GUEST BLOG: Christine Dann – Foster-ing climate change, Wellington style

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When Andy Foster was unexpectedly elected mayor of Wellington in October (albeit by an extremely narrow margin, and fifth time lucky) questions were raised about the considerable support he had received from local movie mogul Sir Peter Jackson. Just how much money did Jackson give Foster, and just what did he expect in return? No answers to these questions have been forthcoming, despite them being so relevant to clean and transparent local democracy. It appears there are no laws to compel the donor and recipient to disclose what their deal was, and how much it was worth – although it is known that Foster’s spend was two and half times more than his main rival.  For now, all a concerned citizen can do is to follow where Foster prioritises spending the money the Wellington City Council collects from its citizens in rates and assorted charges. 

The initial focus was on Forster and Jackson both being opposed to the re-development of the former military base at Shelly Bay on the Miramar pensinsula. The pair launched Foster’s campaign on the site – with Weta Digital staff being asked by their managers to be there and show support.  This may be a good thing to do for much better reasons than satisfying a local millionaire’s wishes in regard to what happens on that lovely peninsula – but is it the main reason? 

Foster’s first statements as mayor weren’t about Shelly Bay, they were about speeding up the construction of a second tunnel under Mt Victoria. This is the next (extremely expensive) step in making sure that Wellington experiences the same sort of Carmageddon that Auckland currently endures. It has been known for decades by urban transport planners that the solution to traffic congestion is not more roads, tunnels, bridges, parking lots and buildings and other infrastructure for private motor vehicles. On the contrary, it is to provide less of these things, and prioritise public transport (buses and trains) and active transport (walking and cycling) instead. This provides big wins for both public health and the environment. It is also essential if New Zealand is to cut its greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Road vehicles are currently responsible for around 40% of New Zealand’s carbon dioxide emissions. 

So who couldn’t care less about the climate and wants more cars on the road? In Wellington’s case, it seems it is people who are too posh to pedal, and too Big Business to bus. RNZ reported on 15 October that Wellington’s Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford was delighted Transport Minister Phil Twyford was open to new discussions about bringing forward construction of a second Mt Victoria tunnel, while “Nick Leggett from trucking lobby the Road Transport Forum said he was looking forward to any progress Mr Foster could make.” Leggett praised Foster as being “clear-sighted” and said that he wanted Minister Twyford to recognise that Wellingtonians want to see action. The National Party also supported the business lobby, with its transport spokesperson and Hutt South MP Chris Bishop saying that Wellington voters disagreed with the [Let’s Get Wellington Moving] plan’s public transport focus, and “the Transport Minister should renegotiate with Mr Foster and prioritise the construction of a second Mt Victoria tunnel.”

When Foster outlined his three year vision for Wellington to the Chamber of Commerce on 26 November, it was reported that he was keen to prioritise a second Mt Victoria tunnel over mass rapid transit. He’s also still keen to have a movie museum – perhaps at Shelly Bay, where Sir PJ originally wanted it to be. All these big spending plans will lead to a 50% rates rise for Wellingtonians in the next ten years – and that’s without replacing the currently barricaded central library with a building which is fit to serve the thousands of Wellingtonians who used to use it weekly, and miss it a lot. If only there were a ‘library lobby’ to talk to the appropriate minister and get them to “recognise that Wellingtonians want to see action.”

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Last but not least – who would benefit most from another car tunnel under Mt Vic? Certainly not those citizens in the eastern part of the city who work in the CBD, and mostly have bus services to get them there and back. No – it would be those using cars to get to and from work in the two biggest ‘industries’ in that part of town – the airport and ‘Wellywood’ (or ‘Jacksonville’, as it might be better named).  

Wellington airport is currently embarking on $1 billion expansion plans, aiming for 25 per cent more flights by 2040 and almost double the number of people using the airport by then. More flights, more people, more cars going to and from the airport = more CO2 emissions.  Jacksonville has also expanded recently, buying yet another large property in Park Rd, Miramar. Public transport to Park Rd is poor, but there is lots of off-site car parking on the new property. Plus it is SO handy to the airport. Could car-convenience and to hell with the climate be what Jackson really wants Foster to deliver? Maybe. Just saying…

Christine Dann is a political activist and blogger with an MA Hons in Political Science and a Ph.D. in Environmental Policy.

7 COMMENTS

  1. You must admit?
    $600 million net worth, your own Gulf Stream and now a mayoral minion would make a fellow feel pretty important wouldn’t it? Even if his money was made from an X rated muppet movie and a threesome of Hollywood brainwashers. Foot ( Flat and hairy. ) in the door and all that.
    Can I just say? Taika Waititi? Now, there’s class. Money can buy anything except Class dahlings.

  2. Despite International appeals to retreat from increasing CO2 emissions worsening a rapidly exponentially worsening climate Andy and his admin are planning to do just that: keep pumping out that CO2.
    ” Madrid, Spain – As alarm bells ring ever louder worldwide over climate change, some 25,000 delegates will meet for the next two weeks in Spain for COP25, the annual United Nations international conference on a global challenge that shows little signs of being resolved.” https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/cop25-climate-conference-tackle-global-challenges-191201120548039.html
    ” Decrying ‘Utterly Inadequate’ Efforts to Tackle Climate Crisis, UN Chief Declares ‘Our War Against Nature Must Stop’
    “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” António Guterres warned ahead of COP 25. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.” ” https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/12/01/decrying-utterly-inadequate-efforts-tackle-climate-crisis-un-chief-declares-our-war
    DavidCarson comment on above:
    The sad fact is that a war against Nature is the way we have created our entire world grid of culture, technology, consumption, population growth.
    We’re the only species that consistently has a net negative if not outright ecocidal impact in every ecosystem we enter.
    We kill at least 65 BILLION animals per year in the USA alone to feed the non-vegans.
    The destruction of the Amazon rainforest mirrors what was done to the vast forests and tallgrass prairie in the lower 48 after Europeans arrived.
    There are about 5 billion too many people on the planet, and no ethical way to reduce that number.
    For all the innocent species who evolved here with us, we are death.
    And we are killing the biosphere itself.
    When you hear a songbird or see a bee, stop and take notice. One day, they will all be gone.

    So, Wellington lives on another Planet!? We are not part of this Earth which is quite probably in its biggest crisis for life in its history!? Are they ignorant colonel Blimps?

  3. Food for thought. Democracy for sale. Saying that the other side also would have had donations and backers.

    The solution is to ban political donations for council office. Mayoral hopefuls platform should be their policies which are explored during public debates and council websites, not flash and expensive marketing campaigns and MSM should not be allowed to be influencing the debate in the direction they are paid to influence.

  4. Peter Jackson is not a climate supporter, any more than Andy Foster is and just as shifty as the dirty trucking industry proponent Nick Leggett is. – “The three climate denier amigo’s.”

    “Nick Leggett from trucking lobby the Road Transport Forum said he was looking forward to any progress Mr Foster could make.” Leggett praised Foster as being “clear-sighted” and said that he wanted Minister Twyford to recognise that Wellingtonians want to see action.”

  5. Well said Cristine you would think NZers would learn after the disaster of Auckland’s transport someone like Peter Jackson would be well aware of funding channels the tragedy that so few can exert so much influence makes a mockery of our so called democracy

  6. BS opinion from a drongo.

    “Mass rapid transit” is bullshit spin from Minister of Rapid Fail Phil Twyford. You either have Mass transit – slower moves large amounts of people(trams), or rapid transit, smaller amounts of people a lot faster (like trains). Mass rapid does not make sense or exist.

  7. “When Andy Foster was unexpectedly elected mayor of Wellington….”

    It wasn’t unexpected. Lester had got offside with ratepayers, firstly because of decisions he made, on which he hadn’t campaigned and for which he therefore had no mandate; and secondly because he signally failed to make any progress on things he had promised to do. Then he made the mistake of being a cheerleader for the rejigged bus system – until it all went so horribly wrong. It was the GWRC at fault, but many ratepayers blamed Lester.

    Re-electing him would have been – as Samuel Johnson is reported to have said of second marriage – the triumph of hope over experience.

    “Forster[sic] and Jackson both being opposed to the re-development of the former military base at Shelly Bay on the Miramar pensinsula…”

    They wouldn’t be alone in that; and it was one of the reasons that he was elected, I believe. Many of us think that what Cassells proposes is not only the worst thing for that area, but also – for a number of reasons – wildly impracticable. Were it to go ahead, the costs to the ratepayers will eventually be astronomical: we know this to be a sad inevitability, confident statements from Lester and Cassells notwithstanding.

    In truth, Jackson’s movie museum would, on the face of it, have been more feasible; and even that didn’t get off the ground.

    “….they were about speeding up the construction of a second tunnel under Mt Victoria. This is the next (extremely expensive) step in making sure that Wellington experiences the same sort of Carmageddon that Auckland currently endures.”

    I assume that the author either doesn’t live in Wellington, or is fortunate to live somewhere within easy reach of the CBD. For the rest of us unfortunates, the godawful traffic jams are already a fact of life. Have you ever tried to get across the city, pretty much at any time of day, but especially during business hours? Then you’d know. By god, we sure need the extra tunnels and the undergrounding at Te Aro!

    If any sort of public transport system is to have a prayer of working here, we need improved infrastructure. Here’s part of what I (irritatedly) said on another post here a while back:

    “With regard to Wellington, we’re stuck with our topography, as those of us who live here know all too well. Genter’s “mass public transit” scheme is a pipe dream. Trackless trams? Yup, we used to have them: they were called trolley buses. And the GWRC took them away, remember? Then it was to be Wrightspeed buses: they turned out to be a mirage. In my view – and that of many citizens here – people such as Genter have no idea what system would be feasible here: they just talk hot air and hope that we poor mugs believe them. Well: we don’t.

    Reality check, for those of you who don’t live here: most of Wellington is vertiginous. Since the idiots in the GWRC took away our trolley buses, we’ll be depending upon mostly diesel buses for the foreseeable; and we need a decent roading system to accommodate them. Furthermore – given the wreckage of a bus system we’ve been left with by said idiots in the GWRC – we need cars to fill in the gaps. And we need somewhere to park ’em. And while we’re at it: electric cars? Right: battery range falls victim to our steep streets (one in our area to which I refer as Heart Attack Hill). It takes so much horse power to get up many of our hills, that battery range is all shot to buggery; not much point in going to the supermarket and doing a few errands, then finding that you don’t have the juice to get home again.

    Many of us are older; I’m well aware that most policy wonks in their forties and younger earnestly believe that when they get to my age, they’ll be as spry as they are now, but with more wrinkles and grey hair. I used to think that too: until I got here. I have news for them, and it’s all bad. Many of us can’t walk as far, or for as long, as we used to. Some people can’t walk any distance at all, without extreme pain. And good luck with getting on a bike in this area, even for the young, let alone the elderly. Cloud cuckoo land…”

    Regarding the notion of busing/biking/walking around Wellington: anyone actually living here need only look out the window today, to see why only the most foolhardy would be biking or walking – or busing, assuming that one could actually locate one. Certainly nobody with children; nobody older, come to that.

    “So who couldn’t care less about the climate and wants more cars on the road? In Wellington’s case, it seems it is people who are too posh to pedal, and too Big Business to bus…”

    This looks suspiciously like the proverbial straw man. In virtue of what should you conclude that a desire to facilitate transport around the city entails not caring about the climate? Cities run on ease of getting around, for everyone, businesses included. No tradesperson will come by public transport to do work for you; no courier will use a bike to transport large quantities of parcels (especially in Wellington’s hill suburbs). No company delivering supplies to said businesses will use the bus or a bike; trucks are what they use. Were this not so, any city would grind to a halt. Wellington is no exception. Moreover, I would not like living in the sort of city envisaged by Green zealots; neither, I’m guessing, would anybody here.

    “…..that’s without replacing the currently barricaded central library….”

    It isn’t clear to me why you’d assume that the library needs to be replaced. I’d add that Foster is well aware of the complexities of this situation; we the citizens want our Civic Square returned to us. Last I heard anything about it, so does Foster.

    “Last but not least – who would benefit most from another car tunnel under Mt Vic? Certainly not those citizens in the eastern part of the city who work in the CBD, and mostly have bus services to get them there and back. No – it would be those using cars to get to and from work in the two biggest ‘industries’ in that part of town – the airport and ‘Wellywood’….”

    This isn’t the whole story. Many Wellingtonians who fit into neither category must travel across the city daily or frequently. It isn’t for other people to sit in judgement on them. Bus services! Right….

    With regard to the funding of Council candidates, many of us are unimpressed by the extent to which both the Labour and Green parties influence this process. In our area, we were subjected to computer-generated telephone campaign calls from Grant Robertson, urging us to vote for Lester and other Labour candidates. And since the election, it has been reported that the left-leaning councillors ganged up on Foster, forcing him to appoint one of their number as deputy mayor, and threatening him with Consequences if he did not. We take a very dim view of this sort of stand-over stuff.

    We would greatly prefer a Council that’s more independent of political influence. From that point of view, Peter Jackson is by no means the worst source of funding; and I’m no particular fan of Jackson.

    We’ll give Foster a chance to make good on his campaign promises. If he can’t do that, we’ll turf him out at the next election.

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