Thanks for the invitation to speak to you today. I’ve been asked to speak on what I hope to achieve for the city in this term of Parliament as the local MP for Hutt South. It’s a good opportunity to outline what I think is important for the Hutt and some of the things I’d like to work on with you.
Let me start by just mentioning the election result. Winning Hutt South was a touch bittersweet for me, because obviously after protracted negotiations with Winston Peters, National ultimately wasn’t able to assemble a Parliamentary majority and form a government.
However, ultimately effectiveness as a local MP doesn’t really depend on being in government or not. People get two votes under MMP – for their local representative and also which party they’d like to see in government. I said after the election that where I can work with the government for the benefit of the Hutt, I’ll do so. Where I think something will be bad for the Hutt, I’ll say so as well.
The other point I’d like to make at the start is to say thank you to all of you for the work you do on behalf of the city, and also for the work you do in conjunction with my offices. A lot of work that comes through my offices relates to Council functions. When I door-knock, the issues that people raise the most are Council issues – drains outside properties, the states of the roads, traffic lights, park benches, etc.
My attitude to these inquiries is just to try and help. People rightly or wrongly don’t distinguish between central and local government in New Zealand. If there’s a politician on their doorstep asking them if they have any issues they can help with, it would be a bit churlish to not help them on the basis that it’s actually a Council issue. So thanks to those of you in the audience who’ve dealt with my office staff and I on the various issues we bring to your attention. Trust me, there’ll be more!
Lower Hutt is growing
I want to cover a range of things in this speech, but let’s start with the fact that Lower Hutt, for probably the first time in a generation, is growing.
For twenty years Lower Hutt has essentially had a stagnant population – 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. Between 2006 and 2013, Lower Hutt grew by just over 500 people – less than one per cent. That’s very slow population growth however you measure it.
That’s changing. There’ll be another census next year, but the Statistics New Zealand estimates are that our population is now 104,700 people. In the context of Lower Hutt, that is quite rapid growth in just a few short years. In some ways, that population growth reflects what’s happened across New Zealand as a whole in the last few years – Kiwis staying home, moving home, and migrants moving here. People have literally voted with their feet.
The big challenge for the Council, as it is for residents as a whole, 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?
So my message for the Council is to embrace a growing population. The projections are that our population will be back down to 99,000 by 2043 – but there’s no reason that has to happen. It’ll only happen if we let it.
That brings me to the issue of housing, which was a big topic in the recent election campaign both here in the Hutt and nationally as well. The heart of every issue related to housing in our city comes down to supply of houses. Lower Hutt’s growing population, aided by a stagnant supply of houses, has meant quite rapid price rises, particularly in some areas of the city.
I got the Parliamentary Library to calculate the REINZ median dwelling sale price in Lower Hutt as a ratio of median household income in Lower Hutt. This is a rough measure of housing affordability. In 2013 it was 5.1 - in other words the median dwelling sold for just over 5 times the median household annual income in the Hutt. This is up from 3.7 in 2001, although interestingly for those who accuse the government of sitting on their hands over housing, it actually peaked at 6.0 in 2006.
The 2017 figures aren’t available at the moment, but they’ll obviously be higher.
Those increases in prices have put pressure on rents as well, as landlords borrow more to finance higher prices, necessitating larger rents to cover mortgage payments. There’s also a clear link to homelessness as well – people forced out of the private rental market end up on the social housing register, and with not enough social houses or private rentals, some end up sleeping rough. My office deals with situations like this nearly every week.
Nobody wants to live in a city or a country where people don’t have a warm home and bed to return to at night.
The solutions to this are multifaceted, involving both the Council and the government, and also private property owners and developers.
We need more social housing in the Hutt and it needs to be better quality. The previous government made a good start on this, with multimillion dollar investments in insulation and urban regeneration at Pomare, but we can do more.
I know the empty sections in Epuni and Naenae quite rightly concern people. 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 HNZ didn’t redevelop the land. As the Hutt population grew quite quickly in the way I’ve just described, the pressure went on social housing and now it’s very clear we need to develop that land. The previous National-led government announced a plan in July 2017 to do just that and it will be interesting to see if the new government carries out that plan. I hope they do – the need is clearly there and we need to get on with it.
In terms of the Council, it must go for growth and most importantly, go for housing supply growth. A recent presentation I’ve seen by John Ross 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 welcome the recent consultation on medium density housing in the city. I’m pleased the Council is talking to the community, because this is very much a conversation that has to happen with existing residents. Getting that balance right between preserving the character of existing suburbs, but facilitating greater supply, particularly for first home buyers, is a tricky one – but it’s a conversation that simply has to happen.
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.
I think it’s time we had a serious conversation, again, 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 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.
That brings me to transport. In the end, does anyone seriously think we are not going to need that second access way into Wainuiomata? 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.
The Cross Valley Link is also inevitable. At my “Transport in the Hutt” public meeting earlier in the year, a person got up and said that she still had in her garage the plans for the Cross Valley Link (CVL) proposed by Percy Dowse. That’s how long the CVL has been around for. It’s time we got on with it.
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.
The CVL needs to be developed contemporaneously with the Petone to Grenada Link Road. 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 more.
The National-led government announced during the election campaign we would upgrade the Melling interchange along with accelerating planning for a new interchange at Kennedy-Good Bridge. Again, it will be interesting to see the new government’s attitude towards those developments.
Finally on transport, I’m keen to work with the Council on the cycling projects it is advancing, including the Eastern Bays Shared Path, which has had a somewhat tortured history to date but on which we finally seem to be making progress. The early indications from the new government are that cycling investment will be encouraged, which is an area I do agree with them on. The previous government’s Urban Cycleways Fund has stimulated big investment in cycling, including by this Council, so I hope it continues in some shape or form. We need to expedite progress on the Petone to Ngauranga section of the path by the harbour, and of course the ultimate dream is the Great Harbour Way – a shared path from Fitzroy Bay in the east to Sinclair Head in the west.
I’d now like to talk about “Technology Valley.” The idea of the Hutt as a hub for companies, institutions and people based around science, technology, manufacturing and engineering is not a new one. As far back as 1973 the Lower Hutt Businessmen’s Association was urging people to brand the Hutt as “Science City”. Everyone in this room knows our strengths: great companies and institutions, lots of zoned industrial land, good transport connections, etc.
I’m passionate about Technology Valley because it means economic development and economic growth for the Hutt. It means good jobs for Hutt residents in a flourishing business sector. It means good salaries for families to provide for their loved ones. It means rates for the Council for civic projects, parks and community centres.
In short, Technology Valley is all about building a vibrant valley, where people want to live. Where people want to bring up a family. A place that people can be proud of.
I do want to commend the Council for some of what’s happened so far. The Hutt STEMM festival is a great start, as are the Technology Valley awards and the Mayoral Scholarships for science teachers.
But we need to take things to the next level – there is so much more we can do. If we’re serious about Technology Valley as a concept we really need to push harder and faster:
- We need community champions for the idea of Technology Valley – people who go around New Zealand talking up Lower Hutt and the great ecosystem we have here.
- We also need people who tell our story to Lower Hutt residents too. Whenever I talk to Rotary, Probus and other groups about Technology Valley, I’m always staggered by the number of people who haven’t heard of world-class tech companies like Kaynemaile, Sanpro, Pertronic, and more.
- We need a compelling marketing strategy: a great website and social media plan.
- We need to market Technology Valley inside New Zealand and offshore. The Council has to work with the business community and government agencies to market Lower Hutt effectively – so that start-up companies think about locating themselves here; so that New Zealand companies think about moving here; and big international companies set up shop here. Let’s send the message that we welcome investment in Lower Hutt.
- We need more projects to get our tamariki interested in science and technology. The previous government’s “Unlocking Curious Minds” fund has been really useful here, but let’s do more.
The final area I’d like to cover is tourism and how the Hutt brands itself.
I love promoting the Hutt and I try and do it as much as I can. We have so much to be proud of here and so much to promote, but by any measure Lower Hutt does poorly when it comes to tourism spending. Lower Hutt attracted just 2.5 guest nights per resident population for the year ending August 2017, compared to a national average of 8.1. In 2016, international tourism spending made up 1.2% of Lower Hutt’s GDP compared to 4.1% nationally, and for the year ending just over international visitors spent just over 18,000 nights in Lower Hutt – an increase since 2007, but below the increase in New Zealand generally.
Not to do diminish the efforts of anyone in this room, but I think we can and must do better. Sometimes I think being part of the WREDA and the wider Wellington region marketing campaign has meant Lower Hutt has suffered. I’d be interested in your views on this. How often do you see Wainuiomata being properly promoted, for example? The Rimutaka Forest Park is a world-class attraction right on our door-step which we don’t do enough to promote.
Lower Hutt is a decent sized city in its own right – 104,000 people and counting – so isn’t it time we made serious investments into promoting our brilliant city? A place like New Plymouth could show the way for us: the Govett Brewster and seaside walkway, plus canny marketing, has transformed the image of the city and people have responded.
We have everything New Plymouth has and more - regional and forest parks, the Dowse, Petone village, and the Esplanade and Eastern Bays – let’s go for it.
Lower Hutt does not have to just be a dormitory suburb of Wellington with its best days behind it. With hard work and everyone pulling in the same direction, we can make this the best medium sized town in New Zealand.
A town next to Wellington but not defined in relation to it, where are young people want to stay and work in the businesses of tomorrow, where international companies base themselves and visitors stay that extra day because of the friendly welcome they’ve received, where we cherish our outstanding natural environment, and where secure and warm housing is accessible for almost everyone. That’s my vision for Lower Hutt and one I’m keen to work with you on.