AUCKLAND COUNCIL with George Wood
September 20th presents new National Government
This is going to be an interesting time at Auckland Council as we learn more about the composition of the new Government. A main priority of most Councillors will be to gain an understanding of the key Ministers. Local government, transport, housing, environment and police are always ministerial positions that interest the Council and communities across Auckland.
Since I became involved with local government through the former North Shore City Council, I know that it does take time and effort to build strong relationships with new Minsters. There is legislation that has been held over since the last Parliament that will have to be looked at by the new Government to determine how it will be progressed.
One item of interest will be the Central Rail Link project which Mayor Brown wants to start in 2016 but the National government have given a start date of 2020. This is a $2.4 billion project funded as a 50/50 joint venture between Auckland and Wellington. As the projected costings of the project increases, the more my concern about the feasibility of the project also increases. As I point out below Auckland Council is having huge issues in developing a ten-year budget and cutting too many essential Council services will not be received well by Aucklanders.
Huge Reductions to Auckland Council budgets on the horizon
The newly proposed rate increases of 2.5% across the board and 3.7% on average for residential ratepayers has meant that council staff have had to create a new long term plan budget. The Governing Body and Council staff are now in the midst of discussions and negotiations to see which changes to the budget will be implemented and which adjustments will be rejected.
Through efficiency savings across the board, there have already been huge reductions to bring the average rates increase down to 2.5%. If the rates are to be capped at 2.5% for the next two years, further savings will need to be identified. This process will not be pleasant and every Council department and Council-Controlled Organisation will be closely examined to see where further savings can be made.
Auckland Transport is the first organisation that has been examined for cost-saving measures. Transport presently represents the most significant proportion of the total Council budget and it is therefore fitting that Auckland Transport is first to address where savings can be made. One of the measures that Auckland Transport recently presented to the Governing Body was reducing their rates-funded capital programme by $100 million. This will impact the entire region and I will be closely monitoring what projects on the North Shore will be deferred.
On the North Shore, there were numerous deferrals suggested to the Finance and Performance Committee on the 21 August 2014. These have included funding for coastal walkways, community facility renewals, improvements to public facilities, and town centre improvements.
This is obviously a worrying forecast for the North Shore, and the Devonport-Takapuna Chair, Mike Cohen, made a presentation to the Finance and Performance Committee on the 24 September 2014 to announce the Local Board’s opposition to the proposed deferrals. Projects that were mentioned included:
Community facility renewals
Pedestrian coastal access (Torpedo Bay)
Coastal walkway (Takapuna-Milford and Devonport)
Natural Outdoor Sport Surface (Greville Reserve)
Toilets (Ngataringa Park)
Town Centre (Devonport-Barclay-Clarence)
Furthermore, one of the more concerning deferrals, which is also a Local Board priority project, is the Wairau Stream Bridge. As there has already been $250,000 expended on this project, to have it deferred would be a disappointment for the community.
One other item of note is that Takapuna Metro Centre is the only spatial priority area marked for the North Shore. This could limit the funding that Local Boards are able to allocate towards other growing town centres on the North Shore, including the Northcote, Devonport, Highbury and Milford town centres.
By early November we must have a decision as to what is in or out of the draft long term plan before the plan goes for public consultation in January 2015.