Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Auckland governance 2008 Print E-mail

ImageConcentrations of power always breed corruption and Local Government in Auckland has been no exception.

The only alternative is a distribution of power. However before you can have a democracy you need citizens who are well-informed, well-educated, socially responsible, environmentally aware, concerned with the common good, and imbued with a sense of justice, fair play and ethics. 




Royal commission on Auckland governance.

The Democratic Alternative.

The Local Government Act 2002 is perfectly clear, but it has never been implemented.
Above all else any governance structure must promote the well-being of the community.
The Commission should be driven by positive energy, not negative, reactive energy.
The Commission must make a fundamental choice between dictatorship and democracy.
True democracy is concerned with the distribution of power, not giving people a vote.
To have democracy you must have built-form democracy.
Governance is an urban design issue.
We need a consensus, not a divisive majority outcome reflecting unresolved conflicts.
Consensus begins with agreement about the myths which underlie alternative structures.
All local government decisions ought to be made at the lowest possible level.
Diversity and complexity are the foundations of sustainability.
Diversity and complexity are essential components of a “climate change” world.
Tomorrow’s choices will be concerned with values rather than alternative actions.
Some governance possibilities are simple rather than heroic. For example a traditional “court jester” could enforce the Act, regardless of the final structure recommended.
It is clear that local decisions should be made at a local level. Put simply it should be possible to walk to centres of power. Everyone should meet decision makers, by chance, at their local shopping centre.
Economies of scale means local depots and no paperwork.
Partnerships empower everyone involved.
Local knowledge of whakapapa is basic to good governance.
If Council does not follow its own rules why bother having them?
Concentrations of power always breed corruption.

The purpose of Local Government is to promote the well-being of the community.
The only problem is that the Act has never been implemented.
The Local Government Act 2002 is perfectly clear. The Act, in Section 10, states that the “purpose of local government is to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future.” In Section 11 the Act further states that the “role” of a local authority is to “give effect” to this purpose.

Unfortunately, in the same way that civil servants are no longer either civil or servants, the individual activities of Auckland City Council, taken on a one by one basis, do not meet the requirements of the Act. They may promote the well-being of developers (planning which mitigates against owner building), or the well-being of business (the city is friendly for 25 year old lawyers driving BMWs), or the well-being of Council itself (protecting the rating base), or even the well-being of the complaining classes (negative energy drives decisions), but a community has a much wider focus than these narrow sectarian concerns.

The Commission really only needs to address a single question “How can the well-being of the community be most clearly promoted?”
The two questions posed by the Commission in its advertisements express very clearly one of the central process issues which has not only paralysed local government but which could also cause the failure of the work of the Commission. “Are you happy?” is an invitation to go into reactive mode and complain. It also implies a division between them and us, and gives us a chance to presume that someone else is responsible for our unhappiness. “What changes would you like to see?” suggests that future local government structures should be determined by idle negative complaints, informed by the attitudes put to air on television during the previous night. If most people want to spend most of their time complaining they probably should be left to their miserable existence watching television, but they should not expect the rest of us to pay rates to support their negative world.

Some of us want a life. Some of us want a life for the planet too.
Leadership is much more than listening to complaints.

The fundamental choice the Commission must make is between (hopefully benign) dictatorship and (hopefully true) democracy.
The 2002 Local Government Act makes it clear in Section 10 that local government structures should “enable democratic decision-making and action”. The only problem is that, once again, the Act has never been implemented.

The Act makes no mention of the efficiency of benign dictatorships.

Auckland City Council, for example, has become a dictatorship. It is concerned with the concentration of power and assumes that further concentration of power is a good thing. The ACC recommendations to the Commission seek for an even greater concentration of power. The ACC has a Mugabe complex.

True democracy is concerned with the distribution of power.
Voting for a dictatorship does not turn it into a democracy.
Before you can have a democracy you need citizens who are well-informed, well-educated, socially responsible, environmentally aware, concerned with the common good, and imbued with a sense of justice, fair play and ethics. That is a big ask, but either we are serious about implementing the Local Government Act or we are not.

The current Auckland City Council bureaucracy assumes that people are none of these things and should be treated as irresponsible idiots, but on the other hand the evidence suggests that the City Council is none of these things either, and should be treated by citizens like a group of irresponsible idiots. Mud slinging is not a satisfactory way of resolving this conflict.

The Commission needs to look beyond governmental structures to the means which will make it possible for those structures to realise their potential.

My belief is that the responsibility of roles lifts people up, and that true leadership is so subtle and so gentle that it goes un-noticed. I invite those around me to surprise me by exceeding my expectations. When they do they become free, but so am I. Our relationship becomes one of friends pushing each other further and constantly discovering that we are capable of more than we ever realised.

Structures which are based on control cap potential and develop dependency.

We need local government structures which will lift people up, not put them down.

If you are paddling your own canoe you sort out how best to do it and get on with improving both your skill and your enjoyment. Life is then fun, or at least it is until ignorant, ill-informed, half alive bureaucrats start telling you how they think you ought to paddle your canoe, while making a very poor job of managing their own very expensive ship.

The present concentration of power in local government becomes compounded when an adversarial system is used to resolve disputes and differences of opinion. Adversarial systems produce winners and losers. In the long run they produce many more losers than winners, and in this sense are destructive of society. We need healing processes, not battlegrounds.

Concentrations of power also destroy complexity and diversity as they assume that differences are a challenge to authority. In a sick planet suffering from climate change it needs to be acknowledged that complexity and diversity are critical foundations for a sustainable society.

The fractious divisiveness of local government in Auckland is symptomatic of divisiveness in the community. The role of local government should be to heal not to exacerbate differences. Violence in cities begins at the top, not with the dispossessed or under-privileged who can only express their anger and alienation through tagging or anti-social behaviour.

The more successful local government is in healing a broken world the less need there is for local government. Ideally local government should be self-eliminating. It exists because of human failure.

To have democracy you must also have built-form democracy.
In general the built form of cities reflects existing power structures. Thus the built form of Auckland disempowers citizens. That is what it was intended to do. The location and form of the District Court, for example, was determined by a developer who had a property they wanted to off-load. How is it possible for anyone in Auckland to respect the law if that is the best that lawyers can do. The law has neither dignity nor integrity. This is self evident from the building and its location.

In contrast the cellular fabric of a city like Tokyo allows every cell to constantly be renewing itself. Tokyo is a living city, like our bodies. In contrast Auckland is a dead city driven by dead ideas.

Governance is an urban design issue.
A radial city form implies centralised radial governmental structures. A loop city form implies nodal governmental structures. Many other urban design possibilities exist but they all relate to landform, landscape, history and a sense of place. I am happy to explain all this further if it is not self evident.

The problem for the Commission is the presumption that government is divorced from urban design. One of the problems with Regional Government is that it wandered all over town until it was finally unified in the most highly developed traffic island in the world. With urban design success in its grasp it disintegrated.

Suggesting another round of governance structures without consideration of urban form will only lead to another round of building and further urban chaos.

In theory it should be possible to achieve 95% agreement about the form of local government.
In a true democracy all people are fully alive to the limit of their capabilities.
This is very different from haggling about who gets to hold power over other people.
Effective local government structures need to lift people up and set them free.

To achieve a 95% agreement I suggest that it will necessary to peel back random opinions to check out the “myths” on which those opinions are based.

Local government structures are determined by myths.
By myth I do not mean something which is untrue. I mean a belief which may or may not be true, and whose validity needs to be questioned.

My contention would be that the Commission should be upfront in declaring the myths on which its recommendations are based.

The last round of local government reorganisation, for example, was based on the myth of “economies of scale”, which in turn was a reincarnation of “think big”. Concentrations of power were supposed to lead to efficiency.

Another view would be that concentrations of power lead only to corruption, injustice, abuse, and the desire for more power. History, both recent and ancient, seems to support the later view, but the wholesale amalgamations of the last round of government restructuring were driven by the former view. They resulted in the destruction of communities.

Local government structures will only seem credible to most people when there is common belief in the underlying myths.
All these myths can be, and should be, debated. Above all it should recognised that they are not self-evident truths. I do however believe that a consensus is possible.

Only when there is some consensus about myths will it be possible to address the personality-driven divisiveness of Auckland governance.

Allow me to suggest a few, but I would be happy to expand further, if the Commission accepts my logic.

“Democracy is a good thing.”
Having a vote and then walking away from responsibility is only a poor shadow of a real democracy. In a democracy citizens are informed, articulate, skilled, sensitive, caring and aware. They are also socially responsible and their actions are driven by ethical standards. Citizens act for the common good rather than for their own selfish ends.

If that all sounds too hard then we ought to be upfront and concede that we are not talking about local government democracy.

Law is a very poor tool for achieving either democracy or sustainability.

“Democracy is concerned with the distribution of power.”
Having endless hearings at which bureaucrats attempt to hear what they think submitters, who have had to take the day off work, think they are saying, has nothing to do with democracy.

Built-environment democracy, for example, implies that people will be involved in the process of building, not just the purchase of consumer products. Developers take power away from people, responding only to an artificially contrived market. Local government, which is also concerned with taking power away from people, finds common ground with developers, and the disempowering process goes on compounding. Councils have become terrified by the prospect of anyone building their own home.

Developers take power away from the people who then cease developing (as human beings). We end up with a society consisting of those who are stunted in their personal development because they are rich and those who are stunted in their personal development because they have been making the other people rich.

“The purpose of local government is to promote the well-being of the community.”
This myth has been enshrined in the Local Government Act 2002.

In practice local government seems to exist to promote the well-being of local government. Councils give awards to each other to indicate how well they are doing. Service seems to be a forgotten term. We once had “civil servants”, dedicated to the common good. Now we have “customers” who go cap in hand to ask for a few crumbs.

The potential to take action to restore the health of the planet has been destroyed because government structures destroy the possibility of responsive action.

Dictatorships are slow to adapt to change because every new situation is seen as a threat to power structures, while democracy can be very responsive to new circumstances.

“All local government decisions ought to be made at the lowest possible level.”
Decisions about the region’s airport need to be made at a regional level, while decisions about recycling need to be made at the kitchen sink.

Economies of scale are to be made at the small scale not the large scale.

Diversity and complexity are the foundations of sustainability, and essential components of a “climate change” world.
There are a good many different ways of being alive. Trying to decide which one is best is a waste of time. Only history reveals what people too close to events cannot see.

The half alive monoculture of bureaucracy is the only possibility which is clearly irrelevant in today’s world. Without passion, enthusiasm and lateral thinking the planet has no future, quite apart from Auckland.

Tomorrow’s choices will be concerned with values rather than alternative actions.
Existing governance structures have been established on the basis that there was a job to be done. Roads needed to be built, rivers needed to be bridged if not dammed. People were needed who could get things done. We have been well served.

Everything is different now. Materialistic consumerism is a suicidal option, yet we remain committed to it. The new Building Act sees buildings as consumer objects. The values, or lack of them, in our society are determined by developers. We have spent 150 years cutting down trees, to finally reach a point where planting a tree becomes an excuse for a business as usual scenario.

In a different world a different kind of person is needed. I found it bizarre that Gareth Renowden in “Hot Topic” should advocate bigger stormwater pipes to combat climate change, when what we really need is to do away with stormwater and restore the water cycle. Our present governance structures are ill–suited to debate such issues. Today’s issues are concerned with understanding the meaning of “enough”, for example. Collecting ever more rates to put in ever more stormwater pipes is a really stupid thing to do. A change of direction is needed, not more expenditure.

The various submissions made to the Commission by Auckland’s Councils reflect this traditional mind-set. They focus on solutions which look back to the past. Four Councils or a Lord Mayor, just like a new road or a new bridge. It is fifty years since the fifties and the questions are different.

Some possibilities are simple rather than heroic. For example a traditional “court jester” could enforce the Act, regardless of the final structure recommended.
This would be a person who would ask, at every level, quite simply, “does this action promote the well-being of the community?”

This should result in only about 10% of the present activities of local government proceeding, which would release vast resources to allow people to take control of their own destiny instead of having someone else take control of it for them.

Every bureaucrat would be made accountable to the Act.

It is clear that local decisions should be made at a local level. Put simply it should be possible to walk to centres of power. You should meet decision makers, by chance, at your local shopping centre.
Needing to drive your hybrid to a dictatorship’s badly designed unsustainable building only to find that they, whoever they are, have provided no parking so that you are beaten before you even start, is ridiculous.

Being able to walk to decision makers also implies that everyone should have a personal acquaintance with those who are making decisions which affect them. The reasons for every decision should be transparent.

A mayoral seat, such as they had in Christchurch, would raise some of the urban design issues which Auckland has failed to address. Divisive government has led to a divisive city.

Much of the environmental destruction for which local government is responsible is related to their lack of knowledge of local stories and whakapapa. I am hopeful that bureaucrats would never do the things they do if they understood what they were doing.

I, for example, was beaten up by four thugs sent down by Auckland City Council and left badly crippled. I am sure they would not have beaten me up if they had realised that they were not in Auckland City at the time, and hence beyond their juridisdiction for beating people up. Because they were not local people they could act with impunity. They did not have to front up to me at the local shops the following week.

Economies of scale means local depots and no paperwork.
In the old days when the Council drain blocked I just rang up Jim at the local depot. He came down with a couple of shovels on his truck and we worked together to fix the drain. I knew which pohutukawa root was involved and he knew what had to be done. It took no time, was lots of fun, and no one filled in any forms. He stayed on for a cup of tea, and caught up on local problems long before they became an issue. There was enough trust for for him to just leave a shovel to save him carrying one down the hill.
Recently there was a leak in the water main. After three days five men turned up in two trucks. I assumed they had come to fix the leak, but no, they had come to find it. With a shower of water cascading a metre into the air I would have thought that was not too difficult. Another crew came several days later to fix the leak. The cost and the paperwork defied imagination although I would concede that the fancy orange suits looked very smart. Jim used to just wear working clothes.

Partnerships empower everyone involved.
In the old days when the Council decided that there was not enough money to build a sewage pump station at Karaka Bay the locals offered to do it themselves. The Council provided the materials, and we did the work. It has been performing for the last fifty years and should be good for another hundred. All that changed when lazy newcomers wanted someone else to cut their grass. Now everyone spends all their time grumbling and complaining because everything is someone else’s problem.

Local knowledge of whakapapa is basic to good governance.
The Council sent front end loaders to clean up our beach. They removed the 20,000 year old rocks which used to lie on the beach. More damage was done in a couple of days than in the previous 20,000 years. When I tried to stop the Council destroying the priceless archeological middens along the foreshore I ended up coming close to arrest for removing the digger key to stop the vandalism. Council ignorance of this kind is criminal. Any form of governance needs to overcome the lethal combination of arrogance and ignorance.

If Council does not follow its own rules why bother having them?
Extensive work was done at Karaka Bay by the Council without the necessary permits and without the necessary resource consents. Why bother taking the Council to court only to end up in a dispute with Simpson Grierson?

When a private boat ramp was built with ratepayer funds for the chairperson of the Finance Committee that was also done with any permit and without any Resource Consent.

I took Council to the Environment Court in relation to a seawall and reclamation, and won the case. The Council completely ignored the ruling of the Environment Court. I went back to the Environment Court to ask how they enforced their rulings, only to be told that they did not do that themselves. It was the task of the Council to enforce the ruling. Checkmate. The judicial system has become a fiasco in that the Council can ignore the Environment Court and it does not matter if they win or lose. I had read about this sort of situation in African dictatorships, but with stunning clarity I realised that Auckland was no different. Power is the same all over the world.

Any form of governance in Auckland needs to take account of the fact that the legal system is a fiasco, and as correcting that is beyond the brief of the Royal Commission it must be presumed that it will continue to be so.

Large organisations suffer from breakdowns of internal communication.
The Council recently cut down a protected pohutukawa in Tamaki Drive. The Council should have fined itself for its own breach of the law. It did not. No one expected it to. The Council was happy to arrange a meeting to waste my time talking about it. Why bother? The war of attrition will not bring the tree back.

The Council is supposed to be looking after our heritage and spends enormous amounts of ratepayer money pretending that it is doing so. At the same time it is about to demolish the Edmiston wing of the Art Gallery, one of the finest heritage buildings in the city. Citizens are expected to object. Our heritage will only be protected when there is a level playing field to reduce the possibility of heritage vandalism by local government.

I objected to my valuation. Quotable Value were appointed by the ACC as their agent. Quotable Value gave a valuation for my house. I agreed. Quotable Value gave a valuation for my land, but said because the ACC Plan did not permit building on my site because of my pohutukawa trees some factor would need to be applied by the ACC to take account of this. I agreed. The ACC sent a team of people who came up with a figure. I agreed. It seemed to me that everything was over. Not so. The ACC said they did not agree with their own process and suggested an off-the-top-of-your-head figure, not based on anything beyond the rates they hoped to get. The Valuation Tribunal declared that questions such as this injustice and failure of process were beyond their jurisdiction. In their role as the bully of citizens the ACC made it clear that they would spend as much ratepayer funding as necessary to uphold the injustice.

In a previous instance the Council spent towards $250,000 of ratepayer funds to hear a case. The judge declared that they had no case and tossed it out of court before it had even begun. The Council has unlimited funding, while citizens have little and just want to get on with life.

Any opinions about governance made by Councils operating at this level of injustice lack credibility and should be ignored by the Commission.

Concentrations of power always breed corruption.
It would be possible to go on and on relating one Local Government fiasco after another, but the point should be well made. A million Aucklanders would have a million different stories. Together they would make a fantastic best seller.

All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Any proposed form of local government should above all else be concerned with the distribution of power.

I accept that this will be tough on citizens. They will need to do something instead of reaching for a telephone.

Existing power structures may well feel threatened.

However I cannot see the point in making any recommendation for change unless it is based on valid, transparent myths. Better to avoid the pain of change.

The last reorganisation of local government was based on myths which lacked validity and was done without any access to power by the populace. The result has been a fiasco for all those not seeking for power. A knee-jerk reaction this time around, driven by negative energy, will do nothing to address the issues.

We are fortunate to live in interesting and challenging times when the possibility of eliminating human life is both real and proximate. To not grasp the opportunity for leadership would be sad indeed. With a smile let’s face the challenges and grasp our moment in history.

I wish to be heard in support of this submission.

Tony Watkins

Karaka Bay, Glendowie, Auckland 1071
575 8091