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An Audience With Tim O'Brien: In With Tim?

In With Tim?

An Audience With Wellington Mayoral Candidate Tim O'Brien
By Kevin List

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Recently there have been several reports on National Radio's media watch and in national newspapers regarding various media personalities running for local government.

Not wishing to be left behind, Scoop wandered around to occasional National Radio presenter Tim O'Brien's digs to see what he's up to at present and why he thinks the Mayor of Wellington's robes would suit him just fine.

At present Tim O'Brien is devoting himself primarily to scrutinising the many vexed issues that face the capital city. That said he does still crop up every now and then on National Radio discussing films.

"I'm a freelance writer and broadcaster – I do work on National Radio - although the only specific thing I do right now is the film review for Linda Clark (Tuesday morning)"

Scoop: What's your main beef - do you not think Kerry Prendergast [current Wellington Mayor] has done a great job for the last three years?

Tim O'Brien: Well I was approached by some people who are in the creative area who had some concerns about the way things are going. There is this idea that Wellington is the creative capital which is a good idea but these people think this creative capital idea is used for branding rather than being backed by substance.

"There are a lot of people in Wellington losing their space where they rehearse and create– this is not just in the bypass area but all over town where buildings have been turned into apartments. There seems to be a lack of diversity and space available for those kinds of businesses and I think that might seem to people a very narrow group of people to start out from however, I think that is an important issue as an economic issue generally speaking for Wellington.

Scoop: What other concerns do you have regarding the uses of space within Wellington?

Tim O'Brien: The other feeling in Wellington is that people are not consulted and that the rules that do exist are enforced arbitrarily. We currently have a fairly vision-less city where along comes something and everybody does it. I'm not anti-apartment development but have we [as a city] thought through the consequences of what happens when the usage of an area changes significantly.

Scoop: Recently the Wellington City Council increased parking fees throughout Wellington. In many cases parking fees doubled from two dollars per hour to four dollars per hour. Do you think these changes were needed or well thought out?

Tim O'Brien: The current issue with parking is the fact that the city council has put the fees up across the board so that it is a uniform charge rather than anything driven by demand. That's a simple economic issue about demand led pricing I would have thought.

There are suggestions that small businesses and traders are now suffering because people are no longer prepared to drop in for ten minutes. If you want to pop in to a shop why shouldn't you be able to stick 50 cents in to a machine and do that.

The second factor is that it just came and went and there was no sort of understanding. To me that [parking increases] and several other issues is indicative of the fact that the city council is quite out of touch with people in Wellington and their needs. It's a sort of macro policy which you impose from on top and expect people to like it.

Scoop: What do you think has been achieved in the most recent mayor's tenure for Wellington?

Tim O'Brien: When I look at the current mayor's achievements I don't see that they are particularly significant. They don't seem to outline a vision beyond the idea that there will be more places to live, like the Capital Gateway and that there will be an ice skating rink now done by a private developer. I don't call that a vision for the city.

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Scoop: What do you consider a successful vision for Wellington should be?

Tim O'Brien: Cities that are successful are cities where new things constantly grow up from the city itself. Cities that depend on having to make people stay or to lure people from other places are cities that are already failing. Whilst it is true we don't want businesses moving to Auckland, however if businesses are wanting to leave then in some key way Wellington is not providing the conditions that will encourage those businesses to flourish. If Wellington is losing the places where new businesses can flourish then people will leave. It won't just be large businesses leaving Wellington but small ones. I don't think Wellington is actually addressing this issue in any serious way.

Scoop: One of the most controversial issues facing Wellington is that of the by-pass. What are your own personal views on the by-pass?

Tim O'Brien: Personally I'm against the bypass and always have been. I've looked at it and I don't see how it is supposed to work given the size of the Terrace tunnel. Also the other factor that is crucial to how the bypass is supposed to work is the idea that Jervois Quay will be narrowed. I don't think that will ever happen. If they do the whole plan including the Jervois Quay part I think it will make it actually more difficult to get across town.

Scoop: Given you are not in favour of the by-pass it does seem likely that it will occur?

Tim O'Brien: At the moment it looks like a pretty done deal – at present I wouldn't want to interrupt it again purely to create ten or twenty more years of stasis. The borer are going to win. The eviction notices have been given. The buildings will be empty. What might have to happen is looking at how the by-pass sides are going to be developed. How are we going to protect the kind of creative community that was flourishing around the top end of Cuba Street and how Cuba Street generally can continue to flourish?

Scoop: Homeless in Wellington, particularly around Cuba Street has been in the news recently – what is the council doing at the moment regarding the homeless?

Tim O'Brien: The latest moves of the council seem to have been to put some more money into the problem. I think, really the main thing they [the council] would like to see, is all of them [homeless people] shipping out of town. Clearly that is not going to happen. I walk down Cuba Street most days, which is the specific problem. It's not the prettiest thing to see. But there comes a point where a public street is a public street. I think the council is trying, and they are improving in their efforts. What they are not doing anymore is trying to pass a by-law pretty much banning everybody [as was previously mooted by the council] without really going to anyone to find out a way for it to work.

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Scoop: What are your three main platforms?

Tim O'Brien: "I am campaigning on five things:

- the protection of open spaces;
- the integrity of the district plan;
- rational solutions to transportation problems rather than destructive ones – such as the bypass and also consultative ones rather than the recent car parking fee rise;
- preservation of the unique character of city and suburban neighbourhoods;
- and, a creative capital where creative people can actually afford to live and work.

Wellington is not like New York where the mayor is the boss. We have a system where each councillor including the mayor has one vote. We want a city that is a collaborative enterprise that recognises that everybody's interests are the same. It shouldn't be big business against small business or artists vs. lawyers…for a city to work successfully every aspect has to be working in concert. I don't think that is true at the moment. There is a feeling that consultation is phoney and the feeling that at present Wellington is governed in the interests of a very narrow group."

Scoop: Is running for mayor an expensive exercise?

Tim O'Brien: Everybody says it's too expensive to run for mayor however I believe philosophically it is important that democracy can actually function cheaply and person to person. Unless it works as a person to person thing there's no point. If you have to buy it then no-one believes in what you are saying.

Tim O'Brien's campaign website can be found at:

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