Boy, do I have a deal for WCC!

Insights Newsletter
13 April, 2017

George W Bush’s most famous quote is the one he got so fantastically wrong. Repeating an old Tennessee saying, he meant to say “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. Instead it came out a garbled mess that made the then US President look a fool.

It was the Tennessee version that recently sprung to mind when I read that Wellington City Council (WCC) had bought a block of land in the dormitory suburb of Tawa for $1.1 million. The deal was unusual because of the motivations behind the transaction.

The land is currently being used for forestry, and the owner is looking to divest.

WCC, in a majority decision where only one councilor dissented, decided to buy the land, against advice from officials. The thinking was that since the land is zoned for rural use it cannot be used for housing (a half-truth given that WCC can change zoning, and developers apply for zoning changes all the time). It will instead be used for bush walks, although calling a forest plantation “bush” is a bit of a stretch.

But the costs don’t end there. The council will still have to fell the trees because untended pine plantations are prone to tree fall and fires. So in effect WCC has purchased a parcel of land that will never have housing built on it, has minimal ecological value, and needs further public funding before it can be safely used. Press reports claimed the reason the original owner didn’t mill the trees himself was because it was uneconomical.

Even more remarkable is that the city is trying to keep rates increases under 3.3 percent, down from a forecast of 5.1%. That will require a lot of belt tightening, and clamping down on unnecessary spending is a very good place to start. And yet here we are.

Going back to the Tennessee adage, shame on WCC for pulling this on ratepayers.

Then again, if councillors are unwilling to turn down foolish deals, as an owner of a piece of land at the bottom of a quarry, at risk of rock fall, slippage and storm surge, boy, do I have a $1.1 million deal for them. But if this deal goes ahead, and others like it in Aro and Karori, shame on ratepayers for blindly buying yet another pup

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