Wellington City Council's Low Carbon Capital Plan 2016 - 2018 was unanimously approved by councillors in June 2016 as part of the adoption of the 2016/17 annual plan. Despite its significance it has attracted relatively little attention or comment until the new Mayor Justin Lester wrote a blog on Wellington's sustainability opportunity at the end of last year. The blog is well worth reading (as is the plan) because it's a bold statement of intent from the Mayor about his vision for a resilient and sustainable Wellington.
The Low Carbon Capital plan lays out a three year pathway for climate change mitigation activities across the Council and the City with three areas of focus – Greening Wellington’s growth, Changing the way we move, and Leading by example.
We’ve identified getting people out of private fossil fuel powered motor vehicles as a top priority
In regard to changing the way we move the Mayor says "our calculator tool has shown us where our efforts are best placed to achieve the highest emission reductions and as a result we’ve identified getting people out of private fossil fuel powered motor vehicles as a top priority. That’s why we’re supporting walking and cycling and public transport and remain committed to compact urban development with most of our forecast population growth going into the CBD. We’re also focussed on installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure across Wellington and supporting the growth of car share and have committed up to 100 car parks across the City for these activities over the next three years."
The Low Carbon Capital Plan stresses the importance of walking, cycling and public transport to a resilient and sustainable city and notes that "Wellington’s Urban Growth Plan supports our sustainable transport hierarchy by encouraging walking, cycling and public transport over other modes of transport."
The Urban Growth Plan (which was also unanimously approved by councillors back in 2015) explains that "like other well-connected cities, we plan to support our sustainable transport hierarchy by encouraging walking, cycling and public transport over other modes of transport. However, cars will continue to be a necessary option for many people in a balanced transport system. The car can provide flexibility for many journeys but can also be inefficient, requiring parking space and creating congestion, especially at peak times. Our role is to make sure these transport choices are balanced and integrated to support the way we want the city to grow."
The sustainable transport hierarchy is confronting for some because it places private motor vehicles at the lowest level of priority despite the fact that cars are still the way most Wellingtonians get around. Prior to the local body elections Wellington Scoop put the following question to all the mayoral candidates: "In Wellington’s Urban Growth Plan 2014, there was a transport hierarchy where some people inferred cycling would be given higher priority than public transport and roading. Do you agree with that transport hierarchy?"
Councillor Andy Foster explained it best with a very unequivocal answer: "Absolutely, as I had a very large hand in writing the plan. It was incidentally agreed unanimously by councillors. However the interpretation needs clarification. To those who seem to now want to rewrite the balance, one of the things we are saying very clearly in the plan is that the balance, which for decades has been strongly tilted towards the private car, has to shift. Wellington is very much the leader in New Zealand. What we now need to do is focus on moving people, so the person on foot is not subservient to the person in a motor vehicle, but equal."
Mayor Justin Lester's response was also clear: "I support a balanced approach to Wellington transport and that includes walking, cycling, private vehicles and public transport. I’ve supported the urban cycling framework, submitted in favour of more affordable public transport (and pledged to work with GWRC on this as Mayor) and transport improvements to the Johnsonville Triangle, Westchester Drive in Churton Park and the Petone to Grenada Link Road. Over the next three years we need to make the most of the Government’s cycling fund and I think this will benefit the city and in particular families and children who want to able to bike to school safely."
With the Urban Growth Plan, the Low Carbon Capital Plan and the Wellington Cycling Master Plan & Framework all in place there's no doubt that the high level policy framework and broad public agreement is there to support the delivery of a quality cycling network across Wellington. And yet, as the ongoing Love The Bay process here in Island Bay shows, we still seem to have a problem taking the medicine that we know is good for us and pushing on with actual implementation. It's the right of local residents to express concerns and even be selfish when it comes to having changes made at the end of their driveways. After all, residents are not elected representatives and don't have to accept any personal accountability for broader community outcomes if they choose not to. The Mayor and councillors don't have that same right, however. They have to take collective responsibility and, in the words of the respected urbanist Gil Penalosa, they have to make sure that the general interest prevails over the specific interest. As noted in the Review of Wellington City Council’s Urban Cycleways Programme they must "be careful to make decisions based on sound evidence and advice" and avoid indulging in the type of populist local politics that has dogged the Island Bay to CBD cycleway project so far.
The needs of future generations are too often neglected in the hectic pace of the 3-year election cycle
Mayor Justin Lester acknowledges this in his blog when he says: "ultimately we need to make these changes because morally it is the right thing to do. I want a world in which my daughters, and their children, can enjoy the same opportunities and quality of life – or better – than I have had. If we leave them with a compromised and unproductive planet we will have failed in that goal. The needs of future generations are too often neglected in the hectic pace of the 3-year election cycle. But I believe we can change that. We can reshape our future to bring both prosperity and environmental success. We can build a better and more sustainable world – and for me that starts in Wellington."
Let's hope that he's right. And let's hope that he can convince the council that it is better to make tough decisions and leave a positive legacy, than it is to play it safe in the hope of long but unremarkable career at the council table.