Look to Spain for a sanity check on Len Brown’s spending

If citizens of Auckland ever want to take a sanity check to Len Brown, Auckland Council and their looney ideas then look no further than Spain.

Spain is in debt up to its eyeballs and mostly due to expenditure by local government on projects they said were needed but turned out to be white elephants.

We have the same risk here in Auckland. Just because the Mayor says a tunnel or a rail link to the airport are projects that must be built, doesn’t actually mean they are a good idea.

In fact, if Spain is anything to go buy – large scale transport infrastructure expenditure choices by local government are actually pretty dumb.

In September, something strange will happen at Castellon airport in eastern Spain: an aircraft will land there.

Despite being officially opened with much ceremony in March 2011, to date, no regular commercial flight has ever landed or taken off from the “ghost” airport, leaving it as a stark reminder of just how much Spain binged on cheap debt in the years before the economic crisis. ?

It cost more than ?150m ($216.98m) to build and included, at its entrance, a 7.3m copper statute – which itself cost over ?300,000 ($433,96) – of Carlos Fabra, a local politician and the brains behind the project. Fabra, a member for the governing PP and the former head of the Castellon region, is unlikely to see the first plane land, however, since he is now serving a four-year sentence for tax fraud.

At the time of the grand opening, Fabra told reporters: “They say that we’re crazy for inaugurating an airport without planes. They don’t understand anything… this is an airport for people.”

This is stuff Len Brown would surely aspire to.

It would be unfair to say that Castellon airport has not been used at all since 2011. The Villarreal football team sometimes uses it when chartering flights to play away games, although as some have pointed out, the club’s shirt sponsor used to be none other than Castellon airport itself.

Castellon is one of a number of building projects that fell victim to developers going out of business, running out of funds or not appreciating that their masterpiece was not needed during the boom years.

Another airport, in Ciudad Real, remains unused despite costing more than ?1bn to build. Airlines did use it, but left when the company managing it went bust.

In Benidorm, what was supposed to be Europe’s largest block of flats – the 200m-high Intempo – has just been completed after taking more than eight years to build.

In the 1990s, Spain’s regions were told by Madrid to embark on projects that would set them apart from each other and encourage tourists to visit places other than the Costas – as part of the project, Bilbao built the Guggenheim.

Other ideas fell into trouble when the availability of cheap financing ran out. In Valencia, the City of Arts and Sciences, a building modelled on the Sydney Opera House and designed by Santiago Calatrava, was originally supposed to cost ?300m ($433,96), but years over budget, the eventual price tag was ?1.1bn ($1.59bn)

Sigh…I fear the same for Auckland.


– NZ Herald