Cycleways for Wellington

September 10th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

After plenty of big talk about changing the face of cycling in Wellington, the council has written a big cheque to match.

The Wellington City Council has agreed to spend $101 million on new cycle lanes across the capital over the next 20 years, with $30m being spent in the first three years to really get the programme going.

Wellington’s ‘Master Plan’ for cycling, which was approved by the council’s transport and urban development committee on Wednesday, identifies the CBD, eastern suburbs and the route between the railway station and Ngauranga as the first areas for development.

Cycling in Wellington at present is not massively different from playing Russian Roulette – albeit with slightly better odds.

Hutt Rd was the only real option for reaching Ngauranga, while Kent and Cambridge terraces, Tory St, Taranaki St, Victoria St, Cuba St, Karo Drive, Willis St and the waterfront would all feature in the CBD conversation, he said.

Please, please have the Hutt Road cycleway actually link all the way up to Petone, not stop 300 metres short as it currently does.


Looks a decent plan.

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Who’s right?

August 5th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

A Wellington man watched in tears as Wellington City Council demolished his historic Owhiro Bay bach on Monday morning.

Duncan Mackay’s bach is one of five that have perched on the hill at Mestanes Bay, on the wild south coast of Wellington, near Red Rocks, for as long as 100 years.

He bought his Heritage New Zealand-listed Stevenson bach for $10,000 in March 2012, lived in it for two years, and was renovating it to live in and, one day, pass on to his 13-year-old daughter.

But on Friday, the council told him it was going to demolish the bach on Monday, claiming his $40,000 of renovations meant it was no longer entitled to be considered a heritage building.

On Monday morning, Mackay drove around the coast to see his bach being torn apart, the roof gone, men in high-vis jackets breaking down the interior.

“This is crushing me,” he said as he looked on, tears in his eyes.

“I wanted  to pass it down through the family … Now I’m homeless, I’m literally sleeping on a friend’s couch.”

You read this part of the story and you think the Council has acted appallingly. But you then read on:

Not much of the original materials of Stevenson’s bach remained, but Mackay said he had been in regular contact with Heritage NZ and was replacing everything so it looked “absolutely, totally the same”, down to its pine-green corrugated-iron exterior and the angle of the roof.

“I’ve done what I was told to do. I think this is council squashing the small guy and destroying a piece of south-coast heritage.”

But the council, which owns the land, said the work bore no resemblance to the heritage bach.

“He did have possession of a heritage bach on the site, and he demolished the heritage bach and now is illegally building a new bach on the site,” council spokesman Richard MacLean said.

“We are having it demolished because it’s on public land and we are the landowner, and he’s illegally building on public land…”

Mackay would not be compensated, MacLean confirmed.

The other Mestanes Bay bach owners, who had also made significant renovations, should not be concerned because the council still considered their properties “heritage baches”.

“They are still substantially original buildings ,” MacLean said. “He [Mackay] has demolished his bach, that’s what that big pile of broken wood is.”

He said Mackay was not homeless, as he lived elsewhere in Wellington. The bach was a building site and was uninhabitable anyway.

I’m not sure the Council is in the wrong here. There is a difference between renovation and replacement.


A smoke free waterfront

May 19th, 2015 at 2:15 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Smoking a cigarette while enjoying a beer outside one of Wellington’s waterfront bars could soon become a thing of the past.

A proposal to make the waterfront and Civic Square smokefree will be brought before Wellington City Council on Wednesday night, after the Public Health Association called on the council to show leadership on the matter.

If successful, the smoking ban could be in place by the end of the year.

But the owner of waterfront bar St Johns has condemned the move as discriminatory against smokers and businesses, and says if smoking is to be banned in one place, it should be banned everywhere.

Will it reduce smoking, or will it just mean smokers go to other bars?

The ban on smoking inside bars worked because it applied to every bar, and the justification was that staff and other patrons were being exposed to second hand smoke. I love the fact that I can now go to a bar and not be exposed to smoke. But this isn’t about protecting people from passive smoking.

But Trinity Group director Jeremy Smith, whose businesses include St Johns, called the move  “crazy” and “discriminatory”.

Smoke was not a problem on the waterfront, as outdoor areas were large and smoke was swiftly blown away. It was unfair to drive away people who chose to partake in a legal activity, he said.

I agree with Jeremy Smith. There are some bars whose outdoor areas are unpleasant as they are largely enclosed, and stink of smoke. But waterfront bars do not have that issue – I’ve never ever been affected by smoke in the outdoor areas of waterfront bars – because they are so open and large.

If a ban was to be introduced, it should be city-wide. “It’s just another nail in the bar/restaurant coffin in terms of driving people away from areas where they can socialise.”

It is unfair to have it apply to only those bars.

Asked what the impact on smokers at waterfront bars would be, Lester said: “They won’t be able to smoke.

“It’s a benefit, it’s a privilege, to operate a business down there … I don’t think it’s a big ask.”

A privilege? Don’t they pay rents and rates? Isn’t being able to operate a business a right, not a privilege someone gives you?

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Wellington City Councillor ratings

March 9th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Wellingtonian has had an 8 member panel of Wellingtonians rate the 15 Wellington City Councillors. They were rated on five areas, and also given an average overall rating. So who got top and bottom in each.

Note that these ratings are of course the opinions of the panelists only.

Overall Top

  1. Paul Eagle 80.7%
  2. Nicola Young 69.8%
  3. Justin Lester 69.4%

Overall Bottom

  1. Helen Ritchie 34.3%
  2. Ray Ahipene-Mercer 44.5%
  3. Jo Coughlan 46.5%

Top Accessibility

  1. Paul Eagle 84.3%
  2. Justin Lester 80.0%
  3. Celia Wade-Brown 78.1%

Bottom Accessibility

  1. Helene Ritchie 38.3%
  2. Ray Ahipene-Mercer 42.9%
  3. Malcolm Sparrow 51.0%

Top Effectiveness

  1. Paul Eagle 75.7%
  2. Iona Pannett 66.3%
  3. Nicola Young 63.1%

Bottom Effectiveness

  1. Helene Ritchie 30.0%
  2. Mark Peck 38.6%
  3. Ray Ahipene-Mercer 40.0%

Top Proactiveness

  1. Paul Eagle 77.1%
  2. Iona Pannett 68.1%
  3. Nicola Young 65.6%

Bottom Proactiveness

  1. Helene Ritchie 33.6%
  2. Sarah Free 35.8%
  3. Ray Ahipene-Mercer 37.1%

Top Work Ethic

  1. Celia Wade-Brown 90.0%
  2. Paul Eagle 87.9%
  3. Justin Lester 81.3%

Bottom Work Ethic

  1. Helene Ritchie 36.7%
  2. Ray Ahipene-Mercer 46.7%
  3. Jo Coughlan 48.8%

Top Wellington First

  1. Paul Eagle 80.7%
  2. Simon Woolf 75.7%
  3. Simon Marsh 70.0%

UPDATE: The panel were:

  • John Milford, Business Central CEO
  • Allan Probert, Khandallah Business Improvement District secretary & veterinarian
  • Lyndy McIntyre, Living Wage Wellington co-ordinator
  • John Dow, events, marketing & sports leader
  • Victoria Spackman, Gibson Group CEO & former chairman of Bats Theatre
  • John Sherwan, Adjunct professor at VUW/businessman
  • Jack Marshall, Wgton City Youth Council chairman
  • Ian Apperley, Strathmore Park blogger
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Peck vs his own Council

February 4th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Former Labour MP Mark Peck is a Wellington City Councillor. He is best known for voting to force the Council to pay a so called living wage to all Council employees, yet refusing to pay it to his own staff on the basis he can’t afford it.

Once again he seems to be conflicted between his role as a business (cafe) owner and a Councillor.

The Council has put in a temporary pop up on Bond Street.


This photo is from Blandforddaily, taken by AnnaB.

Looks pretty cool.

Cr Peck said on Facebook:

“Pop-up feel-good” unwelcome subsidy against hardworking business owners!

Wellington City Councillor Mark Peck says he has been contacted by some retailers who are angry that the “pop-up feel good” in Bond Street is an unwelcome attack on their ability to trade and discriminatory in the extreme.

Spending $100K of ratepayers’ money to temporarily enhance Bond Street with a pop-up display makes fish of them and fowl of the rest, he said. There is a strong call for everyone to be treated the same.

Using this logic, there would be no Cuba Mall developments, or basically anything at all that enhances a retail area.

Now Cr Peck owns a cafe just around the corner from Bond Street, in Dukes Arcade. Despite his disclaimer, it seems clear he is advocating on his own behalf, but using his role as a Councillor.

Comments on Facebook were not very supportive:

A real shame you’ve taken this angle Mark. I’ve been to the pop-up and it’s brilliant – I’ve never seen so many people on Bond Street. Great council initiative and clearly serving rate payers and visitors well.

Of course it’s Council’s job to get invo
lved, provide social spaces, beautify the CBD and, yes, help business development. There can’t be a popup over the entire city and a dark, dead end with a majority of small businesses (exception of the Mojo chain) is a great place to have it. To places like the Rockshop – what a shame they are on an already busy street which didn’t need a “pop-up”.

This inner city resident who has you as a councillor and helped run your campaign would be thrilled if you perhaps stood up for residents before businesses.

That’s a member of his own campaign team!

Our streetscapes should be as exciting and vibrant as our city aspires to be, and as it often achieves. It’s excellent to see spaces like Bond Street experiencing this treatment. …

So would you prefer full-time polkadots, or none at all? Both are absurd, and it’s clear you’d have preferred none at all. I’m not entirely sure what your post achieves other than making you appear as a bit of a grump. Wellington’s retail sector is doing terribly. Yeah, Bond St benefits. That’s great. Where in your post is a plan or advocacy for the other businesses you’re saying you’re representing? Where’s the recognition that the positive news, albeit made weird by Ritchie, translates to good national advertising as Wellington as a happening and exciting place? It seems to me that these events are an obvious strategy for our city, so if you were speaking on behalf of our businesses then shouldn’t your position be “more”, not “less”? …

They money is also spent now, Mark, so it would be a waste to take it down immediately. And just dumb. In all of your media release, there isn’t thought at all to the people of Wellington – and I’ve only heard positive comments so far from people about the pop up ideas. I haven’t been down to Bond Street yet but looks pretty fun to me. …

Firstly I love the look – and what it’s done to the dark, often forgotten little street. I remember around six years ago when Dale from Mojo and Ian McKinnon were first talking about making something happen – so the idea has been brewing – and needed for some time. Looking beyond Bond Street the new activity is helping pull people through to traders like Man to Man and others who also feel out on a limb sometimes, I felt proud when I walked down the street today and saw what was happening because it’s pretty damn cool the city has made this happen. …

A real own goal.

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$60 million too much for town hall upgrade

December 11th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Wellington faces a large earthquake-strengthening bill for many of its best-known buildings, none more so than the Town Hall.

Work on the ornate municipal building ground to a stop earlier this year after the projected cost ballooned to $60 million. When first mooted in 2011, it had been supposed to cost $34m. That hike saw some Wellington City Council leaders question whether saving the building was worth it.

We are a small city of just 75,000 ratepayers. The cost is likely to end up at around $1,000 per ratepayer. That is way too much.


WCC proposes 4.5% rates increases

December 4th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

A $200 million war chest is being planned to fund Wellington’s big-ticket wish list over the next 10 years.

The stash of cash forms a key prong in mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s draft Long-Term Plan proposal, which she will present to councillors at a committee meeting next week.

The money – targeted for projects including the airport runway extension, a film museum and a new concert venue – would see an average rates increase of 3.9 per cent over the 10 years of the plan, compared with a 3.1 per cent rise if a status quo approach was taken instead.

Those increases would be “front loaded”, the mayor said – meaning ratepayers will feel the pinch immediately, with rises of about 4.5 per cent in each of the next three years.

Inflation is running at around 1%. A series of rates increases at four times the inflation rate is a Council with a spending problem.


A Councillor reports

November 20th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Wellington City Councillor Nicola Young has e-mailed out a report on her first year on Council. It’s a good summary of what she has done, and what she has opposed. I’d encourage other Councillors to do similar reports.

It’s one year since the voters of Lambton Ward elected me to the Wellington City Council. It‘s been an interesting year and I thought you might be interested in some of the things that have happened in the past 12 months. 

 Some of the big surprises were:

·                 The extent to which major issues are delegated to sub-committees with limited opportunity for the Council to intervene;
·                 The need to build shifting coalitions based on issues rather than left/right politics; and
·                 Councillors’ tendencies to make decisions without taking into account the full financial implications.

My committee responsibilities are:

Economic Growth & Arts;
Transport & Urban Development (with special responsibility for Central City Projects); and
Governance, Finance & Planning (a committee of all councillors).

Council life is often portrayed as a battle between the left and right; in practice, each issue brings about its own coalition of supporters so I have focused on building strong relationships to help me deliver on my promises and the projects that I value.

            1)            ‘Living Wage’: I led the fight against implementing this for the Council’s direct employees, because the Government is the main beneficiary; the most needy recipients would have their state benefits reduced.  We lost, but I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about my role as a new councillor leading this issue.  I note that the plan to roll out the so-called ‘living wage’ to council-controlled organisations and contractors has gone rather quiet; there now seems to be a better understanding of the real costs and lack of effect.

            2)            Bus Fares: Despite late (and tepid) support from fellow councillors, I won my fight with the Greater Wellington Regional Council over its proposed increase in bus fares, as passenger numbers are declining and Wellington’s fares are already the most expensive in New Zealand.  Affordable bus fares will encourage greater use of public transport, and (unlike the Living Wage) they’re a direct benefit to those on low incomes.

            3)            Island Bay Cycle Way: I opposed Stage One of the cycleway into the CBD, as the full cycle-way (the next three stages) have not yet been planned and there’s a real fiscal risk.  Already Stage One’s costs have increased from $1.3m to $1.9m. I organised a ‘Notice of Motion’ (supported by Southern Ward councillor, Paul Eagle) asking for the full Council to make the decision, rather than the Transport and Urban Design committee (which is top-heavy with Greens). Notices of Motion are rare, and even more unusual to be organised by a first year councillor; disappointingly, two councillors switched sides so we lost the Notice.

            4)            Building Numbers: I campaigned for the enforcement of the existing rules requiring that all buildings show street numbers.  Council officers have almost completed this work in the CBD – it’s particularly visible for anyone walking down Cuba Street!

            5)            Thorndon Village: Unrealistic expectations and local disagreements held back this planned upgrade for years. When chairing a meeting of residents and business owners, I made it clear it was the last chance to have any work done.  The work is now almost complete.

            6)            Erskine College & Chapel, Island Bay:  As a former head prefect, I know these buildings well so I re-ignited the campaign to save these wonderful buildings. A narrow special interest group (SECT) has been stalling the proposed strengthening and restoration, to the despair of the property owner.  I’m cautiously optimistic about the likely result and hope the owner can start the strengthening work in the New Year.

            7)            CBD Speed Limits: Council proposed making the official speed limit 30kph and spending $250,000 on signage,  when the mean speed is already 31kph. I led the successful charge to stop this money-wasting scheme.

            8)            Town Belt: During last year’s election campaign, I promised to protect this precious part of our city’s landscape. I voted against a proposal (led by Councillor Andy Foster and supported by the Mayor) to allow Council to sell pockets of this land and this lunacy was stopped.

            9)            Lane Upgrades: Inner city lanes can be a real feature, as seen in cities like Melbourne and London, so I campaigned for our lanes to be upgraded. Work will commence early next year on Mason’s Lane, Leeds, Eva and Bond streets; Cable Car Lane and Garratt Street may also be tackled.

     10)              CubaDupa: I campaigned for the return of the Cuba Street Carnival which brought enormous vitality to the central city. I am delighted about its successor ‘CubaDupa’, which will be held on March 28 & 29 next year. It’s being billed as “New Zealand’s biggest street party” and will offer something for all age groups.

We’re now one third of the way through the term. I am conscious of the need to ensure Council decisions have a positive cost benefit for ratepayers, and I will continue to oppose vanity projects. 

I love working for our city so I’m committed to getting things done, and I welcome hearing any ideas you may have for Wellington. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

A good succinct report.

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Smart lights

August 18th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Wellington wants to be the first city in the southern hemisphere with street lights that track runaway dogs, flash when someone is in danger and dim when there is no one around.

A city council committee will this week consider whether to upgrade the capital’s 18,000 street lights with brighter LED bulbs and digital technology that interacts with smartphones, tablet computers and GPS satellites.

They would also be fitted with infra-red sensors so they can dim to about 10 per cent of full power when no-one is around and illuminate whenever someone walks by.

Paul Glennie, the city council’s team leader of strategic planning, said all sorts of services could be delivered once the capital’s street lights were all “talking to each other” across a wireless connection.

Wellingtonians could use their smartphones or tablets to tap into the lights and track how far away a rubbish truck was or see which lamppost their microchipped dog was sniffing around.

Motorists could be directed to available parking spaces via their GPS devices.

City officials could also adjust light levels via their smart-devices or a text message whenever heavy rain or snow hit the city, or when emergency services required.

“It could be that street lights actually flash outside a property that has called for an ambulance,” Glennie said.

LED lights use less power but produce better light, and illuminate to 100 per cent without the need for a warm-up period.

That means there would be no danger to public safety but energy use could drop by up to 95 per cent, Glennie said.

“Currently we leave the lights on all night whether there’s people around or not. But if we can turn them down when no one is around then no one should really be affected.”

Creating the southern hemisphere’s first “smart” light network could cost between $10 million and $20m but save capital ratepayers about $2.1m each year in energy savings.

Sounds a good investment to me.


Wellington City Council must live within means also

July 15th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Higher rates rises over the next few years could be the price residents have to pay for Wellington City Council’s “eight big ideas”.

Councillors have been warned that projects such as the airport runway extension, the Hilton Hotel and conference centre, and a film museum would not be sustainable without increasing the number of ratepayers – and even then “slightly higher rates increases in the short term” might be needed.

A presentation from council staff working on budgets for the next 10 years looks at various funding possibilities, one of which could be a rates increase above 10 per cent in 2015-16.

Another scenario, spreading out costs across the decade, involves an increase of about 6 per cent for 2015-16.

In recent years, rates rises have been held to about 2.5 per cent.

Rates should not increase more than inflation. It is all too easy for Councillors to have a wishlist of ideas, but we’re the ones who to have to fund them.

Any contribution to the proposed airport runway extension should be minimal.


No to a roof

June 10th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

For years it has been labelled too expensive. Now Westpac Stadium is finally investigating getting a roof.

But if it goes ahead, it will require ratepayer money to get it over the line – and stadium chief executive Shane Harmon says the price tag would be in the “ballpark” of $60 million to $100m.

No, no and no.

Sure a roof would be nice. But no way should ratepayers be hit with $1,000 per household to pay for it.


Herald on ashes bylaw

June 9th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Now, the Auckland Council has ventured into this area. As part of a wider bylaw covering cemeteries and crematoriums, it wants to prevent people scattering ashes in any public place – including beaches and parks – unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Komiti, a Maori committee overseeing sacred areas. Even people wanting to scatter ashes in a public cemetery would need to fill in approval forms and pay an “applicable” fee to the council.

Predictably enough, the proposal has attracted a storm of protest.

That anger is justified on several grounds. The council documents on the issue provide no detailed background to suggest major problems are arising from the scattering of ashes, either in terms of health or other risk, cultural sensitivities, or the growing extent of the practice. While cremations have become more popular, there are still only about 3000 a year in Auckland, compared with 2200 burials. That is a long way from the situation in Britain, where problems have arisen from the 420,000 cremations annually.

This suggests that, in the main, the council is looking for a solution where no significant problem exists. 

Exactly. And if there is a problem in a couple of discrete areas, then all you need is a couple of signs there asking people not to spread ashes there. What you don’t need is a law requiring you to gain permission to spread ashes anywhere in Auckland – let alone pay a fee for it.

A funeral celebrant described the council’s proposals as “crass”. That is apt. On an issue that demanded subtlety, it has employed a sledgehammer. Its proposal warrants the most rapid of burials.

It seems Wellington City already has such a policy. It should also be scrapped. I imagine almost everyone just ignores it anyway.

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A waste of $60 million

February 14th, 2014 at 8:58 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Work to earthquake strengthen Wellington Town Hall has been halted in the face of a $17 million budget blowout.

Investigations into the 110-year-old building’s foundations have resulted in the cost soaring from $43.7m to somewhere in the region of $60m – prompting one councillor to suggest abandoning it in favour of a new building.

The extent of additional foundation work required was unearthed after staff were moved out and the town hall closed in November for the three-year strengthening programme. Work was halted after just three months as the council tried to figure out what to do about the additional costs of up to $17m. The delay is likely to push back the completion date of the project.

It was a marginal call at $43 million and a wasteful one at $60 million. And I suspect the costs would keep escalating.

To put this into perspective, there are 68,901 households in Wellington, so the Council is forcing each ratepayer to pay $871 (and growing) to strengthen the building. That’s a huge amount of money.


Nicola Young on living wage

January 14th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Wellington City Councillor Nicola Young writes in the Dom Post:

Councillors often stress the need for evidence-based, reasoned and clear decisions; correct process; and the need to avoid writing blank cheques but there was little – if any – consultation and analysis of the impact this wages policy would have on Wellington households and businesses. Ironic, considering the council has also committed to the capital being “open for business”.

Mayor Celia Wade- Brown has defended this Alice in Wonderland approach by pointing out the council didn’t consult on the chief executive’s salary either. The reality is that the CEO is paid the going rate in a competitive international market, whereas the “living wage” is an artificial intervention to boost incomes of lower paid workers who happen to work at the council.

The “living wage” proposed by the Living Wage Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign, is higher (relative to GDP per capita) than the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Incredibly, ours is higher than London’s; the 18th most expensive city in the world (Wellington is ranked at 74th in Mercer’s Cost of Living survey).

The Council voted to outsource their wages policy to Rev Waldegrave. Whatever he says they should pay, they will pay it. It is the opposite of evidence based policy.

A review of the research that produced the New Zealand rate of $18.40 by researcher Brian Scott concluded the rate is over-stated and questioned its method and data (as did Treasury). It also questioned whether conclusions reached from overseas research on productivity, morale and poverty could be safely applied to New Zealand’s situation.

Preliminary research by the Auckland Council came to the same conclusion. Not everyone would agree that Sky TV, pets, international travel and video games are “basic necessities”; some expenses – childcare costs, for example – are counted twice and money is allowed for building and mortgage insurance, despite the stated assumption that recipients are tenants.

Good to see politicians taking notice of the Scott analysis.

Wellington may be a comparatively wealthy city, but with an older population; much of the council’s largesse will be funded by pensioners struggling on fixed incomes, well below the “living wage”.

The “living wage” is a one-size-fits-all tool, based on a two-adult, two-child family.

The reality is that almost 80 per cent of those earning less than $18.40 have no children; many are students living at home.

The concept of a single living wage is fundamentally flawed. Each different household composition will have its own level of needed income. A family of four has different needs to a single 18 year old living at home.

Wage policies shouldn’t be based on emotional arguments; it should be based on careful analysis and facts. The lack of consultation, research and analysis of this policy is a failure of governance, and will damage our city’s economy and reputation as a place to do business. The “living wage” policy is a poor solution looking to solve a complex problem.

Well said.

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Wellington Employers’ Chamber of Commerce on Living Wage

December 11th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Raewyn Bleakley writes in the Dom Post:

Wellington City councillors today will debate at committee whether to accept a proposal to pay the living wage to council workers. It’s a decision that could have far-reaching effects on the local economy.

Further, Treasury analysis, matched with earnings information from IRD, shows that almost 80 per cent of New Zealanders earning less than $18.40 an hour, including young people and students, don’t have children. In fact, two-parent two-children households make up just 6 per cent of families earning less than $18.40. And of those earning below that, one in five have family incomes of more than $80,000.

Anyone who votes for the living wage is voting for the most badly targeted policy in recent history. The living wage is a calculation for a two parent two child family, and as pointed out they represent just 6% of families earning less than $18.40 an hour. To apply that calculation to the other 94% of families is bizarre and daft.

Giving low-paid workers a 30 per cent increase without having a well-thought- out plan for how to create a corresponding lift in performance, and while doing nothing for other workers, is not the way to go. A business wouldn’t survive operating that way. Ratepayers deserve better management of public money from the council.

How many councillors will vote for ratepayers to fund a living wage, but don’t pay a living wage themselves? Bet you there are a few hypocrites out there.

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Two Councillors walk out

November 18th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

They were there to learn how to get along better – but instead two Wellington city councillors ended up storming out.

Earlier this month a workshop was held at the zoo so new and returning councillors could discuss a document outlining how they should interact with each other, and with council officers.

It included phrases such as having “no surprises”, having professional relationships that were “timely, courteous, respectful”, and building an “environment for trust between elected members”.

But during the discussion, councillors Helene Ritchie and Iona Pannett walked out, reportedly because they felt they weren’t being listened to.

Last term’s council repeatedly came under fire for being divisive and not working effectively. Since the election last month, the new council – which includes six new members – has been meeting regularly to discuss how it will function.

 Immediately after the election, Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said there was a good mix of councillors and she expected leading them would be “a lot easier than in the last six months”.

Not a great start for the new Council.

Not overly surprised that Cr Ritchie walked out. She does have a long history of difficult relationships with her colleagues, including back in the 1970s or 1980s when she got dumped as Deputy Mayor by her own team.

I am somewhat surprised by Iona Pannett walking out, and it will be interesting to learn what was the trigger.

The meeting was run by Deputy Mayor Justin Lester, who said it was a “storm in a teacup”, and both councillors returned and joined in the discussion.

It was a “group session on some protocols on how councillors should behave”, he said.

“There was a perception also that the council was divisive and we wanted to address that . . . Some people had different opinions, but in the end we all agreed.

So the session was to deal with the perception that the Council was divisive and the result of it was two Councillors walking out! Sounds more than a perception.


Are Councils fibbing in response to official information requests

November 12th, 2013 at 10:30 am by David Farrar

The Taxpayers Unions blogs:

It appears that the councils of two of our largest cities do not take freedom of information laws seriously. As a constitutional lawyer and advocate for government transparency, I am deeply saddened.

Cost of Wellington City Council’s website – $317,726 or $1.7million? Depends who’s asking…

Last week the Taxpayers’ Union criticised Marlborough City Council for spending $410,000 on web design and development. We made a feature of it on our website and our analysis was even covered in the local paper. We thought the amount was outrageous – ‘$100,000 more than Wellington City’s award winning website’.

We were wrong. Though the Wellington City Council told us it had spent $317,726, it had told someone else it had spent $1.7million on the same site. Though we’ve written (and spoken) to the Council’s CEO, the inconsistency has not been explained. We’ve posted the two information request responses, as well as the ‘please explain’ letterhere.

When a Council provides too massively different figures for the cost of their website, that’s a very bad look. Far too many Councils seem to have an attitude that LGOIMA requests are a matter of voluntary compliance, not law.

But Auckland Council seems to be playing games also, denying a trip even occurred:

We asked Auckland Council about a mayoral trip to China – officials suggested the trip never happened

Over some months, a number of Taxpayers’ Union volunteers have made official information requests relating to items of sensitive expenditure such as credit cards and international travel.

We had a tip that related to inappropriate credit card expenditure by the interpreter who accompanied Auckland’s Mayor on a trip to China in January or February 2013. We made an official information request to Auckland Council to identify the Council official so we could review the expenses.

Because we did not know the precise dates of the January/February 2013 trip, but understood that it was the Mayor’s most recent trip to China, we couched the request in those terms.

The Council’s response and the attachment is here and here. They refers to the identity of an interpreter who travelled with the Mayor on a trade delegation to China in April 2012. No mention is made of the early 2013 trip.

On Friday afternoon, the Taxpayers’ Union spoke to an official at the Auckland Council who confirmed that the Council misled us.

Again, it just isn’t good enough.

The other issue I have noticed with some Councils is that they have a policy where they will charge for any LGOIMA request that takes more than 30 minutes to respond to, regardless of how reasonable it is. Charging should be for requests which are hugely excessive, not for any time over half an hour.

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The Wellington election results

October 13th, 2013 at 2:24 pm by David Farrar



This is how the vote went for the WCC Mayoral election, on the provisional results.

  1. Celia Wade-Brown won 38% of the first preferences to 34% for John Morrison
  2. Jack Yan picked up the biggest slice of Karuna Muthu’s first preferences
  3. John Morrison picked up the biggest slice of Rob Goulden’s preferences
  4. Nicola Young’s support split three ways – 30% to Wade-Brown and Yan and 40% to Morrison.
  5. At this point there is only 3% in it and Yan has 18%.
  6. But Yan’s votes go 55% Wade-Brown and 45% Morrison giving her a 4.4% margin

Of interest 4,363 voters did not fully rank all preferences and hence did not get a say in the final decision between Morrison and Wade-Brown. This is a larger number that the margin of 2,284. Now they presumably made a conscious decision that they thought both candidates were equally undesirable (which is a perfectly appropriate view to have), but it does show the importance of ranking all preferences if you do want as full a say as possible.

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The result of heritage at any price

October 11th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A must read op ed by Grant Corleison in the Dom Post:

The next step in the fracas that the future of the Harcourts building in Lambton Quay has become is likely to result in Wellington’s own version of the Marie Celeste, that abandoned ghost ship of the Atlantic.

After all the to-ings and fro-ings to get the only commercially viable option of demolition and rebuilding approved, the owner has pulled the plug and intends to cordon off and abandon the building for safety reasons because its heritage value is apparently unique but unaffordable to retain.

Well done Wellington City Council. You have turned a major building into an abandoned wreck.

Since then, the building has spawned an industry of Wellington property professionals, economists, architects, commercial real estate agents and lawyers dedicated to advising on the future of the building.

Almost all, except the city council and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, say the only solution from safety, heritage and economic aspects, is demolition and redevelopment.

The building is currently uninsurable, and if restored to an acceptable quake standard of 80 per cent of building code the premium per year is quoted as $455,000 plus GST.

Based on my experience, that cost will keep increasing.

The building’s owner, Mark Dunajtschik, has spent more than $500,000 getting professional opinions on its future. It would cost $10.8m to bring the building up to 80 per cent of the standard, with the option of demolition of the building and retaining the facade estimated at $6.5m.

Due diligence has been done by outside parties on renovating the building into apartments, converting it to a hotel and student accommodation. All declined to progress their options and all said the two strengthening and refurbishment options were not commercially viable.

Among this fracas Mark Dunajtschik offered the building for $1 to the council, the Government and the Historic Place Trust. As a further incentive to address their strident views on the heritage value of the building, he also offered the Historic Places Trust an additional $5m towards strengthening and refurbishment.

Despite media comments, they all declined the offer. They were not prepared to spend their own money on the building.

So the building sits empty was an abandoned wreck. What a triumph for heritage.

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The Wellington Mayoralty

October 2nd, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

It probably won’t surprise anyone that I won’t be voting for Celia Wade-Brown to be re-elected Mayor. However it might not be for the reasons people assume – that she is a Green Party member. I have endorsed a number of Labour and Green party members for local government positions in the past.

I basically assess local body candidates on what I call the 3 Ps – policies, personality and political management.

Now when it comes to policies, of course there are not that many areas I agree with Wade-Brown. However the Mayor is just one vote of 15. So policies alone is not a sufficient reason to not vote for someone.

Personality isn’t a problem for me with Celia. She pleasant and engaging, and generally gets on well with people. She is no Bob Parker who managed to alienate huge swathes of people.

It is the third area, political management, where the Mayor hasn’t been successful. The Council under her leadership has been almost embarrassing at times as it flip-flops backwards and forwards on issues such as the Basin Reserve.

Dave Armstrong notes in the Dom Post:

Sadly, one of Ms Wade-Brown’s strengths – that she is largely a democratic consensus politician – is also one of her weaknesses. With an evenly divided council, there is a feeling, even amongst Wade-Brown’s supporters, that she hasn’t rammed through much of her own policy, so not a lot has been achieved. Worse, the outsourced and CCO (Council- controlled Organisations) tail seems to be wagging the council dog, with the mayor and council being kept in the dark.

Being unaware of the costs of your own office refurbishment and the fact that the Council had outsourced most of its works operations is almost unforgivable in terms of political competence.

But also, the failure to get much done through Council. You don’t achieve that by ramming things through (as you only get one vote). You achieve that by working with Councillors on win-wins. A Mayor should never turn up to a Council meeting unaware of how a vote will go. They need to be constantly talking to colleagues, building coalitions, and the like.

I don’t like Len Brown’s policies very much (and very much like some of John Palino’s ideas) but you have to credit Brown that he hasn’t lost too many votes at Auckland Council. His team have run a reasonably tight operation.

So that’s why I won’t vote for Celia – partly policies and partly political management. If she does get re-elected, then of course her policies will not change but I do hope she improves her political management.

There are five other candidates, and the Dom Post has their views on leadership here.

Karuna Muthu and Rob Goulden both have some good policies. They’re both fiscally conservative and pretty balanced on issues such as transport. But no-one thinks either can win. Karuna’s challenge is his lack of experience on Council and Rob’s is being able to persuade people that he has got over the battles of yesteryear from when he was last on Council.

Jack Yan has run a good campaign for the second time. Armstrong notes:

Mr Yan is a younger, impressively multilingual entrepreneur with the rare distinction of being both an ex- Alliance candidate and involved with the Miss Universe competition. 

I do have a suspicion of anyone who has been an Alliance candidate. Yan does have some good ideas and has done well in business. However I have reservations about whether he would be up to the political management needed to be Mayor. They are different skills.

John Morrison is the person most likely to beat Celia. If this was an FPP election I’d vote for John. I’ll be happy if he becomes the Mayor. I’ve been on Radio with him a few times, and he’s a well grounded funny guy. He also has a very impressive record of achievement as a Councillor in bringing both sporting events and jobs to Wellington.

However his campaign hasn’t been the best and stuff such as the comments about a model, and objecting to voting booths at the university have caused reluctance with some people who want a change, but are unsure if he is a change for the future.

As I said, I’m hoping he’ll beat Celia. I think a Morrison mayoralty will stabilise the Council, and we won’t end up with a Council that is flip-flopping all over the place. I’ll be ranking Morrison No 2.

My No 1 vote will go to Nicola Young. I think Nicola has the policies, the personality and the political skills to be a good Mayor.  Having only launched her campaign mid-year, the odds are against her. But I constantly hear feedback from people saying that they badly want change, they have hesitations about John, and like what they have seen to date of Nicola.  I really admire her for staying true to her principles and not saying she’ll vote for a living wage, despite the baying from some on the left who see that issue as a litmus test for humanity (which says more about them). I’ve also had good feedback from various groups around Wellington such as Vic students who have said Nicola has engaged with them, listened to them and even adopted some policy suggestions.

So I’ll be voting Nicola Young 1, John Morrison 2. If you want change for Wellington the key thing is to make those two your top two choices. It doesn’t matter so much which is 1 and which is 2 – follow your own preferences. They key thing is to put the person you least want elected as No 6 or leave them unranked entirely.

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Double dip parking tickets

September 30th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

More than 4000 Wellington motorists a year have been receiving two parking tickets for what is effectively a single offence under double-dipping fines that have already been thrown out by a court.

Wellington City Council has been forced to investigate the legality of its fines after a District Court ruling found it was punishing people for two offences, despite the transgressions amounting to the same thing.

But the council maintains it is acting legally, and it is continuing to issue the double dose of fines.

When motorists’ pay-and-display tickets run out, they are fined for displaying an expired ticket. Then, if they are also beyond the maximum time limit for the car park, they are hit with a second fine. In the past financial year, 4100 tickets were issued in this way. The practice started many years ago.

As you can only get a ticket for up to two hours, ipso facto if you end up pared for longer you will have an expired ticket and be over the maximum time.

You should get a ticket, but only one ticket. The fines for an expired ticket already vary depending on time. So if you are 30 minutes over it is $12 and two to four hours over is $30.

In May, justices of the peace Ian Symonds and S J Roughton ruled against the practice, saying the first fine should be “subsumed into the second” because it was basically the same offence.

They’re right.

But council spokesman Richard MacLean defended the practice, and said the council was still issuing the extra tickets while it carried out a review. It accepted that two tickets could make motorists “become annoyed”, but it maintained two offences were being committed.

“We reject the revenue-gathering angle, because we are responding to a problem where people are parking free and taking away the ability for other people to park.”

Yeah, not revenue generating – right.

No one disputes there should be a fine – just not two fines.

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The Wellington City Council candidates

September 24th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

While I don’t agree with all their views, I think Wellington City is well served by having a dedicated blog covering Wellington local government issues, WCC Watch. I do wish they were transparent on who runs the site (even if they with-hold names, they should disclose some information about who they are, their affiliations and motivations), but I find them reasonably balanced and less left-leaning than they were in 2010 (maybe different people in charge now).

Anyway they make it easier for me to review the Council candidates, as they have done it for me. So I can point to their reviews, and add in my own comments.

Let’s start with my ward – Lambton Ward.

I had previously said I would be voting for Nicola Young and Rex Nicholls and was undecided between John Dow and Iona Pannett for my third preference. Since then I’ve met John Dow and have to say am hugely impressed with what he has already achieved for Wellngton. He’s been involved in over a dozen major events and activities for Wellington ranging from the Wellington Gold Awards for business, the NZ International Arts Festival, the Wellington Phoenix, to events such as the a Vietnam Commemoration. He’s also worked on attracting businesses and visitors to Wellington.

While Iona has been a hard working Councillor, I reflected after meeting John that Iona’s list of achievements will probably include a fair number of things she has tried to stop such as better roads. I think there is a real contrast there.

So I’ll be ranking Nicola Young 1, and my top three preferences will go to Nicola Young, Rex Nicholls and John Dow. If you want a team of Councillors who can make things happen, rather than stop things happening, I’d urge people to give them your top three preferences.

I will still give Iona my fourth preference, which may still help her if one of the others does not make it.

Ian Apperley at Strathmore Park has also endorsed Young, Dow and Nicholls.

Next, we have Onslow-Western Ward.

Incumbents Jo Coughlan and Andy Foster should get returned. I think Jo is excellent, and she has done a huge amount around the Council’s economic strategy. Andy’s politics seem rather flexible at times, but one can’t deny he is hard working and effective.

WCC Watch suggests the third place is between Labour’s Malcolm Aitken, Simon Woolf and Hayley Robinson.

I prefer to keep party politics out of the Council. Those who stand on the Labour ticket are constitutionally bound to vote in accordance with directions of the Labour Party – either their policy manifesto, or their local body caucus/committee decisions. I don’t want Councillors who place the interests of their party ahead of the community they serve. Party politics is a necessary part of central Government, but is best kept away from local Government in my view.

I don’t really know Woolf or Robinson, but Woolf business background (the iconic Photography by Woolf) appeals to me, along with his very significant service to charities and sports.  I know little about what Robinson has done or even her current job if she had one. However Ian Apperley has endorsed her as “Sweet and a little nutty” but genuinely caring.

He has also endorsed Phil Howison, and I share that endorsement. I know Phil, and think he would be very fiscally responsible Councillor. A very smart guy who would be able to deal with pretty much any portfolio area.

Third is Northern Ward.

WCC Watch thinks the likely winners are Lester, Ritchie and Sparrow with Toner and Gilberd being contenders.

Justin Lester has generally been a good Councillor, and deserve re-election.

Helene Ritchie first got elected to Wellington City Council in 1977, the same year I believe Apple Computers was formed. I think it is well and truly time for some fresh blood there.

Malcolm Sparrow has a strong background with the Tawa Local Board and I agree is likely to win a place.

My pick for a new Councillor, and the one I would rank No 1, is Jacob Toner. Jacob has the benefits of youth and enthusiasm and as well as being sound on the core stuff such as keeping rates affordable, being job-friendly, has some nice lateral ideas such as the proposed hitching posts which I have previously covered.

Ian Apperley endorses Jacob Toner as No 1 and Malcolm Sparrow as No 2.

Fourth is Eastern Ward.

All three incumbents are standing again. I know Simon (Swampy) Marsh and Ray Ahipene-Mercer and endorse both of them as 1 and 2. Ray is a left-winger but a great example of someone who can work with people of different political persuasions. WCC Watch labels Simon as active and accessible and I think that are spot on.

The third incumbent is Leonie Gill. A very nice person who has been active in many campaigns in the past. She is standing for Labour though which as I say above, I don’t see as useful in local body politics. I think with her health challenges, retirement could be a blessing in disguise for her, but if she wins again am sure she will work as hard as she can.

Karuna Muthu is standing for Mayor also, and may get a boost from the profile associated with that, as is Rob Goulden. Muthu is very engaged with ethnic community groups, but also has a good business background.

Sarah Free is running an active campaign, and is standing for the Greens. I don’t object to their being Green voices in Council but if Labour and Greens get anywhere near a majority I think we’d become a backwater. However Ian Apperley endorses Free as well-balanced and pragmatic.

John Coleman looks quite promising also and WCC Watch rates him as in with a chance. He has been involved in the Wellington Wine and Food Festivals and is a well known restaurateur.

Finally we have Southern Ward.

Paul Eagle is one of their two Councillors, and gets great reviews from almost anyone Despite the Labour affiliation he should be returned. He will no doubt in time turn as as the next MP for Rongotai.

My main priority is getting rid of Bryan Pepperell who seems unable to play a constructive role in anything, and is quite ineffectual as a Councillor (rated lowest by the Wellingtonian). He also describes fluoride as poison.

So it is a choice between Ginette McDonald and David Lee from the Greens.

I would vote for McDonald. No, not because she was Lyn of Tawa and has a high profile (ut that will help her). But she is a very active member of the Southern community has done more fundraisers etc than probably anyone else who lives there. Her heart is clearly in the right place. There are concerns over how good a fit she will be in a Council that can spend hours on complex regulatory hearings and the like and Ian Apperley thinks she’ll hate it if she gets in.

I’d rank them Eagle 1, (Ginette) McDonald 2, and Lee 3 and Pepperell last or not ranked at all.

I will do separate posts on the Mayoralty, the DHB and the Wellington Regional Council.

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Council has lost the faith of the public

September 18th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Michael Forbes at Stuff reports:

Wellingtonians are losing faith in the ability of the city council to make decisions in the best interest of the city.

Just 31 per cent of people who participated in the council’s own resident satisfaction survey this year felt the council was on top of things as a decision-making body.

Last year, that number was 55 per cent, and in 2010 – the last year of the previous council – it was 61 per cent.

That’s a huge drop off in confidence, and the current Mayor and Council have to take responsibility for this. In just three years they have had 30% of Wellingtonians lose faith in their ability to make decisions that are good for Wellington.


A not very useful poll

September 14th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

John Morrison is leading incumbent Celia Wade-Brown in the race for the Wellington mayoralty, according to a poll of Dominion Post readers.

Note this is a poll of readers, not of adults. It is both unrepresentative and probably fairly self-selecting, so this means that any results are not necessarily representative of how Wellingtonians will vote. That is not to say Morrison may not be ahead, just that this “poll” is not a very useful indicator.

Mr Morrison, who has been a city councillor for the past 15 years, had support from 27 per cent of the 635 readers surveyed last week – while Ms Wade-Brown trails on 17 per cent.

Putting aside that it is not a representative sample, the sampling error would be 3.8%, if it really was a poll of 635 readers in Wellington City.

Of those surveyed, 275 were eligible to vote in the Wellington City Council elections.

This is the number that counts and should have been highlighted earlier in the story.  That is a 5.9% margin of error.

In terms of raw numbers, 75 readers said they are voting Morrison, 47 readers Wade-Brown and 118 readers are undecided.

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Public hygiene ratings

September 11th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Log on to the website of the Auckland Council, or its Palmerston North counterpart for that matter, and you can find a hygiene rating for every eatery in the city, plus the date it was last inspected.

Log on to the Wellington City Council website and you will see all sorts of information for restaurant and cafe owners but nothing for the public.

The Auckland and Palmerston North councils have decided that their first obligation is to the public, not business operators.

Wellington City Council is conflicted about where its loyalties lie. The council does inspect premises and does issue cleaning, repair and closure notices, but it does not maintain a public register of hygiene ratings, does not require eateries to display their ratings, as Auckland and Palmerston North do, and only reluctantly surrendered to The Dominion Post records showing which eateries had failed to meet minimum hygiene standards in the last financial year.

Absolutely this info should be on public display. You should not have to use LGOIMA to prise it out of the Council.

Most people would think that is information that should be provided to the public as a matter of course, but not Wellington City Council operations and business development leader Raaj Govinda. In a letter to the affected businesses last week, he said the council was “extremely reluctant” to provide the list and “has not done so willingly”.

The council was not in the business of “trying to close people”, he later explained. Fair enough.

No-one wants businesses to close, dining options to be reduced or staff to be put out of work. But no-one wants food poisoning either.

The best guarantor of business viability and patrons’ health is the publication of hygiene ratings. That way everyone knows what the rules of the game are and who is, and is not, playing by them.

It is surely no coincidence that in Auckland and Palmerston North, where ratings are public, the vast majority of eateries meet the highest “A” standard. They cannot afford not to when their customers know their competitors two doors down the road are also getting a top rating.

Absolutely. And maybe sites like Trip Advisor could link to the hygiene rating!

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