It’s local election time and although most Macleans students can’t vote just yet, the decisions being made at the Auckland Council’s Governing Body will ultimately affect each and every one of us.
The governing body is made up of 20 councillors and they decide on how often your bus comes, how often your recycling is collected and ultimately the future of Auckland itself.
The two councillors for the Howick Ward will be the voice for all 130,000 people who live in East Auckland — a population equal to the size to Dunedin.
Despite that, the minority of us who can vote… don’t. Youth turnout consistently lags far behind that of people aged 65+.
A quarter of nonvoters identified lack of information about candidates as the primary reason as to why they didn’t vote in the last local elections.
That’s why The Collegian has extended an interview invitation to all the candidates running for East Auckland’s two spots on the governing body — all have gotten back to us with something. We hope this will positively contribute to the information available as voting begins today in local elections around New Zealand.
Second up is Howick Local Board Chairperson David Collings,
You’re obviously known in the community as the Chairperson of the Howick Local Board, and you have been for awhile. What do you believe differentiates your candidacy for Council, in policy terms. for the people who don’t already know you?
I used to be a Manukau City Councillor and now I represent the Pakuranga subdivision on the local board. So I’m familiar with what we were like before the creation of Auckland Council and I don’t think we’re getting the same delivery of services as we were 10 years ago. I’ve led the AMETI project for East Auckland.
We pay rates at somewhere in the vicinity of $95 million and people in East Auckland certainly don’t get that back — a lot of those things go to other wards. I see other areas getting things and other councillors seem to work the system better to get facilities for their areas. It’s about the council listening to the community.
So my priorities are really about the accountability of council, facilities for new areas like Ormiston and also transport issues.
Youth voter turnout is low in Auckland as it is throughout the entire world, what would you do to increase young voter turnout within Auckland?
I’ve been very involved with helping the local Howick Youth Council. I actually started on a youth council myself when I was 15, so I’ve kind of been there and so I want to make sure other young people get involved.
How do you get people involved? It’s a hard question, and probably why I helped with the youth council, they have actually been quite good and actually have tried to drum up support to get young people out there. They’ve had three meet the candidates meetings and they’ve done a fantastic job at getting the community to pay attention.
I don’t even think voting is the most important thing, I think maybe advocating for things is probably the most important thing, getting involved and making sure that once the election is over, we get held to account on promises.
But I’m not gonna give you an answer of some magic bullet to get young people involved — but I think efforts like the youth council have been good.
The Auckland Council’s governing body voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency. How urgent do you think climate change is? What course of action do you think the council should take?
I don’t like to get into the climate change debate, because I’m a centrist myself and I get a sort of left-wing, right-wing debate about whether you believe it or not.
I believe we have to act responsibly, I just don’t like the politics of it.
My frustration is that we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, we say all this stuff about a climate emergency but the council isn’t doing basic things. We should be putting solar panels on rooftops, rainwater collection, rooftop gardens — we should be building sustainability into buildings. I’m an avid believer of that.
I wouldn’t have a problem with some sustainability requirements for new developments — it’s the way we have to go. Not in a draconian enforcement manner, but working with private developers to ensure the environment is taken into mind.
I wouldn’t revoke the declaration, if I became councillor, because I think that’s the general direction to head in regardless, but I think it’s kind of hypocritical to make a declaration without any real action.
The governing body has voted to make public transport free for all under-16s on weekends — this has now gone into effect.
Do you think public transport should be free for under-16s? Would you extend this to all secondary and tertiary students?
Absolutely, I’m totally supportive of it being free for secondary students, but even tertiary students, because the timings mean that parents aren’t doing a diversion to drop them off at school or whatever and so it actually reduces congestion overall.
I actually think in some ways public transport for everybody should be free for everyone — because somebody that goes on public transport is taking another vehicle off the road. And on a per head basis, it could actually be cheaper on a population scale if you get enough people using it efficiently.
On a similar vein, what is your long-term vision for council investments in public transport, but also roads, and cycleways?
To be perfectly honest with you, I’m a bit of a futurist. I think we’ll have automated cars definitely in the next decade, I wouldn’t be surprised in the next two or five years.
I actually think the public system will be a combination of public transport and, so you’ll have like call them pods, you might have an eight-person driverless vehicle, as an example: let’s say I want to go from Macleans College down to Pakuranga Plaza, I can dial it up on my phone like Uber, a vehicle will automatically come, it might pick someone up on Bucklands Beach Road on the way, because they’ve got a similar route you know and it’ll be it’ll be a sort of combined, so public transport and private vehicle use will be totally different in the future.
I’ve got all of this in the back of my mind and so I am also really worried about all the kinds of implementation we’re doing right now, with things like the Eastern Busway and trains. But in general, I really think transport’s gonna really turn on its head in the future.
So does that mean you would be likely to support infrastructure like light rail throughout East Auckland, for example from Botany to the Airport?
Look absolutely. In fact, I think we could go further than that. I’d rather see monorail.
We’ve got Te Irirangi Drive and the problem with light rail or even a busway is that it has to interact with the road interchanges all along the way.
I’ve seen in many places around the world, it’s so easy to just pop up and over with monorail — it curves and can go into buildings and it’s easier to build.
Also you still have the problem that it has to stop every 500m to pick people up, so if you had some express monorails and then you had other ones servicing lower lower level stations, if you like, that would work too.
The road death toll in Auckland has been steadily increasing: between 2014 and 2017, there was a 70% increase in deaths and serious injuries on Auckland’s roads. Just last week, Auckland Transport adopted ‘Vision Zero’, a goal of zero deaths or serious injuries by 2050. What would you do in order to improve road safety?
Lowering speeds doesn’t always solve the problem. I mean it’s often basic human behavior — we’ve got a speed limit now but people still speed over that. We think we’re going to put in medians and come put in judder bars everywhere, but drivers don’t respond well to everything being cotton-wooled. Don’t get me wrong, I think reducing speed in certain places, certainly around schools where there’s risks, is advisable.
I mean that sounds a bit doom and gloom, but having an understanding of transport, there’s not going to be any magic solutions, and I think it’s really an issue of changing people’s behavior on the roads.
Current Mayor Phil Goff openly supports increasing rates by 3.5% annually to fund infrastructure projects to keep up with population growth.
Do you believe that rate increases of that level are necessary? Or if they are, are they high enough?
I think where people have a problem is when they see what their rates are spent on with vanity projects and the like; its not necesarily just about rate increases.
One thing that really does angst me is the fact that Auckland continues to grow in terms of population, which costs a lot in terms of infrastructure to keep up with — but central government doesn’t give back a fair share to Auckland to help with infrastructure, despite the fact that migration to Auckland (from both other regions in New Zealand and overseas) has fueled the economy for the last 15 years which benefits central government.
Owning a house seems impossible for young Aucklanders, as real wages remain low for ever-rising house prices.
What do you believe is the solution to our housing crisis? Do you support new high-density housing developments in Howick?
Incomes haven’t been keeping up with house prices — people are talking about living wages when they can’t even afford rent. That’s the primary issue here and I don’t think that aspect of it is being properly addressed by central government.
On intensification, the Unitary Plan had set Howick with a height of 19m but when we did the consultation, the people there didn’t want that. So probably for the next decade, its going to stay as a sleepy village since its pretty far away from central Auckland. That might change in the future, but at the moment I’m not supportive of more intensification there.
Howick also does have a heritage-type feel to it and that’s part of planning too, how you preserve the character of an area — its all a balancing act. There’s a lot of good rezoning that had gone into Pakuranga, Highland Park and other places within the Unitary Plan.
New Zealand is in the midst of a mental health crisis, one which especially affects youth. Last year, NZ’s suicide rate increased by 17%. To tackle this, the government recently announced their Suicide Prevention Strategy. What action do you think Council can take, in conjunction with government efforts, to help solve this epidemic?
Some of these things that came up with the Youth Council meeting were interesting — its a very complicated issue.
There’s a lot of pressures on young people that are quite different to say an elderly person. For example, a lot of older people are quite lonely. For young people it might be anxiety and stress. I’m quite impressed with Mike King’s efforts to raise awareness.
A key thing through all of this is helping people connect. Providing facilities, even if mental health might not be forefront, can help, where people can meet. For example, during consultation in Ormiston for a community centre, we learnt that a lot of the older immigrant residents felt very cut off from the community. So that was a good place to integrate ways for people to meet and kind of socialise.
To any young people listening, why should they get out and vote this election?
In terms of voting, take the opportunity, otherwise you can’t complain if older people make all these decisions without your input.
You have to realise that people in local government are building the cities that you have to live in and if there’s not enough parking spaces or public transport isn’t adequate or whatever it might be, then you can’t complain.
Transcript edited for brevity and clarity. Interview by Grace Baylis and Justin Hu. Published on 25/09/2019. Header image courtesy Auckland Council.
Learn more about the upcoming local elections:
Stuff: Auckland local body elections: How to vote, what you are voting on and key dates
NZ Herald, opinion (Simon Wilson): The reinvention of Auckland – Why the council election matters (Pressreader)