolling 3-year budget.
Mr Kimpton sees the programme office clarifying the picture, including how council investment influences the long-term strategy: “It will give us a more granular view of what is happening. It will be spatial. You will be able to see it by infrastructure type. We’ll have a forward land infrastructure programme. I see a small specialist group doing something that can assist us.”
The Development Programme Office will take a lead on development contributions, which he refers to generically as commercial agreements, and draw the legal & financial agreements for the different forms of infrastructure.
It won’t be introduced into a total vacuum: “More & more – and I’m pleased it’s going this way – we’re having council family discussions with developers about how we will support them in development, and this is how I’m trying to shift the whole model away from one-offs. More & more we have to start having an integrated conversation, particularly where there’s a comprehensive development plan.
“You bring big private experience in. You get the concept & the commercial agreements right. You derisk the overall process. What I’m doing is what they do at Aecom. The Housing Project Office does due diligence on infrastructure capacity, we bring the developer & infrastructure providers together, then we do the special housing area creation.”
For many developments, budget constraints need to be unlocked to create the community that is going to be built there: “Auckland’s growing & expanding. We need to adapt, we need to get closer to the customer. We need to shift the focus from policy & strategy creation in the first 5 years to delivery & implementation, to ensure we can do it with pace and fairness to the ratepayer.”
11 September 2015: Council proposes integrating housing project office & city transformation unit
11 September 2015: Council confirms brownfields as special housing area priority
28 August 2015: 11 more special housing areas approved
4 July 2015: 2 large special housing areas for Franklin
30 August 2013: Drury South industrial area plan change & MUL extension approved