Transcript: Mayors debate part 1

  • 31/10/2015
Transcript: Mayors debate part 1

Lisa Owen: Good morning to Len Brown, Celia Wade-Brown and Lianne Dalziel. Do you need a name change for this morning, Lianne? You're the only non-Brown mayor. I want to start by asking you all very briefly what you think the biggest challenge is that is facing your city. Lianne.

Lianne Dalziel: Well, I guess mine's obvious, and the challenge facing Christchurch is how we continue the rebuild and recover after the series of earthquakes that we experienced. But, you know, as others have said, you never let a serious crisis go to waste, and it is an opportunity as well, and we are seeing some incredible opportunities emerge, and, of course, the latest conversation that we've been having with central government is how do we transition from recovery into a regeneration conversation, which I think is much more exciting for the city.

All right, we'll talk about that a bit more. Celia, what's your challenge?

Celia Wade-Brown: We want to increase our economic growth while making our wonderful, sustainable, compact city even better known globally. We are not a huge city. We're 200,000 people living in Wellington; 500,000 in the greater region. But we still do things pretty well. We are number 12 on the Mercer Quality of Life, and it's really good to see Auckland there at number three. I think we're working really well as the cities together. We've been to China together. We're collaborating on resilience. New Zealand's too small to waste time competing with each other.

Len, where do you start? What's your biggest challenge?

Len Brown: Well, we're growing at 2.9 percent population at the moment, and so managing that population growth, which is about an extra 43,500, and over the last five years, so we're just celebrating five years since the Super city was established, we've grown a city the size of Dunedin. So that's a challenge in itself. But in beside that, of course, the big challenge – sort the transport out. Get a full integrated transport system into place, really build a great public transport system and an active transport system in beside that with cycling. And I think we're doing that, but there's a lot of further action yet to go.

Because some people would say housing is one of your big problems, isn't it? You've been dealing with a housing crisis. Are there signs that prices in Auckland have peaked?

Brown: Yeah, I think there are. And, yes, it is a challenge, because purely of that population growth, and in the fact that during the last GFC we were only building 1,000 houses a year, so basically, people stopped buying and the builders stopped building. So now we are at about 8,500 extra consents a year, half the houses we're building are apartments, which is great, so we've got choice, and the fact that we're building those apartments and the types of terraced houses means that we're building in a more affordable range. So greater choice, more range, and that will help to moderate the prices.

So you think that price is stabilising?

Brown: I think so, yes.

But the thing is you've still got shortfall, haven't you? Depending on whose estimates you take, up to 30,000 houses short.

Brown: Look, if you're talking about a three to five year time frame, that would be right. But if you also listen to people like the Finance Minister, he's talked about a surplus coming at us, so we have a bow wave.

No, but we're talking about right now. If you look at even your own housing project office estimates, you've got a shortfall, and it's big.

Brown: Yeah, and we are working off the base of very low build. So, as I say, we are building probably in the vicinity of 8,000 to 10,000 houses at the moment a year. We need 13,000 to 15,000. So ourselves and the government, under the Housing Accord, are doing everything we possibly can to provide the opportunity for the private sector to do those building.

All right, let's bring Celia back in. Celia, the thing is you've actually got a kind of different sort of issue in some ways. Your house prices fell in the last quarter – just a little bit, but they did fall. How do you get people to move to your city? Because you talked about economic growth.

Wade-Brown: Well, we've got about 1 percent population growth per annum, and most of that is in the central city. So that makes it much easier. We've got many more apartments being built. We cheered up Victoria Street, so we've now got more apartment buildings there. We've agreed Special Housing Areas for some fabulous areas like Shelly Bay. And we've just won an award last night for the wonderful Clyde Quay Wharf. That's a very much a top-end apartments, but we've been doing up the social housing as well. And we need that.

You need people to move in, and you're encouraging Aucklanders.

Brown: Absolutely.

Wade-Brown: We'll have some Aucklanders, that's fine.

Brown: And to be fair, we are shedding population the same time that we're taking it on, so two-thirds of our growth is from migrants. And in some of your recent television coverage, we've seen a number of Aucklanders turn up in places like Bay of Plenty and Tauranga.

So are you happy for Celia to be encouraging people to move out of your city?

Brown: In the end, the government's trying to do it also with some of their policy settings around migration.

Wade-Brown: You get more points if you settle outside of Auckland. But we've all written and said that we can accept more refugees as well, so it's not only the high-earning, high-skills people that are welcome.

Lianne, is Auckland's size an issue, do you think?

Dalziel: Well, no, I think this is a global issue. I've just returned from a conference in London, and that was the City Lab conference, and what they identified there is that this is an issue in all major cities throughout the world, and it's an issue in Christchurch as well. And we may not be the same size and scale as Auckland, but we actually do have the same issues. But with the challenges that we face, we actually also face an incredible opportunity. Something that our region had actually worked on prior to the earthquakes happening was an urban development strategy which actually looked at land use across ourselves, the Waimakariri District Council and the Selwyn District Council as well. So in many respects, the work that we had done in the years before the earthquakes occurred actually enabled the government to move quite quickly in terms of land use recovery plan. We've had an ambition to increase the size of our CBD area – the four avenues, as it were – within Christchurch by over 20,000 people out to 2041. What we're going to have to do is hit the fast-forward button. We need people living in our central city. We need people living there because it will activate the city. It will make it a vibrant and exciting place to be. And it's the central city that really has been the focus of the growth. You have to remember that we've lost over 7,000 properties through the residential red zone since the earthquakes.

You're talking about land use there, and I just want to ask you all before we move on from housing – the Productivity Commission reckons that when land prices hit a certain level, the government should be able to step in and make you guys open up more land. So are you happy to give up control of city planning?

Brown: No. Otherwise, what are we doing in it? I mean, I think it's quite clear, and, you know, the Productivity Commission actually made some quite good recommendations, but that was not one of them.

That's not one you want a bar of?

Brown: No. Look, and the way for us to do it, and it's worked well for us given the special challenges that we have around the issue of growth and trying to get upward growth in particular to deal with some of the issues that Lianne has been talking about where you have concentrations of population to enable better movement of transport. We're doing that under a Housing Accord. And even if there are disagreements, we do them within the accord and do them in a way that's much more mature than slagging each other off on TV.

Let's see what the other two think.

Wade-Brown: I do think you have to have the dense urban centre, and our Special Housing Areas…

Are you happy to give up that right, though?

Wade-Brown: Not at all. We need to have a really good planning. It's far too expensive to build a cheap house on the outskirts. It's expensive for infrastructure. It's expensive for transport. It's short-term thinking.

Lianne? Would you be happy to turn that power over to the government?

Dalziel: No, and I don't think that it needs to be. I actually think that we can work in a far more collaborative model around finding the solutions. Because you cannot create new subdivisions miles away from hubs, from transport centres, shopping centres, services. All you do is you create isolated areas. They're not even communities. If they haven't got a place where they can come together, where they can have recreation, shopping, those sort of things… If you have to jump in your car to go and get a Sunday paper at the dairy, there is something fundamentally wrong with the planning rules.

Let's talk about rates, then, because everybody likes to talk about rates, and we're always having a furious debate about the rates rising. So are rates just not enough anymore to pay for what you need to? Why aren't they?

Brown: So, let's talk about the problem with rates, because I think this is critical. The problem with rates is that there's no connect between or very good connect between what you are charged and your ability to pay that, and so rates is a regressive tax where you pay according to how much your land value is. And that works for some people, but for the elderly in particular, where their income has flatlined once they get past 65, generally, and their property values continue to go up, they're paying more rates against a flatline…

I get that, and lots of people at home will, but I'm wondering why you keep needing more and more money. Why is it that you're not able to cover your costs?

Brown: And by and large, you do. So I think most of us sitting around the table here operate their rates increases or they increase their rating revenue under 5 percent, but for example, for us to deal with the specific challenge of underinvestment in transport and the massive infrastructure spend that we've got to make to deal with our challenges of getting the city better moving, the only way that I can see forward, and my colleagues might disagree with me, is through something like a motorway toll.

Yeah, well, so do you think – the other two mayors – do you think that you need other taxes, other forms of revenue like motorway tolls, like levies, that you can get your ratepayers to pay?

Wade-Brown: I think a wider tool box would be useful. I think it's not—you wouldn't necessarily use all of them. One of the things that we have a challenge with is getting our share of the economic growth that's come from city council investment. So if we put in the airport runway extension, if we put in the Film Museum, if we put in the convention centre, to recoup that purely from rates is quite a challenge.


Dalziel: Well, obviously, we have the additional challenge of rebuilding the city, and the conversation that we had with central government – obviously the council did before I was elected to this position – tried to look at what was a fair share that could be transmitted to the taxpayer as opposed to the ratepayer. But I have to say that I'm the only one that's sitting at this table that's had the experience of being in central government and in local government, and I have to say I almost wish I knew back then what I know now. And that is that central government does put some obligations on local government, and they don't consider the impact that that has on how that's paid for. So quite often, you know, Parliament will debate an issue, and they'll say, 'Well, actually, the local council should determine that issue in consultation with their community.' But they don't take into account how much it costs us to put in place a by-law, how much it costs to enforce it, and actually the impact that that has on the rate-paying base of these smaller areas. I'm faced with the challenge of coastal hazards at the moment, as are everyone else, so…

We're going to talk about coastal hazards after the break, but this is an opportunity for us to take a quick break.

Transcript provided by Able.