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Wellington from the Wairarapa

hills of the wairarapa [1]

by Ian Apperley
Spring has arrived in the Wairarapa, with grass growing (it never really stopped over what was an warmer than usual winter) and everything starting to flower. Days are longer, warmer, drier, and the farm requires more work than ever to prepare for the annual growth spurt before summer.

The region is booming. As an escape hole for weekend Wellingtonians, traffic jams become the norm in the towns and local businesses are busy, despite the Level 2 restrictions. Property continues to be hot, with more and more people moving into the area and more and more bare blocks of land on the market.

Those bare blocks, often bought by people outside the region, are a source of concern for the local farmers for two reasons.

First, the time it takes to get a house built often means that previously productive land is not only unused, it also starts to go to wrack and ruin. Even with our paddocks, constant vigilance is needed to make sure that pest plants are not going to spread. Leaving bare block land unmaintained means eventually dealing with a jungle of weeds and long grass.

Second, again because the land is left unattended, pests such as rabbits are left to flourish. In some parts of the region, the rabbit population has reached “plague” proportions.

We have seen an uptick in rabbits and ferrets. I watched a ferret merrily making its way down the road during daylight hours recently, bold as brass. We are training the dogs to cleanly and humanely dispatch rabbits; however, the little bounders are very, very quick on their feet.

Indeed, there are more pest signs in the local area, and one can only wonder if this is because the Regional Council has abandoned trapping in a reserve block down the road.

With the general election looming, local candidates for Wairarapa are putting their best feet forward, including Celia Wade-Brown emerging from the bush to have a Green crack at the race. There are fewer parties contesting this election than 2017.

My pick is that we will see the party vote go to National, then NZ First, then Labour. The Greens certainly will not get a look in, and Labour is not well-liked in the area. Ron Mark, NZ First, is a constant presence around the traps, and a new National candidate who looks like a clone of the last National candidate should poll well.

Despite only being an hour’s drive from Wellington’s CBD, the Wairarapa is undeniably rural minded, which makes sense, given the valley’s primary purpose of food production, which supports many local communities clustered around that industry.

People believe that the Labour Party is mostly disconnected from the rural life, and that coupled with the Greens, it is actively threatening jobs, while overreaching with new legislation that comes at a high-cost to farmers of all kinds. God help you if you have a farm that contains a water race or backs onto a stream or river. And god help you if you do not, because water, or lack of it, is becoming a significant issue in the area with water schemes being blocked. I am oversimplifying the landscape; however, you get the picture.

I still regularly read and watch the goings-on in Wellington City. It seems to me that things may get a lot worse before they start to claw their way back. The City Council still seems to be irrevocably broken, at odds with each other, while there appears no strategy to think about how to live with COVID and grow the city.

The Council estimates about the number of people likely to move to Wellington over the next few years are wildly optimistic [2]. Someone needs to run new models that take into account the extreme cost of housing (price and rent), the movement of people from the city to nearby regions (increasing rapidly and more so as new roads are built), the move to working from home as a standard, distribution of government and private jobs to regions to increase accessibility while reducing cost, and the possibility of the CBD failing.

City “leaders” – I use that term very loosely because I don’t see many who fit the word – have bound themselves to the idea that events will save the city, that they can return to the halcyon days of the mid-2010s; they fail to see that the decline of Wellington started well before COVID and that the pandemic is speeding up the process.

I think that while the CBD will suffer a decline, suburban areas are more likely to flourish. Lockdown taught us about the value of our suburbs and what they had to offer. Again, as more people work from home and events continue to be stunted under lockdowns, suburbs are doing better.

But the Council continues to ignore those suburbs because the primary source of its money comes from the CBD in terms of horrendous pricing for infrastructure and commercial rates. As the CBD shrinks, that money will reduce, requiring more money from domestic ratepayers who are generally paying a horrific amount already with double-digit increases on the horizon.

It’s time the Council started a much broader discussion about what the future of the city should look like, rather than trying to define that by relying on the WCC executive, WREDA, and the Chamber of Commerce, who are all using the early 1990’s playbook as a strategy.

Until that happens, I fear the decline will deepen.

In the meantime, we have a couple of kilometres of irrigation to paddocks that needs maintaining, to ensure that the bore water we have access to is not wasted as we head into the hotter weeks ahead.