Wellington Scoop

What matters for our city in 2022

by Benoit Pette
As this year is coming to a close, it is a good time to see how Wellington has negotiated the challenges it is facing. And the airport? Not much has changed: it keeps saying that expected traffic growth makes expansion necessary, when it’s the expansion that’ll lead to increased traffic.

The appeal against the designation enabling expansion is still underway, led by a group of courageous residents (you can show your support by donating here). But the city council is nowhere to be seen or heard on the expansion. One councillor went as far as claiming the airport is not an issue, a demonstration of lack of interest.

Equally nowhere to be seen is the spine of the Regional Council in the Shelly Bay debacle. Early in December, quietly, resource consents were granted by GWRC, without notification:

“On 6 December Independent RMA Commissioner Christine Foster determined that that application can proceed on a non-notified basis.”

I am afraid that unless the Maori Land Court rights the wrongs, this will go ahead. In hindsight, it was inevitable: the only people who had the opportunity to seriously block the project are sitting at the City Council table. We know now that Labour has no interest in seriously addressing the housing crisis, while favouring a “bull in a china shop” approach. So, in hindsight, it’s not surprising the Labour bloc at the WCC voted for the lease and sell off the public stretch of land at Shelly Bay, including the councillors who, when they were candidates, said they would oppose it.

Shelly Bay continues to be a case study for everything that can go wrong when behind closed doors deals are done between a handful of people with deep pockets. Everyone else, the iwis, the residents, future tenants and future owners, future generations and Nature have lost in the Shelly Bay debacle.

What is also sad is that Shelly Bay won’t make a shadow of a dent in the housing crisis. On this topic, the Draft District Plan (DDP) consultation closed before Christmas. And so did Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) one week before (if you missed this consultation, you should not worry as there are another 8 years of it coming). I am tempted to correlate both consultations as they are intertwined: how could one want to develop the transport spine to the South (via LGWM) without wanting more density between the CBD and Island Bay (via the DDP)? If you were of the view that light rail should go East, as it was envisaged since the program’s inception, then you would be out of luck as it’s not proposed anymore.

At least, the LGWM consultation was easy to engage with, probably thanks to the years of experience the team has acquired in this craft. The DDP, on the other hand, had nothing for people with a life: the information was made available through a geospatial website, which led to technical pages with legal lingos at every turn. If you clicked over a tiny four pixels square, you would be blessed with the option to print the 1,226-page document. This consultation would have been sufficient to give consultation fatigue to the most wilful residents. Combined with other consultations, many would have been discouraged from taking part.

This has been the life of residents wanting to engage in local democracy over the past couple of years. Divisive, long and complex consultations on the Spatial Plan, draft and then final, LGWM, cycleways and now the Draft District Plan. At least, all this work landed in a clear direction: housing intensification will have to be close to the city centre, along a transport spine, while making the city greener. Alas, all these months, all this energy and effort to come to a concise direction for our city have just been flushed by our central government with this:

“From August next year Auckland Council, along with city councils in Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch, will have to allow up to three houses, up to three storeys on the vast majority of sections – without a resource consent.”

No matter the years of city-wide consultations, no matter basic rules of urban planning, no matter common sense, three-storey buildings may now appear anywhere, and chances are you will know it’s happening next door to yours when the diggers turn up, and that’s no matter where you live, close or far from the CBD, close or far from a transport spine. You may be advocating, like I am, for more housing (as I did here for example ), but this new law has been cut with a rusty chainsaw and we will pay for it collectively for generations and it may in the end create more problems than it solves, as explained here by Nemo.

All is not doom and gloom though. Everyone will remember the bustastrophe when the trolleybuses were decommissioned and replaced with +30 years old diesels from Auckland. This was a lifetime ago, in 2017. But according to Metlink’s website, things are almost back to the level they were then:

“In November 2021, of the 445 buses in Metlink’s fleet in and around the Wellington Region, 38 are electric vehicles (making up 8.5% of the fleet). Throughout 2022 and 2023, NZ Bus is planning to roll out an additional 42 more EV’s. Stay tuned for which routes you’ll see these on.”

It’s not yet the +10% of the fleet we had in 2017, and they’re coming five years too late, but it’s something to be optimistic about. That’s not all: the electric ferry will soon be commuting to Eastbourne, ten fully electric airport flyer buses will roam between the airport and the railway station by mid-2022, and there is a plan for the bus network to be fully electric by 2030. I am cautiously hopeful that Wellington’s transport network will have finally entered the 21st century in a decade.

Less clear is what will happen to our water management, or the state of our water network. Sewage in the harbour keeps occurring (this piece is a sobering read), but there seem to be fewer geysers. Rubbish eruption might be next on the list though, with privatisation showing its true face. Pretty much at the same time as water issues started to – literally – pop out last year, rubbish bags were failing to be collected on time in some places, sitting on the side of the road for days. All I wanted for Christmas was a good rubbish collection.

This brings me to rates. Higher rates will make this city more unaffordable. But on the other hand, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys, and we don’t want that (think water infrastructure). So I am not personally unhappy about a rates increase, but I am merciless when it comes to how the rates are spent. This is why I get a rash each time I pass in front of Tākina. This project was questionable when it got voted, it became worrying when COVID started, even more so as our awareness of climate change awakens. This white elephant might have had a role to play in income diversification, but if the point was to “depollute” the asset portfolio, we will probably find this will have the contrary effect and increase air traffic. Sadly, it may be that Tākina’s purpose mirrors its design: outdated even before opening.

In conclusion, I am still not convinced we are on the right path, or that we have the right people in charge to face the monumental challenges like housing, climate change and transport. Next year, however, is an election year. At this stage, only one person has announced she is running for the mayoralty, and that’s Tory Whanau, the Green candidate. I hope I’ll get to hear her vision, her strategy and how she intends to differentiate herself from the others.

Some City Councillors, on social media or elsewhere, feel it’s fine to belittle people who disagree with them, even when they’re residents. Next year being election year, this type of behaviour may become commonplace. I hope however candidates will instead be more focused on articulating their policies and why they are a better opportunity for Wellington; I hope they will want to convince with the force of their arguments rather than by denigrating their opponents.

Maybe the summer break will help everyone to focus back on what matters for our city and to build on what makes it unique: a blend of interesting history, an incredible natural heritage, and a rich and inclusive social fabric. It is up to us, next year, to not let this go to waste.

This is an edited version of an article first published on Benoit Pette’s Inside Wellington website.


  1. Claire, 2. January 2022, 14:06

    Nemo’s article points out the 3×3 on a section problems that can arise, as the inner city has smallish sections and uneven ones at that. It also points out the problem of putting a six storey building in the middle of a suburb.
    Commercial areas in Newtown are four storeys already. Build there. And brownfields are everywhere with terrible examples of seventies buildings ripe for rebuilding. A master planned development in selected areas with high design would be best.

  2. Ray Chung, 2. January 2022, 16:55

    Good article Benoit; I’m pretty much in agreement with your viewpoint but I’m a little confused about peanuts and monkeys? The rates (peanuts) that we all pay have no effect on our monkeys! The amount they’re paid is determined by the Local Government Commission. I made a submission to the WCC that they make 9,410 the constituency number for each representative (councillor) so that legitimises the Maori ward rather than the 14,810 constituents for every other ward. But the councillors would then have a larger number of people (monkeys) sharing the same pie (peanuts) so would be paid 30% or so less. Whilst I consider this inconsequential, as I’d like to think the councillors are there to make Wellington a better place for all of us and not to fatten their wallets, there were councillors who didn’t agree! I wouldn’t be fazed if councillors were just paid expenses with no salary as they used to be some years ago. But I agree with you that there’s an exorbitant amount of ratepayers’ money that’s wasted and if elected, I will put all my energy into stopping this and balancing our books.

  3. K, 3. January 2022, 13:38

    “What is also sad is that Shelly Bay won’t make a shadow of a dent in the housing crisis.“ What rationale is behind this statement? The Shelly Bay development will add 350 high quality dwellings that will house over 1000 Wellington residents. It will make a significant dent in the housing supply deficit in Wellington.

  4. Fleur Fitzsimons, 4. January 2022, 8:49

    Safe and hygienic collection of rubbish should be motive, not profit. The contracting out experiment in local govt has been a dismal failure – time for a change. Could Wellington’s shortage of rubbish truck drivers lead to a smelly catrashtrophe? [via twitter]

  5. aom, 4. January 2022, 9:44

    I wouldn’t be too optimistic Fleur – look what happened when the Council brought the predecessor to City Shaper in house, we lost more of our waterfront and nearby publicly-owned sites as well.

  6. Ray Chung, 4. January 2022, 10:58

    Fleur; I wouldn’t have any confidence in the council doing a better job of collecting the rubbish than having private contractors. It seems to me that the council has proven itself to be inept in any sort of commercial activity and I can quote strengthening the Town Hall and the St. James Theatre. I dare say it will be the same with the Civic Centre and the Central Library. Can you name one thing that the council has done on budget? The Cobham Drive cycleway? The Island Bay cycleway? It seems to me that the council keeps growing, increasing staffing levels, increasing rates but are they doing any more or becoming more efficient?

  7. Claire, 4. January 2022, 11:23

    Fleur: any private company’s motive is profit. This includes developers who you have voted to ransack the inner suburbs in the erroneous hope they will provide affordable housing. You and Labour have gone backwards to the Key years, when further back to the Savage years is what’s needed.

  8. Steve, 4. January 2022, 20:32

    Thanks, a good summary of some key issues facing Wellington. I would add the intention to create SNAs as part of the DDP to the list of key issues. Simply put, the SNA policy is at best misguided with poorly formed national, regional and local policy and now unworkable rules being proposed by the WCC for private urban landowners in Wellington who happen to have commonly found native bush.
    In short no good will come from this policy, yet it seems many councillors are either ill informed about what harm this policy will cause or would prefer to make grandstand comments such as “we are facing a climate emergency” while voting along party lines to force SNAs with little concern for our indigenous biodiversity and Wellington ratepayers.
    For 2022, my hope is that common sense will prevail.

  9. Toni, 5. January 2022, 13:08

    Let’s face it, neither residents nor councillors stand a chance of being well-versed to make decisions. A 1,226-page document for the District Plan amongst the multiple number of screens one has to navigate, compares to the regular mammoth Agenda documents and associated material councillors are expected to read and absorb in very short timeframes. All of this makes it impossible for well-informed decision-making. The responsibility then rests with council officers to “advise” councillors, but too many times their advice is not transparent, unbiased, or well-founded. Hence the mess we see ourselves in.

  10. Claire, 5. January 2022, 14:50

    Experience always helps in making the best decisions. Maybe that’s why councillors voted along party lines. Let’s hope there are more mature and experienced people voted in next time.

  11. John H, 5. January 2022, 17:33

    Ray; re staffing levels at the WCC. I have worked with the Council in the past and have friends who still work there who I keep in touch with. I can assure you that staffing levels are often very lean across the board. Many business units are woefully understaffed, positions are often left empty for considerable time if anyone leaves, and staffing levels and salaries are often lower compared to other comparable (or even smaller) TLA’s (and certainly the Government sector). I recall how capital expenditure budgets were often way out of alignment with operational expenditure budgets. If a unit needed money to buy a new widget, it could often be found. However, if they needed the staff to operate that widget it was another story (to the point where the lack of staff started to have H&S implications). If you are serious about standing for the Council, I suggest you find out the real story before starting a mantra about bloated staffing levels and salaries.

  12. Joolz, 5. January 2022, 17:48

    Ray. Unless you’re suggesting a reversal of the policies which saw professional skills stripped out of the public service/councils, which took place decades ago, then you’re merely fiddling while Rome burns.

  13. Toni, 6. January 2022, 11:57

    It might well-be that staffing levels in accordance with the levels WCC sees as acceptable are low, but when we see WCC advertising for a “Creative Storyteller” I find it very hard to take claims of shortages very seriously. At what stage would a creative storyteller be able to provide experienced and intelligent solutions to the massive problems facing Wellington City, apart from being creative about telling us how well WCC is doing?

  14. Ray Chung, 6. January 2022, 13:08

    John H and Joolz, many thanks for this and I most certainly will ascertain the facts before making any judgements or decisions. Thing is, there are always two sides to every story. I was advised that the WCC is renting 40,000 red road cones for $18 a day when they can buy them for $32 each. This sounded unbelievable so we asked Diane Calvert (Onslow-Western councillor) to substantiate this. Diane said she’ll investigate but her understanding was that the WCC has insufficient storage and that’s why they have to hire these from the OPEX budget rather than CAPEX which is the opposite of your experience buying a widget. Regarding WCC salaries and workload, I’m basing the increase in salaries on public information and of course, I can’t ascertain whether these positions are worthwhile or not but I can confirm that the WCC advertised for a “storyteller” at $130,000-$145,000. This position was to tell the public about all the good things that the council is doing. Just based on this job description, I’d want further information on what difference this will make as the council already has a PR division. I also asked Andy Foster if the councillors analyse the council budget but they don’t, so who does?
    Joolz, I’m not suggesting that professional skills are stripped out at all as I don’t know where there is “fat” in the WCC or even if there is any but see the costs increasing all the time and the payment for contractors continuing to increase. So should some of these contractors’ functions be replaced by permanent staff? If that’s the case, it’ll be justification for increasing staff. The problem as it is now, is that we don’t know. As a public body, everything should be transparent but it’s not and we have councillors who aren’t adequately experienced and qualified to understand how to analyse this.

  15. Toni, 6. January 2022, 20:43

    Totally agree Ray

  16. aom, 7. January 2022, 9:07

    The cone story sounds like the neo-liberal line all over again – the Council is not to be in the business of business. Instead, the placing of cones has to be contracted out – $17 at a time. No wonder, according to folklore but probably true, a young smart UK-domiciled Kiwi decided his best would be to come home, buy cones and set up a contracting business. So the story goes, he has done very well for himself by seeing what was going down in the UK then working out that ticket clipping the rates and tax dollars was the business to get into. Ever notice that where one used to see widely spaced cones, they are now cheek by jowl. That ‘H & S’ rort of course requires specially configured trucks and assorted support vehicles along with ‘workers’ of the like that used to be criticised for ‘leaning on their shovels’! Of course a healthy bounty charged as profit on top of the wages.

    Sooner or later, the contracting out ethos that was placed on/imposed on the executive branch will need to be overturned by democratic or some other means. Of course, road cones are only one example of ‘investor’ enterprise, and probably the least that the ratepayers are stumping up for, given the inflated costs that constantly emerge with anything the Council touches.

  17. Ray Chung, 7. January 2022, 14:28

    AOM, thanks you for this and I absolutely agree with you. I omitted to say what Andy Foster replied when I asked him if any councillors analysed the WCC budget; he said that this was too complex and beyond the skills or experience of any councillors. I don’t claim to have these skills to be able to understand the WCC budget either, despite having written Business Plans for 25 years. But I consider that an examination of how the council works is overdue. Chief Executive Barbara McKerrow came to do a presentation at our (ORCA) AGM and we asked what she was doing to improve efficiency and cut costs in the WCC and her reply was that the WCC is doing everything it can to achieve these objectives, but when we asked for examples or a percentage savings target, she was unable or unwilling to give any examples. The audience found this disappointing and so when we saw the 15.6% rate increase, we couldn’t see that anything had changed.

  18. Toni, 7. January 2022, 23:08

    A report in the Guardian says many local authorities are taking their out-sourcing back in-house and “78% of local authorities believe insourcing gives them more flexibility, two-thirds say it also saves money, and more than half say it has improved the quality of the service while simplifying how it is managed.” One of the biggest insourcing programmes has been in the London borough of Islington. “Following its 2011 fairness commission, the council has brought back about £380m of services, helping to improve the pay and conditions of 1,200 frontline staff and generating net savings of about £14m for the council. Services brought back in-house include building cleaning; housing repairs and maintenance; waste and recycling; grounds maintenance; and temporary accommodation.” The report argues that the economic case for insourcing means all councils should consider it. “In an age of austerity, councils can no longer afford outsourcing failures. Most can deliver quality services at a better price and without sacrificing the workforce on the altar of the lowest bidder.”

  19. Ross Clark, 10. January 2022, 3:23

    The airport has been there for a lot longer than the majority of people in the Eastern Suburbs. Where the opposition to its expansion would be better placed, is in the proposal to extend the runway – which is very bad transport economics, never mind anything else.


Write a comment: