Column: Affordable Growth in Auckland

July 1, 2013 by  
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Rob Thomas HeadshotVerve magazine – July 2013 edition – By Rob Thomas – Candidate for Waitemata & Gulf Councillor:

Auckland Council will be posting out your 2013-2014 rates bills this month which will include an average rate increase of 2.9% across the region. Be warned, for most property owners around the inner city, including myself, we are likely to be hit with another harrowing 10% cap on our rates bill as we come to the final year of the regional rates equalisation.

However, I was shocked to read in the 2011-2012 Annual Report that the total Auckland Council debt had increased by more than $1 billion, from $6 billion to $7 billion, in just a year. If you are one of the 514,000 Aucklanders that pay rates we now share in the debt of over $14,000 per person. The Council’s Draft Long-term Plan for 2012-2022 proposes an increase in our net debt as a percentage of total revenue limits from 175% to 275%. That’s debt of $22,000 per rate payer.

For affordable growth to occur in our city it’s crucial to set both the rates and debt levels together which forces us to prioritise projects.

Auckland has some big financial decisions to make especially on getting our city moving. I was thrilled to hear last month that the Government will be coming to the party to jointly fund the inner-city rail loop. Now, Auckland Council needs to get serious on how it will fund its proportion. We need to have the right financial policy in place. I believe we need a financial policy that has a rates target and sets a debt to asset or rates ratio. This should be a financial policy that creates predictability and ensures our legacy assets are protected.

If you have any rates related issues please Contact Me 

Media release – More diversity required on Auckland Council

July 1, 2013 by  
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DiversityNominations for our Mayor, Councillor and Local Board Members open this month. If you are passionate about our community, if you want to bring about positive change, I would encourage you to visit the website and get nominated.

There are hundreds of issues across communities that include parking, public transport, sewage on beaches, heritage / character protection and supporting business districts. You do not need to be part of a political party to solve these issues. However, you need to be an effective decision maker, deciphering complex information and financial reporting, be an effective communicator, finding the right avenues for advocacy, not shy away from the public spotlight, be accessible and have time up your sleeves. Be prepared for that phone call on Christmas Day.

As the only independently elected member on the Waitemata Local Board this has not hindered my ability to influence and be effective. In fact being an independent is a blessing because you can avoid the party politics, you’re not predetermined in your decision and you have the ability to work between political spectrums on behalf of your community.

At the the end of the day you need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror knowing you made the right decision.

I believe that it’s critical your elected representatives reflect your community. The average age of the Waitemata & Gulf Ward is 30 years old and we certainly need an injection of more creative and vibrant young people into local government. We need to bring to the table representation across a diverse group of ages, ethnicity, gender to derive the best possible outcome for our community.

Nominations for local government elections open on Friday 19th July.

Waitemata Greenways

December 11, 2012 by  
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The inner city’s Waitemata Local Board is working on an environmentally pleasing three year project that would connect parks and open spaces in its area by providing safer walking and cycling facilities and at the same time improve neighborhoods.

This “greenways” draft plan has been given priority by the Board and funded to the tune of $150,000. It now has backing from Board and a consultation programme is being developed for the project team to work with various stakeholders including Auckland Transport, Walk Auckland, Cycle Action, local residents and business associations, sports clubs and other interested parties.

This project would result in the ability to increase recreational opportunities within the community by improving links between neighbourhoods and open space facilities, and for local streets to function as slow speed environments where the community can gather and socialise.

It is also designed to promote active healthy lifestyles, nature conservation and reduce traffic pollution, in turn creating safe access for travel to work or school.

Priority greenways have been identified as routes which can easily be delivered, and, have a high level of demand that could be linked into other planned projects.

Aspirational routes and networks will rely on the completion of other significant infrastructure projects while also considering the Board’s budget.

While it is recognised that future plans may need to traverse through private property that would require purchase of land to complete, the endorsement of the current report shows no such options proposed.

Waitemata Local Board Members Rob Thomas, Shale Chambers, Jesse Chalmers, Greg Moyle, Pippa Coom and Christopher Dempsey have worked with officers to develop and identify greenway routes and prioritise projects.

The project would involve various levels of street restructuring by introducing planted swales, narrower carriageways on some streets that would lower traffic speeds, wider footpaths and cycle provision. Much of this work, dependent on Board budges, would also work to improve storm water quality and reduce flooding as well as a general enhancement of the environment.

The first project to get the green light in the New Year is the Cox’s Bay Creek boardwalk and footpath upgrade. Under the existing renewal project, the Cox’s Bay Creek boardwalk was set to be rebuilt to a 1.8m width from its current narrow span of 1.2m.  This 60cm increase wouldn’t be suitable given the present substantial use of the bridge.

Due to the urgency of the renewal, the Local Board took a proactive role in the development and future planning of the boardwalk as a greenway. Work on the boardwalk will commence early next year at 2.5m width, which, will fit in nicely with proposed Greenways network.

Feedback on the draft plans will close 11 March, for more information click here.

LG door-in-door fridge and the Auckland City Mission

December 9, 2012 by  
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Each year the City Mission support thousands of Aucklanders that have no one else to turn to.

Throughout December they provide 2,000 emergency food parcels, distribute approximately 20,000 Christmas presents and host around 2,500 people at New Zealand’s  largest community Christmas lunch.

So, what does an LG door-in-door fridge and the Auckland City Mission have in common?

Recently LG launched their “wider than a car” new 84″ TV and Door-in-Door Fridge. As part of the launch they held a silent auction for LG appliances, including the first-in-the-country door-in-door fridge, with all proceedings going to the Auckland City Mission.

Wilf Holt from the City Mission was their to receive my donation for the fridge.

But sadly due to my poor spatial awareness, we arrived home to the realisation that it wouldn’t fit.

And blocking the emergency fire exit wasn’t an option.

So thank you to LG Managing Director Mr  Brian Kim and his team for hosting us at the event and for exchanging the fridge.

And as a member of the Waitemata Local Board it has been a pleasure to provide ongoing support to the City Mission for the work they provide our inner-city community.

If you would like to lend a helping hand this Christmas become a City Mission Angel by visiting the  City Mission website, click here.

Or make a donation to the City Mission Christmas appeal at the Silo Park Markets.


St Mary’s Bay Bridge complete

December 9, 2012 by  
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This week the final sections of the St Mary’s Bay Bridge across State Highway 1 was completed.

The official opening is planned to take place on Saturday 15 December.

The Auckland Transport Blog describes “The design resembles a traditional Maori fishing net. The draped fish netting design is a reference to the area’s historical importance to Maori as a fishing ground.”

On my cycle home one night I spoke to the Project Manager from Fletcher Construction about the project delay. Over the last few months they have been testing the plastic panels and their adhesive bond to the metal bolts. Rigorous testing had been undertaken to unsure that the panels would be safe above the motorway.

There are three gaps in the panel design to allow for unobstructed views of the city skyline. And a lift and ramp to allow for disabled and bicycle access.

Thank you to NZTA for keeping residents informed and creating another connection to our harbour edge.


Newmarket Viaduct Flyover surplus land

December 9, 2012 by  
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NZTA are currently requesting feedback on the proposed development land under the Newmarket Viaduct Flyover. On behalf of the Waitemata Local Board I submitted the following comments:
About four months ago Council staff approached the local board with plans from NZTA to release the land under the Newmarket Viaduct. In the original proposal were plans for public open spaces on Broadway and Mahuru Street. Land required to service the bridge from ground level. NZTA identified in the draft concept plans for a skateboard park and basketball court.
As you may be aware, Newmarket has one of the highest concentrations of school age children in New Zealand. With over 4,000 children going to school within 1km of the Newmarket Viaduct. The Waitemata Local Board support in principle the design to incorporate a skateboard park and basketball hoops in the proposed public spaces. We encourage you to work in partnership with council staff to make this a reality for the children in Newmarket.

The Waitemata Local Board would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you for a briefing on the proposed project. We also encourage you to contact our local business and resident associations for formal feedback: Newmarket Community Association, Newmarket Protection Society, Seccombes Ave Residents and Ratepayers Association, Newmarket Business Association.”

If you would like to provide comment or discuss the draft master plan, please contact Jacque Bell, Senior Urban Design Advisor, NZTA on (09) 969 9800 or email

Local summer events

November 5, 2012 by  
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Auckland’s summer of events have kicked off across the Ward.
As the events portfolio holder for the Waitemata Local Board it has been a pleasure to put on a range of events that promote and celebrate our community:

1-11 November Shorts Film Festival                

3- 4 November Parnell Festival of Roses        

9-10 November Art in the Dark                             

17 November Grey Lynn Park Festival           

24-25 November Waiheke Olive Festival              

6-9 December The Wither Hills West End Cup

31-5 January ASB Classic                                       

8 Jan-March Music in Parks                                

28 January Laneway Festival                          

10 February Lantern Festival                            

25-17 February Waiheke Sculpture Walk             

14-23 March Auckland Arts Festival                

9-10 March Pasifika Festival                               

23 March The Dual Traverse                          

Grey Lynn Library under threat

October 8, 2012 by  
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Last week the Mayor announced he was considering the closure of the Grey Lynn Library.

This has brought concern to residents and to library staff over the future of the Grey Lynn Library.

On Wednesday I visited the staff at the Grey Lynn Library, with Geoff Hautman from the Western Bays Community Group, to give them re-assurance that from local board discussions there was no intent of closing the library. That our key priority is to maintain library services during transition as outlined in our local board plan.

Since 1993, this is the third time council has considered closing the Grey Lynn Library. Every past attempt has faced strong public opposition. As Bernard Orsman from the Herald wrote on his facebook site “Rule No. 1 in local government. Do not close libraries. Rule No. 2. If you do, start sprucing up your CV.

The council’s finance team has requested a 3% cost saving across all council groups. This blanket approach suggests that all council services are perceived equel and that there is juice in the lemon that’s worth squeezing. But when you look at operating and capital expenses across the council and its council controlled organisations they are certainly not equal or should be treated that way.

Aucklanders place huge value in our library network and this is reflected in the annual customer satisfaction score of 92%. Our Grey Lynn Library received the highest rating in the network with 95%.

In the last year, visitors to the Grey Lynn Library has increased by 6% to over 100,000 people walking through the doors. A key strength of the library is the community outreach program for learning and skills which has seen a 60% increase in demand in the last year. Successful events like Samoan Language Week and Matariki Festival bringing learning programs into our community. A recent wriggle and rhyme session was attended by over 100 families in our community. With the growing demand for library services, all libraries within our ward are already overused according to the New Zealand national library standards for floor usage per visitor.

Government Ministries have started to cotton-on to the significant impact that libraries have in our community, using some of the libraries to provide free dental checks for children at story time.

Look into the near future and watch as our city’s inner-city population grows. How are we going to manage the growing demand of library services?

The Central Library will always be the regional and local hub for our inner- city population but as communities start to pop-up across the city we will have to provide further opportunities to access collections at a lower cost to ratepayers. The library service has undertaken pin-point map studies that have identified a service gap in the Eden Terrace Area (Upper Symonds Street) where there was once a library (Gailbraths Bar & Restaurant). And there are further opportunities to provide access to the collection at transport hubs like Britomart.

I meet with the library management team last week to discuss how we can manage growth of services throughout the inner-city while keeping the cost down. One option that is being explored is 24 hour library book kiosk. There will be a second meeting in early November, once an environmental scan is completed, but the initial thoughts are to undertake a trial. This is very much work in progress but you can read more on my website

Parking meter revenue to improve business districts

September 19, 2012 by  
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Have you ever wondered what happens to the money that you pay for on-street parking?

Would you feel better about paying for parking if you new that a percentage of that revenue was being re-invested back into that community?

Across the Auckland region there are over 50 business associations. Some business associations have voted to take part in the business improvement district (BID) programme which levy a compulsory financial contribution from businesses to fund local area improvements. Each business association has a different focus but ultimately they strive to create wealth for that local community.

Since the council’s significant rates increase on both residents and businesses within Waitemata, and other parts of Auckland, many businesses are struggled to cover the burden of rates increases and BID contributions. So now is an opportune time to look at other ways to support business district growth and ultimately create a more liveable city for all Aucklanders.

Now, the credit for this idea has to go to one of Auckland Transport’s parking managers for putting forward the suggestion. And with enough support from business associations, local boards, councillors and Auckland Transport we might get this idea over the line.

Here’s the idea…

The perception by many residents and businesses is that paying for on-street parking is a “revenue gathering exercise” (click on the link to read the latest comments from the AA) and here is an opportunity for Auckland Transport to change that perception. But we have to be realistic and understand that there is a cost to put in place parking meters and to enforce  parking restrictions. Which is why I would recommend that Auckland Transport consider that $0.50 out of every $1 spent is allocated to that business improvement district.

Of course you can’t allocate funding without wanting to place a few caveats around what the funding can be used for. I would recommend that this funding allocated to business improvement districts should be used for transport related projects. This might include funding shared spaces to increase pedestrian counts, parking signs, local area way-finding signs, cycle parking and much much more.

At last count the following areas had parking meters and could benefit from this type of programme:

The programme has been successfully implemented in other parts of the world, have a look at these win-win strategy:

I welcome your comments and feedback.

Laxon Terrace – Sarawia Street Rail Level Crossing

September 9, 2012 by  
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The introduction of electric trains and new train timetables in April 2014 will impact more than 50 households isolated on the Laxon Terrace side of the Sarawia Street rail level crossing. It is estimated that during the peak commuter period that the road will be closed 30-40% of the time as the train frequency increases on the western and southern railway lines and merge past Sarawia Street into the city.

For residents living in the street their concerns are isolation, safety and the increase in noise from the crossing bells and train horns. Over the last six months the Newmarket Community Association and local residents have meet with Auckland Transport to make these issues known.

Auckland Transport has ranked the priority of this level crossing upgrade as 14th in the Auckland Region. However, Auckland Transport has now identified that with the increase in train frequency “The efficiency and safety of future rail operations (regional) depend on the removal of the level crossing between Sarawia Street and Laxon Terrace.”

Auckland Transport has commissioned an investigation into the options allowing closure of the crossing while retaining vehicle and pedestrian access.  Three options have already been dismissed; underpass from Sarawia Street dismissed due to construction and cost; Sarawia Street bridge dismissed due to gradient; road around Newmarket Park dismissed due to construction risk and high cost.

The three preferred options being put forward by Auckland Transport are:

1) Furneaux Way – Laxon Terrace vehicle connection

Convert the existing AT-owned walkway to a managed, one-way vehicle connection and adopt responsibility for maintaining Furneaux Way (private road currently). Pedestrian connection through to Sarawia Street to be retained, likely by smaller pedestrian level crossing.

2) Cowie Street Bridge

Construction of a vehicle and pedestrian bridge linking Cowie Street to Laxon Terrace and acquisition of some property on Cowie Street.

3) Newmarket Park through road

Construction of a road through Newmarket Park linking to Ayr Street. Pedestrian connection through to Sarawia Street to be retained, likely by smaller pedestrian level crossings.

Auckland Transport will be taking these options out for consultation and funding for any major capital works could be available in the 2nd Quarter of 2014.

In my view there are many pros and cons with the options being put forward. However, it is important that we explore the options rigorously and look at the benefits for our community and the cost to implement. An essential part of any agreed option should maintain the pedestrian crossing from Sarawia Street to Laxon Terrace and to Newmarket Park.

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