In October 2022, Wellingtonians will be asked to elect a new City Council and a new Mayor. In this new series of discussions, I sit with candidates to understand their vision and hear how they intend to tackle Wellington’s big issues. In this second episode, I listened to Ray Chung who recently announced he was running.
- The election and local democracy.
- Consultation and engagement.
- Climate change.
- The big developments.
- The big issues Wellington is facing.
Benoit Pette: Kia Ora. My name is Benoit Pette. Today is the 17th of June 2022. I am sitting with Ray Chung. Ray is running for the mayoralty in Wellington for the next election 2022, in October, and also as a councillor in Onslow-Western ward. Today we’re going to be discussing themes such as city council, climate change, some big developments, housing, and transport. Ray, how are you?
Ray Chung: Good, thank you. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
BP: You’re welcome. So before we start, can you just let us know a little bit about yourself, so that people get to know you?
RC: Yep, sure. So I was born in Wellington, and one of nine children, so a big family. My father came from China, from Guangzhou, and he was chased out when the communists came in. But my mother was born here in Wellington. So all of us grew up in a little house on Jessie Street. Do you know where Jessie Street is?
BP: No. Where is it?
RC: It’s between Taranaki Street and Tory Street. It’s an old house, been there for a hundred years. In fact, it’s actually still there now, and it’s one of the few houses that are actually left there. So I grew up there and walked to school, I went to primary school at St Mark’s and then college at Wellington High School. So I’ve always been in that neighbourhood and have always been an inner-city person.
BP: Okay. So you are a local, really.
BP: And I guess the next question would be, so what brought you to politics? And you tried to run before, so what brought you here?
RC: Yeah, I’ve taken an active interest in politics for about six years… I used to travel a lot. I’ve been in international business, sales, for around 25 years, and so I was always travelling, I was always away somewhere, but actually, it was interesting, because being in different places, and being in those places for a long time when you’re working, it’s different to being a tourist because you actually get to understand the people, you talk to them, and you talk to them about their lifestyles and their aspirations and things, and then you compare it to what you were doing back at home. So when I came back home, at that stage when I was really busy, I wasn’t in Wellington for long enough, wasn’t home for long enough to actually see what was going on. But when I finished that last international position, I came back and I started taking more of an interest in what was going on around me and looking at all the changes that had been made in Wellington.
Growing up in the central city, you see those changes gradually, and then suddenly you see some really big changes, and when you look at these buildings and you think, “Gosh, what was here before? And what have we got now and look at how everything is changing?.” So you start thinking about how things are done and so then I started looking at what the council was doing, and started getting quite frustrated at some of the things they were doing. So then I talked to a lot of people about whether they were happy about what was happening in Wellington, or did they think that we’re heading in the right direction? By then, I’d moved up to Broadmeadows and have been up there now for 38 years . I talked with a lot of the people in our area and found that we had no residents’ association there so four of us started up a residents’ association called the Onslow Residents’ Community Association, covering Broadmeadows, Khandallah, and Kaiwharawhara.
So from then on, it gave me the opportunity to speak to a lot more people about things that concerned them and things where they didn’t think we were heading in the right direction or things that were going right for residents. This gave me a much better understanding, and I found that so many people were frustrated, they said, “Look, this is wrong. This should be done. Why is the council doing this?” So then my wife just got sick of me complaining about these things that she said, “Well, why don’t you do something about it?” And I said, “I am, we started up the residents’ association.” She said, “Well, why don’t you run for council?” I said, “I’m not a politician.”
You go through life and you think that you know where you’re going but life has a way of changing these plans. I started off life as an engineer for Telecom, and then I went into marketing then sales purely by accident. So I find that your life develops in certain ways and it sends you in different directions that are completely unplanned. So I’ve never been interested in politics, and in fact, I hold politicians in absolute disdain. But then again, as an engineer, I also held salesmen in disdain as well, but then of course I ended up being one. So it’s interesting how things develop.
So then I thought, “Is that a good idea? Should I run for council?” It was getting closer and closer to the cutoff date for registrations that year, so then I thought, “Well, why not? It’ll be like a lot of the other career decisions that I made.” When I had a change of career direction, when I went from technical to sales, I thought about it, and thought, “I’m going to lose a lot of money by changing,” because I was doing quite well then as an engineer, and then thought, “Well, if you don’t try something, you’ll just never ever know whether you’ll be any good at it.” So then I thought, “If I’m not any good at it, then I can always go back to my technical career.” So I started thinking of the same thing about going into council and thought, “Why not give it a try?”
So I gave it a try then, and I came within 600 votes of the next highest qualifying councillor so thought, “That was pretty good for a first try.” So since then, and being the vice president of ORCA, the Onslow residents’ association, I started looking a lot more closely at what the council were doing and this has just built up my interest what they’re doing.
BP: Yeah, and the more you get engaged, the more you want to be part of it.
RC: That’s right, yeah.
The elections and local democracy
BP: And that’s actually interesting. Your foray into politics… I actually tried to read a bit about you and your platform on how you want to get in. Some of the themes that keep coming back are around the way the council is spending the money, and you seem to have some interest in that. However, it needs to be supported by a vision. So what’s your vision for Wellington? In 10 years, how do you see Wellington, if you were mayor?
RC: Okay. It’s quite interesting because, as I mentioned to you, I’ve worked internationally for a long time, and I’ve worked in 46 countries and looked at how people do things in these different cities, in these different towns. And I’ve looked at some of these places and I thought, “Gosh, this is a good idea, and the way that this city works is really good.” I worked with a German company, Hansa Luftbild, doing aerial survey, lidar imagery and technical measurement of things from the air. So I was based up in Münster in northern Germany, and it’s such a beautiful town, or city and is a little smaller than Wellington. It’s such a nice city, but I think that Germans and Europeans in general, have smaller towns and smaller cities and they actually function very, very well. People get on, they enjoy the environment, they have a high quality of life. And I thought, “Shouldn’t we actually look at some of the lessons from what they have, and try and emulate them?”
I’ve done quite a lot of work in Asia and of course, Asia is very different from other continents. Diametrically different to Europe, in that the cities are huge, there are very, very big cities, and they have a particular lifestyle that I must say I found interesting when I was there working, because I could just go to the shops outside the door,, if you want to go to a restaurant or cafeteria, you’ve got no more than 10 meters’ walk and you’ve hit one. So a very, very different lifestyle, but it wasn’t the comfortable lifestyle that I talk about in Europe and particularly as I said with Münster, I like German cities because they’re very small and walking around is easy, just like Wellington. When I first went to Germany, I actually found the people were quite… I wouldn’t say standoffish, but they weren’t overly friendly when you first met them. You wouldn’t talk to them on the street, that sort of thing. But then I started initiating a conversation and very swiftly started to grow on them and started understanding how they think. and I really liked talking with them about their cities and towns and believe that they have the right lifestyle balance.
The same as the Swiss, for example. You go to Switzerland and it’s very different. Everything is very clean, everything is very organized, and the people are quite comfortable, as this is how they live. They have different perspectives to us. and this brought back a lot of things like, when I was very young and I did my first OE, I went over to Europe, I had this perception, coming from New Zealand, that, wherever I go, everyone should speak English, because we speak English and it’s the international language for communication. But then it wasn’t until I actually arrived in Europe, arriving in France, that I found that most of the people there did not speak English so of course I had to learn to communicate with them. Then with that realization, I thought, why should I even expect people to speak English when it’s their country? We should be learning from these places that we go to and finding out the good things about what they do there, and then try and emulate some of them.
So that’s what I found when I went from France then to Germany, Switzerland, and on to Austria, and so I had the chance to compare their differences and how they live and their towns are designed. And I try and look at the good things that they do and what things the government can actually do to help them. For example, in the last decade or so, I spent a lot of time in Korea, in South Korea, mainly in Seoul. And in the middle of Seoul, I talked to some of the politicians and council there, and they said that years ago, the mayor of Seoul said that Seoul is an absolute gray, lifeless city. It had no life in it at all, and people never came here because apart from business, there was nothing to entice them.. Then he remembered that many, many years before, hundreds years ago, Seoul had a river running through it and the city was built there. And so he thought, “I wonder where that river is now? I wonder if it’s actually still there?”
So he investigated and he found that the river was actually still there, but of course they’d built motorways and buildings on top of it, so there was no sign of it anywhere. Then he thought, “Wouldn’t it be good if we can actually bring that back to the city?” And so he started talking to the people about it. And of course all the business people said, “No, no, you’re nuts,” or however you say that in Korean. “We’ve got motorways on there. How are you going to ever get across the city or pass this way if you start tearing down these motorways and the buildings? What about all those buildings there?”
But he persisted, and eventually succeeded and now it’s such a beautiful part of the city. It’s just a short part of the river but is so popular that there are families and people there every day and is also used as a venue for festivals. They found that there was just a trickle water going through there, and it was just mud and sludge, so they ran water through it and kept it running and cleaning it, until now it’s now such a beautiful area right in the middle of the city, and people go there from everywhere just to enjoy the water and to sit there. So I thought, “Gosh, could we actually do that in Wellington?”
A little while ago, someone actually brought up the plan of the Basin Reserve, and they talked about how the Basin Reserve used to be full of water, and that’s why they called it the Basin, because it was a lake of water and this flowed from there down to the harbour. So this is actually very similar to what they’ve done in Seoul and if we could actually investigate running that short river down there, that’ll bring so much life back to the central city. Now, of course, this is a huge task but I think that we have an advantage over what they did in Seoul, because we don’t have buildings or motorways over Kent and Cambridge Terrace at the moment.
So I think that it’s possible, and I’ve talked to various people about it, and they said, “Well, of course the issue, without even looking at that, is who’s going to pay for it? It’s going to be a huge amount of money.” And I understand that. And this conflicts with my platform of stopping wastage and stopping wasting money. However, I think that if I had a target, then I would try and do that. Now, I would try and do it without costing the rate payers or taxpayers, a lot of money. So I would investigate how to actually do it with no cost to ratepayers.
I think, like the mayor of Seoul, that if you have a dream or vision, you’ve got to follow it. You’ve got to try and find out if you can actually do it. And what I saw with Seoul were the benefits gained for the city by doing this when they talked about all the advantages of putting that river back through the middle of the city, they didn’t realise that it actually dropped the temperature in the CBD by four degrees, because they took away all that concrete, introduced the water and water flow, but most of all, it made the people much, much happier to live there and gave them greater pride in their city.
BP: Yeah. But what I’m hearing then, Ray, is that your aspiration for Wellington in 10 years would draw from those cities you visited in Europe, and also in Seoul where the city’s quite compact, where there’s a strong focus on wellbeing with a lot of trees and a lot of greens and access to nature, something quite balanced and all that. And that’s very nice, not many people would disagree. And I guess if you were talking to all the other candidates, they would probably build their vision on the same platform. So comparing to, for example, Tory Whanau who is running as a Green, as you know, and potentially in the future Paul Eagle and Andy Foster probably, what would be your point of differentiation with them?
RC: My main platform is actually to stop the wastage of money. And so that has to be balanced against anything else I do. Now, I think that a lot of candidates I find will come out and say that, “If you elect me, if you vote for me, then I will deal with these things.” It reminds me of a joke that I heard. There’s a little child asking this father, he says, “Daddy, do all fairy tales start with ‘Once upon a time’?” And he said, “No, some of them start with, ‘When I’m elected….’” I find that it’s actually like that with a lot of candidates. They’ll promise all these different things, but I want to stop the wastage in council and council projects. Because I’ve spent so long in business and working for two American companies, one German company, a British company, I found that everything I do has to be justified. Any project has to have a viable business case with all costs, benefits and objectives identified.
BP: But is it not the case already? When they have a project or they want to achieve something, then officers present the council, or the elected members rather, with a business case. So how different would that be from what you have?
RC: I think it’s very different. I think that council officers, I don’t council officers consider the cost or value for money as a high priority. They seem to have very, very little concern for what things cost. Now, this is accentuated because since that of article in the Dom Post of my candidacy,, I’ve had phone calls from people, from council officers, they ring up and say, “Hey, look, Ray, I read your article. When you’re in town, why don’t you stop in and have a cup of coffee? And we’ll tell you about some of the things that go on in council.” And to be honest, I am absolutely shocked when I talk to them about what goes on and what they’re doing. I don’t think that doing workable business cases is actually their forte. They do a business case saying that we can justify this by helping these people or making this thing, but I don’t think, in fact I’m sure that they don’t look at the financial implications of any of these things, and the true number of people who benefit.
Now when you take a lot of these things, for example, you take the current common discussion, on the cycleways, the $250 million that we’re spending on cycleways. I actually am not convinced that a lot of the information that they give us in their use is actually accurate. Now, one of them is that they say that there’s 4,000 cyclists coming in and out of the Hutt Road, along the Hutt Road and Thorndon Quay, every day. But outside the Spotlight on the Hutt Road, there’s a cycle counter and I go down there quite regularly to look at this cycle counter, and see how many cycles actually passed there. From January to April, I looked at the tally year to date, and it was 31,000. Now, if you divided 100 days by 31,000, you get about 300. And then every day it counts the number of cycles passing, and they count them both ways, and it’s about 300. It’s not 4,000, so I can’t see it ever being 11,000. But we’ve never seen those figures published. We’ve never seen people say how can the council justify this for 300 cycles per day, so therefore they say there’s 4,000 per day to justify it.
Additionally, I’ve also talked to businesses along Thorndon Quay, and they said they’ve run their own count, because they didn’t even know about this counter there. And in their own count, they said it’s three to 400, which tallies up with what this counter is actually measuring. So I think that when the council does business cases, they use information that isn’t correct. This also comes from my discussions with council officers, that the cost of anything is very, very low down in their priority. The mentality seems to be that there’s always plenty of money coming in, we want to achieve this particular objective, and so the cost is actually not a big issue because the rstrepayers money will continue rolling in.
BP: Yeah. You say this, but at the same time this particular council has been really challenged by the limited resources they have available, so much that they have to go with a rate increase plan over several years, which is quite unpopular. Why would they do it if they didn’t have these resources?
RC: Okay. Regarding rate increases, I have regular meetings with a lot of the councilors and one of them said to me, “When you’re running for council, don’t make any promises that you can’t keep.” And I said, “Well, I like to do that, because everything I say, I want to say exactly what I’ll do and what I’ll try and achieve.” So they said that nobody likes rate increases, especially the big ones they’ll have. So if you come out and say that you’re going to keep the rate increases to a certain amount,, how do you know you can actually achieve it? How do you know what control do you have over it? And they gave me an example, and said that in the last election, one of the councilors said that her platform was keeping the rate increases to 3%. Well, in fact that councilor was responsible for putting about $16 million of cost into the bill. So yes, I absolutely want to keep the rate increases down, but I’m going to look at doing that by savings and stopping the wastage.
I’ve been working on this for quite a long time. At our Onslow residents’ association AGM last year, we had Barbara McKerrow, the CEO of the Wellington City Council, come up as a guest speaker. Now, when she came out there, people asked her, in these COVID days, because the revenue coming into council essentially has dropped, and the council’s making less money, what’s the council doing about saving money or tightening the budgets? And so she said, “We’ve got a whole team working on this. We’re looking at saving our money in a whole lot of different places. And so we are very aware of this.” So then people asked her, “Can you give us some examples of where you’re saving this money?” She couldn’t give one example. This is the CEO, and couldn’t give one example of where they’re saving the money. And I don’t believe it’s inconceivable that the CEO doesn’t know where or if, they’re saving costs . This has been confirmed by the discussions that I’ve been having, that this is of little consideration. You take the Shelly Bay project, for example. Do they actually even know what the cost of fixing the infrastructure from that development that is going through to the Miramar cutting?
BP: They say that there’s a cap to the repair cost to 10 millions dollars, and everything above will be taken over by the developers. That’s the number that’s been touted, but…
RC: Yes, yes. They’ve said that. And I’ve talked to Andy Foster regularly about this, and I said, “So how much do you think it’s going to cost? And do you think that the developer will pay?” And I suspect there’s a lot that we haven’t been told. I would like to see that agreement, because I don’t believe that that’s the agreement, because I’ve also heard from the developer’s side that they also have a cap, and so they’re going to put a maximum amount in, and the council has agreed to pay the rest. And so I went back to Mayor Foster to, “Is that correct? And is the council going to have an open bill that nobody actually knows what it’s going to be?” And he didn’t want to comment on it. So I think that there are things that go on the council, things that they tell the public, and things that are actually happening now. Because my platform is to try and keep a control on all these expenses, then that will certainly be one of them.
I had a meeting this morning, and there was a councilor at that meeting, and this councilor told me there are so many places that the council actually wastes money, and gave an example. When the council moved out of the municipal office building in the Civic Square to the Terrace, they had furniture that was only about four months old in those two buildings. But when they moved to the Terrace and they took over seven floors there, the person doing the decoration got rid of all their furniture, and they bought all brand new furniture, costing millions and millions of dollars. And so I asked, how much would they have spent on that? And he said, it’d be millions. But there was no concern about it. Not one concern. So I feel that there are millions of dollars being wasted that we aren’t being told about.
Consultation and engagement
BP: Okay. So I hear your frustration. There is another source of frustration with the way the city council operates, and this is around consultation, and many people, when faced with consultation, they just think there’s not enough consultation or that it’s too much, that it’s too complex, not enough detail or too much details. And when they eventually take part in consultations, sometimes there’s also the frustration that they don’t feel the outcome of the consultation is being listened to, and the decision was made before consultation, it’s just a tick box exercise, and doesn’t change anything anyway. So is it something you would agree with as a statement?
RC: Certainly the latter. I’ve made many submissions, both personally and on behalf of the residents’ association. I go down there to make the submission, and I look at the councilors, and so many of them are sitting there with two phones, one council phone and one their own phone, texting each other, giggling at each other across the table, not listening to anything that’s being said. And I’ve seen this, and you keep thinking, why am I even bothering? Why am I bothering to do this? There are many examples of this. I’ve been talking to businesses in Thorndon Quay, and also in Kaiwharawhara, bottom of the Ngaio Gorge Road there. And they said that only in the last few weeks, they’ve had council officers come to see them saying that, we’re going to put a cycleway down the Ngaio Gorge Road, and we’re going to take away these car parks.
And so then when they say that this is going to be a big problem for us, because of course people go in there, there’s furniture shops in there, there’s NZ Post there, there’s lots of places where people just come in and pick up something, then drive away, so they need those car parts. And they said that, we’ve already decided that this is what we’re going to do. So where is this consultation? And I am in the middle of talking to people about this. Now, it’s exactly the same in Newtown, they’ve done the same thing. They say that this is consultation, but I don’t feel that it’s genuine.
BP: Okay. So this situation is leading to figures, for example, satisfaction figures of 16%, for example, for 2021. I think it was 30-something or even less than 30% the year before. And also quite a lot of disengagement, the participation in local elections keeps dropping, elections after elections. So my question to you, Ray, is how do you intend to fix this?
RC: I want to talk to the people. I want to get an understanding from all people, and this is exactly what I’ve been doing with the Onslow residents’ association. I’ve been spending as much time as I can talking to people and saying, what do you see are the problems, and what would you actually to see? What direction would you actually like the city to be going in? So what’s good, and what’s not good? And so the only way you can actually find out, to do what you can to change things, is by talking to the people. Because right now, the council isn’t engaging in genuine consultation and this is evident by the number of Judicial Reviews and legal action against the council and this again, is a waste of money!
BP: But that’s what people do… Sorry, but this is what people do when they take part in consultation, when they’re being presented with some options and they respond back. So that’s what they do. So what’s going on behind the scenes? What is wrong with the process that you would like to address?
RC: The options coming from council are absolutely wrong. They’re fixed. If you look at the options that they give, when they were talking about Let’s Get Wellington Moving, about the options there, or about intensification, they said, “So would you like to have this option of living in the CBD, and having more intensification there, where it’s going to be lively, all you have to do is step out of your home, your apartment there, and you’ve got cafeterias, restaurants, and everything within easy walking distance of you? And so, would you to actually live like that? Or would you like to actually live in the suburbs or have these greenfield areas where you actually have to get into a car to drive into town, use more carbon by having to drive in, and spend more time doing that?” Those questions are fixed. So of course, you look at those questions and you think, why would I want to do that? But they don’t give a balanced view.
It’s exactly the same with Let’s Get Wellington Moving. The options that they give you, I think they give you one option for the buses, and then they give you a number of other options for rail. They should be balanced, though, they should give you options that actually may appeal to everyone, may appeal to different groups. And so you need to ask people, what do they actually think? What do they really want? Not just choose from the options that the council gives you.
BP: Okay, understood. You used the example of transport, Let’s Get Wellington Moving. We’ll talk about it a little bit later, but this obviously ties a lot… I mean, this is heavily flavored by the issue of climate change. A climate emergency was declared by the Wellington City Council three years ago, and a year later, Te Atakura, First to Zero, the program of work to bring the city to carbon zero by 2050 was released. Climate change gives us signals that it is actually happening now. You can see the flooding on the south coast year after year, more often, more violent, and of course the IPCC reports follow one another and they are bleaker and bleaker. So do you agree that there’s a shift in the climate?
RC: Yes. Yes, I agree. And I think that, if you look at any country in the world, you can actually see this. You can see this happening. And it’s more important for low lying countries, of course, because if there’s going to be a sea level rise, then of course the low level dwellings and cities will actually be affected more greatly. So yes, it’s definitely happening. But I think that the things that we actually do in Wellington and even New Zealand, whatever we do, how much difference is that actually going to make? Now, I’m not saying that to say that we shouldn’t do anything. Not at all. I’m saying that we should know what’s happening, and then we should take action to actually cope with it. This could take a whole range of different things.
I’ve been looking at what the Netherlands are doing. The Netherlands, as you know, it’s a very low lying country, so they’re going to be affected by climate change, by rising sea levels, probably more than any other country. So they’re looking at different ways of handling this. They’re looking at maybe putting lakes in water holding areas, so rather than let the sea come in to that level, perhaps they could put out an area where they can actually hold the water before it gets to the land, and then desalinate it and use that as a lake.
And so there are various options. And I think that technology is actually changing so that we can actually look at different options. We can look at different things that we can do. I mean, I look at the maps and the effect of sea level rises in the whole of the Petone area, into the Hutt Valley, and of course, if the water comes up, it’s going to affect all of those areas in there. So yes, of course, we need to do something about it. We need to look at what do we need to do to actually cope with that. Because…
BP: Sorry, when you say cope, do you mean mitigate or adapt?
RC: Both. Both. Because I don’t feel that, whatever we do, we can’t actually stop it, because we’re such a tiny speck in the world and if the sea level rises, it’ll affect every country in the world.. And I think that so many other countries, like the Europeans, I find that it’s going to affect them a lot more, they have a lot larger economies, they have a lot greater populations, so of course they need to do these things as well, and they need to look at how they can actually mitigate these things. For example, I mentioned that I used to work for a German company, Hansa Luftbild. When I go up to Münster, I go up into northern Germany, and I see all of these wind turbines on private land. And I thought, “Gosh, there’s just so many here.” And again, they’re looking at their carbon usage and thinking, if we put a wind turbine, we can actually generate the power. This will save burning fossel fuel in conventional power stations.
In Germany, they have this law where whatever power you actually generate from your wind farms or solar panels can be sold back to the power companies at the same rate that they actually sell it to you for. So that makes it worthwhile for people to actually do this. Whereas in New Zealand, if we have solar panels or a turbine, and we sell it back to the power companies, they only give you a fraction, a small fraction, of the cost of selling it to you so there’s less incentive.
BP: Okay. So those are examples that are derived from central government policies, right?
BP: And central government, obviously businesses, communities, are being asked to do what they can to contribute towards a more climate friendly environment. What do you think the local governments such as Wellington City Council can do? Has the previous council done enough in your opinion to mitigate and adapt to climate change? And what would you do if you were in position?
RC: I would try and encourage people to actually not sit back and wait for the government, whether it’s local government or the central government, to actually do something for them. I’m trying to encourage people to do things themselves, because it’s their lives, it’s their families, everything is going to affect them. So I’m trying to get people to look at ways of doing things, doing their little bit. Now, there are lots of obvious things, like you can put in more solar panels. Anyone can put up a solar panel on their roof, because most houses will get a lot of sunshine, but because it’s very, very expensive, there’s not many people installing these. The uptake of that is not particularly great. And so I think that something could be done to incentivize this. And again, because I’m trying to cut the expenditure from governments down, I’m not saying that we should be giving subsidies out for these things, but you can actually give encouragement to do things by getting reductions through quantities of scale
One other thing I’ve just looked at in the last couple of weeks is that we have a local park, and there’s a playground, this is in Broadmeadows, there’s a playground on the corner of it. And there’s just a big open area for the rest of it. And so I talked to the council, I said, “We don’t have a dog park in Broadmeadows. Would it be feasible to actually put a fence there, and separate these areas into places where people can actually take their dogs, and the playground?” And they says, “That’ll come up in the plan, and so we’ll consult with you, and you can feel free to put in a submission.” And I said, “I would also like to actually negate the cost of the council doing these things,” because again, I don’t want the council to be spending more money on different things. So I talked to neighbors about, could we actually raise the money ourselves to do these things? So put up a little fence. And I think that it’s very feasible, and people were very open to doing it so that the cost doesn’t go out to all ratepayers.
Because we shouldn’t be living our lives thinking that the government will look after us, or the council will look after us, I’m not going to do anything until the council actually does it for me, or they pay for it. I don’t believe that we should be relying on governments to actually do these things for us. We should encourage more social responsibility ourselves to actually want to do these things.
BP: Yeah. Except perhaps that for an issue as big climate change, some synchronization through policy, through regulation, may work in favor of addressing the issue, either at the local or central level, because not everyone is actually necessarily exposed to the scale of the issue. Yes. Would you agree?
RC: Yes. I’d agree with that. Yes.
The airport expansion
BP: Speaking of climate change, there are a few developments, massive developments in Wellington, that are planned, and one of them will have quite a significant contribution to worsen climate change, and this is the airport expansion. So we’re talking a few billion dollars being invested in the east to expand the airport. And the airport is very open about their plan, they want to bring twice as many passengers through the airport by 2040. How do you feel about this particular project? Do you support it? Do you oppose it? What’s your views?
RC: I used to be a very, very heavy airport user, because as I mentioned in my job in international sales, I used to have an average of two to three international trips per month so I was flying out to different countries a lot. But every time I flew out, whether I was going to the States or going to Asia, of course I fly out of Wellington and I take the international flight out of Auckland or Christchurch. I’ve done that so many times, I don’t know how many flights I’ve had, but one year I was away for 235 days of the year. So two thirds of my time was actually spent overseas. I never ever found it an inconvenience to actually fly out of Wellington to connect with another international airport. I don’t really see the necessity to actually extend the runway or to take over the golf club. I don’t play golf, and I’ve never actually been out to the Miramar Golf Club, but I don’t like the idea of the airport taking over the golf club, because I like to see green areas, and I think that New Zealand is in quite a fortunate position, because we do have so many green areas, but how many green areas and how many parks can be too many? I don’t believe there’s ever too many.
And I believe that if they take away the Miramar Golf Club, if they use all that land for it, you’ll never, ever put another golf course there again. So there won’t be one in Wellington. So I don’t believe that the airport should actually be taking this area. Yes, they say that they’ll double the capacity, but do they really need to?
BP: So in that case, you would perhaps support those people who favor the rail option, for example, to go to Auckland, to link Wellington and promote a rail connection between Wellington and the airport to bring people to Auckland Airport by rail. Is it something that you think is viable?
RC: Absolutely. And I’ve done it so many times myself. I would say that… Well, I don’t know how many, I should actually count but it’s never been an inconvenience to me. It takes hours longer, but what does it matter? When you’re taking a trip anywhere else, it doesn’t make any difference. And it’s essentially the same when I go to the States, there are only so many gateways, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York. So wherever I’m going to, when I’m going to smaller cities, of course, I’m doing the same thing. I’m landing at the gateway airport, and then I’m transferring to another flight to go somewhere else. When in the US, I frequently travel by train and bus. Exactly the same as here.
BP: Okay. All right. And there’s another big development you touched on earlier, which is impacting the east. Of course, the District Plan that could be voted on next year, and we’re going to touch on in a minute, is going to have a huge impact on developments in the west and in the north of Wellington, and south as well actually for that matter. And while the east is spared to some extent from intensification, there is this development of Shelly Bay. So a lot has been said about this development, about the tension within the iwis, between the developer and the community, between all the different players. What’s your take on this project?
RC: I definitely think something should be built there. About a year or so ago, I looked at this alternative plan for Shelly Bay, and I can’t remember who it was put out by, but I think it was by people in the Miramar community, and I thought it was an spectacular garden development. And what they were doing is they were opening it up for visitors, for people to go and see that, to spend time there, and I thought it was pretty impressive. I don’t think any of it had been costed out, who was going to pay for it, but I said that if it required ratepayer money, then I’m not so sure that I would support it but would seek private funding. But again, I don’t want the council to be paying for a lot of these things. If a private developer is doing a project, then I think it’s up to them to cost it out, and if they can make money from it, then they should be paying for it. Same as the infrastructure. I mean, the current District Plan, the operative District Plan, states that any developer doing these new developments is responsible for the infrastructure, and so they should. But I find that the council officers, they don’t seem to be enforcing this.
BP: Okay. Of course, the people who are in favor of the Shelly bay development, and there has been quite a few at the city council over the past term, they argue that of course there’s a shortage of housing in Wellington, and it kind of aligns with their desire to intensify. But before we dive into the housing policies that are being baked at the moment, do you think there is a shortage of houses in Wellington? And do you think that projections for the number of people needing to be housed in Wellington are correct?
RC: I think that people keep talking about the housing shortage, but I don’t think it’s actually a housing shortage, but it’s a shortage of housing that people can afford. So it’s the question of, what can actually people afford to buy? Now, if we had a source of housing, there’d be no advertisements in the real estate papers, because no one would be selling a house. So that is a genuine shortage,if there are no houses for sale. But the papers are full of houses. And even in my own area, I’ve been looking at the prices down there, and really one of my neighbours has just sold their house, it was valued at $1.1 million, and they sold it for $800,000. Now, $800,000 to my mind is still not affordable. However, the prices are there, and so what is an affordable house? People keep talking about affordable housing but what is it? Everyone has a different definition of it. But it’s what first home buyers and other people can afford to buy. And so if they can meet the mortgages, then that’s affordable.
BP: So what can the council do in this case, to help those first home buyers to put a foot in the ladder? What would you do?
RC: I would actually… and this is probably anathema to a lot of people, but I do believe in putting more developments further out of Wellington. Now, as I mentioned, I live in Broadmeadows. There are a lot of areas to expand, in fact there are a lot of sections in Broadmeadows that are still empty, where there’s no housing. And so there are a lot of existing developments in existing suburbs. I go over to Woodridge, I go to Churton Park, and I can see that there’s a lot of land out there where people could actually build houses.
And I also look at the types of developments. There’s one I actually quite like, which is in Silver Stream Road, in Crofton Downs and Ngaio, but when you go out there, I didn’t even know it was there until a builder took me out there. But it’s an area where almost all of the houses are actually a little bit smaller than what you’d normally expect in the suburbs, and the sections are much smaller, but they’ve been able to do that. So they put these houses in, and they’re three bedroom houses, they’ve got garages and off-street parking, but those houses are very economical to actually buy. So I think that we actually need more developments like that. There are also huge developments in Porirua and Hutt Valley where houses are more affordable.
BP: Okay. But people advocating for intensification are saying, “Keeping the city compact, first of all, is an asset, it’s something that you yourself enjoyed when you were in Europe, rather than sprawl externally and outwards. And it’s also addressing the climate crisis in doing so.” And they claim that building outwards is going to be more costly to the environment, because of transport infrastructure and moving people in and out all the time. So how do we deal with this? How do we find the right balance? What’s the right balance for you?
RC: I would be very happy to debate this, because when you build in the city, obviously you’re building high rise, and so you’re using a lot more concrete and steel, you’re building upwards, and so there are always costs with those houses, for that type of housing, not only using the carbon in all the concrete and steel that you’re using, but you’ve got the body corporate fees, they’ve got to pay for those. Wellington is actually a severe earthquake zone so are high-rise buildings a wise option? I’ve had meetings with Wellington Water, and they’ve talked to me about the emergency supplies of water. What do we actually do in the event of an emergency? Wellington water has what they call water islands, where they’ve broken Wellington up into different islands, and they’ve drilled into the ground and they’ve got a water bore there.
And so they said, in the event of an emergency when the pipes are broken, then they’ll open all these bores up, and they’ll take this water that comes out of these bores, put it into a big, huge bladder, then they’ll have people taking this water away to the different communities so that they can have water until they can get the mains back on again. And they said that this could be… Who knows? Depending on how bad it is, it could be two months, it could be three months. But when I looked at where these water islands were, there were none in the CBD. So I said, “How are all these people in the CBD going to get water?” They emphasised that, “We don’t have one in there, and in the event of an earthquake, if they get cut off and there’s no water there, they’re on their own.”
So that was a real eye opener for me, because what are those people going to do? If they lose the water, whether it’s just stormwater, sewage, and fresh water, what are they going to do? If they lose power, how are they going to get up there into their building?
BP: So basically what I’m hearing, Ray, is that you’re probably not quite happy with the way the District Plan is heading at the moment, are you?
RC: I’m not. I’m not. And I think it’s been hijacked by people who put the emphasis on walking outside, being in the CBD, living in the CBD, and walking outside, and having all these facilities there and I can understand this but I think that there’s a big danger in this notion. . I was brought up there. My first 30 years of my life, or 26 years of my life, were actually spent right in the middle of town. It was walking distance everywhere. Even our family, as I mentioned, there were nine of us, yet we didn’t even have a car when I was at college,. So I loved it there but I don’t consider it prudent to have such intensification there.
BP: Okay. So presumably if your idea of Wellington in addressing the housing crisis is expanding outwards, you would be keen to have a good transport infrastructure supporting all this. Are you more in favor of cars, buses, train, trams, bikes? What’s your… Moving into transport now.
RC: Yeah. Okay. If you take that development that I mentioned to you in Silver Stream road, I think it’s about 10 or 15 minutes’ walk to the Johnsonville railway line, to the Ngaio station, and also if you walk down there, you’ve also got the buses that are coming through Ngaio there all time. So anyone living in that development really doesn’t need to have a car. Now, I don’t want to say that I’m anti-car, or I would judge people to say that they shouldn’t have a car. In fact, I have a car, but I don’t use it much and in fact, I’ve filled it up once since January., I do like the bus and train service, I think it’s very efficient, and I catch the bus every day.
My preference is, again, based on my experience in different countries, I actually prefer train travel. I find it very efficient, and I like it more. In fact, some of the buses that I catch, if I need to, if I have meetings in Ngaio or further down, I catch the bus 22, and I have to admit, I feel car sick after the bus winds around all these back streets. However, it is convenient. And I just think that, as much as I like the train, I’m not sure that the train is actually a solution for Wellington.
If I look at different places, again, my experience in different places is that train service is very good when you have a huge number of people to move very quickly, but you have to have those people there. Now, if you look at places like Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Singapore, these areas, they have so many people that move around there. I didn’t actually think about it that much until one day I was working in Hong Kong, and as I came down the escalator, I saw the train down there, so I started running. I said, “Quick, quick, the train’s there.” And my colleague there said, “I never run for the train, because I know there’s going to be another one in two minutes. And so why run? You’ll run down the escalator, you’ll trip, you’ll fall.” But in Wellington, it’s actually not like that.
In fact, I had meetings with the Inner-City Wellington Residents’ Association a couple of weeks ago, and when I finished that at about 9:00 at night, I went to catch the bus back home, and I found that three buses were cancelled in a row, so I couldn’t get home. So I had to catch a bus to Johnsonville and I walked back from there. So if the public transport system was more reliable, more people would use it. I mean, I certainly would enjoy it a lot more, but I still use it every day.
BP: Yeah. So since we’re on the topic of transport, Let’s Get Wellington Moving, of course, given your obsession for cutting spending, you must be quite horrified with the time it’s taking to deliver something. So if you become elected mayor, what will you do to reduce the spending on Let’s Get Wellington Moving and fast track it?
RC: I’ve had quite some discussions with the Greater Wellington Regional Council when they make the decisions on what they should actually have and the options that they actually have. At the Thorndon Residents Association, we had Chris Kirk-Burnnard, a GWRC councillor as the guest speaker and he talked about the different options, and he said that Let’s Get Wellington Moving isn’t giving you all the options and they aren’t giving you all the information that they actually need to, the way that the costings are done, and when they say that they can actually get these done, it’s a long way out. But I feel that you can actually have an interim solution where… I know that people will say… You talk of an interim solution and people say, “Do it once and do it right.” And I absolutely agree with that, because I don’t believe in doing things again and again as things change. But I think that, if you look at a rapid bus service, I think that it’s a lot more efficient again than spending huge amounts of money on infrastructure, on putting light rail in there.
Now, I can’t understand the evidence the GWRC and LGWM uses. I had this debate about the routes and plans they have. They had one proposal of making the light rail go to Island Bay, but I’ve talked to the Greater Wellington councilors, and there’s two schools of thought there. One is that we’re going to run the light rail or propose to run the light rail out to Island Bay, because that’s where the people are, and so they’ll all catch this light rail into the CBD. But then I’ve heard another school of thought saying that no, they’re running that light rail there hoping to actually build up the intensity on this route , because under the District Plan, if that’s classified as a high speed service, then of course you can have greater intensification along that spine. So I’m not sure which one I believe, and I would like to have more discussion and more debate on that. I’d like to actually see the information that people actually use, because I do question some of the figures that we’re actually given.
BP: But doing so, you delay decisions, because all these discussions around Let’s Get Wellington Moving are extremely controversial, and very polarizing. Some people, they only believe in MRT, some of them actually are, what I’m hearing, like you for example, are very much into buses, and the debate around what to do has been going on for quite a few years now. But you would relitigate this to make sure that this is going perhaps to what you call the interim, or perhaps the faster services. You’d do this, that would be your intention.
RC: Yes. And in fact, if I was two people, I would actually like to run for the Greater Wellington Regional Council as well, because I have this strong interest in transportation. Now, I believe that progressively it’s been slow. As I mentioned, I live in Broadmeadows. I’ve been there for 38 years, and we never, ever had a bus service. And so when we finally got a bus service coming up through there, I thought I was the cat’s whiskers, because previously I just walked down to the Khandallah railway station or walked into Johnsonville to catch the bus in there. But then when we got the bus service there, I thought, “This is so good,” and it made everything a lot more accessible, instead of having to drive down to the station or Johnsonville If I was running late, I might drive down to the Khandallah railway station, park down there, then catch a train in. But now I can catch the bus anywhere I go to any of my meetings.
BP: That’s interesting, because I didn’t have that question for you, Ray, but your comment on the fact that you’ve considered, if you were two people, to run also for the regional council, brings a question to mind. And it is, would you be for or against amalgamation? You remember that this has been a topic for quite some time, that some people at Labour are in favor of creating this super Wellington City as opposed to different level of governance. Is it something you think is a good idea?
RC: I would absolutely be in favour of amalgamation, because that’s how they used to have it. I’ve talked to many of the Greater Wellington councilors and I’ve asked them about things, and I’ve asked them for the detail. And again, the responses I’ve had back are a little disappointing. And I’ve asked about the cost of the new electric buses. Now, again, I’m in favor of them. I think that’d be great. This is happening all over the world, and of course we can reduce the emissions by having these. But I asked them, “What’s the cost of these, and did you actually consider the cost of buying these, say, in a year’s time? Or how much were they last year? How much are they this year? How much do you think expecting them to be next year? What is the supply of them like?” And so I like to analyze these things, to cost things out, because everything I do, I like to get value for money out of it. It’s not because I want to delay anything. Of course, I want things to run more efficiently, but I don’t feel that people are considering the value for money and the cost of things.
BP: Although you could argue that, simply talking electric buses for example, that diesel buses would have a very steep depreciation, wouldn’t they?
BP: Ray, we’ve discussed city council, we’ve talked about climate change, the big developments, housing, and transport. And we’re almost done, it’s been almost hour now. So do you have any closing statement in a few sentences to conclude this discussion? What is your vision and how you’re going to achieve it, very succinctly.
RC: I want to see Wellington being something for everyone. One of the places that I love walking on is the waterfront. I love going down there, because when I was young, when I was a child, I used to walk along there as well, but it had all these warehouses and trucks in there, and it wasn’t a very nice place to walk. But now, it’s such a great place. And I’d like to expand this feeling and putting more facilities, looking at Kent and Cambridge Terrace and exploring the possibility of doing that. So I want Wellington to be a much, much more comfortable and attractive place for people to live, to work, and enjoy, and I don’t think this is happening.
BP: Okay. Well, that’s brilliant. Thank you so much, Ray, for your time today. It’s been really, really informative. All the best and good luck for the election.
RC: Thank you very much. Thank you.
BP: Thanks, Ray.