A discussion with Luana Scowcroft

In October 2022, Wellingtonians will be asked to elect a new City Council and a new Mayor. In this series of discussions, I sit with candidates to understand their vision and hear how they intend to tackle Wellington’s big issues.

In this episode, I listened to Luana Scowcroft, a candidate for Motukairangi/Eastern ward.

Benoit Pette: Kia Ora. My name is Benoit Pette. Today is the 18th of August, 2022. I am sitting with Luana Snowcroft. Luana, you are a mom, you are a feminist, and you live in Hataitai. You were raised in the Cook Islands and worked with international NGOs, in the public service, and you’ve had a few businesses. You’ve got two tamahine and you spend your weekends with them enjoying Mount Victoria and its surroundings. Today we’ll have a discussion for about 45 minutes to an hour covering the coming elections, the City Council, climate change, the big developments across Wellington, housing and transport. How are you, Luana?

Luana Scowcroft: I’m great. Thank you, Benoit. I’ve just had an excellent oat flat white in Wellington’s coffee scene. So I’m feeling ready to roll.

The election

BP: All right. So why are you interested to run into politics?

LS: I get asked this question almost daily and it kind of goes halfway between people calling me brave and some people calling me stupid. Every day I probably go between the two, but I guess politics for me, it’s everyday life. It’s not a construct that’s over there that’s separate, that only parts of society and community can partake in. It impacts us every day. So I guess I’ve always been interested in how to leave this place better than we found it.

BP: Nice. And how do you find the campaign so far? It’s your first one, yes?

LS: It is my first one being the face of it. So that’s quite different from being behind the scenes. And honestly, so far so good. I’ve only had a couple of negative interactions. I’m sure my time will come, but I think people are really… In the east, I think people are really interested in different and fresh ideas right now. I think there’s been a bit of a desire for some fresh energy in the Council. So I’ve had quite positive feedback so far.

BP: So with that in mind, if you could describe in a few sentences, in a few minutes, what is your vision for the east and Wellington and where do you see Wellington in 10 years? What would it be?

LS: I’ll counter-challenge that, and I try to think in intergenerational terms. So I see Wellington as that’s, to me, that’s too short term. I look at what I see Wellington as for when my kids are my age and when their kids are that same age.

So I see a city that is thriving, that everybody loves this place and everybody is thriving. I think it’s an amazing place to be for some of us, acknowledging the privilege that you and I have here. But we know that people are struggling to survive in our city. And I see a place where our biodiversity is flourishing, where we’ve actively managed how we react to climate change and where our people are thriving.

BP: So this long-term vision is very commendable, but if you get in Council if you get elected, what would be your strategy to aim towards this vision, to deliver it?

LS: What I can promise is, cause you never know what Council’s going to throw at you, as we’ve learned from the last three years. But what I do promise is that every decision that I make will be made through a climate lens and also Te Tiriti lens. So to me, those are the two cornerstones of making any long-term intergenerational change.

BP: Beautiful. Also, it may sound like a side question, but we’re going to be asking those questions to all the candidates who’re running. So in terms of funding, how are you funding your campaign?

LS: I have amazing friends and family, so I had a quiz night the other night and for the first time it was people I didn’t know who were coming out to support me. And that was pretty special. So I think for me, that was kind of a turning point in the campaign, from friends and family who believe in me to people in the community who I don’t even know, wanting to get me elected and donating to my campaign. So that’s been really cool.

Local democracy and consultation

BP: All right. Because that’s also the nerve of the war to be able to get that kind of support. So the City Council, and you just touched on it, have had some reputation to be sometimes dysfunctional. And if I tell you 12%, for example, what does it ring for you? What do you make of it?

LS: I was dismayed when they first saw that percentage of Wellingtonians who have trust in their Council. For me, the biggest thing, and I’ve tested this with people who work at Council, with existing councillors, past mayors and councillors, it feels like there’s a real disconnect between the functions of the staff at Council and officials at Council, and those who are publicly elected. And it’s the community that’s missing out. When we talk about the Council to Joe Blogs on the street, it’s all one entity. Yet there seems to be this friction that hasn’t been able to be resolved. And so for me, one of the biggest things I think I can contribute is really trying to build back some of that trust between those two functions and deliver for the city.

BP: All right. So what do you think, in that case, has caused this disconnect in the first place over the past term, maybe terms? What was the reason behind it?

LS: Well, I’ll be honest, engaging in local politics has been a relatively newish thing for me over the last year or so. I’m a working mom, so sometimes it’s pretty hard, as I’m sure you understand with young children, it’s hard to find the time to try and work through all these big documents and all that kind of thing. So for me, just on the outside from the last couple of years, I’ve just seen this. It’s almost like each side is trying to throw the other under the bus. I’ve been at public meetings where the current mayor and some of his councillors have stood up and said: “well, that’s what the council officials are doing” and not backing that decision. And to me that makes no sense. It’s one entity.

And then similarly on the other side, you see, after elected officials have been sort of dipping into the operational side of the council, which is not their role, the role is governance. And then maybe trying to trip up from the other way as well. So there’s just a lack of trust, I think.

BP: Listening to you, there is a lack of trust between the elected members and the officials, as well as between the elected members and the community. And in fact, looking at that report, that was the RMS report, the Resident Monitoring Survey that was issued a couple months ago, it’s pretty clear that what people are saying is that they don’t feel they’re being listened to. In fact, there’s been a study coming out of the centre of the future of democracy in the University of Cambridge in 2020 saying this: “we found that dissatisfaction with democracy has risen over time and it’s reaching an all-time global high, in particular in developed democracies”. So what I’m hearing is that you agree that we see that in Wellington. What would you be able to do you think, to help the consultation process be more, perhaps, engaging and that the outcome is actually better reflected?

LS: I love that question so much because I’ve been harping on at everyone who will listen about consultation. And I think what one of the biggest problems has been, certainly people in the east that I’ve been speaking to, is there are things that the council has to do. Acting on climate change isn’t a negotiable, that’s something we have to do. The way we do that is the question. And so when the council’s saying, hey, we’re going to put a cycle way through here. And instead of going out to consult and say, should we put a cycle way? Because their plan is that they need to do it anyway for our climate commitments. And to obviously reflect the needs of our city. They should have gone out and said: “hey, this is the thing we are doing” and being upfront about that. And then saying, what does that look like to you as a community, as a business, as an individual, as a parent.

And so it’s about putting the parameters around what consultation is. People have consultation fatigue, and they’re more pissed off than if you didn’t go to them in the first place. And I think that’s what hasn’t been done well.

And similarly, like being at the Shelly Bay roading consultation recently, the officials, including the mayor, didn’t have all the information that they needed. And so they were consulting with the community who had some really strong views and clearly that’s kind of a hot topic. And then a few weeks later we find out that there’s this potential bus depot on the road, which hadn’t been included in that consultation. And so people want transparency. Internationally, we’re seeing that’s kind of a theme that people are wanting that transparency and wanting to be involved and engaged in a way that they genuinely can, rather than just a tick box of consultation.

BP: What you’re describing Luana though, sounds quite close to what happened for the Cobham drive crossing, for example, where Let’s Get Wellington Moving came out and said: “we’re going to have a crossing” and gave a few options, but effectively were planning for a crossing. And the consultation came back and said super clearly that the vast majority of the people who engaged were opposed to the crossing, in that format, as a traffic light. So what would you do in this kind of situation?

LS: I think we need to look at how we’re consulting as well. People, I know parents, I for one, am very positive about a crossing on Cobham drive and we’ve got people who are anti it and want the over bridge is what I’ve heard most commonly, but then similarly don’t want to pay for that. So there has to be a line drawn somewhere. And I think it’s about who you are consulting with, what the format that is. So a lot of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving consultations were done online or at evening sessions and things like that. Again, for young parents, that can be really inaccessible. So also my Pacific community, we know that they’re not engaging in this process in this way. We know that Maori aren’t engaging in this way. And I think we need to make that clearer and try harder to go to where the people are, rather than expecting the same people who are really engaged already to be consulted with.

BP: So just to finish on this topic of consultation, what I’m hearing is that there needs to be a change in the way people are being consulted from your perspective. This means we need to change the processes we need to perhaps allocate money and funding to implement new ways of consultation, whether it’s online, whether it’s from a mobile phone, etc … So you are prepared to push an agenda to change the consultation process. Is it what you say?

LS: I will say without knowing the inner workings right now, I think something has to change. I don’t know whether the way to do that is through the process alone. I think there are some missing relationships with communities. And I think when you have those strong relationships that already exist, you’re not having to try to, it’s pulling teeth, trying to get people to engage. If you’ve got a great relationship with our Pacific community, for example, existing, without wanting anything in return. At that point, it’s going to come more freely and naturally. So I think it’s about building those genuine relationships that serve both parties.

Climate Change

BP: Okay, thank you. On climate change: so obviously you’ve touched on it and it’s very important for you as a candidate and as a mom. The climate emergency was declared three years ago and a year later Te Atakura was signed with massive public support, 92%, as you know, of people who engaged in Te Atakura were in support of climate action now, whatever it takes, no matter what. And yet IPCC reports after IPCC report, the situation seems to be worsening. Do you agree that the shift in the climate is happening today?

LS: Absolutely.

BP: Okay. And in that case, do you think this Council last term has done enough to get us on the right trajectory?

LS: I think there’s been possibly too much of a focus on wins by various individuals on council. And I’m not, I don’t even think it’s a left versus right situation, but there was a lot of time wasted I think. And I think a lot more could have been done. And that’s what I’m really excited about with this potential new Council. There’s some incredibly strong, progressive, intelligent people putting their hands up to run for council from across the board. And I think we’ve got a real shot at climate action.

BP: So you’re saying not enough has been done. And in fact, the Te Atakura itself actually backs that claim. It sets itself a target of 43% emission reduction by 2030, and yet all the 28 actions that were listed in that document, that same document could only reach, if there were all delivered successfully, 24% emission reduction by 2030. So what would you do to close that 19 points gap to reduce emissions by 2030?

LS: I don’t know if you saw the news that came out on yesterday was it, by the Greater Wellington Regional Council? So they have committed really strongly to targets, which go across all the Wellington Councils. So I feel like that’s a really good starting point. I think as a council, we have to make bold decisions and sometimes they’re going to be unpopular. And I think this is where it comes back to the consultation.

It’s about being up front and that’s why I’m running as a green candidate and being really upfront about my values. We can’t afford more of the same, climate change is here. It’s not coming, it’s here. I was a climate change activist in my late teens when we were still arguing whether it was a real thing or not. And I was living on my beach in the Cook Islands and seeing those implications every day. So it feels like we’ve shifted, the conversation isn’t about, is it or isn’t it anymore. It’s just let’s get on and do it. And so I think the Council has to be bolder in its decision making and councillors have to just crack on.

BP: So what are the levers at the council to be bolder?


LS: I think this is where policy overlaps and creates an ecosystem. So you’ve got housing. So when we think about how we can, and the Greater Wellington Regional Council has talked about this in their latest targets, creating suburbs and communities where people can get around through public transport, active transport, cycling, walking, and not be reliant on cars. I think that’s number one. I was reading a thing the other day about the 15 minutes, the quarter hour paradise, which was all about living in communities where everything you possibly need is 15 minutes away. And this isn’t a new concept, but it’s a shift, we need to make. And I know we’ll talk housing a little bit more later, but I think essentially transport and housing need to go hand in hand is the big ones.

BP: There are different ways to deliver housing. And even if you want to achieve the same outcome, reduce the emission and create this 15 minutes paradise, there are different ways to achieve it. And the District Plan at the moment and which is out for consultation, I think it’s 1200 pages by the way …

LS: Yes, working my way through it slowly.

BP: Yeah, an interesting one. It’s pushing for intensification and new development along transport spine. This inevitably will drive more construction, which demands a lot of concrete and concrete, we know, is a super high emitter. So do you think the District Plan is either not going far enough in being prescriptive on how we going to do this construction work so that we don’t emit more? Or for example, that it’s not leveraging all the tools that we’ve discovered through Covid.

For example, Working From Home, to really push that as much as possible. And just to finish on this particular rhetoric, Working From Home encompasses the idea of reuse, reduce, recycle, where we shift the workforce across the city and reuse for example, the existing office buildings, which are sitting at empty at night that could be used for housing. So what do you think, which way?

LS: I think it’s going to be a, sorry, I know this is a very political answer, but I think it has to be a combination of the two. And I think there are bold businesses and some government agencies who are factoring that in to their climate goals. I don’t know whether the Council has really the mandate to say, you have to work from home on a Friday, for example. But one of the unexpected positives of that, apart from the climate positives, has been local businesses thriving. We see out in Karori and around that area, I can’t remember the exact figure, but it’s shot up maybe 40% or something, local businesses in that space.

BP: So the current needle, as far as the District Plan is concerned is about 5,000 dwellings being repurposed from office to housing, where I think the figure is about 160. No, sorry. I don’t want to quote wrong number, but there is a massive preference given to new buildings as opposed to repurposing. How do you feel about this?

LS: I think repurposing needs to be part of that puzzle, absolutely. If we’ve got places that we can utilize now, obviously that’s faster. We know there are issues on the supply chain and things like that. So I’d like to see that as part of the puzzle, absolutely. One other thing in there, I’m not talking too much on the District Plan because as I said, I’m still working my way through the 1200 pages document. Again, consultation: I’ve been looking online for a snappy summary, but no one’s done one yet. So maybe that’s something you want to do, Benoit.

BP: That’s the work the Council though.

LS: Yeah. Who knows, but another thing and I’m quite upfront about this is the fact that as a city, we have, you mentioned 92% of people who engaged in that particular survey want climate action now. And yet we are talking about extending our airport and we’re talking about an extra 2000 flights a year. Those things don’t match up for me. I have a history in the tourism sector, I have a history in the sustainable and regenerative tourism sector. And this just blows my mind, a capital city that’s even considering that at the moment. And it will need money from the council, which needs money from our citizens to do this. And is that something that we are prepared to do?


BP: So the airport is one of the big developments I wanted to discuss a bit later. But just to follow the narrative you started rolling around the housing and transport and being intertwined: so there has been four options that Let’s Get Wellington Moving put forward. The Light Rail Train (LRT), to a lot of people’s surprise in the east, is not going this way as voters assumed for so many years. I guess my first question is, are you an LRT or Bus person?

LS: Obviously we don’t have MRT right now. So I catch the bus quite a lot. I think what I want to see is the planning that we do, as I said with that intergenerational focus. So it may be that the east and I’m still understanding the reasons why not for the MRT, not being in the east. But we’ve got the plan that we’ve got. And I think at this point, everyone’s just like, let’s crack on with something it’s been so many years. But what I want to see is with this new tunnel that has two lanes each way. So one lane for cars, one lane for public transport, I want to make sure that is future proof. So if in the future we decide that we do want MRT to be going through there, that’s possible.

BP: Let’s Get Wellington Moving say they haven’t made a decision around tram versus fast bus lanes or dedicated lanes. So for you, do you have an incline towards one option or the other? People are very passionate about this online. They go tram is absolutely what we have to do. It’s faster and more comfortable. And on the other hand, a lot of people say it’s so much faster and cheaper … to roll out the dedicated lane for buses. What do you think?

LS: My first comment is I’m not a transport expert. And I think often we expect our Council is to be experts on absolutely everything, with very little policy support. So my instinct is I would love light rail coming through. The cost benefit of that, I still don’t understand to be honest with you.

BP: The like of Andy Foster say that for light rail to be affordable, the housing intensification along the line has to be quite extreme. Hence him saying it really depends on the kind of developments we can do down south.

LS: And that’s not something I understand that is on the cards for the east at the moment, that intensification.

The big developments

The airport

BP: Okay. What’s the plan for the east then? Because looking at, and we’re going to shift towards the big developments here, the east has received very little, if anything, through the past term. What we have received is, some would argue, quite inflammatory, controversial or clearly adverse. You touched on the airport extension and let’s start with that. So do you think the fact the airport is in the east, it is possible that some people at the council will go, they have an airport, the liveability there is going to drop with the expansion anyway. So why should we roll out nice stuff there? Do you think it’s a possibility?

LS: I don’t think that the… I think it can feel like that when we live here and we’re housing the bus depot, the airport, and some of the big infrastructure things for the city, but I don’t believe that would be a thought process.

BP: So why the Council is happy to support or at least not oppose explicitly the airport expansion, which will have terrible adverse effect against the local community?

LS: I think it’s about representation. Who have we got on the airport board on behalf of the council right now? We need to look at that, first and foremost.

BP: And you touched on it earlier. So you clearly opposed the expansion of the airport on climate grounds. Now, what do you think the council can do to get in the way of that expansion? What are the levers that it can leverage?

LS: That’s what I’m still trying to understand. When you sell off… Essentially looking at it as public transport, it is public transport really. And I don’t know that there is a desire to buy the airport outright, but maybe that’s an option. The more publicly run and owned infrastructure that we have, the better. It’s not driven by profits, then it’s driven by the needs of the community.

BP: So you would be inclined to perhaps buy back the airport to make it public in order to rein it in?

LS: That’s my statement now. As I keep saying, I’m learning a lot on this journey. I’m not currently in Council with the supportive policy officials and things. So this is all coming from doing my own research and understanding what I can from the outside.

BP: Yeah but instantly, as soon as you say this, you’ve got all the people who jump at rate hike saying: “we just simply can’t afford this”. The expansion alone is worth a billion dollars. That’s how much they want bake into the project. I wonder, do we have any other levers, like policies or…

LS: From what I see, we’ve kind of let them run away a little bit. And so I don’t know how easy it is to pull that back.

Shelly Bay

BP: And speaking of big developments, there is obviously the other one that is the never ending saga.

LS: I’m looking forward to this conversation.

BP: The Shelly Bay one, I need to give you some questions so you can just unroll your own views of Shelly Bay. This is yet another massive development, half a billion dollars being thrown at it and extremely controversial in the east, as you know. Some people argue, it’s more housing and it’s fair enough. Some look at the transaction between the Iwi and the developer and the dissatisfaction that was driven out that. And some argue that if you look at the Spatial Plan principles, the ones that were consulted on extensively over the past term, Shelly Bay doesn’t tick any of the boxes. So obviously a lot of different views and all very passionate. So if you had been at the council table over the past term, when the Council had to vote on the lease and sale of the public land to the developer, what would’ve been your vote then?

LS: With the information I have now, again I will caveat it with that, and I’m sure there’s information I haven’t been privy to, but I’ve been talking to a lot of people and trying to understand and paint a picture. My feeling that as a treaty partner, and local government is a treaty partner, not doing things to inflame the situation is our responsibility. So to me, when you’ve got intra Iwi politics playing out and quite deeply, we know the connection to land of Mana Whenua and that invokes such an emotional response, I think it’s the Council’s job, not to intervene, not to get involved, but to give that conversation the space it needs to continue. So that’s my view. My inclination is always to lean on the side of those who are protecting the Whenua, if anyone, but I’m aware that some of my colleagues voted in favour of, and I’m sure they have some very good reasons for that as well.

So as I say, I’m still unpacking it. My instinct is that, first and foremost, as a good treaty partner, let’s not inflame the situation. From a climate perspective, there’s some interesting … it’s about how development looks and how it’s rolled out. That’s an interesting choice for me being right on the water. And then whether it’s affordable housing, I don’t know that it is. Luxury housing isn’t necessarily the housing that we need right now in the city. So those are my initial thoughts. I’m really keen to have a further conversation with you once I’ve had some of these conversations. I haven’t talked to the settlement trust, for example, or Mau Whenua directly on this yet. So I don’t think it’s fair for me to have a total, make some wild assumptions as a parking out person on the sidelines.

BP: I’ve spoken with quite a few of the councillors and the mayor and all of them said that the vote on Shelly Bay was probably the hardest they had to make during that term. And that’s because there’s no good solution. Now there is another development that’s looming, very close to Shelly Bay, which is the Mount Crawford one. Similar size, similar amount of housing there, same players and adjacent to a regional park that was promised in 2016 and where nothing’s happened yet. So what can we do? What would you do rather to help the discussion around the Mount Crawford development, to be more civil and to reach a consensus? What can you do? What would you do if you were elected?

LS: So first and foremost, creating the space and not doubling down on the kind of European timeframes that we tend to impose on these things. So creating the space for those intra Iwi conversations that have to happen to go through. Right now we know, for example, with Shelly Bay, there’s a case in front of the Maori land court. So allowing that process to play out, I think is the respectful thing to do and looking at how that plays out. And that’ll likely give us an indication of how to run the next load of conversations around Mount Crawford. I know that there’s been lots of ideas put forward for that area. And I think it’s so intertwined with what’s happening down the hill at the moment that you can’t separate those two things. So I’d like to see that Shelly Bay play out and understand what kind of resolution we have there, before wading in on Mount Crawford.

BP: Yeah. I fully acknowledge what you’re saying but at the same time I’m very cognoscente of the fact that the Spatial Plan and the District Plan are setting directions for the city. That intensification must happen along with transport supply. The 15 minutes you were talking about earlier is not achievable there. It doesn’t take expert eyes to understand this, right? So how do we marry on one side, the self realisation of the Iwi and their aspirations, which are obviously very legitimate, and on the other side, where the city wants to go as a whole and take all the climate change consideration that you mentioned earlier. You mentioned cycleways earlier and saying that it was not a negotiable deal. And I was coming across a article this morning that AIG, the insurer was saying that we should really stop developing in flooding prone areas. And Shelly Bay is going to be on the shoreline. So it’s all well to say, we want to let the Iwi discussion to unfold, but there are so many things that are happening outside of this as well, which are equally important.

LS: A hundred percent…

BP: How do we solve this?

LS: It’s like you’ve got a perfect storm, right? You’ve got big money. You’ve got housing crisis. You’ve got a group of Iwi realising their post settlement space. And how do we allow for and give space Tinorangatiratanga and Mana Motuhake while at the same time saying, okay, we’ve got this District Plan that we have to, it has to be finished by this date. So can you guys just sort this out? So you see my…

It’s so challenging and so tricky. And I don’t know whether, if the answer to that in the short term is, well, hey, this is what we’re going to do with the majority of the city. And while that plays out, leave that to play out.


BP: All right. Well, we’ve spoken airport expansion. We’ve talked about Shelly Bay and Mount Crawford, climate change, transport, housing, the elections, how you prepare for it and how you are hoping to get a seat at the Council table. Is there anything else you’d like to cover, Luana?

LS: Yeah, I guess the big one for me is following on from the work that Jill Day and Tamatha Paul have already started around being the best treaty partner local government can be. So I think for so long, local government has hidden behind the central government as the Crown and saying that they’re not a treaty partner, which is the case right now. But to the public, to Maori, to non Maori, government is government, local or central. And I think when we start to put these, forgive me, but quite pakeha, stringent putting it in this box over here and this box over here, actually, if you put people at the center of that, all those things touch people’s lives every single day, whether it’s looking after te pae or housing, taxation, all those things interconnect. And I think it’s a bit of a cop out to be honest. And so what I really want to do is, as I say, make decisions through a Te Tiriti lens. And if I’m one person on a council that can be a responsible and respectful treaty partner, then that’s my job done.

BP: Awesome. Thank you very much, Luana. Thanks for your time and all the best for the election.

TW: Thanks Benoit.