Peter Gilberd – running for office on a science ticket

[Ed: We like to keep away from politics as much as possible here at Sciblogs, but this is the first time I know of that a candidate has run in local body elections based on a vision for science. This is well worth hearing more about]

by Dr Peter Gilberd, Wellington City Council – Northern Ward candidate

Peter Gilberd
Peter Gilberd

In the face of a protracted national economic downturn and cuts to the Government sector, how does Wellington create much-needed jobs? And how do we reverse the trend of the last fifty years, which has seen New Zealanders working harder than most but slipping in per capita income from a leading position in the 1950s? 

In “Wool to Weta”, the late Sir Paul Callaghan made a compelling case for high-technology businesses. More recently, we have seen Professor Shaun Hendy launch the cleverly-named, “Get off the Grass”, co-authored with Sir Paul, which discusses innovation and the development of a knowledge economy. If we are successful, this will not only create jobs, it will provide higher levels of revenue per employee than, for example, service jobs. This will allow us to develop greater wealth, without compromising our environment.

So what does this mean for Wellington? We have three great advantages: a well-educated work force, a city and stunning natural environment that attract talented people, and top-class research institutions full of people with good ideas.

Council is too small to do everything on its own, and partnerships are vital to success. Links between the city and the research organisations are developing well. In the recent earthquakes, GNS Science was to the fore in helping us to understand the cause of the quakes, the immediate hazard, and the long-term implications. And Victoria University is collaborating with Council to research resilience, ecology and the urban environment, with one feature being student internships at Council over summer.

It is imperative that the research community and the city work even more closely together, to develop opportunities that will lead to well-paying jobs and to the growth of supporting industries. Council must strengthen links with the several world-class research organisations within the Wellington region, to ensure that Councillors and Council staff are familiar with the background science and research of economic, social, cultural, and environmental issues.

Council must support the work of the regional economic development agency, “Grow Wellington”, to facilitate better links between researchers and business. And, ultimately, Council must provide financial support, perhaps as grants, to help develop our city’s knowledge economy.

Top 5 Issues

1. “Science for the city” – informing policy and creating opportunities and jobs

(a) Ensure that Council policy is informed by evidence

(b) Work with the several world-class research organisations within the Wellington region to familiarise Councillors and Council staff with relevant issues in the economic, social, cultural, and environmental areas

(c) Collaborate with Grow Wellington to facilitate links between researchers and business

(d) Invest in infrastructure to develop our city’s knowledge economy

2. “Living city” – enjoying, enhancing and promoting our stunning natural environment, to improve our quality of life, and to attract visitors and talented residents

(a) Employ specialist staff and provide key services to enhance our environment

(b) Partner with volunteers, corporate and research institutions to carry out joint activities and research

(c) Promote our recreational facilities and surroundings so that Wellington is renowned as an environmental destination, and a great place to live and play.

3. “People’s city” – investing in a vibrant and resilient city

(a) Enhance the city centre by developing our lanes, increasing navigability, highlighting points of interest (for example, buried streams and historic sites) and creating distinctive recreational spaces such as the amazing Waitangi Park

(b) Build the Great Harbour Way

(c) Contribute to the upgrading of heritage buildings

(d) Investigate methods of using the Council’s creditworthiness to help building owners to overcome the economic hurdle of upgrading earthquake specifications

(e) Develop procedures and communications that will work effectively in emergencies (for example, robust evacuation plans for the city centre)

(f) Plan for climate change

4. “Working city” – diversifying our economy

(a) Support the extension of the airport runway, for better international links

(b) Develop a top transport network, including bus rapid transit, smart ticketing, freeing up of the Golden Mile, cycle ways, and improved roading

(c) Promote and support events

(d) Streamline Council processes, including increased use of online services

5. For the Northern Ward

(a) Improved roading and green spaces for Johnsonville

(b) Support for community facilities (such as the proposed new Johnsonville Library) and local businesses (such as the Tawa shopping centre)

(c) Enhancement of the Skyline Walkway (above Johnsonville, Churton Park and Tawa) and the Harbour Escarpment Track

(d) Recreation hubs in Johnsonville, Newlands and Grenada North

(e) Restoration of the Porirua Stream, as an amenity for Tawa and for ecological reasons

(e) Support for community events and activities

Dr Peter Gilberd, a funding manager at the Royal Society of New Zealand, is a former government scientist and university physics lecturer. 

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