Why Wellington’s Green Deputy Mayor voted against tripling cycleway budget

Wellington City councillors are cooling off after a “shambles” of a budget meeting yesterday, but some of the biggest fallout is over why the Deputy Mayor voted against tripling the cycleway budget.

It was all to do with an amendment by climate change portfolio leader councillor Tamatha Paul.

She wanted to increase the existing proposed cycleway budget to up to $200 million. Currently the proposed capex spend is $61 million over the next 10 years.

For a moment it looked like Paul might have got the numbers, which would have drastically changed the Mayor’s draft Long Term Plan and pushed the city past its proposed 225 per cent debt-to-income ratio.

But in the end, it was narrowly voted down 8-7, with Green ticket Deputy Mayor, and cycling portfolio leader, Sarah Free tipping the scales.

She told the Herald this afternoon she was very concerned adding such a large amount to the cycleway budget would create both financial and deliverability risks.

Free said council officer advice was clear such an increase put into question the availability of materials as well as both industry and internal capacity.

“There was a risk of over-promising on something we would struggle to deliver.”

She also noted myriad cost pressures facing the council including water pipes, insurance costs, the Central Library, Civic Square, social housing, sludge treatment, key city venues, and further investment in Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

Free also wanted to keep some debt headroom for future spending.

She maintained she has an unswerving commitment to delivering cycling infrastructure for the city, pointing to examples on Hutt Rd, Oriental Bay and the Evans Bay coastal route.

“But my experience shows that a steady, concerted effort is the way to go, building community buy-in and support along the way.”

Green Southern Ward councillor Laurie Foon initially indicated to her colleagues that she could also not support Paul’s proposal.

She told the Herald she was concerned the move would result in the council taking on much higher debt than advised by officers.

“Putting the city into more debt at this time doesn’t sit well deep in my gut as we are hearing about councils, like Auckland, who have had big consequences through doing this.”

Foon also said she learnt through running her own business the risks of moving too fast.

“There is also still a lot of work to do to help people understand that sharing our street space is for the common good and delivers equity.”

But during a break before councillors voted, Foon changed her mind, realising the investment was everything she had stood for.

However, by that time, the writing was on the wall that her vote wasn’t enough to get the proposal across the line.

She tabled her own amendment to deliver an extra $45m into the cycleway connections programme, while keeping within the council’s debt limit.

Foon doubted she would have got support for her proposal without Paul’s “bold” amendment beforehand.

Free said she was happy to support Foon’s proposal because it added to the budget from years four to 10, which allowed time to grow the construction market and get more resources.

Both Foon and Free noted the investment was on top of the $220m set aside for Let’s Get Wellington Moving’s City Streets investment in walking, cycling, and bus priority lanes.

Free noted this compared with the 2018 Long Term Plan spend of $74.6m to deliver the council’s Cycling Master Plan.

The 2021 LTP is still a working draft that needs to be finalised and consulted on.

How councillors voted on tripling cycleway budget:

FOR Jill Day, Fleur Fitzsimons, Laurie Foon, Rebecca Matthews, Teri O’Neill, Iona Pannett, Tamatha Paul

AGAINST Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, Jenny Condie, Sarah Free, Sean Rush, Malcolm Sparrow, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young

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