13 Apr 2023

Auckland Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson fronts after damning report into flood response

1:30 pm on 13 April 2023

Desley Simpson. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown's silence following Wednesday's damning report into the council's response on the day of the January floods continues, almost 24 hours after it was released.

Aside from a brief response issued via a statement on Wednesday afternoon, the mayor has declined or not responded to interview requests from RNZ, including for Morning Report and Midday Report.

Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson also declined to front for the former, but did agree to be interviewed for Midday Report - saying she was at a function on Wednesday night and had not had a chance to digest its contents.

"I speed-read it when I got it initially. I wasn't comfortable speaking live, having not read the report in detail," she said in a pre-recorded interview conducted just after 11am.

"We've got to know what we're talking about here, and one of the key issues around communication is making sure that you know your subjects and you know what you're talking about," Simpson explained.

"I have now read the report three times. I probably will read it another 33 times. There's a lot to digest. The key message I just want Aucklanders to know is it's sobering, it's bad, but we will fix it. We must fix it. We cannot let what happened on January 27 happen again. I don't think there is any elected member or staff member that doesn't want that to happen."

The report - which Simpson called "grim reading" - was highly critical of the handling of the disaster, which saw a record amount of rainfall fall on the city, leaving four dead. Headed by former police commissioner Mike Bush, it found the council's emergency management response was slow, ill-prepared and unfit to respond to a major storm.

Simpson said communication in events since - including Cyclone Gabrielle - showed the council has already improved its emergency response systems.

"Remember that the night of the 27th, the actual event, the amount of rain that we had was far greater than any [forecast]. The amount of rain we received was seven times the forecast expected. So not only was it bad, but it was instant. And as the report said, every minute counted.

"And I think one of the big highlights in the report that I picked up was the fact that the staff involved didn't expect it to be as bad as it actually was. And I think you've always got to expect the worst and hope for the best - but you've got to expect the worst."

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown apologises for flood response.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown. Photo: Supplied/ Auckland Council / YouTube

Part of the changes she said will be localising more of the response, rather than relying on centralised authorities.

"I think there's a huge number of failures in that report from Auckland Council's perspective and I think everyone needs to take responsibility. But the key thing is to fix it, and fix it very quickly."

Simpson said she expected extreme weather events to happen with greater frequency in the future.

"I don't think they'll stop. I think we will continue to have significant events that impact our people, our property, our assets and the livelihoods of those who live and work in this city. We need to be better prepared."

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