People ask me these questions all the time, and I thought I’d share the discussions I have as I work in my community.

 

Has the Supercity been a success?

I was not a supporter of the amalgamation in 2009. I was worried the West would lose its identity and be swallowed up by the huge entity. Some of these concerns were valid but there have been some surprising positives as well. A united Auckland is certainly a thriving economic success – the challenge is making sure that it is spread equitably around the region.

 

What has the West gained from being part of the Supercity?

We planned incredibly well in Waitakere days; as a result the region is benefiting from projects like New Lynn, Hobsonville and Westgate, double tracking and electrification of the rail and great environmental leadership. Our forward-thinking ideas are, in fact, being rolled out across the region. At the same time, the rates amalgamation has meant that the rates out West are no longer subsidising the rest of the region. Long-awaited projects like the Norwest Busway are now being brought forward thanks to the huge capital investment in infrastructure possible under the new city. The West will also benefit hugely when the Central City Rail Link is operational, with local trains running at twice the frequency.

 

What has the West lost through the amalgamation?

Our Eco City vision was important to us and although everything was far from perfect out west, we had a very positive identity and a good relationship between community and council. To some extent this is still true but it is not quite the same. Local boards work hard to keep these relationships alive but it is a struggle at times. The rebuilding of those community networks is something I want to focus on over the next 3 years.

 

Have you enjoyed being Deputy Mayor?

It has been an honour to be the first Deputy Mayor of the new Auckland Council and I have worked very hard to make the transition a success Helping to pull together the single biggest local government amalgamations hasn’t been an easy job! In the first 3 years I chaired and guided the development of the first Auckland Plan as the base document for the new city. This term I have chaired the Unitary Plan committee, bringing the Auckland Plan to life. This process is on an enormous scale. It has been challenging, politically fraught and high profile, and has tested all my negotiation, mediation and moderation skills.

 

Why are you not standing as Mayor?

I am asked this question many times a day. The answer is simple: I thoroughly enjoy solving complex issues of policy. I enjoy the challenge of bringing people together across the political spectrum to make good decisions and I enjoy the fact that I have been given tough jobs to do and have succeeded. Being Mayor is quite a different role. It is also an all-consuming job fronting Auckland to the world. I much prefer being right in the thick of problem solving, involving the community as much as possible and working out good sensible solutions.

 

What have some of the last 3 year’s highlights been?

Youth connections

This began as a challenge the Mayor gave me: to make the ‘Mayor’s Taskforce for Jobs,’ which worked well in our small councils, work in the new Supercity. I persevered with the local boards and helped secure funding from the Tindall Foundation. The project has gone from strength to strength. It is now known as Youth Connections.

Community empowerment

Waitakere City Council had a great relationship with its community. This was because we believed in doing things in partnership with the community and from the grassroots up. I was able to work with key community development staff from Waitakere and establish the community empowerment model that is changing the way Council and its Boards operate.

The groundbreaking community involvement in the preparation of the Auckland Plan and Unitary Plan

Based on work I had done out west I persuaded our staff to investigate a much more community friendly approach to consultation and submissions, replacing the formal daunting, unfriendly process formerly used. The Auckland Plan consultation and then the Unitary Plan consultations were conducted this way. They may not have been perfect but they were just a bit friendlier.

Opening of many fantastic cycle ways

As a keen cyclist I am very proud to support the rolling out of cycle ways around our city. We need more. That will take time but there has certainly been a step change in attitudes, to now seeing them as part of a healthy livable city. I certainly enjoy using the Project Twin Streams cycle ways, which were one of the key influences to that change of attitude.

Bringing back the Pride Festival

Soon after being elected I worked with the staff to set up discussions with the rainbow community to see how we could bring back the Hero Parade. The Rainbow Door group worked hard to get this up and running and the Pride Festival was born. It was great to see so many people enjoying the festival this year.

Relationships with ethnic communities:

Auckland is one of the most diverse cities on the planet. I am committed to ensuring that all ethnic communities can make the very best of every opportunity Auckland has to offer. We need to respect the huge, and often underestimated potential in our migrant population.

Our work with these communities brings me huge pride and I love being Patron of the Waitakere Ethnic board.

 

What are the biggest challenges facing Auckland?

Affordable housing, lack of affordable rental properties and transport.

Currently we are growing by 117 people per day and projected to grow by 736,000 people over the next 30 years. This means up to 400,000 new dwellings and 277,000 additional jobs will be needed. It is certainly a challenge to work out where to build all the houses and how to ensure we have enough jobs and the infrastructure to service this growth. This needs to be done in a way that values and protects Auckland’s stunning natural environment.

We are working at solving the affordability problems by ensuring provision of a wide range of housing types and sizes. We will need around $17 billion in infrastructure investment over the next 30 years but we need to still ensure an affordable city for everyone, so that includes making the most of existing investments.

Managing all these growth pressures and holding rates increases at a maximum of around 3% is difficult, however, our latest 10-year budget has proved that this can be done, by very careful management.

 

What have you been doing to solve the Auckland housing crisis?

Housing is certainly a huge challenge facing Auckland. Without secure and good quality housing for all the community, our city will simply not thrive. Our young people need to know they can afford to live in Auckland, our older residents need to know they will have long-term secure housing and we have to cater for the diverse needs of our growing communities. This is being tackled on many fronts by Council, government and community organisations.

Council does not have a direct role in building houses but we have a huge amount of influence in how housing and building in the city is developed. This includes making sure we plan differently for affordability, not as we did in the past, spreading further and further out, building suburbs which are costly to service and creating congested motorways.

My role has been to chair and drive the Unitary Plan process, ensuring that we build on the good work of the Auckland Plan, including better urban design. I initiated the Fast Ideas Forum to bring together a number of key people to look at new ways of tackling the problem: builders, developers, community housing providers and government agencies. We are working with the banking sector on ways to assist first-home buyers and also working with developers who are piloting innovative opportunities for first home buyers. The Unitary Plan should be in place by end of August.

I also initiated the process to ensure there was a comprehensive approach to planning in a more strategic way for growth over the next 30 years This has resulted in the Forward Land Strategic Plan which allows us to jointly plan infrastructure and development. As a result we have pushed the government to engage more actively in funding infrastructure needs and together with the special housing areas, can assist in the provision of more land and help achieve affordability.

My greatest focus is on working to ensure that young people, young families and older adults are safely housed and able to afford to live and actively participate in warm welcoming communities.

 

What is your vision for Auckland?

My focus is on the generations still to come and on the Auckland I will leave for my three grandchildren (4, 2 and 5 months) I want them to live in a city that is safe, where families can afford to live in dignity in warm, dry homes, have convenient and affordable public transport and to enjoy the natural environment that is valued and actively enhanced through all our actions.

I want them to feel proud of their city because they feel valued and able to thrive in a vibrant and culturally diverse, tolerant society. I also want democracy to be thriving and healthy with an engaged community working with a council they trust. This may sound like a step too far but I know it can be done, and what most people want. Why not let that be what we aim for!

 

So how do I relax? What is the rest of my life all about?

I am married to Paul Hulse (for 35 years) and we have two wonderful sons. James who is a software developer working in London and Robert is a proud father to 3 beautiful children who together with his partner Sarah live in Glen Eden.

Paul and I live on Te Atatu Peninsula in an older part of the peninsula. We are renovating the 1957 house we live in. I love pottering in my garden and have to have a book ‘on the go’ at all times.

I bike to work pretty much every day, 45 minutes each way to town and back. It provides a wonderful, quiet, thinking time and is a restorative way to deal with stress.

My real passion, however, is diving, particularly wreck diving. Kelly Tarlton was my cousin and my love of the underwater realm must be genetic. The Poor Knights provide some of the best diving in the world and we are lucky to have some great wrecks up north. I have recently been in Vanuatu and dived the awesome General Coolidge on Espiritu Santo. 

I love my job despite the challenges! My family and friends and my love of the outdoors brings balance and joy to my life.

penny hulse diving

 

A Sustainable future for Auckland

I am very proud of having been part of Waitakere, the Eco City from its beginning. In my roles on the council I worked tirelessly to ensure that we utilised great ideas from around the world on how to build sustainable communities, and how to deal sensibly with the climate change challenge. I was closely involved in the New Lynn redevelopment and undergrounding of the rail line and innovative planning. This is now cited as one of the best-planned areas in Auckland and it showed how to work collaboratively with central government to achieve great things.

I believe we can learn from the lessons Waitakere Council pioneered to transform the whole of Auckland into a smart 21st century city that is worthy of its place as a C40 city (one of the world cities tackling climate change head on.)

 

Our Environment

My passion for the environment is well known and documented. I chaired the committee that negotiated the successful Waitakere Ranges Bill. This took several years of working together with the government and the regional council and finally achieved the legislation to protect the ranges in perpetuity.

I am also very proud of the achievements that I have been part of over many years to restore our natural environment: Project Twin Streams is one of the highlights of my time on the Waitakere council. I am seeing the result of this innovative and groundbreaking approach to community-led restoration projects now being rolled out across Auckland.

I spend much of my time in and around the marine environment and am a strong supporter of the call to increase the number of marine reserves. This is needed to protect the fragile fish stocks. I believe that we can do so much more to protect and restore our marine environment.

 

Unitary Plan

The Unitary plan finally means Auckland has one plan for the way it will develop. The key focus has been to ensure that housing is built close to train and bus routes. Places like Henderson can now easily redevelop; we want people to be able to live closer to where they work and to be able to buy more affordable and well built homes.

The Unitary Plan allows for many more home to be built in Auckland to accomodate the extra 117 people arriving every day. This increase in housing numbers will help bring prices down. But at the same time we are also making sure that we provide parks, schools and libraries to keep our communities good places to live.

The Waitakere ranges remain well protected by the Unitary Plan although one change does mean that landowners can apply for a subdivision (prior to this you could not even apply). This will still be a tough process however, as all the requirements of the Ranges Heritage Act will need to be met and the area protected.

The Unitary Plan was completed after hundreds of meetings and a huge community consultation process and it now has a far more even-handed approach to development across Auckland, ensuring that more built-up development does not just happen in the west and the south of Auckland.


The provisions of the Unitary Plan are very much the same as the old Waitakere council plan for the west so most people will not see too many changes in our area.

 

Council finances and rates

There is much debate about the state of Auckland Council finances. During the election people will promise to reduce rates and cut council costs. I never promised, nor did I expect, rate reductions from the amalgamation. Over the last 5 years, however, rates have been amalgamated across Auckland resulting in rates in other areas going up more than out west. We now all finally pay the same rates for the same value home right across Auckland. That means that a $700,000 house in Henderson pays exactly the same rates as a $700,000 house in Meadowbank. Prior to amalgamation we were paying much higher rates out west for the same value property.

I promise to do what I have always done over the last 6 years ensure that we check that every cent is being wisely spent and that we are investing enough to have a secure future for our city both by appropriate investment in infrastructure and in our people.

Some basic facts;

  • Auckland has grown by 130,000 people over the last 5 years.
  • Auckland is growing by 117 people per day.
  • We will need 400,000 more houses and 277,000 more jobs over the next 30 years.
  • Whilst absorbing a city the size of Tauranga we have reduced staff by nearly 300 and reduced spending by $200 million per year.
  • The 10-year budget sets the maximum rates increase in any year at 3.5%
  • Next year we will invest $1.7 billion into parks, playgrounds and libraries.
  • Over the last 5 years we have spent:
    • $1.1 billion on public transport
    • $220 million on new parks
    • $190 million on stormwater
    • $1.5 billion on stormwater and wastewater
    • $50 million on new libraries.
  • Assets have grown from $29 billion prior to amalgamation to $44 billion as at 30 June 2016
  • Debt has grown from $3.9 billion to $8 billion whilst retaining an AA credit rating.

Our city is going through a time of unprecedented growth. We have to keep investing in infrastructure to keep pace with the increase in development and to ensure that we retain quality of life in Auckand. We need to ensure good open space, parks, playgrounds and facilities and we must make sure that the harbours are protected while ensuring innovative effective stormwater and wastewater systems.