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2022: more of the same?

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by Lindsay Shelton
Happy new year. And welcome to 2022. A year shaping up to be more of the same.

Not the covid-free year that we’d been hoping for. But a third year of infections, though New Zealand’s policies have protected us to an extraordinary degree against the worst ravages of covid. Relevant advice this morning from Dr Siouxsie Wiles:

“What will get us through another challenging year: team work, vaccines, masks, ventilation, & fighting to reverse inequality.”

The challenging year will also be bringing local elections in October. There’s only one Wellington mayoral candidate so far. But no doubt Mayor Andy Foster will be standing again. And in spite of reports about dysfunction among councillors, he can point to a year of some major decisions. The decision to strengthen and reopen the Central Library was taken in 2020, but last year councillors decided how to finance the work. The council website doesn’t offer any clarity about which choice was made, but there’s little doubt that everyone will welcome the day when the highly-popular and much used library (over a million visitors a year) is reopened.

Not so much support however for spending $6m to replace the playground on Frank Kitts Park. And virtually no support for the council’s vote in favour of building a national fale malae (with no plans and no budget) to occupy an unknown amount of open space on the waterfront next to the long-delayed Chinese Garden.

How quickly politicians forget. It was only twenty years ago when the Wellington Town Hall was packed by 2000 people opposing new buildings on the waterfront. The strength of the opposition forced a change of policies. But as time passed, the council has quietly reverted to approving new buildings which have reduced the open space and views which should have been retained as a unique feature of our waterfront city.

In spite of much opposition, a former council pushed ahead with the Convention Centre, and last year the council re-financed it with a “green loan” from the government. The $180m building is on track to open next year and Mayor Foster says it has bookings for 40 conventions, but he hasn’t responded to a request to list them. The new building is also launching the council into the high-risk world of becoming an entrepreneur. The space intended for the Peter Jackson Movie Museum is to be occupied by a changing roster of exhibitions, mainly from offshore. Which we’ll have to pay to see. Will the ticket sales be enough to cover the costs?

Then there’s the rates. Last April, the city council announced plans for a 13.5 per cent increase. When there wasn’t an outcry, the council confirmed the increase in June, in a long-term plan which it said was “focussed on fixing the city’s aging infrastructure, response to climate change, minimising sewage sludge and waste, and cycleway networks.” New valuations arrived at the end of the year, raising more concerns about the reality of the increased rates, when the first bills arrive.

It would be foolish to expect that 2022 will be the year of the mis-named Let’s Get Wellington Moving. The nine-year-old entity was launched with a wildly unpopular plan to build a traffic bridge above the Basin Reserve. Since this was twice defeated, it has worked expensively to create minimal expectations. A vision! Principles! Objectives! Research! Learnings! Data! Scenarios! A health check! Anything but decisions.

The costly four-option consultation in the last months of last year – “Hello! To A Future We Can All Get Around” is going to result only in “more detailed investigation” with more consultation on more proposals. Exactly what LGWM has been doing since it was set up in 2014. And now we are told construction (of something not yet decided – trams? bus lanes?) will not begin till 2028, with completion taking another eight to fifteen years. Yes – 2036 at the earliest. (Let’s overlook the fact that in 2019 they were talking about a “three year programme of delivery.”)

Talk about grandiose but meaningless claims:

Let’s Wellington Moving is bringing together central and local government movers and shakers, transport and urban design experts, mana whenua, and passionate people like you. Our goal is to build a world-class capital to be proud of, where more people can get around more easily and reliably, with streets that are beautiful and safe so that new housing and business will flourish. We won’t need to use our cars as often so will cut back on carbon emissions. This is about building a better future for the city, the region and the planet we love.

If they ever make decisions, they’ll also be saving the region and the planet?

Plans for the NZ School of Music to be in Civic Square were changed last year when the council decided to demolish one of its buildings that the school was preparing to occupy next to the Town Hall. The school then decided to move out of Civic Square, into a new building on the opposite side of the Michael Fowler Centre.

With not one but two council buildings to be demolished, the future of Civic Square is not yet decided, though there is optimism from Andy Foster. What does seem certain is that if new buildings are approved, they’ll be built and owned by private developers and not by the city. And will the council move back from the Terrace and on to Civic Square where it belongs? Don’t expect any decision in 2022.

And we’ve started the new year with no decision about opening Transmission Gully. When Prime Minister John Key launched it in 2014, he said it would be open by 2020. But he was wrong. He was wrong about the price too. He said it would cost $850m. Last year the price blew out to $1.25billion. And it’s still not open.

Things we can however expect this year.

Electric buses to the airport. But not till July.

An electric ferry on the harbour, starting service in a few months.

Continuing concern about rising sea levels.

Continuing debate about Shelly Bay, where all approvals have been granted for the big new development.

And continuing debate about how and where to build more new homes while protecting the heritage streets and houses which give Wellington its character.

The debate will continue, too, about the Three Waters plans – which are supported by Regional Council chair Daran Ponter.

What are your concerns and hopes for the new year?

21 comments:

  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 2. January 2022, 9:52

    What will be the cost to ratepayers of “improving” the road to Shelly Bay?

     
  2. Ray Chung, 2. January 2022, 15:31

    Concerned Wellingtonian: there’s a range of estimates from consultants for “improving” this road to Shelly Bay, ranging from the low millions to $30 million, so it seems that it’s the old “how long is a piece of string?” It’ll depend on what is included, such as raising and widening the road or just patching up what’s there. My concerns for 2022 are the rates will continue to increase with little genuine “consultation” with residents on what they want and are willing to pay for. If I’m elected to council in the Onslow-Western ward in October, I’ll fight tooth and nail to get accountability for these enormous rate increases. Despite what Andy Foster says, I believe this council is dysfunctional, driven by ideology and lacking business acumen. Rate increases above the level of inflation will need to be examined and justified. Removing car parks will decimate businesses. I have little faith in the GWRC and the LGWM groups to do anything other than spend money on pointless things like dollying up their website.

     
  3. Jack Yan, 2. January 2022, 16:05

    Already been asked if I would run and it’s only January 2! [via twitter]

     
  4. Claire, 2. January 2022, 17:04

    Great you are running Ray.

     
  5. Toni, 2. January 2022, 20:28

    Ray, the councillors thought it was ok to accept not only paying half of the Shelly Bay development $20million infrastructure costs, but also to also upgrade the road if it is found not fit for purpose (while the developer was only required to carry out minor adjustments to the road).

    Given the nature of the road it seems more than likely that, in its present state, it will have to be widened if the development goes ahead. This means the WCC has committed the ratepayers to a cost estimated at $90 million over a year ago by an independent Quantity Surveyor. How this can be seen as judicious and far-sighted decision-making is beyond me.

     
  6. Ray Chung, 2. January 2022, 21:20

    Hi Toni, yes, I could fill a book with all the nonsensical business decisions this council has made. How many of them have ever been in business and how many of them are activists whose only objective is to further their activism. I’ve been in sales for the last quarter century and everything has to be justified with a business case. But this council seem to think they’ve found the money tree with no concern for getting value for money. Whenever I do submissions, I expect intelligent questions but it seems to me they don’t even listen.

     
  7. Toni, 2. January 2022, 21:46

    Ray, A big part of the problem seems to be that, as WCC has farmed out and ignored its core responsibilities (ie infrastructure) the councillors and the huge numbers of staff have justified their existence by instigating ego-driven vanity projects, and pushing individual agendas. In the meanwhile, the inner-city’s infrastructure is now sub-standard and unable to cope with the current population, and there is a critical lack of open green spaces, transport woes, and unsustainable living environments.

     
  8. Concerned Wellingtonian, 3. January 2022, 9:09

    It is great that Toni has pointed to the problem. A few hours before they voted to sell Shelly Bay, councillors were given a secret written assurance that the maximum cost to ratepayers for road improvements would be $10m. This is now part of the minutes for the fatal meeting. There should be a Judicial Review.

     
  9. Mike Mellor, 3. January 2022, 10:29

    Ray C, “driven by ideology and lacking business acumen” is a pretty strong opinion, so it’s good to see that you’ll be providing a non-ideological option. But ideology means “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy”, so are you saying that councillors shouldn’t have ideas and ideals, and shouldn’t work towards achieving them?

    Everyone does in fact have some sort of ideology, and yours appears to include a belief that “removing car parks will decimate businesses”, which doubtless if elected an objective would be to further that piece of activism (otherwise, why stand for election?). In fact, retailers tend to overestimate the significance of car parking at their door, and the business cases that you advocate could well show that providing facilities for non-car users there would be better for those businesses – see this, for example.

    Being an elected representative is quite a balancing act, and it would be interesting to see how a new councillor would handle the inevitable conflicts, such as between business acumen, social needs and ideological views like the primacy of parking over other road uses. Not forgetting that, as with other public bodies, running a council is much more complex than being in sales or other conventional business activities.

     
  10. Claire, 3. January 2022, 11:23

    Mike Mellor: I am sure Ray will do better than the activists we’ve had. Grandstanding to take zoning to cynical levels ignoring residents and planners. And refusing to work with communities. That is is not local democracy. And the silent majority of Wellington are disgusted with it.

     
  11. aom, 3. January 2022, 15:55

    Clair – you will be disillusioned if you think Ray will do better than any other ‘radical’ councillors. In the main, councillors are elected functionaries who in the main, do little more than rubberstamp the stuff the administration puts in front of them. Neoliberalism was designed to work that way and has the pretense offered by the term ‘governance’. By the time the councillors get to vote, the deals and contracts have largely been done, signed and sealed, often behind closed doors. Usually, the contentious stuff is processed by highly-paid lawyers who have their riding instructions which are to support the administration . Much of the ‘activism’ is window dressing as Ray probably already knows and if not, will soon find out if elected and unable to do a fraction of what he wants to do. The days of local democracy have long gone. The city is run by overpaid faceless bureaucrats under a chimera of representation.

     
  12. Ray Chung, 3. January 2022, 18:43

    Mike Mellor: Iona Pannett asked me the same thing at a submission that I was making and I replied that everyone has an ideology but this should be used for the benefit of all and if that’s not possible, for the majority of Wellingtonians. There’s an expression that politics is the only profession where no experience, skill or qualifications are required and I believe this is obvious in this council. I do tend to agree with you that the council officials “do the deals” and present these to councillors for ratification. However, this is the governance aspect where these councillors are meant to assess and decide the merit or otherwise of the proposal. There are councillors who openly admit with a “TLDR” (Too Long, Didn’t Read) when it comes to decisions. I’ve spoken to councillors about this and their reply was that the only council employee that they employ is the Chief Executive so therein lies the problem and the resolution. You may be correct in that no matter what councillors are elected, none of them will be able to achieve anything or make any difference. But if this is the case, and I sincerely hope that it’s not otherwise it’s a sad day for democracy, then each of us and this includes you, is incumbent to vote for the people who will fight to make these changes rather than just sit back, collect the salary and make the most of their rubber stamp.
    I wanted to know for myself what effect the changes in Thorndon Quay made to the businesses there so I visited these and there was a consensus who said their business was detrimentally affected. I would presume that Covid may have been a factor in this but there was also an independent survey that stated business was down 40%. When there were complaints about the bus service, I caught buses three days a week at different times to assess this based on what residents told me. I would hazard a guess that many councillors would never see the inside of a bus.
    Claire; thank you for your vote of confidence and if I’m elected, I’ll count on you to touch base with me monthly to tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I need to be better at.

     
  13. Rebecca Matthews, 17. January 2022, 12:30

    I want action on housing, transport choices, climate change and more. So, with your help and support I’d love to do a second term as a Wellington City Councillor and make it happen. She’s running! [via twitter]

     
  14. Jim, 17. January 2022, 13:13

    Hi Ray. If you are running for council in my home ward, there are a few things i want to know.

    Housing – what are your ideas on improving the supply of housing? You have been fairly vocal in your opposition to the new plan so it’s important for you to clarify what is the better, and realistic alternative. Housing affordability is difficult and won’t generally be solved by building more, but increasing supply can result in reduction of rental prices. It is often overlooked but Wellington is now more expensive than Auckland for rentals, especially quality ones. This is resulting in people choosing Auckland and Chch over Wellington. How will you mitigate this?

    Transport – What are your ideas to improve public transportation and cycleways? How will you work with LGWM and associated partners to speed up delivery?

    Sustainability – What are your ideas to reduce the carbon footprint of the city. How will your ideas help us meet the goals and targets? What are your thoughts on increasing the provision of Green spaces in the city?

    City Services – What will you do to get the Library back open, infrastructure improvements on track and efficiently/reliable rubbish/recycling services.

    Seismic/Future Proofing – how will you mitigate the future issues for the city? Their are dozens of old buildings that require strengthening in the next 5 years that will otherwise be red-stickered. How will you balance building owners meeting their deadlines and deciding what heritage is worth saving?

     
  15. Guy M, 17. January 2022, 19:55

    Jim – those are Great questions. We need to ask them of all the mayoral candidates.

     
  16. Toni, 18. January 2022, 0:49

    If the last few elections are anything to go by, councillors promise what they think or know the public want to hear, and then once elected do the opposite in many cases, or push their own personal agendas, and forget they are there to represent us.

     
  17. Ray Chung, 18. January 2022, 21:38

    Jim; many thanks for these very good questions and here are my thoughts on these:

    Housing: I believe the answer to getting affordable housing is developing new areas very similar to the development at Silver Stream Road in Ngaio. The houses in this development have been built to price and whilst the sections and houses are smaller than possibly the average in Ngaio and Khandallah, in my opinion, they’re ideal for small families, couples and singles. If you haven’t seen this development, I’d implore you to have a look. These types of houses are much more affordable that adopting the government-mandated 3×3 (three houses of three storeys on each section as well as the proposed District Plan of six storeys along the Johnsonville Railway line. Building up is very expensive and these houses in Silver Stream Road offer a significantly superior quality of life as all have their own gardens and space. I consider the body corporate costs on any multiple-storey buildings to be a significant added expense for families. To build this type of single and two storey wooden housing requires significantly less carbon emissions from concrete construction and foundations. This development is within easy walking distance of the Ngaio railway station and bus service. I believe there are other green field areas in the northern suburbs where this can be replicated. I see the solution to rental pricing increases as requiring the same solution as having more housing but I am adamant that this 3×3 and six-storey proposal will not produce extra “affordable” housing. I believe the greatest contributor to the exponential housing price is more to do with the low interest rates. But this is a central government issue and local government has little influence.

    Transport: I don’t have a lot of faith in everything the GWRC does but consider the bus service needs “tweaking.” I frequently catch the buses and train from Broadmeadows and Johnsonville and generally find the service to be improving in the past few years. I feel some of the proposed cycle lanes hard to understand. An example is the proposed cycle lane on Onslow Road. A few years ago, I approached the WCC on the behalf of a resident in Onslow Road who wanted a footpath down to the Hutt Road but the WCC came back saying that Onslow Road was too narrow. So if this footpath can’t be built, how can a cycle way? I think there has to be a balance between all modes of transport and business cases made for any decisions, something that isn’t being done now. But the council is easily convinced to spend exorbitant amounts on cycleways that may slow down other modes of transport. I’ve mentioned previously that four of us established the Onslow Residents Community Association (ORCA) five years ago representing the residents of Khandallah, Broadmeadows and Kaiwharawhara so much of my opinions reflect what these residents have told me.

    Regarding working with GWRC and LGWM, I’m a fervent believer in getting value for money for ratepayers and consider that both of these organisations often waste money such as the millions spent dollying up their website. It goes without saying that I’d work with them to not just get better value-for-money but stop this wastage and focus on deliverables, not more excuses.

    Sustainability: I believe that many actions by the GWRC about electrifying the buses are good but at a recent presentation, I asked Daran Ponter about the purchase of electric buses vis-à-vis the cost and the business case. Daran’s reply, I feel, needed more investigation.

    Green spaces: I’ve mentioned that I grew up at 25 Jessie Street so my “playgrounds” were typically playing on the street (there was a lot less traffic) and a treat was going to Central Park, the Dominion Museum, Pigeon Park and any other areas where we found a blade of grass so yes, I’m enthusiastic about green areas and support having more of these.

    City Services: I made a submission to the WCC 2-3 years ago to sell the Central Library land to a developer with the proviso that the WCC had a lease on the lower 4-5 floors for a library in perpetuity – better than the council spending an inordinate amount strengthening it. I believe every development the WCC engages on such as the St. James, Town Hall etc invariably turns out with excessive cost and budgetary overruns! I firmly believe that it’s best to leave the building to professional developers rather than the council thinking they’re builders.

    Infrastructure: I consider that we, the public aren’t given the full information about our infrastructure issues and part of the reason is that the councillors don’t have the expertise to analyse data on what needs to be done and how much do we get for how much money. The rubbish/recycling collection is a case in point. If there are issues with the system, what analysis has been done to determine what’s needed to resolve these? The councillors who have come out in favour of returning these services to council haven’t said what they’ll do differently to improve the service, just that they think it’s a great idea but why? I asked Andy Foster if any of the councillors can understand business plans and financial implications of taking one option or another. His answer was there are no councillors with these skills. Councillors should be there to do their best to improve life for all Wellingtonians and give us the best value, not drive their party ideology.

    Seismic/future proofing: There are real issues with the way the council assess earthquake prone buildings. I spent $150,000 on getting structural engineers to assess and draw up plans for strengthening a yellow-stickered building in Willis Street and this took two years! Council processes are so slow and they rely on private engineers to do this work. I was advised that their engineers who do the peer review assessment were more than eight months behind and if I wanted this work done faster, I needed to employ my own structural engineers for a peer review which I did to avoid waiting these extra months costing me an extra $30,000. To answer your question, I’d talk to each of these red-stickered buildings to try to negotiate an agreement and timelines on the future of these buildings.

    Historical Buildings: I read that article on the front page of Saturday’s DomPost where that beautiful historic house, (subjective I know) at 36 Central Terrace was demolished to build 11 town houses. I absolutely disagree with Rebecca Matthews saying that she considers that these houses could have gone even higher because of the need for more housing. These town houses will be selling for $3 million each so how is this helping to get affordable homes? I don’t profess to be an expert in assessing the worthiness or otherwise of historical houses and there are societies who are far more versed in the value of these but if elected to council in October, I will listen to all parties to try to negotiate a resolution.

    In summary Jim, I hope this answers your questions and I’m sure that if I had more information, I’d be able to make more informed decisions but rest assured that if elected to council, I will undertake to do everything I’ve stated and will welcome dissenting views. Guy M; these questions should be asked not just of all mayoral candidates but also all councillor candidates.

    Toni; I agree! Jill Day undertook to limit rate increases to 3% but was then one of the main instigators in spending more to cause rate increases to 15.6%. You’re correct that councillors consider that they know better than residents and proof of this is in the meeting on 20th October where Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons together with Rebecca Matthews, Teri O’Neill, Jill Day, Jennie Condie, Tamatha Paul, Sean Rush and Liz Kelly voted against the proposal to work with communities on neighbourhood planning and the impacts of density.

     
  18. Ray Chung, 19. January 2022, 7:05

    Jim, Claire and Toni; I omitted to mention rate increases. I’m tempted to say that if elected to the council in October, I’ll vote to restrict increases to the inflation rate, however, this may not be possible when given the full information. I do consider substantial savings can be made in the WCC budget though, and have been told where $150 million can be saved without any effect on council services. The problem as stated earlier is the current council have no experience or expertise in analysing these budgets so millions are unaccounted for. I will look to these areas to make the savings to stop these continuing rate increases.

     
  19. Julienz, 19. January 2022, 8:29

    Thanks Ray for your comprehensive response to Jim’s questions. I am interested to hear in depth explanations from every person that wants my vote. Are other candidates prepared to also comprehensively respond to Jim’s questions please?

     
  20. Jim, 19. January 2022, 10:56

    Thanks for taking the time to respond Ray. We may disagree on certain items but I appreciate your answers. Good to know where you stand. As suggested by you and Guy – it would be good to hear from others in the running to these questions.

     
  21. Helene Ritchie, 19. January 2022, 11:11

    Thanks Jim for your questions and Ray for your responses. This here on Wellington.Scoop is a far better more open process than the multiple but non transparent questionnaires that councillors are plagued with at election time from lobby groups.
    I also would be interested in responses from future city and regional council candidates and any team manifestos. I want detail, not just housing, transport, climate change etc and I would be interested to know in detail how each candidate thinks they will achieve their professed goals and by what accountability measure.

     

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