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  • Writer's pictureGrant McLachlan - New Zealand Herald - Column

Phil Goff painting himself into corner over North Rodney

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff's position against a North Rodney referendum to break away from the Super-City paints him into a corner. Many in North Rodney feel ignored by his council, yet Goff is against the area deciding its future.

Residents north of the Johnstone's Hill tunnels don't feel like they are getting value for money out of the Super-City, yet Goff is scaremongering that rates will spike if the area goes it alone.

I was part of a focus group commissioned by the Local Government Commission which discussed North Rodney issues. Going into the group, I didn't have a position either for or against secession. After reviewing the information available, the status quo concerned me.

Rodney District once stretched from Te Arai to the north to Bethells Beach to the south. It had a mayor and councillors based in Orewa. Under the Super-City, the Hibiscus Coast became part of the Albany Ward and the remaining area is represented by one councillor and a local board.

North Rodney doesn't have strong connections with the rest of the Rodney Ward. Dairy Flat is part of North Shore whereas Kumeu and Helensville are more aligned to West Auckland.

Decisions affecting the Rodney Ward are largely out of the hands of local representatives. The local board has mostly a window-dressing role, often needing to lobby unelected officials at so-called "council controlled organisations". What limited discretionary budget they do have is spent on trinkets, like parks and festivals.

Auckland Council has decided that Warkworth will swell from a population of 4500 to 25,000 over the next decade at a faster rate than the necessary infrastructure. The perception is that decisions are secretly made to satisfy two or three developers rather than the communities affected.

Auckland Council is bloated. Too many consultants clip the ticket, making even small projects cost prohibitive. When mistakes are made, blame disappears into a gulf of six-figure-earning bureaucrats.

So when Goff says that a smaller North Rodney council will result in a rates hike, few believe him. The perception is that rates and development financial contributions from the area disappear into pet projects elsewhere.

Goff's claims are based on a Local Government Commissioned report from consultants Morrison Low. The report's findings accept it is limited by statutory requirements and the information available to it.

In the report, "The status quo is always considered a Reasonably Practicable Option under the legislation." Really? The report, however, makes no comparison with other councils around the country.

Two of the Local Government commissioners are former mayors of Horowhenua and Timaru. These councils, with a population of 31,900 and 46,700 respectively, have a similar range to North Rodney's population now and within a decade. They are also similar in land area.

But the Morrison Low report suggests that a North Rodney District Council couldn't "have the resources necessary to enable it to carry out effectively its responsibilities, duties and powers". I wonder what the 40 of 67 councils with a smaller population and area than North Rodney would think of that?

Even a unitary authority role is dismissed as not having "a district or region that is appropriate for the efficient performance of its role". I wonder what Tasman, Gisborne, and Marlborough unitary councils would think of that?

When Morrison Low suggests that North Rodney rates will increase by 43 per cent, they're applying "Auckland prices". They're applying Auckland management models, Auckland salaries, and Auckland costs.

Locals are gobsmacked that a footbridge in Matakana can cost $800,000, Warkworth's Town Hall restoration cost $5.6 million, and the one-mile-long Matakana Link cost $42m to build. One local contractor worked out that, for $42m, all the unsealed rural arterials in the area could be sealed.

Auckland Council is too big and too complex. The Unitary Plan is thicker than the eight plans it replaced. Although the council employs 10,000 staff, they still outsource simple resource consents to consultants who make a meal of them. Animal control, parking wardens, and contractors travel from the other side of Auckland.

Ring the call centre and you are put on hold for half an hour, have to spell your suburb, log a job, and keep a reference number. It took phone calls from four neighbours over three months for a cracked sewer leaking on to a beach to get fixed.

I've worked with councils with one mayor, six councillors, and a dozen staff that's more responsive, decisive, accountable and transparent. A smaller organisation can maintain tighter controls yet more direct interaction with the citizens it serves.

So when North Rodney residents want a referendum to decide its future, what it really wants are choices that it never had when absorbed into the Super-City.

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