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Northern Ward: what councillors?

by Ian Apperley
The neglected Northern Ward has long suffered under a range of issues of which many still exist despite promises from the last election made by candidates now elected. The three current councillors are known for their anonymity, despite one of them being the Deputy Mayor.

Jill Day (the Deputy Mayor), Malcolm Sparrow, and Peter Gilberd (the City Scientist) are exactly what you’d expect to see elected for a largely conservative ward with the shadow of Labour touching each corner.

It’s tough to critique the three councillors because they are genuinely nice people who are, in my opinion, somewhat out of their depth when it comes to local politics. Sometimes you need old, tough, and mean, with battle experience rather than “nice.” And with where that ward is going, or rather not going, they could do with some combat veterans on their side in council.

Jill Day – Deputy Mayor

“I didn’t know we had a Deputy Mayor.” A friend of mine said when I asked who they thought it was. You’d be forgiven for thinking the same, because unlike the previous Deputy, Paul Eagle, Jill Day was in her first term and relatively unknown.

When Paul stepped down, Jill stepped up into the role and controversy. It is unusual for a first timer with zero experience in local politics to land the Deputy Mayoralty. That role usually goes to a very experienced and sage campaigner, particularly when it was the Mayor’s first term in his role.

In political terms, it was a good choice, a woman as Deputy Mayor, Maori, independent, and smart. But feathers were ruffled. What was more unusual is that it didn’t go to a dyed in the wool Labour party candidate either.

Jill’s portfolios include Maori Partnerships, Children and Young People, and Governance. I think that we can agree for the first and last portfolios, not a great deal of positive change has happened.

I want to highlight Governance because that mechanism is the system by which everything is ultimately run, and a good governance model in local government will produce one thing of critical importance.

Trust.

I think we can agree that trust is a lacking with this group of Councillors.

It’s also the Deputy Mayor’s role to do the heavy lifting when tricky issues arise, but we haven’t seen that as yet. Shelly Bay would have been a perfect opportunity to tackle a contentious issue leaving the Mayor to lead on strategic matters.

I think Jill is likely the weakest of the Northern Ward Councillors (just) based on her lack of profile and the fact she snuck in by a few hundred votes last time. I think a couple of new, strong, candidates would likely knock her out of Council.

As an aside, it strikes me that a better position for Jill would have been City Scientist; her background and credentials would have suited the role.

Malcolm Sparrow

AKA “The Mayor of Tawa”, it is rumoured that Malcolm is a prolific Neighbourly user and when new people move into the suburb he goes and personally welcomes them to the neighbourhood. Now that is nice. I mean, that is kind of what you expect your local representative to do. It is next level nice.

But Malcolm oversees Resilience across the city, and I am quite sure that everyone can agree that a) you never hear his voice on that portfolio and b) it’s a bit of a shambles.

As recently as last week, WREMO were caught out over apparent lack of preparations around Community Emergency Hubs (they appear to be MIA).

Our resilience as a city, I would argue, has not changed substantively in the last triennium. We continue to be plagued by earthquake issues (god forbid we have another one because we are not ready for it), every storm we have grinds the entire city to a halt, and the long times to recover energy and water supplies post-disaster have not changed.

However Malcolm will get back easily. He’s been such a part of the Tawa community for such a long time that the outcome is almost inevitable.

Peter Gilberd

Our first City Scientist, Peter has not achieved a great deal in this triennium, which is a shame, because that role could have made a very large difference to a lot of overarching policy in critical areas, like Climate Change. He is a Labour Party nominee and as such subject to their oversight and control.

He did buy a forest for us, though, which was a rather masterful piece of spin from the Council after one of their back to front decisions.

We all know that the city is screaming out for land to develop on, so when a block of forestry was put up for sale, rather than letting developers buy it to build more housing, the Council stepped in and bought it. This is a block of forestry that is so far gone that it is not even worth milling.

Xcience is important right now and we need the City Scientist not only to be speaking out far more often, we also need him to be challenging Council policy and direction that does not align with scientific reality. We’re not getting that from Peter.

I’m putting him in the same category as Jill Day. I think that he is quite weak, certainly based on his voting numbers from 2016 and that a strong candidate could unseat him this time around.

Northern Ward issues

Tim Batt and Disasteradio encapsulated a lot of the issues for the Northern Ward in this satirical video selling Johnsonville as a tourist destination. A dying mall, low wage issues, lack of services, traffic issues, public transport unreliability, social issues, and so on. None of which seem to have been much alleviated under the current trio of Councillors, despite so many promises at the beginning.

Right now, if you read some of the moves by local community groups, you can see that the trust has evaporated with the Council. If you want to see between the lines, then this “submission” by the Johnsonville Community Association makes for interesting reading because it lays out the issues for Northern Suburbs as a whole. It also points out a lot of flaws and asks some interesting questions about the overall growth plan.

The JCA lacks confidence in Wellington City Council’s ability to plan and implement the required improvements to public transport and community facilities in suburban Area of Change zones. When it imposed the Area of Change onto Johnsonville, the WCC promised significant improvements to public transport and roading, yet much of the promised improvements have not been implemented. Also, the council is yet to make good on its current promise to complete the Johnsonville Triangle roading improvements on Moorefield Road. Just as important was the promise under the Johnsonville Area of Change Design Guide that multi-unit residential developments would be of high quality and would comply with District Plan minimum requirements. However, Council planners routinely permit non-compliant and poor quality residential developments across North Wellington.

Any newcomers?

It’s time for a refresh of the Councillors in Northern Ward. While they are all very nice, as we have seen, they are not as effective as they could be. I suggest: vote in a couple of veterans to replace Jill and Peter, move the City Scientist role to someone who is an independent and empower them to challenge the Council, and leave Malcolm Sparrow to continue with his community engagement focus.

At the time of writing, I spotted only one contender for the Northern Ward.

Doctor Jenny Condie.

I don’t know much about Jenny. Other than her Twitter feed there is little yet to see. She does have quite a few followers for the average Wellingtonian, which infers her being relatively well-known, an advantage in an election.

Here’s a press release from her after the LGWM announcements:

“Politicians are saying all the right things about how this transport plan will prepare us to reduce our emissions. However, beneath those sound bites more than $2 billion of that investment is slated for roading, and overall the plan is only expected to reduce car numbers travelling into the city at rush hour by 20%.”

Dr Condie’s politics seem to lean to the left of the spectrum. However, it appears she is independent and a person of some intellectual capacity. Often that can give rise to fresh ideas to solve old issues and we’ll be keeping an eye on policy as it is published.

Dr Condie is going to have to get front and center rapidly in order to beat the incumbents. Time is short. Likewise, for any candidates declaring late, as each day goes by the chances of unseating existing Councillors diminishes dramatically.

This article was first published yesterday on Inside Wellington.