We all know it’s been an incredibly challenging 3 years. Pipes which had given no hint of collective problems, started breaking almost immediately after the 2019 election. Shortly afterwards the biggest global pandemic in a century arrived to turn our lives upside down. Covid is clearly still significantly impacting us all. It has played a large role in a very much changed economic environment after many years of low interest and inflation rates. There are widespread staff shortages, malfunctioning global supply chains and increasing prices. We’ve faced an ongoing whirlwind of Government reforms, and the politics around the Wellington Council table were immensely challenging for the first half of the triennium in particular.
But despite pipes, pandemics, protests, politics, and seismic shifts in the environment – politically, physically and economically, I’ve been relentlessly 100% committed and focused on delivery for our city. Things that needed to be done are getting done – to get through the challenges, and build a city fit for our collective future. All the noise around Council has meant we have not got anywhere near the credit for all we have delivered, the hard decisions made, and the hard work that’s been done, and is still being done.
There is so much to be proud of in terms of delivery, and it is far more than most Councils have even got close to. I was asked by one media outlet to pick the top few, not easy but I’ll list the top 10 and then go through as a whole, area by area.
- Effectively supporting our city, businesses, CCOs, arts, culture and events through Covid.
- Responding to an unexpected infrastructure challenge at pace – fixing pipes, building new pipes and building Omaroro, our biggest ever reservoir.
- Making decisions on critical waste infrastructure – landfill extension and our sludge treatment plant.
- Getting LGWM actually moving – decisions on Mt Victoria tunnel, Basin solution, and MRT route, and City Streets, Golden Mile and Hutt Rd – Thorndon Quay, delivering safer CBD speeds and cycling projects like Cobham Drive, Island Bay, Evans Bay, Brooklyn. There will be so much construction over coming years!
- Notifying the first District Plan in 22 years providing capacity for much more housing, as well as achieving wide buy in to active urban renewal and housing delivery – an urban development agency alongside Kainga Ora.
- Getting agreement to establish a Community Housing Provider to manage Council’s social housing.
- Responding to City Safety concerns through the nation leading Poneke Promise partnership.
- Delivering comprehensive new Economic Wellbeing and Aho Tini Arts, Culture and Creativity Strategies, and a long awaited mid-sized rehearsal and performance venue at Te Whaea.
- Restoring and building several Council Buildings – reopening our St James, progressing the Town Hall and specifically for this Council, the deal done with Te Papa to operate Takina, the deal with Willis Bond to build a home for the National School of Music, and our decisions to deliver a resilient, modern, exciting Central Library Te Matapihi.
- Being an Inclusive Council – the Takai Here partnership with iwi, and the enhanced relationships with our ethnic, faith and rainbow
has turned the world upside down, particularly impacting central cities (work from home hurts central cities) and tourism, disrupting supply chains and workforces, and the global and national economies. We led New Zealand, moving at pace to create two Pandemic Response packages – 2020 and 2022 to do what we could to support business and activate our city. I particularly have supported our arts, culture and events sectors especially when some councillors proposed pulling or diverting support. We have supported a fantastic events programme. I would have liked to maintain a more friendly parking policy for longer as we reactivate but that wasn’t the view of the majority of councillors. We have also supported our own CCO whanau suffering significantly from Covid related loss of business (Venues, Museums, Zoo, Zealandia, Stadium, Cable Car, Airport)
Pipe condition wasn’t on anyone’s radar pre 2019 either. Our former CEO’s 2019 pre- election report didn’t even mention pipe condition, not one word. It just wasn’t an issue – until some prominent pipe breaks starting in December 2019. Then it became a media storm. Although other Councils have had issues with their assets the focus has been particularly on Wellington City.
In response to a number of pipe breaks I established a Mayoral Taskforce in early 2020 with Council support, and we funded WWL to undertake condition assessment of the most critical assets. WWL gets a lot of criticism, and we need to see improvement in some important forward planning areas, and keeping people better informed of progress when they alert WWL to problems. However, among many other projects, WWL did an excellent job fixing Mt Albert tunnel, Moa Point, Willis Street and Jervois Quay waste and stormwater pipes, and laid a brand-new wastewater rising main up Whitmore and Bowen Streets enhancing resilience of the wastewater network. We’ve taken on the vexed issue of private wastewater laterals. Work has just started on a new $24 million pump station and rising main to run up Taranaki St. This is critical for resilience, providing an alternative pathway for wastewater to reach the main interceptor – avoiding spills into the harbour in the future and providing capacity for growth. There are more leaks in the drinking water network, possibly in part related to the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. Arguably we are starting to catch up on 150 years of under-maintenance.
Our city’s biggest ever reservoir, Omaroro, had been argued over for 20 years. My Council agreed to build it in June 2022. It will be operational this November, providing resilient water supply for the lower lying suburbs and central city.
We will run out of landfill space and its consent will expire in 2026. In June we agreed the option for Sludge Treatment and for a landfill extension. These are essential investments. Without dealing with sludge we would continue to fill up landfill space at an unsustainable rate. Both projects now move into consent and delivery phase. We have also supported a number of waste minimisation initiatives as we push to reduce waste, and this will continue and deepen.
We agreed the funding for Te Atakura First to Zero plan and have implemented many of its actions. More than 5 million cubic metres of methane gas will be captured every year at our southern landfill and turned into enough energy to power over 1200 homes, thanks to a deal we have done with LMS Energy. We agreed a carbon offset through tree planting with Victoria University on our land. But the big gains on climate come in waste (above) and transport and urban development (below)
An integrated Approach to Transport and Urban Development
LGWM was broken and failing until we did the Health Check (completed summer 2020/21). I’ve worked closely with the Ministers of Transport (and Housing) and Regional Council Chair. We have got milestone agreement to a second Mt Victoria tunnel, a beautiful Basin Reserve solution, and the MRT route. Congestion charging is now firmly on Government’s agenda and has cross party support as a behaviour management tool and offset for rates. We’ve agreed the City Streets business case, and are in consultation on the detail of the Golden Mile. Thorndon Quay – Hutt Road’s first component, the Aotea Quay roundabout is imminent, supporting the major redevelopment of the Interisland Ferry Terminal. There have been bumps on the cycleway journey and we need to get the balance right, but we made important safety changes for cyclists on Thorndon Quay where 3 previous Councils failed to do so. We’ve built cycleways, including completing the Cobham Drive cycleway and are completing the Evans Bay cycleway. We’ve agreed and are implementing the fix for Island Bay. For a decade I’ve supported what will be Te Ara Tupua, the transformational shared pathway linking Petone and Ngauranga. We held a signing ceremony with the Transport Minister and the construction Alliance on 26 July with construction to start later this year. We’ve implemented safer speeds in the Central City. As a Board member at Wellington Airport I am delighted we’ve been able to work together to get the Airport Express bus service back – fully electric, on Real Time and on Snapper.
Urban Development and Housing
We’ve delivered a Spatial Plan and notified the first comprehensive District Plan since 2000. It provides for a very significant uplift in our city’s housing capacity. I wanted a more collaborative, community involved approach to planning, and spent considerable time walking suburban streets with community leaders, but that wasn’t the will of the majority of councillors who regarded community involvement as potentially reducing housing capacity/supply (two different things). Debate particularly around housing vs character was deliberately made unnecessarily divisive, and the National Policy Statement and Government legislation totally changed the planning goalposts, both released just as we were about to approve either the Spatial or draft District Plans for consultation. I have no doubt this debate in particular damaged many people’s view of Council. Now the District Plan is in the statutory process and open for submissions I encourage everyone to at least look at the summary information and make submissions – including to support what you like! Because it is largely a legal – not political process from here – you cannot come back in later if you don’t make a submission.
I specifically included $38 million in our 2021 Long Term Plan for purchase and creation of inner-city parks over the next 30 years, the first time Council has ever had comprehensive funding for the green space needed to support a growing population. We also have a new Green Network Plan. Work on delivery is underway already.
As part of LGWM, I specifically argued the rationale for an urban development agency to ensure more housing and urban renewal is delivered along the MRT corridor, essential to the business case for MRT. This was something blocked by previous Council leadership, but now agreed by Ministers, Government, LGWM and Council. Council and LGWM will start engaging with communities about development and urban renewal opportunities in the next few months.
I’ve negotiated with Government and led Council to agree to establish a Community Housing Provider to start putting our social housing on a sustainable footing, support new tenants, and allow building more housing. Again this was something blocked by previous leadership, and has taken a lot of commendable courage from current councillors, and great work from our officers. Last week I released the Mayoral Taskforce on Social Housing, ensuring our tenants’ voices were articulated properly, and we signed off the riding instructions for establishing the Trust to run our Community Housing from 1 July next year. Over time this will start to dig Council Social Housing out of an impossibly deep hole, make housing more affordable for new tenants at least, and make building more social housing financially viable.
We responded at speed to social safety issues that emerged post lockdown 2020, largely blamed on the rapid concentration of unsupported emergency housing in central city blocks previously operating as backpackers and the like. Our Poneke Promise partnership has upgraded lighting, made urban improvements, opened community centres, upgraded CCTV coverage, with enhanced policing and hospo training, transitional housing through City Mission, and more. I’ve pushed to get the Ministry of Social Development and Universities involved and now they are – and are really stepping up. An interactive website allows anyone to register concerns and incidents, and see what responses and actions being taken are. The Pōneke Promise. There is considerable further work to do, particularly in the Aro Park area, and redevelopment of Courtenay Place through Let’s Get Wellington Moving.
Economic Development and Arts, Culture and Creativity
I’ve led creation of a comprehensive Economic Wellbeing Strategy, and Aho Tini – Arts, Culture and Creativity Strategy includes long wanted support for venue access, and for a mid-sized rehearsal and performance venue, which we’re helping make happen at Te Whaea. We’ve supported a fantastic events programme, and even the establishment – during Covid – of the Wellington Opera Company, and the Capital Theatre Trust. Wellington Opera recently delivered La Traviata following last year’s Don Giovanni season, and Capital Theatre Trust’s Les Miserables opens 17 August at our beautiful, restored St James. (Don’t miss it!)
We’ve reopened our historic Basin Reserve Museum Stand. The Basin is one of the most loved cricket grounds in the world, and after significant investment it now looks magnificent. We have reopened our beautiful St James Theatre and its already busy with a series of great performance seasons. Takina – our new Convention and Exhibition Centre is stunning. I’ve helped lead an agreement with Te Papa, who will bring their expertise in catering, conference operation and of course exhibitions to operate Takina. Conference bookings are really strong, and it is on budget and on or even ahead of time. Opening mid next year!
Te Ngakau Civic Square is really challenging with most of its buildings earthquake prone (Town Hall, Library, Capital E), not economic to strengthen (MOB) or actually damaged (CAB). Our Town Hall – an immensely challenging project – is progressing well with a great team on the job, but the budget has been impacted by Covid, supply chains etc and is now $182 million instead of the $145 million contracted in 2019. I’ve led on supporting agreement for a new building on the MFC carpark to be the home of the National School of Music, and on creating a framework to guide needed redevelopment of the precinct as the heart of our city. We have an opportunity to create something far better, more alive than it was.
I’ve led decision making for our Central Library, Te Matapihi. We are now underway with work to deliver Wellingtonians an exciting, modern, inclusive library, far better integrated with Te Ngakau Civic Square. Strip out of end-of-life services like heating, ventilation etc is complete, detailed design is well advanced, and major construction work will commence around the end of this year, due to open at the beginning of 2026.
We’ve opened Te Awe temporary library and operated a temporary central city library network. We opened Waitohi library, constructed Waiora sports hub (both Johnsonville), the fantastic play area at Pukehuia Park (Newlands), replaced artificial turfs at Te Whaea and Wellington College, refurbished the Hataitai netball courts including our first Sand Court. We’ve supported the Worser Bay Boat Club and Lyall Bay surf club in their developments. We’ll reopen the community centres in Strathmore, Aro Valley and Newtown before Christmas. We’re working to resolve the Karori Community Events Centre. We’ve supported restoration and strengthening of many historic buildings like St Johns Church and the Catholic Basilica and I’ve specifically helped with renewal of the historic Wellington Boating Club building on our waterfront.
Governance and Inclusion
A Council that was really political and challenging from the outset, is still not easy, but I’ve got the team working hard, and focused on delivery as you see above. We’ve responded to an avalanche of Government reforms. Our Digital Twin city model won a Bloomberg award and as it is developed will be so valuable for planning our city’s future development and for public engagement in that journey. The Economist made us the Number One City in the World for environmental resilience, and we are the only Australasian city on tech giant Cognizant’s list of 17 global ‘Cities of the Future’.
Iwi are now represented around our Council committee table with voting rights. We have a Maori ward for the upcoming election. We have signed a new Strategic Partnership, Takai Here, with our mana whenua iwi, and meet regularly Rangatira to Rangatira. We have a new Regional Leadership Committee operating with all 10 Councils, all our region’s mana whenua iwi, and two Crown Ministers, to consider big picture regional transport, urban planning, and economic development opportunities. We’ve established our Takatapui Rainbow Advisory Group, and I’ve personally worked closely with our ethnic communities and Interfaith communities all with the firm determination to be an inclusive city where everyone feels valued, supported, and able to be confident this is your turangawaewae.
We have achieved an enormous amount despite the many challenges. That’s taken unrelenting focus and determination to deliver. Of course not everything is perfect by any stretch, and boy have we had some ‘interesting times’, but I look at the prospective new councillors standing and I like what I see. I want people to see positive changes happening with and because of Council, not in spite of Council. Looking ahead, for me the next triennium is about ensuring our communities have a greater voice in shaping our city’s future, as a whole and community by community.
Every day I see the strength of our community, good people doing great things. The key action focus will be delivering on infrastructure, transport and housing, continuing to re-energise our central city in particular, continuing our remarkable environmental restoration leadership and reducing our environmental footprint in waste and emissions. I’m working on a lot of really exciting, creative opportunities economically, socially, culturally, environmentally, for our beautiful city.
We are still in very challenging times, but working together for Wellington, we will come through them, and we and our beautiful city have a bright future ahead.