Last year, Dunedin wanted change. It demanded change. And Dave Cull seemed to be the man to deliver it. As such, he was voted in as your Mayor. You may have even given him the tick. Or did you vote back home? Having talked to the guy, I can see why Cull attracted the voters. He writes, he reads, is a family man, he cycles, he’s a Southland High oldboy and he has been a presenter on TV One. Cull is a man of the people. Praise be. Georgie Fenwicke spoke to him about the Highlanders and this lovely city.
What do you think of the Highlanders going green?
Well, it looks quite probable now doesn’t it. I noticed that in the paper this morning, there were definitely some polarized views on it. I can understand, I must say I can understand both sides of it, but I can understand the call of tradition, albeit that the pictures show that actually the jersey has changed quite a bit over the years anyway. But then I understand that it is such a radical change to the light green. On the other hand, frankly if they win the competition I don’t think anyone would care if they were running around stark naked.
Did you go to the game over the weekend?
No, I haven’t gone since the Auckland game.
Talking about the Mayoralty in general, what has been biggest challenge you have had to face so far?
Well, I think that in some ways, the biggest challenge is to formulate along with the rest of the council, a consensus on the major direction we face. It is about achieving some sort of consensual understanding or vision and then taking it forward. It is those big picture things which are actually the challenge, because actually, it is easier to just not bother. You know, you go, it is all just too hard and we’ll just address the reports that the staff bring us or whatever.
What is one of the examples of a project that the council has reached a consensus on recently?
During the election, I talked about the need for us to have a vision of what we wanted the city to look like in thirty years time. Because if you don’t have a clear vision of where you’re going, then how on earth are you going to take steps to get there. Then at the same time, we were going through a consultation process where we were setting up some leadership groups in the community called “Your City, Our Future”. These leadership groups were on various issues – transportation, Research & Development, Arts & Culture, things like that. These groups were made up of members of the community, there were no councillors on them. They got together and were asked several questions such as where are we as a city and where do we want to be in thirty years time and what steps do we want to take to get there? That fed a lot of stuff back in to us.
At the same time, we were developing what you call a spatial plan. No one has got one in New Zealand, Auckland is developping one. A spatial plan is a visionary or aspirational plan, in other words as I was saying before, what do you we want our city to be like in thirty years time, physically? Like a helicopter view. We’re developing that plan now and all the thinking of those leadership groups came in to that. What has happened is that the Council has kind of got it. It gives us something we can speak to, now we won’t all agree entirely on the details, but we agree it’s a great idea to have that. And now it is starting to crystallize and laid out on maps in the city and we’re saying this is how we think this area should be. It is focussing the Council’s thinking and the community’s thinking.
Out of interest, as well as looking at the bird’s eye view of the city, are you also looking at the water distribution system which is in need of an upgrade?
Everything. We know that given the predictions for sea level rise and climate change, we know that there are some parts of our city which could be at risk in the future, South Dunedin is one because it is very low lying and our coastal communities are others. Now, if we are thinking in investing in extra infrastructure in those areas like repairing water pipes and sewers, we need to be saying, what we are putting in the ground is meant to last forty or fifty years, but is this area still going to be utilized for this purpose in fifty years time given the projected changes to the sea and to the climate. You have to look way ahead in order to make intelligent, infrastructure decisions now.
The Stadium is obviously something you will be taking into consideration in terms of the ongoing infrastructure of the city, are you looking forward to it opening?
It is certainly going to be quite an experience for spectators. Simply because, the edge of the field is so close to the seats and then the seats rake up quite steeply so when you are halfway up the stand, you actually feel like you are looking into the game than across the stadium at it.
That is a point of view of the Stadium I haven’t heard yet, so you understand everything is on schedule?
It will be pretty tight, but I am confident everything will be ready.
There are a number of teams coming down to play here now, who will you support?
I have some ancestoral ties to England and Ireland. But I think I will be supporting the All Blacks actually. I’ve got a soft spot for the Argentinians, though.
Will you be going to Elton John when he comes?
Absolutely. I’ll be there.
How do you see Dunedin’s role in supporting the Christchurch rebuild developing over the next few years?
I see it in the South Island context which maintain services and facilities for the rest of the South Island. The reason I say that, it sounds a bit odd is that the losses from Christchurch are not just in Christchurch, they are being felt by the whole of the South Island. For instance, tourism numbers are down in Queenstown because a lot of the tourists used to come in Jumbos into Christchurch, they would overnight in a hotel there and would go on. Well, there are no hotels for them to overnight in so a lot of them are going to Auckland and they’re not necessarily coming to the South Island at all. What that tells us is that it is the whole of the South Island’s problem.
Christchurch was an infrastructural and distribution centre, now with it out of commission, some of the other towns have to pick up some of the slack. It is not a matter of poaching anyone’s business, it is about maintaining the facilities and services so that the whole of the South Island keeps going. So I see our role as partly that, but offering an alternative in the meantime for various things as Christchurch is being rebuilt.