Fiddling while Rome burns; now is the winter of Wellington’s discontent. It’s time we broke democracy; everyone stand for Council.

Over the past week, three issues have dominated local media. What we could call the death of the city by a dozen large cuts, the ongoing bus shambles, and what happens when you call for big ideas for the future but can’t define one.

It’s starting to feel like the city has been left on “set and forget”, for far too long. A loose sailing term where you point at your destination, set the boat, and then leave it to sail itself. All well and good if conditions don’t change, but they have, significantly, and while the crew is sleeping the boat is now heading off happily to South America rather than the warm waters of the Pacific.

These opinion pieces tend to bring the councillors out because in an election year, those that are trying to retain their seats, who feel it necessary to over spin their successes and defend the ramparts of perceived progress while having a crack at those of us asking questions.

The Dominion Post ran a fairly lightweight but interesting piece this week titled “Not absolutely positive about Wellington.” It’s interesting for a few reasons that we will get to, but basically, it pointed out the ongoing woes across the city that don’t seem to be being managed all that well.

The bus transport system is pretty much stuffed, apartments are in serious woes with earthquake work required, more and more buildings are being shut down as earthquake risk, Civic Square is dead, housing is completely unaffordable, rates increases, a CBD impacted by fiddling with car parks & costs, rent is going through the ceiling, major projects are not started as promised, LGWN is akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes, serious congestion, Councils are not working well together, transparency is broken, the Council is not trusted, the omnishambles that is Shelly Bay, infrastructure is creaking, and in the middle of all of this the City Council is effectively powerless.

Now, the article didn’t list all those things, I got carried away and added a few. It feels like the triennium of fiddling around the edges. Upgrading city alleyways, some of the shortest cycle lanes on earth, critical repairs of infrastructure, and some good work around social housing to be fair, that does goes well beyond fiddling.

In the middle of all of that a Climate Emergency is declared with no substance or plan behind it other than some aspirational goals. Frankly, I would have held off on that until just before the election as it has created an excellent distraction on the real issues.

The article was fascinating for a few reasons.

First, Paul Eagle seemingly supported the views, albeit by just being interviewed, and that seems a bit of a slap in the face for his Labour Party colleagues on Council. Perhaps he is going to exit the beehive and have a crack for the mayoralty? Why not? He’d win in a landslide.

That’s pure speculation of course.

The only person who seemed to come out in support of the WCC was Ian Cassels, which, is to be expected, a lot is riding on the current crop retaining their stranglehold on the city in terms of his current and future work.

Tagged to the bottom of the article was a poorly written “opinion piece” that bumbles about a bit before latching on the old “if you don’t vote you can’t complain, and nothing will change” narrative that gets rolled out this time of year.

It’s a silly old statement for a variety of reasons the foremost being that if you don’t think the candidates that are running for Council are up for it, then don’t vote for them. If given a choice of three idiots to fly your plane, none of which have a pilot license, and told you had to pick one, why would you?

It’s my opinion that if you want to make a change, you run for Council itself. The more, the merrier. Let’s get a few hundred people on the books. Let’s see eighty candidates for Lambton Ward. Let’s turn that ridiculous voting book that comes out into a veritable bible of Wellington candidates. Nearer the time we’ll be letting you know how you can easily put yourself forward and end up on the ballot.

Let’s break democracy by getting five hundred candidates on the books.

Perhaps then people will vote when they have some real choices rather than what is shaping up to be potentially the most boring election in decades. If nothing else, we’ll end up with a wonderful coffee table book of locals who want to put their hand up.

Frankly, that’s probably the only way we will see any change.

Then this week the Local Government conference, which went ahead without a new convention centre I might note, and a “Big picture ideas for Wellington at Creating Tomorrow forum.”

Except there were no big ideas put forward. Not really.

So, then Roger Blakely wrote an opinion piece titled “Big hairy ideas are needed for the capital – here’s why.”

He listed some ideas as;

Big ideas at the 2018 Forum included: better connection between the city and the region; a city that adopts restorative justice principles; and a nanotechnology solution to remove toxic pollutants in the Mt Victoria tunnel.

I’ll just leave that there, clearly good ideas, but certainly not big ideas.

Why are we not getting any big ideas?

Because we keep asking politicians to come up with them, that’s why, and politicians are generally older with fixed thinking about how to solve problems. They’ve run out of ideas. Their ideas are long over the use by date.

“Moaning”, I hear you say, “Where are your big ideas, and what have you done?”

Well, according to the Dominion Post opinion writer I get a free right to complain because I vote, but other than that;

I’ve worked on and off with community groups across the city over the years pro bono, I’ve supported practical ideas “forums” with support from the Council at the time, I spend far too much time trying to highlight what Council is doing via this platform than is healthy.

But the Council does not listen. Whether you vote or not, they do not. Or, if they do, they are rare and in turn shut down by the archaic machinery of the Council proper.

Here is an example. A practical example of an idea was developed some four years ago and taken to the GWRC with WCC blessing. It related to public transport. We suggested that the train and bus apps have real-time information and that it could show how crowded a train or bus was, allowing people to plan their routes and avoid congestion.

The GWRC spent over $20 million on a fixed RTI system that is blatantly inaccurate, instead, when we estimated the cost of building the app in the tens of thousands.

Recently, Google adopted that group’s idea, announcing a trial for a group of global mega-cities that shows congestion on public transport so you can choose to skip a ride for a less busy one. Good enough for Google, not good enough for the GWRC. Nope.

Here’s another big idea we had. Make public transport free. It’s happening all over the world, it is affordable, and it solves a lot of the downstream effects we see above.

The point is, I have thought about it, just like thousands of others in the city that have as well. But they get no airtime, and because the trust is broken, and often the reception borderline aggressive, we’ve given up.

Voting won’t help that.


Running for Council will, which is what we shall examine next. It’s cheap, easy, and incredibly effective.

2 thoughts on “Fiddling while Rome burns; now is the winter of Wellington’s discontent. It’s time we broke democracy; everyone stand for Council.

  1. It is $200 to run for Council so definitely a massive deterrent for people. Great article otherwise, agree with the points made!


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