Andy Foster off to a flying start

I thought it was time to have a look back over the last three weeks to see what our new Mayor has been up to. After a bit of a slow start, mired down in recount uncertainty, the City Council suddenly kicked into life and began the process of stating intentions, creating strawmen, and kicking off conversations across the region.

Wellington may not be moving, but Foster certainly has been, along with other Councillors.

Work has gained momentum around the District Plan and the associated Spatial Plan with consultation expected to open in February 2020. It’s an important issue because the city is groaning at the seams with more residents expected over the next few years, housing is a key issue for Wellington.

Wellington City Council’s Planning for Growth project is a precursor to a full District Plan review that takes place over the next two years. This review will address a number of planning rules, and look at zones for high and medium density as well as reviewing 1930s character and environmental protections. A ‘Spatial Plan’ describing the principles behind these changes, and future direction for the city will be released for review as part of a public engagement exercise in February 2020.

District Plan review needed to curb future housing shortage

Let’s Get Wellington Moving released tenders for the planning and design components of the next stages of the plan. While those projects are not expected to be completed for a decade, potentially rendering them obsolete by that time, Andy has been bullish pushing for a faster result.

Those projects are not due to be completed until after 2029, although Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has said he will fight to bring that work forward. He needs to because the timelines on this work are ridiculous and amount to a “promises promises” grab bag that government can wave around like a trophy in election year without committing to a thing.

Wheels slowly starting to move on Wellington’s $6.4 billion transport revamp

As part of that momentum, and to tackle other significant issues, both the WCC and GWRC have had their first sit down meeting in what is hopefully a positive sign for future relations between the two, after significant relationship issues following the bus disaster. Top of that discussion was LGWM.

Greater Wellington Regional Council Chairman Daran Ponter echoed the Mayor’s sentiments, saying a number of initiatives, regionally and across the city, could only be achieved with the two councils working together on joint solutions.

“It was great to hear from Councillors from both sides on what success looks like for ratepayers going forward.

“The city has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with Let’s Get Wellington Moving, and it is up to both councils to bring it to life and help transform how people live, move around and connect to the regions in the very near future,” says Cr Ponter.

Wellington councils look to future success

In what will be seen as a great pick for CEO, the Council appointed Barbara McKerrow as the replacement for outgoing Kevin Lavery. Barbara will have a tough job ahead of her, reshaping Council machinery that is a bit wobbly while setting up to deliver the initiatives the Mayor and Councillors are laying out.

Her appointment was confirmed by councillors in a public-excluded discussion at a council meeting on Wednesday.

“We’ve all been very impressed with Barbara’s work over the last two-and-a-half years as our chief operating officer,” Foster said.

“Prior to this, she had an impressive track record as New Plymouth District Council chief executive for nine years.

“Barbara knows our city, the local government sector, and knows our council, its people, and the challenging but exciting work programme we are embarking on.”

New Wellington City Council chief executive hired from within

This Council has been quietly handed the results of the previous Council’s work in the tourism and economic area on a silver platter with a new report showing positive news up to September 2019. Tourist numbers are rising; employment is solid along with a boost in hospitality spend.

Interestingly, the report also noted that card spending had been boosted by spending on cars, with an increasing trend to spend on fuel and automotive repairs. That will be a worrying trend for city planners as it infers more residents or more cars, or a combination of both.

Councillor Diane Calvert, who holds the Economic Development Portfolio, says the figures show good news for hospitality businesses and retailers.

Wellington city merchants recorded electronic card retail spend of $3.22 billion in the year to September 2019, up by 3.7 percent.

This was driven largely by more people eating out and an increase in spending in the automotive category, like fuel, repairs and maintenance.

Cruise ships, tourism and local spending lifts economy

The Wellington Chamber of Commerce came out broadly in support of Andy’s vision for the next three years that was laid down this week, while at the same time making a not so subtle attack on Councillors who “are not on the same page.”

It’s unusual to get support from such a conservative creature such as the Chamber of Commerce, who have long railed against prior plans they see as negative for business owners.

“The answers to the transport, resilience, infrastructure and events questions we need to really get the city pumping lie mostly in the hands of councillors.

“From what we heard today, the mayor gets it but if councillors are not on the same page in their desire to get this city really moving then it’s going to be another long three years. Business will be doing its best to ensure that’s not the case.

“Building a tunnel at the Basin Reserve at the same time as mass transit, a parking review, fixing congestion, a spacial plan, a movie museum, a war museum, bringing cruise ships into the city, an arts and events update, support for emerging businesses – they’re among the mayor’s vision and are what the city, and the region, urgently need but they will not be achieved without agreement on the way to achieve them.

“This is a city-region opportunity because, though Wellington is the engine room of the region, they rely on each other for their economic wellbeing. It was great to see the mayors of Porirua, Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt at today’s event because their support is vital. I believe that’s the first time they have all attended a mayoral address organised by the Chamber, and that’s most encouraging.

John Milford wants councillors to unite behind mayoral vision

Interesting side note here, did anyone spot the “war museum” addition to the list?

From the same state of the nation type address this week, controversy over Andy’s desire to prioritise the second Mt Victoria tunnel over mass transit and intention to try and introduce a congestion charge, both of which have been a no-go for central government to date.

The congestion charge is notionally to offset the sheer cost of the various plans, though it is likely to go down with regular commuters to the city across the region like a lead balloon.

Also noted in that article was several other potential initiatives including the resurrection of the Movie Museum idea.

A new movie museum and prioritising a second Mt Victoria tunnel are firmly on the agenda for Wellington’s new mayor.

In a speech this morning to the Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Andy Foster outlined his vision for the city over the next three years.

He said coping with the demands of a growing city would be challenging, but there were opportunities to reap the benefits from it.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster outlines three year vision for capital

Finally, in the last two days, Foster went on what appeared to be an impossible mission to turn the Transport Minister’s head around on the priority of a second Mt Victoria tunnel. Twyford had previously said that the tunnel wouldn’t be brought forward, but according to the Dominion Post, the Minister changed his mind to say he wouldn’t rule that out.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford says he’s not ruling out bringing forward construction of an extra Mt Victoria tunnel.

Twyford met Wellington Mayor Andy Foster and Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Daran Ponter on Wednesday morning to discuss the $6.4 billion Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) programme, which includes plans for an extra tunnel some time after 2029.

Foster wants to bring the project forward so it is built ahead of a proposed mass transit system between the city’s railway station and airport, despite voting in favour of the proposed programme as a councillor in June.

Timing of capital’s transport projects up for negotiation once business cases are assessed – transport minister

Time will tell, and after all, it’s election year so you can throw all the previous debate straight out the window. If nothing else, it shows that the Mayor can get an audience with and speak to central government.

All in all, a busy three weeks for the Mayor and Council after a slow start to the triennium.