Published 20 February 2007
The Auckland Regional Council, an organisation committed to deep thinking on matters of transport, is in both forward & reverse gears at once. But it’s not too harmful: the forward gear is only first, not full throttle.
Last year the council drafted a long-term sustainability framework to add to the regional growth strategy, regional economic development strategy, work on a business land strategy and various other strategies & economic programmes such as oversight of rail, bus & ferry operations.
Last Friday councillors had a workshop about the framework and yesterday the council’s regional strategy & planning committee considered a list of points arising from the workshop which will be passed on to the Regional Growth Forum on Wednesday 7 March, when it will also consider the framework.
As a ratepayer, you might wonder how sustainable this form of governance is, but that’s another question to be debated separately in the lead-up to the October local body elections.
Through its role of managing the growth forum, as well as having several politicians on the forum, the council has a significant influence on timetables for rezoning land to urban use (basic starting point is: Don’t).
The difference between sustained & sustainable
Regional council chairman Mike Lee, for one, differentiates between sustained growth, which he believes is the forum’s intention, and sustainable growth, which he believes it should be aiming for. In the first version, you strive to become an economic powerhouse. In the second, you take the foot off the pedal and even try to spread growth around other regions.
In keeping with his view that growth should be sustainable, Cllr Lee sees no reason to differentiate between ensuring a supply of business land and efficiently using all productive land in the region. Specific mention of protecting business land under the sustainability framework, he told the committee, meant the council was “diving down into one aspect of our work, almost in deference to vested interests.”
The regional council has some business interests represented among its councillors but, as a minority in this term of office, they haven’t partaken much in debate and don’t always turn up. One of those with business interests, Chamber of Commerce executive director Michael Barnett, took charge of the regional economic development strategy when it fell into the regional council’s hands in 2005 but wasn’t in the chamber for yesterday’s discussion.
Just as the council leapt enthusiastically into supporting economic advancement 2 years ago â€“ something of a breakout from the dominant environmentally protective role the council has stamped as its own – along came sustainability, the religion, which has been growing faster here than the fundamentalist right has in the US & Middle East. A region, as in Auckland rather than those larger patches of the globe, cannot be sustainable, it seems, if it isn’t self-sufficient in meeting all its needs.
The difference used to be made up through trade, but that’s getting a bad name too. Trade requires goods to travel from point A to somewhere else, and the energy required for the journey reduces your sustainability.
The sustainability message, here, is basically negative, crossed with a strong moral message: Acquiring wealth requires more than your fair share of input so is inherently unsustainable.
Thinking big & fast versus ticking off the small points
I spotted a news item from Singapore last Thursday: There, they still believe in growing the economy to sustain communal services. Singapore will cut company tax â€“ for the first time in 3 years â€“ from 20% to 18% from the 2008 assessment, taking it down to Â½% above the Hong Kong rate. GST will be raised from 5% to 7% to make up the shortfall and employers’ contributions to the state pension fund will be bumped up from 13% to 14.5%.
Singapore has a financial services industry and wants to keep it competitive. It also wants to attract capital, particularly from the Middle East, for investment through Asia & in property. Singapore wants to diversify from its manufacturing base into wealth management, biomedical services & tourism, and improve its logistics to service its oil-refining industry and enhance its reputation as a trade centre.
But in Auckland, the regional councillors were concerned less yesterday about the grand picture of economic growth as in Singapore, or about making the environment more attractive â€“ which would encourage more immigration. The first point on a summary from last Friday’s workshop concerned the level the proposed long-term sustainability framework should be aimed at.
The councillors agreed it should be aimed high, linking to but not replicating the Metro project (Auckland City Council, economic) or regional growth strategy (growth forum, monitored by the regional council) levels of forward planning.
The second point of relative agreement was that the implications of the work on the 6 forces of change (seen as setting the region’s direction) don’t flow through to the framework’s goals & responses: “This is particularly evident in the (paper) Innovating for a prosperous future, which makes little acknowledgement of issues such as resource depletion.”
As a nation of worriers, it’s right that we should fret first, do later. The Singapore mantra is not for us.
So yesterday the councillors set about endorsing the 1Â½-page feedback document, which entailed rewriting a fair proportion of it. It became a mix of views from the workshop and reconsidered views from the committee meeting. It was partly bogged in detail. If the public is to be given an honest chance at input into this exercise, it shouldn’t matter that a word is misplaced here & there in the councillors’ umpteenth shot at how the region’s population should behave, economically & socially.
What the council should be delivering is simple guidance â€“ yes, a framework. What the councillors insist on doing is building the whole house â€“ yes, while they’re driving simultaneously in 2 directions.
Fortunately the most important moment at regional council committee meetings is the half-time cup of tea, which gives the world a break from posturing which will be seen, in the fullness of time, as largely being devoid of value. Nevertheless, this exercise is important: The regional council sets rules in place, produces policies to regulate our behaviour.
So among the framework feedback points which will be fed into the rules & guidance mix are these (including rewrites):
The framework should be focused on the higher level and link to but not replicate a Metro project/regional growth strategy level
The implications of the forces work don’t flow through to the goals & responses. This is particularly evident in the innovating for a prosperous future, which makes little acknowledgement of issues such as resource depletion
The framework focuses on global & regional issues but also needs to consider these issues within a national context
The framework is too complex & multi-faceted but needs to be presented as clearly as possible [I have to comment, I have to tell you this change from “â€¦ and covers too much” was made with straight face]. It needs to prioritise what needs to be done. It also needs to show who is responsible for specific responses
There is general agreement for having high-level shifts from business as usual (raising high-level responses) and looking at incorporating targets into these shifts. The framework needs to include scenario plans for the major forces (of change), including triggers for policy change and aligbing policies with the risks posed by scenario outcomes
The framework should identify meaningful targets, eg, environmental footprint & economic efficiency
The framework should include the need to protect business land use, both current & future, recognising that business land needs change as the economy changes
More evidence is required on the possible extent of migration due to climate change, including evidence on why people may choose to come to New Zealand and which countries they’re likely to come from
There is a need to promote energy-efficiency in the broader sense, eg, investigate, where appropriate, value-added exports in response to rising transport energy costs
Advocacy for a national population strategy needs to remain in the framework as a strategic response. The strategy should cover how a sustainable future can be achieved in all aspects of population policy, including immigration & the skill base of the region
The port and the place of water-based transport in promoting energy-efficiency should be considered in the framework
The framework needs to reflect the importance of developing human capital.
Points generating different views included:
The economic stream should consider environmental economics and build the ability of New Zealand to be self-sufficient in areas where this is possible, in goods & services to support local production, local employment and to be efficient in energy costs
The need to address what we are failing to do to attract/retain business migrants, opposed to needing to move beyond relying on immigration for economic growth or concern that migration is resulting in high infrastructural costs from the disproportionate growth of the region.
On the role of government in shaping societies, the workshop feedback was:
The framework doesn’t address to what degree government should intervene and how much should be left to “the market”. One view point expressed was that current social disparity is partly the result of government having taken a lesser role in issues such as housing than in the past. An alternative view was that the Government is taking a different, not lesser, role but spending too much time meddling around the edges. The framework needs to address sociaql & economic disparities in achieving a sustainable future.
On the framework’s scope:
Some councillors felt it should narrow its focus to ARC core business, eg, energy, water & land, and link that through to the regional growth strategy, but in the rewrite that was excluded, leaving the feedback as:
The framework needs to remain broad but each agency would have a specific role within the framework. This would include the Local Government Act requirement to consider the 4 wellbeings within their core business. For the ARC there is the opportunity to be more overt in how our core business contributes to (for example) social wellbeing.
Attribution: ARC committee meeting & agenda, story written by Bob Dey for this website.