Wellington.Scoop » Problems and Positivity
by Felicity Wong
Phew, the local elections are over and all the imaginary hecklers are gone.
Just before the final candidates meeting a week ago, Tory Whanau tweeted, “If you’re free at 2 p.m. today and want to show your support, please come to my final meeting and say hello. Rowdies are likely to show up and it would be great to drown out their aggression with relentless positivity (green heart emoji).”
A fan tweeted in response, “I can’t be there but I don’t care about the rowdies in my head.” Priceless, given the strange report from an “interrogator” at the Evans Bay Scout Hall that Sunday afternoon.
I had given up my hobby after attending 18 meetings, but a counselor reported that it was difficult to hear a questioner wearing a scarf around his face. Removing the scarf, to reveal another mask underneath, she asked her question. What did the candidates think of the expert opinion of the Infrastructure Commission on “Option 4”? No one could remember what Option 4 was, but they acknowledged the questioner was Cabinet Minister Julie-Ann Genter, whose partner Peter Nunns is an expert at the Infrastructure Commission.
In case you forgot, option 4 is the (non-preferred) light rail route from LGWM to Taranaki Street. The last term the green councilors voted against (although it would emit less carbon) because it would pass through Te Aro Pah, an important location for local iwi. It also avoided the preferred government policy for a new Mount Victoria tunnel (2 bus lanes plus 2 car lanes to the new Waka Kotahi pedestrian crossing).
His attempt to get comment was shrouded in mystery. Candidates had no response to his abundance of caution about covid and knew nothing about the co-governance issue of iwi heritage demolition, albeit for climate-friendly density.
During the lockdown, Julie-Ann Genter had produced (with Labour’s Phil Twyford in the lead role) the city’s zoning plan for the National Policy Statement on Urban Development. Public participation in the Cabinet decision was minimal. It was then quickly enforced through legislation (created on zoom) that easily eliminated Environmental Court appeals and mandated 3 floors everywhere under mandatory planning regulations.
Recently, Newshub described Christchurch City Council’s response as giving the government “the middle finger” on the one-time zoning change. Just weeks before the election, the Council voted to refuse to apply it. Weak suggestions followed (from ‘town planners’ on Twitter) that Christchurch’s disobedience should trigger its replacement by government-appointed commissioners. Outgoing Labor mayor Lianne Dalziel (who voted in the minority) sent a letter to David Parker (now in charge of politics), asking for a special exemption for Christchurch from the planning dictate. The commissioners’ silly idea was stillborn as Minister Parker responded in a conciliatory tone by “seeking advice from officials”.
The elections brought great political swings to most metropolitan cities. Now it will take more than advice from officials to resolve the issue ahead of next year’s general election.
Auckland’s hugely victorious Wayne Brown was filmed singing on Saturday “Take the Goff road and don’t come back, no more, no more…”and he made an Auckland-like statement giving the government the same finger on transport and density dictates.
By contrast, in Wellington, our new “relentlessly positive” mayor has won wide endorsement for the green vision which focuses on high-density transport-driven development.
The economic philosophy of mass rapid transit relies on pervasive zoning that reduces land values enough to generate affordable housing opportunities. Although popular in American cities like LA, where Julie-Ann Genter was once his student, the philosophy is disputed by other economists. Melbourne is introducing a value rise tax to capture some of the windfall profits from landowners when expensive new state-funded MRTs are nearby.
Wellington has struggled with its topography-induced density for years. During the campaign, there was little light between Mayor Foster, local MP Eagle and incoming Mayor Whanau on the need for affordable housing on Adelaide Road (the LGWM party-approved ‘Option 1’ route). In the meantime, the $120 million business case for LGWM will keep Wellington’s “knowledge economy” and “fast train” mythos alive for years to come.
Roger Blakeley (his implacably positive lawyer), was temporarily excluded from the Regional Council. Let’s hope that Julie-Anne Genter’s question does not portend new multimodal quarrels.
What my recent hobby has revealed is the widespread desire among Wellington residents to see the buses run better right now. It’s hard for retirees, who have to hitchhike to Miramar, to be consistently positive about the 5-hour gaps in public transportation service. Penalties for bus cancellations to more distant destinations are the same as for nearby destinations (so it is economically rational for the entrepreneur to cancel buses on longer routes). There have also been massive declines in public use of buses and trains in Wellington, and light needs to be shed on the various cross-subsidies involved regionally.
Which reminds me of the frail questioner with a shaky voice at the Thorndon Residents Association meeting who asked why there weren’t more bus shelters at bus stops to protect against the weather? While not a rowdy, she clearly wasn’t “relentlessly positive.”
Solving the problem of disabled people tripping over abandoned e-scooters on the trails would also be a good thing. Like “multimodal commuters” pedaling to slow down on shared paths, such as around the waterfront.
The challenge for Mayor Whanau will be to address the real, not imagined, issues and challenges of the city. Many of these stem from central government policies (for example, the appalling conditions at local Kainga Ora and MSD-funded facilities) that Mayor Foster has done his best to address. Others, like bus services, are to be fixed through the GWRC, which is mainly governed by elected green politicians.
A huge thank you to Mayor Andy Foster for his accomplishments over 30 years of service to all of us. Its achievements are enormous and that is why so many of us paid so little attention to the Council until recently. He was in his good hands. He was into city politics, the weeds kept everything smart, and protected the city and outer green belts, the skyline and turned Wellington into an eco city that now has native bush regeneration and parrots Jurassic-like kaka hovering above the western skies of Onslow where none had been in nearly a century.
Mayor Foster loves this city and knows its history, heritage and how it works. He worked tirelessly to provide the big picture of ecology, while being a really good and honest person. Thank you Mayor Foster for a career tinged with green-blue politics that has produced real results for our great city. He put “Absolutely Positively Wellington” first and was always “relentlessly positive” too. Let’s see what new Mayor Whanau can accomplish by using his promised skills to bring us together.