WCC Election News from the Campaign Trail; Magical Thinking, the Art of Pork Barreling, Policy MIA, Transport War

Are you bored yet? This election campaign, that should now be in full swing, is one of the most boring that I have witnessed so far in the many years that I have been writing about this Council. We’ve got all the usual magical thinking, pork barreling, total lack of policy, and people promising to fix things that they have no control over today, nor will if they win tomorrow.

As predicted, Transport and Shelly Bay dominate the top of the issues. Isn’t it interesting that Climate Change has taken a very quiet back seat in the last two weeks? While a Climate Emergency was declared, once again the environment has slid well down the list of election issues, showing perhaps how we prioritise it when the noise is all over.

Back and forward over the last week on Let’s Get Wellington Stuck as the continued allegations of central government tampering with the recommendations burn brightly. We all know that LGWN has been an epic failure, yet no one candidate has stuck their hand in the air and just said it.

God only knows why not, are they scared we won’t get funding? Are they scared of the central government? First off, no one can afford it anyway, not in its current planned form, not without emptying Wellington (which perversely, would at least get rich people moving.) Second, hello, there is a general election next year, and guess what will be at the top of the list of the complaint. Transport.

LGWM is broken. The first candidate to say it gets votes. Is it fixable? Damn straight, and the answer is easy, rather than listening to politicians that are running ideological battles on the left AND right, and politicians that are horse-trading to further their interests, listen to the experts, stick with the prioritised plan, and get on with it.

Right now, the only candidate getting close to that is Andy Foster;

As it stands LGWM is unbalanced, unworkable and unaffordable. This is a failure of leadership, and also shows the dangers of ideological decision making. As Mayor I will change that.

Political compromise on roading is unacceptable – Andy Foster

The whole thing is a massive screwup as this article points out.

Wellington City Council doesn’t have enough money to fund its part of the indicative package anyway, even if they borrow more, so they’re lobbying for things like lifting restrictions on how much the city council can charge for carparks and holding out for Housing and Urban Development Authority legislation that will allow them to buy land and capture some of the uplift from it.

Let’s Keep Wellington Waiting: $6.4b regional transport plan mired in doubt, uncertainty and accusation

Diane Calvert is having a crack at the shambles as well;

How do we get it back on track?

Cut back the programme to a manageable and achievable level, action NZTA advice and re-prioritise and re-sequence the big stuff – tunnels and roads.

NZTA have advised that the extra Mt Victoria tunnel should be built before mass transit. New leadership in both Wellington City and Greater Wellington will better support this expert advice.

As Mayor, I will get SH1 improvements back on the agenda and ensure they are not continually side-lined. Anything less will mean that businesses and people will walk away from the eastern side of our city.

Getting moving, with what we can afford – Diane Calvert

Nope. People won’t walk into the city or cycle (that’s far too dangerous once you hit Evan’s Bay and the CBD, they won’t go into the city at all. Sure, the airport travellers will need too, but there is already a growing trend out East to stay out East and stay out of the CBD, which, as we will see later, is not in a great state already.

Out East, people are talking up office blocks and relocation of business to that side of the airport so they don’t have to travel into the CBD, tradies are talking about limiting themselves to that side of the city, and the cost savings of staying out of town are significant, as is the increase in better mental health, and as working from home becomes far more prevalent residents aren’t heading into town.

They can’t, because at several peak times a day now, and on the weekend, the travel time is getting up toward 48 minutes. IF you can get into town, good luck finding a park, the food costs (for those who do not prepare their tasty lunches prior) are more than twice that of the local cafes, and buses are also broken.

We’re creating mini-satellite cities in our Wards because transport is frankly, £$&*!

Justin Lester responded in kind, saying that he can fix the problem.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester has promised “significant progress” within three years on Wellington’s proposed Mt Victoria and Basin Reserve tunnels, and increased wages to help solve the city’s bus driver shortage.

He also plans to set up a regional transport authority to take over public transport, parking and roading; help lower public transport fares; and develop a cycleway network through the city.

Lester revealed his plans to Stuff on Monday as part of his transport pledges should he win a second term in October.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester promises bus network fix, progress on tunnels

I smell a pork barrel.

The reality is that the WCC has almost zero control over LGWM and no control over buses other than to use Twitter to embarrass the GWRC. Any candidates that tell you different are wrong. God help us if they set up yet another “transport authority”, that will have no impact on the current issues and will be, like all “authorities” so far, be at the whim of central government ideologies. It won’t work.

No candidate has come up with any significantly different approach to transport, even though several strategies could help unlock this, and I doubt very much they will come between now and voting day. Transport, generally, is still stuck in 1970’s thinking and the key to fixing it is to jump forward to the 21st Century.

Boring. And expect to hear it all again next year when the local candidates for the general election roll out the same rhetoric.

Speaking of transport, it became the latest point of attack at Shelly Bay this week with Enterprise Miramar having a crack at the Wellington Company and the entire Shelly Bay resource consent mess.

Since 2016 Enterprise Miramar Peninsula Inc has been raising issues about traffic safety and congestion that will arise if the Shelly Bay Development proceeds. The revised application submitted by the Wellington Company has failed to address these concerns.

The revised application increases the predicted vehicle numbers from those in the original application for consent which EMPI succeeded in overturning last year. (A peak of 4700 vpd to 6000 vpd on Shelly Bay Road).

Concerns continue about traffic safety and congestion on Shelly Bay

This minor issue shows the spurious use of numbers by all parties in the debate with little basis for fact in any again. As we commented recently, none of the players in this tragic comedy has any credibility left.

Justin Lester came out on the attack in a small press release supporting development at Shelly Bay, missing, I think, the reasons that Shelly Bay is an election issue. Justin took an “anti-development” angle of attack, my words, whereas the issue of Shelly Bay is not one of people not wanting to develop it, it’s how that develop has come to be, what good development could be, and the utter erosion of trust in the WCC process that brought it to this point along with their connection to the Trust, The Wellington Company, and other parties involved including Mau Whenua.

The overwhelming reaction I’ve had from Wellingtonians during my nine years on the Wellington City Council is that something needs to be done at Shelly Bay. Proud Wellingtonians repeatedly tell me that Shelly Bay should be a jewel in the crown for the capital city, but instead it has become a rusting eyesore.

That’s why I have been very supportive of Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust and The Wellington Company plans to develop the area. I was pleased the Council, in September 2017, voted to support the deal with regard to the parcel of land the Council owns at Shelly Bay.

The development plan involves creating good quality housing, parks, walkways, retail shopping, cafes and a ferry connection to the Wellington CBD using a rebuilt wharf.

Council consulted extensively on the proposed development and acknowledged there were differing views within the community supporting and opposing the development.

Justin Lester: I support plans to develop Shelly Bay

“Council consulted extensively on the proposed development.”

I say bullshit, as does the majority of the city I suspect.

In a slap in the face to the current Mayor and Councillors the Dominion Post ran a piece that talked to the previous three Mayors of the city and concluded that the city had “lost it’s heart.”

The city has lost its “heart and soul” and needs a leader who will “grab it and turn it around”, say the last three mayors of Wellington.

Mark Blumsky, Dame Kerry Prendergast and Celia Wade-Brown identified Civic Squarepublic transporttraffic and a faltering cultural capital reputation as the key issues facing the city.

Former Wellington mayors weigh in on city issues and say it’s ‘lost its heart’

Nothing new then. Shelly Bay also appeared in the list of issues as did traffic to and from the Eastern Suburbs.

The city has taken quite a knock since the Kaikoura Quake with rising insurance premiums, businesses closing, buildings being taken out of action, and the near-total closure of Civic Square a knockout blow to what was a very vibrant and essential part of the CBD.

Wellington is feeling a little tired and rather than strategies to revitalise the central city we’ve seen a series of moves, such as increasing parking costs while reducing capacity, that has had an adverse effect. Once upon a time shopping in the CBD was a thing for locals but these days with the rise of large shopping centres that have free parking and are more accessible, even if you have to drive another ten kilometres to reach them, the Golden Mile is starting to look more like the Bronze Mile.

Events don’t hold the same gloss and allure. WREDA, our very expensive white hope designed to boost the city’s economy across a range of areas still remains a failed experiment, in my opinion, producing next to nothing other than coat-tailing press releases and hot air from time to time.  

Where we have talked above about how the WCC has little or no control over certain election issues, this is one area where they have total control, and aside from doing up a couple of alleyways, not much has happened in the last triennium. The CBD certainly has gone backwards.

For those of you that have visited Christchurch over the years since their heart-breaking earthquake, you’ll know that the city’s suburbs are now booming because people will not travel into the newly built CBD that at times feels soulless. Wellington, to some extent, is experiencing similar with significant house prices and rents fuelling the growth of other cities in the region rather than our own.

While Wellington is growing at the moment, which provides an opportunity to invest in change, we all know that when Avatar finishes filming in the next two years along with a potential change in government that traditionally de-invests in the public service, an economic downturn is on the cards. The city must prepare for that now.

Skyrocketing rents are destroying Wellington’s quality of life and the city needs to use the council’s balance sheet to change things, an economist says

Shamubeel Eaqub said inclusionary zoning, densifying to bring on more housing supply, and taking more risk off private sector balance sheets were among the options available to stem rent rises that had now overtaken Auckland’s,  according to data from Homes.co.nz.

“Wellington used to be the best place for a good life in New Zealand, but not anymore,” Eaqub said.

Wellington no longer the best place in New Zealand for a good life

All the red flags are there, all the warning signs are blinking, yet the WCC does not appear to have set themselves on the correct course for the storm warning. The breeze is starting to rise and failing to invest in fundamental aspects of the city’s infrastructure, and economy could cost us dearly, all in a climate of rising rates and vanity projects that are not affordable.

In the next few days, we’ll be switching from covering media stories to covering candidates. As we approach the day the election packs are posted, we’ll be taking a no-holds-barred look at who is likely to win, who is likely to lose, and a potential future Council and what that might mean.

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