News

July 28, 2016

Together we defeated the Taniwha Tax

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The most significant victory to date for the Ratepayers’ Alliance!

Last year we joined our sister group, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, with Democracy Action and the Auckland Property Investors Association to launch a joint “Taniwha Tax” campaign and briefing paper on Auckland Council’s Mana Whenua Cultural Impact Assessment provisions in its draft unitary plan.

Yesterday, the Independent Hearings Panel, which was tasked with reviewing all aspects of the draft plan, reported back.

The Panel has recommended that all of the provisions we cited – the cultural impact assessment requirements and the 3,600 ‘sites of value’ be deleted from the plan!

This win means:

  1. The 3,600 sites (affecting around 18,000 properties) are deleted from the Unitary Plan
  2. No more onerous ‘cultural impact assessments'
  3. No more consulting with up to a dozen iwi groups before the Council will approve your resource consent
  4. Auckland Council must go through a robust process and prove a site has real cultural or historic value before new ‘culturally valuable’ sites are scheduled
  5. Auckland Council must show that a particular site is culturally valuable – it's no longer up to homeowners to prove their site is not
  6. The Taniwha Tax is less likely to spread to other councils across New Zealand

The Panel completely rejected the Council’s recommendations for even more onerous requirements relating to Cultural Impact Assessments (the Council wanted to require these for all consents near the sites, rather than just those where a Mana Whenua group believe their cultural values are impacted).

How we did it

This win shows the value of our campaigns. Along with the campaign exposing the Council publicly (and building popular opposition) we joined with the other groups to oppose and fight the provisions behind the scenes.  We succeeded because we ensured the politics supported the rational arguments being made to the Independent Panel.

Here is a summary of the relevant report by the Panel. In short, it not only picks up our joint recommendations, it goes further and confirms what we suspected all along: Auckland Council never bothered to verify whether the sites were indeed valuable; or that they even existed.

Assuming the Councillors adopt the Panel’s recommendations (though the legislative framework makes it hard for them not to) the Taniwha Tax is dead! 

Intensification

The Panel’s recommendations provide for an estimated 422,000 new houses over the next 30 years. 270,000 will come from within the existing urban boundary and 152,000 in areas currently outside the boundary.

In terms of the changes the Council tried to sneakily slip in at the last minute – the changes that proposed intensification for areas which were never consulted on the proposals – the Panel appears to have compromised. We are still taking advice and working through the detail.

Who decides from here?

Later today Councillors will decide whether the final Unitary Plan votes will be conducted by the Council, or delegated to the Development Committee – i.e. Councillors and unelected members of the Independent Maori Statutory Board together. Given that these planning decisions are the most important the Super City has made to date we’re backing Democracy Action's call for all of those voting having a democratic mandate.

Either way the final decisions have to be made by 19 August, with the appeal period (on points of law only) expiring on 16 September.

You can access the Panel’s reports and recommendations here and the recommended zoning maps here.

Support the campaign

Our work relies on people like you joining, and supporting our work.  Make a donation to our work can continue, our voice grows stronger, and so we can deliver more wins for Auckland ratepayers.

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July 21, 2016

ARA launches Ratepayer Protection Pledge

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Today we launched our 2016 Ratepayer Protection Pledge, to identify those candidates standing for Auckland Council who are aligned to the Ratepayers’ Alliance vision of reasonable rates and sensible spending by the Super City.

The pledge reads:

“I [candidate’s name] pledge to all Aucklanders that I will not vote for any measures which increase the total average burden of rates, levies, and other compulsory Council charges, more than 2% per annum.”

We’re asking all Auckland Council candidates – no matter their political persuasion – to champion fiscal prudence and sign the pledge.

The pledge is designed to help Aucklanders identify who stands for more Council waste and empire building, and who stands for reasonable rates and sensible spending. We’ll be actively promoting those who sign the pledge with leaflet drops and campaign literature in the days up to voting.

Under Len Brown’s watch ratepayers have been hit with unaffordable rates increases year after year. Even worse, some of Len Brown’s rates enablers had stood for Council on platforms of rates restraint and restricted Council spending, only to abandon their election platform and vote with the Mayor once elected.

Our 16,500 members, and 600 volunteers will be working hard to ensure that the new Council is more fiscally responsible than those who allowed Len Brown to hike rates by 9.9% last year.

The policy victory concerning waste, and our distribution of 72,000 leaflets throughout Rodney and Albany is just the beginning.  We hope that those who talk the talk about rates will walk the walk and sign the pledge so that we can actively promote them as being on the side of ratepayers.

July 15, 2016

Penny Webster commits to choice for Rodney ratepayers

pennywebster-630x443_(1).pngRodney ward councillor Penny Webster has responded to our petition and campaign calling for her to fight for residents in her ward for an opt-out option for new waste services the Council is proposing to introduce in Rodney and Alban

Yesterday, Cr Webster confirmed that she believes that residents should not be forced to pay through their rates for any waste collection services if they choose to use private services. 

We have welcomed the news - it is a big win for ratepayers in the local area.

Cr Webster’s approach rules out the Council using targeted or general rates to cross subsidise Council refuse or green waste collection where there are alternative private operators providing a similar service or a ratepayer chooses to do their own waste disposal — such as farmers disposing their own green waste.

Ratepayers will welcome this approach. It will ensure that any new service Council elects to provide will need to be cost effective and survive on its own merits in a marketplace where private sector competitors have equal footing.

On this basis Rodney residents would only pay the direct costs of Council run recycling through their targeted rates (as there is no private sector option) with no hidden charge for refuse collection service or green waste collection.

Councillor Webster said she supports a competitive market for refuse collection as currently in place in Rodney and will not support any Council entry into the market that is cross-subsidised from general or targeted rates.

Our campaign called on Cr Webster to stand up for her local community, and it looks like she’s doing just that. 

July 08, 2016

Goff refuses to sign ratepayers' pledge

Goff & Brown“I will not sign the Ratepayers’ Pledge" said an unequivocal Phil Goff, mayoral candidate for Auckland, during a meeting this morning with myself and Carmel Claridge, spokespersons for the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance. The ARA pledge asks mayoral and Councillor candidates to keep rates increases (including levies) within an annual average rise no greater than 2%. Goff’s refusal to sign sends a clear message to ratepayers that they can expect more of the same Len Brown treatment they have endured for the last six years of rates of rises up to 10%pa.

Even Len Brown was prepared to commit to 2.6% annual rises before the last election, though he proved unable to keep his promise. That Goff will not give any assurance to ratepayers about future rates rises will sound alarm bells among our 16000 members and to all Auckland ratepayers about what they can expect under a Goff mayoralty.  

Goff has already signalled a high spending agenda of support for the City Rail Link ($5billion), a new light rail link to the airport (as yet undisclosed but likely to be in the region of $2 billion), moving the Ports of Auckland (between $5 and $8 billion), and support for a waterfront stadium ($1billion). When we pressed him on how he would fund these projects his answer was that government must come to the party.

The government has yet to commit to the City Rail Link despite Brown’s recklessness in pressing ahead leaving ratepayers vulnerable to picking up the entire tab. It is unlikely Goff will be any more successful at persuading government than the hapless Len Brown. Goff's agenda is even more recklessness than Brown's and, if the Government doesn't come to the party, there will only be one source of finance, the ratepayer.

Goff talked about making the bureaucracy more accountable but would not commit to cutting staff numbers. He talked about committing ratepayers’ money towards the plight of the homeless, the provision of social housing and other social agendas more appropriate to government policy and taxes rather being core Council business. We reminded him that spending on core Council services such as roads, parks and waste collection were being neglected while Council’s culture of waste continues unabated and suggested, respectfully, that he should first concentrate on those neglected areas.

What was abundantly clear from the meeting is that Goff will use ratepayers’ money to further a Socialist agenda. He is good at talking up more accountability and cutting out the culture of waste in Council but is short on details of how he will achieve it.

It is disappointing that Goff will not sign our ratepayers’ pledge. His failure to do so will leave room for other candidates to send a strong message to ratepayers that it is they who can be trusted to take action on behalf of ratepayers to ensure reasonable rates and sensible spending by signing the ARA pledge.

July 07, 2016

North Shore and Albany waste omnishambles rolls on

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Auckland Council is leaving it to private waste collection companies in North Shore and Albany - the very outfits it's trying to force out of the market with proposed reforms - to collect the Council's old 140-litre blue wheelie bins.

In short, the Council dumped new recycling bins on homeowners, without collecting the old ones - telling residents they can do what they like with them, but making them wait months if they want the Council to pick them up.

Only Auckland Council would dump wheelie bins on householders without making provision for the old ones to be removed

This comes a month after we launched our briefing paper explaining how the Council is trying to extend its expensive and inefficient monopoly of waste collection into Albany and Rodney – the only areas left where householder enjoy competition.  According to Council documents, the changes are likely to see the cost of domestic rubbish collection double for tens of thousands of households North of the Harbour Bridge.”

In addition, our supporters petition calling on Councillors Wayne Walker and Penny Webster to provide an opt-out provision for householders who don’t use or want the Council’s new services has received more than 2,100 signatures.

June 30, 2016

Council's financial policy manager should retract comments or resign

This afternoon our Spokesperson, Jo Holmes, called for the resignation of Auckland Council’s Manager for Financial Policy Andrew Duncan for statements Mr Duncan made about a leaflet drop to 72,000 households by the Ratepayers’ Alliance relating to proposed reform of the Council’s rubbish collection services that will see the costs to some households double.“Council bureaucrats should be politically neutral and ensure the public receive accurate information.

Council bureaucrats should be politically neutral and ensure the public receive accurate information. Mr Duncan reacted to our campaign by suggesting it could be misleading but has refused to withdraw those comments despite being unable to point to a single claim by the Ratepayers’ Alliance which is not backed up by the Council’s own analysis.

Mr Duncan won't even confirm whether he bothered to read our 10-page briefing paper before he suggested our campaign was 'misleading'. Emails released to us under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act make no suggestion he did.

We are calling on Mr Duncan to either withdraw his allegation, or resign. Our figures and statements were based on the Council's own analysis — it's not our fault officials don't like a ratepayer group shining the light on what Council is up to."

Auckland ratepayers are not served by an officialdom which bends over backward to protect its empire building and its favoured elected officials.

June 29, 2016

More waste incompetence from Auckland Council

IMG_6791_1.JPGAuckland Council has spent tens of thousands of ratepayer dollars sending leaflets to nearly 100,000 households in Rodney and Albany to notify residents of changes to Council rubbish collection days despite the Council not having any refuse collection in the area.

Local Government is supposed to be about providing good services to the local community. Council officials must be so tied up in their Albert Street ivory tower that they don’t even know where their own rubbish trucks go. They wrote to householders to notify a change to services that don’t even exist.

Auckland Council provides only recycling collection in the areas that used to be in the Rodney District Council, with householders contracting with private providers to dispose refuse.

Last month, we highlighted that proposed changes will see those north of the Harbour Bridge pay up to two times more for household rubbish collection. So far those Councillors in the affected wards of Albany and Rodney appear to have done little but sit on their hands.

This is the leaflet which tells Rodney and Albany residents their rubbish collection day is chaning (it is isn't).

June 07, 2016

More buses or more paint?

Soon to be blue and greyNo wonder Auckland is feeling blue. Auckland Transport is spending up to $9 million on repainting all public buses a uniform blue colour and wiping out vibrant, easily identifiable local bus colours at a cost of around $9 million.

Auckland Transport’s demand that all buses meet its colour cost is set to cost ratepayers and travellers a lot more than loose change. According to an industry source, by the time a bus is prepared for painting the total cost is between $5,000 and $7,500 for a paint job which complies to AT’s new requirements. Add in the cost of having the bus off the road, and the total for the whole fleet comes to upwards of seven to nine million dollars.

 And we understand the costs are going up even further. The Council is now considering forcing bus companies to retrofit buses with AT embroidered fabrics on the seats.

Wasting $9 million of ratepayers’ money to require private bus companies to paint out their local liveries shows how muddled AT’s priorities are. No wonder local communities are up in arms.

The New Zealand Herald picked up our comments:

Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokeswoman Jo Holmes said the move was "insane" and a "waste of money".

"There are a lot more transport issues we could be spending that money on instead of painting buses."

It showed how muddled Auckland Transport's priorities were, Ms Holmes said. "Auckland needs more buses, not more expensive council branding."

Ritchies bus company owner Andrew Ritchie wasn't sure how many buses in his fleet needed the transformation because he was currently tendering new contracts with Auckland Transport. However, each upgrade cost $9000.

"It's going to cost millions all up."

Mr Ritchie said the bill would be passed on to ratepayers because the expenses are written into the contracts with Auckland Transport.

"Someone's got to pay - we're charging someone and that will come back to the ratepayers."

One of our members has also brought to our attention this video by Cr George Wood which provides further information about these expensive changes.

May 30, 2016

Council runs interference on waste

Auckland Council has hit back at our "These Councillors are Rubbish" campaign by wheeling out an official to defend Councillors Wayne Walker and Penny Webster's support of the Council's expensive new waste regime. 

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In a propaganda effort on the ratepayer funded news spin service "Our Auckland" Andrew Duncan, a Council official, said that the leaflets distributed by the Ratepayers' Alliance “could be misleading” despite his own admission that he doesn’t even know how the figures were calculated.

It appears Mr Duncan hasn’t even bothered to visit our website and read the ten page Ratepayer Briefing Paper on the higher waste costs (embedded below). The document exposes the Council’s own forecasts which show how waste charges are set to double for many residents North of the Harbour Bridge.

If Council refuses to believe this, then it should look at its own projected increases in rates as shown in a response under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act labelled  “Solid waste targeted rates” available on the Council's website.

The leaflets use figures from table five of the Briefing Paper. This explains how we got the percentage figures and includes footnotes which reference the Council’s own papers.

The Council’s Chief Executive should be explaining why officials are being allowed to show such political bias and why the Council’s own “Our Auckland” website is running stories which are demonstrably wrong.

Either the Council’s spin doctors don’t know what their own waste department is up to, or they are showing political favouritism by manipulating the facts to protect two sitting Councillors.

Council says households do not pay a rate for rubbish collection. The leaflet doesn’t claim anything different. But Council’s own papers show it is competitively pricing the orange rubbish bags to get an increase in market share. The so-called innovate tagline “the bag that gives back” is misleading in itself. It should be called “the bag that that takes over”. The large increases in rates for other waste services do not make up for any small savings in the rubbish bags.

You can view the leaflets on this page.

May 27, 2016

These Councillors are Rubbish campaign launched

The Ratepayers’ Alliance has today launched a "These Councillors are Rubbish" campaign exposing two of the “Terrible Ten” Auckland Councillors who allowed Len Brown to hike rates by 9.9% last year, and are failing to prevent changes to local waste services which will see some households pay twice as much for domestic waste collection.

In the next 72 hours 72,000 leaflets will be distributed in Rodney and Albany targeting Councillors Penny Webster and Wayne Walker, their voting record, and their apparent support for a new waste regime which will see their constituents pay much more for waste. 

This is the first step of our campaign to name and shame those who have supported Len Brown’s high rates, high debt agenda.

Penny Webster, who Len Brown appointed as chair of the Council’s Finance and Performance Committee, has allowed the Council to effectively max out the credit card and risk a credit downgrade which would see ratepayers, who can ill afford it, pay even more.

Councillor Wayne Walker is just as bad. He stood on a platform of ‘fair rates’ and a rates cap. In fact, Cr Walker voted for Len Brown’s 9.9% rates hike.

In these particular leaflets we’ve highlighted the waste issue, as we believe it is an area with the local ward councillors have really let down the communities they are supposed to serve. They have allowed Auckland Council to force upon Rodney and Albany a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach which will end up costing households much more.

Work by the Ratepayers’ Alliance shows the Council’s new waste regime will cost Rodney and Albany ratepayers far more, despite Councillors Webster and Walker trying to convince voters that it will be “efficient” (see briefing paper below).

Council documents show that householders in:

  • the former North Shore City will pay 64% more;
  • the former Rodney District will pay 46% more; and
  • the former Waitakere City will pay 107% more.

Those North of the Harbour Bridge have generally had lower costs for household waste disposal than the rest of Auckland thanks to a private competitive market. What the Council wants to do is take over the market and force out the competition by subsiding Council operations with rates income. It’s the ultimate in Council empire building which, even according to the Council’s analysis, will cost households much more.

There is still time for the Council to stop these expensive changes. That however is going to require a change in tune from the sitting councillors, or a clean sweep of the “Terrible Ten” at this year’s election.

Voters won’t forget who these Terrible Ten are – we won’t be letting them.

The leaflets call on members of the public to sign a petition calling on Councillors Webster and Walker to stand up for their local communities.

I call on Councillors Wayne Walker and Penny Webster to fight the Council's expensive waste regime and for an opt-out provision in their wards.