Browned off: raging against road cones, motorway lanes and go-slows

The recent, unscripted lecture given by Mayor of Auckland Wayne Brown at the Northern Club in connection with the NZ Herald Project Auckland report has sparked a great deal of...

The recent, unscripted lecture given by Mayor of Auckland Wayne Brown at the Northern Club in connection with the NZ Herald Project Auckland report has sparked a great deal of discussion and debate – and an excellent “highlights” video posted on YouTube!  Mayor Brown’s remarks touched on a number of issues that have been of concern to Auckland residents for some time, including among many topics the size and scope of the Auckland Council and its many CCO’s, the proliferation of “fairy projects”, and the ongoing problem of traffic congestion.  He also touched on the emissions lobby, bank mortgage rates and much, much more.

One of the key points that Mayor Brown made during his speech was that the Auckland Council is “out of control”.  He stated that the CCO’s act more like Council Controlling Organisations rather than Council Controlled Organisations and mentioned Tataki Auckland Unlimited (the Council’s economic and cultural agency whatever that means…) a couple of times.  He cited the fact that there are currently 20 councillors serving on the council, which he believes is far too many.  This number makes it effectively unwieldy to operate with Brown arguing that having such a large number of councillors makes it difficult to make decisions and get things done.  I can certainly attest that in large organisations, too much headcount and layers of management essentially creates unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape that slows down the process of execution.  Brown’s antithesis for sure, evident in his rhetorical question “…if we had 40 councillors would the Council be twice as good?”

Another issue that Brown touched on during his lecture was the size of Auckland City.  He argues that the city is simply too large, and that this makes it not only difficult to manage and govern effectively, but also limits the Council’s sensitivity to, understanding of and responses to regional needs.  He lay the blame squarely at the foot of former ACT MP Rodney Hide who championed and sponsored the formation of the Auckland “Super City” and quipped that residents of Wellsford didn’t know they would be in Auckland and residents of Pukekohe don’t want to be part of Auckland!  Brown suggested that the city should be broken up, back into smaller, more manageable units, in order to make it easier to provide services and respond to the needs of residents.  An alternative view and perhaps more realistic is that if breaking the City up into smaller units might not necessarily be the best workable solution, the Council should focus on finding ways to make the current system work more effectively, such as streamlining decision-making processes and reducing bureaucracy, i.e. work within the current construct rather than try to undo Rodney Hide’s reforms.

Brown was also highly critical of what he referred to as “fairy projects” such as Light Rail and the various Harbour Crossing options.  He argued that these projects are simply not feasible, and that they are a waste of taxpayer money.  Brown suggested that instead of focusing on these grandiose projects, the council should be focusing on more practical and cost-effective solutions to the city’s problems.  Here, I agree with his view regarding the Light Rail – a complete waste of anything between $20 billion and $30 billion.  Spend a fraction of that and make some real improvements by – here’s a couple of no-brainers – building a train track from Puhinui to the airport and upgrading the motorway between Penrose and Greenlane, Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu and the nonsensical two lanes from Constellation Dr all the way to Sunnynook.  I mean why spend all the money upgrading the Constellation Drive interchange up to Oteha Valley Rd then sandwiching in two lanes southbound?  But regarding Harbour Crossings – way, way, way overdue, just get the mode and costing right.

Indeed the most impassioned part of Mayor Brown’s speech was his discussion of traffic congestion.  Brown expressed his strong and now well-known dislike of road cones and the disruption they cause to traffic flow, but probably more importantly what they signify: waste, bureaucracy and inefficiencies.  It does seem to me that the council’s annual spend of $145 million on traffic management including cone rental is excessive.  He argued that the Council needs to take a more proactive approach to address traffic congestion, rather than simply putting up more road cones and hoping for the best.   With the city’s population continuing to grow, it is clear that something needs to be done to address this issue. Mayor Brown’s suggestion that the council focus on more practical and cost-effective solutions is a good starting point.  This could include improvements to public transportation, such as expanding bus and train services using existing infrastructure.

Perhaps less important to the outlook for Auckland but in my view nevertheless worthy of mentioning was the Mayor’s clear disdain for the environmentalists incessant hammering regarding emissions reduction as he pointed out that Green, Auckland MP Chloe Swarbrick was currently in Perth.  He clarified the widespread reports that he sees the media as “drongos” noting that he was only referring to one particular journalist (from Today FM, now closed).  And he singled out the ANZ Bank CEO for “grounding up everybody’s mortgages into submission” which I think is his warning of the coming troubles for his ratepaying base from suddenly higher mortgage interest rates.

In conclusion, Mayor Brown’s recent “lecture” at the Northern Club has sparked an important discussion about the future of Auckland City.   Although some may disagree with his specific proposals, there is no denying that Brown has identified some key issues that need to be addressed.