14 Sep 2016

Video debate: Wgtn mayoral hopefuls battle over cycleway

11:08 am on 14 September 2016

Two Wellington mayoral candidates may rip up the Island Bay cycleway and another has said it has "toxified" the council in an RNZ mayoral video debate this morning.

Four of the capital's leading mayoral candidates laid out their plans for the city in the debate hosted by Morning Report's Susie Ferguson.

Watch the full debate here

Deputy mayor Justin Lester, councillor Jo Coughlan, Porirua mayor Nick Leggett and councillor Nicola Young are all vying for the top job.

The cycleway, rates, the runway extension and the bucket fountain all proved to be hot topics.

Wellington Airport extension plans

The candidates covered off a number of key issues, including the proposed extension of Wellington Airport's runway.

"We're the second largest population hub in the country," said Mr Leggett. "We need better connectivity and Wellington has to stand up and say 'we're not gonna' sit idly by and let other parts of the country do better than us'."

"It's going to be an incredibly expensive white elephant," said Ms Young. "Incentivising airlines to come to Wellington that's but the most expensive game in the world. Christchurch did it with Air Asia X, they gave them millions... it lasted nine months."

"We've been trying for years to get a long-haul flights out of Wellington," said Ms Coughlan.

When asked whether it would hit Wellingtonians in the pocket Mr Lester, who also holds the airport portfolio, said "we'll have to see... we have to go through a process".

Listen to Wellington's ethnic communities grill the candidates here

Island Bay Cycleway

Ms Young and Ms Coughlan would both rip the cycleway up if that was what the community wanted.

"I've said I'll listen to the residents and if the majority of the residents want it put back then it should be put back," said Ms Young. "It should have never gone in."

But Mr Lester, who brokered a truce between cycling advocates, the Residents' Association and the council, would not commit to such action, "it depends on what the community wants to do".

It was his argument to lose.

"He voted for it nine times," said Mr Leggett. "He did that after $2 million investment was slapped on an entire community."

"He's hated in Island Bay," said Ms Young.

Ms Coughlan said she voted against the cycleway because it was ineligible for government funding.

"I'm totally for cycleways, I think they're great, but when you've got $36 million of government funding to spend on them in a topographically challenged city, it's really important that the money gets spent and gives us the best bang for its buck," she said.

Wellington City Council culture

Nicola Young said as a first-term councillor, she had been shocked at the Wellington City Council culture.

"I think it really started with the Island Bay cycleway which has been incredibly divisive and has turned councillor against councillor... it has toxified the whole of this triennium."

But councillor Jo Coughlan disagreed.

"Interestingly, this talk of toxicity seems to have crept in in the last triennium," she said. "But look there are challenges and I think there have been frustrations with Celia at the helm."

Party politics were at the heart of the bad culture, said Mr Leggett.

"I have a Labour Party background but I am an independent," he said. "I think you have to have independence to be able to work with all sides."

Porirua was a fractured council when he took over, said Mr Leggett.

"We have united around some good ideas for the city and hung every decision off a key sort of a strategy," he said. "I would see something really similar in Wellington."

"When you walk into a room you want to know that people have got an open mind, they haven't just come in on a fixed idea," he said.

Housing and rates

Many candidates have a lengthy wish-list, but even if candidates simply want to stick with pre-existing projects, such as the runway extension, the convention centre and movie museum, rates would still have to increase.

"What we have voted for as a council is a 3.9 [percent] average rates increase over 10 years," said Ms Coughlan. "That is what it is."

In her first year, Ms Coughlan would stick with the annual plan.

"For some people it's 9 percent this year," said Ms Young who wanted rates rises frozen at inflation levels.

She would do that by "focussing on community services, the core role, by cutting waste - we have enormous amounts of waste at council".

Mr Lester would like rate rises between two to three percent.

"I am the only councillor who has cut costs in the last three years, so I've taken money out of the budget," he said.

"I wouldn't [introduce] a budget at anything more than three percent, residential and business," Mr Leggett said. "The council can ask the Chief Executive to look for costs."

Burgers, sports and the bucket fountain

Questions around candidates' knowledge of the capital really put them to the test.

Ms Coughlan took a guess at the colour of the bottom bucket on the bucket fountain, correctly picking blue.

Mr Lester wasn't so lucky with his attempt at the colour of the ball on the top of the fountain - he picked black when it's red.

Ms Young had 'absolutely no idea' who the captain of the Hurricanes was, but Mr Leggett and Mr Lester jumped to volunteer Dane Coles as the correct answer.

Mr Lester guessed restaurant Charlie Noble had won Wellington on a Plate's burger competition for the second year running, but it was infact Apache.

Mr Leggett wasn't able to pick who won the best beer and burger match, which was taken out by Laundry.

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