The good, bad and the shaky

Looking back on 2013 in Wellington

AMY JACKMAN
Last updated 11:35 20/12/2013

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The Wellingtonian

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It was the weather that held sway, sometimes literally, in an eventful year for the capital city.

Storms, earthquakes and drought featured heavily throughout 2013.

Last summer was a cracker with clear, fine days for most of February and March.

The first sign that the weather was a bit unusual was when media organisations reported in late January that Wellington was to get 10 straight days of sunshine.

The deluge that ended that fine spell was the final decent rainfall the capital got until April.

The city's water levels reached desperately low levels, because one of the Te Marua water storage lakes was out of commission for earthquake strengthening.

For a month the city was on water watch in an effort to conserve water. The city council tried to save people's love lives as well as water with a message on water saving methods that included advice about showering with another person.

In June there was a severe storm with 200kmh wind gusts at the top of Mt Kaukau and 140kmh gusts at the airport.

Severe damage was recorded throughout the city.

The south coast had some of the worst damage, with debris covering the road and some parts of the coast road washed out.

Central New Zealand was rocked by a series of strong earthquakes in July and August.

The worst two, a 6.5-magnitude in July and a 6.6 in August, forced the closure of buildings around the city including the Reading Cinema car park, James Smith car park, Wellington Regional Council building, BNZ on the waterfront, and BP House.

The central city was closed for a day after the July quake so authorities could figure out how much damage had occurred.

Quake damage was less than was caused by the storm. No-one was injured.

Another big news item this year was the airport extension.

Wellington City Council gave $1 million to the airport to help fund a business case and resource consent application into extending the runway to attract bigger long- haul flights.

Researching the $300m extension's feasibility will take two years and a further five years would be required for construction.

The Guardians of Evans Bay group is against the northern expansion into Evans Bay and is preparing a case for the resource consent hearing.

There were also claims from a former airline pilot that if the runway was extended north into Evans Bay, planes would struggle to clear the pylons on the top of Newlands ridge.

The Wellingtonian ran a series on Wellington youth unemployment, which is at the highest level in decades - 25 per cent last year.

We interviewed three young men who were all jobless and without hope.

After their stories were published the generosity of our readers was evident with offers to help the men flowing in.

There were offers of rooms and jobs, and four readers offered to pay for Benji Byron's glasses. Lambton Quay OPSM also came to the party and provided the glasses at no cost.

It seemed like help of any kind was a long way off during the Bay Rd Kilbirnie upgrade. The $1.5m upgrade was a disaster for the city council and contractor Transfield.

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Poor quality work, the drought and several other issues caused the roadworks to fall months behind schedule. It was finally completed in August.

Businesses in the street lost money, some saying they had lost more than $30,000 and 40 per cent of their customers. In July Unichem Kilbirnie Pharmacy director Geoff Kiddle called it a farce.

"If they meet this latest completion date [August] it would have taken them 11 months to upgrade a 500-metre stretch of road," he said.

"The standard of the work has been appalling and a lot of the road and crossings have had to be redone."

After it was completed the council joined with the businesses in running competitions to entice shoppers back to the area. The council declined compensation.

Business owners said October 2013 was the first month of normal sales since the upgrade began in August 2012.

Kaiwharawhara train station was permanently closed in November after engineers' reports revealed dangerous corrosion on iron supports and steel beams.

The regional council inherited the bridge from KiwiRail in 2011.

It was temporarily shut in June, and permanently closed in November after the council considered the cost of fixing or replacing it was too high.

The closure was a blow to local businesses, which said there had been a drop-off of regular customers. It also affected the travel of staff in the area.

KiwiRail told The Wellingtonian the corrosion was present when the bridge was handed over, but that it wasn't a danger in 2011.

The local body elections featured prominently in October.

There was a wave of change on the city council. Six new councillors were elected - Malcolm Sparrow, Simon Woolf, David Lee, Nicola Young, Mark Peck and Sarah Free.

Celia Wade-Brown was re- elected as mayor after a close race with then-councillor John Morrison.

Stephanie Cook, Ngaire Best, Morrison and Ian McKinnon retired as councillors. Long- serving Helen Ritchie retained her seat by only 27 votes.

Leonie Gill and Bryan Pepperell lost their seats.

Ms Gill spent most of the election campaign in hospital and died on November 3, aged 65.

Tributes flowed in from prominent members of the Eastern suburbs community she had served so loyally.

The Wellingtonian investigated the use of methyl bromide gas to fumigate export logs at the port.

The used gas is released into the atmosphere and is thought to cause motor neuron disease.

Following Wellingtonian stories about the negative effects of the gas, CentrePort announced in March that it would use recapture technology and investigate alternatives.

The Wellingtonian's readers alerted us to a issue in the city - trailer billboards parked on main routes into the city.

The council said it was not against the law, but readers' views on them ranged from them being useful to the trailers being graffiti and eyesores that had no place on the road.

A successful community project began in Newtown. Clean up Newtown was supported by the council and a lot of the graffiti in the suburb has been eliminated.

Mayor Wade-Brown said a report on the wider implementation of graffiti removal policy and how the council could continue to support the Newtown group and the wider city would go in front of the Community Sport and Recreation committee early next year.

Transport was a constant issue. The Basin Reserve flyover project was supported by the city council at various times during the year, but now seems less certain to go ahead. The Memorial Park underpass is, however, progressing well.

With a Green mayor and a much greener city council, cycling is gaining increasing official backing, though even the council can't do much about Wellington's hills and wind.

- The Wellingtonian

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