Auckland Council needs better financial health

Auckland Mayoralty

Mark Thomas – 

I drove to a meeting in Pukekohe last week.

Google maps told me that the 55 km drive should be completed in 45 minutes. But it took nearly double that. I was prepared for the delay as will anyone who drives around Auckland regularly would be.

But this is hardly the world’s most liveable city promised by Mayor Len Brown six years ago.

Traffic congestion has worsened over this period and the New Zealand Transport Agency says that we should be spending an extra $400 million per year on transport.

20 Road Days

The recent annual Tom Tom Congestion Survey said that Auckland commuters can expect to spend the equivalent of 20 working days per year stuck in their car.

This works out to an average 40 minutes each day and it has lengthened by nearly 20% since 2010.

Mayor Brown’s political colleague Phil Goff is promising us a similar vision of Auckland, where “talent and enterprise thrive.”

But there is little thriving possible when we are stuck in traffic day after day.

This is the context for the Government’s new idea to let the next Mayor of Auckland introduce new toll charges to drive on Auckland’s roads. Mr Goff is a big supporter, but I think it is unreasonable to hit Aucklanders with further Council charges until we get Council’s financial house in better order.

Rising Debt

Council debt has doubled since Auckland Council was created in 2010 from $3.4 billion to $6.5 billion and ratepayers are still reeling from the recent 9.9% residential rates increases.

My first step if you elect me Mayor will be to rewrite the Council’s budget and move funding from lower priority spending into transport before asking Aucklanders if they want to be charged more.

A recent Council survey showed only 17% of Aucklanders trust Council to make good decisions, and they are unlikely to be happy giving Council more money unless we improve how we spend the money we have.

Growth pressure

The Government report also shows acute growth pressure in Auckland’s North, North-West and South with congestion worsening with Special Housing Area activity.

For any future road pricing plan to be credible, communities such as those in Warkworth, Kumeu/Huapai, Takanini to Drury and elsewhere need much greater confidence their congestion problems in their area will actually be addressed.

Experience in other cities around the world show that a carefully implemented road pricing scheme can help road users make better transport decisions, and save money by reducing new infrastructure spending.

But we need to design a system that works well for Auckland and which has much greater public support. It is taking Singapore more than four years to develop their new satellite system and they have had tolling since 1975.

It is essential that road pricing is not used to create another ‘slush fund’ for other Council spending. With so little confidence in Council decision making and with grave concerns about spending and debt levels, I will not support new road charging for Auckland until I have improved these issues. With my combined Council and business experience, I am confident that I can.

Mark Thomas is an experienced business owner and executive within a diverse range of industries. He has been an elected member of Auckland Council since 2010.

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