Auckland Council has proposed significant budget cuts without assessing the potential impacts on the region’s environment and climate change efforts, an official response reveals.
No assessment was made as Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown never asked for one, according to the Council’s response to a request made by Forest & Bird under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA).
“If the Council has no information on the impact of the cuts, then councillors need to reject the mayor’s proposal and restore funding for environmental work,” says Forest & Bird spokesperson Carl Morgan.
“Auckland has been hit by two significant climate change driven weather events this year. Nature in the city is in deep trouble and our seas are polluted, as documented by Auckland Council’s own reports: The health of Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland’s natural environment in 2020 and the State of our Gulf 2020.”
Missed deadline leaves public in the dark
Forest & Bird lodged an official information request with Auckland Council on 8 February 2023. This request asked for any analysis provided to the mayoral office or the mayor himself on the potential impacts of the mayor’s controversial budget proposal on climate change, water quality and environmental outcomes.
Forest & Bird intended to use this essential information in its submission on the budget proposal, and to further inform Aucklanders during the consultation period.
Auckland Council failed to meet the response deadline. Despite repeated requests from Forest & Bird, the Council did not provide a response until just five hours before the budget consultation closed – a full 14 business days past the deadline. The response said:
"No advice has been provided to the mayor or the mayor’s office as no requests of this nature were received, and so we are refusing this part of your request because we do not hold the information you have requested – s17(g) LGOIMA"
“It’s disappointing – but not surprising – that the mayor’s office did not ask for any environmental impact analysis of the proposed cuts, meaning none was undertaken,” says Morgan.
“Beyond the failure to properly consider impacts, we’re frustrated that the Council waited until it was too late for people to properly include this information in submissions. Auckland Council should have been upfront from the beginning.”
Cuts unacceptable in climate, biodiversity crisis
Cuts outlined in the current proposal mean that regional services such as Low Carbon Living, LTP Climate Behaviour Change, and Community and Social Innovation (among others) will no longer continue.
“Aucklanders will lose out on essential climate action and education, disempowering those who have worked so hard for the betterment of our region,” says Morgan.
A reduction of $466,000 in the Regional Environment and Natural Heritage Grant will stymie on-the-ground conservation efforts, including volunteer-powered community groups who protect, restore and enhance the city's natural assets such as urban ngahere and wetlands.
“The lack of effort displayed by those making decisions on behalf of over one million Aucklanders shows that meaningful climate action has fallen off their radar – even during a time where the region finds itself mid-recovery from the most destructive and costly climate-change-driven weather event the city has seen.”
8 February 2023 - Forest & Bird submitted an official information request to Auckland Council requesting key information regarding the decision-making process for the mayor’s controversial budget proposal.
1 March 2023 - Consultation period opens
7 March 2023 - 20 working days deadline for replies expires
8 March 2023 - Forest & Bird asked the council why there was no acknowledgement of the request
8 March 2023 - Council acknowledges the request
20 & 23 March 2023 - Forest & Bird asks when reply coming
28 March 2023 - 5.55pm Council provides response
28 March 2023 - submissions close at 11pm
Forest & Bird’s request - download here
Council reply - download here and here
What the Council’s response reveals
The budget proposes completely defunding Low Carbon Living, LTP Climate Behaviour Change and Community and Social Innovation (among others). The impacts of cutting such services aren’t understood. The mayor's office failed to request any advice regarding the potential impacts these cuts would have on climate change, water quality or natural environment outcomes. This is despite the contribution of these services towards the Council’s own climate plan (Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland's Climate Plan) and Council’s functional duty to undertake mitigation and preparation for the consequences of climate change.
The proposed budget would continue decreased bus services, in opposition to Auckland Council’s own Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway adopted last August. We requested any analysis showing the potential impacts of continuing limited bus services on climate change and emissions. No such analysis exists and decision-making appears to be predicated on outdated patronage data.
The budget proposes deferring some of the projects undertaken by Eke Panuku, a body responsible for transitioning Auckland to a sustainable, low-carbon urban form. No analysis was performed by Council to assess how deferral would impact Auckland’s ability to grow sustainably.