Twelve questions

Sarah Stuart poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions: Penny Hulse

Auckland's Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse, has been the public face of the controversial Unitary Plan, informal feedback for which closes tomorrow. The tattooed grandmother talks about what hurts, and says her happy place is deep underwater.

Penny Hulse's tattoo represents family, roots and home.  Photo / Richard Robinson
Penny Hulse's tattoo represents family, roots and home. Photo / Richard Robinson

1. You've recently shifted from a sprawling home in Swanson to an inner-city apartment: are you living the Unitary Plan?

After 30 years, I am missing the family home a bit, but mostly I'm loving it! Walking to work, walking to grab the groceries, no lawn to mow and a bit more work-life balance. When I find the right place to buy back in the West I want to keep this balance, by living closer to a train station and all the shops and services I now have on my doorstep.

2.Communications around the plan don't seem to have gone so well - what went wrong?

This was never going to be easy. Apart from the challenge of putting complex planning language into "real people language", most people are not very clear on what their current district plans say. They are suspicious even in areas where the Unitary Plan doesn't change a thing or, in others, where we are dropping heights.

3. How did the website turn out to be so unwieldy and user-unfriendly?

This is a New Zealand-first and was built from scratch. Loading 7000 pages of plans and images on to a website, plus a planning inquiry service, was indeed a challenge but we did get some bouquets. The Association of Visually Impaired Aucklanders told councillors they found the plan to be very accessible.

4. What do you think about the Auckland 2040 group?

I share some of their primary concerns; they don't want a city that spreads out, they don't want any more badly designed buildings and they don't want a haphazard approach to development. We just need to do a bit more talking about the way we achieve this and build a little more trust.

5. Was that really a slip when you called them Auckland 1840?

Probably a Freudian slip.

6. You've been in local body politics for more than 20 years, mostly with the Waitakere City Council. What is the most difficult thing you have faced in your career?

If I'm really honest the thing that has stung the most is people questioning my integrity around the Unitary Plan and whether I'm going to be listening. Of course I'm listening. You don't have 11 weeks of a public meeting every night if you're not listening. It's the lack of trust that hurts.

7. What can you tell us about your tattoo?

I love my tattoo. It is on my right shoulder and is a combination of three lined koru representing my husband and two sons surrounded by an African weaving pattern celebrating my African roots and outlined with a Pacific spearheaded design to express my joy in living in the Pacific.

9. How would you describe your childhood in South Africa?

As a child in rural South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a wonderful place to grow up. As I got older, the horror of the inhumanity of the apartheid regime increased my political awareness. When I was 6 I witnessed police brutality first-hand. We had servants, as people did in South Africa, and our gardener was chased by a group of policemen back to our house because he didn't have a pass to work in a white area. I remember my tiny mum holding the front door against these men who were yelling and screaming while this lovely man hid in our lounge. It was a small incident but had a huge impact on me. A commitment to social justice drives much of my passion now.

10. You've been married to a fisherman for 30 years - do you bait your own hooks?

No, but don't ask me about fishing, ask me about diving. What saves me at the roughest meeting is thinking about going down the anchor line, breathing out and sinking down to 20m. That's my happy place. Kelly Tarlton was my second cousin and I've been diving for about 18 months. I want to dive on a lot of the wrecks he dived on. It is an unusual sport for a woman over 50 but it's the most freeing, exhilarating, stunning thing you can do. I thoroughly recommend it.

11. What really is a Westie?

To be Westie is to be laid back about rules and regulations but passionate about cars, the environment, art, tattoos, Metallica and family. To be proud of the place we live in and who we are. Westies will do anything you ask them, but nothing if you tell them to. Loyal, feisty, generous, community-minded and linked by a passion for the place.

12. How would you describe Housing Minister Nick Smith?

On a mission. What kind of mission?

- NZ Herald

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