25 Jul 2017

'Morning tea and muffins' taskforce costs nearly $50k

7:23 am on 25 July 2017

The housing taskforce that Auckland's mayor said might set ratepayers back "a morning tea and a couple of muffins" has ended up costing nearly $50,000.

The five one-day gatherings last month delivered a report recommending keeping up home construction during economic slumps, making more buildable land available at the right price, and streamlining consent and building regulations.

Mayor Phil Goff announced the taskforce last December, after rejecting council participation in a multi-sector housing action plan proposed by independent property strategist Leonie Freeman, citing its cost.

Ms Freeman had sought a council contribution of about $50,000 to a strategy that would lead to an independent body tasked with ensuring the city built the required number of new homes.

Mr Goff - who was elected under the slogan "More for Less" - told RNZ at the time that his taskforce could do the job for "a morning tea and couple of muffins".

More than half of the eventual $47,165 cost went on writing up the taskforce's final report.

Mr Goff's office said $25,000 was spent hiring an outside contractor to write the 40 pages of text and graphs in the report.

The other major expense was the $15,000 cost for hiring Wellington-based commentator and journalist Bernard Hickey to chair the five one-day sessions.

Another $3292 was spent on flights and accommodation for Mr Hickey, and $4086 on catering.

The 13 leaders of private companies and sector groups who participated in the sessions gave their time free of charge, and managers from four government agencies and ministries observed.

The mayor has defended the spending, calling it "incredibly good value for money".

"What you're paying for are a professional facilitator, a professional economist that works with the committee - that committee came up with a report that was widely supported and endorsed across the community and that other local bodies have shown interest in as well," Mr Goff said.

He also defended the need to go outside the council to find someone to write the final report.

"I wanted to have an independent economist, serving a committee that was a mayoral taskforce on housing but independent of the council itself," he said.

"The council was the target of a number of recommendations, and therefore it made sense that the body was facilitated by people who were independent of the council."

Most of the report's bigger recommendations would require action from central government, such as boosting the building of homes on publicly-owned land or "establishing a credible long-term programme of housing development".

A governance group is now being set up to oversee how the taskforce ideas progress.

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