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Speech to Wainuiomata 60s Up Group

"State of the Hutt"

Delivered 6 March 2019

 

Introduction

Thank you very much for having me here today. Today I’m going to give a speech called “State of the Hutt”. I intend to make this an annual address given at the start of the year. I wanted to give this one earlier than early March but I got married in mid-January and then headed away on my honeymoon. Hopefully, that’s a decent excuse.

Lower Hutt is a fantastic place to live. I was very fortunate to be elected as the MP for Hutt South in late 2017, after spending three years as a List MP based in the area. Lower Hutt is where I was born and raised. I grew up in central Lower Hutt, went to Eastern Hutt School and Hutt Intermediate and then HIBS. I played cricket at Strand Park, played waterpolo at Naenae Pool, played rugby (poorly) on the Hutt Rec, and remember Queensgate when Foodtown was still there and the Queensgate 3 extension hadn’t yet been added.

My driving passion in politics is to make Lower Hutt an even better place to live and make sure that today’s children grow up enjoying the same opportunities I did.

Today I want to talk about two priority areas for the city. These priorities come from my 2018/19 Christmas and Summer Survey, which over 1000 people have so far responded to. Thank you if you filled it out. This survey will become an annual event. I also want to talk specifically about Wainuiomata and some of the things I’m working on here.

 

Housing

Let me start with the issue of housing. Let me very plain. As a city we need to get serious about facilitating more housing. The failure to do so over the past five years has resulted in homelessness, a record number of people waiting for social housing, very steep rent increases, and decreasing home affordability.

Let me explain.

Lower Hutt, for the first time in a generation, is growing.

For twenty years Lower Hutt essentially had a stagnant population of just under 100,000 people. In 1997 our population was around 99,000 people, and by the time of the 2013 census the population was 98,500.

The latest estimates are that our population is 105,900. So in other words in just six years we’ve grown by about over seven thousand people. In the context of Lower Hutt that’s quick population growth.

The big challenge for us as a community, particularly the Council, is to embrace that growth and facilitate more of it, and not shut it down. A growing population is a good thing. It lifts economic growth. It creates a more diverse city. It adds to the vibrancy of the city. A growing population means more people want to live in a city than not – and isn’t that the ultimate sign of success?

Our population growth has put pressure on our infrastructure and it has put pressure on housing. The supply of housing has simply not kept pace with demand. What has been the result? The consequences have been predictable. House prices have risen steeply. Rents have followed. Social housing is harder to come by, and we now have real homelessness on our streets.

The Council is developing a homelessness strategy. Frankly, I’m not sure what good a lot of meetings and developing a strategy will do. Homelessness can’t be looked at in isolation from the rest of the housing market. It is a natural and obvious consequence of Council inaction at growing our housing supply.

Just look at the numbers.

In 2015 the average house in Lower Hutt cost $380,000. In 2018 the average was $540,000. That’s a rise of $160,000 in just three years. Nice if you’re a homeowner; not so much if you’re a young couple trying to get into a first home.

In 2014 the average weekly rent was $322. In December 2018 the average was $452. Nice if you’re a landlord. Not so much if you’re renting, when you see more and more of your fortnightly pay cheque going into rent.

Social housing is a disaster zone.

Social housing is for those who can’t afford to pay market rents; ie they can’t access the traditional private rental market. As rents have increased more people can’t afford to pay, and they have become reliant on social housing.

But social housing supply too has not kept pace with demand.

What we call the “Social housing register” is at record levels in the Hutt. There are 376 applicants classed as Priority A and B, in other words, the highest level of need. They don’t currently have a house. There are 159 other applicants waiting to move houses as well.

My offices in Wainuiomata and Lower Hutt deal with many sad housing cases every week. Some people waiting for a home bunk with friends or families. Some sleep rough. All do it tough.

Lower Hutt can and must do better.

Nobody wants to live in a city where people don’t have a warm home and bed to return to at night.

I worry deeply about my generation being locked out of home ownership. People of my age and my generation simply must have an opportunity to own their own home in the same way that previous generations did.

 

So what are the solutions?

The good news is that the answer is obvious: more supply.

The bad news is that this is easier said than done.

We need reform of our planning laws, particularly the RMA, to make it easier to free up land and to build.

But there’s a lot that can be done within the existing framework.

Now National had a role here and we didn’t get it right. I’ll come back to that.

At the end of the day the Council is responsible for what you can build, where you can build it, making sure essential services are connected, and ensuring transport links are there.

The Council has simply not moved fast enough at facilitating housing supply growth in the Hutt and we are now facing the consequences of that.

My message to the Council is to get serious about housing supply. A recent presentation I’ve seen by John Ross from Professionals shows that the Hutt could grow by 14,000 people in the next sixteen years, provided the housing is there - and it’s primarily up to the Council to make sure it is.

I think it’s time we had a serious conversation about opening up the Upper Fitzherbert Road area in Wainuiomata, and connecting the suburb to Naenae. Some estimates I’ve seen are that around 2,500 to 3,000 houses could potentially be built there. There are various other benefits to that second access road to Wainuiomata, most importantly resilience, but I also think a new access road would be transformative for the way Wainuiomata thinks about itself and the way the rest of the city thinks about Wainuiomata.

Central government must act as well.

As I said, I will put my hand up and accept that the previous National-led government didn’t move quickly enough to rebuild on the empty sections in Naenae and Epuni.

The houses on that land were demolished in 2013/14 for good reason – they were huge earthquake risks and of very poor quality. At the time, social housing supply broadly met demand in the Hutt, and so Housing NZ didn’t redevelop the land.

The previous National-led government announced a plan in July 2017. Our plan was around 300 homes on those empty sections – a mix of private, affordable and social houses.

We’re now in March 2019 and literally, nothing has happened.

Labour promised 300 Kiwibuild homes on the land at a price of $300,000 each.

There’s absolutely no sign of that happening.

 

Transport

That brings me to transport, which my survey highlighted as a major issue for people in the Hutt.

I’ve already talked about the second access into Wainuiomata.

In the end, does anyone seriously think we are not going to need it in the future?

It is inevitable, and the Council needs to get on with planning for it now and signal it is going to happen, sooner rather than later.

There are four other key roading projects I want to mention.

The first is the Melling Interchange. The National-led government announced during the election campaign we would fast-track a new Melling interchange and get building in this term of Parliament.

Sadly since the election, we have gone backwards. The first thing that happened was that the new government cut $5 billion from state highway funding. Then the Transport Agency decided to “re-evaluate” the project. We are yet to hear what the results of the re-evaluation are. The decision went to the NZTA Board in December but despite repeated requests, they will not make the decision public.

Meanwhile the whole Riverlink project has been put at risk. Riverlink is the plan to fundamentally transform the Hutt River and the city’s relationship to it. The Greater Wellington Regional Council is upgrading flood protection, and there will be a new promenade with shops and apartments along the river. But nothing can happen without the new Melling Interchange. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle with Melling in the middle.

It is vital we get on with it. Phil Twyford, the Minister of Transport, turned up for a photo-op on the bridge mid-way through last year but since then nothing has happened and he now says it’s NZTA’s responsibility.

 

NZTA Petition

 

The second project, related to Melling, is the Kennedy Good Bridge interchange at the bottom of Kelson and Belmont. National promised to fast-track planning for this in the 2017 election. There is a 235 house subdivision being built at the top of Kelson. The suburb’s population will go up 25% in around five years. But no planning is occurring as to what that growth will mean. The bottom of Kelson and the connection to the Kennedy Good Bridge is already a nightmare. I have written to the NZTA and they say they don’t plan to do any investigatory work until as late as 2024! Last week I wrote to the Mayor and asked him to direct his officials to work with NZTA to get planning happening now.

 

 

The third project we must get on with is the Cross Valley Link. At my “Transport in the Hutt” public meeting two years ago a person got up and said that she still had in her garage the plans for the Cross Valley Link proposed by Mayor Percy Dowse. That’s how long the CVL has been around for.

The arguments in favour are well-rehearsed but worth restating: it will better link the east and west of the valley; it will reduce congestion on already overburdened Esplanade; it will better link Wainuiomata to the rest of the valley; it will improve access to the industrial and manufacturing hub of Seaview/Gracefield, etc. These are substantial benefits, and there seems to be widespread political consensus in the Hutt that the time for the CVL is now. That’s great to see, but the Council needs to get planning.

The CVL needs to be developed contemporaneously with the Petone to Grenada Link Road, which is the fourth roading project I’ll mention. Both projects complement each other. The Petone to Grenada Link Road is very important for the future of the Hutt, not least for resilience reasons, but also to reduce congestion, improve connectivity with Johnsonville and Porirua, and link to Transmission Gully. You’d be amazed at how much traffic goes from Seaview/Gracefield to Grenada/Tawa every day.

Finally, a few comments on cycling projects. It’s great to see the Wainuiomata High cycleway underway finally. That’ll be a magnificent asset once finished and I predict we’ll see a big uptake in people walking over the hill.

I’m frustrated by the constantly delays on the Eastern Bays Shared Path. To their credit, the government’s latest transport plan allocates $7.85 million into the project, but the project has been delayed yet again. This is Council-led and I’ll keep pressing them to get on with it.

The same frustrations apply for the cycleway and shared path from Petone to Ngauranga. The current path is a disgrace and actively puts people off cycling into Wellington. The project is a complex and expensive one but NZTA need to get on with it. The indication at the moment is that it’s in the too-hard basket.

 

Chris on a Bike

 

Wainuiomata

Finally let me talk about Wainuiomata. I’m a firm believer that Wainuiomata’s best days are ahead of it. The best thing about Wainuiomata are the people – fun and friendly, with a real sense of community. I think for example of the Twilight Basketball that’s just started up on Friday nights down at the high school gym run by Andy Aldridge of the Baptist Church. I took Andy along to the equivalent at the Walter Nash in the middle of last year. Straight away he wanted to do one in Wainui and he’s made it happen. Just awesome.

I think of Bill Sharp who runs the Futures programme at the high school that I’ve had a bit to do with, changing kids’ lives through sport. I think of Denise who runs Wainuiomata Women, Tracey and Karyn the Community Patrollers, Clive the Chemist who seems to be involved in everything, Dawn in my electorate office. There are so many more. People making this a great place to live.

I really enjoy getting involved in community activities here and as long as I’m a MP I’ll try and be as active as I can in the community.

There’s lots going on around the place and a few projects I’m working on.

The first is this new Wainuiomata Retirement Village, something I pushed hard for when I was a List MP. It’s brilliant to see this underway. Once built it will be a fantastic asset for our community and mean our senior population don’t have to go over the hill when they decide it’s time to move out of their home.

Wainuiomata Retirement
The second is the mall redevelopment. Alongside the new retirement village this will transform our town centre and make it an area we can be proud of, which certainly isn’t the case currently. I’ve lost track of how many meetings I had between 2014 and 2017 with the previous mall owners, developers and Council/Councillors on this issue. Progressives have come to the party and we’re going to get a brand new supermarket, new retail, and a much more attractive town centre.

 


Mayor Ray Wallace and representatives from Progressives

 

The third issue that remains on my radar is the cellphone coverage down the Coast Road and into Remutaka Forest Park. The current area is a mobile black spot and it’s a real safety risk for tourists plus workers down there. I’ve been working with the Rural Residents’ Association to push for cellphone coverage to be added. There’s a long and complicated story as to why it hasn’t happened, which I won’t bore you with, but I’m going to stay on the case. I thought the government’s most recent expansion of the Mobile Black Spots Fund programme would ensure the area would be covered, but it doesn’t look like that is the case. I’ll be following up with my good mate Kris Faafoi, who’s the Minister in charge, in the coming weeks.

Finally, I know many of you are concerned about the removal by ANZ of the ATM machine in the village, next to my office. I assure you I’m not motivated by self-interest in opposing this removal – I’m amazed by how often it is used. ANZ are determined to get rid of it, on the grounds that it is often damaged and vandalised. As far as I and others in the village can see, that is total rubbish. I have written to the other banks asking them to take over the ATM space. Watch this space.

 

 

Conclusion

There’s lots more I could talk about – developing the Hutt into “Technology Valley”, which remains a real passion of mine, or making the Hutt free from introduced pests like rats and stoats, or local health services, which I receive a lot of feedback on.

It’s a real privilege to serve as your local MP. Next year I will seek a renewed mandate to keep working hard for the Hutt. Thanks for your time today and I look forward to your questions.

 

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