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Setting priorities – the need to focus on things we care about

by Ian Apperley
Over the past few weeks we’ve been subjected to the City Council Spin Machine pumping out PR press releases that coat tail on the achievements of others, are propaganda for the Long-Term Plan “consultation” and are worded to ensure no negative publicity is generated.

As we head into the LTP process, again, the Council priorities appear to be flapping around all over the place like a sail boat that can’t find the wind. The technical term is “being in irons.” That point where there is much flapping and a very slight backward movement.

We’ve seen almost no movement on the things that Wellingtonians care about: infrastructure, congestion, climate change, housing pressure, and the economy. Frankly, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Council is all talk and no trousers. Perhaps it has almost no control over those issues.

In a Newsroom article titled “Mission impossible for local government” Shane Cowlishaw wrote:

Local government has been warned it faces “sky-high” costs in dealing with issues such as climate change and ballooning infrastructure bills that it won’t be able to pay for itself. At its downtown Wellington headquarters on Wednesday, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) held a briefing outlining the work and challenges ahead of its members. It was a long list.
Regulating freedom campers.
Climate change.
Skyrocketing infrastructure costs.
Ensuring drinking water is clean.

The article analyses how local government can work with central government to remedy some basic services. But our City Council appears to have missed the memo. In the early LTP draft and via the myriad of press releases, it can be deduced that a fraction of money is being spent on basic services while an absolute war chest is earmarked for the vanity projects.

Where is the priority?

When it rains heavily in Miramar in conjunction with a high-tide, local businesses lose their toilets. The water table is so high, coupled with the creaking waste water system, that the toilets can’t be flushed. In terms of funding to resolve that issue out east, the money set aside is not only a joke, it’s near an insult.

But the Council can tag over $150m for a convention centre, which belongs in the halcyon days of the 1970s. Said convention centre (and the attached movie museum) appears to be a shambles based on the lack of progress after more than two years of uncompleted planning and negotiating.

Then there is the coastal erosion caused by storms and rising sea levels. As I have noted before, Wellington has the dubious honour of having the fastest rising sea levels in New Zealand. That’s because as well as climate change, we are sinking.

How are we going to deal with that? The council is going to throw less than a million at sea wall strengthening, while tagging tens of millions to the airport extension, potentially the greatest white elephant the city has ever seen.

Then there is congestion. Two years back it took around 20 minutes to get from the eastern suburbs to the CBD in peak traffic. Peak traffic was 8 to 9 am and again 5 – 6 pm.

Traffic, according to Google, now peaks between about 7 – 9 am and 3 – 6 pm. It is not unusual to see travel times of 50 minutes during morning peak.

What are the Council doing about that? Pushing on with their fantasy that bicycle lanes will solve everything. Honestly, it’s up there with the Twitter Warriors and new religion. Sure, cycling is a smart option, one of several smart options, but we are going to spend $70 plus million on that and almost zero on anything else.

Housing is a huge issue and so far nothing has been done about it other than the formation of hot air fests and working groups. The consequences are horrible if we get it wrong – basically, the city will stagnate. Once it does that, business will move away. Already the movie industry is considering different locations for workers given that getting people across the CBD each morning has become a nightmare.

And the rates! Upward, increasing, above inflation, expensive, and a quick calculation based on the LTP shows my rates increasing by over 70% in the next decade. 70%! I can barely afford them now. Let’s get real WCC. Let’s not forget we have revaluations this year that will drive that even higher. And somehow, despite this massive tax take, the WCC wants to double its borrowing in the LTP.

As for the economy, one word, WREDA. Yep. That old chestnut. If anyone can point me to a good thing they’ve done in the last three years for the $20m plus they get per annum I’ll buy you a beer. Businesses in town are subsidising them to the tune of $8m per year.

And just how are businesses in town being treated? Well, let’s start with car parking and retail. Car parks are down, free parking over the weekend is under threat, and retail is stagnating according to the latest figures. I avoid the CBD apart from customer meetings. It’s violently expensive even if you can find a park.

Interestingly, a lot of my larger customers are now moving to the Hutt Valley. Why? Off peak it’s easier to get to, the housing is cheaper, the transport is better, the costs are significantly lower, and it’s far more accessible, generally.

Parking, while we are moaning, is a nightmare even in the suburbs. Strathmore and parts of Miramar have become a giant carpark. Since the introduction of the 24-hour parking zone, meant to alleviate issues, the street parking has basically been killed on the outer edges. Businesses are suffering in Strathmore and Miramar as a result.

That’s okay by the WCC though, because they seem to have forgotten there are any suburbs outside the CBD. All the money and attention are going into the CBD and almost none into the outlying suburbs.

Am I angry? Yes I am. Under this Council we seem to have more press releases, double-speak, and lack of progress that I have seen in a decade. Frankly, the Council should stick to their basic knitting and get those priorities right.

Until then, I’ll leave my house in the morning, make sure the storm drains on the street are clear, continue to weed and maintain the Council land outside my house, buy my own rubbish service, and then sit in traffic for 90 minutes a day belting out carbon into the atmosphere. At least I live on a hill, and for now, can flush my toilet.

24 comments:

  1. Traveller, 16. March 2018, 9:35

    Ian – I agree with everything you’ve written, except for parking. I’ve never had a problem finding parking (Monday to Friday) at the Courtenay Place/Taranaki Street end of town – followed by a quick and easy and mind-clearing walk to the high-rise office buildings on the Quay.

     
  2. Ian Apperley, 16. March 2018, 11:41

    Traveller. Interesting re parking. I must have a hunt around that area! I’m usually at the government end of town and parking is ok around 9 – 1030, then it’s basically all over.

     
  3. Molly, 16. March 2018, 12:04

    Well done Ian. Have you seen the advt for a new build 5 bedroom house for sale in the Northern Suburbs?
    Is this what is meant by “affordable”? Are these monstrosities for families of 10 ( yeah right) and multiple cars, being built in the “Special Housing Areas” with “special” approval by the Council? Affordable housing? Really? For whom?

     
  4. TrevorH, 16. March 2018, 12:55

    Brilliant Ian. As a long time inhabitant of the Eastern Suburbs, every word you have written resonates strongly with me. This Council’s priorities are screwed up. I and others with similar views have made inputs to Council “consultations” including the hallowed LTP over the years and have never seen any reflection of the concerns or interests we have identified. I have little doubt we would get better governance if Wellington was administered by a central government agency.

     
  5. Farmer John, 16. March 2018, 18:01

    Whilst sitting in your traffic jam I suggest you contemplate what the Greater Wellington Regional Council does for you, as your regional rates bill is going up 7%.

     
  6. Berk, 16. March 2018, 18:44

    Love your work Ian, miss the Strathmore Park blog but glad you have kept up on here. Whenever I see a councillor communicating in the paper or online it’s about some personal crusade, like women’s rights or sexual abuse, important issues obviously but not core council issues. The priority for cycleways is over the top. We already have roads that are for all forms of transport, let’s sort them out and forget the vanity projects.

     
  7. Dave B, 17. March 2018, 4:23

    “We are going to spend $70 plus million on [cycleways] and almost zero on anything else”.
    You need look at this in context. Over the past 60 years $billions have been spent on motor transport and almost zero on cycling. Consider it as now playing long-overdue but still very modest ‘catch-up’.

     
  8. Citizen Joe, 17. March 2018, 18:50

    Dave. I’ve cycled all around NZ from Bluff to Cape Reinga. I have local authorities and NZTA to thank for what was and is a great road network to cycle on. A lot of the gravel roads have now been sealed which makes cycling far easier. So money spent on roads has benefited me as a cyclist too.

     
  9. IanS, 18. March 2018, 20:48

    Great news Ian – you will clearly be a big supporter of the new rapid light rail system from Miramar to CBD. Light rail is the only option that will achieve the consistent 20min commute to CBD and get us out of the more-roads = more-congestion spiral. Let’s hope they get on with it as soon as possible.

     
  10. michael, 18. March 2018, 23:00

    Well said Ian – but guess nothing will happen as the council seems hell bent on burying its head in the sand and producing dozens of reports to keep themselves occupied while Wellington slowly continues its slide backwards.

     
  11. Dave B, 18. March 2018, 23:43

    Citizen Joe, I’m wondering when you did all that cycling around NZ? I did the same in the UK before coming to NZ. But things are not the same as back then. Traffic volumes have doubled and the view that “cyclists should not be on the roads” has grown. For instance cycling in London became so dangerous that cyclist numbers fell right off, until a big effort was made to put in proper cycling facilities. Now cycling in London is booming and helping to reduce vehicle numbers.

    I still ride in Wellington every day but I am very aware that there are hazards out there that will put people off (like the curse of car-doors flying open at you). Take away these hazards and many more have indicated that they will cycle. If council policy is to encourage this then isn’t providing a safe environment for cyclists a good way to do this? What better suggestions do you have, or do you think everything is fine just as it is?

     
  12. Citizen Joe, 19. March 2018, 8:36

    I’ve cycled in NZ mostly in the 90s and noughties and not as much in the teenies other than to get around Wellington. I’m just not as fit as a was (need an ebike). Like you, the most dangerous thing for me was a car door – deliberately opened on me by hoons near Balclutha on a gravel road. Knocked me off my bike but thankfully only a grazed my knee and gave me quizzical thoughts about the sanity of others. I think NZ is more like Scotland than England/Wales for cycling: fewer cars but pretty dire pubs, roadside cafes and food.

     
  13. Ian Apperley, 19. March 2018, 15:15

    I’d support a rail solution through to the airport from the station. Frankly, any kind of faster public transport solution would be welcomed.

    I sat in an hour of traffic on Sunday from 1:30PM from Strathmore to the motorway. Granted, the Life Flight Trust had an open day, but the outbound traffic was horrendous.

    I used to cycle myself like Citizen Joe, but gave it up. The reason for that was the danger posed, which none of the proposed cycling lanes resolve. I watched a brave (suicidal) cyclist this morning going around the roundabout at the northern end of the airport in 70k traffic. I actually got behind him and followed him all the way around because I was sure he was going to get bowled.

    Island Bay is a classic example of how not to do a cycleway. An area that was cycling safe before is now an area where more accidents are occurring.

    I’m frustrated that none of the smart technology solutions, which I have written about before, are being looked at as part of the answer. Smarter traffic management, smarter public transport, and deploying AI to manage flow is all available now, but we have a Council that appears to live in the 1950s, along with dozens of other agencies and interest groups.

     
  14. Cr Chris Calvi-Freeman, 19. March 2018, 22:42

    @Ian I’m interested in your AI/smart proposals. Could you email them to me? If there are practical opportunities, we should be considering them.

     
  15. Ian Apperley, 20. March 2018, 7:52

    Can do Chris.

     
  16. Piglet, 20. March 2018, 20:03

    I see uber has suspended its autonomous vehicle trials after one of its test vehicles killed a cyclist in Phoenix. I can’t see them being sufficiently smart to go mainstream in my lifetime. Too big a call for insurers.

     
  17. Andrew, 20. March 2018, 21:49

    I agree with Piglet. As tragic as this is, it was inevitable and will force the hard questions to be asked. Autonomous cars Segway (remember them?) moment.

     
  18. Sarah Huckerbee, 21. March 2018, 13:55

    How can we get past the Council spin machine?
    Fake news or fact? Which is it?
    I just want the facts and politicians who give them. All we get are examples of fake news.
    By the way, what happened to the 30 big ideas of the last spun LTP consultation document which then became 10 big ideas – none realised?

     
  19. NigelTwo, 21. March 2018, 17:58

    @Piglet. The news reports are saying the Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian, not a cyclist. Cyclists are much rarer.

     
  20. Neil Douglas, 21. March 2018, 18:45

    NigelTwo – it’s a bit confusing but the woman who was killed by the Uber ‘driverless’ car (in autonomous mode at the time but with a human observer) had a bicycle with her and was crossing the road near a pedestrian crossing – here are some photos of the incident.:

     
  21. NigelTwo, 22. March 2018, 17:41

    @Neil. Agreed. After seeing the dashcam video I see the bicycle. Eeek!

     
  22. Tony Jansen, 23. March 2018, 12:27

    I think this is the council you get when you don’t really have a council. All PR puffery and very little action. There is an obvious preference for big ticket “wow” projects over essential infrastructure and resilience work. No glamour in getting a waste water treatment plant on your CV but a Movie Museum, that’s another story. The council seem to think this is what people vote for. That these sorts of things are what gets them elected. We are not children in a candy store. It is not what I and everyone I speak to actually want from the council. But I guess it makes certain groups very wealthy?

    Unfortunately the Council have a history of not offering major projects for open and competitive tender, and of awarding project work to a small number of pet developers and companies. The Convention Centre, as a case in point, has reaped the rewards of this. The heralded economic benefits are nothing but a fiction.

    Shelly Bay is clearly subject to lengthy legal challenges. Our Mayor absolved himself of any responsibility with the excuse that he had a conflict of interest, having taken a $2000 donation from the Wellington Company during the last election campaign. For me there are concerns over his leadership and performance, inflamed by his campaigning in the recent bi-election for the Labour candidate. Although this was allegedly “on his own time.”

    Worst of all WREDA has been a shambles – all chardonnay and Bluff oysters. We now have the acting CEO Derek Fry writing a ridiculous letter to the DomPost in support of the runway extension. Apart from being full of meaningless and irrelevant facts and figures (fake news), the letter displayed his ignorance of international tourism and trade. Time for the invisible hand of the market to give WREDA a good swat!

    As for the runway extension itself, support for this is still council policy. Should we be financially supporting Infratil to improve their asset? Would we be better served by saving the council’s $100 million commitment and selling off the council’s share of the airport and letting it be run as a private commercial entity? Regardless, there is no business case for the extension as anyone who has an inkling of knowledge about global trade and economics will tell you. If we hadn’t mucked around for the last twenty years we could have build an international airport on the Kapiti Coast that would have served the whole region. It is obviously too late now as Air NZ is in the process of pulling out and the Todd family are preparing to sell the land for residential housing it seems. Housing that will bring even more cars into Wellington City. Something else we seem unprepared for….I could go on but you get the picture.

     
  23. Pauline, 23. March 2018, 16:35

    Thanks Tony you have written what so many Wellingtonians are thinking but like so many I know they have given up writing submissions and going to meetings as they say “who is listening!”

     
  24. michael, 26. March 2018, 11:34

    After the earthquake I was hopeful it would prompt the council to focus on our aging and failing infrastructure. But all that seems to have happened is an increase in workshops and reports with a Mayor who seems more interested in advancing his political career than heading up the WCC. Roll on the next elections!