Simon Woolf on the WCC

July 25th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Cr Simon Woolf writes on Facebook:

Oh my gosh. What must you all be thinking! Two Dom Post articles exposing poor council/ Councillor culture within two days.

I can tell you it has not been the happiest time for me in the past near three years!

I thought I could make a difference, and bring a more collaborative cohesive approach to council. To a degree there is collaboration, however there isn’t a sense of team, and much on the collaborative side of things takes quite some effort. I have tried my best. At times it has been so frustrating!

There are a lot more areas that are agreed on, than aren’t, however when disagreement does occurs it has been often bitter. Lines are drawn, and often certain Councillors overstep. Some Councillors have been overstepping for a considerable time too! The culture has developed where certain Councillors get away with things as there are no consequences for poor behavior. That has really surprised me. When there are no consequences the discipline and focus goes. Personalities become egocentric, and forget why they are Councillors. It becomes about them, and not the city. It guts me!

From almost day one, I was amazed by the baggage some long term Councillors brought to the new triennium. At our first workshop together, which ironically was at the Zoo, two re elected Councillors walked out, after altercations with other re elected Councillors.

I made my first big mistake that day, and managed to get everyone back in the room! One long standing Councillor, whose behavior has been appalling this term, should have been isolated then and there, and for the good of the city. I ended up chairing a good proportion of the rest of the workshop. The worst part was that the poor behavior was played out in front of the Executive Leadership team. That was unacceptable, and I certainly spoke out as to how I felt that was so damaging. I have been left shaking my head many times ever since!

We deserve better.

This council’s performance has been less than effective at times due to a lack of teamwork. The squabbling and in fighting has at times been shameful. I can tell you there are Councillors who are not party to the poor behavior, and do not play dirty! We are all being tainted by association, and that is also frustrating..

I mentioned baggage earlier, and one of the areas I will be pushing Central Government for, re elected, or not, will be to look at limited terms for Councillors, and also Mayors. Wellington would be ideal for a trial too. We need a change, which mostly revolves around culture. I would propose no Councillor should be able to serve more than two four year terms. Mayors and Deputy Mayors, could have a further two, or maybe even three, four year terms, if re elected. ( If you get an exceptional leader, you don’t wish to lose them too early!)

The Deputy Mayor should very much be given the ability for an extra term or two also. The most successful tenure Wellington has seen in it’s history, was when Sir Michael Fowler was Mayor, and Ian Lawrence was his Deputy. They were a team. Sir Michael was the creative visionary, and out front, while Ian was the administrative strength, who crossed the “t’s” and dotted the “i’s”!

I saw a similar model last year, first hand in Los Angeles, with the city of Arcadia, Their model ensured a continual refresh of vision, governance, leadership and ideology. A couple of their current Councillors served the maximum 8 years, were then forced to sit out a further four, and were then re elected again. The break is seen as being very positive. After what I have seen in this triennium we need to consider a new model of governance. It should be a priority. Civic governance should not be a job for life!

I agree.

Failed “coup” at WCC

July 24th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Attempts to stage a leadership coup at Wellington City Council have been revealed in the wake of accusations of a “toxic culture” there.

Early last year, councillor Nicola Young said she went, with the backing of the majority of councillors, to mayor Celia Wade-Brown, urging her to use her casting vote to oust Andy Foster as chairman of the transport and urban development committee over the handling of the divisive Island Bay cycleway.

Both Foster and Young have confirmed the coup attempt, which seemingly stalled after Wade-Brown and some councillors backed down.

However, Young said: “Talk of a coup is pathetic. We had no confidence in Foster … Celia has failed miserably in dealing with Wellington’s transport problems.”  …

However, Young said: “Talk of a coup is pathetic. We had no confidence in Foster … Celia has failed miserably in dealing with Wellington’s transport problems.”  

It seems apparent that Wellington needs leadership that can unify the Council.

 

Staffer labels WCC as toxic

July 21st, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A leaked email sent to Wellington city councillors paints a picture of an organisation in chaos, and a “toxic culture” in which personal ambitions reign supreme.

The email, provided to Stuff, is from Pete Whiting, who was hired from Australia as a transport engagement officer to advise on cycleways.

He quit late last month after only four months, saying council power brokers largely ignored his experience and ideas

In an email sent on July 11, after his resignation, he lambasted councillors and senior management, saying he had never before encountered a council that would “bury its head in the sand over transport and future transport issues”. 

He accused them of turning the Island Bay cycleway “into a political mess”, to the point “where the project completely stalled”, leaving him with virtually nothing to do.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves in the way you treat each other and the issue,” Whiting wrote, in reference to the cycleway.

He said councillors divided the community and polarised the cycleway “just for some cheap support”, and he was dumbfounded by the council’s disconnected structure.

“I am just disgusted at the toxic culture I witnessed.

“I also found the lack of teamwork, cohesion, vision and unity of council astounding. I expect this in the community, not in council.”

He claimed authorities for whom he had worked in Siberia and Kazakhstan had better engagement with the public than Wellington did.

He concluded: “Please get your act together for Wellington’s sake.”

If there had been proper public engagement from the beginning on the Island Bay cycleway, it would not have become so toxic.

Councillor Simon Woolf also said Whiting had some fair points. “He’s a credible person. He’s got the goods … I felt he was the real deal.”

Woolf, the council’s community engagement portfolio leader, said Whiting arrived at a bad time, with the cycleway melee scuppering his chances.

“I certainly felt for him. He’s really a good guy, and very capable.”

Councillor Paul Eagle, a staunch critic of the cycleway design and consultation process, said Whiting was a “breath of fresh air”, but had been set up to fail.

“I thought, we’ve finally got a person who understands engagement, not consultation, and he had that Aussie bluntness,” Eagle said. 

It was “a real shame” Whiting had left. “We needed that expertise.”

Very clear that the status quo is not acceptable at the Council.

Ritchie standing for Mayor- again!

July 16th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Veteran 10-term Wellington city councillor Helene Ritchie has announced she is running for mayor.

As nominations opened on Friday for spots on the council, Ritchie said she had handed in her forms to run for mayor, councillor, and for a spot on the Capital & Coast District Health Board.

Ritchie joins incumbent Celia Wade-Brown, councillor Jo Coughlan, Keith Johnson, Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett, Wellington Deputy Mayor Justin Lester, and councillor Nicola Young in the fight for the mayoralty.

I understand another Councillor is highly likely to announce, so Celia is beign challenged by her own Deputy and four of her Councillors!

Quite ironic that Ritchie is campaigning on injecting new energy when she was first elected in 1977!

Even Dave Armstrong wants some fiscal restraint from WCC

July 14th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Dave Armstrong has an amusing column where he discusses the Mayoral options for Wellington with his niece. He goes through all their promises and at the end notes:

NIECE: Is Celia standing again?

DAVE: Apparently.

NIECE: I’m not sure she has contributed that much. When I see her I think roman sandals and cycleways. I want to be really inspired yet none of the candidates have done that so far.

DAVE: It’s a really tough job, the rewards aren’t that great and you cop a lot of flak. I’ve met these candidates and I have to say I like them all – as people.

NIECE: So what will the losing candidates do after the election?

DAVE: Get elected to council and bitch about whoever has won, I suspect.

NIECE: Okay, I’ll keep researching.

DAVE: I suspect whoever gets your vote will be our next mayor.

NIECE: By the way: a sports museum, film museum, new stadium, convention centre, runway extension, more cycleways, a second tunnel, free swimming pools, and a tunnel under the CBD. Who’s paying for all this?

DAVE: Guess.

NIECE: Oh.

DAVE: Another savvy?

NIECE: Cheers.

This is why I think all Mayoral candidates should state a maximum rates increase that they would vote for. Otherwise ratepayers will be left with continual unsustainable increases in our rates.

Leggett’s plans for Wellington

July 7th, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Mayoral candidate Nick Leggett wants Wellington to be the home of a national sports museum, and at the forefront of developing virtual reality technology.

Leggett announced the first steps of his “capital comeback” plan to about 200 people at his campaign launch on Wednesday night at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club.

With wife Emily at his side – just hours before she was due to give birth to their first child – the two-term Porirua mayor explained his reasons for wanting Wellington’s mayoral chains instead.

If elected, he promised to put an end to the “bickering” and “palace politics” that were holding the current council back.

He also promised to throw his support behind a proposal for a national sports museum, involving partnerships with central government, Te Papa and all sporting codes.

He did not see it replacing the national rugby museum in Palmerston North or the sports hall of fame in Dunedin.

But the recent fracas over Te Papa bidding $122,500 at auction for a Peter Snell singlet later turned out to be a fake sealed the need, in Leggett’s mind, for a sports museum in Wellington.

“The Snell singlet thing showed there wasn’t a mechanism to secure taonga that is important to our sporting history,” he said. “Wellington is the capital, and we’ve got to start owning national culture.”

Leggett said he would also work with Wellington’s top businesses and researchers to establish the country’s first national virtual and augmented reality complex.

It would be a facility that supported those developing such technology in areas such as film, video games, design and medicine.

The national virtual reality centre and sports museum would become major new drawcards for Wellington, providing a significant boost to the economy by creating jobs, export opportunities and increasing tourism, he said.

He also announced his desire to create a new pathway between Te Papa and the National War Memorial.

It would carve its way through the city’s cultural, sporting and entertainment precincts, and feature plaques commemorating the service of Victoria Cross recipients.

All sound worthwhile proposals, but would like to know the cost and how they’ll be funded.

Rates up 5.4% for Wellington households

June 30th, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Rates bills across Wellington will increase by an average of 3.6 per cent, after the city council set its budget in stone for the next financial year.

Councillors signed off on the city’s 2016-17 Annual Plan on Wednesday, striking an average rates increase of 5.4 per cent for residential ratepayers and an average 2.7 per cent increase for commercial ratepayers – equating to a hike of 3.6 per cent across the city.

Inflation is at 0.4% so the overall rates hike is nine times the level of inflation and for households the increase is 13 times the level of inflation.

My wish is for all Mayoral and Council candidates to state a maximum level of rates increase they will vote for. I think 2% (the midpoint of the inflation target) is a suitable maximum.

Hiding your colours?

June 9th, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Lester3

How interesting. This billboard is on Onslow Road. In the bluer areas of Wellington it appears the Labour logo is being painted over.

As the official Labour Party candidate for Mayor, you’d think he’d be proudly showing off their logo and have bright red billboards using their branding.

A rates pledge for Wellington

June 8th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reported:

Mayoral aspirant Nicola Young has promised to freeze rates at the level of inflation if she wins the top job in October.

The first-term city councillor said rates bills for many Wellingtonians had increased 20 per cent over the past four years, despite record low inflation and a 0.4 per cent increase in the consumer price index. 

“This price-gouging is wrong, especially when many Wellingtonians are facing stiff rates increases from rising property values across the city,” she said.

“It’s particularly tough for the increasing number of retired ratepayers on fixed incomes, and the many Wellingtonians whose wages aren’t keeping up with the city council’s rates increases.”

Wellington City Council’s proposed rates increase for 2016-17 is 3.8 per cent, although councillors will debate measures this week to get that down to 3.6 per cent before the rates are struck in June.

Young said the capital’s rates were a brake on economic growth, especially for small shops that were locked in fierce competition with online retailers.

She also promised to shift the city’s priorities towards “core local government services” and put an end to “vanity” projects, such as leasing pandas from China.

“We are pumping huge sums into professional sport, including $1 million to convert community sports pitches in Berhampore into training grounds for the [Wellington] Phoenix, a professional soccer team,” she said.

“As mayor I will ensure our focus is on community sports facilities and creating opportunities for Wellington’s children, not helping highly paid sportsmen.”

This is a great pledge and should be an example to all candidates. You should not vote for any candidate who will not set up an upper limit on how they’ll vote on rates increases. Otherwise you’re giving them a blank cheque.

A 3.8% rates increase is massive – almost ten times the rate of inflation. And when they keep doing it year after year it adds up. Here’s what a $4,000 rates bill would look like at 3.8% annual increase.

  • 2016 – $4,000
  • 2019 – $4,474
  • 2022 – $5,003
  • 2025 – $5,595
  • 2028 – $6,258
  • 2031 – $6,999

So five terms of a Council increasing rates at 3.8% a year and your rates bill has gone from $4,000 to $7,000. That’s an extra $60 a week in rates.

Wellington Council partially retreats on living wage

May 17th, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A living wage stoush between Wellington City Council and Chamber of Commerce has concluded, with both sides claiming victory.

The chamber was trumpeting success on its part after announcing future external contractors for the council would not have to be paid a living wage. 

The council had agreed to consult with the chamber on any extensions and, if necessary, it would seek legal judgment to clarify any disagreements.

However, the council says it has not backed down, and its original decision still stands, with a living wage to be paid to the council’s core cleaning staff from July 1, along with security staff.

Basically the two contracts done to date stand, but any future contracts may not include the provision.

As I have said before, it is madness to base your wages policy on whatever calculation is done by an Anglican priest living in Lower Hutt. That is not good governance. And forcing your contractors to do the same is even worse.

And the hypocrisy remains high as at least two Councillors who voted to force ratepayers to fund a living wage for Council staff and contractors, do not themselves pay a living wage to all staff working for them.

WCC trying to ban e-cigarettes

April 15th, 2016 at 12:06 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Smoking is close to being banned in most of Wellington’s public spaces – including bus stops and the Botanic Gardens – as the capital heads towards becoming a city of non-smokers.

City councillors will debate on Wednesday whether to approve an action plan that will turn the entrances of all publicly accessible buildings, such as shops and offices, into smokefree areas.

The ban will also cover all of the city’s bus stops, libraries and community centres, as well as the Botanic Gardens, Waitangi Park, Civic Square and its surrounding precinct.

This would incorperate the Wellington City Council building, central library, City Gallery, i-Site, Michael Fowler Centre, Town Hall, Jack Illott Green and the City to Sea Bridge.

The new rules would include the smoking of electronic cigarettes, known as vaping, as the Ministry of Health does not yet consider this an effective way to stop smoking.

Which is ridiculous. Public Health England has found them to be 95% less harmful than cigarettes.

Wellington office worker Phil Layzell, who was a smoker for 28 years before switching to vaping three years ago, said it was good to see the council taking action on smoking, but disappointing to see electronic cigarettes would also be banned.

“I think it’s terrible because it’s demonising a device that has helped so many people … I probably would have gotten cancer by now if it wasn’t for this.”

I know lots of people who now vape, after years and years of smoking. It is not a gateway into smoking – it is a gateway away from tobacco.

WCC’s proposals may be well intentioned, but they may actually do more harm than good by making it harder for people to switch to a less harmful product.

Lester’s promises

April 6th, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Wellington Deputy Mayor Justin Lester has launched his campaign with some promises. Let’s look at them:

Under Lester, any Kiwi citizen or permanent resident who builds their first home in Wellington will have the first $5000 of city council rates on that property rebated. Regional rates would still apply.

It would need to be the first home you have owned in this country. People who have owned property overseas will be able to claim the rebate, provided their residency status checks out.

Lester estimated the plan would cost the council about 500,000 per annum.

Money already set aside to market Wellington would be re-prioritised to cover the rebate, meaning no new costs would be lumped on ratepayers, he said.

“It’s about making Wellington a place where people want to live and want to succeed. So $500,000 off-set with money for economic development … is an easy win.”

So this is taking $500,000 a year from ratepayers and giving it to 100 lucky ratepayers?

Rather than have a policy to benefit just 100 ratepayers a year, why not have a policy that will benefit all aspiring home owners? Such as freeing up more land for new homes?

Allowing children under the age of five and their guardians free entry into council pools would only cost a “paltry” $55,000 per year and would also be funded from within existing budgets.

I’m okay with this one. Teaching kids to swim is important and the cost is minimal.

Charging Wellington’s bars, cafes and restaurants to have chairs and tables outdoors was only adding $75,000 per year to the council’s $450m budget, so it made sense to wave the fee and make it easier for those businesses to thrive, Lester said.

I quite like this policy also.

Lester also promised to scrap the fees businesses pay to have outdoor dining on public land, and to tackle the council’s “ingrained sexism” by having more senior female employees, if elected mayor in October. …

He promised not to interfere in the hiring process of chief executive Kevin Lavery as mayor, but said there would be expectations of more “diversity and balance” among the council’s “five or six” top leadership positions, which currently only features one woman.

He is interfering. He’s saying the next time there is a vacancy Lavery must hire a woman.

Good to have a candidate with some specific policies. I look forward to others.

Coughlan stands for Mayor

April 5th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The contest for Wellington’s mayoralty is heating up, with councillor Jo Coughlan announcing she will enter the race.

Improving the capital’s infrastructure will be her top priority if she manages to defeat incumbent mayor Celia Wade-Brown and fellow councillors Justin Lester and Nicola Young in October’s election.

Coughlan, who has been a councillor for nine years and in charge of economic development for the past six, said she believed Wellingtonians has been let down when it came to roading.

The biggest frustration was the failure to solve the Basin Reserve’s peak hour congestion and the “lost years” of progress that resulted from a proposed highway flyover not going ahead in 2014.

If Nick Leggett stands also, we’ll have standing two Mayors, a Deputy Mayor and two Councillors!

“We need to double-tunnel the Terrace and Mt Victoria tunnels and see four lanes along Ruahine St to the airport. Wellington’s mayor must lead on this, and that is my commitment.”

Great – four lanes from the airport to Levin is the answer.

WHO IS JO COUGHLAN?

* Married with six children aged 13 to 24.

* Has a degree in biochemistry from Otago University.

* Is director of Silvereye Communications, which provides PR and government relations advice.

* Was a press secretary for former foreign Minister Sir Don McKinnon.

* Recently stepped down, after six years, as deputy chairperson of the National Board of Life Education, which provides health education to more than 250,000 children.

Somewhat in awe of someone who has six children and manages a couple of jobs also!

Jo and I were in the same university hostel, so I’ve known here for around 30 years!

Is Celia about to endorse Lester?

March 31st, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader e-mails:

The grapevine suggests Justin Lester, panicked by Nick Leggett’s rumoured entry into the race, is lining up to reveal Celia Wade-Brown’s endorsement, possibly at his formal launch as Labour’s Wellington Mayoral candidate due in the coming days.  To date, Wade-Brown has indicated she intends to seek re-election, although it has long been rumoured she will bolt from the race to give her loyal deputy mayor a shot at the job.  

Is the formal passing of the baton between Labour and the Greens in Wellington the kind of job-sharing Grant Robertson envisages as the “future of work”?  Problem is, polls show Celia is deeply unpopular –– many consider the notorious Island Bay cycleway the death-knell of her political career –– and Lester is barely known by Wellington voters, and not especially admired among those who know him.  If it turns out that the first thing voters hear about Justin Lester is that he’s Celia’s “chosen one”, it’s hard to see how it helps.  He’s already being dismissed in the business community as “Justin Lester-Brown”, and a public pat on the back won’t do anything to downplay his association with an increasingly toxic incumbent.   And let’s not forget, Labour came a dismal third throughout Wellington at the last election, and the decision to field a Labour-endorsed candidate is exactly what Oscar Wilde had in mind when he talked of the “triumph of hope over experience”.

Lester launches his campaign on the 3rd of April. Maybe that will be when Celia endorses him, if she does?

WCC’s secret funding

March 19th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

WCC has now started to release details of whom they have secretly been giving money to. It includes:

NZ Cricket – For help in delivering the Cricket World Cup programme in 2015, which resulted in 45,637 international and domestic visitors.

English Premier League – Contribution towards exhibition games at Westpac Stadium in 2014 featuring Newcastle United and West Ham United, which resulted in $6.3 million of economic benefit.

Gillies McIndoe Research Institute – Support to help advance its cancer research and keep it based in Wellington.

NZ Water Ski Racing Association – Support for the World Water SkiRacing Champs in 2015, which was attended by 10,000 people.

Positively Wellington Tourism – Help with the Middle of Middle-earth Costume Trail, which saw Hobbit costumes on display at locations across the city.

Wellington Phoenix – Sponsorship of marketing for the football club’s final game of the 2015 season, which was attended by more than 12,000 people.

I wouldn’t support funding for any of these. Sports competitions should not be dependent on ratepayer funding. And don’t even start me on hobbit costumes around Wellington.

Ratepayers funding sports teams

March 13th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

The “mystery” surrounding the amount of ratepayers’ money being spent on Wellington’s professional sports teams has some city councillors feeling uneasy.

More questions about the growing level of council funds being spent on pro teams were raised on Wednesday as the council gave the green light to a $550,000 budget overspend, to allow two fields at Martin Luckie Park in Berhampore to be upgraded to an elite training level.

Two full-sized sand-based fields will be built at the ground. It is expected the Wellington Phoenix football team will use Martin Luckie Park as a training base.

The vote was 8-6 in favour of approving the money.

Many of those opposed were uncomfortable with fact that grants for professional teams were currently decided by a handful of councillors only, leaving most in the dark as to how much they were getting.

Councillor Nicola Young said she was totally opposed to ratepayers funding professional football in any way, calling it a rich man’s game that was not the responsibility of ratepayers.

“I’m concerned about how much money we give to sports, and the fact we don’t know know how much money we give them … there’s a lot of mystery wrapped up in this.”

Most people support the Council providing sporting grounds for community teams to play on. This is a core function.

But giving great wads of money (or in kind) to professional sports teams is another matter. Why should ratepayers fund (for example) professional rugby teams?

Even worse these deals are done in secret, with the Council hiding behind commercial sensitivity. They’re giving the public’s money away. If a sporting body insists the details remain secret, then simply say “Well, no money then”.

Community rejects badly designed cycleway

March 12th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A survey of Island Bay residents has revealed overwhelming opposition to the southern suburb’s kerbside cycleway.

The Island Bay Residents’ Association sent out a survey to all the suburb’s residents, and the results have revealed that 87 per cent of those who replied do not want the cycleway that has been constructed along The Parade.

The results were presented to a packed public meeting on Wednesday night, at which people called on Wellington City Council to change the road layout back to the way it was before the cycleway was created.

Survey responses were checked against the electoral roll to verify that the opinions were those of Island Bay residents. Of the approximately 5100 registered voters, 1792 replied – about 30 percent of the population. Organisers said that represented about 60 per cent of residents who voted in the last council elections.

The council conducted its own survey in 2014 of 486 people, which found that only 16 per cent supported the kerbside design. 

Yet they went ahead.

You can be pro cycling and pro-cycleways, but anti this particular cycleway design. It has been a fiasco with the local community ignored and bullied.

Cycleways are meant to make it safer for cyclist and motorists. In the few months it has been going, we’ve had the first cycling accident in that area for ten years.

WCC wants us to have fewer cars

March 8th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Wellington’s rates are set to jump by 3.6 per cent while the city’s debt will increase by almost $60 million, as the city council sets its sights on some major projects.

This year’s draft Annual Plan includes a new climate change strategy, with a focus on reducing car ownership, as well as plans for a new council-controlled organisation that can play the property market.

It’s not the Council’s job to try and force people not to own cars or to play the property market. They should focus on doing their core role well, not fiddle everywhere else.

Dom Post on WCC secrecy

January 30th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Wellington City Council is full of big ideas and grand announcements at the moment. Plenty of them are worth supporting.

But confusion and secrecy too often seem to follow in their wake – especially when it comes to the money involved.

First this week came word from three councillors that the costs of the Island Bay cycleway – already political dynamite in the south coast suburb – had blown out to more than double its projected $1.7 million budget. Yet council chief executive Kevin Lavery said that was completely wrong, and the cycleway was on track to meet its budget.

This yawning difference is amateur stuff – all four were in the same meeting. One side is barking wrong, and ratepayers need to know which it is.

Yes, we do.

I’m generally supportive of cycleways but the Island Bay one appears to be a clusterf**k. It has made the area more dangerous.

Meanwhile, the council’s triumphant announcement that Singapore Airlines will fly a new route from Wellington to Canberra from September also turns out to have strings attached for ratepayers.

The council, it emerges, is set to pay as much as $800,000 a year in subsidies to the airline for the next decade. The money will come from its Destination Wellington fund, which aims to “attract business, talent and investment” to the region.

Like the council’s Economic Initiatives Development Fund, which sank $300,000 of ratepayer money into the recently-failed call centre business CallActive, it also seems wreathed in secrecy.

But why should Wellington City Council applaud the arrival of an airline without revealing that it will help bankroll the new route? That isn’t commercial sensitivity; it is a sort of deception on the ratepayers.

It is deception and it also shows the Council a soft touch with ratepayers money. Other businesses will be lining up to try and get some dosh.

Guest Post: Justin Lester on Wellington alive and kicking

December 17th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

A guest post by Wellington Deputy Mayor Justin Lester:

When I was first elected to Wellington City Council in 2010 the prevailing mind-set was that Wellington was facing a challenging time and the Council should batten down the hatches. Council was subject to comments that Wellington was stagnating or even dying. The advice was to consider implementing service cuts like closing libraries and swimming pools and to keep any new investment to a minimum.

I disagreed.  I thought the city needed to take a good look at itself and where its comparative advantages lay. Wellington needed to be bold and adopt a counter-intuitive Keynesian approach, like it had done in the 1990s. The reality was that if Government was prioritising it’s investment in Auckland and Christchurch and private business was contracting, then local government needed to step up.

Which is what we have done. It was from this that the Council’s economic growth agenda emerged.  The agenda was designed to stimulate jobs and growth. When I was appointed Deputy Mayor in 2013 I sought the role of Chair of the annual and long-term planning process, where my focus was to help set out the Council’s 10 year vision and investment programme and work towards its implementation.

We have reached a critical first achievement of this vision.

Movie Museum and Convention Centre

Recently Wellington City Council announced its intention to proceed with a combined Movie Museum and Convention Centre on Cable St.

The Movie Museum, backed and inspired by Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor, is a monumental project for our city. It will be an international drawcard and is could feasibly rival Te Papa, the Cake Tin or any other undertaking in Wellington’s recent history. In the 150 years since Wellington became New Zealand’s Capital, I can only think of a handful of moments that have been as significant.

To put it in context, 50 years after the release of the Sound of Music 300,000 people visit Salzburg to see the film’s shooting locations. New Zealand has had a similar experience with The Lord of the Rings. This year, in the unlikely location of Matamata, 400,000 mainly international tourists will descend upon Hobbiton. They will take selfies in the Shire and have a beer at the Green Dragon. Many will then head to Rotorua, Queenstown and probably fly straight back home via Auckland.

The Movie Museum will change tourism behaviour in New Zealand. It will become the most popular man-made attraction in New Zealand and Wellington will be front and centre on every tourist’s map.

Our new Convention Centre will act as a neat foil to Movie Museum’s lure given the co-location of the two sites.  It will provide a hosting facility for local, national and international delegates in the city. If we didn’t build it we could have lost $17m a year from our existing conventions market and by co-locating the two facilities I believe we will stimulate additional visitor growth and spending, which will in turn boost local businesses and generate jobs.

Can Wellington afford this and other proposed projects?

Wellington is in a very strong financial position. Of course, you might think, he would say that. But this isn’t my opinion; it comes from Standard and Poor’s (S&P).

S&P recently confirmed its AA credit rating of Wellington City Council and, for a second year in a row, considered Council’s credit rating to be higher than that of the Crown’s. S&P stated: “We view Wellington City’s stand-alone credit profile to be higher than the New Zealand sovereign, but have capped the ratings at the sovereign level. The ratings reflect our views of the council’s very strong financial management and budgetary flexibility, strong liquidity, and low contingent liabilities.” Officially, it is impossible for a council to outrank the crown, hence the equal rating.

The S&P rating also allows WCC to borrow at low interest rates and save a significant amount that would otherwise be spent on interest.

Regarding debt levels, At the end of the 2014/15 financial year Wellington City Council’s debt was 84 per cent of revenue based on net debt of $346 million against operating revenue of $451m. Wellington City Council also has investments valued at $381m.

In comparison, gross government debt was $86.1 billion on revenue of $66.6b and debt as a percentage of revenue was 130 per cent. The 2014/15 Auckland City Council annual report shows it had debt of $7.3b against operating income of $3.6b. Debt as a percentage of income in Auckland was 202 per cent.

The table below also shows how Wellington fares financially when compared with Auckland:

Auckland Wellington
GDP per Capita 2014 US$43,700 US$70,000
Economic growth 2.6%pa. 2.4%pa.
Population 1,529,000 206,000
Rate payers 518,784 75,613
Average rate $2,636 $2,163
Operating surplus/revenue 13.6% 17%
Operating + capital deficit as % of revenue (29%) 2011-2015

(19%) 2013-2017

(2.8%)

(6.6%)

Debt forecast 2017 $8,176m $446m
Debt as a % of Revenue 2017 257% 107%
Interest as a % of Revenue 2017 14.5% 6.4%

The comparison shows Wellington has a very robust balance sheet and a solid financial platform from which we can invest prudently in projects that further stimulate Wellington’s growth, boost business and create jobs.

But we also need an effective, cohesive Council that can push through our economic programme. In future I look forward to helping make Wellington perform even better.

 

 

 

Pandas for Wellington is a fantasy

September 22nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Plans to bring giant pandas to Wellington are a “fantasy” and the bill should put a halt on the idea, a Wellington City councillor says.

Wellington City Council will investigate a business case to bring the endangered animals from China to Wellington Zoo, it was announced on Friday. An initial “guesstimate” put the cost at $10 million, but the upcoming work would determine the exact costs and infrastructure requirements, as well as projected visitor numbers.

But Wellington City Councillor Paul Eagle said it was “fantasy stuff” to believe the council had the funds necessary to make the idea a reality. He doubted the $10m figure, saying number-crunching on a 2011 panda plan put the capital cost at $28m.

“But the 2015, 2016, 2017 figures would be $50m to $100m … If these [pandas] are so huge, would we have to close down Newtown Park, demolish that and build a car park? What’s going to happen to all the city streets, have we factored in road widening, pulling out all the car parks?”

Eagle said, even with external financial support, the plan could cost ratepayers significantly. “We’re prepared to build palaces for pandas over the core services.”

While he thought it would be exciting to have such animals in the zoo, there was little point in even completing a business case. “I’d say we’re just wasting time.”

I agree. I like pandas but I also like affordable rates. Focus on core issues.

Does WCC have more PR staff than London?

September 15th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

WCC Watch blogs:

WCC Watch’s insiders reliably inform us the Council employs over 40 people at Wakefield Street as part of its press and marketing operation – the figure of 43 is understood to be accurate. …

Britain’s capital has two tiers of government, much like metropolitan Wellington. Mayor Boris Johnson leads the Greater London Authority (GLA), which is the top tier. The GLA oversees transport, fire, planning and housing for 8.5 million residents of Europe’s fastest growing city.

Putting in new underground lines and housing an extra 1.5 million people in 15 years are huge challenges, but our man in the GLA (he’s one of Boris’s key lieutenants) says the GLA’s external comms team is no larger than 35.

So a Council with 8.5 million people has fewer PR staffers than Wellington City Council with 200,000 people.

Nicola Young on Wellington Transport

September 10th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Nicola Young writes in the Dom Post:

In early 1974, Wellington City Council completed an exploratory tunnel for a second Mt Victoria road tunnel. As the workers emerged into the daylight, they were given cold beers by Mayor Frank Kitts who said Wellingtonians were “keeping our fingers crossed” that the new tunnel would be built soon.

The Ministry of Works’s official was less optimistic: he reckoned construction was years away. There has been little progress since then.

It may end up taking longer than Transmission Gully.

Wellingtonians expect their rates and taxes to deliver infrastructure that makes it quick to get to work and efficient to do business; instead, we’ve had decades of transport paralysis, where optimism has not been matched by action.

And last month saw a double whammy of transport setbacks in Wellington, with Wellington City Council voting for the heavily watered-down “marginally improved bus” scheme (little more than a few tarted-up bus lanes), and the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Basin flyover appeal thrown out of court.

And there is no Plan B.

Top of the list is a replacement for our trolley buses, which are theoretically being retired in 22 months. The regional council’s latest suggestion is for double decker buses that can “kneel” to get through our tunnels, but these would be too heavy for our roads, which are the city council’s responsibility. These kneeling buses haven’t actually been designed yet – but never mind.

That isn’t a plan, or even a hope. More wishful thinking.

Also on the wing-and-a-prayer list is a replacement solution for the Basin flyover, with a tunnel ruled out by engineers as geologically complex and extortionately expensive. Sorting this out is important because real “bus rapid transit” is undeliverable with the Basin in its current state, as last week’s announcement from NZTA made clear.

No flyover, and no tunnel. So what is the plan?

Some of the areas where we have scored poorly are due to Celia Wade-Brown’s failures as Wellington’s mayor. “Quality of roads” is a particular weakness of our competitiveness ranking, yet in March the mayor made a tactical “no show” for the crucial vote on spending central government money to build the connector roads that will plug the Transmission Gully highway into our neighbouring cities.

We let down our regional partners, who consider the roads critical in addressing their transport problems, improving resilience and boosting their economies – an important point given that Wellington’s growth rates have been some of the lowest in New Zealand in the past decade. And we’ll need solidarity from our neighbours if the business case for extending our airport runway stacks up.

The larger problem is the maelstrom of transport agencies and elected bodies working against each other. “Voting for more information” is a favourite political delaying wheeze, but it’s something we’ve been doing for decades – and it has to stop if we’re to have a step-change in our roads, buses and trains.

New South Wales (population 7.6 million) and Auckland (1.4 million) have unitary transport authorities, while metropolitan Wellington (400,000) has a fudge of four territorial authorities, a regional council, NZTA and some input from KiwiRail.

We absolutely need a unified approach to regional transport.

A single transport authority would end the muddled thinking and procrastination, get people onto public transport, and help deliver the growth Wellington desperately needs. Not the false growth promised by the mayor’s pet projects like “Sealandia”, the Ocean Exploration Centre in Lyall Bay, butgrowth built on the ideas and energy of Wellingtonians able to travel around the city quickly and seamlessly. And this needs decisions – not crossed fingers and a hope that somehow we’ll muddle through.

I support there being a single transport authority for Wellington. And it may not even need legislation – just leadership from our local mayors and chair.

WCC spending too much

June 29th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Milford writes in Stuff:

On Wednesday, the Wellington City Council will vote to votes on adopting the Long Term Plan (LTP) and the numbers tell a story that every Wellington ratepayer should be worried about.

It projects that in the next 10 years total rates will jump by 62 per cent – from a total rate take of $241.4 million to $393.4 million.

That’s an increase of $152 million in 10 years, and that’s massive in anyone’s language, but especially for those who have to pay it. Add to this the increase in the council’s total borrowings, projected to grow from $404.1 million to $806.5 million.

This is nearly a 100 per cent increase in debt.

The chamber’s members are concerned at what they are seeing in these numbers.

Let’s not forget that Wellington’s business community pays 46 per cent of the rates while only making up just 21 per cent of the rateable property.

Our business rates differential is higher than both Auckland and Christchurch.

While the LTP proposes to increase rates by an ‘average’ of 3.1 per cent a year over the 10 years, it also proposes a further 0.8 per cent for an invest-to-grow programme, taking rates rises to an ‘average’ of 3.9 per cent. The council justifies this as a trade-off because it will invest in projects to expand the city’s economy and grow the rating base. We note that the 3.9 per cent is the ‘average’ increase, the actual increase being considerably higher. For next year the total rate take will jump 11.8 6.6 per cent – around an additional 5 per cent for the owner of a house at the median value, and around 6.7 per cent for a suburban commercial property.

With inflation at 0.1% this is way too big an increase.

I think we should have a law that requires a referendum to approve any rates increase which is greater than say the increase in population and inflation.

Parking sensors

February 16th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Thousands of sensors are to be installed around Wellington to keep an eye on parking overstayers.

A $1.4 million rollout of 4000 sensors across city car parks is being planned by the Wellington City Council. The move would allow wardens to get real-time information about where people are overstaying, although the council also says automated reminder messages and top-up options sent to people’s cellphones should mean fewer tickets being issued.

The sensors can tell cellphone or internet users where car parks are available and can be linked to online payment, allowing people to receive phone alerts when their time is about to run out and to top up their payments.

That would be very useful – both being told which parks are free, and being told when your time is almost up.