Wellington Scoop

Reckless, ridiculous, unrealistic – a red flag warning about long-term spending plan

by Helene Ritchie
I am raising a red flag warning to the mayor and councillors over the proposed
reckless spending of rates over the next ten years in the Wellington City Council’s Long Term Plan which is about to be approved on Thursday to go out for public consultation.

Unaltered, it is not fit to go out for public comment, and I am taking the unusual step of voting against it in its current form.

It contains a simply ridiculous unrealistic wish list without proper justification or accountability, and with slush funds scattered through it. In my time on the Council I have never seen such an unrealistic unfundable wish list of so-called “big ideas,” most of which will not be achieved (if ever) in the life of this Council.

I was shocked to hear from management that a “finger in the air” was used to assess the $64million cost of a new concert venue.

I have huge concern relating to “slush funds”, peppered throughout the “economic” area called unspecifically “pools”, “funds,” “economic development”, “strategy”, “innovation”, “international relations”, “enterprise allocations” with scarce or no justification, and inadequate transparency and accountability measures…for “innovative, flexible and reactive reasons” . These amount to well over $230 million.

As well there are so-called major economic projects, an “unprecedented $700 million in exciting new projects” according to the Chief Executive, including:

A privately owned Hilton Convention Centre – approximately $100 million for 35 years (but already failed?? with the developer having pulled out); a Museum of Conflict; a Film Museum; an indoor sports and concert venue; airport runway extension (majority-owned by a private company); demolishing Frank Kitts Park.

Business cases are lacking for these so-called ‘big ideas,” as is robust, free and frank advice with written reports to Council.

I remain very concerned about the delay in strengthening and reopening of the Town Hall, and am opposed to the unnecessary sale of parts of the world class heritage Civic Centre – including the green open space of Ilott Green and the historic Council building, under the spurious pretence that the approximately $20 million revenue will fund the Town hall strengthening, which is only scheduled for completion in 2019/20, seven years after it was closed.

But I am really pleased that I have been able to get a new Johnsonville library over the line in this budget. So far I am pleased to have been able to provide effective and constructive leadership in the environment portfolio, such as leading the development of the legislation to protect the Town Belt for 100 years, ensuring extra funding for biodiversity actions and planting, personally initiating completion of the Outer Town Belt and ensuring funding for a major new Botanical Gardens initiative – an interactive and diverse children’s garden.

As well, I generally support the budget funding proposals for core infrastructure, activities and services.

Helene Ritchie is a Wellington city councillor. She was first elected in 1977, and stepped down in 1989. She was elected again in 1998 and has been a councillor since then.