7 Apr 2019

Wellington infrastructure woes: 'We need to see action'

10:45 am on 7 April 2019

Wellington is falling behind on tackling its big ticket issues with no clear plans to fix them, and it risks businesses moving elsewhere, the Chamber of Commerce warns.

WELLINGTON - AUG 22 2014:Traffic on Lambton Quay.It is the heart of the central business district of Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.

Photo: 123RF

But the city's mayor says business is strong in the capital, and infrastructure woes are being addressed.

A perfect storm has built up against Wellington businesses, Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said, with roading and public transport becoming increasingly inadequate, developers facing slow and costly compliance processing, and rising costs from earthquake strengthening, rents, insurance, and rates burning into the balance for businesses.

head of Wellington Chamber of Commerce

John Milford Photo: Supplied

The city's debt is rising, its population is growing, and major infrastructure woes have been allowed to grow, he said. These factors weighed into businesses' future planning, and with no solutions, were beginning to mount against their confidence in Wellington.

"We've had eight to 10 years of inactivity, as far as building on infrastructure. We've probably taken down more buildings than we've put up. The city has got a lot of catchup to do.

"And what worries us is that A, it's going to cost a lot of money, and where's the money coming from? And two, when are we actually going to start and get on with it? We need to see action, particularly around transport infrastructure and resilience infrastructure."

Wellington Central Library

Wellington central library which was closed indefinitely in March because of earthquake concerns. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Among the facilities that were not up to scratch are a conference centre, indoor arena, town hall, central library, and there is "a deficit of hotels".

"Yesterday it took me an hour and ten minutes to come from the airport into the city centre at 5 o'clock," Mr Milford said.

"That's a 12-kilometre journey into the city taking that amount of time. And we have real issues as far as public transport getting near to being full."

WELLINGTON - AUG 22 2014:Traffic on Lambton Quay.It is the heart of the central business district of Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.

Travelling from the airport to the CBD should not take 70 minutes, John Milford says. Photo: 123RF

Businesses pay about 45 percent of rates, but feel like they're being "squeezed hard" by council, he said.

"The rating differential on the business community is now one of the highest in the whole country. We're paying more, but it sure doesn't feel like we're getting more."

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester

Justin Lester Photo: RNZ - Rebekah Parsons-King

Wellington mayor Justin Lester said the Wellington economy had been strong for six years, but faces uncertainty, and he conceded there were infrastructure issues.

"I wish that Wellingtonians and leadership over the last 30 or 40 years had grappled with some of these issues."

But a 50-year-plan for transport, called Let's Get Wellington Moving, will be released in the next few weeks, and billions of dollars of investment was planned for the city, he said.

"It's come to a head, and we want to make sure we get it right for the next 50 years, but I'm hopeful in the next few weeks we will have some resolution."

Some development delays for regulations and compliance were necessary, to ensure new developments were sound, he said. But council had already introduced a new online portal shared by more than 20 councils, and a 'one-stop-shop compliance process' for consents is nearly ready.

Mr Lester said government agencies were buoyant, which was good for the capital's economy, but retailers were finding it hard. The opening of Transmission Gully next year would also help with regional traffic flow problems, he said.

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