24 May 2010

More accountability for Auckland super-city agencies

7:18 pm on 24 May 2010

Last-minute changes to Auckland super-city legislation have diluted some of the controversial control that unelected officials have over the city's water and transport.

The amendments to the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill have been made by a select committee considering the final piece of legislation merging Auckland's eight local bodies into one.

The committee's report boosts the maximum number of members that can sit on the 21 community boards and gives the new council more control over agencies such as transport and water organisations.

The final version of the bill allows up to 12 community board members instead of the previous eight, but stops short of specifying what responsibilities the boards will have.

It also gives the Auckland Council the power to remove government-appointed directors of council controlled organisations (CCOs) and to have greater influence over the Transport Agency.

Select committee chairman John Carter says the changes are significant.

"I'm very proud that we have ended up with a structure now that will be functional from day one - that the mayor and the councillors and the chairman and the local boards will be able to ... get up and running right from the time of its inception.

"How it forms and how it develops is entirely over to the people of Auckland. It's not for us to say."

Mixed views from mayors

The amended bill limits some powers of the Transport Agency and gives the council the power to insist that its meetings are held in public.

It also describes the basic functions and roles of the 21 community boards - generally around local services, amenities and activities.

Despite those amendments, Manukau City mayor Len Brown - a contender for the Auckland super-city mayoralty - still has concerns.

"We should have got rid of the transport CCO - I'm not happy with that. We should have legislated the local board's powers and responsibilities.

"There's an opportunity in there to ensure that there's no debate, no discussion in the first two or three years between the council and the boards. That's where my primary concerns lie and continue to be."

But Auckland City mayor John Banks, the second main contender for the super-city mayoralty, is happy with the changes.

"They've clearly listened to the great deal of vociferous opposition from the public of Auckland through the select committee process. Much of the angst has been taken out - especially around council controlled organisations where they can now from day one be appointed by the council and fired by the council."

Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey believes it is now time to move ahead. "I think that the time for being overtly concerned about how it would work is over. It is in place ... the time for moaning and whingeing is over."

Much better bill, Hide admits

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide has been driving the super-city process and says the changes brought by the select committee go further than he initially expected.

"It is a different bill as a consequence, and the Auckland governance is going to be different as a consequence of the input that the select committee received and the select committee's decisions.

"It is a different bill to the one I originally proposed. I personally have accepted now that it's a much better bill."

However, select committee member and the Labour Party's Auckland Issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, calls the bill a "con job" and says it ignores the Auckland public's wishes.

The Green Party's David Clendon believes the bill also keeps the door open for the privatisation of assets - something Mr Hide denies.

The Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill is expected to be passed within weeks. The Auckland Council comes into being on 1 November.