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Crisis for Auck Region's Councils - Consumer Mag

Transport and traffic problems, inefficient and untrusted communication, remarkably high rates... councils are failing and nowhere is this more so than in Auckland.

That’s the summary of Consumer Magazine’s investigation into local bodies around New Zealand.

It’s a wake-up call for the country’s largest populated area. More so for those bureaucrats that sit in the archaic institution called Auckland City Council and the smaller North Shore, Manukau, and Rodney councils.

Consumer’s member survey turned up a spectre of discontent by readers from the Greater Auckland region. It states those councils which are charged with civic affairs involving [around 1.2 million] are doing a “terrible job”.

It found some councils charge “extortionate” rates. Also amidst the diatribe of discontent, the survey shows Aucklanders face rapid population growth, run-down services, motorway gridlock and “council high jinks”. As if we didn’t know.

The survey asked Consumer members to rate their council on community facilities, household services, community services, public relations, and staff.

Of the five councils nationwide which rate below average in most or all aspects of their service, four come from the Auckland region. They are: Auckland City, Manukau, North Shore, and Rodney.

Waitakere and Papakura were not “quite so bad” in the Consumer survey, but fell short of a good overall rating.

Rodney registered at the very bottom of the list - which drew a “results... do not surprise us at all” response from its general manager, Brian Sharplin. He said Rodney District Council suffers due to a struggle with growth and its rate-payers’ expectation of service. But he proposes Rodnet Council is striving to get up to speed.

Auckland City, Manukau City, and North Shore City councils were all rated below average in four of the five categories surveyed. Consumer says: “Many people believe their council has not done enough to address the mounting problems the city faces from population growth.”

With Auckland, the Britomart fiasco has sent a shudder of discontent through the ratepaying population. The new Council now has a majority of councillors and a mayor, Christine Fletcher, who campaigned in last year’s local Government elections on a NO BRITOMART ticket.

Britomart is the proposed downtown retail centre and underground public transport terminal. It is largely seen by Aucklanders as a white elephant, a gross decision made by corporate-mirror-glass-image seeking VIPs which will plunge the City into deep financial dept and which will cause rates to hike forever upward for the foreseeable decades to come.

At 1.5 billion, Britomart was easy pickings for those campaigning for a change to the status quo. However, due to shrewd contractual obligations entered into by the old Council, today’s elected new troupe of Centre-Left councillors have been shown as ineffective.

Britomart, with the mass of a true white elephant, has proved to be unstoppable. Democracy has been seen to lose and another win to the bureaucrats.

Besides Britomart, Auckland, so often touted as the City of Sales, looks tardy and grey the further one heads from the waterfront. Compared to Wellington and Christchurch, Auckland’s central city area looks drab and grim. For this, residents pay $1426, the third highest annual rates bill in New Zealand - behind Porirua on $1535 and Waitakere on $1490.

All this hasn’t been lost on ratepayers.

Survey respondents cited Auckland as “significantly below average” on the community facilities, community services, public relations, and staff categories. And ticked it off for being only average for household services.

Aucklanders pay almost twice as much as Christchurch City ratepayers “even though Christchurch’s facilities, services and staff were rated far higher”.

Auckland City Council’s chief executive, Bryan Taylor, acknowledges the problems. He says the reason for Auckland’s low rating was because of Metrowater, the council body that runs water and waste-water services. Consumer reports Mr Taylor as saying: “Many people believe the company [Metrowater] should be abolished. Due to a major $324 million upgrade to the regional waste-water treatment plant, waste-water charges for Metrowater customers increased substantially.”

He says the increases will have happened even if the water and waste-water operations were kept in council control.

North Shore City Council acknowledges the problems identified by respondents. It says it needs to act on fixing the sewers, cleaning up the beaches, and tackling traffic problems. It has told its ratepayers all this will cost money and says it is getting on with the job.

Manukau City Council rated badly due to a decision by Auckland International Airport to build a second runway, and a decision made by past councillors to introduce user charges for rubbish collection. This has been overturned by the newly elected councillors against contractual legal advice.

But it appears the Council officers see traffic woes as the major area of discontent in their city. Manukau’s city manager, Colin Dale, says MCC is working closely with Transit New Zealand to overcome traffic congestion: “At the same time we are ensuring that the private companies that own much of the City’s major infrastructure and services, such as power companies and air transport, are meeting the needs of current and future generations.”

Papakura District Council rated “significantly better than average” with household services. All this is positive for a new council which has been embroiled with internal council factions fighting it out for supremacy. The majority Residents and Ratepayers ticket has seen council members defect to the Mayor David Hawkins’ Action Group which places control back in the mayor’s camp.
But respondents ticket it off as “significantly below average” with community facilities inspite of its major park and aquatic centre developments. The survey showed PDC was average with community service, public relations, and staff.

Waitakere with the second highest rates in the land was rated “significantly below average” for its community facilities, community services and staff. It rated as average for its public relations - really a surprising slap for its Mayor, PR guru, Bob Harvey and the PR section head, the experienced Wally Thomas. But, Waitakere was significantly above average in its household services.

If there is one thing the Auckland regions council officers and councillors need to realise, it is people demand service for their money. Long gone are the days of councils being fiefdoms for revenue reaping bureaucrats and pompous public representatives eyeing up a fast track to a knighthood.

Today is time for action. There is the mega-wealth of infrastructure Auckland - the body which Prime Minister Jenny Shipley told this writer last September enables Auckland councils to solve the population growth challenges impacting on this region’s peoples.

Get you act together Auckland. It’s time for progress and results.

© Scoop Media

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