Lambton Ward: A Tale of Two Cities

Wellington Central is certainly a fickle place where some areas are dying, some are booming, the fiddling around the edges of policy has unintended consequences, and the economy feels sluggish. It’s important as a place of commerce and to pull in the tourist dollars. Increasingly, it is seen as the answer to Wellington’s booming population, but the persistent and material concerns around all types of housing are stifling progress.

I spent some time in the CBD this week, as the wind and rain dialled up in intensity the streets clogged with traffic and it was an altogether unpleasant pedestrian experience. What is noticeable is the number of empty office blocks and shops once you step off the Golden Mile. Anecdotally it feels like the city is in a bit of trouble.

The continued tinkering around carparks and traffic “improvements” along with the shambles of a bus service means the city is clogged. Latest figures show that the introduction of parking charges on the weekends has severely impacted many businesses, but almost with a random effect. The lack of public transport is driving, literally, people to other cities in the region to shop.

In the middle of this, we have three City Councillors that are all at varying corners of a triangle. Green, Red, and Blue. It is perhaps a little unfair to categorise them in this way, as we will see, as the Blue candidate is independent while the Red is a Labour Party member and Green, well Green.

Iona Pannett

Iona once said that she’d only stay for three terms on Council though we have it on good authority she’s going to stick around for number five. Her portfolios cover Infrastructure and Sustainability.

We think that she’s carried the flag well when it comes to sustainability and has made some good inroads into infrastructure, particularly around keeping the issue of earthquake strengthening front and centre, along with water supply. Sustainability has a feeling of going backwards at times, particularly considering the ongoing issues around waste management.

But you can’t win them all.

There is Green, then there is Iona, who is out on the edge of Green. She’s so Green she’s passed the Greens at their own game and frankly embarrassed them. And the ward loves her. In the last election, she had a margin of close to fifteen hundred votes over her second competitor.

Chances of her getting back in again are very high, she has a solid base of supporters.

Nicola Young

People often mistake Nicola Young for a National Party flunky, but this is not true. While leaning toward Blue, she is independent, and this is her second triennium as a Councillor. She has been described as “social liberal.”

Nicola’s portfolios include; Central City Projects, Education Partnerships; and associate Arts and Culture.

While we can’t comment on the education partnerships aspect, I am sure someone can, we do see Nicola active in the Arts and Culture space as evidenced by reasonably frequent and balanced social media posts.

Nicola is one of those quiet achievers that seems to have figure out that small bites at big project pay dividends and has been responsible for things like laneway upgrades, the heritage plaque scheme that tells Wellington’s stories, and an unwavering belief that we are spending far too much of ratepayers money.

That last point, around fiscal responsibility, is high on the resident’s agenda right now and could garner Nicola more votes this time around. With the city having to rethink big spending plans, even as most recently as yesterday, there is a feeling from the central ward it is the time that Council slowed down on the vanity projects and sped up on the basics.

Being the only centre-right type candidate on Council, and then mistaken for being true-blue, Nicola often comes under attack from the left and despite some rather horrendous commentary from time to time, takes it in stride, and carries on. A solid Councillor is coming into her own after two terms.

Nicola was a few hundred votes ahead of her next competition and gained almost the same number of votes as Brian Dawson, with a margin of just twenty-one votes. I think that she will be back next time, barring a candidate rolling in that has name recognition and is true blue, right leaning.

Brian Dawson

At number three, Brian Dawson is on his first triennium as a Councillor and putting aside some slips, and stumbles has managed to carry himself reasonably well.

His portfolios include; Social Development (excluding City Safety), and Housing.

Brian inherited Housing (sort of) from Paul Eagle. The social aspect of housing has been in relatively good heart over this triennium however wider housing has, through no fault of the Council, descended into a rather perilous place with apartments in trouble and housing growth relatively stagnant.

A lot of promises were made about social development back in the last election that haven’t come to fruition. Anecdotally it feels like we have more homeless, but we do see that social housing continues to be invested in. Given the heart of Council being neo-liberal the war between investing in social needs versus the basics is likely a challenge.

Brian is riding the Labour ticket this election, and we think there is room for a Labour candidate in this ward. Wellington is a Labour city and no more so than central. But he is at peril if we see a strong, well-known, candidate coming forth.

Other Contenders

So far, we are not seeing any well-known contenders coming forward.

Tamatha Paul, 21, from Tokoroa, and Victoria University’s first female, Maori Student President has thrown her hat in the ring in glorious, youthful abandon.

Here’s a typical Twitter post.

Tamatha espouses to be independent, and she certainly isn’t riding in with any party, though her views from what we can see are very much in the Green camp, to which she refers a lot.

That puts her squarely up against Iona Pannett, who don’t forget, is the boss of this Ward. As Tamatha would say, “hard.” It’s brilliant to see the youthful attack on this candidacy and what Tamatha will need to do is activate the youth to vote (ditto Teri O’Neill out East.)

The centre-right will vote for Nicola Young and “shoo shoo” the youth away while the conservative left, Labour, will vote for Brian. Tamatha is literally up against Iona Pannett. This is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Rumoured to be running, we can’t confirm, but it’s a good source, is Charles Finney. This is the bit where you go “who?” or “I think I know that name, but…”

I can’t for the very life of me think why we would, reading his bio he seems better suited to a deep policy advisory role in central government as opposed to a city Councillor. There is a lot of experience there.

If he entered the race, he’d be up against Nicola Young I suspect for the most part. A tough call given Nicola’s two successful terms and the fact that she is consistent in her approach, unlike other Councillors that can be given to flipping on issues from time to time.

We think that so far, it is likely to be more of the same for this Ward.