The mayoral candidate sits down with Shanti Mathias to discuss climate, transportation, housing — and why other cities should be more like Ōtautahi.
Phil Mauger is ready to challenge the government. The Christchurch alderman – and now mayoral candidate – voted last week against meeting a government densification standard for the construction of multi-storey buildings. The former construction company owner is known for his stunts and willingness to get his hands dirty. last year he was fined by the council after using a bulldozer dig a trench to reduce flooding.
When I meet him at a cafe in the Ōtautahi suburb of Merivale – no bulldozers in sight, but made evident with a large car covered in “Phil for Mayor” slogans – Mauger is affable, holding a printout of notes to which he does not refer. once. The campaign was long; Mauger said he was running for mayor More than a year agoand tells me he’s been to 22 mayor forums in the past month, “seeing more of my competitor, David [Meates]than my own wife.
First I have to ask about Mauger’s thoughts on scaling up, a debate that is heating up across the country but is particularly prominent in Christchurch. Mauger does not repent of his vote. “We’re getting an intensification,” he says, adding that he supports denser living in the city center and along bus routes. But it is the densification in the suburbs that worries Mauger (and the 17 associations of inhabitants who rejected the proposals). “[Intensification] is an Auckland and Wellington issue that was pushed back to us, and I just didn’t agree with that,” he says.
There is a problem with housing, however, Mauger concedes; he is on the board Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust, and thinks the city needs to support more those living in social housing. But often, he says, people who live in social housing need “package support,” such as property caretakers and security guards. “You can’t just drop someone into a house when they’ve never had one and they don’t understand money – they might just move into a house and their situation deteriorates in five years,” he says. He agrees that Christchurch’s homeless population is among the most vulnerable people in the city, but says someone needs to ‘move the homeless at 6am so they don’t cause drama during the daytime”.
Where people live goes hand in hand with transportation; Mauger, an avowed ‘car fan’, says making bus services fast and reliable should be a priority rather than creating light rail transport for Christchurch. Dedicated bus lanes, for example, are often not needed on underused routes; “There’s nothing worse than sitting in your car and watching the bus go by [in the bus lane] with only a few people on it,” he tells me.
The bus system in Canterbury is piecemeal, with Environment Canterbury responsible for services and Christchurch City Council responsible for infrastructure such as bus stops, and Mauger wants to incorporate these aspects of bus travel. He thinks lower price from next year will attract more people to buses. Later that day, he was asked during the Stuff debate when he was last on the bus and he admitted it was “a little while”.
“We want to make it easier for people to get into the city,” Mauger says, sipping his long black (two sugars). “And when they get there, we don’t want to penalize them with high parking and stuff like that.” He assures me that he supports cycle lanes, but thinks they can be cheaper; he has already said that the money for the cycle paths could be hijacked at the new stadium in Christchurch by reducing costs.
He has a hydrogen car, which he loves, and suggests that fuel can transform broadcasts for Christchurch; two of the biggest actions he proposes to me to fight against climate change are the electrification or hydrogenation of the municipality’s vehicle fleet and the planting of trees. “Is it better to spend 10 million dollars on bike paths or plant 20 million trees?” he thinks. Transport and forest cover are different issues, I suggest – couldn’t it have both?
“But we don’t have a lot of money – we need to be carbon neutral as soon as possible,” he says. Given that and Mauger’s determination to keep rate hikes below inflation at 3.5-4%, what is his position on the evolution of the Dear Tarras Airport in Central Otago, being built by Christchurch Airport, whose council holding company is a majority shareholder?
“The airport says it can be carbon neutral [in their operations] because it’s not their planes, which is a thin line in my opinion,” he says. Mauger isn’t sure if global travel will ever return to pre-pandemic levels, but if he sees merit in competing with Queenstown airport, he believes visitors to Tarras will primarily benefit the Otago region. , not in Christchurch, although he does not give me a definitive answer as to whether he thinks the new airport should go ahead.
I ask Mauger if there are any policies from other cities he would like to see in Christchurch. He says perhaps Christchurch could be a “mini Melbourne” with lanes and walking opportunities. But if he is mayor, he will “promote living daylights out of Christchurch”, showing the rest of the country how unique the city is.
So he thinks other cities should be more like Christchurch, not that Christchurch should be more than other cities? Exactly, he tells me, and launches into a spiel about the fact that in a few years, when the stadium is finished, Christchurch is set to host the Commonwealth Games. (There is perhaps a royalist bent to Mauger, who also suggests that a cycle path from the city to the seawhen completed, could be called “The Queen Elizabeth II Way…because she was always into the outdoors and families and stuff like that.”)
With every policy, Mauger insists that communities must be consulted, involved in the design process, able to determine what decisions go to the board table and not just be asked what options are preferred afterwards. But local elections often have remarkably low turnout, I say; many people are ambivalent or unaware of the work of councils in their community. Vehement objectors – members of the residents’ association clutching their “Stop Daylight Robbery” signs at the step up vote – and loud supporters – the people who will sing ‘To imagine’ to tout a new stadium – submit their views, but people who don’t care or have no reason to believe the council can help them, don’t bother.
“There is apathy, people will just put their heads down and do what they have to do,” agrees Mauger, saying consultation processes need to be improved. As mayor, he says he would like to hold fortnightly public meetings, sit down with members of the public and community councils to hear what people’s issues are. Maybe this election will be different, though: “Maybe I’m biased because I’m in it up to my neck, but this year [council] has five people changing – I think the interest is high because people will see a change.
Insistence on listening to community voices is key, according to Mauger, to success and popularity as mayor. To debate Hosted by Stuff and Te Pūtahi on Friday, the candidate was asked what unpopular — but important — thing he would be willing to do as a leader.
“We need to rebuild trust,” he said, dodging the question. But would he be ready to do something unpopular? “No,” he replied. Mauger tells me his goal in his first year as mayor would be to get council satisfaction up from an all-time high of 42% and back into the 60s.
This attitude seems to work. In a TVNZ Poll conducted two weeks ago, 58% of voters in Christchurch said they would vote for Mauger. In a first-past-the-post system, that would be more than enough to see him accept the strings of mayors in October.
After our interview, I accompany Mauger to a campaign event at Skillwise, an organization that works with people with disabilities to help them become involved and included in their communities. Over the course of an hour, Mauger is confident to answer questions about the bromley smell, Christchurch buses, his opinion on Winston Peters and what Christchurch City Council can do about Covid. While some of the questions are a little left out, Mauger is unfazed.
He says he wants Christchurch to be a better place for people with disabilities to live, shows everyone his hearing aids and explains how the breaking of 21 bones in his body after being hit by a truck a few years ago made him realize how difficult it was. maybe navigate the city in a wheelchair. He told me he wanted to be a good listener, and now he’s demonstrating it; policies aren’t always specific, but he’s willing to be as available to that small audience as he is debating David Meates in front of hundreds of people at Mayor Stuff’s forum.
After Mauger leaves, I talk to Nathan Beaven, the Skillwise member who organized the event. “I wanted to know what the mayor wanted to do in the city,” he says. Does he know who he is going to vote for? Beams in exposed beams. “Phil! »
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