Saturday, December 9, 2023

Auckland Council votes to sell seven per cent of its Airport shares

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Mayor Wayne Brown at the Governing Body meeting last week. Photo Laura Kvigstad
  • By Laura Kvigstad, Auckland Council reporter, funded by New Zealand on Air

A two-day brawl among councillors for Auckland Council’s shares in Auckland International Airport ended in a decision for partial sale.

At the Extraordinary Governing Body meeting on June 8, Mayor Wayne Brown’s final budget proposal was tabled.

Brown’s proposal included a total sale of Auckland International Airport Limited (AIAL) shares, an increase of debt by $100 million, a rate increase of 7.7 per cent and reduced a majority of cuts for social services.

After day one’s discussion among councillors it became clear Brown was not going to get the votes needed for a total sale of the shares.

He ended the day’s discussions with several amendments to the budget in the works from councillors.

On June 9, day two began with the first amendment from Cr Lotu Fuli.

Her amendment took the shares sale out of the budget but proposed an increase in debt to $160m and a decrease in the proposed rates rise by one percent to 6.7 per cent.

“We have not had a strategic approach to the shares but that is our fault – we have not had an investment strategy in place for some time and that’s our failing. We failed the people of Tāmaki Makaurau,” Fuli said.

She said some criticism of the airport shares was that they cost more to keep than they returned but she argued that was true of every asset council owned.

“I accept that if we have underperforming assets then we should look at selling them but this is not an underperforming asset.”

Cr Shane Henderson said he could not support an even greater increase to council’s debt.

“If I did support this amendment, I would feel irresponsible to my ward, irresponsible to Aucklanders and their future services,” Henderson said.

Huge costs for the City Rail Link, storm related costs and buyouts of Aucklanders’ flooded homes were coming which he said council needed a strong ability to borrow in order to address.

“We also need headroom to cover the decades of underfunding that we have done for infrastructure in the city.”

Fuli’s amendment was lost with 13 votes against and eight in favour.

A second amendment landed on the table from Cr Angela Dalton.

Similarly to Fuli’s, it took council’s airport shares out of the mix, increasing debt by $140m while keeping rates in line with the mayor’s proposal of a 7.7 per cent increase.

“This enables the airport shares to be retained for discussion into the long term plan where we can have a fuller discussion [about sale] with more information,” Dalton said.

She hoped that by reducing the debt proposed in Fuli’s amendment more councillors would be open to retaining the shares.

Cr Richard Hills said he could not support the use of debt to fund council’s operational expenditure.

“The last four years of deep cuts through Covid, there isn’t much left [for savings]. That is why we are dipping into the horrible things in my opinion,” Hills said.

He said climate action, grants, cultural events, Citizens Advice Bureaux had been on the chopping block and if councillors failed to fill the $325m budget hole properly, those same services would be cut next year.

“If we don’t fix and fill the gap, we will then have no choice but to put up the rates to 14 per cent which clearly is not going to happen around this table,” Hills said.

He said that instead of rate hikes many councillors this term would vote for service cuts and if he did not do something now he would be on the losing end of a vote to keep services next year.

Dalton’s amendment was voted down with the same vote split as Fuli’s amendment.

After the amendments, Mayor Wayne Brown got the chance to present his refreshed budget for debate.

He proposed a seven percent partial sale of the airport shares, a 7.7 per cent increase in rates, an increase in debt by $105m and $33m in additional operating savings.

“In order to get the support required to make progress – our sale will become seven percent of sales. It is a bit unfortunate but it is more than we had before,” Brown said.

Brown’s budget was approved with 14 votes in favour, six votes against and one abstention. Howick councillors Maurice Williamson and Sharon Stewart voted in favour of the budget.

Outcry over the vote came from the public when members of Auckland Action Against Poverty yelled the councillors had no right to sell the shares.

Several councillors who voted against the budget walked the protestors out, returning to the meeting with some having tears in their eyes.

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