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Auckland mayor Wayne Brown gives himself 'a seven, at least' out of 10 for his first year in charge

Oct 20, 2023

By Finn Blackwell at RNZ

Wayne Brown's first year in office has been marked by floods, budgetary strife, infrastructure woes and big swings to make the city more efficient.

Saturday, 28 October will mark a year since Brown was inducted as mayor of the super city. RNZ sat down with him for an interview to mark the occasion, to reflect on how it had gone and what was in store for the future.

Brown said his first year wearing the chains was more or less what he expected. He said he did not want to compare it to his time as Far North District mayor, as they were very different places.

"Here I felt that my experience I've had fixing things like Vector and Transpower and Auckland hospital would play well into a situation which was very difficult," he said, "and I think the public worked that out. I knew it would be difficult, I knew the council was in trouble, I didn't realise it was quite so deeply in trouble.

"I didn't realise the councillors were nothing like a team - that's made it quite difficult."

Since becoming mayor, Brown had been critical of the city's councillors - at times calling their behaviour idiotic. He said he was continuing to build his relationship with councillors.

"It's a working relationship," he said. "We go issue by issue to find a consensus, to find a majority."

Brown said there was not a left or right split in council - instead councillors had "very strong views on some things but quite rational views on other things".

"It's working with some difficulty, and I'm getting better at it, and they're getting better and understanding that quite often what I've said turns out to be actually right."

Brown to flood-hit homeowners: 'Get real'

Early into Brown's term Auckland was hit with severe flooding, causing the deaths of four people. The long-term effects of the wild weather was still being felt around the city.

Auckland Council was expected to start confirming Category 3 properties made uninhabitable from the storm by the end of the month, and offer 95 percent of the pre-storm value of an insured property. Some residents groups were asking for 100 percent.

"Get real," Brown said. "We don't have to do this - we're taking money off other people who didn't build on cliffs, and who didn't live in valleys."

Brown said the offer was very generous.

The anniversary weekend floods highlighted flaws in Auckland's storm water system. As a result, the city has seen sinkholes opening up around town.

In July, a 2.5 metre-wide sinkhole appeared on College Hill Road after a stormwater pipe burst beneath the busy thoroughfare.

It was just one of a string of recent issues with Auckland's ageing water network, the latest a 3m-deep sinkhole in a Parnell carpark.

The mayor said Auckland needed "a better share of the cake" if it wanted to afford to fix its ageing infrastructure.

"The sinkhole there in Parnell is a good example of something that should have been fixed … a long time ago."

In June, Brown managed to pass his proposal for the city's annual budget, with considerable concessions. The proposal was passed 14 votes to six, with one abstention.

Some of the councillors who voted in favour of the sale of 7 percent of the council's shares in Auckland Airport to plug a $375m budget hole expressed reluctance, noting they did not want to sell the shares, but were voting for other parts of the mayor's budget.

Four months down the line, Brown still wanted the proposal to go further.

"I'm disappointed we haven't sold enough of them," he said. "We've still got something like 30,000 houses out there that are paying rates just to cover the interest costs of owning those shares."

He said no-one in business would own something that did not give a return greater than the cost of owning it. Brown described getting the proposal through as a long, difficult experience.

"It was faced by the debt issues that had been created by most of the people that were already here but didn't want to really look at it," he said. "But it came home to roost this year."

Brown had been vocal about improving the efficiency of the Ports of Auckland, and potentially freeing up land for redevelopment. He said the port land was worth $10,000 a square metre.

"The value of your land drives what you do," he said. "It is getting better, they are going to slowly reduce their footprint ... I didn't say it would be done overnight, but if you don't start, we'll never get there."

Brown released his 15-page manifesto for Auckland last month, in which he outlined the need for better collaboration between the super city and central government.

He said he and incoming Prime Minister Christopher Luxon had spoken after the election.

"Luxon rang me up on Monday, and we had a long conversation," he said.

"His business background is just what the country needs at the moment, and I think he's quite keen to find that he's got a business mayor in his biggest city."

The manifesto said Auckland had not been given the financing and funding tool sufficient to grow, something Brown said the new government could help with.

"I'm confident I'm going to ask for it, and I'm confident I'll get some of it."

He said it was important that the city made its own decisions.

"This city is the biggest city in New Zealand with 40 percent of the GDP," he said. "Are they suggesting that we can't make our own decisions?"

During this year's election campaign, the National Party vowed to scrap Labour's light rail plan - a move the mayor backed, though he saw a potential place for light rail.

"Light rail, if it's done cheaply and properly, should be left in the mix of choices, and it's certainly got more to offer Auckland than a tunnel under the harbour has."

Reflecting on the year, he said Auckland was facing significant challenges.

"It's very hard. I think the public understands how hard it is out there, the equation here is not a good one, but we have to deliver."

Brown said Auckland was a wonderful city that should be operating at the level it deserved to.

"Things are going to be hard for a while out there," he said. "The default mechanism of just agreeing to everything and borrowing more, which is what got us into this mess, just can't be allowed to carry on."

As the interview concluded, RNZ asked Brown to grade himself on how he had gone in his first year.

"I see the two [New Zealand Herald] guys wrote quite positive things about me and then gave me a six," he said.

"I'd say a seven, at least."

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