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2017 – counting our losses

by Lindsay Shelton
It was the year when we lost our trolley buses – the Regional Council chose instead to gift us with eight months of an all-diesel fleet.

We published persuasive arguments by a range of experts who all explained why the trolleys should not be lost. [1] But the Regional Council wasn’t willing to reconsider. Not even willing to engage [2] with a doctor concerned about health issues.

Cr Donaldson said we should congratulate her for the all-diesel era. We said she should apologise. [3]

The timing couldn’t have been worse. The trolleys were dumped eight months before 228 new buses are due to arrive – with a promise that ten of them (ten!) will be electric, but all the rest will be diesels. There had earlier been a promise that refitted WrightSpeed buses would replace the trolley buses this year, but this promise came to nothing.

It was also the year when we lost the Paramount Theatre (after a hundred years as a cinema) and the city council did nothing to intervene. We may call ourselves the cultural capital, but the council couldn’t have cared less. [4]

We also lost some of the unique panoramic views from the city to the harbour – blocked by the emergence of Willis Bond’s enormous new waterfront building on Site 10 at Kumutoto. And the city council was keen to approve a further loss of views, as it considered another Willis Bond plan for another big new waterfront building on the nearby Site 9, [5] though it couldn’t provide any reason [6] why the building was needed.

The Town Hall continued to be lost to us – it’s shamefully now in the fifth year of closure. But the Music Centre plan took a step forward, with commitment from Victoria University [7] as well as the long-established support from the NZSO. Uncertainty, however, continues: will the university and the city agree to the Music Centre occupying the council municipal building next to the Town Hall, and who will pay for the upgrade?

We seemed to have lost the movie museum [8] before work had started, with Peter Jackson sending an angry letter saying he had 55 areas of disagreement with the city council – after two years of negotiating.

Some people wanted Wellington to lose the Gordon Wilson Flats. But the heritage building – now owned by Victoria University – had authoritative defenders [9].

WREDA lost its chief executive [10], but attracted a crowd of job seekers during its international looksee campaign [11].

The city lost its new Urban Development Agency [12] – approved by the council last year, and cancelled by the council this year. One independent entity too many?

Wellington Hospital lost another chief executive, with the resignation of Debbie Chin [13] in July. By the end of the year, no replacement had been found for the impossible position.

Newtown is to lose its Post Office, as well as its Westpac Bank branch. The Marion Street Post Office became a furniture store. The Post Office in the Readings complex was one of the first to be closed; its tasks were taken over by a chemist shop, with confusing competition between prescriptions and postage.

Wellington lost power in September [14]. The Hong Kong owned Wellington Electricity company failed to explain the blackout and failed to acknowledge that there could have been serious consequences in suburban streets.

We thought we’d lost plans for a Basin flyover, after the ugly NZTA proposal was twice rejected in legal proceedings. We were wrong – the Transport Agency, disregarding public opinion as well as the legal rulings, came up with not one or two but three “scenarios” including flyovers [15]. It didn’t give a clue about what these structures would look like, no doubt remembering how we were appalled when first images of the original flyover plan were released.

We’ve certainly lost faith in the NZTA, and we were also in danger of losing faith in the Greens and NZ First. Before the election, each party said it supported light rail [16] from the station to the airport. Since the election, when they’re now part of the coalition: silence.

And is the airport runway extension a lost cause? The city council doesn’t think so. As well as committing $90million to help pay for it, its representatives watched approvingly as the airport signed the city’s second deal for Chinese involvement in construction. [17] But like the first deal, it’s an obscure agreement. Some people think it will result in Chinese companies coming here to work on the project. But most people feel that local construction companies would never agree to forego such a huge job. If it ever receives resource consent.