Auckland is like a rat in a maze of the National government's making. But Phil Goff is determined to find his own way out... and he just might be about to find a door

Lisa Owen doesn't look much like Steven Joyce. Or Simon Bridges. Or Bill English for that matter. But Phil Goff didn't seem to notice or care when he sat down to be interviewed by her on The Nation this morning. While Lisa sat across the table from him, it was those men he was talking to.

The interview – apart from revealing at least two important pieces of news – focused on Auckland's new budget, jast passed at the end of the week, and while he was explaining it to the wider audience, it was obvious he had a smaller audience of three in mind. While he used the word, "they", he might as well have been saying "you".

"...they know that we are the one internationally competitive city that New Zealand has and we cannot remain internationally competitive if we’re gridlocked..." Goff said. 

What's more, Goff added:

"If they want our city to be congested, gridlocked and unaffordable, they will do nothing. I think they know better than that."

Further:

"They understand the situation that Auckland is in. They understand because every economist advising them will be telling them this – that the benefits of growth come 10 to 25 years down the track, but the costs fall now. And they know that Auckland has to succeed for New Zealand to succeed."

And just to add:

"We’ve just passed a budget – $2 billion in extra infrastructure expenditure, 40% of that going into transport, but 70% of the increase in investment in infrastructure going into transport. Now, our problem, and Bill English knows this well – I’ve had the discussion with him – and so does Steven Joyce. Our problem is that we’ve just about reached the limit for our borrowing."

And to ram it home:

"What I'm saying to all political parties is that we cannot continue with a situation where it is unaffordable for a young family to buy a home of their own in Auckland."

 Yep, Mr Mayor, you've made yourself clear. Auckland is telling Wellington it needs money, with the clear coda that if it keeps choosing to give Auckland the finger, Auckland voters may respond in kind. 

In a way, this interview simply underlined Goff's approach to the National government since he won the mayoralty. In public he has politely and firmly pointed out the real politik – Auckland has a major infrastructure deficit, can't overcome that without central government funding and Auckland voters are getting fed up with the years of stalling.

Goff – and to an extent Auckland – is like a rat in a maze of National's making. He can't move down the path marked 'borrowing' because the city has hit its debt ceiling in borrowing for its half of the Central Rail Link. He can't try the 'rates rises' route because citizens (and councillors) won't accept more than the 2.5 percent increase he promised on the campaign.

He tried the 'regional fuel tax' path, but Joyce et al blocked that off. He (and his predecessor Len Brown) have been banging at 'congestion charges' door, but again, National has said no.

Every way Goff tries to turn in this maze, National has a wall built. And if you doubt their determined obstructionism, think on their stalling the CRL for years, on their removing the regional fuel tax and their decision to spend a year – a year! after so many years! – trying to get "alignment" between council and government on transport priorities.

So why the obstruction? Because National is trying to force the rat in a certain direction. First, it wants Auckland Council to cut spending. Second, it wants it to sell assets. The cheese is at the end of those corridors.

So Goff is in a bind with few paths to choose. He's gone a wee way down the assets path, divesting Auckland Council of its stocks and shares and even talking about selling off the Ports of Auckland company. He's cut spending (a programme begun under Rat... I mean Len... Brown).

But rather than just follow the path to the cheese, wily old Goff has chosen to keep banging his head at the wall of the maze, insisting that unless the crazed National party scientists open a few more doors, all those Aucklander stuck in traffic and unable to afford a house are eventually going to look up and start recognising who's to blame for the fact they're trapped in this insane maze.

Remarkably, it seems his strategy may be about to pay dividends. He had a win this past week, pushing through his tourist bed tax, in an effort to show government that he's willing to be creative – and indeed obstinate – in finding new funding sources.

But even more significantly, he told Owen the government next week will announce congestion charges for Auckland... not in a hurry, but in the "medium term"; say 5-6 years. That's not a back-down by National, who have in the past year or two refused to rule them out, but it's certainly, finally, movement. And an acceptance of some responsibility. Goff said:

"Now, next week, you'll hear an announcement from Government on road pricing. I don't want to comment on it, because I can't pre-empt the Government's announcement."  

Um, I think you just announced it, Mr Mayor! In doing so he risked the ire of Bridges et al. But this is no greenshoots politico we're talking about here. Goff very purposely went on television and pre-empted the government's announcement to put some heat under the government and ensure they don't get cold feet. 

The other bit of new he threw out, was that Auckland's $4 billion shortfall in transport funding over the next decade is in fact $7 billion now. That's an explosive number. Why the increase? Because the lower number was based on Auckland growing by 16,000 people each year, whereas it's now growing by 45,000 per annum.

Who controls immigration? Central government. Yep, the rat is still banging his head against that wall. Or as Goff put it:

"And the Government knows – I've given them all the figures on that – they know that with that growth, 800 extra cars on the road each week, they've got to work with us to resolve this problem – for the sake of New Zealand as well as Auckland."  

Did you hear that Mssrs Joyce, Bridges and English? Because he was talking to you.

Comments (8)

by Katharine Moody on June 03, 2017
Katharine Moody

Yes, it was a good performance by him. Only thing is - there are a lot of other ratepayers throughout NZ in other cities/districts being subject to a greater than 2.5% average increase in rates this year. And therein lie one of the problems for Auckland/Aucklanders. They enjoy some of the cheapest rates in the country based on a CV dollar value basis. Sure, Auckland house prices have absolutely run away - and hence if they paid the same amount on a CV dollar basis, they'd be leading the pack on a household unit basis... welcome to the cost of growth when it is not paid for in full by the newcomers.

The other thing Aucklanders have to think about is what percetage of the total cost of accommodation supplement (i.e., central government funding from all taxpayers) is going into their community. I suspect the greatest percentage on a per capita basis.

The pessimist in me thinks there are only two exits from the Auckland maze - move, or hang around for the market correction in house prices, with no relief in congestion for many years to come. 800 additional vehicles per week. It's a sobering thought. And the sad aspect of it is if/when they do introduce congestion charging - it will cost you dearly in real coin to sit in it stewing. 

by Chris Morris on June 04, 2017
Chris Morris

Most of the infrastructure spend over the past 8 years has been done for the benefit of Aucklanders. This includes the Kopu bridge and the Waikato expressway. The only big project in recent times non-Aucland has been repair of Christchurch and the Kaikoura SH1 rebuild.

The council has not tailored its projects to suit the budget. They are still pushing for trams to the airport. Even the heavy rail will not benefit anyone on the North Shore or out Howick way. How about the encourage the big employers and businesses to move out of the central city and closer to where people live? All those Head offices don't need to be in Queen Street.

The other thing the government is very aware of is two thirds of the country doesn't live in Auckland. They don't care about the gridlock. People with any sense avoid the place. The government may lose some votes in Auckland by cutting back Mr Goff's expectations so they can spend money elsewhere, but they will retain or even gain votes in the provinces.

 

by Alan Johnstone on June 04, 2017
Alan Johnstone

@Chris 

Except Auckland is a core of support for the National party in recent times. Lose Auckland and they lose power.

by Chris Morris on June 05, 2017
Chris Morris

Alan

They are not necessarlily going to lose support. There are a lot of people that don't like Auckland Council and its grandiose plans. The Council can't get its fundamentals right. They want the port moved and a new stadium to be built by the government, but still dump millions of litres of sewage into the harbours every time it rains. There is little money in their inflated budget to fix the sewers.

Public support depends on who is controlling the narrative - the government can easily offer conditional funding, like it did for the trains. That puts the onus for failure back on the Council.

by Charlie on June 05, 2017
Charlie

As an Aucklander, I wouldn't want central government to prop up Auckland council either.

Before Goff starts handing around the begging bowl he needs to demonstrate due diligence in managing the money he has got. All we see are pink cycleways, expensive artworks and a dream about a footie stadium . Prior to the super city the total regional civil service head count was approx 6,000 people yet today it has mushroomed to over 10,000 today. This despite Rodney Hide trimming the complement during the amalgamation. What are all these people doing, other than slowing down resource consents for housing?

Meanwhile we have provincial NZ is in an economic doldrum. How's about incentivising relocation of businesses to the provinces rather than trying to force a quart into a pint pot? I see no reason why all those web based 'knowledge workers' can't do the exact same thing down the road in Tauranga or Whangarei - oh and they should take their barista with them.

 

by Chris Morris on June 07, 2017
Chris Morris

Looks like Goff is wrong, there won't be congestion charging, only an investigation to look at options which may inlude it:http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/93407118/auckland-council-government-exploring-pricing-for-city-congestion-charges

and Mr Joyce has told Auckland to get its costs under control:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11871612

It looks like Mr Goff isn't any any more cunning than when he was Leader of the Opposition. And the government has put the ball back in ACC's court.

 

by william blake on June 08, 2017
william blake

C morris. "The only big project in recent times non-Aucland has been repair of Christchurch and the Kaikoura SH1 rebuild"

not entirely accurate there as Hamilton isn't exactly in the Auckland region nor is the Kupu bridge a road of national significance, it fact just a quaint backwater but Taurangas' expressway and Kapiti expressway and Transmission gully are. Your parochial attempts to 'capture the narrative' are laughable.

by Chris Morris on June 08, 2017
Chris Morris

William,

I wote "Most of the infrastructure spend over the past 8 years has been done for the benefit of Aucklanders. This includes the Kopu bridge and the Waikato expressway". I didn't say it was in Auckland, like some politicians do when complaining not enough money is spent there. On the Transit website, they list the first benefit of the Waikato expressway  as "Reduce travel times between Auckland and Tirau by 35 minutes."  Kopu bridge (I gather your name is a mis-spelling) was not that expensive, but it was emblematic of the issues. There was only ever real congestion on it at the start and end of Aucklander's holidays. There is probably as much congestion through Otaki every weekend.  The Tauranga expressways are toll roads built as PPPs. Kapiti expressway was $630M, only 20% of the cost of the Waterview connection and not much more than the Victoria Park tunnel. I wrote about historical spend. There had been little expenditure on Transmission Gully up to 2016.

I haven't objected to the majority of the roading spend being for the benefit of Aucklanders. What I do object to is Auckland politicians making out they are hard done by and they should get more. NZTA put out this document detailing their future developments.https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/network/management/docs/draft-shamp-2015-18.pdf. Did Auckland Council put in a written submission on it?

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