Wellington’s Growing Pains might be the death of it, Shelly Bay, the last straw for local democracy

As some of you know, I’ve started working back in the city, at least three days a week, after some months of relative isolation on the farm. The last couple of weeks have been an eye-opener for me, it is hard to fathom just how much the city has changed since COVID and the future looks dire.

The city itself feels emptier than usual. Those days where Lambton Quay bustled at lunchtime seem to be over, and with so many people working these days remotely, it’s no wonder. Wellington has been under sustained attack in the media lately, with every second day seeing another article about how terrible it is. Well, I’m about to add to the list I guess.
The Emperor’s New Clothes have well and truly been revealed, and the ugly truth is that the city is going through growing pains that may kill it. That’s right, growing pains. The move from spirited, wasteful, teenager to adult is proving a bridge too far.

Teenagers, interested in toys, vanities, and frivolous spending, while so concerned with their image must soon grow up. Adults must pay the bills, insurance, put money aside for maintenance, get a job to pay for it, and deal with harsh realities.
At the head of the city is the Council, who is not growing up, but seemingly regressing into childhood. The lack of maturity is astounding. Where they should be leading, they are into playground politics, schoolyard squabbling, and bad behaviour. The naivety is extreme, and most of them couldn’t govern their way out of a paper bag.

No Council has done this amount of damage to the relationship between the residents and local government ever. Not. Ever. I mean, there have been some abysmal decisions in the past decade that have damaged the trust between resident and Council, but, the Shelly Bay decision was a sledgehammer through whatever goodwill was left between the city and the Council.
I spent Saturday night in Wellington, we went to a birthday party that was hosted at Double Vision Brewery in Miramar. I have a very diverse range of friends, one of the topics of conversation was Shelly Bay and the Council. As well as those discussions, since the Council decided to sell their land at Shelly Bay, I’ve watched the feedback across social media and other communication channels.

Here’s the thing, I’m yet to find anyone other than the Councillors who voted to sell the land in agreement with the decision. At best, people are incredulous, and at worst, they are furious. The word “traitors” has been used multiple times across various channels.

The view is that the Council has betrayed, another commonly used word, their community, not so much because of the sale but because people were very opposed to it in that form. Worse, some Councillors who campaigned on NOT selling Shelly Bay then flip-flopped and voted to do just that. Teri O’Neill in Eastern Suburbs is going to be a one-term Councillor based on feedback out that way, as well a couple of others around the city.
The other piece of feedback is that the Councillors who voted for the sale and used the reasoning that it was helping Maori were either morons or deliberately playing politics. One person said to me “How exactly does selling city land to a rich developer help Maori?” Indeed.

Then, of course, are the issues of legality surrounding the land, still unresolved. Numerous issues raised about the ongoing costs of infrastructure, you can’t tell me that it will be capped at $10m, this Council has an almost perfect record of blowing out every project they put their hand too. The Evan’s bay cycleway has cost $20+m so far, so imagine what sewage, water, gas, and roading changes are going to cost to service Shelly Bay.

Then there is the simple economics of the land price, no doubt sold for well under its actual value.
I can’t get my head around whether the Council is just plain stupid, or there is some broader game in play. But as my great-grandfather was fond of saying, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Hanlon’s razor in action perhaps.

I went and looked up the definition of “stupid” which is, “having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense.” Isn’t that interesting? Because that term certainly applies to some Councillors and indeed some decisions of late.
Teenagers often lack common sense and indeed while being credited with intelligence, sometimes seem to fail to apply it. As a friend of mine said to his child at one point “For someone so smart, you sure can be stupid.”

It’s not looking good for Wellington. Public transport is collapsing slowly (not strictly the Council’s fault but they could act on it), WellingtonNZ (WREDA) is failing to bring back life to the city (not that they ever really did much other than suck up $20m plus a year), water pipes are stuffed, sewage pipes are stuffed, harbours and coast are frequently polluted, LGWM is going nowhere, the climate emergency amounted to nothing, rates are about to go through the ceiling, traffic is awful, the inner city after dark is a war zone, house prices are off the scale, the CBD is slowly dying, people are starting to leave, and the entire town is now considered worse than Auckland, something I would never have thought could happen.

In the midst of this, the Council, who are meant to be leading, have broken themselves into uneasy factions of which some are attempting to undermine the mayor and the more “conservative” Councillors. They’ve forgotten the face of their father, to coin an old phrase. The city means nothing to them, they are consumed with petty politics driven by a naïve allegiance to broader party politics.

Frankly, they need to grow up or resign. Because running Council right now means that all vanity projects, including the White Elephant Convention Centre, need to be pushed down the years instead of the critical, adult, stuff. And, they need to agree to work together on that plan rather than behaving like a pack of entitled, know it all, children.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t think they can shift out of the mode they’ve got themselves into, so, they really do need to be removed in my opinion. Shelly Bay was an interesting test, which has shown the whole city that the Council may not actually be up to the job.

Next; is it time for Commissioners to be brought in?