ANALYSIS:

Wellington issues are sticky, they can span years putting development on hold, they are divisive, and they have a habit of being dragged through court.

This year a line has been drawn under two issues left over from 2018 - Victoria University's controversial name change and the disastrous bustastrophe.

But new issues have also been born out of old ones, like what to do about Wellington's growing congestion problem.

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After the failed Basin Reserve Flyover Let's Get Wellington Moving was announced and with that came the Julie Anne Genter secret letter saga.

The battle for Shelly Bay continued this year and undoubtedly will be a headache for years to come.

But it's the closure of Wellington's central library which has arguably captured the attention of the public the most. It is the city's living room after all.

Stick with Vic

Victoria University sure knows how to rub Wellington City councillors the wrong way.

Its proposed name change was reminiscent of the sale of its former Karori campus, when the university held consultations with the community but had seemingly already made up its mind.

So Wellingtonians were left appealing to their local councillors for help with issues those elected officials had little influence over.

But some people took matters into their own hands, like Gwynn Compton, who led a petition against the name change and secured more than 13,000 signatures. Compton later unsuccessfully ran for Kapiti's mayoralty but was elected as a councillor.

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The bid to be called the University of Wellington ultimately failed after Education Minister Chris Hipkins put the kibosh on it and Vic subsequently decided the public expected better things from a university than taking a Minister to court.

Victoria University lost its bid to be called the University of Wellington. Photo / File.
Victoria University lost its bid to be called the University of Wellington. Photo / File.

Vice-Chancellor professor Grant Guilford fought right up until the end, seeking legal advice on the Minister's decision.

He then revealed that advice led the university to consider there was a very high likelihood that decision was unlawfully made.

The eventual move to drop legally pursuing a name change was by no means the end of this thorny issue.

The university announced it would instead embark on a brand refresh and leaders of the campaign against the name change were up in arms over it calling the move a name change by stealth.

But really this should have come as no surprise.

Guilford was always crystal clear about the options the university had after Hipkins made his decision - the university could accept it, legally challenge it, or trade under a different name to its legal one.

With this in mind, a "brand refresh" is in line with the latter.

The bustastrophe
The lasagne of failure, the bustastrophe, the public transport disaster, whatever you want to call it, has still plagued Wellingtonians this year after the new bus network rollout in mid-2018.

This was largely due to a driver shortage which exasperated the situation just as it was starting to cool off a bit last summer.

The decision was made to enforce "planned cancellations" on some routes, meaning services were scrapped until further notice. This was an effort to provide commuters some certainty rather than experiencing cancellations on an ad-hoc basis.

National Wellington List MP Nicola Willis and Daran Ponter with the bus cake he presented her at a select committee meeting. Photo / Supplied.
National Wellington List MP Nicola Willis and Daran Ponter with the bus cake he presented her at a select committee meeting. Photo / Supplied.

The buses were the biggest election issue for those hoping to secure a seat at Greater Wellington Regional Council's table, and is believed to have contributed to former Wellington City mayor Justin Lester's dramatic ousting after just one term in the job.

It's fair to say the network has finally stabilised this year but getting on top of the driver shortage remains a problem.

At one point the network was 70 drivers short, now that number is somewhere between 20 and 35.

There's been a huge co-ordinated effort to recruit drivers and at its peak there were 50 people in training school.

But it's a come and go sort of industry and GWRC can't afford to take its foot off the pedal for this campaign.

The other change 2019 has brought is a new GWRC chairman, Daran Ponter.

When he was called before a select committee to give an update on the bus situation, a turning point in the sorry saga was marked.

Because who can forget the answer former chairman Chris Laidlaw gave when asked what he would do differently- "I can't think of anything in particular", he told National list MP Nicola Willis at a select committee late last year.

Ponter entered the select committee hearing this month with a double decker bus cake, which he presented to Willis and posed with her for a photo.

He's a details man and has the benefit of knowing the ins and outs of the network after being one of the only elected members who appeared willing to publicly front the situation as the chaos ensued. With that comes the ability to answer questions pretty smoothly.

This select committee meeting marked the moment the regional council drew a line under the bustastrophe.

The secret letter
Let's Get Wellington Moving was announced this year. At $6.4b, it's the biggest investment in the city's transport for decades.

The package is the aftermath of the failed Basin Reserve Flyover after it was taken to court and thrown in the rubbish.

Justin Lester and Transport Minister Phil Twyford announcing Let's Get Wellington Moving. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Justin Lester and Transport Minister Phil Twyford announcing Let's Get Wellington Moving. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The announcement this year was months overdue and hotly anticipated, but what was announced was a very different project to what the Government started negotiations with.

There was no second Terrace tunnel, no trenching Karo Drive and a second Mt Victoria tunnel was put on the back burner of the grand plan. Meanwhile mass rapid transit was labelled the golden child.

Even at first glance it was obvious the project was a win for the Greens.

When Green MP and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter refused to release a letter she had penned to Transport Minister Phil Twyford about the project, local National MPs went to town.

Sparks flew in the House where confusing statements were made that further fuelled speculation Genter's letter was responsible for the timing of the Mt Vic tunnel.

Genter made statements that she wrote the letter in her capacity as a Green Party transport spokesperson, but subsequently confirmed she wrote it on Ministerial letterhead and signed it by her as the Associate Minister.

The Ombudsman ended up having the final say and ruled Genter was entitled to withhold a copy of the letter to maintain the ability to have free and frank discussion between Ministers, and between Ministers and political parties.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter under pressure in the House over her secret letter. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter under pressure in the House over her secret letter. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The secret letter is a warning for the LGWM team, because they have a big enough job building consensus and consulting on the tens of projects within the one big project without having to worry about the thing being politicised.

With the letter finding legs this year, the National Party is now planning to bring the second tunnel issue to Election 2020.

Posters put up around the city to consult on the first LGWM projects are now up against National's second tunnel campaign billboards, which essentially say Wellingtonians aren't getting a good enough deal.

LGWM will be a Wellington issue that sticks around for years, quite simply because it will be decades in the making.

Roads will be dug up, public meetings will be held, and governments will change.

Think of all the debates that will come with that.

The battle for the bay

Shelly Bay has been bogged down in legal challenges and keyboard wars this year, so really just more of the same problems it has faced since a proposal for a housing development there.

The biggest revelation in 2019 has been the money behind some of these battles.

It seemed only fair that Enterprise Miramar, a business improvement district, was scrutinised considering the scrutiny it was putting on the development's resource consent in the courtroom.

The group received a quarter of a million dollars in "Shelly Bay Project Donations" for the year ended June 30, 2018, meaning it could afford legal action.

Then a further $135,841 in what is now being called "Special Project Donations" for the year ended June 30, 2019.

Shelly Bay, Miramar, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Shelly Bay, Miramar, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The business improvement district's usual income is almost entirely paid from Wellington City Council targeted rates of $80,000 a year.

The names behind the donations remain to be seen.

It was also revealed WingNut Films, one of Sir Peter Jackson's companies, is bankrolling an iwi group pursuing the latest litigation.

Enterprise Miramar was successful in its bid to get the development's resource consent quashed. A fresh resource consent has since been lodged and granted by independent commissioners.

The Shelly Bay issue has so many players- Sir Peter Jackson, the council, iwi, a high-profile developer, a small lobby group and the general public.

It's almost a recipe for disaster in a city with a development history like Wellington's.

Property developer Ian Cassels has indicated the council will open itself up to litigation if it does a U-turn on what he considers a deal. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Property developer Ian Cassels has indicated the council will open itself up to litigation if it does a U-turn on what he considers a deal. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The capital also now has a mayor who, on the campaign trail, used Shelly Bay as an example of everything going wrong at Wellington City Council.

This coming year city councillors will get the opportunity to vote again on whether to sell and lease its piece of land at the bay.

Developer Ian Cassels has indicated the council will open itself up to litigation if it does a U-turn on what he considers a deal.

It's fair to say Shelly Bay has plenty of fuel left for the fire yet, not to mention what will happen if a spade ever hits the ground.

The city's living room

The abrupt closure of the central library came as a shock and a huge loss for Wellingtonians.

It was a community hub and an almost sacred place for people to tuck themselves away in, but there's a far more complicated and wide reaching facet to its closure.

The library was voluntarily assessed under new guidelines being proposed by MBIE after two floors of Statistics House partially collapsed in the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake.

These guidelines around precast concrete floors are not yet part of legislation and cannot be used to determine whether a building is earthquake prone.

Technically the central library has a NBS rating of 60 per cent but engineers calculated that could drop as low as 15 per cent when taking the guidelines into consideration.

That's a number council chief executive Kevin Lavery couldn't ignore.

Statistics House was badly damaged in the Kaikoura Earthquake and later demolished. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Statistics House was badly damaged in the Kaikoura Earthquake and later demolished. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

MBIE will spend a couple of years gathering evidence of the impact of the guidelines in order to decide whether they should be part of the rulebook.

It seems a slow process considering the guidelines were born out of the partial collapse of a building that people could have died in had the earthquake hit during office hours.

Wellington's Town Hall strengthening project went further over budget this year. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Wellington's Town Hall strengthening project went further over budget this year. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The library is symptomatic of the big issue Wellington has with resilience. The 2016 earthquake belonged to Kaikoura, not the capital, and yet tens of buildings in Wellington have been demolished as a result.

The Town Hall and St James Theatre are just two examples of strengthening projects which have experienced budget blowouts this year.

It's an expensive, disruptive and difficult exercise.

Back to basics
Wellington ended the year with a wastewater pipe collapsing under Willis and Dixon Sts.

It's estimated five million litres, or two Olympic sized swimming pools, of wastewater flowed into the harbour.

It paints a grim picture of ageing infrastructure.

But it highlights the important point that Wellington cannot afford the nice-to-haves at the moment.

It needs to come up with its share of a $6.4b transport package, but at least roads are sexier than wastewater pipes, which will also require cash to upgrade them.

The city needs money for resilience projects and if the St James Theatre, the Town Hall, and the Omāroro Reservoir are anything to go by, the council will have to stump up more money than expected.

A fine tooth comb needs to be run through Wellington's to-do list and things like movie museums might have to be put to one side.