ANALYSIS:

Returning councillor Daran Ponter has been named chairman of Greater Wellington Regional Council sparking a new era of leadership that's already stacked with challenges.

Roger Blakeley pulled out of the two-horse race leaving Ponter to smoothly take the reins being the only nomination for the role at the council's first meeting.

Adrienne Staples, an experienced councillor and former mayor of South Wairarapa, has been appointed as the council's deputy chairwoman.

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She brings with her a rural perspective to complement Ponter's more urban based experience. Staples also brings gender balance to the helm of the ship.

Ponter faces a period on council where people are mobilising behind the issue of climate change more than ever.

He will preside over the most significant investment in Wellington's transport in 40 years.

He will be tasked with putting to bed the bus network saga once and for all.

In his first address, Ponter welcomed a "refreshingly youthful" regional council which brought "much needed" talent.

The lasagne of failure

Wellington's disastrous new bus network rollout has tainted the term of the previous council.

While some elected members stepped sideways into the shadows of the stage wings, Ponter stepped into the glare of the spotlight to take the heat.

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He wasn't afraid to say the council had got it wrong and didn't dodge curly questions.

Ponter pored over the nitty gritty details of the network for hours in an effort to find solutions, and successfully got some across the line with his fellow councillors.

Today he has pledged to fix the rest- removing the need to transfer between services as much as possible, making sure services actually arrive on time and improving connections.

Roger Blakeley pulled out of the two-horse race to leave the way clear. Photo / Richard Robinson.
Roger Blakeley pulled out of the two-horse race to leave the way clear. Photo / Richard Robinson.

While the worst of Wellington's bus woes are over, there are storm clouds brewing in the background.

The city's driver shortage will be the biggest challenge in the ongoing bus saga this term.

As long as there continues to be a shortage of drivers, the planned cancellations on services will also continue.

The shortage also makes it difficult to revamp remaining routes in the network that still aren't quite right.

Then there's the race against time to get ready for the implementation of new rest and meal break legislation after a 12 month grace period was granted.

That's also going to require more drivers.

Ponter will be keen to put the sorry state of affairs with the buses behind the council as it looks to a new transport chapter, that being Let's Get Wellington Moving.

But to do that he will have to work to repair the public's trust and confidence in the regional council's ability to deliver public transport that will get them to school, work and appointments on time.

Ponter faces a fair question - if the regional council messed up the buses so badly, how will the much-touted mass rapid transit to the airport fare in its hands?

The $6.4b transport future

Ponter will preside over a critical period in the Let's Get Wellington Moving transport plan, which is in its infancy.

This term will see detailed business cases done for the projects endorsed by the Government in the indicative package.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has made it very clear he expects mass rapid transit to be delivered ahead of roading projects.

But both NZTA and the LGWM programme director have indicated the sequencing of these is still very much up for debate.

Ponter has accepted new information will come to light after these business cases have been completed.

"We have to be open to be challenged about some of the aspirations we might have had for the way in which things were originally going to be sequenced."

Transport Minister Phil Twyford expects mass rapid transit will be delivered ahead of roading projects in Let's Get Wellington Moving. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford expects mass rapid transit will be delivered ahead of roading projects in Let's Get Wellington Moving. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

Ponter may be on the Labour ticket but he's no Justin Lester. When it comes to LGWM, he sits somewhere in the middle of Twyford and Wellington City Council's mayor elect Andy Foster.

With Twyford drawing a line over mass rapid transit and Foster doing the same for a second Mt Victoria tunnel, Ponter wants to see and compare business cases before drawing his.

One thing is sure, Ponter will want to play more of a key role in any future negotiations over LGWM than his predecessor, who it's understood took more of a back seat.

Climate

Transport issues have consumed the regional council for more than a year now but its core business is actually the environment.

Ponter told his councillors today their greatest challenge is climate change.

By kicking of his speech on this issue he reangled on the environment in a bid to shift the incessant focus on transport into a broader context.

He also made a point of looking directly at Green councillor Thomas Nash continually through this part of his speech.

Nash came out with a 3203-strong first preference majority in the Wellington constituency this election and he sees that as a mandate for a hard push on climate change.

Ponter has wasted no time in recognising the urgency of the climate change issue and his speech today showed he plans to take the driving seat over it.

Earlier this year the regional council declared a climate emergency and announced it would become carbon neutral by 2030.

"Our challenge in this triennium is to give substance to those commitments- addressing out practices and emissions and responding to the threats that climate change is already posing", Ponter said.

He then went on to propose a climate response committee- a tangible example of just how serious he is.

Easing the load

When former GWRC chairman Chris Laidlaw made the call to hang up his boots, he said it had become more demanding to be a councillor than ever before with regional councils being asked to do more and more.

"There is never enough time to concentrate on the council's core business- the environmental, conservation, and resource management issues, which are what attracted me to regional council in the first place", Laidlaw said.

Ponter today acknowledged the work programme was "huge".

He plans to run a fine-tooth comb through the council's priorities with a view to reprioritise and economise.

"There's much to do, let's get to it", he concluded.