A conversation with Andy Foster

Mid-July, I wrote an article called “A mid-term City Council assessment and the Eastern mega developments”. This piece was an opportunity to look at our city, its issues and its opportunities. I also looked at how our City Council had navigated these troubled waters and is sailing towards the approaching icebergs (namely climate change, housing, transport or how to restore faith in our local democracy). I drifted to the East where mega-developments are lining up, seemingly without community input.

I closed the article in inviting the Mayor and the three Eastern ward Councilors to react and comment. Below is the transcript of my conversation with Mayor Andy Foster, together with the recording.

It is the second in a series of three (maybe four) conversations which, I hope, will give the readers of this blog a sense of how their elected members are faring the challenges the city is facing.

Music: https://www.bensound.com

Benoit Pette: Today is the 11th of August 2021. I am sitting with Andy Foster.

Andy Foster: Good day.

BP: Andy is born in England. Moved with his family at the age of five in Wellington, in the suburb of Ngaio, and then became naturalized as a New Zealand citizen in 1978. Andy, you’ve been part of several political parties, National, even the Greens, NZ First. And you joined the Wellington City Council in 1992, so this would be your 10th term, wouldn’t it?

AF: Yes, that’s right.

BP: A lot of experience there. Of course, this time you’re Mayor. Today we’re going to be discussing the city council, climate change, big developments in the east, the airport, Shelly Bay and Mount Crawford, and also a bit of engagement on how the council engaged with the community. How are you, Andy?

AF: I’m good. Looking forward to the conversation.

BP: You had a good break?

AF: I had a day.

BP: You had a day? All right.

AF: Actually, the whole family decided to go down to local government conference in Blenheim, and we were just staying just outside of Blenheim. That was in the middle of July. And woke up on the last day, and I was going to get the taxi from Spring Creek, which was where we were, and rang them up, and they said, “We can’t get there.” Went up the road about 100 meters, and there was just… With floods. Big sea of brown water. So we had to go round the back route, decided we’d get out of there pretty quickly. But God, formidable weather. It was just a staggeringly large amount of water going down the Wairau River and across through bits of Blenheim as well.

BP: Do you feel that the rest of the family has had a good break and feeling rested?

AF: I think they feel like that. We took one day afterwards to go down to Kaikoura which we pre-planned, to go see the whales. And just fantastic. Whales, dolphins, seals, sea birds.

BP: And the backdrop! The mountains and everything is exceptional, isn’t it?

AF: Beautiful. Beautiful.

The City Council

BP: Now that we are back in Wellington, and back at work, do you think that the vibe around the council table is better than it was earlier this year, for example?

AF: I do. Look, we’ve done a lot of work to try and bring people together. Obviously we did the whole Winder report. It was about trying to say to people, “Actually, have we got this right or not?” I think probably a lot of us felt we got off a bit lightly in Peter’s judgment, he could have been a bit tougher on us. But I think it was part of a wake-up call to say, “Hey guys, our city needs better than what we’ve been delivering, or been seen to be delivering.”

And look, there’s nothing wrong with disagreements. It’s how we disagree, and it’s how we behave that I think is the key bit. And I’m hopeful that going forward, the council will pull together. We’ve got some big things done already. That sometimes has gone under the radar, where we’ve got a lot more coming. And that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, to go, “Let’s get these things done on behalf of our city.”

There’s nothing wrong with disagreements. It’s how we disagree, and it’s how we behave that I think is the key bit. And I’m hopeful that going forward, the council will pull together.

BP: Actually, that’s interesting. Of course during your term, there has been the unexpected, such as COVID for example. Something we could have seen coming a little bit more, was the water issues we’ve had around town. But let’s assume it’s unexpected. What do you think, under this term, has been the biggest achievement by the city council?

AF: Oh look, I think we’ve landed a long-term plan that responds to some of the key big challenges. I mean obviously we’ve said, “Hey, we’ve got some issues with the Three Waters pipes and infrastructure,” so we’ve responded to that very directly by increasing funding, by putting money aside for condition assessment. We’ve got on with the Omāroro Reservoir, which had been waiting around for 15 years or so. So we’ve done that. I like to think we’re making some progress, and we’ve got some bravery to make some progress around social housing, and trying to fix the sustainability of that. We’ve got a spatial plan now, and we’re moving towards the district plan. So we’re planning for more housing. We’ve turned around Let’s Get Wellington Moving, from clearly what was going to be a failure to, there’s going to be some really big, challenging, meaty decisions in front of our community in the latter half of this year. So those are a few of the things.

And obviously we’re responding too, to Te Ngakau Civic Square at the library. So we’ve made some decisions about the library. The design work’s being done at the moment, and we’ve got a framework that we’ve consulted on for the overall redevelopment of Te Ngakau Civic Square. We’ll land that next month, and then we can get on with doing that. So those are just some of the big things that are going on. We’ve got a new arts and culture strategy, which will be signed off this month as well, after consultation. Very positive feedback from the arts and culture community on that.

And I suppose the other one is, we’ve actually got our community through COVID. Central city in particular have suffered badly. Work from home is a real challenge for any central city, Wellington, Auckland. It’s tough. And one of the things I’ve been very, very strong on, is trying to make sure we’ve got a really good events, arts program, that actually draws people into the city, keeps the business alive, keeps the arts and culture sector alive as well. So those are some of the things that top of my mind, that I would say they are achievements so far through this term, and more to come.

Climate Change and Te Atakura

BP: That’s really good. Something that was very prevalent in the long-term plan, was obviously climate change. And today’s actually an interesting day. Two years ago, there was obviously the climate city emergency.

AF: … By Wellington City Council.

BP: … By the Wellington City Council. Te Atakura – First to Zero was voted in to the day a year ago. And of course, in the space of a few months we’ve seen a lot of extreme weather events throughout the globe, which are really concerning: heat waves, floods and droughts. In Wellington, we had the South Coast being flooded in March, which echoed the one in April last year. And of course there is the IPCC report that was released on Monday. So there is definitely something going on. Do you agree that there is a shift happening in the climate at the moment?

AF: How do you mean? In the global climate?

BP: Yes. Do you think that this is happening now?

AF: Well I mean look, all the science says there is going to be. We’re seeing things happening now. Are those a result of climate change, or are they just a whole lot of incidents going on? I think you’d have to say they probably are the global weather system responding to climate change.

BP: So businesses, communities, central government, are expected to step up to change for a more sustainable world, and do what we can to climate change. Do you think local government has any role to play in this equation?

AF: I think we all do, central government, local government, business, individuals. Every single person’s got a role to play. The other bit I would say, is that we declared both climate emergency and an ecological emergency at the same time. I think I’ve done several speeches recently, where I’ve reflected on our ecological journey, because I was the one that said we should declare both at the same time, because there’s not much point being in a world where we saved it for ourselves, but we’ve eliminated a million other species. That would not be a great world. So we’ve got to look after both of those things.

BP: Okay. So having said that then, do you think that the Wellington City Council has done enough? What have we done so far to do our bit at a city level for climate change, and is it enough?

AF: I suppose the first thing would be to say, what’s the starting point? It’s not as though we haven’t ever done anything, and so the starting point means a lot of specific initiatives that the council has taken over many years to support, for example warmer, dryer homes, those sort of things. Sustainability Trust. But the big levers that we’ve got to pull, are in transport and urban development, and deliberate approach to say we want a compact urban form. This has driven the highest levels of walking, cycling and public transport, which have risen every year, ironically since I got elected. But since 1992, public transport use started turning round. And between public transport, walking, cycling, those numbers as a proportion of trips, have continued to rise. Now it’s because of that, and that compact urban form. And of course, we don’t have any manufacturing or agriculture to speak of. Very limited. The way we measure it, Wellington City is the lowest carbon emitted per capita in the country. So we have done some good things.

What have we done since the declaration of the climate emergency? Well first of all, we fully-funded the Te Atakura program. The fully-funding bit came in the long-term plan we’ve just approved. And so there’s a host of different initiatives which flow through that. But again, the big levers, we will pull all three of the biggest levers we can pull, in the next six months. Let’s Get Wellington Moving, in terms of transport, transformational changes will be proposed. The urban form of the city, in terms of the district plan, again, there’ll be some transformational changes which will be part of that. You’ve seen that flowing through the spatial plan, and that will obviously need to be refined to work with Let’s Get Wellington Moving. Our cycleway program’s part of that transport message as well. Then in the waste area, we’ve got some big decisions to make around sludge treatment. Why sludge treatment in particular? To reduce the scale of landfill extension in the future, and reduce waste, which obviously reduces emissions from that source too. So those are the big things that I think we could do as a city.

BP: Although, there is something that always keeps nagging me at the back of my mind, is that Te Atakura, as good as it is, and as funded as it is, still has some important gaps to fill. For example, the 2030 target is 43% in our emission reduction, and yet, if we roll out all the actions, the 20 odd actions laid out in that plan, it says that we only reach 24%. So we’ve got 19 points still to address, if we roll out all the actions, and they are all successful. So how do we close that gap, is my question?

AF: Well I think, as I said, for me the big three levers, that as a council that we can pull, are more sustainable transport, a more sustainable urban form… And that’s got to be done in a regional context. One of the things… Oh, I’ll come back to that just a moment. And the way we manage waste. So those are the places that if we’re going to pull big levers… Some of the other programs which are actually in Te Atakura, are going to be very small in terms of their impact. Those are the three big ones that we can do. What else is still out there? Obviously one of the things that makes life much harder, is the rate of population growth. And this is not a council policy. All we’re doing, is we’re trying to accommodate that growth. There is no government central approach to that. They’re thinking about it for the first time ever, which I think is a good thing. What skills do we need? Where do people live? How do we set this up in a way which is the most sustainable?

Wellington City is not going to be able to solve this issue on its own, but we do need to be working collectively. But there are some big elephants in the room, and some big conflicts between some of the government policy objectives, particularly housing versus climate change, if it’s not done the right way.

But at the moment the danger is, we want to get more housing. If that more housing is, in the Wellington context, scattered all up the coast, and people still commuting in, that is not going to be a low-emission environment. So there’s some real challenges there. Wellington City is not going to be able to solve this issue on its own, but we do need to be working collectively. But there are some big elephants in the room, and some big conflicts between some of the government policy objectives, particularly housing versus climate change, if it’s not done the right way.

Do we need a CBD?

BP: Well, that’s a really good point actually. Beautiful segway into my next question. I mean, concrete and construction in general are-

AF: Big emitter.

BP: … super high emitters, with no plan, and no roadmap to become carbon-neutral, let alone in 2050. During COVID we had remote working, which actually showed a lot of advantage with a lot less emissions of course, because people weren’t commuting. And I’m actually wondering if we were promoting this, trying to make working from home the habit and the norm, and we were repurposing office buildings into housing, not only would solve the housing crisis in six months, but we also avoid a lot of emissions by not building new roads, not building new buildings. So do you agree? Or I guess my other question is, Andy, do we need a CBD?

AF: Well, I think if we didn’t have a CBD in Wellington, we wouldn’t have Wellington. That’s the blunt reality of it.

BP: A CBD, or a suburb dedicated to the arts and social-

AF: But I think you’ve got to see it… Because I mean, one of the things that happens in a city, is people come together. There’s the relationships that are built. There’s the conversations that are had. The ideas that bounce off each other.

BP: Can’t we do that differently?

AF: Well you see, here is the great experiment, isn’t there? And I think that for some people the work from home works, for other people it doesn’t. Somethings it’s a mix between the two. But I think if we didn’t have the central city, which from a council point of view pays a very, very large part of our rates, and then from a point of view of the dynamism of the attraction, could you have a really great center for arts and culture if you didn’t have people living, working in here? I don’t think it would work the same way. I think that’s Wellington’s great strength, is it comes together. Look, it’s a great conversation to have. Whatever you do, unfortunately there is no parallel universe to try this out and say, “Well, do it this way,” and then go, “Oh crikey, that really didn’t go well.” Human beings have been coming together in cities now for millennia, and we’re social beings. I think there is a need for people to come together in a way.

I was staggered by this number when I was told it recently. The two square kilometers of Wellington Central City produced… Do you want to have a guess at what proportion of the country’s GDP? 11%! That’s a huge amount. So there’s a lot at stake here. There’s a lot of creativity, there’s a lot of fantastic new businesses. Not just the public sector, but it’s all the support services, the new businesses, the digital tech that’s coming up, the arts, culture. We’ve got a great central city. Everybody loves it. If you just take everybody away from it, it’s going to be hard, you wouldn’t have a retail sector in the same way.

BP: The retail sector could actually survive out of the people who live in what we call today the CBD, that would be called the arts center, for example.

AF: Well, you’d have to have a very large number of people doing that.

BP: Well there’s a large amount of people waiting to be housed.

AF: I think it would be an interesting experiment. The world’s changing. There are transitions that are being made. We’ve just got to work our way carefully, thoughtfully through this, as a community. These precious things about Wellington, one of those is the vibrancy, and the dynamism, and the creativity that we have in our central city. And that’s something which I think we should treasure. So as we make these changes, for me, I think we’ve got to try and make sure we don’t damage that fundamental part of what Wellington is.

BP: And I think everyone is very attached to that. In fact, in the spatial plan discussions or debates, the divide was between the people who want a roof, and the people who say, “Yeah, we’ll give you a roof, but we want to preserve the characters and what makes the city so special.” It will be interesting to have a discussion for people to say what they think is special about Wellington. For some people it will be the art. For some people it will be the access to the outdoors. For some people it will be because things are being compact. These kind of things. So it’s an interesting discussion.

AF: All of those ones you’ve just said come through, the proximity to nature, compactness, easy walkability, so much all in close proximity, central city does that so well. And then we’ve got all these fabulous little villages, and we can do more with those little villages around our suburbs. And one of the neat things about Wellington is that… and it’s probably a topographical thing… that each of our suburbs is pretty distinctive, where it starts, where it finishes. And its center, a lot of those are also very, very distinctive in their own right. In fact, probably most of them are very distinctive in their own right, and can become nurtured to be even more.

And that’s a really great part of Wellington, is that character, a sense of place. Where a lot of towns and cities, especially the flatter ones, it’s actually hard to know where one part finishes and the next starts, and there’s not a great deal of distinction between them. That’s part of the charm of Wellington. People love Wellington. There’s a lot of passion from our people, and a lot of, I think, respect and appreciation from a lot of people who visit, or think about Wellington. That’s why Wellington is rated so highly globally as a great city to live, work, and play, and visit.

The Eastern suburbs and the airport expansion

BP: Well, you talk about all the suburbs, where you have so much characters, and I totally agree, it’s really special to be able to go from one to another and get totally different vibes, whether you see the sea, or you can’t because you’re in the hills, or on the South Coast, or even the Parade. So there’s a lot to it. There’s one suburb in particular that is facing a lot of changes, and which you could argue has the potential, given the size of the developments, to shift the center of gravity of Wellington away from the CBD towards the east.

We’ve got the airport expansion, which is a billion dollars by 2040. We’ve got Shelly Bay, half a billion. We’ve got Mount Crawford, which probably amounts to about the same amount of money. So together it’s 2 billion. And of course we’ve got Let’s Get Wellington Moving, which you could argue is also designed to unlock the east, to give greater access to the east. However, I do appreciate that some people are saying that maybe we won’t take mass transit to the east, but to the south. Notwithstanding, so far the plans have been to make the transport to the east, to the airport, easier.

Andy, is there a master plan behind this? Is it wanted? Is it what the city wants?

AF: Well, it’s not going to be a short answer, this one, because I suppose the first thing I’d do, is to say I acknowledge every bit of things that you’ve said about the east, but let’s see what’s happening in the north. Well in the north, you’ve had massive investment in roading through the Roads of National Significance. You also have had very significant investment in rail, and there’s more to come with rail as well. So if you like, the Let’s Get Wellington Moving to the north is been happening, and the scale actually, is much bigger than to the south and east overall, in dollar terms. And then of course, you’ve got a lot of development which is going particularly up the coast, which was always going to happen, as soon as you start building highways up there. And of course, that goes back to the whole thing of climate change and how people get around.

Let’s Get Wellington Moving, I think you’ve already sort of said could be south or east, so we’ll park that south and east. So it’s going to connect both. In terms of where urban development’s going, the central city has taken the biggest load proportionally of any by a long shot, and we would probably like that to continue to support the central city, and that we think is more sustainable. The number of people who walk, bike, is very, very high. When you’re so close, it’s so much easier. So central city continues to do that. In terms of growth areas, the second one down was actually the north. Has been historically, has been the northern suburbs and there’s a lot of greenfields in there as well. So where is change going to occur? Well we’ve identified the key places where big growth is going to occur, in terms of population going forward, CBD, the mass transit route, wherever that may be.

Now, the east has a real challenge there. And the east challenge is resilience. Kilbirnie and the Miramar flats, are not great places to build a lot. You can build some, but they are very vulnerable in terms of the liquefaction, tsunami. All those sort of things are much bigger risks there, which is why we’ve actually dialed back the idea of developing a lot there. So Newtown’s obviously one that we’re looking at very strongly, along with the CBD. And then Johnsonville and Tawa, because of the major transport routes there, the rail routes. In terms of what’s going on in the eastern suburbs, the airport development will be driven by demand, particularly for parking planes, and larger planes, and volumes there, and the way the terminal’s developed. And obviously it would be fair to say that demand’s taken a hell of a hit over the last two years, but the domestic demand now is very, very strong.

BP: Do you support this project? The airport expansion?

AF: I think it’s just a response to demand. If people are-

BP: Yeah, but you can have a stand on this, whether you think it’s a good idea to do it now in a climate emergency, or whether you think the demand… Because the free market, if we step back just a little bit, has provided a lot of benefits to human beings. But of course, it’s created a lot of massive issues, one of which is climate change. So is it the right time to do it?

I probably would say, “Are we pricing carbon correctly?”. If we price carbon correctly, then the market can respond to that appropriately. If there was no demand or if demand was low, and perhaps the carbon price was such that people went, “Oh, instead of going once a year, I’m going to go once every five years” or, “Instead of going over to Sydney to go shopping, I’ll do that.” (…) The airport will not grow if the demand’s not there.

AF: Well I guess the thing is, I probably would say, “Are we pricing carbon correctly?” If we price carbon correctly, then the market can respond to that appropriately. If there was no demand or if demand was low, and perhaps the carbon price was such that people went, “Oh, instead of going once a year, I’m going to go once every five years” or, “Instead of going over to Sydney to go shopping, I’ll do that.” The kind of things that some people do. Or maybe I don’t fly to Auckland three times a week, maybe I fly once a week. Whatever it might be. Have we got the pricing signals right, and then what drives demand? The airport will not grow if the demand’s not there. The airport will grow, if the demand is there. So take your upcoming trip. If you’d said, “Right, I want to go there,” and you’ve been told, “You’ve got to wait for six months, because there’s no space,” how would you have responded to that?

BP: Well, I think I’ll be absolutely fine, because I understand that-

AF: You might, but some other people wouldn’t. But you know what I’m saying? But I think the challenge of course with pricing, is it’s an international thing with carbon pricing and how that-

BP: So we let it grow then? If demand is there, we let it grow?

AF: Well, what do you do with it if demand isn’t… You’ve got to choke the demand off in some way, which is pricing.

BP: Well the fact is that if it’s contained, if you can’t put more flights, the prices will go up and achieve exactly what you’ve just said.

AF: That could tend to happen. That could tend to happen.

BP: Shouldn’t we do this in a climate emergency, to do whatever we can to constrain the supply, until flying sustainably is possible?

AF: Well I guess the question I would then ask you, is whether you would constrain the supply only in Wellington? There are some times when I think people are trying to solve the world’s problems in Wellington alone, and we’ve got our contribution to make, we’ve absolutely got our contribution to make, but we are not going to save the world on our own, or in isolation.

BP: So are you trying to advocate to the government for a greater carbon price? I mean, the solution you just suggested, that we constrain the demand by increasing carbon prices-

AF: I didn’t say increasing it, I just said get the price right. Now, I don’t know what the right price should be. That’s well beyond my pay grade, but in theory, if you get the price right, then it will send signals to people. If flying to France is going to cost you twice as much, you’re probably going to think slightly differently, and you might go, “I’m still going,” but you might not go as frequently, or you might go, “I’m not going at all.” So it’s those kind of things. And then you wanted to touch on the other things in the east as well.

Shelly Bay and Mount Crawford

BP: Oh, Shelly Bay and Mount Crawford. So Shelly Bay is an interesting one, because of course, the hurdles [to the project] as far as the city council is concerned, I understand, are behind. I would be interested to hear how you lived through the vote of the 11th of November last year, when the sale and lease of the council land to the developer, was voted in. How did you live through that particular moment?

AF: I think that the whole Shelly Bay process has been very painful. On a personal basis, it’s been very painful, and I know it’s hurt a lot of people. I’ve said many, many times, very publicly, that I think the council from the get go has got the process wrong. What you do not do, is you do not start out by excluding the public from having a say, and that’s exactly where council started. We’re going way back to 2015. And it’s just that the subsequent actions have just simply compounded that. I just think it’s been fundamentally wrong, and I think what you’re seeing with, for example all the court cases, has been the public trying to have a say one way or whether it is Mau Whenua, whether it’s Enterprise Miramar, whoever it is, is people saying, “This is a precious part of our city, and we actually wanted to have a say.” And under the planning rules, that say was there to have, and the whole special housing area just steamrolled across the top of it.

And I just think that’s just been a horrible process that’s been painful to be a part of. I’ve tried everything that I can do to try and allow for public involvement in that, but that’s not met with majority support around the council table, in three successive councils. There’s been always a strong minority, but nevertheless a minority.

BP: So the development, as far as we know, only has two stones in its shoes to get rid of. One is the consent with the regional council, and one is of course, the Maori court, where Mau Whenua went. How successful do you think those two hurdles have to stop the development?

AF: Look, I can’t make a judgment on how successful they will be. I could tell you what I would hope.

BP: Well, I think we know what you hope.

AF: I mean, what I’ve always said right from the beginning is, “Can we please step back from this, have a conversation about the scale and type of the development there?” And there had been no willingness to do that.

BP: Actually, the sibling of Shelly Bay is Mount Crawford. 300 homes are planned there.

AF: Sounds very similar in scale.

BP: Absolutely, and doesn’t tick any box of the spatial plan. The spatial plan said growth should happen, as you said, in the inner suburbs, along a main transport spine, and development should be greener. None of that is being ticked by Mount Crawford. Is your take on Mount Crawford, the same as Shelly Bay? Do you support Mount Crawford, or do you have any concerns around what’s happening, or what’s brewing over there?

AF: Well what has been happening, is an extended discussion between The Crown, or Crown agencies, and iwi organizations… I understand it’s Taranaki Whanui Limited rather than Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust, but they’re 100% owned by Port Nicholson, who’ve been sort of trying to work out what it is that they want to do. Council has not been involved in that to date. I have said to ministers we want to be involved in that, and we want the community to be involved in that. Again, the same principle holds true. A very, very important piece of land, in fact if anything more important than Shelly Bay… I mean, it’s so visible from right around the harbour. The landscape assessments say it’s really visible. It’s identified as a significant amenity landscape. I think the community have to have a say in this.

I’m pushing to try and get us involved in that conversation [on Mount Crawford], and the public needs to be involved in that conversation. (…) It’s got some very serious hurdles to get through. But the key principle is, I think the community need to be allowed to have a say in these areas.

BP: Well, that’s interesting. There has been an MOU signed in 2017 between The Crown, the City Council, and Port Nicholson, saying that for this piece of land, there would be open communication, involvement of the community, and so far everything seems to be happening under the radar. What can we do?

AF: To us as well at the moment. I’m pushing to try and get us involved in that conversation, and the public needs to be involved in that conversation. In terms of the planning rules as they stand at the moment, it’s all Open Space B. Shelly Bay was little bit Open Space B, but most of it was suburban center zoned, as it was then. So I expect some development. Open Space B, the expectation is zero development. And it also sits within our ridgelines and hilltops, and is identified as one of four or five amenity landscapes around the city. So it’s got some serious hurdles to get through, plus the infrastructure, the roading, and water, and everything else. It’s got some very serious hurdles to get through. But the key principle is, I think the community needs to be allowed to have a say in these areas.

The Regional Park

BP: Well really interesting. There’s a fourth part of this discussion, and that’s engagement. Before I get there though, I’d like to finish this little tour of the eastern suburbs, and talk about the Regional Park. So in 2016, the Regional Park north of Mount Crawford, was announced as something that would happen. In 2019, just before the election, Justin Lester said, “This is a done deal. The Regional Park will happen.” 72 hectares of this piece of land would be transformed into a Regional Park, and that a central and local funding was all lined up. 2021, there hasn’t been a shovel there. What’s the story?

AF: It’s been in this black box, with a conversation, as I said, between The Crown and Port Nicholson, or Taranaki Whanui Limited.

BP: Even this piece of land north of Mount Crawford? because it’s Crown land!

AF: Yep.

BP: So we have ministers, we have city council, all agreeing on a way forward, and yet we can’t make it happen?

AF: Well, not yet. I’m continuing to push, and there’s only so much patience that one can have before saying, “Well, let’s see if there’s another thing that we can do.”

BP: What does that mean?

AF: I’m going to say that the Miramar community did a fantastic piece of work two years ago, looking at the values, what people valued, and what frustrated people about the peninsula. And what was very, very clear, is that what was most valued, was the natural environment. I think three out of the top four things were natural environment. People really value these areas, and I think that’s the kind of basis… If we’re not going to do that work, I think we empower the community to do that work, and trying to imagine to design their own futures.

I’m really strong on saying the community should be able to design their own futures, within the context of what we need from the city as a whole. So if we’ve got to grow, and we’ve got to find extra housing, okay well, let’s say we need to do that, now what’s the contribution that Miramar’s going to make to that? Work out how that’s going to happen. There’s some real opportunities to do things in the Miramar peninsular, particularly the Strathmore area, with working with iwi. That’s real opportunity. The northern end? I don’t see the same opportunity to be putting houses all over that, and I think that would be really problematic.

BP: Well, it’s a unique asset to the city actually. It’s such a vast piece of land that could be used for recreational and biodiversity.

AF: Look, there may be some opportunities for some limited development there in the prison area. Sure. But let’s talk it through and work it out. Having people in the tent, having conversation, is a much better way than saying, “Here’s a fait accompli, what do you think of it?” and then watching the sparks fly.

BP: Which is what happened with Shelly Bay, of course.

AF: Oh, absolutely. I don’t want to see that happen again.

BP: Andy, you talked about community involvement, and this has been, of course, a great aspect of your campaign. You talked about the consultation, you made it actually a pillar that led to your election. And yet, there is this Miramar master plan that the council has been sitting on. Since 2016, it’s in draft on the council’s website. How can we hope this master plan for the eastern suburbs to resume?

AF: Well as I said, if anything it’s being held up by the process going on with Watts Peninsula, and-

BP: Sorry to interrupt, but don’t you think it could actually feed into their own thinking, if we were…

AF: And then you’re starting to think about the sort of thing I was hinting at. In other words to say, “If we’re not going to do it, if the authorities aren’t going to do it, let’s empower the community to do it.”


BP: Okay. Speaking of engagement, and this could be the closing chapter of our discussion, there’s often a lot of frustration when it comes to consultation. Sometime it’s too long. Sometime it’s too short. Sometime people feel they are being directed towards a particular outcome. Sometimes you have city councilors making promise as a candidate, and yet come back on their promise. Sometime we have officers who don’t follow what has been voted by the city council, and therefore by extension, the community. I’m thinking in particular about the shared path around the Massey Road. I’m thinking about planning for growth. Or sometime even the city council votes against what the officers have captured in the constitution process, and I’m thinking spatial plan.

I mean, there’s a case to be made that we might have a system that is not perfect to say the least, and I wonder whether you agree with that particular assessment, and what can be done to create a more direct connection between the community, the residents, and what’s happening in their city, in the cities they live in?

AF: Look, I would certainly say that over many years, it’s a mixed bag. Some people will say that council doesn’t listen to engagement, but there’s plenty of occasions when that engagement has certainly changed the council decisions, or given council confidence in a particular decision. But there’re others that it does feel like there’s a very firm position which has been taken, and it doesn’t move, whether that’s by individuals or by the collective. So is it perfect? No. Is what we get from the public perfect? Often no, either.

When we started having conversation at the beginning, talking about how do we actually have discussion of, “We will go out later on this year.” how good a discussion, how good a use of our listening, are we going to have, not just the council, but as a community, to alternative view points? And I think that’s the bit that we’re not good at doing, not just in Wellington, but in New Zealand as a whole. I don’t think we’re as good at listening to alternative view points, and actually considering whether those view points might challenge our own and go, “Actually, they might be right on some bits there,” or, “They might be right completely.” We’ve got to keep on testing our own thinking, and I think that’s probably the key, is not just assuming that we’ve got it right, and then just trying to shout louder when somebody else says something which doesn’t with what we want.

BP: Well, it seems to me that this is really the foundation that we need, before everything else actually, that we have this consultation, this engagement working, this democracy working, to ensure that people are satisfied that whatever happens, is actually a true representation of what the group wants moving forward.

AF: Well, can I give you a good example this term of council, which was the discussion we had about the Central Library. Now my original expectation, was that the community would say, “We would prefer to keep the existing library.” But it was really good to go out and to get the feedback from the community that said… First of all, they gave us a really strong view that we wanted a really strong library. We didn’t want a half-baked job. Because there were some people who would say, “All we got to do, is do the little basics. Get it open as quickly as possible”. But you point to that and you say, “Well actually, 80%-plus of the community said “No. Do it once. Do it right. We’ve done enough half-baked stuff.” So it gives you some confidence that actually, that’s the way the community wants us to go, in terms of whether it was new build or existing build, and things like that. There was pretty close margin between the two. But there was some real solidity around, “We want you do it right first time up.”.

I think one of the things that we did have some very strong advice when we were talking about this,(…) is put all the options up. What are the pros and cons of each of the options?” (…) I’m really insistent we do it again with Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

That kind of thing is actually really important. And I think one of the things that we did have some very strong advice when we were talking about this, in how you do special consultation, for how you do most things, is put all the options up. What are the pros and cons of each of the options? This is our preference, but here’s the information around the others. And that’s something which I’m really insistent we do, and we did with the library. I’m really insistent we do it again with Let’s Get Wellington Moving. So, “These are our options. This is our preference. But, here’s the other options. You tell us what you think.”

BP: So, that’s exactly not what’s happening with CobhamDrive, for example-

AF: No. Agree.

BP: … where Let’s Get Wellington Moving has come with one option, and said, “This is what we’re going to be doing,” and that’s it pretty much.

AF: For me, I think there’s an issue there of LGWM saying, “This is what we want to do, and this is why,” knowing that it wasn’t going to be popular. My preference is a bridge. I can probably live with, “Okay, we got to do something quick.” Okay. Right. “We think there’s a safety issue there.” I buy that we need to get a connection across. Fine. So let’s do the quicker things, but let’s be quite clear to the community that we’re going to monitor it, see how it goes, if there’s a problem, we’re designing in the back pocket, to put a grade separated crossing, presumably over rather than under. But I think when it comes to the big stuff, whether it’s mass transit, and tunnels, and bus priorities, and all that sort of stuff, and how much it’s going to cost, how it’s going to be funded, all those sort of tools, I think we’ve got to put all the information out there, and give people that, because people will want to know. Give it to them, rather than have it dragged out by official Information Act requests. Let’s put it all out there and go for it.

So let’s do the quicker things, but let’s be quite clear to the community that we’re going to monitor it, see how it goes, if there’s a problem, we’re designing in the back pocket, to put a grade separated crossing, presumably over rather than under

BP: Actually at the end of the day, this is the community deciding for their city.

AF: Absolutely.

BP: I didn’t want to digress too much on Cobham Drive, because it is anecdotal yet symptomatic, or symptomatic yet anecdotal. So I guess I had one last question on engagement. If it was designed appropriately and in the right fashion, how would you feel about a situation where the consultation would be binding, or if not binding, at least would actually account for two votes at the council table? Something along those lines. I mean, I know that [the council] is actually working at reslicing the city, the different wards and all that, and it’s going to be interesting to see what’s coming out of that. Isn’t the time to say, “Well, we want the community to be at the table.” How do you feel about this particular approach?

AF: I think community feedback has got to be given a lot of weight in any decision. How you do that structurally or legally in that kind of what that you’re suggesting, is probably difficult to design. But council does listen on a lot of things. Can we do better? Absolutely we can. We can always do better. How do questions get asked, becomes really critical. You can ask questions, “Do you like apple pie?” questions, of course we’re all going to say yes to that. But it’s not particularly helpful. I mean, there are models… citizens’ juries, those sort of models… which you could set up to have a look at projects.

When we do those kind of things, we tend to get feedback… It tends to be adopted pretty much in whole. So for example, it wasn’t that kind of thing, but we had the Mayoral Task Force on Three Waters. And the council pretty much took the whole lot onboard. Not quite. There’s some discussions yet to come on things like water meters. And of course, then the government’s come over the top with this Three Waters Reform. So we do try and get good input into a lot of these decisions that we make. But the model’s going to be different for each different circumstance too, depending on the scale.

One of the other things, is that the number of decisions that we’ve got to make, and often in very short time, is very challenging.

BP: And especially, as you said earlier, on this discussion where a lot of changes are coming, not only to Wellington, the country, and of course the world in general. There’s so many changes ahead. And it’s not an easy job, but I actually wonder whether there is some thinking to be done to improve this type of engagement?

AF: I’d say the answer is always yes. I suppose probably for me, that whole placemaking one, it’s a big opportunity, because that placemaking can drive a lot of decisions. If you can do that, you can start saying, “Well actually, in time we need this sort of transport system. We need this sort of community infrastructure system. We need this infrastructure to support growth, which should go there and it should look like this.” That actually starts picking quite a lot of the things that council would normally need to make a decision. So, we are going to pick up the Miramar framework. We’re going to adopt it. Let’s get on with it. That does empower a community. And it’s not just Miramar. I mean, the Newtown residents’ groups, they’re keenly doing this same kind of thing, saying, “Look, you want a certain amount of growth out of our suburb, this is how we think it should come.” Rather than a higgledy-piggledy approach “We think it should be done this way.” I think we should be working with communities to co-design their own future.

BP: That’s a nice way to close that conversation. Thank you so much, Andy.

AF: No, it’s a pleasure.

BP: Thanks for your time. It’s been very informative, and I hope it’s been useful to our listeners.

AF: Thanks, Benoit.

5 thoughts on “A conversation with Andy Foster

  1. How does Foster think a 14% Rates increase is affordable in 2021. What does he expect families on fixed income to do ? Why can’t the Council live within its means ?


    1. Hi Richard,

      Throughout all my conversations with Councilors and the Mayor, I have been focusing on vision and engagement. Whether you find they have provided readers with such vision is up to you to decide. If you didn’t like what you read, there will be an option next year to vote for another vision.

      Taxes are one way – amongst others – to achieve this vision. Maybe 14% increase is what’s required to keep up with the costs of maintaining our standards of living (like maintaining our water network), and progress the city towards that vision. But you’re right in saying it’s a steep increase for families. I, for one, would like to have local rates not only indexed on property valuation, but also on family incomes (very much like income tax brackets with the central government).


  2. Well done Benoit, I have constructed an email this morning for Andy in response to his comments (…) Keep up the good work.


  3. The orange print isn’t all that easy to read.

    Why not put the questions in italic and the answers in bold, or something


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