Travelling mayor means business

In politics, timing is everything.

So it might have been inopportune amid a faux furore over Auckland Council business-class travel spending for Mayor Phil Goff to have to make public the details of his two-week sojourn to Europe and Britain. 

Goff, however, has been around too long in the public eye, and is too much of a swot, to allow his time astride the world stage to be portrayed as some cosy junket.

Instead, in full-press workaholic mode, he has revealed in a written report to councillors an eye-watering work programme of research on transport and housing and of diplomacy on climate change and World War 1 commemorations.

His 15-page note supplemented by photographic evidence and graphs, even explains that both Goff and an adviser's return airfares to Europe and accommodation in France were paid for by the global Bloomberg philanthropic foundation. (For completeness, that charity deemed business-class appropriate for a travelling public official).

What did the mayor - and the public - learn from the former foreign minister's return to a jet-setting life?

* He may have uncovered a "major New Zealand expatriate investor who is interested in investing in large-scale, built-to-rent developments to help alleviate Auckland's housing shortage. Goff's report says Kent Gardner, of multi-billion dollar investment company Evans Randall, is returning to New Zealand and is interested in projects here similar to those the company developed in the UK. "His goal is to build good-quality long-term rentals with secure tenure, including some social housing. This could represent a major opportunity to increase housing stock to address Auckland's housing shortage."

* He met New London Architecture, an independent forum for discussion on design and planning for the city, which has used 3D technology to create a 12.5 long metre scale model of London, showing in miniature the city's full 85 square kilometres. Notably, Goff says the Auckland Design Office is working with AUT on a similar model for Auckland.

* He had four and a half hours with the chief executive of Transport for London, Mike Brown, and his officials, learning that rubber-wheeled trains that can run along roads without the cost of tram-tracks were not the cost savers some think, because roads have to be strengthened to take the weight of the trams, they need power and the rides are not comfortable. TFL's experience also helped persuade Goff that elevated light rail costs four times as much as grade-level light rail - and underground light rail cost ten times that on the ground. "These costs largely rule out these options for Auckland."

* From TFL, the mayor also learned that autonomous vehicles were "highly unlikely" to displace the need for rapid transit and "could in fact potentially increase road congestion". The more likely role of autonomous vehicles was to run people on the short trips between light rail and their homes.

* The transport body also had words of caution on the idea of "value uplift capture" in which people owning land near new transport services pay back some of the windfall profit they would earn. While TFL supported it in principle, it warned Goff it would be tough to implement across the board as some residential beneficiaries of new services would be income poor and would resist giving up any profit.

Goff's jam-packed itinerary included presenting the mayor and council of Zonnebeke in Belgium a miniature version of the bronze statue of All Black Dave Gallaher that stands outside Eden Park. Photo: Tim Murphy

* He spent three days looking at housing and urban regeneration projects under the auspices of the Prince's Trust for Building Communities. "I would like to acknowledge the Prince of Wales for his dedicated support and commitment to making cities better places to live, and his promotion of urban design and environmental principles in which, when he began, he was well ahead of his time in terms of foresight."

* The mayor "promoted investment opportunities for the UK in New Zealand" in discussions with the UK Department of International Trade and "with a former colleague, Crawford Falconer, who is now the UK's chief negotiator on trade".

* In Paris, Goff was part of two events called City Lab and the Mayor's Innovation Studio, hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. About 35 mayors participated, giving him time to meet other city leaders experiencing similar challenges. Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York and founder of his philanthropic organisation, led the proceedings and Goff was one of seven mayors (plus Tokyo's Governor) at the City Lab to commit to the (non-binding) C40 Fossil Free Streets Declaration. Auckland has committed to buy electric buses for its replacement fleet from 2025.

* "In my comments at a major media conference announcing the initial cities - Auckland, Barcelona, Cape Town, Los Angeles, Milan, Paris and Quito, plus Tokyo - that were joining the declaration, I noted Auckland, with 36 percent of New Zealand's population, was playing its role in combating climate change. Forty percent of our greenhouse gas emissions are from transport and by joining the declaration we were signalling a clear intention to bring those emissions down."

* In Belgium, to mark the 100-year anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele, Goff visited former All Black Dave Gallaher's grave near Ypres and presented the mayor and council of Zonnebeke a bronze statue of Gallaher - a miniature of the one that stands outside Eden Park.

* At Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves cemetery, Goff attended a New Zealand national service. "I met Prince William during the event and he expressed the UK's gratitude for the sacrifice made by New Zealanders on the Western Front."

All accompanied by photos, including the mayor in hard-hat, Goff with the other mayors holding the sign #Together4Climate and of developments at King's Cross, Canary Wharf and in Islington.

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