Auckland Council’s Auckland development committee approved the format yesterday for a year-long ports study, which will be conducted by a stakeholder reference group representing possibly 50 parties, and a consensus working group of 12-15 members drawn from that body to drive the process.
The mayor, Len Brown, said he wanted politics kept out of the study, which meant excluding councillors and boards of council-controlled organisations. The council, the organisations it controls such as Auckland Transport, and central government input such as that from the NZ Transport Agency would be delivered by staff, not politicians.
Despite the mayor’s hope, while politicians may be excluded from group membership, politics will certainly be to the fore.
On one side will be the politics of industry, on the other the politics of the environment.
You can be sure, too, that in a period leading to the completion of work on the unitary plan by that document’s independent hearings panel, in the lead-up to the council elections at the end of 2016 and with more intensity in central government politics, plenty of political fingers will be stirring the waterfront pot.
Deputy mayor & committee chair Penny Hulse said the decision to exclude councillors & board members “and take politics out of this” was deliberate, making it “a genuine community stakeholder process”.
The mayor proposed funding the study – $1 million-plus – from the mayoral office budget, commented that “there will be discussions with other parties as to how to meet that”, but didn’t amplify where this financial input might come from.
“It reflects that this body of work is critical to me as mayor of this city. We could spend a lot of time finding it within our budgets. So the lead will come from me in terms of the budget,” he said.
Cllr Ross Clow presumed secretariat support would not be from the mayor’s office, and expressed surprise that the mayor should think himself the prime sponsor of the study: “The mayor is not the prime sponsor, it’s the committee. The mayor didn’t want to do this and we had to drag him.”
The mayor took umbrage at that, saying he’d always been focused on the study but it was a matter of timing. “And secondly,” he said, “if you don’t want it to come out of my budget I’m delighted. This is absolutely the way forward and was always going to be the way forward, it’s about the timing.”
Cllr Mike Lee, chairman of the council’s infrastructure committee, commented: “Once upon a time I would have opposed this kind of study, but Ports of Auckland Ltd have been so bloody belligerent they deserve it.”
Cllr George Wood expressed concern at the $1 million-plus budget: “I would like to see a more detailed budget before I sign myself up for this because it has the potential to blow out and it’s going to be over 2 years. The other thing I’d like to see is alternative configurations of how to do this work.”
Cllr Hulse said budget creep would be watched carefully. She said the structure for the study came after “the best advice we’ve had from people well reversed in community input”.
The council’s Auckland Plan strategy & research general manager, Jacques Victor, who presented the study proposal, told the committee the only thing the public was going to trust was if they owned the process: “I didn’t put any other options in front of you because I didn’t see any other options that would achieve that.”
The mayor said in closing: “The ports most definitely have a requirement for a cultural shock. The report will most definitely help with this, not diminish it.” And on Cllr Wood’s budget concern he gave this perspective: “We’re talking about multi-billion business going forward.”
Earlier story, 13 May 2015: Approach to port study set out for Thursday meeting
Attribution: Council debate.