Wellington’s So-Called Progressives Capitulate to Business

nightBy Ewan Tavendale

Wellington’s Mayor and city councillors have agreed a massive programme of privatisation of public property. This time (for land and buildings have been flogged-off cheap before) the privatisation is around the civic complex at the heart of the city, the public’s crown jewels so-to-speak. The privatisation will take the form of century-long leases being offered to developers to commercialise parts of council buildings and build on open spaces. The excuse is that revenue is needed for earthquake strengthening the Town Hall and other buildings.

At the same time the councillors are splashing money on business-friendly initiatives. One of these is a deal with a local developer to build, and Hilton Hotels to run, a 5-star hotel-cum-convention centre.  Under this compact the public will stand the risk by agreeing to lease the ugly waterfront monstrosity for $4 million a year.

Another Council-backed project is a runway extension to tsunami-prone Wellington Airport to cater for bigger planes; a particularly un-green idea if ever there was one. As the right-wing Dominion Post put it:

So the crucial question – how much of the estimated $300m of the project’s cost will have to come from ratepayers and taxpayers – remains unanswered. Infratil, the airport’s corporate co-owner with Wellington City Council, has an obvious interest in loading as much of the cost on to others as possible. Business loves to preach the virtues of rugged capitalism, but few will refuse a handout from the government when it suits.

On every big question the mayor and councillors have capitulated to business demands. So they flip-flopped to support an environmentally-destructive road fly-over at the Basin Reserve, a plan so foolish that a Board of Enquiry has dismissed it. They flip-flopped to back the Wellington super-city idea, although on this question they might flop back under popular pressure.

So are these pro-business, environment-trashing council leaders National Party or ACT?  Not at all, this is a very sad case of bad faith, for in 2013, as in 2010, Wellington elected a liberal-minded, centre-left regime headed by Green-inclined and self-proclaimed progressive Celia-Wade Brown. Three councillors stood as Green Party and another is a long-time Green sympathiser. Two stood as a Labour and two others standing independently are, or have been, Labour or seen as left-wing.

While Labour’s pathetic record in local government needs no further comment, the Greens all-things-to-all-people politics have not generally been seen in practice. The Greens on Wellington City Council have been useless. Under the test of sharing power in a major council they stand exposed as being no alternative whatsoever to business-as-usual.

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