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Lisa Owen interviews Auckland Mayor Len Brown


Lisa Owen interviews Auckland Mayor Len Brown


Disagrees with Labour Leader David Cunliffe’s call to limit immigration.

“I don’t agree with that. I think that we have been able to grow and deal with our growth reasonably well.”

Len Brown says $75 million carpark offer “out of the blue” and probably would be better to seek expressions of interest before selling it.

He says his gut feel is that the offer price is “light”

Indicates council’s shares in Auckland Airport, Ports of Auckland and holding in companies like Watercare are not for sale, but “surplus” property and commercial assets could be sold

“So we will look to sell land when it is appropriate and once we’ve made a decision around whether we should sell.”

Declares one part of National’s conditions for proceeding with early start to the City Rail Link is going to be “challenging”, but is saying to the Prime Minister the other one is on track.

Says under his mayoralty Auckland Council is opening up more public areas by turning streets into shared spaces
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Lisa Owen: You have this offer, 75-million dollars for the downtown carpark, is that attractive?

Len Brown: I think first thing is that it’s great we’re seeing so much commercial interest in the downtown area and particularly around the CRL so I think that’s the very good part of the offer. Obviously it’s come out of the blue to the extent that we haven’t been out to the market and said ‘hey look our carpark is up for grabs, is open for bids’. The better way for us to go on this would probably be expressions of interest but the one thing I want to say that it is timely for us now –

But you do only have a few weeks to decide so what’s your gut telling you..they are offering above value…

Well, that’s capital value, I’ve heard differing views. That’s the reason why we need to take a bit of time.

What’s your gut telling you?

My gut’s telling me that we may be light in terms of the proposal and I hope we are. If we are looking at the possibility of reviewing our position with regard to that carpark – and I’m not saying we are – but if we were, then we would be carrying out a full assessment of what the real value is and our preferred position would be in terms of that type of public arrangement, particularly a carpark that we’ve had for decades now, is that we would go to the market, look for expressions of interest and try to marry that up to what precinct properties are doing.

I suppose the interesting thing about this though is that this is the latest in a series of proposals, isn’t it, to sell assets or cash up including QEII Square and the waterfront development. Is this your new way of raising money for the central rail link?

Ah, look I’ve been very clear right from the outset of my time as the mayor and in fact campaigned on this twice and that is that we will look to sell land and non-strategic assets where we think is appropriate as a part of our way of funding not just the City Rail Link but our capital spend fullstop. We have got significant challenges around waterways, water, storm water, development of town centres, social amenity development and of course transport infrastructure. So we will look to sell land when it is appropriate and once we’ve made a decision around whether we should sell.

In your 2010 campaign you were very clear, and this is from your campaign material, you said “no privatisation of our public assets… unlike others I will not flip-flop on this issue” –

Actually if you looked –

That sounds a bit flip-floppy

If you look through all of my campaign material and all of the statements, I’ve made the strongest statement I made was with regard to our airport shares, the port shares and our holding in companies such as Watercare.

So to be clear other than those three assets –

I have been very –

Mr Brown, just to be clear – other than those three assets is everything else potentially on the block?

I made it very clear that we would look at sale of some of our assets in terms of our property and commercial portfolios where we felt that they were surplus to our requirements. And so that would be the first need for us to tick off would be for us to assess whether or not that carpark in that area, given the amount of development going on in there at the moment with precinct properties and then the development of the area for city rail link which we want to start in 2016 as being a part of -

But even old allies of yours –

Hang on, as being a part of a process that we would go through strategically to look at whether or not that land was surplus. So that’s the first thing and we haven’t had that discussion yet.

I want to say here though that people like Mike Lee, who’s a long term ally of yours, even he’s expressing concern saying you know Auckland appears to be for sale?

So I think there’s another thing –

Is it?

No, of course not and there’s another thing for balance here at this point in time. So there has been chat about the fact that we are privatising public areas. The thing that we are doing as a council and particularly downtown and people don’t realise this and/or refuse to recognise it, is that places like Fort Street, Fort Lane, Darby, Lorne Street, O’Donnell Street now and those streets, Elliott Street, they’ve all been in effect made into public open spaces because they’ve become shared spaces. We have significantly increased the amount of area within our city and we’re going to continue to do this with Quay Street, with lower Queen Street via the QEII Square. All of those areas have in effect become pedestrian esplanades and so we are significantly opening the public area of our downtown area.

To be fair, to be fair is all of this – the cash raising ventures if we can put it that way, isn’t it because the Government has forced you into a corner here?

So, look, we’ve been going through a discussion with the Government for the last three and a half years and we’ll continue that discussion in terms of how we fund our transport infrastructure. We know the Government doesn’t have an endless supply of money, we do not have an endless supply of money. The key partner here in all this process and what has been so good about Precinct coming good and what is good about the Tournament offer is it’s clear that the balance sheets of the private sector are now starting to open up. They are responding, one, to clear vision, secondly, to a clear plan for how we develop our city, and thirdly they’re investing in it because they can see our council and our Government being committed to the way for us generally to go forward and particularly around transport so they’re investing around our main transport hubs and that is specific to any city that is developing in the western world.

If we look –

You see the same type of focus –

If we look at your, at the rail loop, the Government has set targets that need to be met in order for it to bring forward its start date to 2012 [correction: 2016]. That’s what, a 25 percent increase in employment opportunities in the city and 20 million rail trips. But that independent PriceWaterHouseCooper report shows that those targets are “technically unachievable” –

No, it doesn’t, that’s not right

So you’ve been stitched up haven’t you?

No, that’s not right. Firstly it does –

Technically unachievable is a direct quote from that report -

No, no, if you read the whole report you’ll see that it talks specifically about our ability to deliver on the employment aspirations, so the number of people that could be employed and that comes directly from the fact that the amount of square, thousands of square metres that we’d have to build between now and 2020, we just won’t be able to do that because we don’t have that degree of capacity at the moment –

But Mr Brown with the greatest respect, the question is a political one. Are you being backed into a corner and stitched up by the Government and forced to sell things off in order to raise money for your project?

No, I want to cover the second issue and this is where you are wrong. The second issue was one around transport patronage and that we would reach 20 million passengers on trains by 2020 and we are on trend for that and that’s what the report clearly shows. We’re at 11.4 million rail usages, it’s increased over seven percent in the last year or 11 percent rather in the last year so we’re on track in terms of patronage. So by and large we’re comfortable with how we’re delivering and I’m saying to the Prime Minister, ‘Prime Minister, one part of your conditions are going to be challenging but we’re getting significant major commercial investment, that’s good –

Is it fair to say that you’re better off -

But we will satisfy the rail connect –

Is it fair to say Mr Mayor that your city would be better off, it would make faster progress with a change of government?

[Laughs] No, look I made it very clear –

So you’re happy with the National Government –

I am happy with whatever government there is. I’ve been very, very clear – whoever the Government is – our council, myself as the leader, we will work with that Government. And noone could ever say that we haven’t worked strongly and cohesively and by and large in reasonable agreement with this Government. Of course we have our differences.

I want to talk to you about immigration, which is obviously a big issue for a city the size of Auckland. Are you worried about the impact that these immigration numbers are going to have on Auckland house prices?

Look, during the GFC we had you know a significantly reduced actually the number of migrants coming through as against what we had for the previous 10 years. Last year was a definite blip, an increase of 10-thousand migrants. The good news in that is the fact that it’s –

So you don’t agree with David Cunliffe –

Hang on –

That we should now start to limit the numbers coming in?

The good news in the change last year was that it’s a number of people coming back from Australia and that’s great. That’s a reflection of where our economy’s at, it’s also a reflection I believe that they like what they’re seeing in Auckland, they’re coming back here for opportunity.

So to be clear do you think – David Cunliffe has suggested that we’ve got too many people coming in and that it’s time to put a lid on it. Do you agree with that?

Look, we have been – no I don’t agree with that. I think that we have been able to grow and deal with our growth reasonably well. What has been required and I don’t think we’ve achieved in decades gone by is an ability to build infrastructure to meet our growth and provide for it and particularly in the area of transport and that’s what we’re addressing right now. Auckland has traditionally grown between 1.5 and 2.5 percent population per annum and so these figures basically just address the fact that in the prior five years we had quite low growth rates in around 1.2. So it’s a balancing act.

Just quickly. 2016 – standing are you?

[Laughs] We’ll see.

We’ll see. Okay.

ends

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