The Super City turns 10

I’m happy to admit to having been a Super City sceptic.  In the lead up to the forced amalgamation 10 years ago of Tāmaki Makaurau’s eight councils into Auckland Council I had become active in community-led development.  The governance structure for the new body, with the majority of council business driven by Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs), didn’t appear to sit well with local decision making and sustainable community building.  If there had been a referendum, I’m sure I would have joined the majority of Aucklanders in voting “no” to a Super City.

10 years on I’m convinced the Super City has been for the best.  It shifted the strategic planning up a gear and made it possible to transform Auckland into truly international city.  It brought to an end the many, and often expensive, conflicts between the former councils and the old Auckland Regional Council and set the foundation for bold action and a united vision for the region.  Grass roots decision making has been able to flourish via local boards who are funded to make things happen within their communities.  This is particularly satisfying for the parts of the city neglected by their former councils.

However, throughout the 10 years I have been on Auckland Council, first as a local board member and since October 2019 as the Councillor for Waitematā and Gulf ward, I’ve consistently felt uneasy and frustrated with the CCO model.  It has been difficult to justify the lack of real control by democratically elected decision makers for over half of council’s operational budget when many of the promised benefits of CCOs have failed to materialise.

Over the years I’ve got to know Auckland Transport (AT) especially well because one of the reasons I put myself forward for public office in the first place was to make Auckland a great place to cycle as part of a sustainable, safe, healthy, connected city.   The stars seemed to align with funding, political backing and broad community support almost from the get-go.  The CCO model should have allowed AT to focus on delivery without operational interference from politicians.  However, it has been painfully slow going and AT’s approach to consultation has pleased no one.  So much of what the local board achieved in my time – greenways, traffic calming, pedestrian safety, street trees – was despite AT rather than as a result of AT operating as a CCO.

The review of Council’s CCOs by an independent panel led by Miriam Deans released on 11 August found many of the ways to improve the model, accountability, and culture of CCOs hiding in plain sight.  The report is written in plain English, the recommendations are easily digestible and make sense.  The review has forced the Auckland Council “family” to collectively reflect on our role in making the governance structure work effectively for Aucklanders.

The panel found the CCO model is overall fit for purpose but needs to be strengthened using many of the tools and mechanisms available.   It established that there’s significant room for improving the council’s relationship with and oversight of the CCOs.  One of the key recommendations is for AT to urgently review how it designs, consults on, funds and implements minor capital works.   These kinds of projects have been the source of much of my own frustration in dealing with AT and led to public criticism of CCOs being “out of control”.

On 27 August Auckland Council’s Governing Body agreed unanimously to progress all 64 of the panel’s recommendations. This includes agreeing to the merger of two CCOs—Regional Facilities Auckland and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development into a single entity to be established by 1 December 2020.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Super City I’m looking forward to the reset provided by the CCO review. I don’t think implementation will be as simple and straightforward as presumed by the panel due to the deep rooted cultural and systemic shakeup needed.  Nonetheless, I’m hopeful that the implementation of the recommendations will be a circuit breaker to move beyond the scapegoating of the Super City and its CCOs so we can focus on achieving the best from all parts of Auckland Council.

First published in Ponsonby News October 2020