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A friendly forum, with applause, laughter, and some flyover vagueness

candidates [1]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

by Lindsay Shelton
It was hard to get a direct answer about the flyover from some of the candidates at our Wellington.Scoop mayoral forum last night. But there was a standing-room-only audience (more than 300 people) at PreFab, and friendly responses from all of the eight wannabes.

Towards the end of the two hour event, Tim Jones asked a simple question: “Do you pledge not to support a vote for a flyover at the Basin Reserve.”

The question needed only a one-word – yes or no – answer. But only three made the pledge and said they’d never vote for a flyover: Justin Lester, Helene Ritchie, and Johnny Overton. (Later, Justin said he wanted a cut-and-cover tunnel at the Basin.)

The other five weren’t able to bring themselves to say they’d never vote for a flyover, though two of them didn’t give it much of a chance.

Keith Johnson: “Clearly a flyover is off consideration.”

Jo Coughlan: “There are zero chances of a flyover coming back, and we need to find another solution.”

And the others?

Nick Leggett pledged that he would support “a well designed infrastructure.” Without defining what the infrastructure could be. (Leaving the suspicion that it would look a lot like a flyover.)

Andy Foster was less specific. He said “I don’t think a flyover will be there,” and then asked if anyone in the audience had ideas for Basin roading.

Nicola Young said she’d been told about a new way of tunneling that would not obstruct traffic, and said “we must use innovative things so we don’t ruin the heart of the city.” Did this mean she would never vote for a flyover? She didn’t say.

cand forum [2]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

The forum, chaired by Max Rashbrooke, began with brief speeches from each candidate.

Justin earned the first warm applause of the night when he said that Wellington wouldn’t solve its traffic problems by building more roads. In Auckland, he said, no candidates were campaigning for more roads, because Auckland was proof that more roads equalled more congestion. He said he would be a mayor who was positively committed to local community and social issues. He would focus on the economy and the arts.

Helene said said she would fight against roads running through the Town Belt. She was applauded when she said “I oppose the runway extension.” The main drivers of her campaign were social justice and the environment. She wanted no more slush funds, and as one of her professional qualifications is in conflict management, this could be useful for the council which, she said, had a crisis in governance.

Jo defended the roading plans which are the centre of her campaign, and said big infrastructure projects would “make a difference” but cycling and walking had to be provided as well. She wanted her children to be able to stay in Wellington and find high-class jobs and bring up their families here. She listed the achievements of her economic development committee, and then said “I want to do more.”

Nick also wanted more roads. He agreed with Jo that Wellington “should be taking the new roads that are on offer”, but also improving public transport. He said the city could do better and he wanted to ensure “that everybody gets a better slice of what Wellington has to offer.” He wanted his new baby to grow up in a city with opportunities and jobs. He wanted to push resources out from the CBD and devolve decision-making back to neighbourhoods.

Andy too wanted to make Wellington – “a fantastic city” – better and said public transport, cycling, walking and urban design had to be progressed at the same time as new roads. More houses were needed too, specially for first-time buyers.

Johnny was concerned about the state of the nation and said a “localisation revolution” was needed to fix the mess.

Keith developed his theme that there’s been too much council spending in the CBD, at the expense of the wider city.

nicola y [3]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

Nicola said her policy of a rates freeze made her “the only candidate who doesn’t want to take more money from you.” She was concerned about Wellington becoming unaffordable, and people on fixed incomes having difficulty paying the annual rates increases. She said the council had far too many big projects, and shouldn’t be involved in corporate welfare. “I’ll freeze the rates, and get the Town Hall back into action.”

When questions were pulled out of a hat, Nicola’s question was “who is funding your campaign.” It was an easy answer for her: “Me and my family and friends.”

andy [4]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

Andy was asked which New Zealand mayor he most admired and why. His answer: Auckland’s Sir Dove-Myer Robinson, a mayor with long-term vision. “If he’d had his way, Auckland would be a workable city.”

keith j [5]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

Keith was asked about the redevelopment of Frank Kitts Park. Some of the spending, he said, was unnecessary. But he supported the Chinese Garden as it would help the city’s relationship with Asia.

justin new [6]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

Justin’s question from the hat: what did he think should be the maximum terms for the mayor and councillors? “You guys get to decide this,” he cheerfully told his audience. But he had decided that two terms as a councillor were enough for him, hence the fact that this year he’s standing only “for the mayoralty….or nothing.” This earned him more applause.

jo c [7]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

Jo was asked if she was in favour of the runway extension and if so how should it be paid for. She knew that everyone knew what she would say. “I absolutely think we should be looking at this extension….I do think we should be looking at this extension.” But due process should be followed. And any council contribution should be proportionate to ownership.

helene r [8]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

Helene’s question asked how as mayor she would reduce traffic congestion. “The mayor isn’t omnipotent,” she said, but her plans didn’t involve roads. She supported light rail (more applause) because it could be built for half the cost of roads and could carry three times as many people as buses. She also wanted more ferries as another way of reducing congestion on the roads.

johnny [9]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

There was applause for Johnny after he said that Jack Ilott Green “should stay as it is…” and should be planted with fruit trees to become a fruit farm forest.

nick l [10]
Photo: Liana Pantaleo

Nick got a more complicated question. As the new Economic Development Agency was an arms-length council entity, how would citizens’ view be heard? He seemed to think that because the council was the shareholder, this would force it to take notice of community wishes. But for most his answer, he talked about the need for affordable housing.

Later, an audience member suggested that traffic congestion wasn’t a serious issue. This gave Jo the chance to insist that there are congestion problems “which we need to deal with.”. (“I don’t want to be waiting in the traffic.”) She said private cars would continue to be a viable option, and congestion would be alleviated by more roads and public transport.

Justin wanted people to have choices – cars, buses, light rail (more applause), bicycles or walking. He runs to work, but his wife drives because she has to take the children. Andy, too, wanted choices including public transport, biking and walking. And he wants to keep the city compact. Nick warned that the completion of the Kapiti Expressway and Transmission Gully would be bringing more cars into the city, so more roads were needed (no applause) but also bus lanes and bikes.

The candidates were asked how the council could get things done without disagreements. Johnny suggested an absolute dictatorship. (Applause and laughter.) Nick said the fact that a third of counciloors were challenging Celia didn’t indicate a good environment and he wanted party politics kept out of the council room. Helene said there had been confusion between the roles of councillors and staff. Jo felt she had done well leading the economic development committee for six years, but wanted “greater clarity on roading projects” and would lead this.

Justin agreed the council needed stronger leadership. “But I won’t bag Celia.” He wanted councillors to be professional, diligent and courteous. And he believed that leaders should be the servants of the citizens.

Andy felt most council decisions did not involve animosity or dissent, but the media concentrated on disagreements.

Nicola observed that there were too many leaks to the media from the council, all of which could be identified because the leakers’ names were included in the reports. There had been a loss of trust, and too much bullying.

I’d stopped taking notes in the last half hour of the meeting, but the questions kept coming and new issues emerged. There was more applause for Justin (definitely the most applauded candidate last night) when he said he wanted to bring CityOps back into the council, to save money, and improve services. He was speaking after a questioner challenged the candidates to fix the problem of the council’s plastic rubbish bags not being biodegradable. He pledged that this issue would be dealt with if he was mayor.

Helene had a different response to this challenge. “Bring back the dusties,” she suggested. Get rid of the plastic bags, and bring back metal rubbish tins. It was agreed that if she became mayor, she would have special responsibility for the dusties. (Helene and Johnny proved to be the most entertaining speakers of the evening.)

The forum ended with Max asking everyone to name a figure from history who they’d choose as a mentor if they became mayor.

Among the chosen mentors: Rasputin, Thomas Paine, Te Rauparaha, and Richard 111.

(Later tonight, I’ll add a comment to identify which candidate wants to be mentored by each of these historical figures.)

See more: Scoop images from the Forum [11]