Wellington Scoop

A petition: abolish the Regional Council

by Curtis Nixon
If you are as sick as I am of the bustastrophe caused by the Regional Council’s mis-management, made worse by their refusal to listen to the voices of everyday commuters and travellers, then I ask you to support my petition to the Local Government Commission to abolish the council.

It is a sure sign that something is wrong when three of Wellington’s five councillors on the regional council have decided not to stand for re-election. There have been sustained calls for action to be taken over the bus network changes. These have been expressed in the media, especially here on Wellington.Scoop, at council meetings, and at the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee at Parliament.

The failure of the bus system can be explained by the dysfunctionality of the local government structure. The organisational rivalry and lack of cooperation between the Wellington City Council and the Regional Council have been major contributing factors that have led to the failure of the bus re-organisation.

Also playing a significant part has been the minority status of regional councillors representing Wellington city. Add to that the deficient management of the region’s commuter train system with frequent breakdowns and service outages which has put more pressure on the roading infrastructure. As these infrastructures require local government cooperation, planning and funding in conjunction with the New Zealand Transport Agency, the over-complicated structure means that there is huge room for breakdowns in communication and cooperation between the local and central government agencies.

There is significant confusion in the minds of many residents between the city and regional councils. This leads to incorrect attribution of blame which muddies the debate about possible solutions and adds to reduced accountability.

The calls for urgent measures of some kind, along with dissatisfaction with GWRC’s management of the bus reorganisation, were recently expressed at the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee at Parliament, and in many media outlets. There has also been an element of passing the buck between WCC and GWRC, on the issue of bus priority measures in Wellington city for example.

As well as the public transport woes, GWRC has manifestly failed in its responsibility to control pest animal and plant species in the region. This is evident in the creation of community-based pest control groups to control rats, stoats and other animals, with obvious beneficial effects. No one is doing anything to control the large number of rabbits which are ubiquitous on parks and reserves land. A recent news story said that even the children’s vegetable garden at Parliament was damaged by a rabbit eating the plants.

Wasps and magpies are only minimally controlled while they are making serious inroads into our reserve and park lands, to the detriment of native animals.

The pest plant situation is worse. Invasive exotic plants such as Darwin’s barberry, Elaeagnus reflexa, wilding pines, sycamore, cherry family members and many more are spreading unchecked in the region’s parks and reserves. While city and regional council contractors do some limited control, it is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed. The worse aspect is that land that has been newly re-vegetated with native plants, often by hard-working community groups is being invaded by exotic pest plants. This is a waste of the time, effort, and money put into the revegetation by council and private individuals; and is having a detrimental effect on the region’s native biodiversity.

Restructuring would flatten the region’s local government structure while retaining local identity and representation. Cross-council organisations such as Wellington Water and the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency would continue to operate, while a new transport agency, controlled directly by the city and district councils, could be created to properly manage public and private transport infrastructure. NZTA would have one level of local government to deal with, instead of two.

The current local government structure fails to provide effective representation because each city or district constituency can only ever have a minority of elected members on the GWRC. This means that when decisions are made that significantly effect a particular city or district, those representatives can be out-voted by the other members. Reorganisation would remedy that by ensuring decisions critical to each constituency are made by the elected representatives on each city or district council.

If you support the abolition of the Greater Wellington Regional Council, please follow this link to the petition:


  1. Tony Jansen, 11. September 2019, 11:26

    Hi Curtis, the issues with rail date back to privatization in the eighties when NZ Rail was sold to Wisconsin and asset stripped. Blame successive Labour and National Governments since then for not investing sufficient funds to bring Kiwi Rail back to life. When the Labour Government bought rail back again, it was a mere shell. National has always been ideologically opposed to public transport, so expecting them to make any serious investment in rail is delusional at best.
    With regards to the bustastrophe, creating a new separate transport bureaucracy will just waste ratepayer money to employ countless bureaucrats who will do essentially what those at GWRC do already. And that would still leave GWRC doing all its other functions. Essentially this is just adding another layer of bureaucracy on top of what we already have. And at a time when all the hard lessons of the last few years are finally being absorbed and learnt by GWRC. Seems like an idea that will exacerbate instead of solve the issues with public transport.
    Regarding your environmental issues, all I can say is that many of these complaints are symptomatic of a society that has decided to prioritise higher management salaries over operational grass roots costs. The GWRC are not alone in this. Therefore calling for a change in organisational structure in Wellington does not address the fundamental root cause most of our community focused organisations find themselves battling.
    If you really want to change all these things, then we need to rethink the distribution of wealth in our country and why we keep doing the same things all the time but somehow expecting different results.

  2. Barbara S, 11. September 2019, 15:09

    I support abolishing the Regional Council whole heartedly after reading the report in the DomPost today and the mess we are left with after removing the trolley buses. I will sign anything to get rid of them.

  3. Roger Blakeley, 11. September 2019, 18:43

    As Daran said in today’s DomPost, TranzUrban have committed to 32 electric double-deckers by 2021. GWRC also hopes to have an additional 51 new electric buses as trolley replacements – under negotiation with NZ Bus and approval has awaited change of ownership. [via twitter]

  4. Concerned Wellingtonian, 11. September 2019, 19:14

    Barbara, the thing to do is to vote for everybody who is a new candidate and not a sitting councillor who got us into this mess.

  5. Curtis Antony Nixon, 11. September 2019, 20:27

    Tony – yes to your analysis of how rail in general, as well as our local commuter trains, have been wrecked and run down over 30 years. That is part of the issue and needs to be fixed. I think that you have misunderstood me – I do not want to add another layer of bureaucracy; I want to get rid of one i.e. GWRC, while Metlink would also be abolished and a new regional transport agency would replace it, employed directly by all the city and district councils together. This is critically different to the current situation where GWRC is the cut out between the two. Re your points about the current economic system and possible new redistribution of wealth – yes but I want to start with the local and specific and worry about the global picture down the track.

    Cheers for the support Barbara.

    Roger – the point isn’t that eventually, as Manuel would say, the electric buses will arrive. The point is the disastrous process getting to this point, after years of failure, that GWRC must take responsibility for. Plus who knows what the new owners of NZBus will do with it – you can hardly expect them to continue as when Infratil owned it; as well as it being an election year which stalls all progress in local affairs.

  6. Henry Filth, 11. September 2019, 21:32

    Having a local government sector which, lacking operational capability and expertise, is reliant on external consultants and contractors, has had a fair go. And the results? Has the current model worked? Is it successful? Should it be retained? There’s an obvious need for regional co-ordination, but how to achieve this? What’s working well? Transport? Those beloved Drains? Parks & Reserves?
    Can the successful operations be replicated in other areas?

  7. Roger Blakeley, 11. September 2019, 22:48

    Curtis – I opposed the scrapping of the trolleys, so I won’t disagree with you on that. I take a positive view that we must accelerate the transition of the 466-bus fleet to 100% electric. I take a more optimistic view than you – my view is that the new owners of NZ Bus will see the commercial sense of transition to electric buses, when diesel buses would be a stranded asset in a few years. GWRC on 21 August declared a Climate Emergency and set a corporate target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030, based on a 10-point plan that included accelerating the implementation of a 100% electric bus fleet by 2030. Note this progressive move happened in an election year – despite your claim that an election year stalls all progress in local affairs!

    I understand the arguments for a single transport agency. I think there are two counter-arguments:
    1. Auckland Transport is quoted as an example of the benefits of a single transport agency – but the residents of Auckland complain that the “commercially focused” Board of AT is not as responsive to community concerns as elected councillors (I know you could say that GWRC did not listen to its community about the bus network changes in July 2018 – but that is changing with the current Bus Network Review).
    2.Any structural change of the magnitude of a single transport agency will create two or three years of organisational disruption and inertia. That is the last thing we want right now, when we should be getting stuck into fast-paced implementation of ‘Let’s Get Wellington Moving’.

    You make a good point that GWRC and WCC need to work much more collaboratively on issues like bus priority. Collaboration can be achieved by good people-relationships, more effectively than structural change. Over the last few months there has been transformation of the two councils working together on bus priority- I appreciate you won’t have seen the results of that externally yet.

    I share your frustration about the past. A single transport agency may sound an attractive solution. I suggest it is a prescription for more years of delay. Let’s get on with “Let’s Get Wellington Moving” now!

  8. Marion Leader, 12. September 2019, 7:27

    Roger, why have relationships with the City Council improved only in the last few months? Justin Lester leant over backwards to ignore the bus problems and be nice to you when he appeared at a Select Committee a year ago. Didn’t you take him at his word? Did your Council try to take advantage of this and make the buses even worse?

  9. Roy Kutel, 12. September 2019, 8:09

    GWRC is the delay and needs abolishing asap! I’m sick of paying rates to such a useless organisation that vandalised our trolley network and has done absolutely nothing of note in its 30 years of existence.

  10. Donald T., 12. September 2019, 8:13

    Tony J – Rail was much better under TranzMetro when there was a 25 page contract with GWRC who let the rail operator get on with things. Much cheaper and much more reliable. Ed B had a passion for rail. Government run businesses are an oxymoron! They always lose money and they lots of it.

  11. Neil Douglas, 12. September 2019, 8:17

    Curtis – I agree. It’s time for a Public Transport Authority along the lines of those in the UK. Professionally run with clear aims for public transport, spending limits and political representation from district and city councils. Its time to axe one level of under-performing and unnecessary governance.

  12. greenwelly, 12. September 2019, 9:09

    Roger Blakeley, With regard to NZ Bus purchasing new Electrics to replace the old trolleys, the Buyout was completed on 2 September, so the question now is how soon will this happen? It appears the council is not expecting it next year as the update on the “Regional Land Transport Plan Programme 2018-21” that was presented to the Sust. Transport Committee on Tuesday noted on page 18:
    “Implementation – electric fleet premium
    RLTP expected timing- 2021/22 to 2027/28”

    Not exactly positive for a swift resolution…

  13. Andrew S, 12. September 2019, 9:57

    LGWM is just a bureaucratic campaign. The Council should just sort out the bus problems.
    Do one thing that will get people moving easier instead of just word play and more bureaucracy.
    Abolish the GWRC for sure.

  14. Keith Flinders, 12. September 2019, 10:50

    Roger Blakeley writes “GWRC also hopes to have an additional 51 new electric buses as trolley replacements.” Hopes, Roger, we want more positive words.

    East – West residents, in particular, who are being subject to the emissions from an aged Euro 3 bus fleet, deserve better, and now. What is needed is a positive statement confirming that the GWRC WILL commit to replacing all Euro 3 and 4 end of life diesel buses with electric ones by the end of 2020. People are having their health impaired now, so why the wait ?

    The 2013 – 2016 GWRC councillors created this issue by totally ignoring the environmental impact of the trolley bus withdrawal, and the 2016 – 2019 GWRC councillors have procrastinated instead of fixing it. Some might argue that the announcement of the conversion of the trolley buses to battery operation was nothing other than a smokescreen to placate the residents and buy time.

  15. Groggy, 12. September 2019, 10:56

    @ Roger, your support for the go-nowhere LGWM wafflefest just reinforces Curtis’ original points. That you think that programme is “fast paced” highlights the entrenched inertia at the GWRC and why they should be replaced by an organisation that knows what it’s doing.

    GWRC ignored 8 years of community feedback in designing the shambolic new bus system. Chris Laidlaw stated at Parliament there was nothing he would have done differently, so why should ratepayers have any faith that GWRC will behave differently in the current review? You throw shade at AT but it’s hard to imagine any organisation that could be less responsive to community concerns than GWRC transport planners.

    GWRC jumping on the “declare a climate emergency” bandwagon is hardly progress. Nor is aiming for a 100% electric bus fleet in a dozen years time….. when the contracts will be ending and up for renegotiation anyway.

  16. Curtis Antony Nixon, 12. September 2019, 15:02

    Roger, the difference between us is that you are running for re-election and I am not.

    Thank you for agreeing that scrapping the trolley buses was a dumb idea but it was Barbara, above, who made that point, not me. I am a little surprised that you bring up Auckland Transport since I believe that you were the architect of the Auckland super-city amalgamation which led to its formation.

    And lastly I take your statement about getting on with “fast-paced implementation of LGWM” with a shovelful of salt given the past history of glacial progress in transport developments here.

  17. Graham Atkinson, 12. September 2019, 15:14

    I’m fed up with reading all this rubbish about the wonderful trolley buses that shouldn’t have been scrapped. And out of fairness it was NOT the Regional Council that unilaterally pulled the plug.

    Back in 2011 Wellington Electricity (WE*) Wellington Cable Car (WCCL) and NZ Bus set up a Technical Review Group to undertake a full study of the state of the trolley network infrastructure. Over around 16 months this tripartite group, with further technical input from experienced engineers and consultants, worked set by step through the whole network from the Haywards Sub Station Control set up through to the power supply in the buses. The very detailed report set out the numerous weak points in the network, especially the supply between the sub stations in Wellington and the feeder points on the street, and endeavored to identify just how much work would be needed to ensure the network was fit for purpose supply a trolley service for the next 20 years. What was apparent was that much of the network was substandard, with sections dating back to the early 1920s, and despite the work that had been completed and the work that was ongoing to renew the overhead wires, the cost of replacing the underground infrastructure and upgrading the subs stations made the exercise uneconomic.

    This report, which is where most of the costings that have subsequently been bandied about came from, was initially submitted to the Chief Executives of WE*, WCCL & NZ Bus and it was these three who endorsed the report and presented it to the CEOs of both WCC & GWRC.

    Remember too that by 2012 the number of serviceable trolleys available on a daily basis was down to around 45 not the 57 – 60 so often claimed.

  18. Mike Mellor, 12. September 2019, 18:23

    Roger B: “trolley replacements – under negotiation with NZ Bus and approval has awaited change of ownership”.

    As ownership of NZ Bus changed from Infratil to Next Capital last week (see https://infratil.com/for-investors/announcements/2019/completion-of-sale-of-nz-bus-to-next-capital/), we can therefore assume imminent progress with new, electric, buses?

    It is unfortunate that GWRC’s contract with NZ Bus has allowed the continued operation of the dirty old Auckland cast-off and Go Wellington/Valley Flyer dungers, which will presumably continue until new buses eventually arrive. It is nearly two years since the demise of the trolleys…

  19. Benny, 12. September 2019, 20:42

    @Graham Atkinson: your comment proves you don’t get where the frustration is coming from. And when I say frustration, I’m talking about survival instinct here. You talk about an uneconomic network to maintain. Fine. How much do you think a year’s life is worth? Pollution kills, you know? Now, and more tomorrow, thanks to climate change. It reduces lifespan. It’s like the dinosaurs debating whether they should do something about that meteor (if a meteor killed them), because, you know, it’s uneconomic. All these entities you’re mentioning had a moral duty to the people they serve to have a clean alternative for the trolleys (and for the rest of the fleet) before ditching them. Right now, there is no plan, only hopes, and a lot of smoke.

  20. Glen Smith, 12. September 2019, 21:20

    Graham. The report you cite identified what it would cost to bring the electrical supply network up to standard (although in fact it continued to work fine until it was destroyed). However what evidence do you have for your claim that this made the ‘exercise uneconomic’? No business plan was undertaken for trolley retention, and the option of ‘off wire’ trolleys was ignored despite being identified as a viable option.
    The economic analysis by the Trolley Project in Europe showed that initial investment with trolleys is higher but the lower running costs compared to diesel means this is recouped over time. This is true even if you have to construct the whole network including electrical supply from scratch but is especially true if you have an existing wire network (as we did). The GWRC couldn’t be bothered doing their job to thoroughly investigate the viability or long term costs around trolley retention.
    Sadly we are seeing the same failings around investigating options to remove transfer at the Station to produce a seamless Regional rail network, around retaining ‘direct’ bus lines rather than the demonstrably inferior ‘trunk and feeder’ model proposed, and to investigate the cheaper and less destructive option of a single large bore stacked second Mt Victoria Tunnel to achieve all the additional transport capacity that will be required to the Eastern suburbs- probably forever. Sadly there appears to be no repercussions for the GWRC apparently knowingly failing to do their jobs in this way.

  21. Roger Blakeley, 13. September 2019, 11:42

    I would like to respond to questions directed to me in the above comments:

    Hi Marion Leader The biggest change is that GWRC and WCC officers are working together on bus priority issues, analysing opportunities to speed up the bus journey on major corridors e.g. through bus lanes that will make the bus journey faster and encourage mode shift from cars to public transport. We are now getting jointly prepared papers on bus priority coming to both councils. It is often the simple things, like good working relationships and ‘can do’ attitude, that make the biggest difference.

  22. Roger Blakeley, 13. September 2019, 12:00

    Hi greenwelly, Mike Mellor, Keith Flinders Re your questions on timing for a decision on proposed purchase of 51 new full battery electric buses. As Mike said the ownership of NZ Bus changed from Infratil to Next Capital last week. I also would like to assume imminent decIsions on new electric buses, and the GWRC CE and GM, Public Transport have been working hard to make that happen. Keith: you took me to task for using the word “hopes” ( “GWRC hopes to have an additional 51 new electric buses as trolley replacements”) instead of “more positive” words. I would not want to mislead readers about GWRC’s powers in relation to directing private company decisions! We are of course negotiating to make that happen.

  23. Roger Blakeley, 13. September 2019, 12:13

    Hi groggy Please don’t misquote me. I said:

    “2.Any structural change of the magnitude of a single transport agency will create two or three years of organisational disruption and inertia. That is the last thing we want right now, when we should be getting stuck into fast-paced implementation of ‘Let’s Get Wellington Moving’.”

    I did not support the “go-nowhere LGWM wafflefest”. I did not say that LGWM is “fast paced”! Obviously, it has been painfully slow. I said “we should be getting stuck into fast-paced implementation of LGWM”! Please make your comments accurate.

  24. Roger Blakeley, 13. September 2019, 13:27

    Hi Curtis Anthony Nixon I was not the Architect of the Auckland super-city amalgamation. That was the Royal Commission on Auckland. I was appointed the Chief Planning Officer of the Auckland SuperCity Council from its launch on 1 November 2010 until 2015. I led the development of the 30-year Auckland Plan (and worked closely with Auckland Transport on this) and the Auckland Unitary Plan under the RMA. Auckland Transport has done many good things. I am just pointing out that the residents of Auckland complain that the “commercially focused” Board of AT is not as responsive to community concerns as elected councillors. That is a factor that people who advocate for a single transport authority for Wellington should consider.
    With regard to your “shovelful of salt” comment, you have every right to be skeptical based on past history of glacial progress on transport developments here. I have every intention, if re-elected, to move and shake and make things happen on LGWM, given that we have a once-in-50-years opportunity to get a transport system that is best for Wellington!

  25. Greenwelly, 16. September 2019, 15:00

    well I guess the “negotiations” with NZ Bus and its new owner are not going well…This is in the agenda for wednesday’s Sust. Transport committee:

    “The remaining 66 interim buses could be fitted with bike racks. It is expected that all of these 66 buses will be in service for at least 18 months to allow for the procurement of the new fleet.“

    It also notes it will take 36 months to paint these 66 with the lime green livery …. I actually favour leaving them in their current colours as a constant reminder of the total debacle this has become. 18 months is 2022 at the earliest … from a 2018 changeover.

  26. Graham Atkinson, 16. September 2019, 18:19

    Greenwelly the negotiations with the new management of NZ Bus could only begin last week I would imagine and already a decision has been announced with the scrapping of the elderly extrolley conversions.

    Obviously the new owners will need a few weeks to cost the replacements and are no doubt constrained in their options by the financial arrangements entered into by the previous management.

  27. Dave B, 17. September 2019, 11:30

    @ Graham Atkinson, where do you get the idea from that “much of the [former trolleybus] network was substandard”? The reality was that one particular aspect needed attention (the supply between the sub stations in Wellington and the feeder points on the street). The rest of the network was in good order. Yet in order to skimp on fixing the 5%, the 95% which was good was thrown away. And the result is that a 100% electric system has been replaced 95% by diesels.
    The reliability of the trolleybuses themselves was a problem, in part due to the historic decision to purchase out-dated Brazilian control systems instead of the Wellington-designed state-of-the-art system which was successfully trialled on former Volvo bus 264 but taken no further. A comedy of bad decisions is what killed the trolleybuses. This needn’t have happened.

  28. Ross Clark, 18. September 2019, 7:25

    I appreciate that no-one wants to do this now, but for organisational simplicity:

    [1] we need one council for the region west of the Remutakas and a unitary authority for the Wairapara. Transport is too extensive a role to be distributed amongst the current TLAs – that is why the old WRC was established in the first place – as far back as 1980. I know this idea is politically toxic, but administrative necessity may have the final word.

    [2] transport authorities are all very well, but they still run the risk of being separated from the wider planning environment (my point [1]).

    [3] As much as the Auckland Council has its detractors, I don’t pick up any enthusiasm to go back to the old way of things, never mind the situation before the 1989 reforms.

  29. Farmer Bill, 19. September 2019, 12:41

    Wairapara rejected a super council in a recent referendum. Local democracy need to be kept LOCAL.

  30. Ross Clark, 19. September 2019, 20:17

    @Farmer Bill. Wairarapa rejected a super council in a recent referendum. Local democracy need to be kept LOCAL.
    But at what cost, in terms of effectiveness? It was only AFAIK the amalgamation of the Carterton councils in the late 1980s, which stopped a single Wairarapa council being established in 1989. “Communities of interest” are wider now than in the 1980s and far wider than beforehand, when there was a whole patchwork of local councils. No-one is suggesting we go back to that!
    Your comments about ‘local democracy’ are noted, but the question remains: how local?