Wellington Scoop

Rewriting history, and election-year spin

by Ian Apperley
Rewriting history is the advantage of those who hold power. It appears that we have some history books being edited around Wellington’s current Mayor and CEO.

Worse, some recent city council press releases appear to be carefully written to support specific candidates. In election year, we expect better from the council. Sadly, it looks as if we are seeing the spin machine kick into fifth gear.

It started with a press release from Celia Wade Brown in which she said she was glad that amalgamation was off the table, despite her support for just that very thing back at the start of the triennium. CEO Kevin Lavery came out in support at the same time as well.

That press release started to drift into some areas of Pollyanna nonsense:

“It is good that the Commission has recognised our significant progress recently on water supply and economic development – with the establishment of Wellington Water and the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency.”

Well, water supply is a contentious issue with my sources telling me the relationship between the WCC and Wellington Water is rather strained in a number of areas. As for WREDA, the Local Government Commission says it is suffering “issues” and needs more time to bed in.

WREDA has, in my opinion, been one of the biggest lemons of the current regime. It’s delivered nothing in three years, still isn’t delivering, it coattails on to WCC press releases, and its CEO Chris Whelan is often criticised by local business as not being available. I have tried, and failed, to get a sit down with him. Worse, the entire construct is private, meaning there is zero transparency on its affairs. Given it is responsible for half the Council’s portfolios, this is appalling.

In an otherwise fulsome press release from the Department of Internal Affairs:

Economic development: more time is required for the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency to bed in – councils should consider a review by late 2017 if issues remain.

We have been held hostage by WREDA for three years and we are expected to wait another year and a half before we start a review? That’s madness. Review now. The economic portfolio in this city is weak.

Kevin Lavery’s pre-election press release includes more fantasy. A pre-election report is a requirement under law and is meant to be transparent and honest. In it he describes how he believes the city is performing.

“We’ve come a long way in the last three years,” says Mr Lavery. “Projects like the new Tech Hub, transforming Victoria Street, stronger air connections with Canberra and Singapore and the proposed Movie Museum and Convention Centre will all help grow the economy, generating more revenue to spend on essential services – plus new and exciting projects that will make Wellington an even better city.

This is laughable. In three years they’ve put in (another) tech hub (they are starting to fall from fashion due to their dubious effectiveness), screwed up Victoria Street while holding hands with the NZTA, and bought an air connection to Canberra of all places!

This Council promised over twenty projects at the start of the triennium. Exactly zero have been completed.

Mr Lavery says the city’s future success depends on a strong working relationship between the city council, the community, businesses, neighbouring councils and central government. A healthy relationship between council staff and elected representatives is also crucial so that council decisions can be implemented quickly and effectively.

Yet this is a Council that has been described as having a “toxic culture”, has locked its elected officials out of its offices, and run a North Korean style control process to ensure that councillors can’t have a voice. Any councillor who steps out of line gets called into the Mayor’s or the CEO’s office.

I have a friend who is a left-wing liberal. He said to me the other day, “I never thought I’d say this, but getting rid of the Wellington City Council in its entirety, even through privatisation, would be a good thing.”

I want to remind people of Island Bay’s controversial cycleway and butchered consultation. Owhiro Bay, where residents were ignored over concerns about a camp site. The shambles around density housing, and again, the lack of consultation. Support for an airport extension that makes no sense, spending ratepayer cash in a clear case of corporate welfare. A total lack of support for local High Tech companies, preferring to buy international products over local (better) products.

A botched consultation over the Hutt cycleway. Bad consultation in the Eastern Suburbs over cycle options. No overall progress on public transport. No progress in transport at all. Poor key performance indicators across a number of council services. Doctoring business cases prior to public release. Multiple complaints to the Ombudsman that have been upheld. Not being able to tell what the actual rate rise is each year.

A high degree of absenteeism from certain councillors. A poor relationship with central government, across many agencies and at cabinet level. Twenty communications staff with far less consultation staff. In-fighting.

They have managed to do some things. They painted polka-dots in Bond Street.

This is a truly awful political construct and badly performing organisation that we are funding.

Don’t forget that when you start voting. And watch for more rewriting of history in the next few weeks. Ask yourself when you read the rhetoric and promises: “How?” How is it that they are going to change the mess that they have got themselves into, and if they don’t recognise the appalling state of the current situation, then should you be voting for them at all?


  1. Will, 1. August 2016, 8:27

    “The economic portfolio in this city is weak.”

    Jo Coughlan holds the Economic Development portfolio. You couldn’t be more right, Ian.

  2. Trevor Hughes, 1. August 2016, 8:42

    Great column. This must be the worst performing Council in Wellington’s history. It has failed completely to address key transport issues like the Basin Reserve chokepoint and the second Mt Victoria tunnel. It has fomented division and extremism in the community over cycleways and cat bans. It hands out ratepayers’ cash in secret to corporates and professional sports – there is no transparency or accountability. Time for a cleanout in October. Everyone who cares about Wellington must vote.

  3. Jack Little, 1. August 2016, 9:19

    Give me a break, Will. Wellington CBD growth was faster than Auckland last year and did you miss the international retail store opening on Lambton Quay last week?? Economic development portfolio is the ONLY one actually achieving anything – I guess you’re secretly hoping your saviour from the north will come and give your hopeless mates in charge of transport a ‘leg’ up just in the ‘nick’ of time? No thanks!

  4. Charlotte, 1. August 2016, 10:04

    I agree with Jack Will. The Economic Development area is the one area which has been delivering and is showing some vision.

    I think that Ian’s article is very fair.

    What worries me is the relationship between the WCC CEO and the property developers and in turn their pet candidate – the Mayor of P Town. I guess any concern about high rates, pool and library closures and bans of cleaning your car are overridden by the knowledge that the Mayor will do your bidding.

    Trevor – good luck in your campaign. I hear that you are planning to run. Good on you. I thought your submission on cats was excellent. This is an area where the WCC is acting far outside its authority. Was this explained to the Council by the CEO and Mayor???

  5. Laidback Chap, 1. August 2016, 15:43

    Fantastic, Not only do you need to ask How, you actually also need to ask Why.

  6. Richard Keller, 4. August 2016, 8:44

    Before we dismiss the elected WCC for the private sector, let’s look at the ‘why”. It is most visible in Island Bay where the perhaps surprizing outbreak of US-style Tea Party populism has dominated. The uproar has not been about cycleways or lack of consultation, but about cars, and in particular the traditional total dominance of the motor car in long term transport planning. There is found a more profound angst than economic development failures, contentious water organization relationships, etc.

    Currently in the capital the greater focus on carbon issues can be found at the airport with the proposed extension of the runway. There will need to be less tourism and less air travel in a carbon constrained world. The extension is an expression of desperation at that realization. The Airport company’s shabby analysis so far is an indication that the fight will be primarily cultural and political rather than legal and rational.

    Until that realization settles the local body election debate, there will be more random ranting like Ian Apperley’s above which just plays into the hands of the desperate like the Airport and mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan.

  7. time for change, 4. August 2016, 10:12

    Richard: It’s Celia and co who have pushed the runway extension and showered ratepayer money at the airport company. And Justin Lester who has airport chairman Tim Brown of Infratil endorsing him by video on Justin’s website for the same donated ratepayer funds reason. It’s the centre-right and moderate candidates Nicola Young and Jo Coughlan who have said that if the airport runway extension stacks up from an overall perspective then they’d be happy for council to invest. Not by donating funds but to get some return on the investment for ratepayers. Ironically your labour/green councillors have a) failed their supporters by backing the project and b) demonstrated their fiscal ineptitude with a signalled willingness to just give funds over.

  8. Ian Apperley, 4. August 2016, 16:21

    Hey Richard, This isn’t ranting. This is fact. This is a Council that has delivered nothing. Give me three things that have achieved other than painting derelict laneways that no one gives a toss about.