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On The Nation: Wellington mayoral debate

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Fuseworks Media

On The Nation: Wellington mayoral debate

Youtube clips from the show are available here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz0MB0iTsElH5b9c7zuGvsA

Headlines:

Deputy mayor Justin Lester says reports of a toxic culture in the Wellington City Council are an overstatement, but Councillor Helene Ritchie says the council has been in crisis.

Mayoral candidate Nicola Young says the council can keep rates at the level of inflation by cutting waste.

Councillor Andy Foster says he shouldn’t have to take all the blame for the controversial Island Bay cycleway.

Councillor Jo Coughlan says a billion dollars is needed to fund roads and infrastructure in Wellington, including a four lane road to the airport and another Mt Victoria tunnel.

Lisa Owen: Well, last October on The Nation, Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown told us she’d probably run again, but after two terms she’s announced she won’t seek a third, leaving the race wide open. Now, nominations don’t close for another week, but already at least half a dozen people have put their hands up for the top job. So many, in fact, we can’t fit them all in the studio at the same time. So we’ll hear from Helene Ritchie, Nicola Young and Andy Foster soon. But first, I’m joined by Wellington councillors Justin Lester and Jo Coughlan and Porirua mayor Nick Leggett. Good morning to you all.

All: Good morning, Lisa.

If I can start with you, Jo Coughlan, what makes you the best person to lead a city that the Prime Minister says is dying?

Jo Coughlan: Well, clearly I’ve got the track record, having led the economic development portfolio. Everybody knows Wellington’s not dying. We’re in great shape. We’ve got a very vibrant economy at the moment. We went to David Jones’ opening the other day - 18,000 people. That’s a tenth of the Wellington population went into Lambton Quay to that store on the opening day. So we’ve got increasing house prices. We’ve got a CBD GDP that’s outstripped Auckland’s. We’ve got a vibrant - very vibrant - student population down there. There is a good vibe in Wellington at the moment. So my focus, though is on infrastructure. I want to move to the next level now. I really want to unlock a billion dollars’ worth of funding for tunnels and roads for Wellington.

Okay, we’ll talk a bit about that later. Justin Lester, deputy mayor already, so wouldn’t you just be Celia Wade-Brown 2.0?

Justin Lester: I’m quite a different person. I love Wellington, and I know we can make it even better. Wellington’s the capital of many things. Tonight we’re the rugby capital, so go the Canes. We’re the capital of the digital and art sectors. We’re the capital of craft beer. We’re also the capital of wind, although, to be fair, we only get the occasional gentle breeze. But my priorities as mayor, they would be around housing, transport, creating jobs and getting our economy humming. I’ve run my own business for 10 years. I know how to grow the business of Wellington, and I’ll focus on leading a city that is bold, that is positive and that’s compassionate, and I’ll make sure we can get things done.

All right, Nick Leggett, what’s your point of difference other than the fact that you’re from out of town?

Nick Leggett: Well, I think that Wellington does need a shot of adrenaline, and I think in my experience as mayor of Porirua, which, of course, is part of the Wellington region, show that I can deliver. But also Wellington Council has been gripped by dysfunction, described by a former staff member as being a bit toxic. I think it’s going to take some new blood to lead the city as it takes its next steps. And not enough has been done in terms of getting those critical decisions made on transport and infrastructure and growing the economy and also being an inclusive city.

I’m just wondering, Mr Leggett, though, does your old party, Labour, think that you are the best candidate to lead Wellington, or do they think that Mr Lester is the best mayoral candidate?

Leggett: Well, they think that Mr Lester is, but there wasn’t a contested selection, so we will never know the answer to that. The point is - I’ve never stood on party tickets in local government.

Lester: Hang on. There was a contested selection, and I was selected as the candidate.

Leggett: But you were the only nominee, so there was no contest.

Lester: There was a selection.

Leggett: There was no contest.

Lester: Let’s be very clear - there was an election process.

Leggett: Lisa, I’ve never stood as a political candidate in local government on a party ticket. I don’t believe in party politics in local government.

Okay. Well, the thing is-

Coughlan: Let’s just make it clear that we’ve got a candidate from Porirua, we’ve got a Labour candidate-

Leggett: And a National candidate.

Coughlan: …and I’m an independent candidate. And I’ve been on the council nine as the-

Leggett: The Deputy Prime Minister launched your campaign, Jo.

Coughlan: …as an independent councillor, and I still am.

An independent councillor who was endorsed by the Finance Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English.

Leggett: That’s right.

Coughlan: I’ve been an independent councillor for nine years. I’ve been in and around the government for 25 years in Wellington.

Leggett: We’ve got two party political candidates here, and you’ve got me who actually thinks that-

Coughlan: No, no, no, no. That’s actually not correct.

Leggett: …local government is based on ideas, that it’s actually about uniting the council team around the best ideas…

Coughlan: We are not two party political candidates, so you need to be-

Leggett: …and taking the city forward based on that.

Okay.

Leggett: I’ve led a team in Porirua that irrespective of how people vote, we unite around the best solutions, and that’s what Wellington needs. Enough of-

Well, in terms of unification, then, Mr Lester, is it selfish that Mr Leggett is running in this race and splitting the left vote?

Lester: Oh, look, I’m focusing on my own campaign. I think we should just bring it up a level as well. I’m focusing on the issues. The issues are transport, housing and jobs. Wellington’s economy is humming right now. I own my own business. We’re busier than we’ve ever been since 2006. And I talk to local businesses and they tell me the same thing. We’re doing really well, just some things we could do better.

Leggett: The Labour spokesperson on regional development said on the 24th of June that Wellington was on the cusp of a recession. That’s your Labour spokesperson that said that. How do you equate that-?

Coughlan: But that’s very curious, given that the Prime Minister said that Wellington was booming in front of a thousand businesspeople at the recent Gold Awards.

Lester: What I’ll say is I run my own business and every day I get those till receipts, and we’re doing better than since 2006, and every business I talk to, they’re saying the same thing. We’re doing really well.

Leggett: But Wellington isn’t growing in relation to the rest of the-

Coughlan: It is growing. Justin, I agree with you on that.

Okay, I need to hear you each speak, so if I-?

Lester: If you knew Wellington, you’d know we’re doing really well.

Coughlan: I think you’re really out of touch to say that Wellington is not humming at the moment. It absolutely is.

Lester: I completely agree with you.

Leggett: But over time, if you look at it, Auckland and Christchurch and even Hamilton and Tauranga have grown at a greater rate. Wellington can do better, and that’s why we need to unlock this potential with the-

Right, I just want to talk about that, then. I want to talk about how Wellington can do better. So, Mr Lester, what are your big policies? What are your game-changing policies for Wellington?

Lester: So the three foci I’ll have - transport, so getting Wellington moving, and that’s focusing on transport infrastructure but also public transport. The two go hand-in-hand.

What specifically?

Lester: For example, freezing fares for the next three years on public transport. Another example is building a cut-and-cover tunnel at the flyover- sorry, at the Basin Reserve, because the flyover failed. We’ve got to get on and actually get on with that project so that we can progress with other initiatives in this area.

Well, Jo Coughlan, you’re all about transport as well.

Coughlan: Oh, absolutely. I’ve made it very clear, very unambiguous that I’m all about unlocking a billion dollars’ worth of government funding for roading for Wellington, so I want to double tunnel the Mount Vic and Terrace tunnels and four lanes to the planes.

So 1 billion, as you say, where is that money coming from?

Coughlan: That is government funding that has been sitting with government for quite some time now, and, actually, they’re just waiting for Wellington to want to spend it.

So have you had a chat to the guy who endorsed you, the Finance Minister? Have you had a chat? Is that money that you’re ready to go-

Coughlan: I’ve had a chat to lots of people around the Cabinet table, in fact.

No, is it a two-for-one deal?

Coughlan: The money-

They get you and they get the Deputy Finance Minister as well?

Coughlan: Look, all I’m interested in is unlocking that money for Wellington, and I think it’s really important that we get on and that we give a strong signal to Government that we want that money in Wellington, because if we don’t, someone else will take it.

So have you got that locked up? The billion dollars?

Coughlan: I’ll be making a very strong case for Wellington.

Leggett: Lisa, Jo’s had nine years to do that, and she hasn’t delivered. And when the Basin Reserve flyover was debated by the council, Jo was out of the room. So I actually think as mayor of Porirua, I’ve been the only politician often prepared to stand up and say we need a solution from the airport, right north of Levin-

Okay, as the mayor of Porirua, then, give us an example of your single biggest achievement so that Wellingtonians can see what you would bring to the table.

Leggett: Transmission Gully. Porirua worked assiduously for years on Transmission Gully. Specifically as mayor, I helped negotiate the deal for two link roads at Waitangirua and Whitby that connect Porirua-

I’ve just seen two sets of eyebrows go up, so what have you got to say about that?

Coughlan: Well, I think that’s actually quite disingenuous. Transmission Gully’s been on the cards for many many years.

Leggett: No, it hasn’t, Jo.

Coughlan: It’s a much simpler-

Leggett: It hasn’t been on the cards for many years.

Coughlan: A much simpler thing to do than to be putting roads through the middle of a CBD of the capital city of New Zealand.

Leggett: That you failed to deliver on-

Lester: Can we get away from roads for a minute? Can we get on to some of the other issues? Housing, for example? I want to provide a regular supply of good-quality housing that’s warm, dry and-

How are you going to do that?

Lester: I’ve got an entire suite of policy. You probably haven’t looked at it, Nick. First and foremost, greenfield size-

Leggett: Where does local government fit into that, Justin, and what have you delivered as deputy mayor?

Lester: Let’s look at the history of New Zealand. When the private market’s not delivering, central government steps up and local government steps up and delivers housing for New Zealand. We are the second largest landowner- sorry, second largest landlord in the country, and we will do a tremendous job of investing in our housing upgrades. But also I’m going to provide a rates rebate for people who want to build their first home. There’s a direct incentive to people who want to build. But also we’re setting out an urban development-

How many people is that going to-? Excuse me. How many people is that going to impact? That’s a $5000 rate rebate if you build your first home. By your own admission-

Leggett: Paid for by pensioners on fixed incomes, paying rates.

Lester: Here’s an example. So, we build approximately 900 houses a year. If we build an extra 90 houses a year, we’re talking about 90 houses, that’s a 10% increase. That’s what we need to see regular supply. Because what we’re seeing currently, there’s not enough supply of construction in New Zealand. We’re seeing it in Auckland, we’re seeing it Wellington. I will set up and urban development agency that will have a specific focus around developing and building residential housing, and we’ll do that for Wellington, and we’ll lead, because you need to when the private market is not developing.

You’ve all named projects that cost big money so let’s be clear, what is the highest residential rate rise that you would vote for. Jo Coughlan, what is it?

Coughlan: Well, you know, I’m all about fair rates rises and I’m not going to put a number on that right now.

Well, fair and reasonable is what you said, so what’s a fair and reasonable number?

Coughlan: Oh, I think the rates rises that we’ve set in our long-term plan, that we’ve gone out for consultation on, are fairly fair, so they’re sitting at about 2% and 3%.

Leggett: It’s 5.5% this year, Jo, for Wellington residential rate payers. 5.5%. No, it’s 5.5%, Lisa, for residential rate payers.

Coughlan: Rates are about a cup of coffee a day, and most people understand that you need to pay rates to get services in your city. I think it’s a matter of being fair and reasonable.

Is anyone willing to give a number if Jo Coughlan won’t?

Lester: I’ll give a number. I’ve run my own business. I know that you have to earn before you can spend.

So what’s your number?

Lester: I think in and around 3% is acceptable to most Wellingtonians, because you need to invest in the city if we want to create a better city.

So are you giving a cast-iron guarantee that you would not vote for a rates rise that goes higher than 3%?

Lester: In or around 3%. It depends on the projects, and you get the feedback form Wellingtonians as well. For example, the film museum, do we invest in it or do we not do it?

Why do you laugh at that, Jo?

Coughlan: I’m not laughing at anything, I just think that you’ve got to be fair reasonable, and I think putting a number on it right here and right now, making cast-iron guarantees is not a very good idea.

Leggett: You’ve got to balance progress with affordability, Lisa, that’s what it’s about.

But rate payers do want to know this.

Coughlan: They do, and that’s why we have a long-term plan and have discussions.

Leggett: And you do have to have annual discussion with residents about what they’re prepared to pay.

So, what’s your number?

Coughlan: What have your rates been like Porirua?

Leggett: This here, 3.3% rate increase in Porirua versus 5.5% that you voted for, Jo, in Wellington or Wellington residents.

Coughlan: And you closed your pool in Cannons Creek and you closed your library in the school holidays, which I was quite staggered to hear.

Leggett: We haven’t closed our pool in Cannons Creek at all. It’s a shame that they have to denigrate Porirua, Lisa.

Just a second. I’m after a number, Mr Leggett, you haven’t given one. What do you think is the highest rate rise that you would vote for?

Leggett: I’ve said that you have an annual discussion with residents about it, and I think around that 3% to 3.5% is around the level that I think would be acceptable, not the 5.5% that these two voted for here.

Let’s move onto some quick-fire questions, see how well you know your city, or the city that you’re planning to be the mayor of. So, Jo Coughlan, what is the debt level for Wellington Council at the moment?

Coughlan: Oh, we’re sitting in at around…

Leggett: 550 million.

Coughlan: Well, look, it’s not just a straight forward situation like that, but our debt level compared to the rest of the country is actually very reasonable at the moment.

But, Ms Coughlan, your website sings your praises as the finance and economic development portfolio holder, so what is the debt level for Wellington Council? Pass on that one? Anyone else know?

Leggett:550 million.

Lester: 390 million.

You’ve got net borrowings of 390 million, or liabilities of 594 million. Nick Leggett, what is the annual average growth rate in Wellington? Annual average growth rate?

Leggett: In GDP?

Yeah.

Leggett: Around 2%.

Right. Correct. So, Justin Lester, How many buildings have been identified as earthquake-prone in your city?

Lester: It’s 579, I think. Around that figure.

669.

Lester: Oh.

Nick Leggett, this Council has been described as toxic, so from an outsider’s point of view, what do you think has caused it?

Leggett: Firstly, I think all councillors are good people with lots of skills. I think there is too much palace politics and too much party politics in the Council, and the dysfunction comes from politicians - like the Island Bay cycleway - jumping in and trying to do the officers jobs and directing good policy advice in spite of what they’ve been told. I think that sort of dysfunction creeps up over many years. You know, it’s not Celia’s fault. It’s not any of the councillors’ fault. It’s crept up over a long, long time. I’ve observed it for many years in Wellington, but it does take a bit of a shot of adrenaline, I think, and a new leader to come in who can see things afresh, and that’s what I-

A valid point, isn’t it? You two councillors are part of the toxicity, aren’t you?

Lester: No. I think that issue’s been overblown, for a start. Let’s look at the facts.

Overblown. Banned from certain areas of council?

Lester: 95-

Not allowed to talk to certain staff members?

Lester: 95% of all council decisions are unanimous. Our turnover of staff is now less than 20%, which is lower than all benchmarks across private and public sector. I think people are really proud to work for the city. And you know what? Wellington’s driving the region’s economy. We are driving the region. Porirua, Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, they look to us for leadership, and that’s what we’re providing.

Leggett: We’re a quarter of the size, though, in Porirua. That’s why. You’re not comparing apples with apples.

Jo Coughlan, what do you think about this statement that the council is toxic and-?

Coughlan: Well, I disagree. I actually disagree with that, and I think it’s been a very convenient sort of a headline, really. Look, the reality is that when you’re in a council, you’re around a table with people that come with different ideologies and different ideas, and it’s about a contestable process, and it’s not a caucus, so there’s always going to be to-ing and fro-ing on different debates. And that’s what councils are. Look, I am actually interesting in looking forward. I think that it’s actually wrong to tar the whole organisation, because we’re not just talking about councillors here, we’re talking about the executive, the staff, the whole organisation of Wellington City. And to say that that is in bad shape I think is ridiculous given the record numbers of tourists that we’ve got into the city, the house prices are going up, there’s a commercial property boom, the transformation of retail in Wellington. We’ve got so many students coming to Wellington, we can’t even find them enough beds, and our CBD-

So you’re all getting on really well-

Leggett: Lisa, you can see here-

Coughlan: Lisa-

Leggett: This is more of the same versus change.

Coughlan: It’s about looking forward.

Leggett: These two are nodding at each other’s comments. I’m the only candidate that says, ‘Actually, we can do better in Wellington.’

Coughlan: You’re the only candidate that’s not on the council.

Leggett: A council staff member who said that they-

Coughlan: It’s very easy for you to come and make these kinds of ridiculous remarks.

Leggett: …that they have seen better engagement in Siberia-

We are out of time. Thank you all. I’ll have- No, I’ve got the last word, which is-

Coughlan: Go, the Hurricanes.

We’ll let you get away with that one.

I'm joined by three more Wellington councillors fighting for the top job - Helene Ritchie, Nicola Young and Andy Foster. Good morning to you all. Can I start with you, Helene Ritchie? You've been on the council for about 40 years, stood for mayor before... Not quite? 30 years. Okay.

Helene Ritchie: Not continuously.

Why not make way for some new blood for the mayoralty, then?

Ritchie: Because I think it's really important that we have a mayor who can lead, who has proven experience, who has proven experience of leadership. And I'll cite just three items. I was responsible for leading the nuclear weapon-free declaration of Wellington, for leading the civic centre project - a world-class project - which has given Wellington wonderful heart, and just this year, after a six-year exercise, ensured that the town belt, which is revered in Wellington, was protected and enhanced in legislation this year.

Well, Andy Foster, what is your motivation for standing for mayor, because some of your critics say it's to boost your profile in a seat that you could lose.

Andy Foster: Well, I guess I'd answer that and say that I've won that seat seven times running with the highest level of votes in the city. Not that Labour takes that for granted. My motivation is I look to the people who are standing and said, 'Look, I think what we need is somebody who's going to take the city forward.’ We've got some major challenges and opportunities. But over the last 20 to 25 years, this city has become a city which is really recognised internationally as one of the best cities to live, work and play. And we've got the best CBD in the country. We've got the arts and culture. We've got environmental restoration, which we are a leader in. Resilience, we're a leader in. The highest levels of walking, cycling and public transport use. So it's taking those things that are really great about Wellington and making Wellington an even better city.

Nicola Young, at one point you would have been considered, perhaps, the front runner on the right - the mayoral front runner - but it seems Jo Coughlan has now stolen your thunder. So why stay in the race?

Nicola Young: Oh, well, I don't think the race has even begun yet. The nominations don't close for another 10 days or a week or so. I am running a very different kind of campaign to Jo. Jo's all about hoardings and slogans. Mine's about very thoughtful policy. I'm in contact- I'm out personally doorknocking. It's a different kind of campaign. And the other thing is, polls have been incredibly unreliable in recent elections. Look at Brexit. Look at the British general election. I mean, the polls- There is only one poll that counts. That's on October the 8th.

Andy Foster, you're in charge of the transport committee, and that oversaw the Island Bay cycleway, which is arguably one of the council's controversial projects, and some would actually say it is the thing that led to Celia Wade-Brown's demise. So what responsibility do you take for that project?

Foster: Look, I'm sure it's not been easy, particularly for her being an Island Bay resident. We all share responsibility for that, and certainly-

Young: No, we don’t. Some of us fought it and fought it.

Ritchie: I told you to lie it on the table, and if you had listened to my wisdom-

Foster: The way in which it was fought, everybody retreated to their trenches... If they had come out of those trenches and actually tried to find a solution, we could have done it.

Not everybody voted for it. You headed up the committee. So what responsibility do you take?

Foster: The other thing to say, Lisa, is that this is a $1.5 million project. In context, over those three years we spent $1.5 million-

Young: It cost a lot more than that. And we will never know the full cost.

Foster: So, look, what we said, and right from the beginning, this is something that is different. We know it will be potentially controversial. That's what happened all around the world that cycleways have become controversial.

Ritchie: Andy, you tried to impose it on the Island Bay people.

Foster: These things are controversial all around the world, and we said we would review it-

Mr Foster seems to be saying it wasn't such a big mistake-

Foster: If I could just finish-

No, let the other two-

Young: It was a huge error. We did not listen to the community. That's been this council's greatest fault.

Foster: I think the problem, Nicola, is that we had several communities, and they were saying... We had different communities saying different things.

Young: As a first-term councillor I have been really shocked at the way people's wishes are overridden by councillors on a zealotry campaign to get things done. The Island Bay cycleway was not wanted by the locals. I fought it along with Paul Eagle, and it was driven through by a council who didn't try to stop it.

Foster: But others did want it, so that's why we said we would review it. But if you hadn't of fought it quite the way you did, Nicola, we might have actually ended up with a sensible result.

Ritchie: I knew that would be a disaster. I know the Island Bay community very well, and I suggested to council, and if council and particularly council-

Foster: And then you weren't there for half the votes.

Ritchie: Excuse me. I was in parliament for one of the votes-

Foster: Very convenient.

Ritchie: But the crucial vote was the one where I moved that the matter lie on the table. That was a very important-

Foster: Helene, it wasn't. You weren't there for the ones that mattered.

Ritchie: ...that would have meant that we would have got on with some very successful cycleways.

Foster: The important thing is we're actually moving forward-

Let's move on. You tried to roll Andy Foster but you couldn't raise the support to do that.

Young: But I had the numbers. I had the numbers and two changed their minds.

How were you going to bring a council together?

Young: Because two changed their minds.

Well, then you didn't have the numbers, did you?

Young: Well, they signed up initially and then they changed their minds.

Foster: In reality, she burnt a lot of bridges.

Young: So how would I get the numbers? Well-

How are you going to bring a council together if you couldn't get enough people behind you to get rid of the chair of a committee?

Young: Well, when you're learning the lessons of what I found as a first-time councillor this time, you need to find out what people's strengths are and what their priorities are, what your areas of commonality are. You're never going to agree with everybody but at least you'll have communication. So we've had absolutely no communication like that as a council this time round. We've had no social interaction. We meet at meetings and then we go. It is really quite bizarre. And that's something which we're paying a huge price for. So the first thing I would do as mayor is I would meet them all individually and then get them together socially. And that's something they used to do in the old days but it has gone completely.

Because, Helene Ritchie, the contact of Pete Whiting wrote to the council saying he was disgusted at the toxic culture. We heard the other two councillors who were here before basically saying, 'No problem. Nothing to see here.' So- But you're all part of the problem, aren't you?

Ritchie: If I could just speak now, Nicola? I don't agree that the council has been toxic, but what I would say is the council has been in crisis. There has been a significant amount of secrecy, secret decisions made, led by the mayor, Celia, Justin, the deputy mayor, and the CEO in a triumvirate decision-making.

Well, yeah, speaking of the CEO, if I can come back to you, Andy? The chief executive, Kevin Lavery, has dressed you all down in a recent report for saying that you need to stop leaking. So who's in charge here? Is he the de facto mayor while you're all squabbling inhouse?

Foster: No. He was quite clear in that same report that officers recommend, the council makes decisions and then officers implement, but they sometimes have to give us some pretty strong advice to say that there are things which we need to do and there are councillors unfortunately who will run off to the media because they see some advantage in it. That’s just not professional. It’s not responsible.

So you don’t think that he has too much power?

Foster: If he does, that’s because we let him and we shouldn’t and we don’t.

Ritchie: I think it’s really important - and this has been one of the problems of the council - that there is a differentiation of roles. One of the reasons that I’m standing is that I have a very good proven record in governance - in strong governance and strong advocacy. And one of the reasons-

It’s been your life’s career.

Ritchie: No, it hasn’t. I’m also a registered psychologist. I’ve also been a full-time carer. I’m a mediator. But one of the things that’s really important in governance is a differentiation of roles between the chief executive and the mayor and the councillors, and if that is confused - which it is - then we have the mess we have at the moment, and that’s why I say it’s in crisis. That has to change and it has to change significantly.

Lisa Owen: All right. I want to turn onto policy now. Nicola Young, you want to turn Lambton Quay into a pedestrian mall, put State Highway 1 under Vivian Street, but you also want to freeze rates at inflation levels, don’t you? So that’s 0.4%. How is that equation going to work?

Young: So what I want to do is I want to cut the waste. So I’ll give you an example. Council wants to upgrade Frank Kitts Park at about 5.5 million. That’s almost 60% of this year’s rates increase, so the Lambton Quay redevelopment-

Yeah, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what you’re talking about.

Young: So the Lambton Quay pedestrianisation - that would be an initial investment by the government and would be got back through the increased values and rates on the commercial properties. And with the pedestrianisation, I’ve said it’s something we need to think about.

So is there commitment from the government for that money? Have you got a commitment from the government for that money?

Young: No, no, no. Listen, this is nothing to do with the government. I said that this is to do with the building owners. The buildings will be- Their rates will increase because of the values.

Oh, so there will be a rates increase for the business owners?

Young: No, so because the value of their buildings will increase - which is totally different to freezing the rates at inflation, because the building rate is a different issue, but I don’t want to blind people with all that. But the thing with Lambton Quay is Te Aro in the central city is our fastest-growing residential area and we have to really think about the quality of life in the inner city. So I am not saying, ‘I am going to pedestrianise Lambton Quay.’ I’m saying we need to think about it.

No, but what you’re saying is you can pay for all the policies that you want and still have a 0.4% rates increase.

Young: No, no. Yes. So with the State Highway One going under the cut-and-cover cover, that would be a government project. But at the moment, you know, our rates increases, people talk about the average. The reality is that the 5.4 rates increase in Wellington - for some people, that’s over 7%. We’ve got to be an affordable city.

Okay. I asked the others this question, so what’s the top rates increase that you would vote for, each of you?

Andy Foster: Well, I think we’ve got to keep it- At the very most, it’s got to be within what we’ve already got in our budget, which means that if we’re going to put extra things in, you’ve got to take things out. But I think there are many things which we can both cut and also-

So are you willing to give a number that would be the top that-

Foster: I would say within that sort of 3%-

3%, so lower than what you voted for. 3.6%, wasn’t it, this year?

Foster: In this year, yes, but that’s over a period of 10 years- averaged over a period of 10 years.

So you would stand by that commitment? You personally would not vote for higher than 3% in the coming years?

Foster: Yeah, absolutely. So for example, we’ve got a lot of major projects. We can’t do them all at once.

Okay. Helene Ritchie, what’s your top number there?

Helene Ritchie: There have been a lot of silly promises throughout this campaign and there have been a lot of silly promises actually throughout the three years of council.

So I’m asking you for a number. Are you going to give me one?

Ritchie: So with silly promises come huge rates increases - like, huge, and they haven’t even been accounted for in any way.

So no number? Okay, we’ll move on.

Ritchie: No, I’ll give you a number. I’ll give you a number. I think that there should be sensible rates for central services and that is probably going to be around 3%, but it may be lower. But I have a further comment to make, depending on what your question is.

Okay, I want to move on to some other policy issues. Andy Foster, what’s your one big new idea for Wellington?

Foster: Well, I think there’s two things here. The first one of these is we’ve actually got nine years of a long term plan still to deliver, so there’s a lot of new stuff in that, but in terms of a new idea-

But that’s not new if it’s already in a plan. What’s your new idea?

Foster: Yeah, I know, but you’ve still got to deliver it - that’s the key thing, not flip-flop all over the place. I think the key one for me- or a one that I would go for is that- just talking to people on the way up in the plane- is the idea of a venture capital fund that we could sponsor for small businesses. We’ve got a whole lot of emerging businesses, a huge amount of creative talent in our city-

Young: We can’t charity businesses like that, though.

What, so is that corporate welfare, is it?

Young: Absolutely.

Foster: No, but listen, I’m not saying that we would do it. We would facilitate that fund. So we’ve got a lot of people that have actually got money. Investments in the bank are particularly productive at the moment. We’ve got a lot of people who want money to get these businesses up and going. If you’re able to put a portfolio of those together so that people are not risking all their money on one business, I think there’s an opportunity.

All right. I want to move on to some-

Ritchie: Can I have an opportunity to answer that, which I’d like to?

Very quickly.

Ritchie: My one big idea is to lead this city - as mayor of this city - to build a city, not a runway. $350 million of rates money at the moment is proposed to build an airport runway that has not been substantiated in any way.

So that’s an idea you don’t want, but not one that you do want.

Ritchie: No, it’s an idea I do want. I want to build a city with that money, not an airport runway.

All right, let’s do some quickfire questions here as we did with the others. Helene Ritchie, you’re keen on planting trees, so what are the carbon emissions per capita in Wellington?

Ritchie: The carbon e- I have no idea what the exact- because the documentation that Wellington has-

Okay, well, it’s 6.1 tons and it was in this pre-election report that was given to all of you in the council.

Ritchie: No, no. That is not correct. If I could just say, that is not correct.

Foster: And it’s the lowest in Australasia.

So you challenge those figures?

Ritchie: It relates to the city council’s emissions, not the city’s.

Okay, so Nicola Young, what’s the average annual employment growth in Wellington?

Young: Well, at the end of 2014 we had a minus of 0.4% of business growth.

Pre-election report-

Young: It has picked up slightly since then. I don’t have a figure off the top of my head-

It says-

Foster: 1.9.

1.4%.

Young: We are still on an economic knife edge in Wellington.

So Andy Foster, what is the average income in Wellington?

Foster: Per household, or average individual?

Average individual.

Foster: The average wage is in the order of about 70,000.

Yeah, 67,940. So in terms of- Helene, you have said that if you get elected, you plan to be the mayor, but if you also get onto the health board, you’ll be on the health board as well, right? So why do you think the mayoralty is a part-time job?

Ritchie: I don’t think it is at all. I think it’s really important to bring together health and the city. A healthy people is a healthy city. It is absolutely essential that those two work together. There is a further point - health is our biggest employer in the city and it tends to be ignored by the council as an economic driver for the city, which it is, so it’s very important that they work together. I’ll emphasise again - a healthy people is a healthy city. In no way is the mayoralty a part-time job at all.

Okay. It was mentioned- Social housing was mentioned by the previous group. The council has about 2,200 units. You paid about $4 million doing them up. You’ve got a contract with the government till 2037. Would you stick with that or do you have any plans to get rid of those social houses?

Young: We have a contract, so my word is my bond.

So you would stick with it?

Young: Absolutely. We do have a financial black hole associated with it which we have to sort out, but I’m a great believer - once you say you’re going to do something, you do it. It’s the way I’ve lived my life.

Foster: And I think we’re really proud of our social housing. It’s seen as a leader, certainly in Australasia, so yeah, absolutely.

Helene Ritchie?

Ritchie: Oh, social housing, absolutely essential, but the government has made it really difficult for us in increasing social housing - and we should - because it doesn’t recognise us, ironically, as a social housing provider, which is bizarre.

Okay, well, we’ll leave it there. One thing we all agree on. There’s lots to talk about from that mayoral debate.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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