Finding Robbie

By: Cr John Watson

Back in the 1960s and 70s Sir Dove-Myer Robinson was Auckland’s longest serving and most popular Mayor. He had a hard life as a child before making his mark as a successful clothing manufacturer. He was a man with the common touch, a rather eccentric individual who well into his 70s used to walk bare chested to work during the middle of winter. Today he is remembered for his heroic exploits in stopping plans to pump sewerage out into the Waitemata Harbour and for his vison in promoting a rapid rail network for the Auckland metropolitan region.

What isn’t so well known about ‘Robbie’ were his constant battles with bureaucrats, obstructive local politicians and with successive governments, all of whom were keen to thwart his visionary plans. They knew that the anti-Auckland sentiment prevalent elsewhere in the country combined with a lack of political unity, meant that it was easy to ignore Robbie’s desperate pleas for action. Some things don’t change.

That’s not to say nothing’s happening at the moment. There is – next year sees a $700 million NZTA project widening the motorway and extending the busway from Greville Road to Constellation Drive. And a few years ago who would have ever imagined fleets of brand new double deckers pouring up the Northern Motorway to the soon to be constructed Silverdale Park and Ride transit station? Or a Gulf Harbour ferry service transformed from a few trips to 18 sailings a day and with more to come?

Things are happening in this Ward and elsewhere, but these and other projects are simply not enough to cope with the massive explosion in Auckland’s population, exceeding as it does all previous predictions. This means current plans and construction timetables are too limited and definitely too slow to address the tsunami of people pouring into each and every corner of Auckland - witness the continued prevarication over Penlink.

While Robbie had a clear view of what had to happen with our transport network he also exhibited an equal concern for the environment and for the people who lived here. We’re fortunate on the Coast to enjoy the regional parks also provided in the 1960s as well as wonderful new assets like Metro Park in Millwater. That’s not necessarily the same for other parts of Auckland, where open space is increasingly compromised as more and more houses, most of them expensive and beyond the reach of first home buyers, are crammed on to every spare scrap of land.

In reality the current challenges are far beyond any council – ‘super’ or otherwise. Over $7 billion in debt, the council’s credit card is maxed out to the limit meaning it can’t actually borrow any more.

What’s required is a massive public works programme similar to that which the Ministry of Works undertook across NZ in the 1960s and 70s. What’s also needed is another ‘Robbie’ to work with the council. This 2017 ‘Robbie’, however, can only come from one of the major political parties currently in parliament. Let’s hope for Auckland’s sake that such a person exists.

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