Over the past few months, I have extensively covered the airport and its greed-driven expansion plans at any cost, especially if it’s borne by local residents or the climate. As this year is coming to a close, it is a good time to take a bit of figurative-only height and see how Wellington has negotiated the challenges it is facing, and how it is placed for those to come. And for the airport? Not much has changed anyway: it keeps saying the expected traffic growth makes this expansion necessary when it’s the expansion that’ll lead to increased traffic. The appeal against the designation is still underway, led by a group of courageous residents (you can show your support by donating here: https://guardiansofthebays.org.nz/how-you-can-help/), and the city council is nowhere to be seen or heard on such a key piece of infrastructure for the region. One Councillor went as far as claiming the airport is not an issue in their ward, a demonstration of lack of interest.
Equally nowhere to be seen is the spine of the Regional Council in the Shelly Bay debacle. Early in December, quietly, the last resource consents required were granted by GWRC, without notification:
“On 6 December Independent RMA Commissioner Christine Foster determined that that application can proceed on a non-notified basis.”https://archive.gw.govt.nz/shellybay
I am afraid that unless the Maori court rights the wrongs, this abomination will go ahead. In hindsight, it was inevitable: the only people who had the opportunity to seriously annoy the project and the developer are sitting at the City Council table. We know now that Labour has no interest in sensibly addressing the housing crisis while favouring a “bull in a china shop” approach (more on that later). So, in hindsight, it’s not surprising the Labour block at WCC voted for the lease and sell off the public stretch of land at Shelly Bay, including the Councillors who said they would oppose when they were candidates. In conclusion, Shelly Bay continues to be a case study for everything that can go wrong when behind closed doors deals are done between a handful of people with deep pockets. Everyone else, the iwis, the residents, future tenants and future owners, future generations and Nature have lost in the Shelly Bay debacle.
What is also sad is that, in all its destruction, Shelly Bay won’t make the shadow of a dent in the housing crisis. On this topic, the Draft District Plan (DDP) consultation closed last week. And so did the Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) one week before (if you missed this consultation, you should not worry as there are another 8 years of it coming). I am tempted to correlate both consultations as they are both so intertwined: how could one want to develop the transport spine to the South (via LGWM) without wanting more density between the CBD and Island Bay (via the DDP)? If you were of the view the light rail should go East, as it was envisaged since the program’s inception, then you would be out of luck as it’s not even proposed anymore.
At least, the LGWM consultation was easy to engage with, probably thanks to the years of experience the team has acquired in this craft. The DDP, on the other hand, had nothing for people with a life: the information was made available through a geospatial website, which led to technical pages, with legal lingos at every turn. If you mouse over a tiny four pixels square, you would then be blessed with the option to print the 1,226 pages of the actual document. This consultation alone would have been sufficient to give consultation fatigue to the most willful residents. Combined with other consultations, many would have been discouraged to take part or finding the right angle of attack.
So has been the life of residents wanting to engage in local democracy over the past couple of years. Divisive, long and complex consultations on the Spatial Plan, draft and then final, LGWM, Cycleways and now the Draft District Plan. At least, all this work has landed in a clear direction: housing intensification will have to be close to the city centre, along a transport spine, all the while making the city greener. Alas, all these months, all this energy, sweat, efforts and arguments to come to a concise direction for our city have just been flushed by our central government with this:
“From August next year Auckland Council, along with city councils in Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch, will have to allow up to three houses, up to three storeys on the vast majority of sections – without a resource consent.”https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/457924/resource-management-act-amendment-passes-final-reading
No matter the years of city-wide consultations, no matter basic rules of urban planning, no matter common sense, three storeys buildings may now appear anywhere, and chances are you will know it’s happening next door to yours when the diggers turn up, and that’s no matter where you live, close or far from the CBD, close or far from a transport spine. You may be advocating, like I am, for more housing (as I did here for example https://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=130067), but this new law has been cut with a rusty chainsaw and we will pay for it collectively for generations and may in the end create more problems than solve, as explained here by Nemo: https://eyeofthefish.org/three/.
All is not doom and gloom though. Everyone will remember the bustastrophe or when the trolleybuses were decommissioned and replaced with +30 years old diesel coming from Auckland. This was a lifetime ago, in 2017. But according to Metlink’s website, things are almost back to the level they were then:
“In November 2021, of the 445 buses in Metlink’s fleet in and around the Wellington Region, 38 are electric vehicles (making up 8.5% of the fleet).”
“Throughout 2022 and 2023, NZ Bus is planning to roll out an additional 42 more EV’s. Stay tuned for which routes you’ll see these on.”https://www.metlink.org.nz/news-and-updates/plans-and-projects/new-green-machines/
It’s not yet the +10% of the fleet we had in 2017, and they’re coming 5 years too late, but that is something to be optimistic about. That’s not all: the electric ferry has just started commuting with Eastbourne, ten fully electric airport flyer buses will roam between the airport and the railway station by mid-2022 (https://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=141531) and there is a plan for the bus network to be fully electric by 2030. With deliveries seemingly matching promises, I am cautiously hopeful Wellington’s transport network will have finally entered the 21st century in a decade.
Less clear is what will happen to our water management, or simply, the state of our water network. Sewage in the harbour keeps occurring (this piece is a sobering read on a rainy day: https://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=141407), but there seem to be fewer geysers. Rubbish eruption might be next on the list though, with the cost of public service privatisation slowly showing its true face. Pretty much at the same time water issues started to – literally – pop out last year, rubbish bags are failing to be collected on time in places, sitting on the side of the road for days (https://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=140975). All I want for Christmas is a good rubbish collection.
This brings me to taxes. Yes, our rates have started to surge, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I have been asked why it is not a topic I had touched on before on this blog. Yes, higher rates make this city even more unaffordable. But on the other hand, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys, and we don’t want that (think water infrastructure). So I am not personally unhappy about rates increase, but I am merciless when it comes to how they are spent. This is why I get a rash each time I pass in front of Tākina. This project was questionable when it got voted, it became worrying when COVID started, even more so as our awareness of climate change awakens. This white elephant, 100% publicly funded by local rates might have had a role to play in income diversification, but if the point was to “depollute” the asset portfolio, we will probably find this will actually have the contrary effect and increase air traffic. Sadly, it may be that Tanika’s purpose mirrors its design: outdated even before opening.
In conclusion, I am still not convinced we are on the right path, or that we have the right people in charge to face the monumental challenges we face like housing, climate and transport. Next year, however, is an election year. At this stage, only one person has officially announced she was running, and that’s Tory Whanau, the Green Candidate. Tory and I will have a discussion in the New Year and I hope I’ll get to hear her vision, her strategy and how she intends to differentiate herself from the others.
Some City Councillors, on social media or else, feel perfectly fine to belittle and moan against people who disagree with them, even when they’re residents. Next year being election year, this type of behaviour may become commonplace. I hope however candidates will instead be more focused on articulating their policies and why they are a better opportunity for Wellington; I hope they will be interested to convince with the force of their arguments rather than denigrate their opponents.
Maybe the summer break will help everyone to focus back on what matters for our city and build on what makes it so unique: a blend of interesting history, an incredible natural heritage, and a rich and inclusive social fabric. It is up to us, next year, to not let this go to waste.
Until then, I wish everyone a relaxing summer.