Mayoral candidate proposes asset 'swap'

Mark Thomas (Newshub.)
Mark Thomas (Newshub.)

An Auckland mayoral candidate's plan to sell most of the council's shares in the airport has the Government's cautious approval.

Mark Thomas, businessman and member of the Orakei Local Board, wants to reduce Auckland Council's share of Auckland International Airport down to 10 percent, and use the proceeds to invest in housing and transport.

The council's 10-year plan is to spend about $2.3 billion a year on transport, which Mr Thomas says needs to be $300 million higher.

"We've looked at debt, we've looked at rates increases. Aucklanders don't favour those, I don't favour them either," Mr Thomas told Paul Henry this morning.

"But what the reports show is we've got these assets that I think we could look at swapping into other investments."

Cutting the council's share in the airport will bring in up to $800 million, says Mr Thomas. While he admits this will see the council lose out on dividends, improvements in transport infrastructure will see congestion costs drop.

"I was in Huapai, northwest Auckland, at the weekend. The special housing areas are creating a lot of pressure on the existing infrastructure. We've got to do more, put more of our share in to get roads built."

It's estimated Auckland's traffic congestion costs the country $1.25 billion a year.

Finance Minister Bill English, acting as Prime Minister while John Key is in China, said Auckland Council should be "pushing pretty hard" to fund its own growth.

"Auckland is asking for money from the Government -- that is from the rest of the country -- to build its rail link, and we're in negotiation with them about that," says Mr English.

"Auckland has to show, just as Christchurch City Council has, they have to show that they are pushing their own balance sheet pretty hard -- including doing some of the things that they haven't wanted to do in the past."

Mr Thomas is adamant his plan, which includes selling shares in Ports of Auckland, isn't an 'asset sale', but rather a 'swap'.

"People don't like asset sales because they think they're losing something."

He also says rival candidate Phil Goff hasn't outlined how he would fund infrastructure growth, considering his promise not to sell strategic assets.

Mr Thomas ruled out including Watercare in his asset 'swap'.