Welcome back. I'm talking with the mayors of our three largest cities: Auckland's Len Brown, Wellington's Celia Wade-Brown and Lianne Dalziel from Christchurch. Before we went to the break, we were talking about climate change. The reality is, all of your cities may partly be covered by water in the years to come. What are you going to do about it?
Dalziel: Well, this is why I wrote to the Minister of the Environment after he was elected to this position last year, and I said, 'I think this is crazy that Christchurch leads the way on this. You know, we actually have been through a significant event and people are seriously challenged, particularly in these lower-lying areas of our city that are more exposed than they were before. Because our land did drop, and in some areas by 1.3 metres. That's significant. I mean, we've probably mimicked in a short period of time, a matter of seconds, the impacts of potential climate change.'
But house owners are stopping you dealing with that, aren't they? In terms of the LIMs. Marking up LIMs. There was a resistance to that because, of course, it's going to lower house prices.
Dalziel: No, no. I think that the real issue here is that in terms of the scientific research, and this is the point I was making before the break, the Government really should be leading the way in terms of this. Why should individual councils have to get their own independent reports? Why should they have to get them peer reviewed? Why should they then have to have the hard conversations with people about what the potential future might bring? And when we're talking about advice that goes on LIMs, it's simply notifying the information that we have available to people. And I would rather that central government took a leadership role in this area and got the information that we could all rely on. I understand that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is not far off her next report, and I'd say let's wait until we have that.
Wade-Brown: But I think there's the other issue is not just reacting to sea-level rise, but all of us doing what we can to reduce the emissions. And cities are showing incredible leadership in that. Our greenhouse gas emissions have gone down despite population increase, and economic growth. We've got one of the biggest, the most productive wind farms, and our buildings — we're working together with about 25 different building owners to reduce energy.
Yeah, but people are worried about their house prices now, aren't they, and it's political dynamite, or political suicide, depending on what decisions you make. Would you want to hand it off to—
Wade-Brown: We need to have shared scientific advice, but the decisions about how best to deal with different beaches, whether you plant them, whether you put back a sea wall, whether you have a bigger sea wall, they are going to be specific to different communities.
Dalziel: It's democratic decision-making because it's not just about identifying the hazards, it's actually identifying the nature of the risk. And you don't have to respond to risk by retreat. You don't have to respond to risk by mitigation. You don't have to respond to risk by adaptation. But you will have to respond, and it will be one of those three options. You'll mitigate in some way. So we have higher floor levels for our houses in areas that are exposed to flood risk. There are adaptations. There are different ways that we can put in place. There are different types of buildings that are able to be moved if they need to be. You know, there are all sorts of things that we can have a deeper conversation about, but if we don't have an agreed position on the science, then that makes it extremely challenging for individuals who live in our coastal suburbs, and they live in all of our cities—
Wade-Brown: Which is why they choose to live— but it's not just the sea-level rise, it's the increased storms and the amount of rainfall, so we actually have to manage our storm-water systems.
We need to move on. Sorry, 'cause we've got a few things I need to cover.
Wade-Brown: Storm water and sewage are interesting to mayors. I'm very sorry.
We are going to cover off some other issues. Lianne, the Government's pushing ahead with the Christchurch Regeneration Bill. Your old party says it gives too much power to Gerry Brownlee. He keeps that power for the next five years. Doesn't that stick in your craw?
Dalziel: No, it doesn't because what this is doing is enabling a conversation to occur around what happens after a recovery situation in a city faced with what we've been through, and so—
But he decides how that conversation ends, surely.
Dalziel: No, no. Things have changed. So I think that there is a bill that has been introduced, and we are still talking to central government about it, and there will be changes, I think, made to the bill as it goes through. But it's who initiates the regeneration planning process that has fundamentally changed. It is initiated by Regenerate Christchurch, which is jointly appointed by government, and the fact that it has an independent board that then is reporting to the government but is not... and reporting to council in equal terms, I think has changed the landscape, and offers the potential for other cities to enter into a collaborative relationship with central government.
All right. Len, I want to ask you about the review of Auckland assets, which is currently underway. You've previously promised that you will not sell off strategic assets. But is it time? Has it come to the point where you do need to sell a few things?
Brown: Look, I absolutely am committed to those promises - that's particularly the airport shares and the port shares. We own our port one 100 percent, and we own our port about 22 percent.
But what about some other stuff that you could afford to sell off?
Brown: Hang on. We've seen 100 percent increase, really, in the last five years in the capital value of those two shareholdings, so that's the first thing. And last year, we received, as ratepayers, $95 million worth of dividends. So for me, as a commercial benefit alone, they're great as an investment for our community. Secondly—
What about things that you don't think are strategic assets? Could you afford to sell some of them?
Brown: We're doing that already. Every year, we sell down about $100 million worth of property that's surplus to requirements. We have a property portfolio, Aucklanders, of around $2 billion. And so we are selling in a strategic way about $100 million of that every year to off-set our need to borrow. And so that $100 million goes into buying other assets — libraries, pools, footpaths, whatever.
It's something you're doing. Celia, are you keen on pandas in Wellington or not?
Because the messages seem to be a little mixed.
Brown: I'd like some pandas.
Wade-Brown: We're very keen on free pandas. If the Government was going to provide pandas, we'd be delighted, I'm sure. The question is — who would pay and how much? We've just opened the most amazing exhibit, the 'meet the locals' at the zoo.
So you're not prepared to kick in any money for the pandas, but you'll take them if they're on the Government's ticket?
Wade-Brown: We'd be very happy. We would provide the bamboo, I'm sure.
All right. Well,—
Brown: That sounds like a good deal — bamboo for pandas.
On another subject. Sorry, Celia, I just want to ask—
Wade-Brown: We have had conversations—
I just want to ask whether you'd kick money in to help the Phoenix survive.
Wade-Brown: We already work very closely with the Phoenix. We're looking at some high performance facilities, and I have got my little Phoenix shirt. Sorry, I put the other side first.
But no money for them?
Wade-Brown: We've got an economic development fund that, if it stacks up, we will support. And I am expecting both Mayor Brown and Mayor Dalziel to support keeping the Phoenix in the A-league.
All right. Very quick question, Len — transport. Phil Goff reckons that Transport Accord, all that's going to do is stop something for another year. Is he right? Have you played into the Government's hands with that one?
Brown: Oh, look, there's a number of views on this. But if there was one thing that we needed to do after five years, was really get very clear understanding with the Government, sit with them and all of the agencies to stop the argument, and be very clear on a line — what we want to do in terms of investment into Auckland transport. So for me, putting aside the city rail tunnel, the Waterview tunnel, the second harbour crossing, all that, this will actually be the deal that will open up all of the investment. A very clear message from the Government and the Council to the business sector in our community, we are united in the way in which we're going forward to deal with the problem of transport in Auckland. It is exactly the right thing to be doing.
All right. Very quickly before we go, who is standing at the next election? Lianne?
Dalziel: I haven't quite made up my mind yet. Obviously, when you take on the role of mayor in a city like Christchurch in the situation that it's in, you do want to see things through. And I guess, in many respects, it will depend on where we're up to, the Regeneration Bill will be passed in April next year.
So probably yes? So probably yes? You're leaning on the side of yes?
Dalziel: Probably leaning on the side of yes.
Wade-Brown: Probably yes. There's lots of great projects I want to see through — film museum, making the war museum permanent, seeing that jolly plane land direct from Asia.
Len Brown, are you standing next— ?
Brown: I'll probably make a statement soon.
Okay, well, what would stop you from standing? Phil Goff?
Brown: Look— (LAUGHS) I've been the mayor, by the end of this term, for nine years. And I mean, it's been brilliant, but it is hugely challenging, and also hugely challenging in your personal life. And so I will be making a decision and a statement soon.
Could you beat Phil Goff?
Brown: Oh, I'm not going to get into that. I mean, the one thing I will say, and my colleagues will agree with me here, is that these roles are challenging and to anyone who wants to put their hand up for this job, I say the very best to you, whether I'm competing against you or not.
All right. Thank you all very much for joining us this morning.
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