Matt is putting together a fairly comprehensive post which reviews the big transport stories of 2012, so I won’t go there for now. Instead I’m looking forward to what might be the big issues of 2013 and obviously a really big event will be the next Auckland Council elections, which take place in October/November next year. The Council elections are really the next big hurdle for the City Rail Link project to get past, as if there’s a change in central government in 2014 (something that looks increasingly likely) the current difficulties from Wellington should disappear in terms of the project happening. It would be a horrible irony if a change in Mayor and Council meant that Auckland “no longer wanted” the project.
There are two key aspects of next year’s Council election: who wins the mayoralty and what changes to the composition of the Council as a whole there are. I’ll get back to the mayoralty in a minute, but the composition of the Council is perhaps even more important as at the end of the day it’s a Council vote on Long Term Plans and Annual Plans which will decide whether sufficient money is set aside for the CRL and other key transport projects. At the moment it seems the Council is split into roughly three camps: those firmly “centre left”, those firmly “centre right” and those who seem to end up following whatever the Mayor’s lead on issues turns out to be. Len Brown has been fairly clever to get people like Penny Webster into “his camp”, which means that most critical votes on whether the mayor’s proposals are supported or not seem to pass.
In terms of support for key projects like the CRL, I think there would need to be a pretty massive change in the Council’s make up for those opposing the project to outnumber those in support. Key councillors like Christine Fletcher and Penny Webster have repeated that they support CRL on many occasions, while those who oppose the project like Dick Quax and George Wood are a very small minority. It’s hard to know what will happen in terms of which Councillors are most likely to be reelected, but I feel there will be interesting battles in the Albany Ward (current councillors Michael Goudie & Wayne Walker), in the North Shore Ward (current councillors Ann Hartley and George Wood) and in the Albert-Eden-Roskill Ward (current councillors Cathy Casey and Christine Fletcher). Even if there is change in those key wards (note the key importance of the North Shore?), I sense that support for the CRL is probably safe within the council as a whole.
The question of whether Len Brown will be reelected or not is an interesting one, particularly because at the moment we have no idea who will run against him. It is surprising that Cameron Brewer, Christine Fletcher or George Wood haven’t stuck their hands up yet, which suggests that internally each of them may perhaps be struggling for the necessary level of support to go for the job. Perhaps someone (celebrity non-politicians?) might be lured into challenging Len Brown but once again you would have thought that they’d at least be making noises about the idea already.
Getting reelected as Mayor will be a tough job, even though I think Len Brown is a great mayor for Auckland due to his relentless optimism and the vision for Auckland as the world’s most liveable city that he has promoted. Under Auckland’s local government system the rates increases (even though they’re much less than the old councils planned) seem to be perceived as being owned by the mayor rather than the Council as a whole. And bringing together all the rates systems has inevitably created a number of losers, who unsurprisingly have been very vocal.
So a few questions to finish:
- Who do you think will run against Len Brown and why?
- Do you think Len Brown will be reelected as Mayor?
- What changes to the Council seem likely?
- What are the implications of all this in terms of future support for projects like the City Rail Link?
I suppose on that last note, the strong support for CRL coming from the Auckland business establishment in recent releases by Michael Barnett and Kim Campbell suggest that it may be difficult for a mayoral candidate to oppose CRL.