Wellington Scoop

Balloons and candidates in Newtown


by Lindsay Shelton
There were balloons in the hall at last night’s by-election candidates’ meeting in Newtown. Blue, red, yellow and purple. Probably not part of the political campaign. But they fitted the mood – it was a cheerful, friendly event, attended by more than 140 locals.

A bell rang to start the meeting, ten minutes late. Extra chairs were needed. “This is democracy at its best,” said chair Patrick Morgan, on behalf of the Newtown Residents Association.


First, the seven candidates (an eighth was absent) were each given two minutes to introduce themselves and to say why they should be chosen to take over from Paul Eagle in Wellington’s southern ward.

“I’ve been a candidate since 1993,” said Thomas Morgan, who didn’t seem concerned by his previous unsuccessful efforts to be elected. For his first campaign, he’d printed 1000 business cards and got 1000 votes. He was treating the meeting as a job interview.

Rob Goulden said being a councillor wasn’t a job – it was a public service for which experience was needed, and he had that experience, as he’d been a councillor for 12 years (in the Eastern Ward, till 2010.)

Laurie Foon introduced herself as a businesswoman, a volunteer radio show host, a netball mum, who had lived in Berhampore for 17 years. She’d started the sustainable fashion label Starfish and run it for 20 years, and was now working at the Sustainable Business Network, where she’d learnt to listen and to work with people to get new ideas off the ground.

Mohamud Mohamed, born in Somalia, said he’d come to Wellington 18 years ago as a refugee. “I love Wellington. I’ve lived here longer than any other place in the world.” He was standing because he wanted to give back to the community.

Don McDonald said there was too much greed and capitalism. He felt the council’s annual plan was anti democratic.

Fleur Fitzsimons, standing for Labour, had been a lawyer for ten years in student organisations and the union movement. She wants Wellington communities to be safe and connected, and she says streets could be safer from sexual harassment. Social isolation is an issue where she believes the council could do more to help.

Vicki Greco, a leader of the Island Bay campaign against the cycleway, said she was standing because of her passion for the community. She was an independent candidate “so I can represent your views, not those of political parties….It’s up to you to tell me what it is you need me to do for you.”

Photo: Patrick Morgan

Next it was time to discuss issues raised by Newtown residents – including healthy housing, waste reduction, and resolving tensions about parking on the streets.

Thomas announced that he had solved the problem of not enough parking at the hospital while the new Children’s Hospital is being built. He’d phoned the hospital, he said, and they’d told him that parking was being redesigned. Problem solved. He thought the Warrant of Fitness for rented homes was “a nice idea,” but his preference was for landlords to be licensed.

Rob agreed there wasn’t enough parking around the hospital. He was also concerned by the loss of Newtown’s community police station, and by too many liquor outlets in the suburb. He would want to bring council spending under control – “the debt has risen to $521m”.

Donald had the answer for hospital parking problems. “Take a bus to the hospital. You don’t need a car.”

Laurie praised KaiCycle for collecting food waste and converting it to compost for community gardens. “We need to start refusing single-use plastic bags,” she added. And on the subject of disputed cycleways, she said there was a need for more engagement with the community, and to consider the idea of trials before the routes were finalised.

Muhamud – “I don’t have any notes because I’m speaking from the heart” – said he didn’t own a home and felt the council should be doing more to get more done for tenants. Four of his six children were keen cyclists, and he walked to work every day.

Fleur agreed on the need to do more to improve housing. There was an opportunity with the new government, she said, to make a difference. She felt the health board had let down the community by failing to persuade staff to use public transport instead of bringing their cars to park in Newtown streets. She supported light rail.

Vicki also supported light rail but it needed a strong business case. “Many council decisions are made without a good business case. Thorough investigation into costs is needed before decisions are taken.” She agreed that a Warrant of Fitness for rental homes was a good idea but it needed to be implemented gradually.

She also talked about the need for the council to spend more on maintenance of infrastructure – “basic work has been put aside for vanity projects.” Fleur said the council had to lead the community in reducing emissions. Laurie agreed and said the council needed to do better with its low-carbon plan. Rob saw potential for more businesses to be set up at the landfill, and quoted the success of the recycling shop.

There was a debate on growth. “We do need growth,” said Muhamud. “A city that does not grow becomes a city that dies.” He said Wellington could grow and be sustainable – the two concepts didn’t exclude each other.

Finally came questions from the floor. The first questioner said he had received a $620 bill from the council for a health inspection that had taken less than 30 minutes. Such an unexpected charge was a problem for the cash flow of his small business. Laurie agreed that the charge should be reviewed. Rob said the charge was far too high, and he repeated his concern that the council should be keeping control of its spending.

And were the candidates for or against extending the airport runway? The answers were surprising.

Fleur said she was for it if the business case stood up, but she wanted to limit the council’s contribution. Mohamud was for it. Rob said there was no robust business case – and, if there was, the airport company should be paying the total cost. Laurie agreed with Rob, and said she was concerned about disruption to the city if the work was carried out. Don suggested fewer flights and less travelling. Thomas supported a longer runway but said the council should bail out of the airport and leave it to run as a commercial model. Vicki hadn’t made a decision yet, but said there hadn’t been a strong business case. Also: “I have a huge issue with lack of transparency.

Whose name will you tick? Postal voting in the by-election starts at the end of the month and closes three days before Christmas.


  1. Patrick Morgan, 15. November 2017, 14:03

    Thanks for covering our modest gathering, Lindsay. We had 150 people there.
    I like it that candidates front up to the voters and respond to their questions.

  2. Rob Goulden, 18. November 2017, 11:25

    Great coverage of the issues and the debate. Cheers Rob