Auckland heads for a "Toyota Moment"

Auckland is heading for a real “Toyota Moment” – a head-on collision into the reality of out-of-control growth, with Rodney Hide in the crash dummy’s seat

The old Toyota ute was close to indestructible. Crash it, drown it, burn it, drop it from a crane, blow-up a multi-story building beneath it, the Top Gear team put it through a rigorous destruction programme – and the damn thing just kept going.

Today, the emperor of the Toyota empire is shame-faced that the vehicles bearing his name are renowned for one thing: a faulty accelerator pedal that makes the car speed up when you want to slow down. The quest for volume growth outpaced his company’s other commitments to quality and safety.

Auckland is just like Toyota: growing faster than anyone expected and running rapidly out of control with Rodney Hide’s pedal to the metal approach to Super City governance change.

Aucklanders like their cars. That’s the region’s biggest problem. They have one car for every two people. Their cars churn out 85% of the country’s carbon emissions from transport.

If they don’t choke or change their transport habits, in 30 years' time they will need twice the existing road capacity for all their cars. To get some vague idea of what that might cost – even if it was physically possible – remember that just 4.5 km of new road to complete the Western Ring Route at Waterview is costing $1.4 billion.

Of course, Aucklanders will change. Their problem, however, is that it is going to take a radical overhaul of local, regional, and central government policies and processes to meet the challenge of growth. A quick read through the Auckland Regional Council’s recently released Long Term Land Transport Strategy tells you that the current system is not working. The solutions have been sitting on the table for the last five years. No-one in any branch of government has seriously tried to apply them, or if they have they have been seriously frustrated.

The case for change is so unarguable that even the fractious mayors of Auckland no longer bother defending the status quo. Their focus has shifted to Rodney Hide’s approach to change. Polling shows he simply is not getting public buy-in.

Midway through last year, a ShapeNZ poll found that in six of the seven council areas affected by the Super City change, a majority of respondents opposed the reform. The stand-out was Auckland city, where 45% supported the change, 25% were opposed, 21% were neutral and 9% didn’t know.

Last month, a Herald on Sunday/Buzz Channel poll found 56.9 per cent would choose to remain with Auckland’s existing eight council structure, while 43.1 per cent would opt for change. Rodney’s programme has not gained any traction. The more people know about it, the less they like it.

Rodney has his hands full with a few other matters at the moment. He is still wiping off the mud he copped over his taxpayer-funded Hawaiian holiday escapade – and may have another gob coming his way if the Auditor General revisits all expense claims from ministers and MPs in the wake of the Heatley affair. On top of that, he clearly has trouble in his own camp – with Act’s true believers questioning the cosy nature of his alliance with National. How quickly they forget – or maybe they resent – the fact that it is keeping them in Parliament.

When the voters of Epsom discover that Hide’s Super City has not got a bolter’s chance of holding, let alone lowering, their rates and that they will have less influence over most decisions affecting their community than the burghers of Wanaka, then Hide and Act are likely to have a serious rebellion on their hands.

His secretive Auckland Transition Agency – picked by him to shape the detail that he does not trust Parliament to determine – has done nothing to sell Aucklanders on the virtues of change, or their ability to handle the job effectively.

Its claim that local boards will play “a key role” in Super City governance has been met with derision from experienced community board members who have read the discussion document it issued on their responsibilities last week.

Its cupidity – to put it politely – has been demonstrated in its failure to recognize the problematic nature of accepting former National Party president and John Banks for Super Mayor adviser, Michelle Boag, as a member of the recruitment agency team helping them make key executive hires. Thankfully, Ms Boag and her Momentum colleagues agreed that she would stand aside before the political tsunami struck.

I am sure Aucklanders will rejoice at the agency’s invitation to submit designs for a new Auckland logo. The winner will be picked by a panel of celebrity judges – such as Bob Harvey, Dick Frizzell, Karen Walker, Hamish Keith, and Bill Ralston [what, another adviser to John Banks?].

I think the citizens would have preferred something more substantial – like a financial analysis of the impact of the changes that are being unleashed on them over the next eight months.

Then, there is the Local Government Commission. This month, it is due to release its final decisions on the Super City and local board boundaries. Herald columnist Brian Rudman and local authority commentator David Thornton shredded the Commission’s original proposals for the huge reduction and major variations in democratic representation across the region.

How many more warning lights have to come on before the government, which will be made or unmade by the voting power of Aucklanders, recognizes that the crash wall is looming and the accelerator has jammed? This could be their “Toyota Moment” too.