Last week, Tory Whanau was elected as mayor of Wellington. Her chance of success had been expected by many, but no one had anticipated the sheer scale of her victory. With such a mandate, she shouldn’t have any problem getting her policy stack unrolled (her actual one or this one, not the kebab of vague commonplaces we got served during the countless debates). I would suggest that elected Councillors keep that in mind if they challenge her.
Tory Whanau campaigned hard on restoring trust between residents and the City Council. She will need to pull several levers to achieve this. First, she’ll need to ensure the staff of the Council actually implement the strategic direction and decisions of the elected members. On that front, I cannot see how CEO Barbara McKerrow could possibly stay, as the situation has been out of control in the previous term. Mayor Whanau will then need to ensure proper KPIs and accountability are implemented.
Once the City Council actually implements the decisions taken by elected members, Tory Whanau should give residents confidence she is listening, by implementing a transparent, trustworthy and simpler consultation mechanism. The current one is opaque, lengthy, and everyone – the Council, residents, everyone – has an interest in it being improved.
Finally, I strongly suggest every member of the Council must be exemplary when it comes to engagement. If we want to avoid the risks of polarisation, we need the Mayor and Councillors to be role models in democratic debates by being open about what they think, their position, where they want to go, and by rejecting any temptation to attack parties, groups and people who disagree with them. They should choose a constructive debate, even if the other party is not on the same journey. This applies at the Council table, in public meetings, in the mainstream and social media: everywhere. It’s hard, it takes longer, but this is the only way to, eventually, bring everyone together.
On transport and housing, we know Wellington is in for many changes. For this, Mayor Whanau has a clear mandate too, one underpinned by climate and Te Tiriti values. Obviously, these changes are bound to upset some people. May I respectfully remind Tory of her policy stack called “Welcoming back Nature in Wellington”, especially this part:
On the assumption that people adverse to intensification fear their livelihood will worsen, this policy has the potential to appease their concerns. Providing some level of guarantee their neighbourhood will be better off after intensification has the potential to create greater consensus amongst residents in the face of changes.
Lastly, the East has been and is in an unenviable situation. The horror of Shelly Bay is only starting to unfold. The new light rail route was diverted away from the East because of sea level rise threat. The Regional Park that was announced in 2016 hasn’t seen a single shovel yet. And of course, the airport wants to expand. About the latter, Tory Whanau campaigned on this policy:
To achieve this, I would suggest that first and foremost the conflict of interest WCC finds itself in must be addressed: WCC can’t be in and out at the same time, pushing the interests of the community and the airport at the same time, as they are pulling in opposite directions at present.
This will also require elected members to revoke the Delegated Authority that the previous Mayor and Councillors gave to the City Council (the staff) earlier this year.
I would also nominate two new members to represent WCC on the airport board, to ensure Wellington’s climate aspirations are better communicated. None of that will be easy, but it is essential to align Te Atakura and the wellbeing of Eastern residents with where the airport is heading. Simply put, the airport expansion must be put on hold until flying (truly) sustainably is achieved (SAF don’t count).
Wellington is facing many challenges, internal and external, which will require multiple deep changes, and some tough decisions to be made. This transition will be difficult to navigate to ensure we are better off at the other end.. It will require extreme patience and empathy to ensure as many people as possible are on board.
Tory Whanau campaigned on her ability to bring people together. Nothing less will be needed to bring officers, Councillors and the residents on the journey. Let’s hope that with her heart in the right place, and the right set of values, Tory Whanau will succeed.