Q&A With Auckland Council Mayoral Candidate Mark Thomas
In October this year the Auckland Council elections will be held. With the current housing problems facing Auckland in particular, we thought it would be a good idea to ask the mayoral candidates a few questions about their housing policies.
First up is business man and Orakei Local Board Deputy Chair, Mark Thomas
1. What do you believe the role of Auckland Council is in relation to dealing with Auckland housing?
We have three key roles:
i) Ensure enough land is zoned for new growth and we have effective rules allowing redevelopment of existing land/housing – including the provision of more affordable housing
ii) We can fund council’s share of growth, specifically the transport, water and other community infrastructure (libraries/community facilities)
iii) We can process the consents and other regulations quickly
The first of these has been a big historical problem and, although they have caused other pressures, the Special Housing Areas have helped. However, we are not providing enough of our share of the funding and we are still too slow at consenting.
The Government’s recently announced National Policy Statement on Urban Development may help improve council’s house-building focus, but we will still need infrastructure funding and quicker council action to actually deliver the new houses.
2. Given your position on Auckland Council’s role, what actions would you take to influence the Auckland housing situation?
On my website www.mark-thomas.co.nz, I’ve announced three sets of plans in the affordability, transport and growth/housing areas all of which will help.
In the growth/housing area I think we need to set up what I am calling Special Development Areas to make quicker progress building houses. Government would need to make changes to the Resource Management Act to best deliver this, as they did with the Special Housing Areas, but if they don’t do this I’ll establish them anyway and use council resources to fast-track house building and urgent new infrastructure (particularly transport related).
I mention in my key policy areas below that I will re-prioritise lower value spending into to help boost growth spending, and we also need to speed up consent processing and change our culture to be more ‘customer’ centered. We’ll do this by implementing the recommendations from the Government’s Rules Reduction Taskforce which I sat on last year.
3. How do you think Auckland’s Proposed Unitary Plan will affect future housing?
I hope it will help but it depends what the final recommendations are from the Panel which council receives no later than July 22 and what final decisions are made by council on August 19.
There is potential to significantly increase the density in existing housing areas and so create more housing in our current suburban neighbourhoods – but council hasn’t run this process well. A key opportunity is to apply more effort to the so-called “Metro” centers of Manukau, Takapuna, Henderson etc. Greater numbers of new houses/apartments are possible there and I am sure the Panel will confirm council’s zoning plans in these areas.
Another risk with the Plan is that it will deliver a new housing approach for our region that too many Aucklanders don’t support. If this is so, then I will rewrite those parts of the plan to deliver suburban housing options more of us support. However even if we have to do this, I will focus on the new housing opportunities in the Metro areas first.
4. More generally speaking, what are 3 initiatives you hope to undertake as Major of Auckland?
1) Make Auckland Council more affordable. I will rewrite the 30 year Auckland Plan to focus us better on the things that are more important. I’ll reduce the vast range of activities we are involved in (like funding Whitewater rafting parks, international summits and arts plans) so we can make more progress on transport, housing, parks maintenance and community facilities. I will reprioritise lower value regional activities and boost funding to higher priority local projects. I’ll Aucklanders to support an ‘asset swap’ whereby we transfer half the shares in the airport and the port operating company (but not the land) into other assets we value more (transport assets etc).
2) I’ll deliver Better Transport Sooner which will deliver more local transport projects, reduce Auckland’s congestion sooner and reform Auckland Transport. I will increase transport funding by the reprioritising mentioned above , restructure the way Auckland Transport works and implement a new “Hybrid” mass transport plan delivering a better bus and rail plan.
After five years of Auckland Council too many key local transport priorities remain unaddressed. Auckland Transport’s plans are too disconnected from Aucklanders key transport concerns. A key part of my plan if elected Mayor will be to use existing legislative powers to reorganise Auckland Transport to get it working better.
3) I will sort out our growth problems. This means building more houses, more quickly and investing more in our infrastructure which is already creaking at the seams. I will establish Special Development Areas in Auckland to fast-track new housing, I will use direct council incentives to bust land banks and I will develop a new ‘Hub and Spoke’ Unitary Plan model.
I will also resolve the key transport and public engagement issues with the Ports of Auckland and, rather than focusing on moving the port right now, I will implement a Streets Of Local Significance (SOS) approach to better address local transport bottlenecks.
Even with the most aggressive Unitary Plan delivered by the Hearings Panel, Auckland will not make quick enough progress on building new, more affordable housing using business-as-usual. We are not providing enough funding for our share of growth, we
don’t use private capital effectively and we are too slow to process consents. My plans will address all these.
5. What is your vision for the future of Auckland?
I want to lead an Auckland That Works. We’ve had five and half years of the current Mayor’s ‘most liveable city’ goal. In that time, life in Auckland has actually got less liveable for many Aucklanders. Traffic congestion has got worse, we’ve become the fifth most expensive place to buy a house on earth and we have just had the highest rates increase on recent memory.
We have done too much planning, and not enough doing. I want to use my five and half years as part of council, my more than twenty years in a diverse range of businesses and almost a lifetime in politics to actually deliver on our top priority projects.
An Auckland That Works will see a more affordable council, will deliver better transport sooner and will get our growth sorted.
For more information:
Facebook: Mark Thomas For Mayor
June 8, 2016 Blog