Shelly Bay, a beautiful, if run down, part of Wellington is fast becoming the election issue of note. The WCC is desperate to shut the conversation down, but it is not going away anytime soon. It goes to the heart of matters, which is about trust of our Council.
When Peter Jackson barks, the whole city stops and listens. So, when he recently embarked on a campaign over the future of Shelly Bay, journalists everywhere stopped what they were working on and started to produce copy frantically. The resident’s ears pricked up and the WCC moved rapidly into response mode.
If you wanted an indication of how sensitive the issue is to the WCC, then look at the speed in which they responded. For a Council that can take decades on some issues, they were responding within hours. Internally, they went to ground. Emails I have seen show, as we know, that Councillors were effectively told to shut their mouths over the issue and get back in the box, while the PR machine kicked into overdrive.
But why is it such an issue?
Because it has all the elements of all election issues boiled into a small microcosm.
Transport, Climate Change, Consultation, Housing, and Green Space.
Worse, for the WCC, it is a highly visible issue that has the potential to damage the trust that the residents have with the Council. Trust is the absolute measure that any government body worries about. Because if we do not trust the government, then their ability to change things is badly eroded. When we reach a point where we believe that our elected officials are not behaving with our interests at heart, democracy is broken.
What most Wellingtonians don’t understand is that the move by the WCC to declare Shelly Bay a Special Housing Area destroyed any chance of constructive consultation over what the space should be used for. That designation means that the Council does not need to consult in the usual way, effectively locking out the public being able to feedback on plans.
It was called “horribly un-democratic” by Andy Foster.
Then came the retort of sorts; the land belongs to the Iwi, they can do as they wish with it, it won’t cost the Council more than so much, and so on. But the point remained, the residents had been locked out of the process, and trust was eroded.
Getting in and out of Eastern Suburbs has become a nightmare of epic proportions, not just a peak time, but also in other parts of the day. Exacerbated by the bus debacle, meaning more cars on the road, travel times can now stretch up to an hour with gridlock starting at the airport and continuing into the CBD.
So, when the WCC supports dozens of new dwellings being built at Shelly Bay, the first thing the residents asked is how you will deal with the extra traffic?
That’s never been answered, and what Peter Jackson has exposed is that the building of that infrastructure has been recommended at one size, and the Council appear to be trying to back down on that to something lesser. It’s important, because first of all, the new development will have ramifications on Miramar and the commute to town and second the cost of infrastructure will be high, i.e. yet more rates increases.
Then there is Climate Change and destruction of the environment. To build even the minimum infrastructure requires devastation of what is a special piece of coastline. But no one gets a say.
Wellington has an issue with a sea-level rise that a lot of people refuse to believe. Part of that is the expected Climate Change impact the other is the fact that Wellington is sinking due to plate tectonics. If you drive past Shelly Bay on a day when we have a high tide and a decent Northerly, you can observe the sea trying to reclaim the land.
In a time when we are being warned to stay away from building on the coastline, this development does not appear, on the face of it, to be heeding that advice. Again, the costs of that decision in the future could be enormous.
Housing is an issue for Wellington. It’s a tricky issue because of the various factors involved; however, what everyone agrees is that more affordable housing is required. Despite original promises of affordable housing being part of the mix at Shelly Bay with any future development, it appears this may be less than the case.
The land at Shelly Bay and Watts Peninsula in general, is worth a great amount, because of the location and views. There is no way that a developer is going to want to invest in anything less than a Clyde Quay style development where only the very rich can afford to live. Neither are the very rich going to be tolerant of social housing being next door to their $3 million townhouse or apartment.
The Council has been landed in the middle of this shambles for a couple of reasons. First, the land that they own and second the consenting process.
Wellingtonians, rightly, expected some consultation on the development but feel as if they have been completely shut out. With the release of the emails from Peter Jackson, there is a feeling that there is an underlying agenda in play, and residents hate that with a passion. Remember the Island Bay cycleway?
That is undermining the trust in the WCC, again, and is not helped by statements from the Council that appear to show they are completely on the defensive.
Rather than being transparent about what has happened the WCC, who had a choice on this, have moved to shut Councillors up and produce generic, legally safe, statements over the last week or two.
It also creates the perception that there is something to hide.
It’s not helping, here are some comments from Wellington Scoop readers over the issue:
- The District Plan went through public hearings and even the Environment Court, so trying to sweep it aside by the stroke of a pen in this way is horribly anti-democratic.
- HASHAA means there will be no public submissions allowed. As I said it was a nasty piece of profoundly undemocratic legislation.
- Why on earth is this Council still siding with big developers & major fossil fuel emitters against its community & threatened ecosystems?
- We know the Council use the words ‘consult with community’ and let us write submissions but we know they do not listen. I feel the Council are listening to people who want to make a buck. For me as a ratepayer I feel betrayed by the Council, incensed by the increases in rates and with no acknowledgement of the council’s many mistakes and lack of vision.
- WCC councillors seems to miss the point that ratepayers are fed up with the money spent on litigation, over-budget projects, vanity projects and fixing projects that have gone wrong.
Andy Foster, Iona Pannett, and now Diane Calvert have all gone on record over Shelly Bay in the past few days despite being told to be quiet. Diane notes that in the scheme of things Shelly Bay is only part of a much larger plan for the peninsula.
Of course, with the level of distrust present now, any other plans for the Eastern Ward are not only likely to be viewed with a great deal of suspicion but probably will be the subject of protest, warranted or not.
Residents I spoke to are confused, for the most part, vilifying the Council, and several noted that while Councillors from the other parts of the city have spoken out, the local ones have not.
Sarah Free, Simon Marsh, and Chris Calvi-Freeman have not said a single word on the matter, and the residents are looking for something from them. “After all,” said one person, “they are meant to be representing our interests, and if they don’t, then I won’t be voting for them again.”
What is unknown in the scheme of things is what else Peter Jackson will choose to release over the next few weeks and months. The WCC would do well to get its house in order and release anything that is contentious before Peter does. It would go a long way to restoring some trust, even if there is evidence that they stuffed things up.
Further, the WCC would do themselves a great favour if they outlined their role in Shelly Bay, plainly. Right now, they are perceived as having full control over the development, when that is not true. It’s like the bus issue; generally residents believe that the WCC is responsible for the bus service when it is not.
Better to get any skeletons out of the closet immediately rather than have them dragged out during election time. Otherwise, this will be the issue that defines these elections.
And frankly, we, the residents, deserve better transparency and respect from the WCC who are seemingly stumbling on this project as well as others.
Right now, this issue represents the concerns that residents have across several policy areas, effectively wrapping it up in a gift basket for opponents.