Local Democracy

Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, December 19th, 2015 - 35 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, democratic participation, local body elections, local government, Politics - Tags:

greenfield development

It’s beginning to get on my nerves, this slow shrinkage of the scope and use of democracy in New Zealand. I’m not talking about the direct anti-democratic attacks like Southern District Health Board, or Environment Canterbury. I’m thinking solely about local government as we come into the 2016 elections.

Local government election cycles come and go, but other than in the exception, Councils are not run by politicians. Councils used to be where sweaty men leaned on their shovels smoking, near piles of gravel, as you drove past. The public servants now inside them regulate the cities where 85% of New Zealanders live. These people don’t make profits, they don’t manufacture things, they can’t defend themselves, but they actively alter our capitalist world every day with far reaching effects.

Three quick examples:

1. Ruakura, Hamilton.

Together with iwi investors, Kiwirail, and NZTA, Hamiltion’s bureaucrats have generated a 20-year plan that will shift the entire commercial, logistics and transport structure of Waikato’s economy. The inland port is 78 hectares all up, with 138 hectares of residential fitting up to 1,800 mixed density homes. It will have a capacity of 1 million TEU, and it starts construction in late 2016. It’s massive.

2. South Dunedin

Together with signals from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dunedin City Council is in the process of rebuilding its entire District Plan. This means putting the entire future of South Dunedin at stake. Sea level rise forecast within our lifetimes threatens much of Dunedin’s reclaimed land. Bureaucrats are being tasked – just as they were in Christchurch – with rebuilding much of Dunedin in the face of such a threat.

3. City Rail Link, Auckland.

Starting major construction of early works today, this is turning into a largest social and economy catalyst for a more sustainable city than hitherto imagined. From 2016 to 2021, the centre of Auckland will undergo a transformation of public and private space that we won’t see again for a century. Public money, public plans, formed and pushed by public servants. Detailed commentary can be found on Transportblog.

4. Finally, on a far smaller scale, there’s Auckland’s Freyberg Place. Trannsport Blog’s covered it, but it’s a simple case of bureaucrats folding to less than five shopkeepers (of the high end variety), versus almost all fo the submissions.

Collectively, these are examples of intentional shifts of our long term society and economy that we have seen for the 85% of New Zealand’s people in cities. No other public or private entity can claim to be attempting that.Through their engagement with Christchurch, central government  bureaucrats are beginning to understand the role of cities in our society and in our economy. They are run by the people fixated on improving our world: Council bureaucrats. Not that I’ve got anything against them.

So if anyone reading this site actually gets elected next year, start exercising your political muscle. Because at the moment the bureaucrats by and large just don’t need you, in order to change huge chunks of our world.

35 comments on “Local Democracy”

  1. weka 1

    Ad, you haven’t really explained how that’s different than before, and how it’s a concern for democracy.

    Are you saying that the bureaucrats (I assume you mean upper management) are driving these projects from a perspective excludes the community?

    • Once was Tim 1.1

      I suspect that IS what he means – people such as those that used to be called things like ‘Town Clerks’ and others.
      This is not peculiar to local government.
      The Administrative wing of government has taken over more and more – CEOs and Snr Managment running little (sometimes large) fiefdoms, with fuck all accountability (How often do you hear politicians say “I don’t interfere in operational matters”; etc.)
      Crony appointments are made, and it runs on from there. ( http://thestandard.org.nz/what-was-nationals-role-in-the-police-raid-on-nicky-hager/#comment-1110542 )
      This is the antithesis of what was promised during the 80s state sector reforms. We were promised greater ‘accounability’; that utter spin of ‘fishinsea and fektivnuss’; and DE-politicisation of the public service. EXACTLY the opposite has occured (as inevitably they were warned would happen).

      Similarly there is a trend to usurp more and more from the Judiciary through the use of ‘regulations’ and power vested in a Minister (e.g. decisions/appeals made on immigration matters, but also elsewhere).
      It is no wonder that a vast portion of the electorate has become cynical about politics and politicians. It IS NOT democracy in any form.

      • Ad 1.1.1

        Indeed. Well said.

        My general point is that development is accelerating, democracy has less and less say in it, and any good 2016 elected member must be ready to work incredibly hard to make that democratic voice head and effective.

  2. Steve Withers 2

    As one who lives in Auckland, the projects there have been begging for public input for years. The response?

    “Go the All Blacks!” – or whatever the distraction du jour may be.

    The reality is that some one has to do thinking and planning for the future…. And what better people to do it than the people hired to do it?

    We few who pay attention have ample opportunity for input. That isn’t a veto. It’s a chance to offer constructive advice on things that will have to be done anyway, one way or another, if we refuse to limit or population growth.

    This is all very shocking and disturbing to the majority who don’t pay much attention and rarely turn their mind to it unless the NZ Herald is winding up in aid of its political agenda.

    “Bureaucrats” is usually only a sweater word to people who haven’t so to consider what it is these people do all day….. And why… And who asked them to do it.

    Generally… It is our elected representatives who ask or professional experts to digest a monumental amount of information and come up with recommendations.

    They do as asked. They usually do a good job of it.

    • weka 2.1

      It’s true that many people don’t even think about local body issues or politics until they have to. But I also think that councils use consultation processes that are exclusive and passive rather than making the effort to make sure they know what the people think.

      We should also be teaching civics in schools.

  3. Penny Bright 3

    In my considered opinion – what we have in NZ ‘local’ government, particularly in Auckland, is effectively a private sector corporate takeover.

    It is the multi-layered CONTRACTOCRACY – where private sector, ‘for profit’ consultants project manage ‘for profit’ ‘works contractors’, a number of whom then sub-contract to another layer of ‘for profit’ contractors – before you get down and dirty to the boots and overalls, who actually DO SOMETHING productive?

    What on earth was ‘broken’ with in-house Council ‘Works Departments’?

    Oh – that’s right.

    The private sector couldn’t make private profit out of Council ‘Works Departments’.

    Combined with the contracting out to the private sector of Council services services and regulatory functions, has been in influx (‘infestation’ ?) of private sector business people into what once was the public service ‘bureaucracy?

    How on earth do private sector business people ‘transmogrify’ into competent public servants, dedicated to serving the public and the public interest?

    In my view – they don’t.

    They bring their private sector, private profit seeking ways, and business culture with them.

    ‘Make money and look after your business mates’?

    In my view – the main ones who have benefited from Councils adopting the ‘business model’ – have been those businesses which have been awarded the contracts, and those business people who have been appointed to top jobs in the Council ‘bureaucracy’.

    • millsy 3.1

      All is not lost Penny — a lot of councils still do have ‘Works Departments’.

      Wairoa, Rotorua, Nelson, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Waitaki, South Waikato, Waikato, Dunedin, Christchurch (though soon to be sold) still have their own works departments in some shape or form (usually as an independent CCO).

    • Reddelusion 3.2

      Penny do you really think people are going vote for an ex wielding tutor who does not even pay her rates, there’s a condition for people who keep repeating the same crap and expect a different outcome For god sake do something productive

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.2.1

        …there’s a condition for people who keep repeating the same crap and expect a different outcome…

        Like blaming poor people for poverty, for example. Sort out the deciduous forest in your own eye before whinging about the mote in Ms. Bright’s.

      • Penny Bright 3.2.2

        You aren’t – perchance – yourself a private consultant or contractor ‘Redelusion’?

        Just asking – nicely …

        Kind regards

        Penny Bright

        2016 Auckland Mayoral candidate.

    • Tautuhi 3.3

      Penny it is the next stage of the neoliberal experiment “the Sale of Council Assets” to the merchant banking community, this is why these people have been placed in Auckland City Council management positions.

      Most of the National State Assets have now been sold, so Auckland City Council Assets are next easy target.

      It is easy money getting Council Contracts, it is basically like milking a cow.

      The problem I have is the ballooning wages and salaries in Auckland City Council, it is not rocket science running a Council, especially when you can keep cranking up the rates to ratepayers. I would be interested to know what these people on these high salaries at Auckland City Council actually do during the working day, many would be shuffling pieces of paper and having meetings achieving b****r all.

    • Ad 3.4

      You are talking about a state prior to the 1989 reform to the Local Government Act.

      That would the substantial legislative change. No party is proposing to do that.

    • Blue Sky 3.5

      Well done. You’ve spotted economic growth promoted by government.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.5.1

        Well that depends doesn’t it – take the Sky City contract, for example – several companies wasted resources putting in bids for a contract the Prime Minister had already awarded.

        The ‘neoliberal’ model provides little oversight when conflicts of interest arise.

  4. DH 4

    What I find most irritating about local and central government is the way bureaucrats so massively overblow their own worth and their value to society. They’re mere cogs in a machine yet they act and pay themselves as if they are the machine.

    I do find it a bit ironic that in a so-called capitalist world civil servants are paid more than those who create all the wealth.

    • BM 4.1

      Yeah, local councils are probably paying staff about 20-30% above market rates.

    • Tautuhi 4.2

      Local Government, Central Government and the Police are state servants and are paid for by the taxpayer, the problem is some have an attitude problem and are actually operating on some sort of power gradient.

      In the real world a lot of these people would struggle to make a living in the private sector.

  5. Pasupial 5

    There are no links for point 2 about South Dunedin, here are some recent ODT pieces that may be of interest:

    In November, DCC staff tabled an extensive report on the performance of South Dunedin’s stormwater infrastructure during the June floods… the groundwater levels in South Dunedin were very high – in some cases virtually at the surface.

    That meant almost no rain could seep into the soil… we know that just a tiny rise in sea level will cause periodic ponding in parts of the city – whether it rains or not.

    So given the rate of sea-level rise we know is happening, we can expect surface flooding with increasing frequency… Parts of South Dunedin, in particular, will over time become unviable for habitation unless something major is done.

    That could include larger stormwater pipes and pumps, groundwater drainage by way of bores, canals and pumps, impermeable underground water barriers, raising ground levels, retreat and reversion to wetland in some areas

    http://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/opinion/367049/tough-decisions-be-made

    The; “retreat and reversion to wetland”, option has been mentioned increasingly frequently (the above quote is from an opinion piece by the mayor). The other option of increasing pumping capacity will likely prove too expensive when costed out. Not that I disagree, but the accounting is unlikely to factor in the social harm of disrupting communities and turning the city’s impoverished lowland inhabitants into climate refugees. The suggestion of compensation in the affected areas won’t do much to help those crammed into cheap flats, but seems more targeted at preventing trouble from the slumlords living high on the hills.

    The idea of property purchases in South Dunedin has been floated as the Dunedin City Council signals a desire to help homeowners threatened by rising ground water… voted to investigate a work programme to tackle rising ground water in South Dunedin and other parts of the city.

    That would include possible responses to a range of sea-level and climate-change scenarios, and the budgetary implications of each… debate came days after a report by the Parliamentary Environment Commissioner showed 2683 of Dunedin’s homes were at risk from sea-level rise, mainly in South Dunedin.

    That followed a report from Beca, commissioned last year, which recommended a $75 million network of pumps and wells to draw groundwater away from South Dunedin over the coming decades.

    http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/365322/council-buyout-property-possible

    That’s assuming the rather optimistic 1m of sea rise over a century. Which comes from extrapolating from current data without any great rate increase (say from West Antarctic glacial melting powered by Northern tundra methane release).

    Finally, I think this speaks to Ad’s main point of; the recent changes from local government civil service to a more toxic management culture:

    A former staff member, who opted to resign and cites a rising culture of ”blame and control” within the council, said the council used to welcome ”comfortable debate”. But the focus now seemed to be on a more ”hierarchical and autocratic” approach that sought to apportion blame.

    ”There’s been a lot of good, experienced people leave … and a big change in the executive leadership team’s attitude, I think, towards staff.”

    http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/365607/culture-fear-dcc

    • weka 5.1

      Thanks Pasupial. Do you know if there is a breakdown of rentals vs owned for those 2683 homes?

    • Ad 5.2

      Many thanks for thinks Parsupial.
      The recent staff reviews of both the Otago Regional Council and ongoing internal trauma at Dunedin Council are completely on point.

      Local government used to exist for democracy.

      Now, it’s neither a democratic engine, nor a company, nor a proper government department. It’s like they exist in a permanently negated state.

      The purpose of the post is simply to gird the loins of anyone standing for election next year: if they want to make a democratic impact on such huge spatial changes, they are going to have to be tough, cooperative, and principled.

  6. John Shears 6

    The Late Mayor Robbie would disagree with your statement

    “3. City Rail Link, Auckland.

    Starting major construction of early works today, this is turning into a largest social and economy catalyst for a more sustainable city than hitherto imagined.”

    Let us be quite clear that a comprehensive plan for an Auckland
    rail network was in place and the land corridors had been secured but Wellington put the axe through it just as they did with the original harbour bridge plan and reduced it to 4 lanes.

    Thank goodness Robbie managed to win the day and prevent the harbour being polluted with raw sewage in spite of extreme pressure to simply dump near Browns Island.

    IMO you have overlooked the disaster that is now called Auckland, foisted on Aucklanders and New Zealanders by the present government hiding behind Rodney Hide who came up with his master????? plan in 6 months after throwing the Commissioners plan in the dustbin after they had spent some 3 years of careful and detailed investigation and deliberation. Democracy ? what a joke.
    Now we are at the mercy of CCO’s and their grossly overpaid CEO’s
    and a bunch of appointed ‘Directors’. The CEO of Auckland City has just been given a 10% payrise. Go figure.

    • Ad 6.1

      It wasn’t a post solely critiquing the 2009/2010 Auckland reforms.

      Sorry to call it, but Mayor Robbie didn’t actually achieve much for transport in Auckland at all.

      More good has occurred in this Council for transport than in all of Robbie’s terms.

      Not everything about the reforms have been bad. Much of it has been good.

      My question is simply: what is the real role for Councillors in this?

      • Tautuhi 6.1.1

        From what I understand the right wing elements of Council knocked over the light rail proposal, however nobody has done alot of thinking about Auckland Transport since Robbie was in power.

        • Ad 6.1.1.1

          – City Rail Link starts Monday.
          – Light Rail under strong discussion.
          – Electrified trains operating.
          – Public transport numbers and overall % skyrocketing.
          – Single ticket system across all modes.
          – Single fare system implemented July 2016.
          – Entirely new bus routes across all of Auckland well underway – and implemented in many areas already.
          – Entire motorway system completed first quarter 2017.
          – Dedicated busway coming to west Auckland by 2018.

          Robbie was a thinker, and it achieved nothing for Auckland’s transport.

          In the last 5 years, Auckland Transport hasn’t just thought.
          It’s delivered.

          • Brutus Iscariot 6.1.1.1.1

            Realy finally the realisation that transportation infrastructure choices aren’t fundamentally left or right wing. Just pragmatic and necessary.

          • Brutus Iscariot 6.1.1.1.2

            Really finally the realisation that transportation infrastructure choices aren’t fundamentally left or right wing. Just pragmatic and necessary.

    • Tautuhi 6.2

      Neoliberal economics coming into play the merchant bankers are licking their chops waiting to get into the Auckland City Council Assets.

  7. maui 7

    The Council I know elects a panel of 3 councillors (each hand picked by the mayor) and this panel decides if major developments in the area go ahead or not. Hows that for dodgy? Of course they’re very likely to go ahead if it means the Council gets more rates from said development. Any urban sprawl gets signed off because it supports the industrialised economy (even if it’s only for a short while), any negative aspects are dismissed as minor issues. This is not democracy.

  8. Tautuhi 8

    The “Neoliberal Experiment” is still on going, they are just putting the right people and the framework in place, it was very successful selling NZ’s National Assets now they are moving onto Regional Assets.

    It is part of the New World Order, Mont Perilin Society and the Bilderberg Group economic principles, unfortunately people are not aware of what is actually going on in society today, the chosen few will rule the masses.

    These people are devising schemes to create more revenue to pay higher salaries and consultancy fees rather than looking at costs and efficiences, similar to Fonterra, Auckland City has become bloated and inefficient. Also we are trying to make up ground for hopeless Councils over the past 30-40 years who have sat on their hands and done nothing with regards to future planning and development of the City.

    In recent years there has been a totally dysfunctional relationship between Auckland City and Central Government.

    • Ad 8.1

      The Auckland-Wellington relationship is stabilized for now with the joint working group on transport priorities. This will report back in the middle of 2016.

      But overall you are right it has been fraught, and there’s no need for it to be.

      Central government has taken far too long to understand the long term policy implications for the rise of cities within central government.

  9. Peter Wilson 9

    Here’s a parable. I know lots of local councillors, and I also know lots of planners, who work in local government. However, I know of no planners who become councillors, but plenty of councillors become planners. What does that tell you about where power lies?

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