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Roughhan writes an opinion, Stephen Town Responds
Yesterday John Roughan wrote an opinion piece in the NZ Herald yesterday comparing Minister of Finance Bill English to Auckland Mayor Len Brown over finances.
You can read the opinion piece over at the Herald but below is an introductory excerpt:
John Roughan: Auckland should not lose services
Auckland is being softened up for a reduction in public services. Something has to go we are told — inorganic rubbish collections, maybe — if the mayor is to keep rates from rising beyond his election promise. Aucklanders should not listen to this.
The Super City was given a mayoral office with more powers than any elected position in New Zealand local government has previously enjoyed. It is our first “executive mayoralty”. The office has the power to draft the city’s budget and the staff to oversee the council’s operations. It has become obvious this week that Len Brown has not used it.
From the time he was first elected he has staffed the office predominantly with political advisers and publicists who churn out press statements and articles about visions and plans for some future “liveable city” in response to every problem that arises in the present.
Meanwhile, the monster bureaucracy created by the amalgamation of Auckland’s previous municipalities goes about its work in its own way at its own pace, not noticeably troubled by any scrutiny from the office of the executive mayor.
When a city is asked to accept reduced services for more cost, in the middle of an economic boom, something is seriously wrong. Staff are suggesting the council will need to find savings by means such as ending inorganic rubbish collections and reducing library hours or park maintenance, to keep rate rises within reason. The council’s limp majority will probably go along with this nonsense.
Now we know people have all sorts of opinions about the Council and its finances. That said a response from the Council – more to the point CEO Stephen Town came through earlier today. This is what he had to say:
Response to the Weekend Herald editorial
When John Roughan describes the unified Auckland Council as an ‘under-working morass of inefficiency’, what exactly is he referring to? Could it be the $1.7bn in cost and efficiency savings under the new Council, is it the vastly improved consenting times or a better relationship with central government? Perhaps it’s our AA credit rating, historic investment in public transport, or the most stable and low rates rises in decades?
We know we can do better, but we’re also proud of what our staff and Councillors have achieved in three and a half short years – to improve services, keep costs low for Aucklanders and invest for the future.
Over the next 12 months the Council will take the next big step – a 10 year budget aligned to Auckland’s priorities. There will be tough choices ahead for our city’s leaders. But as the Mayor has said, it’s also a historic opportunity to transform our city for the better. That’s something that’s worthy of a thoughtful and informed discussion with Aucklanders – and something we hope the Herald will want to be part of.
The debate continues
The Herald or Watercare themselves?
A week ago I critiqued Watercare (who provide our fresh and waster water services in Auckland) on their decision around a recycled storm-water scheme in Stonefields. You can read it here: Patch Protecting or Genuine Concerns?
This morning I noticed (and a few others) the editorial for the Herald this morning commenting again on the recycled storm-water scheme. Lets take a look bit by bit from the editorial this morning shall we?
From the NZ Herald
4:15 AM Thursday Apr 10, 2014
Stonefields idea would be money down the drain.
Stonefields, a village-style residential development in what was the Mt Wellington quarry, has branded itself with environmental “sustainability”. The basis of that brand was a dual water supply. Every house built so far has both a drinking-water supply and a “third pipe”, bringing surface water from a central reservoir to toilets and outside taps. The system may have saved water from the metropolitan supplier, Watercare Services, but saving water is not the supplier’s prime concern.
Many, in fact, will suspect the monopoly supplier’s refusal to operate Stonefields’ scheme as intended is motivated by the simple desire to maximise its revenue. Not so, says Watercare. The scheme, it says, would have cost Stonefields residents more than they will pay for the normal water supply. And since the groundwater collected for the third pipe would not have been treated to the same standard, it would have been charging those residents more for a supply of lower quality.Common sense is probably on the side of Watercare. Surface run-off, especially from roads, is polluted. It was going to have to be treated as it was pumped from Stonefields’ collection tank to the reservoir, though not to a drinkable standard. The company says the cost of collection, treatment and pumping would have resulted in Stonefields residents paying five times the cost of Auckland’s potable water. And most of the third-pipe water would be flushed into the same second pipe, where it would need sewage treatment and disposal
“Many, in fact, will suspect the monopoly supplier’s refusal to operate Stonefields’ scheme as intended is motivated by the simple desire to maximise its revenue.” When you read the rest of the editorial I wonder but not help that is “bending the truth” to a wide degree.
What would be nice if the editorial posted some hard figures on the actual cost Watercare is purporting for the third pipe recycled storm-water scheme. Costs that include both the set and operations of such a facility in comparison to the normal set up we already get. Then for good measure some comparative costs from overseas as well as the private sector to see if the scheme is not value for money as Watercare (and the Herald) claim
I also note saving water is not Watercare’s main concern. Well no if it is out to maximise income and profits which is telling as we further get down the editorial.
Cost is not the only consideration. Enthusiasts for third-pipe water conservation ought to consider what would be lost. This is a country in which the water is safe to drink. To slake a thirst, we turn on the nearest tap without a qualm. That would change if not all piped water could be trusted. The outside taps at Stonefields were to carry a sign that the water was not safe to drink. Do we really want that?
The former Auckland City Council ought to have thought of all these practicalities before it invoked principles of sustainability and made third-pipe reticulation a feature of Stonefields’ development consent. Its own water retailer, Metrowater, was going to run the system. But for the Super City’s creation, and the bulk supplier’s takeover of the whole system, the true costs of “sustainability” might never have been known.
I assume whoever wrote this has never been around much as plenty of outside taps (not drinking fountains) even in urban Auckland carry the Do Not Drink sign above the said tap. And can someone tell me – who races to the garden hose and drinks out of it – regularly? So a really weak excuse here in that section of the editorial.
Thanks to the Waikato River, Auckland will never be short of water. There is no point conserving the water for its own sake if it must be replaced by a costly supply of inferior standard, no matter how interesting or exciting the environmental engineering involved.
I am quite sure the people of the Waikato – especially those who use or treasure the river will be quite comforted that Auckland will never be short of water thanks to Watercare drawing water from there and then pumping it to Auckland after it treated – NOT. I am aware Watercare are seeking consent to double the amount of water intake from the Waikato River to pump into a growing Auckland. This consent process has riled the people of the Waikato as the extra intake will no doubt put strain on New Zealand’s longest river. It is of note the lower Waikato is reliant on rainfall, Lake Taupo and the Waipa River for its water flow – and it is certainly not unlimited either. Just look what happens when our South Island hydro stations get dry years and the knock on effects downstream…
Now if you want a contradiction then check this last bit from the editorial
More water falls on Auckland than the city can use. Only a fraction of Stonefields’ storm water was to be channelled into the third pipe. Most would have drained to the Tamaki inlet. Reducing stormwater pollution of the sea around Auckland is the real challenge. Collecting tanks and treatment may be the answer, and if the water can be put to a cost-effective use, all the better. But recycling for a needless purpose at greater cost is not sustainable.
Okay so more water falls on Auckland than we can use yet we get 10% of our total supply from the Waikato with Watercare wanting to increase that to 18% of total supply. Auckland also in 1994 suffered a drought which eventually led to the Waikato pipeline being built in the first place so that Auckland would not be faced with a similar situation again. So which way is it? We get enough rain that we do not need the Waikato, or is Auckland that large that we need the Waikato to supplement our dams.
In any case the real question that begs to be asked is ‘who actually wrote the editorial?’ Watercare or the NZ Herald themselves…