On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Auckland mayor Len Brown

Published: Sun 29 Mar 2015 02:59 PM
On The Nation:
Lisa Owen interviews Auckland mayor Len Brown
Len Brown wants Ports of Auckland to delay the start of its wharf extensions so there’s some “breathing space” after public protests against their construction.
“I've indicated to our councillors and to the port that I want over the next few days and the next few weeks a discussion that relates to the port cooling their heels and taking a breather. “
Brown says he personally can see “some merit” in Ports of Auckland wanting to extend its wharf but “isn’t convinced” in particular about one of the extensions.
Thinks the port should have a multi-storey car park for cars that are brought in by ship.
Brown says he 100% backs decision for port to get non-notified consent for wharf extension but “the outcome is a different thing”
Says still waiting for briefing from Team NZ on whether Auckland will host an America’s Cup qualifying series.
Lisa Owen: Good morning, Mr Mayor.
Len Brown: Lisa, how are you?
You’ve got people protesting, calling this a miscarriage of justice, allegations that you’re not listening, you storming out of a meeting earlier this week – it looks like a giant mess from the outside. What’s going on?
Right, for a start, we’ve been doing two things with regard to the port. First of all, what we’ve been doing in the council itself in terms of our unitary plan is setting a much tougher regime for ports and ports development, in particular around wharf extension and wharf reclamations. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is that our council has dealt with, and the officers are duly authorised to do this, have dealt with two consent applications for extension of Bledisloe Wharf. They’ve consented those extensions and done it in a way that is legal, legitimate and within the existing rules that we have inherited from prior councils. So what we’re now doing, as I say, is putting in place a much tougher regime, so that is what we’ve been primarily focused on over the last six months.
I want to pick apart around the consent in a minute, but you did have a summit meeting with some of the people who are opponents to this port expansion. What happened with that?
Look, it was timely to do that. Obviously, protests recently and significant presence on the harbour with a number of people who have got some fairly strong views on this. One of the things that I have been very clear to the port when we found out that the consents had been given for the wharf extensions is, ‘It’s time for you to actually seriously get out there and talk about the port case – the economics of why it is that you want to drive further wharf extensions. What’s at stake here? It’s happening internationally in the shipping scene. That means you need to make these decisions.’ So secondly—
When did you personally find out that these consents had been issued?
Earlier this year.
When precisely?
Well, it would have been February, and so at that time, you know, I had discussions with the port and continued to have discussions with the port to really encourage them to get on the front foot and talk about—
The consents, Mr Mayor—
Hang on.
No, no. The consents were issued in December, Mr Mayor. You didn’t find out until February.
That’s right.
Why is that?
Because, one, they weren’t notified, and there was no obligation either for the port or for our staff to publicly notify the consent application, and, secondly, they, as I said, they have no specific obligation to talk to me about what they’re doing down there, but I would have thought, given the fact that they have a policy of no surprise, that it would have been appropriate for them to talk to me and to the wider council organisation. Now, they didn’t do that.
Because clearly it was a surprise to you?
Yes, it was, absolutely.
So they were wrong in the way they handled that, given the ‘no surprises’ policy?
They absolutely could have done better, and I’ve been very clear with them. I said it’s time for them to come up front to the community. So leading it on to your second question. The issue—
I just want to talk about the consents, because you’ve raised it there. You’ve said that the consent— and the consent process seems to be at the heart of this – people are calling it secret decision-making—
No, it’s not.
No, no, simply and briefly, Mr Mayor, why weren’t the public given an opportunity to have a say on this?
Because the underlying zoning for wharf extensions is a controlled activity that does not require any public notification, and our council officers have very clear rules around what they must do when those types of applications come forward. They have no obligation or right to notify. And, secondly, they need to deal with the application within very, very clear and defined boundaries, so they did so. I do not have an issue at all with the way in which the officers dealt with the consent. It was an entirely appropriate way to deal with it.
So you 100% back that decision for non-notification?
Yes, I do. Look, they are dealing with it under the existing rules that we inherited.
So 100%, Mr Mayor?
Of course I do.
I just want to get it on the record.
Yes, I absolutely support the way they did it. Now, the outcome is a different thing. But the process, which is critical here, the heart of local government and the Resource Management Act integrity is critical, so I back the process and the way they dealt with this application.
There’s a difference between legal obligations and what might be morally and ethically considered to be the best way to handle it. So while there may not have been a legal obligation, if someone had told you ahead of time, you could have made a decision as to whether to mention it publicly or not.
Look, that’s a hypothetical case. What I am saying is this is what we’re dealing with right now, and everyone and certainly our officers and I have no difficulty with the way the officers transacted the issue. They did it totally within the appropriate due process. You wouldn’t ask for any more—
The result of the issuing of the contents, do you agree that expansion will only have a minor impact?
As was stated in the assessment?
I think rather than deal with that question, I want to deal with it within the context—
No, I’d like to deal with this one. This is important. So do you agree that it would only have a minor impact?
It is critical to deal with it in the wider context.
I want to deal with this. Mr Mayor, you need to know where you stand on this. You are the mayor of this city. We want to know — do you agree that it will only have a minor impact? Because all the people who protested, all the people who've signed that letter — and they're big names; Sir Stephen Tindall, Rob Fyfe, Chris Dickson, Sir Graham Henry; there's more names — they don't think it's going to have a minor impact. So what do you think?
I think that the port haven't made their case strong enough with the community in terms of the reason why they want that wharf extension.
That doesn't answer the question, Mr Mayor. Do you think it will have a minor impact?
And secondly, if you were to listen to their case, then you'd say, 'Yes, I understand why it is that you want to extend it.' And so—
So do I take that to mean you agree— you agree with the expansion of Bledisloe Wharf?
To look at it from the port's view, there are grounds. But you cannot just look at it from the port's view. You need to consider the environmental and social impacts and the economic impacts.
I'm not asking you about the port's point of view, Mr Mayor. I'm asking what you personally believe — do you believe that the extension to the wharf there is necessary? Do you support the extension to the wharf?
I haven't been supportive of port or wharf or reclamation extensions during the period of time in which we're considering a unitary plan and secondly the study that we're going to do from this point in.
So if you had your way, Mr Mayor, if you were not bound by law, if you had your way, you would oppose this extension.
If I had my way, we would be working through a process that would come to a conclusion that was based on the very best information we had and that was based on the port's information to us. Secondly, the views coming in, for example the boaties and the yachties around the harbour, would listen to that information and then come to the conclusion. At this point in time, I'm not convinced with some of— with in particular one of the wharf extensions which relates to where they might hold cars or where they can hold containers. I see some of the merit in them wanting to extend the wharf—
Why not? Why not? Why are you opposed to that particular element?
OK, so we'll deal with each one.
Briefly, if you could. We've got a lot to cover.
Right, I know. Firstly with regard to the cars. So, the port is looking to return Marsden Wharf, or what's left of it, back to the public. And I think that's great. That’s timely, as well as Captain Cook. That's a part of the central city wall strategy. So that will come back. They're saying, 'If we lose those walls, which is where we presently park cars awaiting clearances once we come off the ship, then we need some other space.' And that's part of the discussions around B2, B3 development and extensions. And so I'm looking at that, saying, 'Why can't you actually build a multi-level car park in the wharf?'
So simply put, Mr Mayor, you don't like the idea that this beautiful part of our wharf is being used as a giant car park.
No one has ever liked it, but it's worked well for the port, and it's been a critical part of their economic benefits and their return to us as the owners of the port. So that's the first thing. The second thing— there's a second wharf extension.
I think the thing is, though— the thing is, Mr Mayor, though— I just want to ask you about this, though. The council owns 100% of the port company, and the majority of the council has expressed opposition or concern about this proposal. So the last time I checked, ownership meant control. So why can't you just tell that company, 'Don't use that consent. We disagree with this. Don't build the extension'? Why can't you tell them that?
There have been so many misinformation.
So why?
So, the first point here is that the council cannot override port operational activity. We do not have the right, certainly under the port's constitution, to just go in there and direct the port what to do.
OK. So if we accept that, that you cannot direct them in that way, what you could do is make your feelings very well known to the port. Have you said to the port directly, 'I don't like this idea. I'm opposed to part of the extension. I'd like you to cool your heels and not do this in the time frame that you've nominated at the very least.'
Right now, we have called together a group, and I've been in communications with the port, and I've indicated to our councillors and to the port that I want over the next few days and the next few weeks a discussion that relates to the port cooling their heels and taking a breather. Right, so we're in that discussion now.
I want to be clear, then, Mr Mayor. So what does taking a breather mean? Because, obviously, they could start the work straight away.
Part of the concerns that the community have expressed, and certainly a concern that I've expressed to the port is, 'Look, we're going through a study about the social, economic and environmental impacts of the port, both in a positive and a negative sense. We're going to include the broader community in that study.' So some of those that have been antagonist in the protest, for example Sir Stephen Tindall—
You promised that study in 2013, so are you telling them that your preference is for them not to start work on this expansion until the results of that study come through?
I haven't finished what I was saying. So we're putting together this group. We had our first meeting yesterday in terms of what it is we'd like to see go through. The port will be a part of this working committee, and we'd actually work up the port's future study. That will come out with final recommendations in terms of port sustainability, port footprint, all of those sort of key and critical issues that we're presently struggling with, so I think that's the first thing. Within that there is a second discussion. We've got port wharf extensions at this point of time that are causing concern, and which I've got question marks over, and so I've said to them, and will continue to say, and there'll be discussions as to whether or not we can find a breathing space between the discussion that's happening now around the future ports and the actual building of the wharf extensions.
Okay, let's put a line under this, Mr Mayor, so you, to be clear—
I am not going to negotiate that in public in front of you.
You're asking them to not start building right now until you can resolve some of the issues?
At this point in time, I'm going to try and work a situation through with the port that would give us more latitude around that start time, and so that is a discussion that is balanced on port viability and sustainability, so from the port's view, and it's critical we talk about that.
Okay, I wanted to know— we're running out of time, Mr Mayor.
So I want to— yes, it's critical to understand the port's view.
So with greatest of respect, there's a couple of issues I'd like to address with you. Is discontent over this expansion a general reflection of dissatisfaction with your leadership at the council?
Look, we are going through a time of transformation in Auckland. You've got to put this challenge and a number of other challenges against the backdrop that we've been together for four and a half years. I've led our council in Auckland through that change and transition, and, by in large, it's worked well. Against the backdrop that the Auckland economy's growing at 3.1% per annum. The population has grown 2.5—
But this appears from the outside to be a bit of a mess, Mr Mayor. Do you take responsibility for that?
These are— Welcome to the job of being the mayor of Auckland. It is a constant challenge. It has been a challenge for four and a half years.
Sorry, did you say critics are welcome to the job of the mayor?
No, what I am saying is all you're doing is making it very clear and evident the sort of challenges that I have in my job every day, every week of the last four and a half years. It is a job full of constant tensions, challenges and the need to get people working together, and on this issue that's what I'm doing.
You think working together involves discussion, a good robust democratic discussion?
Absolutely, yes it does.
Okay, Mr Mayor, then why did you threaten not to turn up to this programme today if we interviewed Phil Goff or any of your councillors in the same show — not even in a debate, in other interviews — you said you wouldn't show if we did that? Why if you are pro a democratic discussion?
Look, I enjoy discussions with all of my parliamentary colleagues from across the political spectrum. Yesterday I had Nikki Kaye in my office. We had a great discussion. I'd be happy to have Phil Goff in my office. I see my councillors every day.
But not on this show talking about the port?
This is an opportunity to set the record straight in terms of an issue that has not had great clarity in it, and so—
We're you scared of being on the show with Mr Goff?
I thought it was an excellent opportunity for me to actually spend time with you and work these issues through in a more robust and sensible way.
But not with other democratic voices. Okay, so, is Auckland— I just want to move on to a different topic now. America Cup Challengers Series — Is Auckland going to get a Challengers Series do you think?
Look, I can't give you a view on that. One, I haven't been properly briefed on that. I'm looking to Grant Dalton's team to actually have discussion with me and give me a briefing. I haven't been briefed. I would love it if we were. I mean Auckland is the home of the America's Cup.
Are you worried that it's not going to happen, though?
No, I haven't got worry around that. My hope and expectation is that is— We've done fabulous events through the city in the last four and a half years. Last summer's been brilliant. ITU Ironmen tomorrow. America's Cup is Auckland's cup, and NZ's cup, and so my hope is that they'll get here, but I'm waiting instructions.
You're right. Thanks for joining this morning, Mr Mayor.
Thank you, Lisa.
And we did invite the CEO of ports of Auckland on to The Nation today, but he's actually travelling overseas and was unavailable for an interview.
Transcript provided by Able.

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