17 Jun 2009

Local government minister at odds with Key - Labour

9:27 pm on 17 June 2009

Differing positions on local government policy between Local Government Minister Rodney Hide and Prime Minister John Key are becoming untenable, the Labour Party says.

Local Government New Zealand is questioning the $40 million purchase of Queens Wharf in central Auckland by the Government and Auckland Regional Council.

Both are paying $20 million for the wharf, which the Government wants to be used as a public party area for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. There are also plans to build a cruise ship terminal.

Local Government New Zealand says the decision makes a mockery of its comments on community consultation and says there is an irony in Mr Hide promoting transparency and restrictions on non-core spending.

Mr Hide is overseeing a review of the Local Government Act, which include proposals for councils to focus on core spending such as transport and public health.

But Labour's spokesperson for Auckland issues, Phil Twyford, says there is huge inconsistency with the wharf's purchase and suggestions for referendums on big spending.

Mr Twyford says Mr Key has been distancing himself from Mr Hide. He says Mr Hide is pushing an extremist agenda while Mr Key heads in another direction.

Local Government New Zealand vice-president Kerry Prendergast says the speed of the purchase has raised eyebrows among council members.

Auckland City Council will be making commercial decisions about the wharf on behalf of other councils before the switch is made to a super-city.

Ms Prendergast says while Mr Hide is promoting more transparency for councils, Mr Key is purchasing land for a Rugby World Cup party without any consultation with the wider community. She believes the Government is setting a double standard.

Auckland leaders differ over cost

Auckland City Council will this week budget for new facilities to be placed on the site. It is due to finalise its long-term spending plan on Friday.

But Auckland Regional Council chairperson Mike Lee and Auckland Mayor John Banks have different opinions on how much to spend developing the wharf area.

Mr Lee met Mr Banks and Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully on Wednesday.

Mr Banks predicts spending of up to $100 million, but Mr Lee says the job can be done for between $15 million and $30 million.

Mr Banks says decisions will be made on behalf of other local councils, because the cost will be shared by the region after it becomes a super-city governed by one council next year.

Mr Lee says Aucklanders do not expect fancy paving and simply want the wharf opened.

Transition Agency may approve proposal

The agency steering the amalgamation of Auckland's eight local bodies does not expect any difficulty approving the proposed $100 million redevelopment of Queens Wharf.

The proposal may need to be approved by the Auckland Transition Agency, which will oversee significant local body spending during the 16-month transition period for the super-council to be formed.

Executive chairman Mark Ford says he does not foresee problems, providing the wharf plan has gone through the right decision-making process.