Wellington Scoop

Leading and communicating

by Ian Apperley
It’s been 120 days since the City Council elections and progress has been lacking. Issues from the campaign trail remain live and problems unanswered. Shelly Bay, traffic congestion, ageing and collapsing infrastructure, housing, and the continued closure of buildings in the CBD due to earthquake issues….

The Wellington City Council had its first meeting for the year last week, and voted on something to do with congestion charging , in what was possibly the most confusing forum the city has seen in some time.

The City Council will now not ask the government, as it had been about to, whether it could investigate congestion charging in the city. Any debate on Wellington actually getting congestion charging will be for another day but it will ask the government to look at ways it can pay for infrastructure.

Congestion charging is a contentious issue, and it seems that some councillors had not done their research on its potential benefits and impacts. If they had, they should have wholeheartedly voted in favour.

Why? Not because congestion charging is the answer to traffic issues, but because it would give the Council another potential lever to draw on in the distant future. And distant future it will be, because congestion charging costs millions to design and years to execute. In more advanced cities with more mature councils that have implemented congestion charging, they found that a) it took a minimum of five years to plan from inception to first delivery and b) it required excellent public transport, preferably rapid transit, to make it work.

That means that congestion charging is a minimum of ten years away given the Council record on this stuff and the fact it is tied to “Let’s Not Get Wellington Moving Any Time Soon.”

So, it should have been a no brainer for everyone to support this one.

That meeting last week has been the only thing of substance that the Council has done in the last 120 days. It’s not a great start. If we look at Andy’s 150-day plan, then he’s only got a month to complete a tonne of work. So far, he’s completed approximately 5% of his list.

We are heading backwards on several key issues.

Shelly Bay is getting downright nasty behind the scenes, and the Council is right in the middle of the mess. We are likely going to see this explode back into the public arena in the next three months with documentation that I have viewed, putting an new spin on the entire issue.

Local councillors, despite being repeatedly asked their opinion, have vanished. Councillors Free, Rush, and O’Neill are nowhere to be seen and nor is the Mayor, who campaigned on (literally) Shelly Bay. New revelations that are likely to come out soon are going to have Councillors and Mayor scampering around the place; you can be sure of that.

Traffic has got worse. Between road works, road closures, a poor bus system, a poor highway network, lack of alternative transport options, and a general inability for the Council to pull any levers to assist, the city seems to be often grinding to a halt.

Traffic post the holiday break is now at new highs at certain places in the city – you guessed it, motorway to the airport – and growing worse. It was common to see 45 minutes-plus traffic jams on that route before Christmas. That number is closer to 50 minutes now and traffic jamming in off-peak is far more common.

Sarah Free and Jenny Condie are the councillors in charge of transport as portfolios, and both, in my opinion, are failing to display the leadership we need and the communication we demand, in this area.

People have been warning for years that the infrastructure is creaking, ready to self-destruct and that we’re not putting enough money into maintaining it, let alone allowing for growth. Sure enough, the city has had several failures, “bad luck” according to the Mayor, which have seen harbour and coasts polluted and no fixes in sight.

As we know, when one part of a complex system starts to fail, it exerts pressure on other parts of the system, and you often end up with a domino effect that causes increasing failures until a total collapse occurs.

The Council just isn’t communicating on these issues, which have many roll-on consequences including traffic jams and an impact on local businesses. Sadly, there is no “wastewater portfolio”, so there appears to be no one who can be held to account.

That leaves it to the Mayor, who has said “bad luck.”

Not good enough.

Housing is at peak madness with no sign that it will slow to normal levels anytime soon. There are levers that the Council could pull to help with this, but it seems to content to ride the crazy train rather than do anything about it.

Part of the plan was to set up an Urban Development group of some kind, which I think won’t have any power to make a difference regardless, but nothing has been forthcoming about this. This portfolio belongs to Sean Rush who seems more content to do handstands and cartwheels than get things moving.

We know that homelessness is increasing in the city and Fleur Fitzsimons, who holds the social housing remit, doesn’t appear to have had much success in that area.

Climate change is the task of the younger members of the Council, O’Neill and Paul, who have been noticeably silent. Climate Emergency was at the top of the agenda at the end of last year and now, like a lot of placards and promises, appears to have been relegated to the Council basement, doomed to a slow death.

And let’s not even talk about public transport, which had many plans heralded during the election and little progress of any substance since.

It’s a poor start to the triennium. Councillors should be more present, engaged, and communicating about what is going on, as opposed to the feel-good selfies and social media posts that seem to show they’ve not managed to move out of electioneering mode and into doing mode.


  1. michael, 12. February 2020, 8:26

    Absolutely agree Ian. We are halfway through the second month of 2020 with seemingly little or no activity from councillors regarding the serious issues facing Wellington. The silence is deafening!
    Unlike the Hutt City Mayor Campbell Barry, Andy Foster’s response to the wastewater breakdowns showed no inclination to address the underlying infrastructure issues or even admit we may be facing a crisis. And his non-response to the Shelly Bay issue is incomprehensible after all his campaigning.

  2. Geoff, 12. February 2020, 12:39

    WCC seem only interested in social activities going by their facebook page.

  3. TrevorH, 12. February 2020, 18:57

    We need leadership but all we have are timeservers.

  4. Island Bay Healthy Streets, 12. February 2020, 20:37

    WCC councillors should write more op-eds for the DomPost or Wellington.Scoop in their areas of interest. Every councillor should be expected to publish something topical every few months i.e. at least 10-12 pieces per triennium. [via twitter]

  5. Henry Filth, 15. February 2020, 4:45

    Nice to see you back. Some good writing (as usual). I wish that one day you get the chance to write about Wellington as a bright, positive, successful, aspirational city.