Wellington Scoop

Election 2019: the show begins

Photo: Lynn Grievson

by Isabella Cawthorn
It’s that time again (yes, pretty quick). Candidates for local body elections are starting to emit policy information to appeal to you, The Voter. Councillors Diane Calvert and Simon Woolf have run their colours up the mast for us all to consider.

Their transport-specific comments are interesting. Note: they’re amongst quite a lot of stuff which we generally like the sound of, without having dug into it much – housing and culture and better frontline services. Nice. But because on Talk Wellington we’re still calling this the Year of Transport (LGWM having not yet come out), we’re looking a bit more closely at transport.

We’ll pull out each of Woolf and Calvert’s transport-related comments. Here we go…

Consider the establishment of a Regional Transport Authority to improve delivery of transport infrastructure and transparency of information to the people, of not only our city but for the whole Wellington region.

First the good stuff in here: It’s great to consider a regional transport authority. The disconnection between Wellington’s bits of transport governance – and thereby its planning, investment, delivery – is really quite breathtaking. On Talk Wellington, we’ve had posts about this before, like here and here, and will again. This is one of those topics that either gets flippant thinking (Stuff commenters’ “get rid of [council x], fire them all!”) or nothing (“the Regional Land Transport Plan process is working fine for Wellington thankyou, nothing to see here”). So openness to talking about better structures is good!

And transparency is definitely an issue. (It’s depressing to see how little proper data councils, NZTA and Let’s Get Wellington Moving are willing or able to release, despite the government’s long-standing commitments. See for example Metlink.)

But Calvert and Woolf’s statements we also find really frustrating. They’ve got this focus on “improve delivery of infrastructure” – an output – rather than “improve people’s transport options” or some other outcome.

This really matters, and it seems strange that people in governance should confuse an output with an outcome. (Though in the comments, Calvert does clarify a phrase she says “could have been worded better”, so perhaps we’re asking too much.)


And call us cynical if you will, but it’s a known fact of life that “infrastructure” i.e. “things we can be photographed cutting a ribbon in front” is to politicians what catnip is to cats. Especially those seeking re-election. And whether or not that infrastructure actually improves the world for anyone is “hey, I’ll deal with that if I get elected! At least no-one will say I didn’t Get Things Done!”

Woolf and Calvert’s next line is…

Support the development of improved roads, bridges and tunnels from The Terrace through to the airport to improve connections with the east and south and enable safer and more open space within the CBD for pedestrians, cycling and activities.

Oh here we go. Output output output. Damn, we were right about the catnip.

I’m going to make an assumption here. I’d love to be wrong.

Assumption: when Calvert and Woolf say “better” roads, they don’t mean “roads put on a road diet so they’re less traffic-dominated and more people-focussed”. Nope. If that assumption is correct, it means we can take these statements in a certain light:

“…from The Terrace through to the airport to improve connections with the east and south and enable safer and more open space within the CBD for pedestrians, cycling and activities.”

“to improve connections with the east and south” yet “pedestrians, cycling and activities” are only mentioned with reference to the CBD. Hmm. In light of the assumption above, does anyone else think this smells like “We’ll have four lanes to the planes because that’s how you get better services for people in the CBD”? (Please let us be wrong about their intentions…)

Where exactly do Woolf and Calvert think all the cars are going to go in Wellington once induced demand hits? (it’s already hitting up the Kāpiti coast thanks to the larger roads, and car-focussed greenfields development). Will they be fielding complaints when people, promised what feels like a motorway-grade driving experience in Wellington city “cos they told us the tunnels were bigger to address congestion”, end up in a series of stop-start congested traffic lights between the Terrace and Mt Vic and into Hataitai? Which are there because … there’s a city here and it’s full of local streets and loads of people living and going about their business.

As an experienced communications professional, Jo Coughlan knows that the truth just doesn’t make for a good billboard when it comes to motorways through cities. “Four Lanes To The Traffic Lights”? Definitely doesn’t scan with the focus groups.

Back to Woolf and Calvert. Their next transport-y bullet was:

Support further development and partnership with central government for public transport to meet the current and future needs of patrons travelling from the CBD through to the east and south of the city. Ensuring any proposed investment has a strong business case, affordable for city ratepayers and not a disproportionate burden.

This sounds good. We like strong business cases. We like proportionate burdens, especially “future needs” -– hooray! And we like the sound of partnership with central government on public transport. The local government funding model is fundamentally broken and public transport is one manifestation. (And we’d better rattle our dags fixing that model, because climate change is going to kill councils’ budgets.)

But in the context of the previous paragraphs’ clangers, we can’t really give many points on this. (Still hoping we’re wrong about them!)

It’s so important to be able to unpack politicians’ statements on complex issues, and press them for actual commitments to and against certain things. But it’s difficult. Here’s hoping the excellent Massey University / Spinoff collaboration Policy will be doing their good stuff for the local body elections. Generation Zero and Regional Public Health are also great at unpacking the “motherhood and apple pie, infrastructure for all people” kind of statements, so keep an eye out.

This article was first published yesterday on the website of Talk Wellington.


  1. Benny, 21. February 2019, 11:41

    I think the statements are broad enough to not alienate their voters. Imagine if they said something as radical as “we will impose 50% electric buses roaming our streets by 2025” or “we will oppose the runway extension”: they’d gain some votes but get some other people to fly away (ah! ah!). So to avoid this, they remain vague enough … which is calling for assumptions, which you’re doing … which leads to disappointment.

    Beyond this lack of clarity, your analysis is spot on: rather than focusing on people, the “infrastructure” seems to be the end goal. Of course, no mention of the impact on the people along the corridor, the emissions, etc.

    I wonder how long it’ll take before someone comes with fresh ideas and new approach to organising our cities, breaking the model that has been followed for decades and, while bringing some benefits, has had a detrimental impact on quality of life (noise, pollution, health, etc).

  2. Heidi P, 21. February 2019, 12:36

    Missing: One Democracy. Last seen: Only in our imagination. We’ve not got rule by the people, we have rule by a (globalized) govt using education and media. With most people unfit to rule democracy, even if we had such a thing, it would be what the hive mind wants, a mob with the consciousness of the lowest common denominator easily programmed by fear and desire. So instead of looking for people to rule you, I suggest we rule ourselves as human beings not as races, genders and sexual preferences. [Abridged.]

  3. Ian Apperley, 21. February 2019, 15:01

    I suspect that two independents have little chance of effecting much change at all given that the WCC is likely to remain a Labour Party bloc for all intents and purposes. The question we should really be asking is how do we make improvements and change without the Council being involved. Because frankly, they have very few levers they can collectively pull to make change. I.e. They are generally powerless.

    As to this being the “year of transport”, while it is high on the agenda of things that annoy Wellington, it probably is not the most important. But dog whistling around transport is always a good way to get media exposure and we know the science behind how councillors are voted in.

  4. Harry M, 21. February 2019, 16:29

    “Let the show begin” sums it up.
    It’s all smoke and mirrors in a media flea circus culminating with the same old election promises so that a new group of self serving Yes( wo)men can get voted in. I’m not a skeptic, just seen this process over and over again – the same thing every-time. Until we decide to change the foundations of the structure we will not make any changes in the council. We must have an option for a no confidence vote, I have no confidence in the WCC as it stands.

  5. michael, 21. February 2019, 21:59

    Totally agree Harry. Regardless of who gets in to represent us, nothing changes from one year to the next as our rates rise and the council bumbles on.

  6. Bernard C, 22. February 2019, 13:23

    I agree too and I don’t have any confidence in the Council either.

  7. Kara Lipski, 28. February 2019, 8:50

    I wonder if those of you who have written that you don’t have confidence in the WCC actually take on the responsibility of voting.

  8. Ian Apperley, 28. February 2019, 10:46

    Hi Kara, yes. Every. Single. Time.