Wellington Scoop

Surveying eastern ward councillors, and one new candidate


by Ian Apperley
It’s time to take a look at Wellington’s city councillors. With the issue of Shelly Bay in the forefront of everyone’s minds, I thought we’d kick off with the Eastern Ward councillors as well as the one new candidate. I think the lack of response from Simon Marsh, Sarah Free, and Chris Calvi-Freeman on the Shelly Bay issue singles them out for attention.

I am curious to understand whether the three representatives of the ward have achieved anything, particularly against what they promised at the beginning, and where they have voted and stood on Shelly Bay.

I wonder if residents consider these three to be representing their interests any more, or see them as ineffective tools of the wider city council machinery, which is often at variance with local communities. I’ll say that again: Council machinery is often at variance with the wishes of local communities. So, if councillors are gagged, fall into party political lines, and are at the same time not being seen to champion residents’ concerns, then, well, they may not last long.

Simon Marsh

A longstanding Councillor of the Eastern Ward, Simon has been re-elected most likely due to his name recognition. Like Chris and Sarah, he has remained silent, publicly, on the Shelly Bay issues apart from what was probably a tentative “like” on one of Chris Calvi-Freeman’s tweets which promised the facts would be made known soon.

Councillor Marsh is responsible centrally for Economic Development, Small Business, and Events. I think it’s fair to say that most of those areas from a city-wide perspective appear to be much of a muchness from the last triennium and relatively stable despite the Council’s best efforts to increase business rates, introduce more red tape in the business area, and stumble around trying to support inner-city retailers.

Let’s not even talk about WREDA…

In terms of Shelly Bay, Simon voted for an SHA back in April 2015 despite a lot of local opposition to the idea, which effectively locked the residents out of having a say about what was happening in their ward. Then, despite a lot of feedback from residents with concerns about the area, he voted to extend the SHA in October of 2015.

But never mind the growing concerns – in September 2017 he voted in favour of either leasing or selling City Council land in Shelly Bay to the developer.

Last month, it was tabled that a review be undertaken of the Council’s part in what is now clearly an omnishambles, dwarfing the “bustastrophe” that is slowly causing the city to choke in its fumes. Simon voted to delay that review. A review, which would have sent a signal to residents that the Council was responding to concerns and at least heading for some stronger transparency.

In Peter Jackson’s now famous post, councillors are accused of enabling a “modern day land grab.” What is abundantly clear is that Simon is right behind the Council on this issue, ignoring calls by residents to speak out and answer their concerns.

But it’s not all about Shelly Bay, is it?

On Simon’s campaign website, which you can find here, he advocates for the Convention Centre (a potential white elephant), a film museum (failed), a tech hub (what happened to that?), and supports the airport extension (ain’t going to happen.) Not a great hit rate.

Sarah Free

A relative new councillor, Sarah Free is reasonably well-respected in the ward and well-known. She holds the portfolio for Walking and Cycling, and Public Transport Infrastructure. Over the Shelly Bay issues, she has remained deathly silent despite the fact she is a Green and any development is likely to have a very high impact on the natural environment, not to mention that their will be issues around cycling and public transport to and from the site.

In terms of cycling, she has made gains if you consider the mish-mash of cycle lanes a success, but they have caused a lot of community angst. Some residents have concerns about future planned cycle lanes particularly in the wide and safe streets of the eastern suburbs.

Public transport has disappeared into a farcical comedy-drama, and while Sarah is responsible for that portfolio, she has been very outspoken about it and is credited with minor changes to the network, providing some improvements, along with resisting fare increases. It is interesting that she has made some gain here where others have not. It’s also interesting that she has been very outspoken about this issue but refused to speak about Shelly Bay.

Sarah voted against the original SHA for Shelly Bay and voted again against the extension to the SHA However then she voted for the lease or sale of Council land, a vote that was seemingly at odds with her previous stance.

She also voted against delaying the Council review.

Sarah’s original campaign website is also live, you can view it here, and in her last pitch to be councillor she promised policies focusing on public transport as well as resilience and climate change. Understandable given her Green ticket.

I don’t think any advances have been made in the resilience and climate change areas, which have become an incredibly hot topic. Of note is the council’s Long Term Planning process that continues to put expensive vanity projects to the front of prioritisation in deference to the basics such as resilient infrastructure, in my opinion. Ask Miramar businesses what happens to their toilets in a storm surge. Spoiler, they can’t always be used as the infrastructure is bursting at the seams and slowly rising sea level is pushing things back up the proverbial.

However, on balance, Sarah has been quite engaging over the triennium with the residents, which is why it is puzzling she has lost her voice on what will be the largest political issue (like it or not) for the Eastern Ward and most likely the city. It’s out of character.

Chris Calvi-Freeman

Chris Calvi-Freeman has been one of four Councillors who are often outspoken and not always in tune with the Council song. (The other three are Andy Foster, Diane Calvert and Simon Woolf.) It’s fascinating that he has not landed a public stance on what he thinks about Shelly Bay. He has an opinion, because you can see the frustration leaking through on Twitter from time to time.

Sadly, for Chris, he’s the Portfolio leader for Transport Strategy and Operations. If there is one thing that every resident agrees on in Wellington, it’s that transport has become considerably worse in the last few years. No more so than Chris’s home ward of Eastern Suburbs, where some commuters are reporting more than an hours’ travel at peak times and heavy congestion outside peak times. It doesn’t matter if you are in a car or bus, it’s a bloody long time to get to work each day from a suburb that is only five kilometres from the CBD.

The impact of transport in the Eastern Suburbs from any development at Shelly Bay is going to be horrific. Not only the thousands of trucks required to move the detritus, but the hordes of tradies, an influx of tourists, and the hundreds of new residents who will have no choice but to use a car as public transport has not been planned for that area.

Some of these are at the heart of residents’ concerns out East, but Chris has said nothing on the issues. Is it because, based on his limited voting record, he appears to be supporting this development?

He wasn’t around for the two SHA votes, and while he left early from the meeting to vote on selling or leasing the WCC land, it was reported that he spoke in favour of it before he departed. He then did vote in favour of delaying the review.

Chris’s election campaign website is also still alive and kicking. It lists his policies (in great detail), should he be elected. He wanted “better roads”, the second Mt Victoria tunnel, solving the Basin congestion issues, “better transport”, honestly, it goes on and on, nearly five thousand words worth. Most of the policies for “betterment” that are listed are at odds with the Shelly Bay development.

Chris is hardly known locally and in my opinion the weakest in the pack, particularly once you drive past the airport. It’s astounding with his depth of experience in transport that nothing much has happened in this area over the last triennium. He was voted in to make a difference in this space and has spent the last few weeks not only hiding over the Shelly Bay issue but generally blaming other parties for the ongoing issues.

Here are his impressive credentials.

Chris Calvi-Freeman is a transport planning professional, with extensive experience in transport policy, public transport design & management, traffic engineering, and sustainable transport development. Chris led the team responsible for the Wellington region’s public transport in the early 1990s and designed the Wellington bus network that operated successfully from 1991 to 2018. In Australia, Chris was a senior manager in the NSW Transport Management Centre, responsible for traffic management & transport coordination for the Sydney 2000 Games and beyond. In London, as Head of Transport for the London Borough of Hounslow, he designed and oversaw a range of award-winning sustainable transport and traffic management schemes. Chris has been portfolio leader for transport at Wellington City Council since the 2016 election and is working alongside the Mayor of Wellington as the city’s representatives on the governance group for the tripartite Let’s Get Wellington Moving initiative.

But LGWM is not going to help. It’s now been corrupted into some Frankenstein type of monster with the various ruling parties tearing it to pieces, bringing new parts to it, in a climate where it has been leaked so many times by so many senior political people it might as well be the world’s biggest colander.

Teri O’Neill

Teri O’Neill is the only new eastern ward candidate and so far, she has been rather underwhelming. Phone calls and door knocking have been carried out, but no clear policy has been expressed. Central to the debate will be the usual hot issues along with Shelly Bay, of which no statement has been made, which is strange because as a candidate Teri is not bound by the gagging order that the Council has effectively made.

Could it be that Teri is subject to the overlords in Labour Party central who are telling her what she can and cannot say? It’s something that potentially killed Lynda McGregor’s attempt at the last election.

Teri has a unique opportunity to insert herself into this process and effectively support the line of questioning that Peter Jackson has been taking. Questions that continue to fall on deaf ears of the local ward Councillors and the Council in general. That’s a one-time gift that could continue to give throughout the campaign.

Her silence is not a great start for a new candidate in the race and Labour are dreaming if they think that putting the big red logo next to her name is going to get her across the line. Generally, the Eastern Ward likes independent thinkers and independent candidates rather than party political puppets.

Wellington.Scoop welcomes responses from the councillors and the candidate.


  1. Inside Wellington, 9. May 2019, 17:51

    Days since Chris Calvi-Freeman, Sarah Free, and Simon Marsh talked about Shelly Bay = 18. Days since Andy Foster talked about Shelly Bay < 1. Don't be like Chris, Sarah, and Simon, be like Andy.

  2. michael, 9. May 2019, 22:29

    Forget the big red logo – we want independents who will represent the public NOT the party line!

  3. TrevorH, 10. May 2019, 7:45

    This is my fourth decade as a resident of the Eastern Ward (with occasional stints overseas but always keeping my links here). The Peninsula especially is the jewel in Wellington’s crown. But sadly the East’s unique perspective never seems to be heard around the Council table these days. The Shelly Bay SHA fiasco is surely the final straw. We need new candidates but often the problem is finding the funds to fight an election – maybe a Givealittle page could be started for funding fresh candidates? Party hacks however need not apply.

  4. Michael Gibson, 10. May 2019, 7:50

    They do not care about what actually happens e.g. at Shelly Bay or to bus-users. Yesterday’s City Strategy Committee meeting showed that they are only interested in waffly ideas which they hope will attract personal publicity and headlines.
    Has there even been a report to the WCC on the appalling bus situation?

  5. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 10. May 2019, 8:33

    The majority of the land at Shelly Bay is privately owned. Consistent with the Resource Management Act, the owners have a right to develop it. Resource consent applications are decided by planning officers, not city councillors, referencing the RMA. In the case of Shelly Bay, the WCC has appointed independent commissioners to (re)assess the application. If councillors express their opinions on the proposed development, there is a risk of influencing/undermining that process. [via twitter]

  6. Andrew, 10. May 2019, 9:23

    Ok Chris, but that does not exclude you from commenting on related subjects outside of the private land development.

  7. michael, 10. May 2019, 9:39

    Hello Chris: Are you telling us that the decision for the Shelley Bay resource consent was made by council officers. And that therefore councillors had no role in the approval? My understanding is we elect councillors to look after our best interests, particularly in cases like this. If this is how these decisions are made, what is the point of having councillors?

  8. Rumpole, 10. May 2019, 16:29

    Hilda and I were appalled to learn that the commissioners appointed and paid for by Wellington City Council are seemingly “independent”. It would be most helpful if Chris Calvi-Freeman could comment on this important matter.

  9. CC, 10. May 2019, 17:47

    Rumpole – don’t you think the smattering of Councillors, ex-Councillors and ex-employees that pass off as Independent Commissioners are capable of ruling against the planners and their clients – the developers?

  10. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 10. May 2019, 23:02

    Hello folks. I took a wee break from Scoop but am back now. I’ll leave Ian Apperley’s analysis of candidates for later in the weekend, but right now: Shelly Bay.

    I have been very loath to comment on Shelly Bay for a couple of reasons:

    1. As per my reported Twitter posting reproduced above: The majority of the land at Shelly Bay is privately owned. Consistent with the Resource Management Act, the owners have a right to develop it. Resource consent applications are decided by planning officers, not city councillors, referencing the RMA and the District Plan. In the case of Shelly Bay, WCC has appointed independent commissioners to (re)assess the application. If councillors express their opinions on the proposed development, there is a risk of influencing/undermining that process. (Councillors have been discouraged from commenting, for precisely this reason.)

    2. While I could have been tempted to respond to Sir Peter Jackson’s allegations, I believed that to do so, and to pick out the errors in them, would simply have encouraged him to publish still further analyses, which would be unhelpful for reason 1 above.

    In response to the other commentators in this thread:

    Michael Gibson: I do care what happens in Shelly Bay. As a lifelong eastern suburbs resident whose home looks out across Evans Bay onto Shelly Bay, I want to see the best possible use made of that area. Contrary to Ian Apperley’s assertion, I have attended every meeting, site visit and briefing available on the subject. Yes, I “wasn’t around” when the council voted to declare Shelly Bay a Special Housing Area (SHA), because this was before I was elected to the council. Yes, I left before the vote to sell and lease two small parcels of WCC land to the owners of Shelly Bay to be incorporated into the development area. I left early because I had to fly to Blenheim for my father in law’s funeral. As it was, I waited as long as possible before departing and only just caught my plane. I could have had a quid both ways by saying that I didn’t vote for the sale/lease, but I won’t play that game: I believed (as did the majority of councillors) that incorporation of the two land parcels (at independently valued prices) into the development would result in a better overall configuration of residential & commercial buildings and open/recreational space. I also believed, from what councillors were advised by iwi leadership, that the council would be doing justice to our Memorandum of Understanding with iwi to work with them for the betterment of Poneke as a whole and all the iwi.

    Michael, as a former regional councillor, you’ll know that the media picks up various stories and not others, and increasingly seeks to find an “angle”. Yesterday’s meeting was indeed a bit protracted, as councillors debated a range of remits to go to the LGNZ’s annual conference. That, and a proposed arts & culture strategy, were the only two items on yesterday’s agenda. But yes, we have had numerous briefings and presentations from, and meetings with, GWRC on the bus issues and have repeatedly questioned GWRC and cajoled and encouraged them to resolve the bus problems. I spent an hour and a half yesterday with a very experienced transport consultant who has been brought in to help GWRC – this individual worked with me on the 1991 bus review and has since successfully spearheaded Auckland Transport’s recent bus review. I also attended the Kilbirnie bus meeting last night and have attended all but one of the public meetings that took place soon after the new network started in July last year.

    Andrew: if you pose some specific questions I will do my best to answer them provided they do not go into issues or opinions that could be seen to undermine or influence the commissioners’ work .

    michael (and Rumpole): yes, precisely so. Development applications under the RMA, from tiny residential extensions to major developments, are delegated to the planners. The councillors’ role is to consider and approve the District Plan upon which the planners base their decisions (with reference to the RMA). There is no facility to “call-in” a development for review by councillors – this is something I have discussed on several occasions with the CEO and something I intend to explore more fully in the next triennium. Councils can also use independent commissioners, which is what is now happening for Shelly Bay. Decisions by planners or commissioners can be appealed against in the courts.

  11. A Bstain, 11. May 2019, 11:12

    Chris C-Freeman what if we still believe the land was not lawfully transferred into the current “private” status?
    Do we then have to appeal against the Crown’s corporation ( WCC) in the Crown’s courts?

  12. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 11. May 2019, 11:39

    A Bstain. As I understand it, ownership of land is not a factor in the resource consents process – eg: you or I could apply for a resource consent to develop a property on a section of central Wellington that we do not own – and provided our application meets the requirements of the RMA, District Plan etc, the planners have to consider it and approve it though it may never be implemented. So, again, as I understand it, any appeal against any alleged issues relating to transfer of land between one party and another are irrelevant to and outside of the resource consent process. Please note that I am trying to be helpful here but this is not to be construed as council policy or legal advice.

  13. michael, 11. May 2019, 16:05

    @Chris Calvi-Freeman: I find it astounding that a $500million development can be permitted without full council approval. Surely, councillors were party to the decision to sell the WCC land and therefore had some responsibility to ensure the development was in the best interest of Wellingtonians, or at least that public consultation occurred?

  14. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 11. May 2019, 20:18

    michael: I find it somewhat remarkable as well, but that’s the way the system works: the Council approves the District Plan (and voted for Shelly Bay to become a SHA), then it was over to the planning officers to assess whether the proposed development met the RMA/DC/SHA criteria. It’s now going to commissioners to be re-assessed. Importantly, the Council (i.e. the city councillors, not the officers) made the decision to sell and lease two parcels of land, constituting about 15% of the development area, to facilitate the complete development. Had this land not been sold/leased, the developer would have had to adjust the development to fit the land already held. The vast majority of the proposed new buildings are in the privately held land parcel; the WCC land is mainly for recreational space and to facilitate the roadway being moved back from the coastline to allow the waterfront land to be developed for public recreational use.

    There was a round of public consultation, if I recall correctly.

  15. michael, 11. May 2019, 21:34

    Thank you for your response Chris. If I read it right, it was the councillors who voted for Shelly Bay to become a Special Housing Area? ie no public consultation?

  16. Tim Alexander, 11. May 2019, 22:18

    Chris your response is well written but takes no responsibility for the current situation. Let’s go back to the 1999 Environment Court ruling setting out specific guidelines for the care of Shelly Bay. This was to be upheld by the WCC and the Defence Department. In 2002, the Defence Department gave up its land in South Bay. WCC fought the Wellington Harbour Board in court for ownership and won. This is the land discussed as the land for sale and lease and is the land in South Bay currently owned by the WCC. It is not insignificant. Also the WCC having won the right to this land had now taken on full guardianship and the responsibility to uphold the significant 1999 Environment Court ruling to protect the bay on behalf of all the people of Wellington. But what did councillors do when voting for a SHA under HASHAA. They knew HASHAA would demolish the Court ruling and open the area up to intense development. Also councillors had a responsibility to iwi. Had they been asked if they wanted to sell the land, knowing land sale is foreign to iwi, there had to be a 75% yes vote. No one checked including the housing minister. Both parties – WCC and the Govt – were now responsible for alienating iwi from their land. Eventually in Feb 2016 iwi were asked to vote on the sale of their land and voted no, but this fact has been ignored with agreement to the sale and lease of land in South Bay to the developer. All this was before the August 2017 public consultation.

  17. Andrew, 11. May 2019, 23:13

    There was a round of public consultation and from memory there was not a huge amount of public support for selling or leasing the land to the developer. It was voted through however.

  18. A Bstain, 12. May 2019, 8:01

    The rightful ownership of the land is a factor. Many think the land has been misappropriated for this project.

  19. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 12. May 2019, 11:05

    michael: Yes, councillors in the last triennium (2013-2016) voted for the SHA. I don’t know if there was public consultation – it was before my time on council.

    Tim: thank you for this information. As far as I was aware, from the reports and information presented to councillors in 2017, the land was apparently still in iwi ownership when the sale/lease decision was made. Importantly, we were shown the development plans and it was clear that the sale/lease (regardless of the ownership issue) would facilitate an improvement to the regeneration and maintenance of the recreational/coastal land.

    A Bstain: I would need to check the consultation report. However, what is very clear throughout this whole process, is that there have been many misunderstandings on this issue. I still get letters and emails from people who believe Shelly Bay in its entirety is public land. (I also still get letters and emails from people blaming WCC for the bus issues as well.) It’s very difficult to get a clear message across on basic facts, let along complex issues, without being accused of dumbing down, patronising or (mis)leading people. Some contributors to social media (thankfully few on this Wellington.Scoop forum) are want to reach and broadcast a conclusion without taking the necessary time to study all the available information. And of course people with large followings have a moral duty to establish all the facts before making allegations and passing judgement on the motivations and integrity of others.

    I think I’ve probably said all I can say on Shelly Bay at this stage. As I said at the outset, I am loath to provide any opinions that could be seen to influence or undermine the work of the commissioners.

    Best wishes

  20. Benny, 13. May 2019, 11:07

    The District Plan, if I am not wrong, sets limits to building heights and use of land. If Shelly Bay was falling under that District Plan, the current proposal, with 8-storey buildings, would not be allowed. I might be wrong here (and please, if I am, someone correct me), the District Plan sets a limit of 2-storey buildings. Had Shelly Bay not been voted a SHA, the development would be way much lower: traffic would be less adversely affected, the strain on that stretch of road lower, and the character of the place could be better preserved (in line with Miramar’s housing style). More importantly, the community could have had its say. As it stands, the community can only lose with this gigantic development. The council has let all of us down on this when the SHA was voted favourably.
    Chris, I commend you for coming forward, unlike your colleagues and unlike the mayor, but the responsibility still lies with the WCC and its decisions. When we all are waiting at the traffic lights that will no doubt be installed at the Miramar cut, we will remember who caused this.

  21. John Locke, 15. May 2019, 8:00

    Benny: Happily, the WCC has in fact already voted (23 november 2017 in fact) on installing traffic lights (2 sets in fact) at the Miramar cutting – they’re to be part of the Miramar phase 1 “upgrade”, a delightful plan where many of our tax dollars shall be used to make Miramar just a bit less livable for most of us.

  22. Tim, 15. May 2019, 11:09

    Hi Chris. You, Simon Marsh and Sarah Free are Eastern Ward councilors and have a responsibility to your constituents. You may plead innocent in the first instance, not having been properly informed by council officers. But you can’t hide behind that now. I have also read the reports you refer to that were presented to Councillors in April 2017 and September 2017 and I tried to find advice to Councillors about land ownership. Given the weight that was placed on Council support for the development fulfilling the Council’s partnership relationship with PNBST, then I think it would be fair to expect that land ownership information would be accurate. There was no advice that 3 out of 4 titles were about to be sold in April 2017 and no advice that the 3 titles had been sold. The vote to sell and lease land was very close 7/5 and information to councillors would have affected the final outcome. This vote was subject to the development being consented in April 2017. The court of appeal 2018 squashed that consent. Therefore the vote to sell and lease is also squashed. If this is not the case. Why not?
    Have you asked your Chief Executive what Council officers and consultants knew about the ownership of the land and when? Why were Councillors not told as soon as the Council staff knew? When was the Mayor told? When did the Council become aware of the change?
    What did the Council do when it got at least one submission (probably more) in 2017 from a PNBST member who told you that the Trustees had no mandate for the development and no mandate to sell? What did your Chief Executive advise you regarding this submission? [abridged]

  23. Mere, 15. May 2019, 13:23

    CCF: In regards to your comment to Tim, “As far as I was aware, from the reports and information presented to Councillors in 2017, the land was apparently still in iwi ownership when the sale/lease decision was made…”
    The decision was voted on 27th September 2017 and yet the land was sold in July 2017. So surely this is a failure of Resource Consents Officers or whoever is involved to advise councillors; surely councillors when voting did not understand re the vote they were casting? this fact alone may have caused a change in their decision?