A mid-term City Council assessment and the Eastern mega developments

It’s that time of the term where we look back at the achievements of our  City Council, and the challenges that are still ahead. We are a little past the half–way mark of this term, and some Councillors are openly wondering if they should stand for the next election, in a bit more than a year. To make an informed decision, and help voters get to know their Councillors better, we browse here the closed and open issues, most of them being inflammatory. We will then ask  the appropriate Councillors for their position, and for their plans to address these concerns.

The unexpected

Before diving into the deliverables of this Council, let’s talk about two events that have been (mostly) out of its control. Of course, it’s hard to not think straight away about COVID lockdown.  Yes, it has opened so many new opportunities, but  it has been a huge challenge for our administrators, one that none of them could have possibly been prepared for. Another massive hurdle has been water pipes. Yes,  Councillors who’ve been around for some time wear some responsibility for the geysers or clog-ups that we’ve had since the end of 2019. But accountability is almost impossible here, so let’s agree, again, it was  another challenge the City Council must front up for.

What has been done?

What have been the salient points which have been in full control of the Wellington City Council in the last year and a half or so?

In chronological order. We had the safer speed limit, that got voted in. This was followed by the Shelly Bay vote (for the sale/lease of Wellington City Council owned land for the Wellington Company development at Shelly Bay). We won’t cover again here how upsetting this has been for our local democracy, but one day, bills will have to be paid, and for some, the due date will be no later than October 2022. We will just say this: ten storey buildings, at the end of a narrow, windy road, with no transport spine in sight, and a majority of councillors who were opposed to the development when they were voted in.

Then we’ve had the introduction of the Maori ward, which will be first seen in action in 2022. To be honest, I am pleased to see all the efforts to make our city more inclusive, with greater equality, regardless of the minority you belong to. It shows how progressive our little city is, and our City Council is a good reflection of that.

Spanning across 2020 and 2021, the Spatial Plan consultation occurred: to say this was divisive is an understatement, and its vote in June 2021 has left many haggard: the YIMBYs (whatever that means) screamed victory, but what’s the taste of that when “the other camp” is left with fear and grievance about losing what they feel makes Wellington so special? I had expected much better consensus building from the City Council, better engagement, and consistency across the different consultations Wellingtonians went through. Instead, it was a scream fest, and whoever clapped the hardest won.

In March, the Long Term Plan (LTP) was debated and voted on. The contribution to a “seawall” for the airport was voted out. The Council also voted a massive commitment to cycleways. What seemed very unclear, though, was how the LTP supported Te Atakura, a program that is yet to have a plan that will deliver the emissions reduction the city needs to reach its targets. So while the cycleways are a step in the right direction to reduce our emissions, it would be good to know whether everything else will stack up – as the flash floods on our South coast are only the beginning of what climate change has for us.

Wellington South Coast has been subject to significant flooding in April 2020 and March 2021

What’s still controversial?

There are so many controversies brewing up or already well advanced that you would think Councillors would be all out there laying out their  action plans, with open, cohesive communication. Let’s browse the points of contention.

Of course, Shelly Bay’s sibling is Mount Crawford. It would be interesting to get one view, just one, from one Councillor, on how they see this new monstrosity. Yet again, don’t scream NIMBY before having a view at the land yourself. I mean, there are physical laws you can’t bend, for example putting a truck in a shoebox. Well, that’s very similar here, all being relative of course. Neither Shelly Bay nor Mount Crawford tick any of the Spatial Plan guidelines.

Speaking about hearing our Council on the.single.biggest.development.project in Wellington, namely the Airport expansion – has anyone heard, apart from Tamatha Paul and Iona Pannett, any other Councillor, whether City or Regional, stating support or opposition? Or is everyone happy to throw the climate emergency through the window and the Eastern suburbs at the same time to satisfy growth, the economy, or any obsolete 20th-century pipe-dream? For all eco-anxious Wellingtonians out there, let’s remind ourselves aviation is responsible for 7-8% of worldwide emissions, and 20% emissions in Wellington.

And while on the topic of climate change, we are soon approaching the first anniversary of the vote for the Te Atakura implementation plan. We all remember how this “plan” didn’t stack up and didn’t give any confidence that Wellington will reach its emission reduction targets. The document, to date, has a 19 points gap between the reduction needed in 2030 (43% reduction target by 2030) and the reduction achieved if all actions are unrolled (24% reduction  by 2030, including central government actions). My question has been and still is: even with an LTP allocating funding to Te Atakura, how do we know it is even sufficient? If you find someone at the Council who can give you that information, please let me know.

The buses are, it’s said, being sorted. Very much like Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM), the progress is extra slow. Since 2017, the new temporary-old-buses/network/operating model plagued Wellington and killed the desire to use public transport.  WCC has been prompt to say it wasn’t their fault, it is the Regional Council’s (GWRC) responsibility instead. But then the Regional Council was quick to say it’s the bus operator’s fault. And if it’s not the bus operator, it’s the fault of the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) …So it has to be Stephen Joyce’s fault, then? Well, in this case, that has to be your fault then, reader/voter.

Beyond this blame game, daily cancellations continue to destroy confidence in our bus network, cancellations that Metlink is addressing by … reducing the number of scheduled buses during peak hours. Of course, the East, already subject to heavy traffic, hasn’t been helped by the constant deterioration of the bus service and the lack of airport flyer. The latter not being under operation today is solely the making of the Airport wanting to squeeze enough dollars to compensate for the loss of car parking on their turf:

I could talk about the Civic Centre or the Library, but the wind gushing through empty buildings is so strong there that any attempt to have a discussion would be covered by the noise. I could also allude to the promises about a Regional Park, north of Miramar (2016 and 2019) but the result would be the same. Very much like the shared path around the peninsula. And for heaven’s sake, please WCC, remove the draft of the Miramar Masterplan from your website (2016), it’s a disgrace.

I almost forgot the cherry on the cake (yes, it’s a black forest, the cherry comes on top of the icing), the promised traffic lights on Cobham Drive, where traffic is at its worst. LGWM admits the consultation is a tick box exercise, and the decision is made. Please residents, spare yourself some time, don’t engage. Yes, you too, the 7,500+ who signed the petition for a bridge. And if you need proof, here it is:

What next?

So of course, this may sound like a massive rant (although I do make suggestions from time to time, like herehere, or here). It is difficult, however, to ignore the ultra massive developments happening in the East: Shelly Bay ($500M), Mount Crawford (probably as much), the Airport 2040 Masterplan ($1B). One would argue that LGWM is solely for the purpose of unlocking the East ($6B). Altogether, that’s, you’ve guessed it, 8.billion.dollars to deface the Eastern suburbs. So how much is this über-plan clearly articulated? How much of it has it been the making of the residents, locals and Wellingtonians at large? How well has this been owned by our City Councillors and Mayor? Or are the residents of this city completely sidetracked and this is only the making of big money? How much do we have to gain from that? How much do we have to lose? What is the impact on climate? Is the East the most pertinent location for all this extravaganza?

All things considered, I find the City Council is more often a force to fight against than a force to get support from. The East is seen as an economic pump for the rest of the city, where any resemblance to local democracy and its residents are sacrificed on the altar of growth. All the heavy stuff is thrown at the East, but let’s pay lip service to their wellbeing by putting in traffic lights, it’s cheaper, you know. Traffic lights which soon will be in the way of all the trucks blocking SH1 day and night to cover the earth with tar, concrete, rock, etc, etc, etc.

So now that everything is laid out, I will be very keen to hear from the people who are accountable for all of this, our Eastern ward Councillors, and the Mayor. After all, assessing a situation from a bird’s eye view, proposing a vision, articulating a strategy: this should be their bread and butter. So I’m asking Councillors Free, O’Neil and Rush and Mayor Foster to spare an hour or two with me, please, to browse these topics in a recorded discussion which will be published on this site. A view, a vision, a strategy: a year away from the next election, it’s the perfect time to start sharing it with your electorate.