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Civic Square, Wellington. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Civic Square, Wellington. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

OPINIONSocietyNovember 1, 2021

Please don’t leave Wellington’s future to the same old power brokers

Civic Square, Wellington. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Civic Square, Wellington. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

On transport, housing, water and fairness, our capital city needs to take some bold, brave, progressive steps, and that means taking action, urge Tamatha Paul, a Wellington city councillor, and Thomas Nash, a Wellington regional councillor.

It’s no secret that Wellington is having an identity crisis. On the ground, the housing crisis, sky high rents and burst pipes continue to make headlines, as well as making people’s lives worse. Politically, ideas pushing us towards being a 21st century capital city are currently winning against wealthy establishment interests seeking to maintain the status quo of low-density, car dependent neighbourhoods. But looking out the window, we still have a city that looks kind of tired and conservative. The last few years have been coloured by conflict, symbolic of a society where there are ruptures with the past.

For the first time in human history, a majority of people live in cities. Cities are the melting pots where Indigenous peoples and young people everywhere are fighting for urgent action to stop runaway climate change driven by extractive, profit-driven activities. In Aotearoa, the roots of our deeply unequal, market-driven society have been laid bare through the pandemic response. Intersecting and interconnected crises demand our full attention and wholehearted urgency, and yet change feels painfully slow.

Things are starting to happen. This year, alone, decision makers have fought for:

But the most privileged people in our society, who see their long held power diminished by these collective improvements, will resist change and it is only the strong voice of workers, renters and future-focussed people that will give decision makers the mandate to push onwards.

Today the capital’s identity crisis enters a decisive new phase with a critical two-month window of opportunity opening up. Coordinated public consultations will launch tonight on a connected cycle network for the city, the mass transit and highway projects for Let’s Get Wellington Moving and the new District Plan that must provide for thousands of new dwellings to accommodate the next 30 years of population growth.

These are the key decisions that will collectively shape Wellington into the future – the consultations are called “Our City Tomorrow”. This is an opportunity to put our capital city on a path to a greener, more equitable and climate-safe future.

There will be loud voices opposing the changes to open up our city for people and share public space more equitably. Some business groups and property investors have already indicated their opposition to changes that prioritise people over cars, for example.

So what will Pōneke, Te Whanganui a Tara, look like if we get things right, and how can you help contribute to our collective future?


Mass rapid transit is the way of the future, and the choice for the main urban development corridor through Berhampore to Island Bay is going to be either a busway or light rail.

If we want to unlock more housing, the consistent advice is to build light rail. Do it once, do it well. Whatever we do on the main urban development corridor, there will also be fast bus priority routes to move people from east to west and on other routes into the city. And there will be a full cycle network with road space shared more equitably so people can get around on their own steam.


  1. Support the Let’s Get Wellington Moving option that most reduces car dependency and supports more housing.
  2. Support the Bike Plan to build 147km of cycleways across the City, and implement a fast, temporary separated transitional cycleway network.


As a quick, strong win, let’s secure a healthy provision of public housing in Pōneke by fixing the inequity of denying council tenants the government’s income related rental subsidy.

The city needs many more high quality, accessible apartments on the frequent mass transit routes through Newtown to the south. The government and council can play a massive role in providing these for all of the students, workers and renters who need access to better housing and reliable public transport options.

Wellington has one of the most restrictive, onerous regulatory regimes in the world! Not only that, but we are also a compact City with fewer opportunities to develop land amidst steep hills and valleys. That means we need to go UP!

We need to relax planning rules in order to open up more space for homes. We should empower the District Plan to do this.


  1. Support the District Plan and measures to tip the scales in favour of building more housing! Especially public housing!
  2. Support a City for People and their campaign for a liveable, people-centred capital city.
  3. Write to minister of housing, Megan Woods, to support council tenants’ call for the government income related rent subsidy. #IRRS4ALL


There’s no denying our drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (three water) pipes are in a real state right now. We need to fix this if we want to build more housing because everybody needs access to clean drinking water.

The government is forging ahead with its three water reforms to put us in the best position to do this. Councils simply do not have the billions of dollars required to put right decades of underinvestment. We should ensure these reforms advance hard-won Māori rights and interests with water, and that the new entities that are set up are accountable to local communities.

Our city was actually built over the top of many ancestral streams and waterways which fed and watered this whenua and all of its inhabitants, human and nonhuman, for millennia. We ought to honour te mana o te wai by cleaning up our waterways, like the Kaiwharawhara stream. Let’s open up more green space and urban ngāhere to soak up the rain and take the pressure off of our stormwater system. We should explore daylighting those forgotten streams which we built over, and bring them out of pipes and back into the city.


  1. Don’t listen to your shouty uncle when he tells you the three water reforms are a Māori power grab.
  2. Learn about the urban streams that run beneath your feet.


Affordable, reliable and accessible public transport is a key part of any City that provides bigger and better lifestyles. We should start by providing free public transport for Community Services Card holders and students to help make the climate transition fair. And those driving us safely from A to B, our beloved bus drivers, must have a baseline of fair pay and working conditions.

Our city has been extremely disempowering and unsafe for disabled people. Less than 2% of all housing stock is accessible to physically-disabled people and all of our historic transport planning has neglected the rights of disabled people to move about confidently and independently. Disabled people deserve to be a leading voice in every project we’ve mentioned and failing to do so only serves to maintain an unequal and inaccessible society. Remember, if we design with universal access in mind, our future city will be accessible for everybody.


  1. Support the Free Fares campaign for free public transport and transport equity.
  2. Follow and support the Thank You Driver campaign.

We know it’s a tough ask calling for community buy-in to the institution of local government which has historically let our communities down. But the face of local government is changing and so too are the opportunities at our doorstep to shape the world around us. Doing this is possible, and we are privileged to live in a wealthy country with the tools and financing available to easily realise our ancestors’ wildest dreams. That is, an environment which enables us to reach our full potential unimpeded by the forces that previously might have seemed too powerful to overcome. Well now it’s time for the people of our city to exercise their power. Because cities are for people, and Pōneke is our home, too. Karawhiua!

Keep going!