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Why is an America’s Cup parade the only thing Auckland Council can get done quickly?

When businesses and others respond to customer demand they do their best to be fast and flexible. So why, asks Mark Knoff-Thomas from the Newmarket Business Association, doesn’t the council work the same way?

It’s interesting to observe the lightning speed with which certain things are approved by Auckland Council, when it wants to act fast.

Take the America’s Cup parade. I was there, like thousands of other proud Kiwis, iPhone in hand, posting obligatory photos of the Auld Mug cup on social media. It was indeed a great day to be a Kiwi and proved to me that our council is capable of achieving wonderful things in very short time frames – as long as a) it can be bothered, or b) the public demand it. So why isn’t this “express service” efficiency the norm for the council’s key stakeholders? In short, all of us. Oh, clunky old Auckland.

If a private sector entity wants to do something with speed, and requires council input, it’s quickly engulfed in a bureaucratic web that not only frustrates but is the antithesis of all things entrepreneurial. Why is the council seemingly hell-bent on squashing private sector innovation? I say seemingly, because deep down I don’t really believe it is.

The people within council are really very good. Some are the brightest and best of the bunch. However, they get smothered by “council-dom” due to the fact there are simply too many of them. There is a lack of clarity on who does what, they appear to operate in silos and there is disjointed communication within the council and the various CCOs.

One recent example: a central Auckland commercial property owner I know told me he’s spent more money on council consents for a recent building renovation than he has spent on the entire renovation itself. To add further insult to injury, the consenting process took over a year. Aside from being incredibly time-consuming and resource-sapping, that’s just outrageous. But as Aucklanders, we heave a collective sigh and carry on. Nothing changes – unless, of course, it involves sport.

My office, the Newmarket Business Association, has spent the past seven months chasing approval from a CCO to implement a quick disruptive street activation. This activation, currently still not resolved, will have a positive impact economically, environmentally and socially, giving back some public space to, well, the public.

You’d think this might be a good thing. But those bureaucratic layers are thick – to cut through them to get a quick result is nigh on impossible. Why is this the case? Why isn’t a more streamlined effective system in place? Why can only sporting achievements deliver what should be the norm? To my mind, the council’s non-customer-centricity needs a massive shake up.

Considering that Auckland Council is bigger than most small towns in this country, you would have thought it had enough human resources for the timely delivery of all its services. Services that are paid for by their end user – the ratepayer. Unfortunately, it appears to be so overstaffed they fall over each other: double and triple handling things and not communicating laterally. It is the power of bureaucracy gone wrong – but isn’t an insurmountable problem.

The council itself will promote the fact it has moved many services online to speed up the process, and will quickly tell you how things have improved. But many people would strongly disagree, because in their experience it’s still a clunky old-fashioned beast. Put simply, our council still needs to regain the confidence and trust of Aucklanders, but nothing seems to be changing. What time is kick off?


The Spinoff Auckland is sponsored by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre for entertainment, retail, hospitality and business.

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