Month: June 2013

And Orsman got SERVED

Media3 – The Unitary Plan Debate

And a Nice Mention too


Tuesday night I made my up to Mt Eden from Papakura to watch a recording of Russell Brown‘s Media3 program. The show was broadcast last night just after 11pm and can be found either online at TV3 or you can wait for the repeat on Saturday morning.

The main topic I was there for was Russell interviewing three journalists (or an editor in the case with Metro Magazine) over the media’s coverage of the Unitary Plan. The three journalists were:

  • Simon Wilson of Metro Magazine
  • Todd Nial of Radio NZ
  • Bernard Orsman (yes Orsman) from the NZ Herald

The discussion trundled along and was covering the fact that Council did balls up the sales pitch of the Unitary Plan rather badly. I would tend to agree on that regard against the Council with having to run the blog hard in providing information more clearly than Council did or could. But, as Desley Simpson of Orakei Local Board; the Unitary Plan was written by planners for planners and 99% of the city are not planners. Well I am not a planner strictly by University qualification – I am a Geographer and Political “Scientist”. As a Geographer though I still understood the Unitary Plan and what it meant. Although the planning discipline could be argued it was born out of Geography and that Geographers dabble in the planning discipline quite a lot (go Geography as the mother of all sciences and arts with what it encompasses). That understanding would provide assistance to those in Auckland through the first round of Unitary Plan feedback

But I digress

And so Russell facilitated the debate on with the Main Stream Media covering the Unitary Plan and the panel of three journalists continued to make their points until…

Bernard Orsman of the NZ Herald basically having his backside served to him on a silver platter by Simon Wilson. If you have not watched the particular Media3 then I recommend doing so before continuing here.

While I have seen it in the States, having the Main Stream Media serve up one of their own in NZ is something not often seen here. And as I mentioned just earlier Orsman got served – on extremely biased coverage against the Unitary Plan that included blatant misinformation coming from some Right Wing quarters (which got heavily debunked here and in other blogs).

Orsman while looking shell-shocked at being served tried to justify himself through he providing “balanced coverage” and that others are entitled to opinions.

Cue from Russell his mention of myself and Auckland Transport Blog on our extensive, balanced and leading coverage on the Unitary Plan through our blogs. Coverage that would earn the praise of the Deputy Mayor even though some days I was harsh against the Council in some aspects of the UP!

Again Orsman said after the “cue” said “they are entitled to our opinion” after which I think there was silence from him. Soon after the debate session ended.

And so that was the Media3 recording on the Unitary Plan discussion to which it was time to mix and mingle.

I was joined by Ryan and Sudhvir of Generation Zero and were talking to Russell, Simon and Todd on a wide range of issues with the Unitary Plan including angles wanting to be covered but could not due to time limitations.

Orsman I think decided to snob us but not that I am particularly fussed.

Also I was talking to mayoral candidate John Palino who was watching the Media3 recording as well. A good discussion on all things Auckland

At the conclusion of the mix and mingle session  was time to head back home. A good night and a good discussion on the Unitary Plan

Thanks Russell for the mention and I can say Tuesday night was a good night in watching the recording (with its serves) and the mix and mingle afterwards

The MSM Struggling with the Auckland Elections

What the MSM and I see as credible candidates for Auckland Mayor must be two different things


In my “To the Local Elections 2013” post on June 1, I mentioned this about our Main Stream Media:

“Seems the Main Stream Media have been caught stumbling and hedging their “contracts” wrong with Williamson out of the race and them now scrambling to find out who John Palino is – #twits”

After watching The Nation on TV3 and Q&A on TV1 over the weekend, my quoted comment was only reinforced. Although putting a bit of a disclaimer here first; I have never watched either program despite the “hype” by junkies on Twitter. After watching both over Queen’s Birthday weekend though, I am not going to be watching them again any time soon. The interviewers for both shows were wooden, unimaginative and basically don’t know how to conduct an interview; while the Mayor just trotted out his PR lines twice in two days. At that rate I be better reading his PR fluff on the council website.

Wooden interviews and PR spin aside, what has me interested is the MSM still stumbling over themselves with Williamson no longer running for mayor.

The Nation made no mention of the mayoral race while Q&A’s panel might need to be a bit more clued up. A bit disturbing that a former lecturer of mine – Dr Raymond Miller made a comment that no one was challenging Len. For a very well-known NZ politics guru you might think Dr Miller was keeping an eye on the mayoral elections in Auckland.

Brian Rudman from the NZ Herald seems to be stepping up though. Before he went on his two-week holiday he did write a piece looking at money being an influence on running for Auckland mayor.

From Rudman and the NZH:

Money talks in race for mayoralty

Second term likely for Brown as cost of campaign makes removing the incumbent a rich person’s sport


Millionaire John Palino plans to run for mayor. Photo / APN

Millionaire John Palino plans to run for mayor. Photo / APN

Maurice Williamson‘s brief flirtation with fame is officially over. Dithering cost him his chance to become an international gay icon and common sense has persuaded him, and more to the point his financial backers, to abandon any bid for the Auckland mayoralty.

On Friday, the Minister for Statistics, Building and Construction issued a statement saying “after much thought and in-depth analysis, including looking at personal, political, funding and other circumstances, I have decided not to contest the mayoralty.” He wanted to “remain focused on serving his Pakuranga constituents and fulfilling ministerial responsibilities.”

It was a wise decision, though I’m surprised it took him much thought or analysis at all. Particularly if he’d caught up with the polling conducted by UMR Research on May 13.

Using its experimental online panel, which is carefully balanced to reflect the demographics of the Auckland electorate, potential voters were asked, “While it is still early days, would you be more likely to vote for Len Brown or Maurice Williamson in an Auckland Mayoral election?”

Incumbent Mayor Brown stormed in with 43 per cent of the vote. Mr Williamson scored just 17 per cent, while 13 per cent said “neither” and another 26 per cent were “unsure”.


Fair enough analysis from Rudman there – especially when one sees those kind of poll numbers. However, Rudman does fall down in the latter half of his piece:

Again from the NZH

Having seen off Mr Williamson without as much as a boo, Mr Brown seems set for an untroubled stroll into a second term as the Super City mayor. If the last election is any guide, already declared leftish gadflies like John Minto and Penny Bright will be struggling to stay afloat in a 22-strong field.

TV restaurateur and millionaire New York emigre John Palino is threatening to spend up to $1 million on a campaign centred on turning Manukau City into Auckland’s new, modern city centre. It’s a cheeky plunge into Mayor Brown’s home turf, but like rapid rail, canals across the isthmus and similar brainstorms from past mayoral hopefuls, seems a plan doomed to the footnotes of history.

On the fringes, the right wing collective of councillors, “Communities and Residents” – formerly known as Citrats – is warming up to fight against Mayor Brown’s Unitary Plan. After their poor showing in 2010, leader Christine Fletcher admitted her team had failed to connect with Aucklanders. She pledged “to address this”. But, without a mayoral candidate to coalesce behind, getting their message across, whatever that might be, will be tough.

Even if the polling for Mr Williamson had offered more hope, funding a campaign would have been a major hurdle. Mr Palino’s talk of needing a campaign fund of between $500,000 to $1 million is the reality of a Super City mayoral campaign.

Last September, Mayor Brown, who won the 2010 race with a $390,000 campaign chest, cheekily declared the $580,000 spending cap, set by law for Auckland mayoral candidates, was too high. He said it “could mean the election is … bought by a wealthy candidate”.

What he conveniently omitted was the enormous ratepayer-funded advantage he has as incumbent, with a staff of 23 and an annual budget of $3.2 million with which to promote his every word and deed.

Thanks to the presidential-style mayoralty imposed on Auckland by central government, removing the incumbent seems destined to be a rich person’s sport. A game for millionaires, or someone with millionaire backers. With the postage on a standard letter, 70 cents, a single letter alone to each potential voter will devour much of the permitted war chest.

The worry is that voter turn-out would plunge with a one-horse mayoral race.

In 2010, the novelty of the new city structure plus a keenly contested mayoralty had 51 per cent of eligible Aucklanders voting. Poor as that turn-out is, it was a great result compared with the 38 per cent average turn-out of the 2007 Auckland local government poll


Is Rudman being dismissive of the mayoral race already. If he is then he would be with the bulk of the MSM and some of the right-wing blogs (Whale Oil being one). This dismissive attitude is going to lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy of “The worry is that voter turn-out would plunge with a one-horse mayoral race.” We could very well see less than 37% of Auckland voting for mayor – and that does not give whoever becomes mayor for the 2014-2016 term much of a “mandate” per-se.

And IF what is highlighted in bold does happen in this year’s elections I would put the blame squarely back onto the MSM for failing in its 4th Estate duties. We have two quality candidates running – both credible (although that could be subjective depending which way one leans). On the left is Mayor Len Brown and on the “right” is John Palino.

Both have their respective visions, both have policy narratives to take to the people, both seem to have political will (for better or for worse), and both have a chance of the mayorship come post-elections.

In saying all this though I have been altered after my initial Elections 2013 post, the NBR have decided to do a Q&A with candidate John Palino I think tomorrow if not then next week. Whether that is because Chris Keall was paying attention to my Twitter account and decided to pull finger or they were going to do it anyhow and the rest is coincidence I will never know. But, after their initial fumbling around it seems some aspects of the MSM are starting to do some investigative journalism and find out what the mayoral race will actually shape up to be.


I have noted the cost of running a mayoral race in Auckland. A sad thing but to be expected in this professional day and age. For me personally providing we get good candidates I am not particularly fussed. Although if I was to run for Auckland Mayor it would be a 6-year campaign and fundraising drive before having a crack…

So are the MSM still fumbling around? Yep. Will they ever get round to proper coverage? Probably in September which is then too late…

The Fourth Estate failing again – nothing new here folks 😦

Experience from the Unitary Plan – Part Two

Part Two of my reflections of the last 11 weeks with the Unitary Plan

April: Community Meetings and THAT Bridge


April would prove to be the busiest of months for me in regards to clocking up the kilometres across the city attending community meetings on the Unitary Plan. By the end of it I would have attended around 14 community Unitary Plan meetings and a Civic Forum right across the city (apart from West Auckland).

April would also prove to me a more “heartbreaking” month as a folly from Auckland Council led to anger and upset for residents down in Southern Auckland. The cause? A (which ended up being called “THAT”) bridge that spanned from Karaka to Weymouth over the Manukau Harbour. That bridge had shown up in  the Unitary Plan – Rural Urban Boundary Addendum as a “possible option” needing to be built somewhere down the track.

The only catch was that the bridge showed up in all three southern RUB options and has not even been “vetted” by Auckland Transport and NZTA yet. When pressed and after a more heated meeting in Weymouth did the Deputy Mayor and Chief Planning Officer realise “oops” and got a new set of RUB maps out with the bridge removed. The only problem was that the horse had already bolted on the issue and was continued to be further fuelled by a group known as the Karaka Collective.

While the Collective would give a presentation in May on their options (and I have their literature as well), it was basically known that certain landowners were looking at having their land come under potential development options through the life of the Unitary Plan. It was also known that they were keen on the bridge to act as a short cut in skipping out State Highway One. However, the negative consequences to both the Karaka North and West development as well as the bridge would be deemed too high on existing Karaka and Weymouth residents. If the bridge was to be built it should have been done 70 years ago before Weymouth was truly established. But, now it is too late and alternatives must be found. In essence we await Council’s decisions on the southern RUB before formal notification on the Unitary Plan. Once known then the next stage of the “battle” begins…


While things were heated in Karaka and Weymouth over the Unitary Plan and THAT bridge, things were also running high in St Heliers.

It is of note that in these meetings I would usually sit quietly with my notebook and pen and take notes on the proceedings. These notes would form commentary here on the blog as well as any “battle plans” required in the Unitary Plan feedback round. After the meetings I would talk to people (ranging from the Deputy Mayor to planners, to Local Board members and councillors, to residents) in their thoughts and seeking out dialogue. This dialogue (especially in Weymouth and St Heliers) would form two battle-plans (or rather alternatives) that I later drew up. I would ask questions in the meetings later in the game but, were only done so at the Southern Auckland meetings.

The St Heliers experience was an interesting one. What would be deemed at first pretty much naked hostility towards to main Council and the planners became in fact a community giving a damn and trying to seek out a solution not only for their own place but also the wider city. What would give the initial reaction to St Heliers was a piece from Eye-On-Auckland on NIMBYism that would set the city off. It also woke the Main Stream Media up and set off some of the more shrill-aspects of opposition to the Unitary Plan. Those shrill-aspects would eventually lead to near daily debunking on not only my blog but, else where as well.

With the Weymouth and St Heliers experience though came two alternatives from here. The first was more widely publicised – the Special Character Zone, while the second in staving off THAT bridge was a more quiet and behind the scenes affair.

Both alternatives have landed in my feedback to the Unitary Plan with other people using the Special Character Zone concept as well. Again we await the council to point out what changes they have made to the Unitary Plan prior to formal notification to see what we essentially got.


While Weymouth, Karaka and St Heliers would be more “noisy” meetings I did attend the Civic Forum in Manukau which was a more tame affair. In saying that though the discussion was lively as the future of Southern Auckland through the Unitary Plan were debated at length. Four main aspects would come out of that forum which were:

  1. The socio-economic and demographic consequences behind the level of intensification indicated in the Unitary Plan
  2. Height on the Town Centres
  3. Zones and Centres needed a rework
  4. Manukau as the Second CBD of Auckland

While all four points would end up mentioned in my own feedback to the Unitary Plan, Manukau as the Second CBD would be an idea that was picked up and ran with all the way to the Auckland Plan Committee last month.


So was April a busy month? In the terms of clocking up those kilometres it sure was. But the final month of the Unitary Plan feedback would prove to be the actual busiest month for me. How? Find out in my next “Experience from the Unitary Plan” post.


Experience from the Unitary Plan

Part One of my reflections of the last 11 weeks with the Unitary Plan


Writing this while listening to Q & A on TVNZ-on-demand is going to be an interesting exercise. Reactions on Susan Wood’s interview with Mayor Brown at the end of this post.

My own experiences with the Unitary Plan at this stage of the (long) game has been real interesting and an eye opener (and that is still being an underestimate as well) since the launch on March 15.

The Unitary Plan was launched on March 15 with the first round of engagement with the wider city having just closed (on May 31). I was in Australia on holiday when the Unitary Plan was launched and was not back until a week after the launch. But, once back in the country the extensive and leading independent commentary on the Unitary Plan would begin.

“Part One” in my experience journey of the Unitary Plan – essentially the first four weeks (March 27-April 2) was reading sections of the Unitary Plan and attending my first round of community Unitary Plan meetings.

The particular sections of the Unitary Plan are (and would be what I would submit on):

  1. Section 3 – The Zones and Centres
  2. Section 4 – The Rules and Definitions
  3. The Rural Urban Boundary Addendum (which includes the two new “taxes”)

The first round of community meetings would be on the North Shore and out in the East. However, a Council run Civic Forum was also run in Manukau which I attended.


This part of the experience with the particular three sections of the Unitary Plan will be the learning and networking part. Brushing up on what the Unitary Plan has installed for me personally and the wider city, seeing initial reactions from communities, and forging or strengthening relationships with both ordinary people and key players were occurring in this part. All this work in the part would be required later on as the UP debate became increasingly political and divisive from some quarters.

But keeping the commentary balanced (the Deputy Mayor has acknowledged my opposition to some aspects of “The Clunker” but also keeping mature through keeping the commentary balanced on both sides (what works and what does not work)) and running those thought-provoking alternatives – all starting from Day One is what kept me honestly sane as well as acting a moderator to a very hot reactor about to meltdown (the reactor being the city, the fuel being the Unitary Plan).

I suppose the question is; ‘Would I do this all again?’ Would I be a moderator plunging myself into a very hot reactor that could meltdown any time – again? The answer is yes I would and will actually be doing so again. Again being when the Unitary Plan goes for formal notification at the end of the year.

My next “Experience from the Unitary Plan” post will cover the month of April. The month where the commentary was running hot, the alternatives running hotter, the Rural Urban Boundary saga running white-hot, and the opposition finally getting a clue on the UP.

All here at Talking Auckland

Oh and as for TVNZ’s Q&A program. Note to TVNZ; get better interviewers who know how to interview. Oh and do your actual homework on the Unitary Plan and who is actually running for mayor. I want dialogue and critique, not Len’s predetermined PR spin and an ill-informed panel looking at our Super City elections…



Record Month for the Blog

NZ Blog Rankings Out

And the Open Parachute NZ blog rankings for May are out. Talking Auckland (formally BR:AKL) took 46th place for the month on the back of strong Unitary Plan coverage.

From Open Parachute:

May ’13 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

46 Ben Ross: Auckland 4766 7815

It all seems we had plenty to talk about with the Unitary Plan – now closed for this round of feedback with BR:AKL leading the charge on the commentary from Day One (even while in Australia).

A massive thanks to the readers and those who commented. Big shout outs to Generation Zero, ATB, Russell Brown at Public Address and Metro Magazine for keeping the sanity and balance in the Unitary Plan commentary.

With the Unitary Plan to one-side and a hot topic issue now died down for now, it is a case of what next. There does not seem to be many things as “sexy” as the UP that stirs the passion of the city. While I will cover the 2013 Elections and resume coverage on transport and Port of Auckland, I ask the readers what are you looking for or want covered between now and the next round of Unitary Plan submissions (the formal notification).

Although again folks no I am not running for a Council seat on Auckland Council. My apologies there for this round. 2016 however – well I won’t rule that out 😉

Drop a comment below or leave an email.


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