When the shoe doesn’t fit and other limp excuses..
by Roger Hutton
Over the last five weeks we have been subjected to a series of opinion pieces in a local paper, a paper well practiced in the art of fake news, by the spokesman for Our Waiheke which began with the heading “When the shoe doesn't fit’.
Long on rhetoric but short on fact these opinion pieces should be seen for what they really were, the slow but inevitable death of an idea that was never, ever really going to run.
If the spokesman for Our Waiheke bothered to take the time to read a recent book released on local government in New Zealand he would be dismayed to read that the authors’ final words debunked the concept of groups seceding from the Auckland Council.
In their opinion there is no choice but to make the unified two-tier model workable for Auckland’s future.
Ultimately we are better together.
When I opine that Our Waiheke are short on facts I would cite three very important issues that have never been raised in respect to the very real liability de-amalgamation would bring to Waiheke ratepayers.
1. The Urban Development Capacity Proposal
The government is currently looking to strengthen the requirements on councils to improve housing and provide for development capacity
In many areas demand for housing exceeds supply, contributing to inflated house prices and reduced affordability.
Amendments to sections 30 and 31 RMA will make it a function of regional councils and territorial authorities to ensure residential and business development capacity to meet long-term demand.
The policy requires councils to:
- Provide sufficient land for new housing and business to match projected growth in their region, city or district plans.
- Monitor and respond to housing affordability data, building and resource consent data, and value of land on the urban boundaries.
- Take into account the difference between planned and commercially feasible development capacity, and provide for over-supply to ensure competition (20 per cent short to medium-term, 15 per cent long-term).
- Co-ordinate their infrastructure and ensure their consenting processes are customer focused.
- Recognise the national significance of ensuring sufficient land is available over local interests.
The Government believes these legislative changes proposed will enable better provision of residential and business development capacity, and contribute to improved housing affordability outcomes.
A fundamental requirement would be set that council plans be explicitly responsive to demand for residential and business land.
It would see change on the ground as plans must ensure adequate residential and business development capacity, which will have flow-on impacts on consent decisions.
This should reduce the impacts of land scarcity on price and consequent effects.
Change may also result in more permissive planning controls which would impact what people can and cannot do to their properties.
The costs to implement these changes would mostly fall on local government.
In other words they would fall on Waiheke ratepayers at a far greater cost than Auckland ratepayers.
Say goodbye to Auckland, say goodbye to the Rural Urban Boundary.
2. Leaky Building Liabilities
The Office of the Auditor-General sees the issue of local government managing leaky building liabilities as a matter of significance with the ongoing challenge of leaky buildings, if anything, greater than before with the final costs of leaky buildings remaining highly uncertain.
Local authorities are required to explicitly disclose their financial strategy in their long-term plans
In Wellington liabilities will be funded through borrowing, with rates increasing by 0.75% a year until the liability has been settled and the debt has been repaid.
Auckland Council’s leaky home liability would be funded through borrowing spread over 30 years and repaid through rates during this time.
In all instances, ratepayers must fund the local authority's share of this liability.
Prior to a decision by the Supreme Court on 11 October 2012 it was recognised that local authorities owed a duty for residential properties. This duty was not commonly thought to extend to commercial properties.
Following the Court’s decision however, local authorities now need to consider the effect of their duty of care for all buildings, residential and commercial.
This will present a challenge for local authorities.
As claims are dealt with the possibility of recording an increase on funding requirements will increase.
Perhaps the spokesman for Our Waiheke can enlighten us on how a Waiheke unitary authority would fund its leaky building liabilities bearing in mind the value of many of the homes built on Waiheke.
How would a Waiheke unitary authority fund its costs to implement changes under the Urban Development Capacity Proposal?
Like all the other subjects conveniently dropped from the debate (and the
no-longer relevant ‘budget’) these two issues alone would have a major impact and long term consequences for present and future ratepayers on Waiheke.
And please don’t tell me that we need to become a unitary authority before we can deal with these issues or respond with the statement that ‘these would be issues that would need to be decided by a Waiheke unitary authority’.
These issues are real, they are not going to go away and they need to be addressed now.
It is interesting to note that a table purporting to show revenue collected by Auckland Council from Waiheke is not shown alongside an updated table indicating potential expenditure levels by a Waiheke unitary authority.
The previous proposed budget was a joke and was more notable for what it didn’t include than what was included.
3. Ferry Services
The Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Act 2010 sets out Auckland Transport’s purpose, functions and governance rules.
Operating since November 2010, Auckland Transport combines the transport expertise and functions of eight local and regional councils and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA).
Auckland Transport is responsible for all of the region’s transport services (excluding state highways) – from roads and footpaths, to cycling, parking and public transport.
Auckland Transport’s main tasks include designing, building and maintaining Auckland’s roads, ferry wharves, cycleways and walkways, coordinating road safety and community transport initiatives such as school travel and planning and funding bus, train and ferry services across Auckland.
Auckland Transport would no longer be responsible for providing those services to a Waiheke unitary authority.
A similar situation would apply to ATEED in respect to promoting Waiheke as a tourist destination.
Fullers is a private company providing ferry and bus services throughout the Auckland region. It does not just rely on Waiheke to cover its operating costs.
Anyone looking to takeover that service would virtually have to purchase the bulk of Fuller’s fleet.
It is extremely simplistic to believe that a Waiheke unitary authority would have no problem replacing Fullers if “push came to shove” as the Our Waiheke spokesman informs us.
This statement shows an absolute lack of knowledge of how modern business operates and the costs of operating that business.
Having assured his readers that a Waiheke council would be ‘much more likely’ (which could indicate the writer has some doubts as to whether this would actually occur) to focus closely on control over access to our wharves and roads, he then fails to remind readers that an independent Waiheke would similarly have no influence over Auckland Transport in respect to the future location or operation of services within any part of the Auckland region.
How would a Waiheke unitary authority attract an alternative ferry/bus service provider when it can only control one end of the operation?
Does the Our Waiheke spokesman, when he states that the ferry service ‘is very lucrative’, suggest that Waiheke Island provides its own ferry service?
I would be interested to see the actual information upon which he bases this claim. No doubt he is fully informed on the existing operator’s vessel purchase, fuel and maintenance costs, berthing costs, staff remuneration costs, office and freight storage rentals and rates, administration, insurance and ticketing costs etc and would be happy to share that information with the rest of us.
There is no evidence from Our Waiheke supporting any potential subsidy of an alternative ferry/bus service, the likely cost of that subsidy, and let’s face it some form of incentive would be required, nor is there any evidence of the costs that would be incurred on behalf of Waiheke ratepayers for the operation of a full in-house transport department to cover the work that is already done by Auckland Transport and companies like Fullers.
Perhaps it could indicate an arrogance that is almost ‘trumpist’ or a lack of ability to negotiate/communicate on a professional level with service providers.
As Donald Trump would say “So sad”.