Wellington Long-Term Plan Consultation and Analysis

The WCC is currently in a concise consultation period looking for feedback on changes to this year’s plan. There is a myriad of changes, and we thought we’d look at what those were because, for the busy reader, it is a sophisticated collection of data.

You can have your say here.

First up and best dressed is the Resilience and Environment category which sees increased funding for two reserves, the Kilbirnie Pump Station, Built Heritage Incentive, and Coastal Structures. Added to the list is the “Band Rotunda.”

We think that the increased focus on resilience is good, but don’t think it goes far enough. Given the unique nature of Wellington and its underlying risks around earthquakes and storms, we should see a large proportion of our rates going toward protection mechanisms.

Housing and Community wellbeing is confusing. The Arlington development sees a “reallocation of funding”, Alex Moore Park sees a “change in funding”, and Community Housing Support sees “new funding.”

Given the issues around housing in the city and the fact we have a high-degree of homeless living in the central city and in cars around the coastline, any additional assistance is reasonable. However, we don’t understand that reallocation and changes in funding practically means. It could mean anything. We say that needs more clarification.

Transport has one change, to cycling, which states “change in timing.” Buried in the detail is the fact that it appears that changes to cycling will slow down including a redesign of the Island Bay shambles. Cyclists aren’t going to like this much, that’s for sure. Neither are the Island Bay residents.

It seems like there is very little going on in the Transport category apart from cycling. We think that’s a mistake. While outlying years have other initiatives, even those are weak in terms of overall transport transformation.

The Convention Centre sees a reduction in costs.

We think the Convention Centre is a total waste of money. Research has shown that around the world the need for Convention Centres is dwindling and we risk spending hundreds of millions on a building that will merely remain empty for the greater part of its life. Modern economists agree that a Convention Centre is just not worth the investment.

In Arts and Culture, the Town Hall and St James Theatre see an increase in funding.

Given that it has been many years since there has been any substantial progress, particularly with the Town Hall, we are highly sceptical that any progress will be made this year. We note that the WCC has voted four times for funding for the Town Hall, followed by the usual PR nonsense about how wonderful this is. Do something.

The rates differential is changing; basically, commercial property will see an increase in rates.

We think that with the additional compliance costs already being forced onto business additional rates burden, with no line of sight to how rates are spent to support business, is foolish. Over time, the cost of doing business will increase, and smaller businesses that are already struggling will be forced to try and find further savings.

Fees go up across the board from Parking to Pavement Permissions.

We think that while some services should see an increase the continued attack on parking and car driver’s is disingenuous. We know the WCC is “boiling the frog” when it comes to its hate affair with cars in the city. Slowly, little by little, the cost is increasing, and the availability is reducing. Again, this only hurts people who require the use of a car, which has jumped significantly since the bus debacle and will drive (literally) people out of the CBD. Long term it’s a losing strategy, and more analysis should be done on alternatives.

Before we get into some more esoteric analysis I think you could broadly see this plan iteration as one of a significant increase in costs right across the board including all rates and still pouring money into vanity projects such as the Convention Centre, when that money could be reallocated into far more important areas like resiliency and keeping costs down.

For a Council that is quite left and aligned with the Labour Government, this is interesting because as the draft plan stands, it will undoubtedly cause more hardship to residents and fails to deal with issues that could alleviate that hardship, such as transport.

Now, listed on the consultation site is an interesting document that looks at how operational spending by the WCC is going to change. We had a completely non-scientific look at that to see where money spend is being decreased.

Here are some highlights:

–    Town belt and other green type activities are seeing a reduction in spending as is pest management. Interesting given the continued rhetoric from the WCC about the Environment.

–    The Film Museum is well and truly dead, at least budget-wise, with zero money allocated. Potentially an oversight as at some point it is going to reappear, and Council will have to engage.

–    Generally, the Libraries take a hit financially losing some hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding on balance. We don’t know how current this is given that the central library was only shut recently.

–    While costs increase slightly around housing and development, at least two projects appear to be on ice with their funding stripped back dramatically. We can’t tell you what those projects are because the document is esoteric.

–    Transport sees a minor reduction in funding.

We think the Council should publish descriptions of what the line items are in the document. There are significant costs in there that have a single word description such as “Organisation.” Which is kind of funny, given that organisation is not a skill we’d associate with the Council.

Overall, the plan this year feels like a money grab from Council with almost nothing being delivered in return. Given that nothing material has been achieved this triennium, if I were a Councillor, I would be worried that I’d be held to account.

Overall it’s a C-Minus from us.