Slow start to Goff mayoralty

11:32 am on 6 October 2017

Analysis - A week may be considered a long time in politics, but the first year of Phil Goff's Auckland mayoralty is too short a period on which to judge his success.

Phil Goff

Auckland mayor Phil Goff Photo: RNZ

Mr Goff's first anniversary in the job this weekend will be spent still awaiting the formation of a government which holds the key, and the funding, needed to address many of the city's big challenges.

The former Labour Party leader has had plenty to be getting on with after making some big promises on his campaign trail last year.

Mr Goff pledged to continue capping average rate rises at no more than 2.5 percent.

"People said, 'You can't do that, it just won't work' - but we actually did deliver that, it wasn't easy, but we got it across the line," Mr Goff told RNZ.

In reality, Mr Goff added another 1 percent, imposed on 2999 owners of visitor accommodation properties in the form of a targeted rate to fund half of the city's tourism promotion budget.

Mr Goff does not count that as breaching the 2.5 percent pledge.

It's also an initiative which may still face a legal challenge by disgruntled accommodation providers, who say their sector alone is footing a bill for attracting visitors who benefit a much wider spread of the city's economy.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff speaking at the parade held in his city to welcome Team NZ home, 6 July 2017.

Mr Goff at the Team New Zealand tickertape parade in July. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Mr Goff's other big promise was to find annual savings of up to $72 million, over and above what might be found in an already significant programme of efficiency being driven within the council.

The first vehicle that may deliver savings are "value for money" reviews required by statute, in which the council goes through its operations, section by section.

"There are some potentially big areas for saving, and what I want to do with value for money, is not make savings by cutting services, but rather work out more effective ways of spending money," he said.

Whatever savings are found, though, may be hard to attribute to the mayor's involvement.

The mayor can point to smaller victories. His environmental promise to plant 1,000,000 trees during the term is well underway, as is progress on tackling homelessness.

The council's years-long work on homelessness led to the mayor launching the Housing First programme jointly with government, which has at last count found permanent homes for 190 people.

Mr Goff's biggest pieces of work are continuing the lobbying of government to help fund infrastructure for new housing, and for major transport investment.

That work actually began under Len Brown, but the first fruits have been seen on Mr Goff's watch, with the government contributing to infrastructure from a new fund, and allowing new entities to be created to fund infrastructure without it adding to the council's debt.

Phil Goff tweet https://twitter.com/phil_goff/status/840268173039546370

Mr Goff surveys the flooding that struck Auckland at the beginning of the year. Photo: Twitter / @phil_goff

The city's historic under-building of new housing is the political supertanker which Mr Goff is struggling to alter the course of.

He moved quickly to set up a Mayoral Taskforce on Housing, but in doing so snubbed a separate initiative by well-respected strategist Leonie Freeman, who, with a wide range of industry and community housing groups, continues to work parallel to the mayor's group on an action plan.

Auckland's rate of home building continues to rise slowly, but at 7000 completions over the past year, is still only half the 14,000 needed - meaning the shortage worsens.

On the election trail Mr Goff called for council support for more affordable housing developments.

However, the first council project to materialise since his election is a 105-apartment development on Dominion Road, which won't include any affordable units.

Mr Goff has defended the focus on financial return for this development, saying affordable housing works better in cheaper parts of the city. The community housing sector has publicly taken him to task on this stance.

On transport, the make-up of the next government will directly affect how many of Mr Goff's (and Auckland's) wishes may be fulfilled early.

The mayor wants an early start to light rail across the isthmus, and mass transit of some form to the airport. National has moved closer to a start on light rail, while Labour and the Greens have made big promises of a network across the city - and for a regional fuel tax to supplement ratepayers' contributions.

It took nearly two terms for Auckland's first regionwide-mayor, Len Brown, to achieve a start on his biggest goal - the downtown rail tunnel City Rail Link.

Mr Goff has made a solid start as Mr Brown's successor but similarly faces a longer haul than one year to get measurable results.

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