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Wellington City councillors have been given advice recommending they alter the district plan to prevent housing intensification across huge swathes of the city.
Commenting on this, Taxpayers’ Union Policy and Public Affairs Manager, James Ross, said:
“Wellington is deep in a housing crisis, and whether you’re looking to buy or rent there simply is not enough to go around. Prices are skyrocketing, and the only solution to this is to build more homes.
“Red tape has stifled development for decades. The crisis won’t end without serious RMA reform from central government, but that doesn’t mean the council can’t make it worse. The advice given to councillors would push Wellington’s housing market to breaking point.
“Wellingtonians need rooves over their heads, and so the city needs to build up and build out. As much as the council might like to try and bury its head in the sand, not building at all is not an option.”
Commenting on a Wellington Water employee posting footage of themselves on social media bragging about ‘slacking off’, doing no work whilst still getting paid, Taxpayers’ Union Policy Adviser, James Ross, said:
“In November alone, of over 3,800 leaks in the region, around 3,050 were left unattended. 44% of the region’s water is lost to leaks, and now residents are being told to buy emergency 170-litre water tanks to tide them over during a looming summer water crisis.
“Whilst Wellingtonians panic over how they’re going to get by this summer, the very same people who are responsible for this situation are filming themselves swanning about at the gym, going to the cinema and meeting up with friends all the while pretending to be working.
“The council engineer’s self-proclaimed wagging-off routine of lounging around on the sofa whilst ‘working from home’ or staring blankly at an empty computer screen should have been obvious to any manager worth their salt.
“The evidence is clear and the engineer must be fired without delay. But clearly Wellington Water’s problems go much deeper than one lazy engineer, and a full investigation is needed to root out any more bureaucrats who feel like the ratepayer owes them a free living.”
Responding to news that Wellington City Councillors have voted down a proposal to reduce business rates in the capital, Taxpayers’ Union Policy Adviser, James Ross, said:
“When Mayor Tory Whanau comes out with a line like ‘I couldn’t in good conscience allow the cost to be put on households’, ratepayers know she’s just blowing hot air. Whanau has never had any qualms whatsoever lumbering the extortionate costs of her vanity projects on hardworking Wellington families.
“Take a town hall revamp costing every household over $4,000. Where were her objections then? Or where were they for the billions being wasted on Let’s Get Wellington Moving?
“Between some of the highest business rates in the country relative to residential rates and the inability for companies to navigate WCC’s byzantine bureaucracy, the costs of doing business in Wellington are exorbitant. When prices jump as a result, who does the Mayor think pays?
“Business rates and residential rates both need to come down to breathe some life back into the struggling city, but that can only happen once the Council stops burning billions on wasteful pet projects.”
Responding to Wellington city’s earthquake-strengthening crisis, which sees the city on track to upgrade just 20% of vulnerable buildings, Taxpayers’ Union Policy Adviser, James Ross, said:
“Hundreds of millions of dollars are being burnt upgrading earthquake-prone buildings, whether the owners want to keep the building or not. Heritage status binds the hands of owners, giving them no choice but to sink unbelievable amounts of capital into non-profitable projects.
“In dozens of cases, the owner is Wellington City Council itself. For just one example, a town hall described as of “dubious merit both historically and architecturally” is draining up to $329 million of ratepayers’ money on a gold-plated revamp at a time where billions in savings are needed to repair years of negligence to critical water infrastructure.
“Neither private owners nor cash-strapped ratepayers should be forced into exorbitant vanity projects such as these against their will. Councils must have the ability to de-list heritage buildings where preserving these is not in the public interest.”
Responding to Wellington City Council’s approval of plans to spend up to $147 million more of ratepayers’ money on the city’s town hall, Taxpayers’ Union Policy Adviser, James Ross, said:
“Whilst pipes are leaking, roads are crumbling and costs of living are climbing out of control, Wellington City Council have voted to raise the potential cost of the town hall restoration project to over $1,500 per resident. As a Castalia report reveals Wellington City Council is set to blow its budget by $1 billion, quite how the council could justify considering burning hundreds of millions propping up numerous crumbling heritage sites whilst basic services fail beggars belief.
“Council officials have railroaded this decision, providing one-sided information to elected representatives and demanding a decision be taken before proper scrutiny of their advice can take place. Credit must be given to Councillor McNulty for recognising the enormous opportunity costs of this project and calling for time to investigate more cost-effective options, while also encouraging the council to explore a local bill to ensure they don’t end up in the exact same position again in the near future with other buildings.
“A huge chunk of the costs and delays associated with demolishing the buildings stem from heritage-status red tape, but despite what officials would have you believe this is completely avoidable.
“A local bill must be sought to allow Wellington Council to de-list buildings by simple majority. A local bill was progressed by Tasman District Council in relation to a water augmentation scheme in 2018, taking only four months to pass through Parliament. Years of legal battles and spiralling costs can easily be avoided so that Wellington can start focusing on getting the basics right again."
Responding to news that Wellington City Council is planning to buy the land under the currently earthquake-prone Reading cinema complex and re-strengthen the building, Taxpayers’ Union Head of Campaigns Callum Purves said:
“The Reading Cinema may be a dead spot in the heart of the City Centre, but that doesn’t mean the Council needs to step in.“Just earlier this week we saw with Wellington’s Town Hall just how costly these earthquake-strengthening projects turn out to be. It’s just as likely that another massive budget blowout is on the cards with this proposal.
“If Reading International won’t take on the restrengthening itself, then the Council needs to accept that. Should a private buyer choose to purchase and redevelop the land in the future, the Council should ensure that the consenting process – including the demolition option – is as smooth as possible, but that’s all it needs to do.
“This is just another example corporate favouritism at the expense of the ratepayer. Wellington residents are already facing a double-digit rate increase this year. A project of this magnitude will only guarantee further rate hikes and continue to burden Wellingtonians."
Wellington City Council must slash waste to prepare for climate change
On Monday, The Dominion Post reported that Wellington City Council’s Environment and Infrastructure Committee has been advised to spend an additional $15.4 million on retaining walls to prevent floods and land slippage caused by extreme weather.
Taxpayers’ Union Local Government spokesperson, Josh Van Veen, says:
“Wellingtonian households are about to be hit by a massive 12.8% rates increase. We agree that climate adaptation must be prioritised. However, the money for retaining walls should come from the reallocation of existing budgets.
“The Council is spending millions on climate change mitigation in areas already covered by the ETS such as the $20 million Environmental and Accessibility Performance Fund and the Climate and Sustainability Fund, which saw thousands of ratepayer dollars paid to a church.
“This spending should be slashed and reallocated toward future proofing the city’s infrastructure.
“With the new Tākina Convention Centre opening in June, there is also an opportunity to rationalise Council property assets to free up capital necessary for investment while also reducing ratepayers’ exposure to risk from climate or seismic events.”
The Taxpayers’ Union is slamming the property management skill at Greater Wellington Regional Council which has lost 95% of the purchase price of the building it used to occupy.
Information released to the Taxpayers’ Union under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show that ‘Pringle House’ in Wakefield Street, also known as the 'Regional Council Centre', was purchased in 1987 for $22 million. In 2014 dollars, that is equivalent to $45.2 million. According to a recent independent valuation, the property is worth only $2.3 million. The documents reveal that ratepayers have taken a loss of more than 95% of the purchase price.
This shows why councils should be extra careful about managing property. At the time when Greater Wellington is taking a 95% loss on its own building, the port it owns is pushing ahead with the Harbour Quay property development, which Wellington ratepayers underwrite.
Last month the Taxpayers’ Union revealed that Greater Wellington had not bothered to enquire into the extent of damage and potential loss resulting from the Cook Strait Earthquakes (click here for DominionPost coverage).
These new revelations do not give us confidence that Greater Wellington are good stewards of ratepayer money. The Council should leave the funding of property development to the private sector and put a stop to risking public money.
Cr Nicola Young, whose motion to consult before Wellington implemented the living wage was defeated 8 votes to 5, writes in today's Dominion Post.
Wellington City Council has lit a fuse leading to a bomb of unknown size, with its vote to implement a "living wage" for its employees from January 1.
Councillors often stress the need for evidence-based, reasoned and clear decisions; correct process; and the need to avoid writing blank cheques but there was little - if any - consultation and analysis of the impact this wages policy would have on Wellington households and businesses. Ironic, considering the council has also committed to the capital being "open for business".
This is key. As we've pointed out before, the study by Auckland Council, and advice from the Treasury on the question of whether a living wage policy is a good tool to reduce poverty is damning.
Mayor Celia Wade- Brown has defended this Alice in Wonderland approach by pointing out the council didn't consult on the chief executive's salary either. The reality is that the CEO is paid the going rate in a competitive international market, whereas the "living wage" is an artificial intervention to boost incomes of lower paid workers who happen to work at the council.
The "living wage" proposed by the Living Wage Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign, is higher (relative to GDP per capita) than the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Incredibly, ours is higher than London's; the 18th most expensive city in the world (Wellington is ranked at 74th in Mercer's Cost of Living survey).
This is incredible. Wellington Council want low income Wellintonians to pay more in rates to fund a 'living wage' higher than London's!
We're all for higher wages, but taxing more in rates to artificially pay some more is not the way to get there.
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