Wellington Scoop

Why we should all be running for the council


by Ian Apperley
Three Wellington issues have dominated local media over recent days. What we could call the death of the city by a dozen large cuts, the ongoing bus shambles, and what happens when you call for big ideas for the future but can’t define one.

It’s starting to feel like Wellington has been left on “set and forget”, for far too long. A loose sailing term where you point at your destination, set the boat, and then leave it to sail itself. All well and good if conditions don’t change, but they have, significantly, and while the crew is sleeping the boat is now heading to South America rather than the warm waters of the Pacific.

Media opinion pieces tend to bring out the councillors because in an election year, those who are trying to retain their seats feel it necessary to over-spin their successes and defend the ramparts of perceived progress while having a crack at those of us asking questions.

The Dominion Post ran a fairly lightweight piece titled “Not absolutely positive about Wellington.” It pointed out the ongoing woes that don’t seem to be being managed all that well:

The bus transport system is pretty much stuffed, apartments face serious woes with unaffordable earthquake strengthening required, more buildings are being shut down as earthquake risks, Civic Square is dead, housing is unaffordable, rates are increasing again, the CBD is impacted by fiddling with car parks & costs, rents are going through the ceiling, major projects are not started as promised, LGWM is akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes, there’s serious congestion, transparency is broken, the City Council is not trusted, Shelly Bay is an omnishambles …

Now, the DomPost didn’t list all those things, I got carried away and added a few. To be fair there are some critical repairs of infrastructure and some good work around social housing that goes well beyond fiddling. But mostly it feels like the triennium of fiddling around the edges. (Upgrading alleyways, some of the shortest cycle lanes on earth.)

In the middle of all the problems, a Climate Emergency has been declared with no substance or plan behind it other than some aspirational goals. Frankly, I would have held off on that until just before the election as it has created an excellent distraction from the real issues.

Paul Eagle seemingly supported the criticisms in the DomPost, albeit by just being interviewed, and that seems a bit of a slap in the face for his Labour Party colleagues on the Council. Perhaps he is going to exit the Beehive and have a crack for the mayoralty? Why not? He’d win in a landslide.

That’s pure speculation of course.

The only person who seemed to come out in support of the WCC was Ian Cassels, who has a lot riding on the current crop retaining their stranglehold on the city in terms of his current and future work.

Tagged to the bottom of the article was an “opinion piece” that bumbled about a bit before latching on the old “if you don’t vote you can’t complain, and nothing will change” narrative that gets rolled out this time of year. It’s a silly old statement for a variety of reasons, the foremost being that if you don’t think the candidates who are running for Council are up for it, then don’t vote for them. If you’re given a choice of three idiots to fly your plane, none of whom have a pilot license, and you’re told you had to pick one, why would you?

It’s my opinion that if you want to make a change, you run for the Council itself. The more, the merrier. Let’s get a few hundred people on the books. Let’s see eighty candidates for Lambton Ward. Let’s turn that ridiculous voting book that comes out into a veritable bible of Wellington candidates.

Perhaps people will then vote when they have some real choices rather than what is shaping up to be potentially the most boring election in decades. If nothing else, we’ll end up with a wonderful coffee table book of locals who want to put their hand up. Frankly, that’s probably the only way we will see any change.

The Local Government conference went ahead without needing a new convention centre, and Rotary’s Creating Tomorrow Forum offered to give us big ideas for Wellington. Except there were no big ideas put forward. Not really.

Before the Forum, Roger Blakely wrote an opinion piece titled “Big hairy ideas are needed for the capital” He listed some big ideas as:

better connection between the city and the region; a city that adopts restorative justice principles; and a nanotechnology solution to remove toxic pollutants in the Mt Victoria tunnel.

I’ll just leave that there, clearly good ideas, but not big ideas.

Why are we not getting any big ideas? Because we keep asking politicians to come up with them, that’s why, and politicians are generally older with fixed thinking about how to solve problems. They’ve run out of ideas. Their ideas are long past the use by date.

“Moaning”, I hear you say, “Where are your big ideas, and what have you done?”

Well, according to the Dominion Post opinion writer, I get a free right to complain because I vote, but other than that: I’ve worked on and off with community groups across the city over the years pro bono, I’ve supported practical ideas “forums” with support from the Council, and I’ve spent far too much time than is healthy trying to highlight what the Council is doing, on platforms such as this one.

But the Council do not listen. Whether you vote or not, they do not. Or, if they do, they are shut down by the archaic machinery of the Council proper.

Here is an example. A practical idea was developed four years ago and taken to the GWRC with WCC blessing. It related to public transport. We suggested that the train and bus apps should have real-time information and that they could show how crowded a train or bus was, allowing people to plan their routes and avoid congestion.

Instead, the GWRC spent over $20 million on a fixed RTI system that is blatantly inaccurate, when we estimated the cost of building the app in the tens of thousands.

Recently, Google adopted our group’s idea, announcing a trial for a group of mega-cities that shows congestion on public transport so you can choose to skip a ride for a less busy one. Good enough for Google, not good enough for the GWRC. Nope.

Here’s another big idea we had. Make public transport free. It’s happening all over the world, it is affordable, and it solves a lot of the downstream effects we see above.

The point is, I have thought about it, just like thousands of others in the city. But the ideas get no airtime, and because the trust is broken, and often the reception borderline aggressive, we’ve given up.

Voting won’t help that.


Running for Council will. It’s cheap, easy, and incredibly effective.

First published on Inside Wellington.


  1. Mark Cubey, 10. July 2019, 12:20

    I’m waiting for the first WgtnCC candidate to promise if elected that they will move for Chris, Greg, Barbara, Paul and the rest of the Regional Council crew who let the new bus system happen, to be banned forthwith from the city environs. Like, tarred and feathered if they come south of Petone. [via twitter]

  2. michael, 10. July 2019, 18:35

    I would just like to see some more candidates so we can vote the current lot out. Newbies couldn’t do any worse!!

  3. Tony Jansen, 11. July 2019, 10:29

    The only way to get elected if one is not already a high profile name, is to join a political party. It is evident that most Wellingtonians who vote, vote along party lines. If you do not want to be hamstrung and controlled by party dogma, then you have little chance of getting elected unless you are famous and wealthy. So to be honest – what is the point?
    Our current crop of politicians are largely self serving careerists. To be honest the only big idea we need is for our elected officials to serve the people. For the life of me I cannot see any change coming about in this election except for changing some faces past their use by date with others cut from the same cloth.

  4. Guy M, 23. July 2019, 5:54

    We need another option on our voting papers: None of the Above.
    If we truly do get only awful candidates, you could stay at home and not vote, but that achieves nothing. A far better route must surely be an option on your voting paper : I have No Confidence in any of the candidates, so, None of the Above. This is particularly appropriate for GWRC candidates, about whom most people have little knowledge or confidence.