Finn Hogan interviews Wellington Mayor-elect Andy Foster, and first asks how he’s feeling about a potential recount.
Foster: it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster road over the last seven days. The margins get a little bit narrower and a little bit narrower. They’ve done the count. I’m going to ask somebody who’s been through that process before — how that went, and how much movement there is if you do a recount. I’ll see. I would have liked it if it was a little bit of a wider margin, to be fair.
Hogan: Assuming you are mayor, moving forward, what is your first and most urgent action?
the first thing is to get the council together — working together. It’s not going to be particularly easy to do that. What I’ve got to do is put together a package of responsibilities that the people are going to be happy with and that we can all contribute.
Talking about building consensus, a lot of your Councillors have different political leanings. You’ve got in by a very, very small margin. Of your policies, what are you willing to give up? Compromise is now inevitable.
Well, it’s not about my policies. It’s about the policies that are good for Wellington, so obviously the biggest area that’s going to be a challenge is transport because there are people who are wanting to get some things done, and other people who are adamantly opposed to those things. It’s not just the people around the council table. There are a lot of other players in this, and we’ll just see where we get to.
One of your proposals is bringing the second Mount Vic tunnel forward on that timeline, but how are you going to do that?
We’re going to do the business case, both for the Mount Victoria tunnel, Basin Reserve, and for mass transit. I have a view as to how I think those business cases will end up. Let’s see where they do, and then we’ll be able to make some decisions about where we go from here.
You’ll need to get that past NZTA, your council and central government. Are you confident you can do that?
Well, I’m really confident on NZTA, I’m really confident with the Ministry of Transport, I’m really confident of Treasury. My own council will be slightly more challenging. The public, I think, will be on-board with it, and, I expect, the regional council and certainly the council of the region will be on-board with it as well.
Okay, you say you want a more sustainable city, but aren’t you prioritising cars over public transport? How is that sustainable?
Look, I’ve been in charge of transport for quite a few years of my time on council, and in that time, every year, we’ve built the number of people — the proportion of people — who travel to work and to education by bike, by bus and by train and on foot, and we are by far the— We have by far the highest proportion of people doing that of any city in the country, and that has grown and grown and grown. I’ve shown that we can do that, and I want on keep on doing that. I think people are focused on a project in isolation from a big picture.
You’re also proposing cutting rate increases essentially by half over the next 10 years. How are you going to build a better city with much less money?
At the moment we have a projection of 70-80% rates rise over the next 10 years. To me, that’s utterly unsustainable. We will be driving people out of their homes, literally, if we do that. And certainly a lot of businesses won’t be able to cope with that either. We have to be able to prioritise. Some of the things we quite clearly can push beyond that 10 year time frame, and obviously, we’ve got some pretty big decisions to make around transport.
You’re a vocal opponent of the Shelly Bay development. What is your vision for Shelly Bay?
What I’ve said for the whole of Miramar Peninsular — Shelly Bay, Te Motu Kairangi — it’s a special part of the city, and I really would like to have all the parties able to sit down and develop a master plan together that actually celebrates the really important parts—the really good aspects of that part of our city.
But what’s your personal vision?
We’ve got the potential, the determination, to deliver a heritage park. We’ve got some fantastic military and Maori heritage on the old defence land there. I think there is the potential to so some quite special things. I think some of the people within the iwi would like to have a place to stand — a turangawaewae, that there is an iwi presence in that area. I think there are some potentials for visitor attractions in the area as well.
Peter Jackson opposed that development and he made a sizeable contribution to your campaign. Did he influence your policy at all?
No, because I’ve been in exactly that space for four and a half years, which is long before I even met him. No, they came on board with me because of what I was doing, not to try and influence what I was doing.
You also agree with him on building a movie museum. How are you going to shift perception that he has influence over your policy?
The first time I thought a movie museum was a good idea was probably 15-plus years ago when I worked behind the scenes at Weta. I think Kerry was the mayor at the time, and I saw the creativity that was being displayed there, whether it was prosthetics or the digital stuff or making weapons etc, and I thought people would love to see this. We’ve got 600,000 people going to see Hobbiton at the moment in rural Waikato. If we have that kind of attraction, most cities would give their eye-teeth for it. Now, I probably won’t be able to vote on it, but I think most people would say that will be a fantastic attraction for Wellington.
Rent in Wellington is now comparable to Auckland. What specific action are you going to take to address the housing shortage?
Well, clearly we need more houses. There’s two key initiatives there. One is to change the district planning rules. We’re about to go out and consult. In the New Year we will consult on a spatial plan, so where we want development, which bits of the city maybe we want to protect and which bits we want to develop.
But how many are you going to build and how quickly?
Look, I’m not going to give you a number. We need a lot. We need to change the planning rules, and also we need to set up, in my view, an urban development agency. Should’ve happened in the last three years. That’s about council getting actively involved in the process of development and urban renewal.
So if you don’t have an exact number in mind, what have you based your policy on?
I’ve based my policy on — we need about 30,000 over the next 30 years. How many are going to be delivered in the next year or the next year or the year after that? I’m not going to put a number on at the moment.
So in this term you don’t have a number in mind?
The Labour Government does things that way, and then they decided it wasn’t a very good idea, so, no, I’m not going to give you a number.
You’ve learnt your lessons from KiwiBuild?