Ahhh. Election time

One always worries a little bit about the elections, but unlike the rest of the world, which seems to have gone off the rails a bit, the New Zealand election promises a great civilized action, no matter who wins.

Unfortunately, there is still an ugly tension lurking under the surface, and in the case of the city I love, it once again falls under the banner of “the housing crisis”. Now I’ve spoken previously about the social contract our council has with us to protect that which is unique and special about Wellington, but the unfortunate crux of the matter is that once again, the council appears to be siding with developers at our expense.

This is particularly disturbing, as one of our local representatives, Paul Eagle, appears to support a massive programme of private gain at public expense. He is also, of course, up for election to Parliament. This is where I’m a little concerned. As far as I can tell (and I welcome his feedback!), he has supported developers’ profits rather than protecting the rights of current residents, all under the guise of “the housing crisis”. If this is an indication as to his philosophy towards government, then I am deeply concerned about his representing us in parliament.

The recent stuff article is particularly illuminating. Firstly, we should always be worried when a government agency like Wellington City Council is doing anything urgently – this is government-speak for “if we do it fast, no one can challenge it”, and a great way of hiding all manner of dodgy dealings.

According to the article, Paul Eagle has supported the establishment of a committee to fast-track decisions about housing. Now on the face of this, it might be a good thing, however, the article notes that the committee is going to be comprised of councillors (good), and “external experts from the taskforce.”

So what is this taskforce they speak of? Well, you can read the report by the taskforce here. It’s comprised of “experts”, most of whom, it appears, are developers or builders, or landowners, with a small spattering of affordable housing advocates. The only representative for locals: Paul Eagle.

The conclusion of the taskforce? More intense housing, reduced amenity, and fast tracking for developments. Sounds like the wish list for big developers’ profit margins.

As to any consultation with the public, well, there’s not much in there about that. In fact, there’s none at all. We just need to trust the developers that they’re going to make wonderful modern housing.

My question to our Councillors (and possibly new member of parliament): it’s nice that you’re thinking about the future, and future residents of your constituency, but what are you doing to help protect my neighbourhood, and my way of life?

I’m already here, and I want to know. Because on the face of it, you appear to be taking our support for granted, and colluding with developers to urbanize everything for a yet-to-appear constituency.

We need affordable housing, but we also need close consultation with the neighbourhoods that you’re intending to change by legislative fiat.

It is not a single sided issue. We are all stakeholders.

 

Why Stuart Gardyne should actually read the proposal.

Over coffee this morning, I happened to come across an opinion piece by Stuart Gardyne on Stuff regarding Shelly Bay. In my earlier years, I had thought to take up a career in architecture (heck, I’ve even read “The Fountainhead”), so when I saw his piece, I was immediately interested. Unfortunately, I was also supremely disappointed. As an architect, and citizen of Wellington, he should know better. But unfortunately, he’s decided to comment on things that he apparently hasn’t bothered to research.

Which is a bit weird, because the proposal that he’s talking about in his opinion piece was in fact prepared by his company, as commissioned by the developer. Perhaps he just hasn’t really read it? Or maybe he hasn’t read the supporting documentation?

Unfortunately though, in his opinion piece, he throws out quite a few actual falsehoods (or alternate facts), so deserves a response. Oh where to start?

Cycling: “the road to Shelly Bay will be genuinely improved to allow cyclists, pedestrians and drivers alike to share it”

Nope. The road in the proposed development is essentially the same width it is now. In a few places it will be made a little bit wider to conform to the 3m/lane requirement, but that’s it. There will be no cycle lane, and cycles will have to share the road with 4-6 times more cars. Speaking of which, just after his comment on cycling, he proclaims:

Traffic: “Yes there will be a likely increase in traffic.”

“Likely” is a nice euphemism. Even the developers weren’t daft enough to ask us to believe that there won’t be a traffic increase. Their numbers have traffic going from 1200 trips to 4700 trips. I’d say that’s pretty darned likely an increase.

Infrastructure: “I have a simple message: you’re not. The developer is paying, just like they do in every other city”

Nope again. He really should read the council proposal for the development before he says these things. You the ratepayer are on the hook for at least $10 Million. Possibly a lot more. C’mon Stuart, it’s actually in the proposal! I admit, the Council tried quite hard to hide it, and didn’t mention it anywhere in their headlines for the proposal, but it’s there. (see: The ratepayer gets screwed. Again.)

Also interesting in his opinion piece, is that he never once mentions that the proposal that he’s talking about was generated by his company.

Honestly folks, I could go on, but I feel a little bad about flogging the dead horse that is Stuarts’ opinion piece, so we’ll just leave it there.

Stuart, apologies, but I’m hugely saddened that an architect of your standing has thrown this out there.

 

Blow Out

Yesterday, I talked about some management lessons from the film “Deepwater Horizon” that Wellington City Council would be well advised to follow. Curiously, this conversation surrounded car parks and traffic levels, and one might be wondering the significance and connection.

It all has to do with that pesky wellhead cement pressure test from the film. It’s here that I think we’re in trouble. Of course, by wellhead pressure, what I’m referring to is traffic along the entry road. The traffic levels that are quoted in all the City Council documents, are all referring to a report that was paid for by the developer. It’s nice of them to pay for this, and indeed proper, but that sort of report makes me a bit suspicious. It feels like the sort of report that potentially could have been skewed to indicate whatever traffic levels and parking requirements the developer thought council would accept.

The fact that they are telling us there will only be 4700 vehicles per day, when right now, the un-developed area is experiencing 1200 vehicles indicates to me that we’ve got a pressure measurement error somewhere. Particularly as there appears to be no factoring for the complete lack of public transit options, the limited parking options, and the distance to amenities precluding biking or walking.

When this error is too big, it’s going to blow. With huge environmental consequences, just like Deepwater Horizon.

What I expect is going to happen, is that the vehicle count is going to be so far off that the entry road will have to be widened. In the process, the wonderful, rough-hewn, largely unspoilt coastline is going to get concreted in. The lovely old trees along the road will all be cut down. What little fishing was left there will be a thing of the past, and any thought of preserving the little blue penguin breeding will be gone for good. You’ll still be able to bike along there, but the experience will be vastly diminished as you’ll be biking along a concreted in roadway with little natural beauty remaining.

The developer, of course, doesn’t care. By the time the pressure check reveals the problem with the wellhead, they’re long gone, laughing all the way to the bank. As the infrastructure spend by the council is completely un-capped, just like a blown wellhead, it’s going to haemorrhage cash and environmental damage for years to come.

We, the citizens of course, will be picking up that bill. It’s not just a fiscal bill either, it’s an enormous environmental and social bill as well.

Shelly Bay is an area that’s unique, and deserves our special attention – it has the potential to provide an amazing, natural landscape for all of Wellington to enjoy. By pushing through un-notified consent of a dense urban development of such huge and potentially destructive nature, our City Council has done the citizens of the eastern suburbs a huge disservice.

We need to tell the council that their proposal is foolish on many levels, and not in the public interest in any way, because once this potential public resource is gone, it’s gone for good.

We need to make sure this wellhead doesn’t blow out.

 

P.S.: Don’t forget to put your submission in by 5PM August 14, 2017!!

CLICK HERE for the Wellington CIty Council Submission Site

or

CLICK HERE for a printable submission form.

Flawed Thinking: Car Parks, congestion, and everything else.

There’s a great scene in a movie called “Deepwater Horizon”, where Mark Wahlberg’s character is talking to the BP representative played by John Malcovich, and he quips “It’s flawed thinking. It’s hope as a tactic.” It’s a great line, as it presages the disaster to come in the film, and precisely nails the entire cause of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Now I’m not saying that the proposal for Shelly Bay is going to be a disaster of that magnitude, but the sheer amount of hope being put into this by the Wellington City Council sure indicates that there might be problems that they’re trying to ignore, just like the folks at BP were trying to ignore.

When in doubt, I always loop back to the numbers. I suspect the Wellington City Council is a bit sick of me talking about the numbers, but to engineers and managers, they’re golden nuggets, the things that determine success or disaster.

Well, the developer has a few interesting numbers: they have 350 dwellings, each with 1 car park. There are also 122 public car parks available for the ratepayers who might want to enjoy the remaining small public space. Sounds good so far, until you do a well-pressure-check on the car parks. According to the last census there were 1.3 cars per household in Miramar. If you do the math, which is always tricky for developers and council types it seems, that’s 455 cars, of which 105 will need to be occupying the public car parks.

It looks like to me then that the poor public is only going to enjoy just 17 car parks when the residents are home (don’t even start talking about their guests). So when you hear about this being a gated community with everything but the gates, it sounds like a pretty accurate assessment.

When asked about this, the designers of the development mumbled about the downward trend in automobile ownership. Good! So maybe, indeed, we get a few car parks opening up, which is nice.

Yet, if fewer people are owning cars, how are they getting around? The City Council very specifically mentioned that there were to be no new bus routes, so… again, how are people getting around?

Wellingtons’ weather isn’t quite good enough for cycling all the time, and worse still, the road in and out is going to be difficult for cyclers, and is quite long for just popping out to the shops (it’s the reason why it’s enjoyed immensely by recreational cyclers!)

The developer seems to think that everyone is going to use the ferry, but that only works if the weather is nice, and you happen to want to go only to downtown or Eastbourne. So what about the rest of us? Well, the only real choice would then be something like Uber, or a taxi.

As soon as you do that, you’ve now just nearly DOUBLED the number of car trips these residents will be making: a car has to come pick them up, drive them into town, drive them back home, then that car has to leave the development. There will be some overlap between the in and out people, but as an upper bound, you’re talking 2X.

Which is important. Because the trip number ties into that infrastructure cost. And more importantly, the environmental cost. And the cost to cyclers. But that’s tomorrows’ tale.

Unh-uh. Hope ain’t a tactic Wellington City Council.

 

P.S.: Don’t forget to put your submission in by 5PM August 14, 2017!!

CLICK HERE for the Wellington CIty Council Submission Site

or

CLICK HERE for a printable submission form.

The Developer 3 Step

One of the things that bugs me about this whole debate, are the adjectives surrounding Shelly Bay. They usually include phrases like: “run down”, “derelict”, “degraded”.

These are interesting terms, that are in fact, part of a dance, I like to call the developer three step. The dance goes something like this:

Step 1: (Right foot) Acquire a right to some property you want to develop. It doesn’t matter that it is historic in nature. When acquiring the right to the land and property, make sure you make loud noises about renovating and rejuvenating the property, as it is.

Step 2: (Left foot) Let the buildings sit unmaintained for at least 5 years. 10 years is better.

Step 3: (Right foot) Start claiming the site is run down, the site is derelict, and that everything needs to be torn down and replaced with something else, something new, something ‘better.’

That my friends, is how you get folks to agree with your new concrete jungle. It takes a little time, and it helps that the City Council has (intentionally?) let their buildings in Shelly Bay also go unmaintained, but it is quite an effective technique. Erskine College anyone?

One wonders what people would be saying if the opposite were true, if a few licks of new paint had been applied at reasonable intervals – would the protest that is mounting against this proposed project, be even stronger?

P.S.: Don’t forget to put your submission in by 5PM August 14, 2017

CLICK HERE for the Wellington CIty Council Submission Site

or

CLICK HERE for a printable submission form.

Philosophy and Responsibility – it’s important.

At present, the question up for debate by the council is twofold: the sale/lease of land to a developer, and the uncapped infrastructure spend that is associated with the proposed development.

These two questions are interesting, as the underlying assumption is that the City Council does not want the land, but does want to support the dense urban housing that the developer is proposing. I would argue that these two assumptions are essentially flawed, and competing.

On the one hand the council is clearly tasked with helping to aid the economic development of Wellington, and to that end, this would surely succeed – a lot of cash would get spent. Of course, a lot of it will be coming from the ratepayers, so that part of the spend is zero or negative.

The economists in the crowd would more than likely be quite happy to see the entire Miramar Peninsula covered with 6, 8, or 10 story dense urban housing, as this is of course the way you generate economic activity. But it’s a pretty poor replacement for what is here.

As other authors have noted, the Shelly Bay area is unique in its location both within a city, and it’s wild and undeveloped disposition.

Which  leads me to the other competing claim on the council: to provide for the general well-being of the community, and in this case, the councils’ proposal falls very flat. This neighbourhood is possessed of a very unique character, one which the Council seems happy to destroy in its’ quest for profit for the developers. It’s at this level that the removal of land from the Council into private arms, a removal I will note, was not open up to public scrutiny, nor open to competitive bids, nor, up till now, even open for debate is at fault, and will harm the neighbourhood.

Remember, once that land is gone, it’s gone for good. It will never return to the public domain, and the thin slices that the developer is proposing as a replacement are a sorry sad replacement.

The Wellington City Council needs to be reminded that it has a fiduciary responsibility to our happiness and enjoyment of our community.

So I urge you to write to them and remind them of their responsibility.

P.S.: Don’t forget to put your submission in by 5PM August 14, 2017

CLICK HERE for the Wellington CIty Council Submission Site

or

CLICK HERE for a printable submission form.

Why are they hiding the numbers?

Having been a citizen of a democratic culture all of my life, I occasionally find it interesting that folks seem to ignore numbers. I understand – numbers are hard.

Yet numbers are great things, because they’re difficult to refute. When someone says 1+1 = 4, we’re immediately suspicious.

That’s why I continue to be suspicious of the numbers that Wellington City Council and the Developer put out with respect to the proposed sale, lease, and infrastructure costs of the proposed development of Shelly Bay. The numbers just don’t add up.

In particular, my suspicion reaches red-alert levels when these same bodies are attempting to hide the numbers. All of their advertisements and text say a variant of this: “The Council proposes to sell and lease some of its land to Shelly Bay Ltd.” (the council website), and completely ignore the question of the huge infrastructure subsidy for the developer that comes along with the deal.

Which is why I keep hammering that number (among others). In a civil society, there’s a social construct between us, the citizens, and the Wellington City Council.

The City Council has the right of taxation over us, and so needs to be mindful of the benefit that we receive for that taxation. And lest anyone should forget, taxation comes ultimately at the point of a gun. Just try protesting this development by not paying your rates, and you’ll ultimately find a policeman at the end of the tale. Ignore that policeman, and one with a gun will ultimately show up.

When our elected representatives ignore this social contract, when they put the well-being of developers ahead of our welfare, we need to act. When they socialize the costs and privatise profits, we need to act. When they side with profiteers who do not live in our community, we need to act.

Look closely at the submission website:

Wellington City Council – Shelly Bay submission site

and you’ll find no mention of the millions of dollars that they’re proposing to give to the developer. They are outright hiding the subsidy.

Only if you download the submission form or the consultation document will you find mention of this subsidy.

In my view, this is a crime. They are blatantly attempting to hide a pay-out of a magnitude that most of us would balk at. Are they unmindful of their responsibility to us? I don’t know. Are they corrupt? I don’t know. I hope not. All I know, is that they don’t appear to be representing us.

We need to act.

Tell our elected officials (particularly the ones that represent the eastern wards) that they cannot subsidize this development. They cannot line the pockets of the developers with our cash. They should not sell off our assets. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

They are our representatives, and they need to start acting like it.

P.S.: Don’t forget to put your submission in by 5PM August 14, 2017

CLICK HERE for the Wellington CIty Council Submission Site

or

CLICK HERE for a printable submission form.

Island Bay 2: The Shelly Bay Disaster – Act II (the great cost explosion)

I suspect by now, that most folks are aware of the amazing ineptitude of our City Council when it comes to the cycleway at Island Bay – how a complete lack of consultation caused mammoth issues with a short 1.7 km bit of road through Island Bay, and is continuing to cost boatloads of cash as we speak.

I find it unfathomable how the City Council can justify spending $1.5 million on the first iteration (of something the community apparently didn’t want), and then up to another $6.2 million to fix the darned thing. By fix, of course, I actually mean:  worse than before the cycleway change was implemented.

To put a few numbers on it, there were 254 parks originally in this area of Island Bay, there are currently 220 parks, and after the “fix”, there will be 163 parks. Removing 36% of the parking in Island Bay at a cost of $7.7 million (that’s $84,000 per car park removed!) doesn’t seem like particularly good thinking, or particularly good value for money, and will have a definite impact on local residents and especially businesses. But this is The Monster called Wellington City Council we’re talking about, and it doesn’t seem to care about the human cost. It is a Monster after all.

If we move on to the Councils’ proposal for Shelly Bay, we find that the same people who brought us the Disaster of Island Bay are now happily estimating a total infrastructure budget of $20 million for the proposed Shelly Bay development.

This $20 million (half of which they want you to pay for) is supposed to cover the upgrade of more than 3.5 Km of road, new traffic lights, completely new sewage, and drainage systems, as well as new reservoirs and water supplies.

All for just $20 million. Yeah, Right.

Given what’s happened in Island Bay, the poor ratepayers should be pretty worried about the Shelly Bay proposal from the council. As far as I can tell, they haven’t done detailed analysis of any of the infrastructure spend, and if the cost of just the cycle lane is any indication, we can expect that the actual infrastructure spend is going to be a lot higher then they’re indicating.

As far as I can tell, that $20 million was just pulled out of thin air.

Never mind that the council is proposing that you, the ratepayer needs to line the developers’ pocket with at least $10 million of your cash, but if the same thing that happened in Island Bay happens here (and given it’s the same people doing it, that’s a pretty good bet), expect that infrastructure to balloon out by another $20-40 million at least.

If we just use the multiple that’s going on in Island Bay right now, we can expect the infrastructure to explode to just a little north of $100 million, $90 million of which is going to come from you. That’s $440 from every man, woman, and child in Wellington. Direct from you, into the developer’s profit margin.

So let’s fight the good fight – tell city council: NO to ratepayer subsidies of big developers, and NO to selling off our assets.

P.S.: Don’t forget to put your submission in by 5PM August 14, 2017

CLICK HERE for the Wellington CIty Council Submission Site

or

CLICK HERE for a printable submission form.

Island Bay 2: The Shelly Bay Disaster – Act 1

It was a dark and stormy Monday evening when David Chick, Wellington City Councils’ harried Chief City Planner scurried from one Wellington disaster to another. Well, okay, it wasn’t particularly stormy evening for Wellington, but it was definitely dark when Mr. Chick left a barely advertised presentation of the Shelly Bay development plan to local businesses.

The poor advertisement should have been the first clue that something was wrong, but in truth, the disaster had begun many years ago, mere kilometres away, in a formerly idyllic community called Island Bay.

Here, in this comfortable sleeping town, a monster had rolled through, a monster that had little thought for the locals, little regard for the local businesses. This astonishing monster could reach out and suck the life out of the community at a moment’s notice. The monster that called on this community was invulnerable – it had no need to listen to anyone, because it knew what was best for everyone. People huddled in small circles, fearful to even mention the monsters’ name: “Wellington City Council”

And now, that monster is back. This time, it has set its’ arrogant eyes on the sleepy, idyllic Shelly Bay…

Coming soon to a bay near you: “Island Bay 2: The Shelly Bay Disaster”

 

 

P.S.: Don’t forget to put your submission in by 5PM August 14, 2017

CLICK HERE for the Wellington CIty Council Submission Site

or

CLICK HERE for a printable submission form.

Concrete Jungle

The real difficulty that I have with this development, is not the concept of development itself, but what has been put forward by the developer. The buildings that are in the plan are massive tilt-slab style, 27 meter high dense urban (prefab?) housing.

To me, that’s the rub. The eastern suburbs, with the exception of the monstrosity that is the airport carpark (yes Infratil, we understand the only way a monopoly is able to increase it’s revenue and cost to the public, is to increase its asset base) is a laid back, mostly one or two story,  low density housing space. I don’t know about you, but part of the reason I live here, is EXACTLY BECAUSE of this fact. If I had wanted to be crammed wall-to-wall with my neighbours, I would be living in downtown Wellington, or perhaps, London.

So when I saw that they were planning to put 350 dwellings in a space of 4.5 hectares, I was aghast. According to the last census, Miramar has a density of 3.7 dwellings per hectare. The proposed Shelly Bay development will have 77 dwellings per hectare, nearly twenty times the density of the local neighbourhood. To put this into perspective, London, one of the densest, most congested cities on the planet, has a density of approximately 125 dwellings per hectare.

One might wonder, what’s the harm? Well, for me, it turns out there’s a lot of harm – the quality of life that I’ve aspired to, is one where we aren’t all crammed together, that we don’t need to be living at each others’ doorstep.

By sneaking Shelly Bay through HAASHA (Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013), which allows the council to grant consent with no consultation with the residents of the area, our council has cleverly given carte-blanche to turn a natural, relaxed neighbourhood into a concrete urban jungle. Of course, for this particular developer, this is just the beginning, with high density housing planned for the top of the hill as well.

So just like the biking and fishing along Shelly Bay Road, if this development goes through, we can happily say goodbye to our sleepy relaxed neighbourhood, not just because of the traffic lights.

I don’t want the quality of my neighbourhood altered in this manner, and am frankly incensed that the city council is colluding with developers to degrade the quality of my life, and the quality of my neighbourhood. Developers, who I will also note, don’t live here either, and one of whom appears to live on 4.2 hectares all by himself. Apparently he doesn’t like dense urban housing either.

Shame on you city council, Shame.

 

P.S.: Don’t forget to put your submission in by 5PM August 14, 2017

CLICK HERE for the Wellington CIty Council Submission Site

or

CLICK HERE for a printable submission form.