WCC Elections 2019: The Silent Eastern Ward Councillors; who are they, what did they promise, and what have they done?

It’s time to take a far closer look at the current Councillors around the city, and with the seething issue of Shelly Bay in the forefront of everyone’s minds, I thought we’d kick off with the Eastern Ward Councillors along with the one new candidate.

I will eventually cover the other wards along the way. However I think that the total lack of response from Simon Marsh, Sarah Free, and Chris Calvi-Freeman on the Shelly Bay issue singles them out for some special attention with this current hot issue.

I am curious to understand whether the three representatives of the ward have achieved anything, particularly against what they promised the residents at the beginning, and where they have voted and stood on the Shelly Bay issues.

Why the deeper look? Because I wonder if residents consider these three to be representatives of their interests any more or see them as ineffective tools of the wider Council machinery, which is often at variance with local communities. I’ll say that again; Council machinery is often at variance with the wishes of local communities. So, if Councillors are gagged, fall into party political lines, and are at the same time not being seen to champion residents’ concerns, then, well, they won’t last long.

Simon Marsh

A longstanding Councillor of the Eastern Ward Simon gets back in time and again most likely due to his name recognition. Like Chris and Sarah, he has remained completely silent, publicly, on the Shelly Bay issues apart from what was probably a tentative “like” on one of Chris Calvi-Freeman’s tweets promising the facts would be made known soon.

Councillor Marsh is responsible centrally for Economic Development, Small Business, and Events. I think it’s fair to say that most of those areas from a city-wide perspective appear to be much of a muchness from the last triennium and relatively stable despite Council’s best efforts to continually increase business rates, introduce more red tape in the business area, and stumble around trying to support inner-city retailers.

Let’s not even talk about WREDA…

In terms of Shelly Bay, Simon voted for an SHA, back in April 2015 despite a lot of local opposition to the idea, which effectively locked the residents out of having a say about what was happening in their ward.

Then, despite a lot of feedback from residents with concerns about the area, he voted again to extend the SHA in October of 2015.

But never mind the growing concerns, because in September 2017 he voted in favour of either leasing or selling the Council land in Shelly Bay to the developer.

Last month, April 2019, it was tabled that a review be undertaken of the Council’s part in what is now clearly an omnishambles of epic proportions. So much so it is now dwarfing the “bustastrophe” that is slowly causing the city to gridlock and choke in its fumes.

Simon voted to delay that review. A review, which would have arguably sent a strong signal to residents that Council was responding to concerns and at least heading for some stronger transparency.

In Peter Jackson’s now famous post, Simon Marsh and Chris Calvi-Freeman are accused of enabling a “modern day land grab.” What is abundantly clear is that Simon is right behind Council on this issue, boots and all, ignoring the calls by residents to speak out and answer their concerns.

But it’s not all about Shelly Bay, is it?

On Simon’s campaign website, which you can find here, he advocates for the Convention Centre (not a sod turned and a potential white elephant), a film museum (failed), a tech hub (what happened to that?), and supported the airport extension (ain’t going to happen.) Not a great hit rate.

It is with great irony that I notice the “What has he done?” link on the website appears to be broken.

Sarah Free

A relative new Councillor Sarah Free is reasonably well-respected in the ward and well-known. She holds the portfolio for Walking and Cycling, and Public Transport Infrastructure. Over the Shelly Bay issues, she has remained deathly silent despite the fact she is a Green, and any development is likely to have a very high impact on the natural environment, not to mention that their will be issues around cycling and public transport to and from the site.

In terms of cycling, she has made gains if you consider the mish-mash of cycle lanes that have appeared around the city success, but that has polarised the community. Much of Rongotai blame her for the cycle lanes that have been implemented that have caused a lot of community angst. Residents have great concerns about future planned cycle lanes in Eastern Suburbs particularly, that are already blessed with wide and safe streets.

Public transport has disappeared into a farcical comedy-drama, and while Sarah is responsible for that portfolio, she has been very outspoken about it and is also credited with minor changes to the network, providing some improvements, along with resisting price increases for residents. It is interesting that she has made some gain here where others have not. It’s also interesting that she has been very outspoken about this issue but refused to speak about Shelly Bay.

Sarah votes against the original SHA for Shelly Bay voted again against the extension to the SHA, however then voted for the lease or sale of Council land, a vote that is seemingly at odds with her previous stance.

She also voted against the delay of the Council review into the process to date.

Sarah’s original campaign website is also alive, you can view it here, and in her last pitch to be Councillor she promised various policies. Effectively they focussed on public transport (which we have discussed), as well as resilience, and climate change. Understandable give her Green ticket.

I don’t think any advances have been made in the resilience and climate change areas, which have suddenly become an incredibly hot topic. Of note is the Long Term Planning process that continues to put incredibly expensive vanity projects to the front of prioritisation in deference to the basics, such as resilient infrastructure, in my opinion. Ask Miramar businesses what happens to their toilets in a storm surge. Spoiler, they can’t always be used as the infrastructure is bursting at the seams and that slowly rising sea level is pushing things back up the proverbial.

However, on balance, Sarah has been quite engaging over the triennium with the residents, which is why it is absolutely puzzling she has completely lost her voice on what will be the largest political issue (like it or not) for the Eastern Ward and most likely the city. It’s out of character.

Chris Calvi-Freeman

Chris Calvi-Freeman has been one of three Councillors that is often outspoken and not always in tune with the Council song. The other three for the record are Andy Foster, Diane Calvert and Simon Woolf. It’s fascinating that he has not landed a public stance on what he thinks about Shelly Bay. He has an opinion, because you can see the frustration leaking through on Twitter from time to time.

Sadly, for Chris, he’s the Portfolio leader for Transport Strategy and Operations. If there is one thing that every resident agrees on in Wellington, it’s that transport has become considerably worse in the last few years. No more so than Chris’s home ward of Eastern Suburbs, where some commuters are now reporting more than an hours’ travel at peak times and heavy congestion outside of peak times. It doesn’t matter if you are in a car or bus, it’s a bloody long time to get to work each day from a suburb that is only five kilometres from the CBD.

The impact of transport on Eastern Suburbs from any development at Shelly Bay is going to be horrific. Not only the thousands of trucks required to move the detritus, but the hordes of tradies, an influx of tourists, and the hundreds of new residents that will have no choice but to use a car as public transport has not been planned to cater for that area.

Some of these are at the heart of residents concerns out East, but Chris has said absolutely nothing on the issues. Is it because, based on his limited voting record, he appears to be supporting this development?

He wasn’t around for the two SHA votes, and while he left early from the meeting to vote on selling or leasing the WCC land, it is reported that he spoke in favour of it before he departed. He then did vote in favour of delaying the review.

Chris’s original election campaign website is also still alive and kicking, which lists his policies (in great detail), should he be elected.

He wanted “better roads”, the second Mt Victoria tunnel, solving the Basin congestion issues, “better transport”, honestly, it goes on and on, nearly five thousand words worth. Most of the policies for “betterment” that are listed are completely at odds with the Shelly Bay development as we know it to be.

Chris is hardly known locally and in my opinion the weakest in the pack, particularly once you drive past the airport. It’s astounding with his depth of experience in transport that nothing much has happened in this area over the last triennium. He was specifically voted in to make a difference in this space and has spent the last few weeks not only hiding over the Shelly Bay issue but generally blaming other parties for the ongoing issues.

LGWM is not going to help either. It’s now been corrupted into some Frankenstein type of monster with the various ruling parties tearing it to pieces, bringing new parts to it, in a climate where it has been leaked so many times by so many senior political people it might as well be the world’s biggest colander.

But seriously, here are Chris’s credentials.

Chris Calvi-Freeman is a transport planning professional, with extensive experience in transport policy, public transport design & management, traffic engineering, and sustainable transport development. Chris led the team responsible for the Wellington region’s public transport in the early 1990s and designed the Wellington bus network that operated successfully from 1991 to 2018. In Australia, Chris was a senior manager in the NSW Transport Management Centre, responsible for traffic management & transport coordination for the Sydney 2000 Games and beyond. In London, as Head of Transport for the London Borough of Hounslow, he designed and oversaw a range of award-winning sustainable transport and traffic management schemes. Chris has been portfolio leader for transport at Wellington City Council since the 2016 election and is working alongside the Mayor of Wellington as the city’s representatives on the governance group for the tripartite Let’s Get Wellington Moving initiative. – Source

I’ll leave you with a final question; what has he been doing?

Teri O’Neill and other potential candidates

Let’s get something straight, as of writing; there are no other potential candidates for Eastern Ward. Right now, Rob Goulden could have a great chance if he chose to dust off the boxing gloves and Allan Probert wouldn’t be far behind. It would be that easy to unseat either Chris or Simon in the current climate.

Teri O’Neill is the only candidate and so far, has been rather underwhelming. Phone calls and door knocking has been carried out, but no clear policy has been expressed. Central to the debate will be the usual hot issues along with Shelly Bay, of which no statement has been made, which is strange because as a candidate Teri is not bound by the gagging order that the Council has effectively made on it’s current Councillors. Or is she?

Could it be that Teri is subject to the overlords in Labour Party central who are telling her what she can and cannot say? It’s something that potentially killed Lynda McGregor’s attempt at the last election.

Teri has a unique opportunity, right now, to insert herself into this process and effectively support the line of questioning that Peter Jackson has been taking. Questions that continue to fall on deaf ears of the local ward Councillors and Council in general. That’s a one-time gift that could continue to give throughout the campaign, but again, silence.

It’s not a great start for a candidate in the race and Labour are dreaming if they think that putting the big red logo next to her name is going to get her across the line. Generally, Eastern Ward likes independent thinkers and independent candidates rather than party political puppets.

4 thoughts on “WCC Elections 2019: The Silent Eastern Ward Councillors; who are they, what did they promise, and what have they done?

  1. To add to that …

    I met with Councillor Sarah Free mid last year to touch on number of topics in regards to the peninsula (runway extension, transport, Shelly Bay, etc). Her views then were as follow (and please accept my apologies, Sarah, if I misrepresent your views): she’s been of two minds about this project. Against, then for, then against, then … for, on the premises that increasing housing density was an opportunity to save more green spaces. She also argued that the council had made traffic impact assessments, and the outcome was that the grid would cope with the extra traffic. She was hopeful the buildings would be of great quality (which seems to contradict their other target to be affordable).

    I let that sink in. I am not traffic expert, but when I’m stuck in traffic mornings and afternoons, and even more so on weekends, I kind of can’t believe the assessment can be correct. And please, let’s not have a discussion on public transport on this thread, except that I wished we had a reliable & clean network. But it’s another point of frustration.

    On the housing density, I went back later to Sarah to suggest that, should Shelly Bay be concreted up the way it had been presented, it would help everyone to have, at the same time, at least some guarantee that all the remaining of green on the northern peninsula would remain green, and be transformed/enhanced/secured as a park. This does not alleviate the concerns around traffic or seal levels, but at least, show some acknowledgements the asset that is the north peninsula will not be eroded any further. I didn’t receive anyr esponse to that.

    Fast track a few months: both councillors suggested, on twitter, a master plan was needed for the peninsula, perhaps at the back of the draft published (and still available) in 2016. This however, happens a tad too late, and should have been debated, discussed and agreed on ahead of the Shelly Bay debacle, with the input of the community. I commend BID Miramar for organising a survey that could have fed in this discussion. Only a shame it wasn’t organised by our councillors we vote for.


  2. The Wellington Party will enable the demise of the Green/Labour dominatance. Announcements to come soon


  3. “What has Chris Calvi-Freeman been doing?” Working very hard behind the scenes to positively influence the “Let’s Get Wellington Moving” project and get it across the line. You’ll find out what this is all about very very soon. Prepare for the biggest investment in transport infrastructure (roads and mass transit) that’s been seen in a generation.


    1. Before fixing congestion by investing in new roads (or at least while we fix it), shouldn’t we have an investment of the equivalent amount to transition away from our petrol powered cars to electric? Failing that, aren’t we repeating a pattern that is at the cause of climate change? Investing in roads (which of course, will bring more cars) is, in fact, the status quo, don’t you think? How does it stack up with addressing climate change? Priorities are reflected in the size of investments we put towards one development or another, doesn’t it?


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