Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Death bed confession from capital

The 'demise' of Wellington means Transmission Gully funding would be better spent on Auckland rail loop

Te Papa, national museum or regional make-work scheme? Photo / Mark Mitchell
Te Papa, national museum or regional make-work scheme? Photo / Mark Mitchell

Dr John Key has blurted out loud what we've long suspected, Wellington is a terminal case. Incurable. He told a meeting of Auckland business leaders in Takapuna that the capital city "is dying, and we don't know how to turn it around".

But even on its death bed, Wellington has enough strength to thrust a quivering hand towards the Beehive waving one last list of curative hand-outs.

Gasped Wellington council's strategy and policy committee chair, Andy Foster, "For starters I'd suggest Government might like to consider some regional development initiatives to help Wellington." Top of his wish list is "extending the airport runway to assist international connectivity." He also noted the "flak" the Government had gone through over siting a convention facility in Auckland, and suggests it "look at convention and concert venues in Wellington".

Then in a final plea, he whispered "Te Papa was an inspired regional economic development decision by a previous government.

This government might also think about ensuring that key cultural and scientific institutions based in Wellington stay here, like the ballet, orchestra, research institutes and so forth."

Talk about truth tumbling out in death-bed confessions. Have you ever heard such blatant honesty about the true function of Te Papa? Not so much a national museum as a regional make-work scheme. As far as propping up the capital's cultural life, could I suggest a better alternative be that the Prime Minister subsidise a season of Erich Korngold's opera Die Tote Stadt - The Dead City at Wellington's next arts festival. What could be quirkier for audiences than flying in to a dying city for a performance of Die Tote Stadt? Opera Australia staged it last year, so there's already a production presumably available for hire.

It's not as though funding a last circus for Wellington will break the Government's piggy-bank. With Wellington left, according to the Prime Minister, with only government, Weta Workshops and Victoria University - to say nothing, thanks to him, of a rapidly contracting civil service - it can only be a matter of time before he has to concede that the $1.3 billion Transmission Gully road of national significance is surplus to future needs and kills it. The cash would obviously be better spent on the Auckland CBD rail loop instead, so that fleeing Wellington migrants will be able to get to their new jobs.

The business case for Transmission Gully adopted by the NZ Transport Agency Board last September argued that congestion on the existing State Highway 1 was "restricting the region's economic growth" and that further delays in the project "may lead to businesses relocating [to] economically more advantageous locations [within] New Zealand, or offshore." But Mr Key has admitted to the Takapuna audience that that particular boat has already sailed, and despite subsequent back-tracking, he continues to point to the 30-year exodus of major companies, particularly corporate head offices and banks, north to Auckland.

Mr Key is now saying that Wellington and other smaller centres outside Auckland have to be seen as attractive options for businesses. As far as banks and head offices are concerned, with the end of state regulation and licensing of just about everything that moved, there is no longer a need to be housed alongside the politicians and bureaucrats.

No longer do they have to plead for permission to buy more foreign currency, or to up the quota of new cars they want to import. And when you don't have to endlessly sweet talk the politicians, and ensure the important ones magically get their names to the top of new car import quota lists, why would you choose to stay in a small town, wondering each day when the long-predicted big quake would finally hit?

Mr Foster, the Wellington councillor with his hand out, wants a national population and economic development strategy. He says it's "really worrying" that "despite thinking this is an issue, the Government doesn't have any idea what to do about it". He said "successive governments have just accepted the ongoing drift to Auckland. Do we want massive infrastructure costs in Auckland while other parts of our country have empty streets?"

His answer was for the "government-funded regional development strategies to help Wellington" listed above. I'm not sure if I was mapping a way to stop people and businesses heading for the bright lights of Auckland - or further afield, that I'd list extending the airport runway as first priority. I say, come and join us in Auckland, but bring the Transmission Gully money with you.

- NZ Herald

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