by Lindsay Shelton
What’ll be on the priority list for Wellington’s new city councillors next week? Here are some issues that should be demanding their immediate attention.
The council’s deal with China.
In September last year, Jo Coughlan signed a council MOU with two Chinese construction companies confirming their interest in the Convention Centre and the airport’s expansion. The new councillors need to find out what’s happened to that deal.
When the Convention Centre (and Movie Museum) construction plan was finalised, there was no mention of Chinese participation. Instead, the council agreed to pay the total (un-tendered) $150million cost of the new building. Will Willis Bond be receiving help from one of the Chinese companies which signed the agreement with the council? Will the Chinese be contributing some investment, to reduce the cost to the city?
The council was specific about expecting Chinese finance. In its press release two days after the deal had been signed in Beijing, it said there would be “significant investment:”
Major projects in Wellington City are set to attract significant investment from Chinese companies as a result of the Wellington business delegation to China led by Mayor Celia Wade-Brown…. In particular, a partnership to explore funding for proposals for Wellington International Airport’s proposed expansion and hotel, the convention centre and hotel and housing developments in Shelly Bay was formalised with the signing of an MOU with Fu Wah Group and BCEG.
The new councillors will need to ask questions and expect answers. What happened to the significant investment? Who is taking responsibility for the MOU?
The runway extension.
A majority of city councillors last year confirmed the decision to commit $90m to help pay for the longer runway, if it gets approved and if the rest of the money can be found. But during the election campaign, almost every mayoral candidate has been backing-off from this commitment, and adding caveats to be met before the ratepapers’ money is handed over. This is another subject about which the new councillors should be asking questions. And they’ll all need to state their own opinions, too. Last year’s majority might not have survived.
There’s been endless and often confusing debate on the process which delivered the Island Bay cycleway. The new councillors will need to be briefed on what went wrong, so that when they start making decisions on similar issues, they know how to get it right next time. But who will give the briefing?
One speaker is already booked to brief councillors at an induction workshop. He’s Dr Tim Williams, chief executive officer of the Committee for Sydney, an independent think tank that’s supported by major businesses. Dr Williams is a critic of Sydney roading plans; he was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying Sydney was “in the thrall of road builders.” The Herald reported on his presentation to an audience at the University of Sydney:
As cities became denser, governments needed to fit them with better public transport, cycling and walking facilities, rather than focusing on new motorways that encourage sprawl and car use.
Dr Williams is a Londoner who’s been in Sydney for five years, and he places importance on planning for walking, a message which should resonate with our new councillors:
I’ve been walking (and cycling) a lot less [in Sydney] than when I was a Londoner and so, let’s be honest here, put on a bit of weight. I have also developed diabetes type 2. Accordingly, I have become very interested in urban design and health, particularly how some areas or types of places can tend to be what’s been called “obesogenic”. That is, by inhibiting walking – to work, to school, to the playground or beach, to the shops and services – they cause ill health. I am also interested in how places which enable or encourage walkability are not just healthy but also wealthy and indeed wise….
Walkable urban development includes: higher densities, mixed-use real-estate products, and multiple transportation options such as bus, rail, bicycle, and pedestrian-friendly footpaths, as well as motor vehicles, that connect to the greater metro area. Urbanists everywhere will be unsurprised that this form of development (and location) is the hottest in the market.
Four lanes to the planes
If Jo is the new mayor, will the new council support her promise of turning up at Parliament asking for “a fair share of government funding.” for new roads? Or will she have a new set of priorities after hearing from Dr Williams? If someone else is the new mayor, will he (or she) be seeking support to make a similar visit to Parliament? Will the new councillors think this is a good idea?
The new councillors will soon be reminded that motorway decisions are controlled by the NZ Transport Agency, which since its flyover defeat has given up its discredited policies of bullying and threatening, in favour of the collaborative GetWellyMoving process which has reached a halfway point. That’ll be another briefing for the new councillors.
They’ll also be learning that public transport decisions are controlled by the Regional Council. They’ll need to work out how to work with that organisation as well. Chris Calvi-Freeman has been a transport planner in London. Whether or not he’s elected, his professional knowledge should make him a perfect choice for briefing councillors on future policies. He should brief regional councillors as well.
Delegations and secrecy.
There’s been much concern about the city council’s three slush funds, and how decisions on payouts are made behind closed doors or delegated to the CEO. A letter from Judith Aitken in yesterday’s DomPost emphasised the seriousness of this issue. The new councillors should have enough voting power to ensure that the processes are changed. They could bring a new approach to “corporate welfare” in Wellington.