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Alex caught up with mayoral candidate and city councillor Jo Coughlan. She was super into traffic, and the roads, and giving Wellington a concert venue. She wasn’t not rude, and only might have been ambivalent about the student vote.
A: What have you done on Council so far?
J: I’ve led the economic committee portfolio for six years and the economic development strategy in 2011. I came into this role when Wellington was feeling it a bit because we were responding to the financial crisis and the government’s focus was on the Christchurch earthquake and the Auckland super-city, so it was like “what does this mean for Wellington?” But we have seen the whole “Manhattan-ising” of the CBD and the place is really vibrant.
A: Why did you want to get into politics?
J: It’s definitely in the blood. My mother was a professional woman, a pharmacist, and she stood for parliament, was chairman for the local hospital board, and was on the Timaru district council. My grandfather was a city counsellor. I’ve worked in the corporate world, in the public sector, been a press secretary for a number of years for MFAT, and I’ve run my own business for the last 15 years. So I just felt it was time to give something back to the community, and it appealed to me to be able to influence and help grow the capital city of NZ.
A: Your campaign format is the ‘roadmap’ and road signs. How did you come up with that idea?
J: The big thing for me is that I’m all about getting Wellington ready for not just the next three years, but the next hundred. Infrastructure projects are what we need to focus on. We are a growing city and cars are here to stay. I’m going very hard for the double tunnels at Mount Victoria and the Terrace, and four lanes to the airport—“four lanes to the planes.” I’m into social infrastructure as well. I want to add another pool in Kilbirnie and cycleway infrastructure is really important as well, we have a lot of money coming from the government for that, and I don’t want to see it wasted on bitsy projects like the Island Bay cycleway. One that I think would have the biggest impact on our city would be a harbourside cycleway from Miramar to Ngauranga. So, because I was coming out very strong on roading, it made sense to have a roadmap.
A: What other infrastructure projects are you wanting to work on as mayor?
J: I’d like to see a concert venue built for the city—we’re missing out on all sorts of acts who won’t come to Wellington because we don’t have a covered 12,000 seat venue. I also want to promote the IT sector and what’s going on there. Cycleway infrastructure is really important as well, and one that I think would have the biggest impact on our city would be a harbour-side cycleway from Miramar to Ngauranga.
A: A big issue for students is fair and reasonable fares on public transport. Would you have any plans to implement fairer rates?
J: I think the thing with Wellington is that a lot of people are living in the CBD and so it’s not such a big deal for those students. I’d be working with the university, and putting pressure on them to cut a better deal with the fares. We don’t have the jurisdiction to change the fares, they are set by Greater Wellington. But I think the university has to step up for the students. I see a problem at the moment with not enough beds for students who want to come to Wellington.
A: Yeah, especially with the Katharine Jermyn Hall having to use bunk beds. I knew some people affected by that.
J: Exactly, which is terrible! So what that is telling me is that people want to come to Wellington, and I don’t see student fares as a game breaker, because I think a lot of Wellington students have the benefit of not using a bus. And it’s only two dollars for one section around town, so it’s not actually that expensive.* But students go on about it, and it is important to them.
A: With the airport runway extension plan there is a lot of criticism around the environmental concerns, like the further eroding of Lyall Bay. Do you think the tourism benefits outweigh the environmental concerns?
J: I’m not an expert in the environmental impacts of the runway, but that process will all be fought out by experts. Look, no one wants to see the environment harmed any more than it needs to be. But my big concern is that you can’t have more people coming into the city if you haven’t got the right infrastructure.
A: Another campaign that students are really passionate about at university is the living wage, which Justin Lester supports. Do you have any thoughts on that campaign?
J: I think it is the role of government to be setting the minimum wage, so I didn’t actually support it because I don’t think it is the role of local government to be doing that. Why should my student daughter be getting $19 an hour? A living wage should be about providing a good wage to a mum, a dad, and a family. So I think it is skewed. I think it is a very politically motivated campaign, and it is not the place of local government to be setting the minimum wage.
A: You’ve said you want to make a Wellington film festival like Toronto and Cannes. How would you do this?
J: It would be a matter of talking to the sector and see what would work from their point of view. Maybe it’s a youth focused festival, or maybe it’s a women’s film festival. There is a gap that can be filled by something unique and a bit different that we can have here.
Jo Coughlan is then interrupted by a friend at the next table who asks what she is doing.
J: “I’ve got the unfortunate experience of being interviewed… you’ve just got to shamelessly do these things, once you’ve put your hand up….”
Friend: “Nicola [Young] was there, shamelessly doing her thing too.”
Jo: “I know, I know. That wasn’t the Kaibosh one?”
Friend: “No, it was actually up at Victoria University.”
Jo: “It’s just terrible….”
The interview resumes a few minutes later…
A: So with your 10,000 seat venue idea. If you had your dream concert on opening night, who would be the top artists that you would put on?
J: Coldplay, definitely. Adele. And I’d do another Elton John concert like the one at the stadium.
A: Because we are the coffee capital, what is your favourite cafe in wellington?
J: I don’t know if I can say a favourite! I’m in Cuba St. so I go to Olive, Floridita’s, Loretta, and Ombra. I love them all, they are beautiful places to hang out and to enjoy. We are incredibly lucky with our cafe scene here, we have so much variety and they are all great.
A: If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, who do you think should be on the Iron Throne at the end?
J: Oh god, I don’t watch it! I don’t have time to watch any TV, unless it’s box sets. I’ve been watching House of Cards recently.
A: Favourite NZ celebrity?
J: I like the Flight of the Conchords. They’re funny and from Wellington.
A: What do you think the best part of being mayor would be?
J: It would be being able to drive these projects through and knowing that we were doing everything possible to make them happen. I’m really pleased of what we have achieved already, and I want to achieve more as mayor with these new projects.
A: Last question, why do you think the students of VUW should vote for you?
J: Well they should vote full stop, and because everything I stand for is about growing the Wellington economy, getting jobs into Wellington, and making sure that you can have a happy, successful, and prosperous career here. I’m invested in the city.
* We added up this statement. $2.00 for a trip twice a day, five days a week, for 40 weeks, is $800—so yeah, not that expensive at all!