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Andrew Little Speech to Committee for Auckland — September 30th 2015

Introduction – A better future for Auckland

Tena Koutou Katoa.

Thank you so much for the invitation to speak to you this afternoon.

[Acknowledgements]

When I was living in Auckland in the 1990’s, the most common phrase I heard when talking about the city and its issues at the time was “if only they had done this 30 years ago, or forty years ago, or fifty years ago.”

Auckland is a city with a history of putting things off and playing constant catch up.

That suggests a city not confident about its place or its future.

But that’s not Auckland now.

Auckland is a city of confidence, of drive and determination; as our international grade city Auckland is vital to the interests of all New Zealand.

With its super-city status, there is no longer the problem of five councils needing to squabble before anything can get done.

That means there are no excuses anymore.

We need to stop playing catch up. We need a plan that keeps us ahead.

Today, I want to talk about the opportunity we have to transform Auckland; to fully realise its potential as a truly great Pacific city.

We can create a city that is booming, vibrant and sustainable.

A city that has tackled the problems of clogged roads, housing problems and rising inequality.

The best place in the Pacific to live, work and play.

If we make the right decisions now, the next generation of Aucklanders will grow up in a city that is the envy of the world.

I don’t think there’s anywhere else that has the combination of opportunities we have.

We have talented people, ambitious businesses, a growing population, a beautiful environment, and abundant natural resources.

And we’ve got an arts and culture scene booming with award winning destinations like the Auckland Art Gallery, and premier events like the Auckland Arts Festival.

We should be able to deliver a better quality of life than practically any other city on Earth.

We just need the political will.

I am confident we can see that kind of city within our lifetimes.

Why?

Because in just the last few years, we’ve seen some parts of Auckland achieve exactly this kind of transformation.

In places like Britomart, the Wynyard Quarter and Imperial Lane we’ve seen radical, positive change in neighbourhoods that were run down and under-used.

The demand is there.

Aucklanders want a city that works better for the people who live in it.

Nat Cheshire, the architect behind much of Britomart, described what it was like watching the surge in customers coming through the area after the changes they made.

He said:

“We huddled around computer screens in a back-room coat cupboard, watching in awe as a thousand dollars scrolled by every minute.

We reeled at the potential of what this might signal for our once-tired city.

All of a sudden Auckland looked really, really hungry.”

 

Aucklanders are hungry. They’re hungry for something better.

They want good jobs. They want to live close to their work, in a home they can afford, in a community that’s vibrant.

They want Auckland to rank with cities like Melbourne, Shanghai and Tokyo.

It’s up to us as leaders to deliver that kind of future here.

 

Section 2 – Why we need to do this

We need to grapple with how we build better cities in the 21st century.

In our national imagination, New Zealand is still a largely rural country.

But the reality is that nearly half of New Zealanders live in an urban area.

That number is only going to increase as our population grows.

We have two majors drivers of this.

An expectation of a good quality of life and living environment and continual pressure on Auckland to accommodate more and more people.

Building better cities is going to be one of the great artforms of the 21st century.

They are the engine rooms of successful modern economies.

We have to make our cities work better for the people who in live in them.

We can’t afford to consign our urban-dwellers to a life of poor quality and poorly designed housing, long commutes, and pockets of entrenched hardship.

Our challenge is to find ways to deliver on the promise of a good life for everyone in a time of greater urbanisation.

Today, I want to talk about how Labour will deliver on that promise for people in Auckland in the future.

Section 3 – How we do it

3.1 – Housing

It starts with fixing the housing crisis once and for all.

We cannot ignore the present housing crisis.

More importantly, we can’t ignore the urgency with which the Government must respond.

Home ownership is at the heart of the Kiwi dream.

That’s how it was for my parents.

My dad was a school teacher and my mum worked as a secretary for an optician.

And on those mid-level incomes they were able to save together and buy a modest 3-bedroom house in Marfell in New Plymouth, and later a slightly larger one in Vogeltown.

That house was their little corner of the world. There they were able to raise me and my four brothers and sisters in safety and security.

They taught us to work hard, respect others and, most of all, to think for ourselves. Given that they were both committed National Party voters, they probably did a better job of that than they would have liked.

But the point is they got to live the Kiwi dream. Today that dream is slipping away for too many people.

We all know this.

Home ownership is at its lowest level in 64 years.

The average house in Auckland made more than double what the average worker did in the last year.

House prices in the last year have gone up by 20% or around $148,000 on the average Auckland home.

Old state houses in areas like Phil Goff’s electorate of Mt Roskill are now selling for over a million dollars.

And now that bubble is threatening our financial and economic stability.

Just a few weeks ago Standard and Poor’s downgraded the credit ratings of our major banks, citing exposure to the Auckland housing market and the potential damage if the bubble bursts.

We’ve got to fix this.

Declining home ownership.

Substandard rentals.

People having to spend hours in the car because they can’t afford a house near their job.

Teachers, nurses and firefighters who can’t afford to live in our biggest city.

Grandparents who have to move to the regions, away from their kids and grandkids, to afford a decent retirement.

All of that has got to end if we are going to be able to deliver the kind of quality of life Aucklanders are demanding.

That’s why Labour would embark on a major home building project.

We would build thousands of new, affordable homes to be onsold to first home buyers.

We’d pursue brownfield developments, and work with the private sector on projects of urban renewal.

We’ve seen how this can work in places like New Lynn and Tamaki.

Our approach will mean more medium density housing.

It means more mixed use developments and building up as well as out.

It means more green space and setting high urban design standards.

I also think there’s real merit in the idea raised by the productivity commission of an urban development authority empowered to cut through the red tape and get these kind of developments going at pace.

That will mean our families live in neighbourhoods where everything they need is in walking distance.

Where there is space for the children to play safely.

Where the homes are warm, safe, dry and affordable.

And to help make this happen we’d crack down on the property speculators and land bankers who are driving up the prices and locking Kiwi families out of the market.

The increase in buyers who live offshore affects every Auckland familiy, of every stage of life and every ethnicity.

Homeownership is a near-universal part of the Kiwi dream. New migrants share that dream. Buyers who live offshore outbid new migrants just as much as they do families who’ve been here for generations.

And it isn’t just first home buyers who are hurt by offshore speculation. Any family looking to move finds it harder as they bid against offshore buyers flush with cash and enjoying very low interest rates overseas.

Labour will put a stop to that, because neither Auckland nor New Zealand’s interests are served by a runaway Auckland property market.

That’s housing.

3.2 Transport

We are also going to deal to Auckland’s transport problems.

We all know that Auckland has underinvested in public transport.

That’s led to roads choking on too much traffic.

It’s a hand brake on the development of the city.

According to the OECD, Auckland’s congestion problems cost the city 1 and a quarter billion dollars a year, every year.

Our gridlock drags down labour productivity and stifles growth.

We have to change what we’re doing.

That’s why Labour will invest in transforming Auckland’s transport infrastructure.

We won’t just spend more money on roads as governments have done for decades.

We won’t take a short term approach as has happened before.

For example, within a few years of building the Harbour Bridge it turned out to not be large enough. We had to double the size of the bridge with the Nippon clip on.

That’s the kind of short sighted thinking that ends up costing us all more in the long run.

Instead, we’ll take a forward looking approach to transport infrastructure.

More rail. More buses. More cycling.

We’ll back the City Rail Link and get started on building it right away.

We don’t have time to waste. Already, Auckland Transport warns that the Britomart station will be congested by 2018 and may be forced to turn away travellers for peak hours in the afternoon.

In the longer term we’ll look to invest in rapid transit busways in the North West and South East.

There’s also merit in ideas like electrifying the rail to Pukekohe, adding rail to the North Shore to the next Harbour crossing, and we will back Skypath which will be a breakthrough in making Auckland a city for cycling.

All this has to be paid for of course.

That’s why my Government will sit down with Auckland Council and agree on a 30 year transport plan, and then back it with funding both from central government, and local sources that Aucklanders can choose.

That’s how we will put the transport problems behind us and help get Auckland moving again.

3.3 Our Economy and Society.

The next part of Auckland’s transformation lies with the creative potential of its young, dynamic, super-diverse population.

It is not a prediction. It is a reality.

In 1991, for example, 5% of Auckland’s population was of Asian descent. Now it’s over 20%. And Auckland’s Asian population is younger, on average, than the rest of the country.

The Pacific population is similarly young, and growing strongly, too.

A Labour Government would embrace that demographic change. It’s an opportunity, not a challenge.

I want us to harness the talents of a new generation of New Zealanders.

And to give them the tools they need to build a thriving economy we can’t even imagine today.

That means making sure our city is more inclusive – not just socially but economically as well.

We need to be giving every young person in our city more opportunities through better jobs and higher wages in new industries.

We should be investing more in making Auckland an IT hub, a centre of high-value modern manufacturing, and a major export producer.

We need to give young migrant families the chance to own their own home and put down roots in their new community.

We need to be giving our ethnic communities more of a say in the power structure of our city, by encouraging young Asian, Pacific and Maori New Zealanders to aspire to political office.

Those communities are vital to our national fabric, and we’re all better off when they’re helping call the shots.

We should be doing more to support small business in a world where more young people are embracing entrepreneurship.

That means policies like our Flexible Tax for Business scheme, to make it easier than ever to start your own business and make it succeed, but we should also be teaching things like financial literacy in our schools so our young people are better prepared to escape cycles of debt and poverty.

This, coupled with plans like our youth transition policy, which touches on some of the issues that the Committee for Auckland have raised before, will help young Aucklanders to get ahead and make their mark on the world.

They’ll help us do better in years to come by giving all our people the opportunities they need today to fulfil their potential.  

Conclusion – Seizing the Opportunity

We have the kind of opportunity to build a great city that people just don’t get overseas.

I want to end today by returning to what Nat Cheshire said about Auckland. He said:

There are few places on Earth that one might change so radically, so fast.

Almost none of them are in the West.

We are politically and economically stable, geographically isolated, socially sophisticated, unencumbered by deep history and, as a consequence, nimble enough to turn on a dime.

I agree. We have an incredible opportunity ahead of us.

Labour will grab it with both hands.

The next Labour Government will help transform Auckland and unleash its potential.

We’ll work with everyone from the Council to business to community networks like the Committee for Auckland. We’ll unleash the great ideas of scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, community activists, and property developers. We’ll bring the city together to build a legacy we will be proud to leave to future generations.

Under Labour, Auckland will have a Government committed to making it the best city in the world.

I know we can do this.

Much of the work has already begun.

Aucklanders want this future for themselves.

If we have a Government committed to backing them and embracing this new future, there is nothing we can’t do.

We can put the bad old days of inequality, gridlock and housing problems behind us once and for all.

We can build an Auckland where everyone has the opportunity for a great life, a good job, a home they can own and a neighbourhood where they can raise their family in peace and security.

We can do this. We will do this. We’ll do it together.

Thank you.