Auckland mayor Wayne Brown warms to council agencies after first encounter

2:27 pm on 3 November 2022

By Todd Niall of Stuff

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown at a campaign debate

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown. Photo: Stuff / Ricky Wilson

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown has found some nice things to say about the council agencies he attacked throughout his election campaign - and since - following his first face-to-face encounter with their leaders.

In a written statement from his office on Thursday, Brown said he had been "pleasantly surprised" by the culture and economic agency Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, which he has repeatedly called a "travel agency" unworthy of ratepayer funding.

Brown's more placatory tone followed a lengthy briefing session for the mayor and all councillors by each agency and the council-owned Ports of Auckland on Wednesday.

Stuff understands there were no surprises or revelations in the updates to the politicians, and that the mayor and others asked questions.

The briefing was the first direct contact Wayne Brown has had with any of the council-controlled organisations since his election, despite his repeated public criticisms of them and calls for their boards of directors to resign.

"Acting [Tātaki] chairperson Jennah Wootten and her team have responded positively and strongly to the change that is afoot in Auckland and are committed to doing more with less," Brown said.

It was not clear what Brown meant by "more with less", although the agency has been three years without the $14 million funding provided by the now-suspended Accommodation Providers Targeted Rate (APTR).

APTR is subject to a Supreme Court decision on the council's appeal to the finding that the previous mayor Phil Goff's first fiscal initiative was unlawful.

Brown's other main targets have included Auckland Transport and the property and urban regeneration agency Eke Panuku, a property developer.

His criticisms of Eke Panuku sparked a campaign run by activists the Auckland Ratepayers Alliance.

The group has funded billboards and a petition calling for an end to council funding of the council-controlled organisation.

On Thursday, Brown said: "Eke Panuku Development Auckland remains unable or unwilling to clearly state how much it costs Aucklanders in net terms every year, or why it needs to be subsidised at all".

However, Eke Panuku's businesses are spelt out in its annual report and quarterly briefings to the council, and in September Stuff reported key figures about its activities.

The agency manages - at a profit - about $2.4 billion of council property, including Westhaven marina.

It is paid by the council for the management costs.

The only ratepayer funding Eke Panuku receives is $18.3 million for its other work, which is regeneration of town centres and their environments, such as Avondale, Northcote and Manukau.

Regeneration includes land swaps, sales and purchases to create development blocks, such as the 750-dwelling site in Avondale next to the proposed town centre.

On Ports of Auckland (POAL), which Brown wants moved out of the city, the mayor also had positive comments on Thursday.

"POAL, under its new chief executive, is clearly focussed on operating the port more efficiently and safely than under its previous governance and management," he said.

Brown repeated his own belief that the port would never be able to deliver a true economic return to ratepayers.

The mayor described Watercare as the "least-worst" performer in the Auckland Council group.

Of Auckland Transport, on which he focussed multiple campaign attacks, Brown said it did not yet have answers on how it would address what he called "the current public transport crisis".

Brown laid much of the blame for the shortage of 500 bus drivers and future rail disruption due to a deferred maintenance catch-up on "Wellington politicians and bureaucrats, including Waka Kotahi, the Ministry of Transport, KiwiRail and Immigration New Zealand".

The mayor coined the phrase "public transport crisis" on Tuesday, though he had yet to directly meet Auckland Transport or the Minister of Transport.

Brown made no mention of his once-regular calls for all CCO directors to be gone "within weeks" of his 8 October election.

The mayor continues to decline a request by Stuff for a detailed interview, leaving many of the issues raised by Thursday's comments unexplained.

* This story was originally published by Stuff.

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