The revelation Wellington’s mayor has a problem with alcohol has soaked up precious time in the first week of the new Government that could have been spent lobbying for much-needed investment in the city.
Simeon Brown is now the Minister for Local Government and Transport. These are critical portfolios for Wellington and Mayor Tory Whanau has not got off to the best start with Brown.
In January she told The Spinoff’s When The Facts Change podcast she would be “deeply concerned” if he became the Transport Minister.
“I’d be really upset about that. It would see our climate change efforts going backwards, it would see our city going backwards, and then we become a car-dependent city.”
Whanau will now need to repair the relationship and fast. She has said she intends to meet with Brown as soon as possible.
Brown will also be an important figure in the bid to unlock alternative revenue streams to unsustainable rates hikes.
Both Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown and Whanau have previously pushed for a fairer share of tax revenue for their respective councils. Whanau has suggested this could be through sharing GST revenue or congestion charging revenue.
One thing bound to catch her eye is the cost of new terminals and portside infrastructure for KiwiRail’s new mega ferries which has reportedly skyrocketed.
In Opposition, it appears the city has so many problems it needs a dedicated spokesperson in Labour’s refreshed line-up.
Ayesha Verrall is responsible for the new “Wellington Issues” portfolio.
“Our experience in government was that [it is] helpful to have a co-ordinating person in larger cities that can look across the issues that are bubbling up from the community and making sure we’re focused and responsive to those,” Verrall told A Capital Letter.
She intends to hold the Government to account over public sector job cuts and is keen to ensure projects started under the previous government, like the $450 million Wellington Science City plan, continue.
Verrall said she would hold National to the promise to get spades in the ground for a second Mt Victoria tunnel within its first term as well as advocating for sustainable and low-carbon transport solutions.
The Government is scrapping the $7.4 billion Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) transport plan, which included mass rapid transit from the central city to the southern suburbs, and is now firmly focused on the second tunnel.
However, there is a battle brewing over more lanes for cars with Green MPs now holding the two electorates the second tunnel would connect.
The fate of a plan to remove private vehicles from the city’s Golden Mile remains unclear.
The full contract for the work was not able to be signed before the new Government formed, although funding had been agreed to.
Whanau said the city council will need to work through what the Government’s direction to stop work on LGWM means for the Golden Mile.
Changes in the halls of power come as councils are putting together their ten-year budgets- a process that’s proving to be a brutal cost crunch to deal with ageing infrastructure.
Wellington Water, the organisation that manages water for six Wellington councils, has given “unconstrained investment advice” to councils saying the company needs $1 billion annually for the next 30 years to get on top of the region’s water woes.
Labour’s plan was to take three waters assets off councils and merge them into one of four (later increased to 10) mega-water entities. These entities would have balance sheet separation from the councils that owned them and were to be ultimately co-governed by councils and mana whenua.
However, the new Government has promised to repeal the Water Services Entities Act within its first 100 days. National campaigned on restoring what it called local control where councils will be free to go their own way, provided they meet minimum quality standards and levels of investment.
Councils will have the freedom to voluntarily amalgamate into an entity that looks a lot like one of the entities Labour proposed minus the co-governance component.
Hutt City Mayor Campbell Barry, who chairs the Wellington Water Committee, has said they are preparing a briefing to the new Local Government Minister to see if they could be the first or one of the first councils into the new system.
The list of Wellington’s issues extends far beyond the word count limit of this column.
As the year comes to an end, you can’t help but feel Wellington is like the wayward relative at Christmas dinner with myriad problems needing to be addressed and now a drinking problem to boot.
Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.