Analysis: Taxpayers' Union takes a pass on $12m Auckland Harbour Bridge lights

Auckland Habour Bridge is going to be lit up again by the Vector Lights on Waitangi Day.

The light show, powered by 90,000 LEDs and 100 floodlights, was first switched on for Auckland Anniversary Day last week.

On the face of things, it looks like a target for the Taxpayers' Union.

Vector contributed "$10 million for the lights themselves, which is contributing to the installation, and meeting the costs for maintenance and ongoing operations over the next 10 years," communications manager Richard Llewellyn confirms.

But although the NZX-listed lines company's contribution is significant, Auckland Council, through Ateed, has still committed up to $200,000 per year for the decade-long initiative, according to Mayor Phil Goff (implying a total allocation of up to $2 million). A large proportion of the first year’s costs will go toward installation and in subsequent years will go toward reprogramming and marketing of events using the lights to national and international audiences. 

A savvy communications strategy saw the various parties involved being transparent and upfront about costs, and getting the budget debate out of the way ahead of time (costs were first disclosed to media in May 2017). Mr Goff and Vector boss Simon Mackenzie included details such as the plan to install 630 solar panels to power the lights (it actually ended up being 248, although that's apparently enough to do the job. The panels are linked to a Tesla Powerpack battery farm the size of a shipping container at Wynyard Quarter – Tesla being one of Vector's partners in the nascent solar and battery markets).

And to help smooth things along, Colenso BBDO and social media marketing agency The Goat Farm have been engaged in pushing messages about clean energy, sustainability and promoting the city.

Still, NBR thought it might be easy to bait the Taxpayers' Union into a "two million bucks of ratepayer money wasted on pretty light show" type of comment, or even have a dig at Vector, which, while listed on the stock exchange is still 75% owned by ratepayers via Entrust. But it was not to be.

After consulting with sister lobby group the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance, Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams said, "We’re going to pass up on commenting on this sorry. Unless the price was outrageous, lighting the bridge is a little like fireworks – clearly a public good."

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