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Local Elections 2022October 5, 2022

Race briefing: Can the country’s youngest mayor make it two for two?

(Photo: Getty Images / The Spinoff)
(Photo: Getty Images / The Spinoff)

An ailing hospital, leaking pipes and the spectre of three waters all form part of the race to become Hutt City’s next mayor.

The Hutt City local election race grabbed headlines in 2019 after it saw the country’s youngest mayor, Campbell Barry, swoop to victory over the three-term incumbent Ray Wallace. This year, just two candidates – including one linked to a new ticket of hopeful council candidates – have put themselves forward in an effort to unseat Barry. 

Why is Hutt City the best place in the world? 

Sitting on the outskirts of the capital, Hutt City is the gateway to Wellington. The region covers several towns along with the larger Lower Hutt city where the council itself is based. It boasts impressive shopping – such as the Queensgate mall – and more affordable real estate for those who work in Wellington but can’t afford the capital’s soaring costs. There’s also the Hutt River, presenting numerous recreational opportunities.

What is the contest? 

While many think of Lower Hutt as being synonymous with the Hutt City Council area, this isn’t strictly true. Specific legislation allows the council and the city of Lower Hutt to hold different names – and the council is actually responsible for far more than just the lowest of the Hutts.  In fact, it covers a sprawling area that also encompasses the likes of Wainuiomata and coastal Petone (though not Upper Hutt, which has its own distinct council and council race). 

Hutt City is one of the country’s most populous areas and is home to roughly 113,000 people.

Who is in the race?

The 2019 mayoral race resulted in the somewhat surprise election of 28-year-old Campbell Barry, who took the top job over Ray Wallace, who had been serving since 2010. This time, Barry’s most high profile opposition comes from the former council chief executive Tony Stallinger. He’s running as part of a ticket called United Hutt and has vocally opposed government policies such as three waters. Rounding out the race is independent candidate Falgoon Patel. “I just want the potholes fixed,” reads his biography. 

Both Stallinger and Patel were late entering candidates and at one point it appeared Barry may be re-elected unopposed. 

Barry is a Labour-aligned candidate and signed a party pledge. However, he has argued it’s too simplistic to view himself as a purely Labour candidate. “When I was elected mayor in 2019, I swore an oath and signed a declaration to serve in the best interests of Lower Hutt,” he told Stuff. “That was my number one commitment then, and that remains my number one commitment now.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, his detractors disagree. “It’s time for all Hutt people to have a real say in running our city. The current mayor’s political masters have been pulling the strings for too long,” Stallinger said.

The council comprises six candidates elected from the six local wards (Northern, Western, Central, Eastern, Harbour and Wainuiomata), with the remaining six councillors elected at-large. There is at least one United Hutt-linked candidate in each council seat race. Other affiliated candidates include The Opportunities Party’s Barbara Hay running for one of the six council-at-large positions and Labour’s Keri Brown vying for the Wainuiomata seat.

Campbell Barry in 2019 (Photo: RNZ / Emma Hatton)

What is at stake?

The biggest issues in the Hutt can broadly be seen as infrastructure issues.

Unsurprisingly, given it’s one of the defining issues of local election season across the country, three waters is a talking point in Hutt City. Most prominently, three waters can be found in the campaign of Stallinger and his team of United Hutt candidates. Stallinger said one of the reasons he decided to run for the mayoralty was over the perceived lack of consultation on the controversial government policy. As a Labour-endorsed candidate, Barry is broadly supportive of three waters though said he remained “critical of aspects”.

Tangentially related is the issue of the city’s leaky pipes, an issue that’s dominating debate in the neighbouring Wellington race too. All three mayoral candidates have key policies targeted at the city’s water supply, with Barry pledging to continue “record investment” in water infrastructure in Lower Hutt.

Moving above ground: it’s not just water infrastructure that’s struggling. Another key issue in the city is the uncertain future of Hutt Hospital after it was deemed at risk should an earthquake strike. Barry told he will “fight tooth and nail to keep health services local” and will advocate for the hospital’s future.

Staying at surface level, roading has also been a widely discussed issue. The government has been slow to move on projects like the Melling interchange but both Stallinger and Patel want to see this done as soon as possible. Patel, as aforementioned, is running on a pothole-based platform and wants to see current roading fixed up. Barry’s primary transport policy is to lobby the government on the Cross Valley Connection programme which will improve travel times out of the city.

Voters in Hutt City will also decide which electoral system will be used for the 2025 and 2028 elections. The choices are first past the post – the system currently used in Hutt City – or single transferable voting.

The race in a sentence?

Leaks and creaks: this race is all about future-proofing Hutt City for the next generation. 

The brass tacks

The Hutt City Council election is voted under the first past the post system. Ballots should be with voters now. The last day to enrol (for a special vote) is October 7. Your vote needs to be received by midday on Saturday October 8. Read more race briefings and other Spinoff coverage of the local elections here.

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