Grand plans & a place on the world stage, versus knuckling down & looking after core business: That’s how the majority on an Auckland Council committee argued against joining the international C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group last week.
It’s for cities of 3 million-plus and Auckland’s only half that minimum size, but Auckland mayor Len Brown said he was invited to apply for membership at the world cities summit in Singapore last year.
Mr Brown told the council’s Auckland development committee – a committee tasked with overseeing some of the council’s positions on the unitary plan and with leading on a wide range of urban issues – it was an opportunity to take on best practice in global cities and to share its own best practice. Simply, he said: “This would be very helpful to us.”
Nobody mentioned it, but the way Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter waterfront has developed has a great deal to do with international expertise, boosted by visits from many experts from coastal cities around the world, who came to both teach & learn.
Most intensification around Auckland is developer-led – the developer chooses a site and builds an apartment structure, for instance. For the first apartment & retail development, and also the proposed hotel in the Wynyard Quarter, Waterfront Auckland has brought in a Sydney-based Kiwi, retail planning specialist Mike Cullen, to work with developers on “how we get the place to work” – a distinctly different approach from the norm.
That doesn’t mean Auckland should join every international organisation going, and Auckland Council’s chief sustainability officer, John Mauro, who presented the C40 membership proposal, discovered a strong body of opinion on the development committee against adding this one.
C40 is a global network taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions & climate risks. Cllr Wayne Walker – a longtime campaigner on climate risk to our coasts and chairman of the council’s environment, climate change & natural heritage committee – said joining C40 “is an absolute no-brainer. The amount these other cities have to offer us is phenomenal, around solar, waste, across everything. We stand to benefit immensely, and the interchange of information across businesses is excellent.”
He said other New Zealand cities would be able to lever off the Auckland membership, helping them to adapt to meet climate change, and membership would be free (albeit with obligations).
Cllr Walker argued that C40 was about core business, and making it more efficient in services such as water, wastewater, transport, procurement & planning. He said many business leaders wanted the benefits of projects the council was undertaking such as its low-carbon strategy. But, he told detractors, “If you want to stick your head in the sand and don’t want Auckland to go forward, then don’t join an alliance like this.”
Cllr Penny Webster was opposed: “I can’t support it. I understand there’s no joining fee, but these things always cost more. I hear people say ‘We want to stick to core issues’. People living in dust bowls, people living in disaffected cities, it’s important we do do international stuff, but at this point we don’t need it.”
Cllr George Wood noted that Auckland Council had joined ICLEI (ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, founded in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives): “Cllr Walker went to this conference in Rio in 2012 and said it was the best conference ever. If we start building a number of these international relationships we’re going to be laughed at by our ratepayers. I don’t really think we should be getting into more organisations that have got the same objectives and do the same things as ICLEI. They’ve done a good job for us.”
Cllr Cameron Brewer suggested: “Perhaps the best time to defer this to would be about September 2016 [council election time].” He said people viewed councillors as financial stewards, and an AA survey said the council needed to get its financial affairs in order: “This will only add to that perception. I know we’re saying this is no extra costs on ratepayers, but it is not perceived as that from the public. They are seeing lost opportunities & projects.
“I’m not saying there isn’t a place for this, but we’ve got to turn on the tin air … not make these decisions without repercussions, but I think it’s a decision for the next administration to make. At the moment I think it’s going to give us a hiding to nowhere. In fact I’m surprised it’s on the agenda.
I’m always concerned about these people who fly off on jumbo jets to save the planet. As Cllr Quax reminded me, there are things called webinars.”
Cllr Dick Quax commented: “I always thought we had central government to do things like that. It surprises me we don’t appear to be listening to people. People say stick to your knitting. I don’t think this is what ratepayers would want to wake up tomorrow and see on the front page of the Herald, councillors are swanning off on another junket to save the world.”
Cllr Denise Krum added to the opposition: “Cllr Brewer nailed it when he said this had merit, but we don’t have the political capital at the moment. It’s the cost:benefit analysis for something down the track. I think its time might come later.”
Deputy mayor & committee chairwoman Penny Hulse said joining C40 “might not involve councillors swanning anywhere”. She said it was not all about Aucklanders jetting around the world, but could involve bringing overseas businessmen here to show them the best things Auckland was doing.”
Cllr Christine Fletcher knew the mayor placed value on building relationships, but said the report supporting membership of C40 was silent on the costs: “I think the business case hasn’t been well put. I would certainly like a lot more business information and it hasn’t been put forward today.”
She proposed the proposal be withdrawn for more work to be done on it, and the committee agreed.
Attribution: Council debate & agenda.