Wellington Scoop

Andy’s first 21 days


by Ian Apperley
It’s time to have a look back over the last three weeks to see what our new Mayor has been up to. After a bit of a slow start caused by recount uncertainty, the new Wellington City Council has kicked into life and begun the process of stating intentions, creating straw men, and kicking off conversations. Wellington may not be moving, but Andy Foster certainly has been, along with some of his councillors.

Work has gained momentum around the District Plan and the associated Spatial Plan, with consultation starting in February. It’s important because the city is groaning at the seams with housing a key issue.

The Wellington City Council’s Planning for Growth project is a precursor to a full District Plan review that takes place over the next two years. This review will address a number of planning rules, and look at zones for high and medium density as well as reviewing 1930s character and environmental protections. A ‘Spatial Plan’ describing the principles behind these changes, and future direction for the city will be released for review as part of a public engagement exercise in February.

Let’s Get Wellington Moving called for tenders for business cases to give them more advice about decisions on mass rapid transit between the station and the airport, and a second Mt Victoria Tunnel. Andy has been bullish in pushing for the tunnel to be prioritised.

Those projects aren’t due to be completed until after 2029, with the danger that they could be obsolete by then. The timelines amount to a “promises promises” grab bag that government can wave around like a trophy in election year without having committed to anything.

As part of this debate, and to tackle other significant issues, both the city council and the regional council have had their first sit down meeting in what is hopefully a positive sign for future relations between the two, after significant relationship issues following the bus disaster. Top of that discussion was LGWM, with Andy Foster saying newly-elected councillors know they will need to work well together on problems facing the city.

Regional Council Chairman Daran Ponter echoed the Mayor’s sentiments, saying a number of initiatives, regionally and across the city, could only be achieved with the two councils working together on joint solutions. “It was great to hear from councillors from both sides on what success looks like for ratepayers going forward. The city has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with Let’s Get Wellington Moving, and it is up to both councils to bring it to life and help transform how people live, move around and connect to the regions in the very near future.”

In what will be seen as a great choice, the City Council appointed Barbara McKerrow as its new chief executive, replacing Kevin Lavery. Barbara will have a tough job ahead of her, reshaping Council machinery that is a bit wobbly while setting up to deliver the initiatives being laid out by the Mayor and councillors.

“We’ve all been very impressed with Barbara’s work over the last two-and-a-half years as our chief operating officer,” Foster said. “Prior to this, she had an impressive track record as New Plymouth District Council chief executive for nine years. Barbara knows our city, the local government sector, and knows our council, its people, and the challenging but exciting work programme we are embarking on.”

The new council has been quietly rewarded by the results of the previous council’s work in the tourism and economic area, with a new report showing tourist numbers are rising and employment is solid along with a boost in hospitality spend. Interestingly, the report noted that card spending had been boosted by more spending on cars, which will be a worrying trend for city planners.

Councillor Diane Calvert, who holds the Economic Development Portfolio, says the figures show good news for hospitality businesses and retailers. Wellington city merchants recorded electronic card retail spend of $3.22 billion in the year to September 2019, up by 3.7 percent. This was driven largely by more people eating out and an increase in spending in the automotive category, like fuel, repairs and maintenance.

The Wellington Chamber of Commerce came out broadly in support of Andy’s vision for the next three years that was laid down this week.

It also made a not so subtle attack on councillors who “are not on the same page.” It’s unusual to get support from such a conservative creature such as the Chamber of Commerce, who have long railed against plans they see as negative for business owners.

“The answers to the transport, resilience, infrastructure and events questions we need to really get the city pumping lie mostly in the hands of councillors. From what we heard today, the mayor gets it but if councillors are not on the same page in their desire to get this city really moving then it’s going to be another long three years. Business will be doing its best to ensure that’s not the case. Building a tunnel at the Basin Reserve at the same time as mass transit, a parking review, fixing congestion, a spacial plan, a movie museum, a war museum, bringing cruise ships into the city, an arts and events update, support for emerging businesses – they’re among the mayor’s vision and are what the city, and the region, urgently need but they will not be achieved without agreement on the way to achieve them.

Interesting side note: how many people spotted the “war museum” addition to the vision list, as well as the resurrection of the movie museum?

Andy’s desire to prioritise the second Mt Victoria tunnel ahead of mass transit, and his intention to try and introduce a congestion charge, have both been a no-go for central government. He’s arguing for the congestion charge as a way of helping to offset the cost of the various plans, though it would be likely to go down with drivers like a lead balloon.

He met Transport Minister Phil Twyford this week, and tried again to change the priority of a second Mt Victoria tunnel. This time the Minister said he wouldn’t rule it out.

Twyford said following the meeting he was open to discussing the programme’s timeline once business cases for the mass transit system and proposed roading projects were assessed.

Time will tell, and after all, in election year you can throw any previous debates straight out the window. And we now know that our new Mayor can get an audience with and speak to central government.

All in all, it’s been a constructively busy time for the new Mayor and Council after a slow start to the triennium.

October: Andy announces plans for his first 150 days


  1. Curtis Nixon, 28. November 2019, 15:36

    I sense a new atmosphere of positivity in Wellington. There has been so much ‘can’t do’ over the last few years, which has been attributed to a set of personalities who have now been consigned to the dustbin of local politics. With some new brooms at the WCC and the regional council, maybe we will get some progress on the numerous stalled projects.

  2. Concerned Wellingtonian, 28. November 2019, 18:03

    Well said, Curtis.

  3. Trevor H, 28. November 2019, 19:03

    Yes Curtis, we have had a decade of “can’t do” and decline. This city has lost its way. The people who gave us our future, the WWII generation, were “can do”, whatever the obstacles and setbacks. We need that spirit now.

  4. Lezie McGrind, 29. November 2019, 8:36

    No people gave us our future Trevor. The future is mind made – it never arrives as it’s always the present moment. On that note I agree that the people in the city have lost their way. It sounds to me like the Council’s “can do” is for the same unneeded projects that were on the agenda.

  5. Elaine Hampton, 9. December 2019, 11:06

    As a priority, a clean mass transit system is urgent and will not need a second tunnel through Mt Vic / Hataitai. The polluting buses need to be removed before tunnels, war museums, movie museums. Particulate pollution has gone up in central Wellington since the electric buses were removed. Wellington will lose its iconic status if it does not clean up and move with the times. That is no good for business. People talk about not going into Wellington anymore; rapid, comfortable, prompt public transport will be used if provided.

  6. glenn, 9. December 2019, 12:57

    @elaine, sorry, but i for one will not go into the cbd anymore. I used to go quite regularly, prior to the car parks drying up, and the exorbitant amount it now costs, even if you install mass transit. I spend my money now, where I can park (if not for a reasonable amount, then usually free) and shop in comfort.