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Edible Garden Tour


Over the last few years, Wellingtonians have embraced community gardens and orchards, and have planted edibles in their own gardens.

I’m proud that the small 450 sq metre garden in Island Bay that I planted with fruit trees seven years ago is included in this tour. We’ve always had two good lemon trees, but this year the plums ( Wilsons Early and Ballinger), apricot(Sundrop), pear(Doyen du Comice and Conference twingraft) grape vine (Schuyler) and espalier dapple ( Braeburn) have all had a bumper crop.

Ive learned over the years what does well in Wellington, and generally choose early ripening varieties and ones that are tolerant of wind.

Shelter is really important in Wellington gardens and I use trellis and other trees to create shelter, mulch with grass clippings, use the worm castings and juice from my worm farm, and remember to water when I can!

If you don’t have room for fruit trees on your own section, you can become a ” fruit tree guardian”, and apply to plant a tree on a piece of road reserve. My neighbour has done this on a walkway nearby.

Happy to hear stories about other peoples gardens, and tips on how to get more out of edible gardens, and remember if you have time tomorrow, visiting all these unique gardens is completely free!!!


Go By Bike Day- Why?

miramar bike ride 002

In all the failures of communication and the difficulties with the Island Bay cycleway, in my view the most important failing has been the communication of the vision, the big picture.

Why? Why safer cycleways?

I could talk about the health benefits (regular cyclists reach late middle age up to 10 years biologically younger than their more sedentary counterparts), or about reducing the number of petrol powered vehicles on the road, thus lessening air pollution, congestion, carbon emissions and the need for parking spaces….but what I would really like to talk about is the sheer pleasure of cycling.

This was something that I had personally forgotten about until about six or so years ago.

How many of us rode a bike as a child, maybe continued into our teens or twenties, maybe even have an old bike tucked away in the garage, but haven’t been on it for years?

That was certainly me. I didn’t own a car until I married in my late 20s, and even then it was by default, a share in my husband Ross’s Cortina stationwagon.

All through my teens and 20s, first as a student in Christchurch, working as an assistant engineer in Hamilton, and then returning to Wellington, living in Mt Victoria, I rode my bike.

Marriage and children bought a different lifestyle, and riding the bike just seemed too hard, and then too unfamiliar, too scary.. Just too impossible.

It was a colleague at Sustainability Trust who proved the circuit breaker, offering to ride with me from Newtown into the city to meet a client one day.

Even hitching up my clothing and swinging my leg over the bars felt unfamiliar, dangerous even, but as I nervously followed her into the traffic, mimicking her hand signals and lane changes, and as we arrived right outside our destination in record time, gently energised and exhilarated, I realised what I had been missing.

The sheer joy of cycling, of balancing, of being totally in the environment, senses all alert, on guard for careless drivers, being aware of the need to communicate my own intentions. To my surprise, it was much easier, and even safer, than I had thought.

But safety was definitely my biggest worry, and that’s what we have to address. Many many surveys show safety concerns are the number one barrier to an increased uptake of cycling, and to getting more women, older people and children riding.

The other thing is familiarity and confidence, and getting over the initial reluctance barrier. In my case, it was having another more confident cyclist to help me.

And I guess that is why Go By Bike Day.

I’ll be riding to work this Wednesday morning, starting 7.00 am at the Tirangi Road end of the Leonie Gill pathway, and going up Crawford Road and through Newtown to the city. I’d love you to join me. Ther are many other routes happening as well, just go to the Cycle Aware Facebook page or look on the Greater Wellington Website.

It’s never too late to get back on a bike!

2015, Reporting back

It’s now the end of the second full year of my Council term and time to reflect on what has been achieved, and what still needs to be done.

My first reflection would be that there are certainly a lot of meetings to attend, more than most people might realise! Since delegations were changed mid term, all Councillors now attend all Committee meetings as well as Council meetings and briefings. I try to attend a good selection of community meetings. and also meet one-on-one with residents experiencing issues.

I’ve had the responsibility of being a director on the board of Capacity during the changeover to becoming Wellington Water; and I am currently serving as a trustee on the Wellington Zoo Trust Board. I’ve taken the opportunity to upskill myself for these roles by joining the Institute of Directors and completing several of their training papers and have also completed the training to become a RMA commissioner.

One thing I quickly realised, is that you don’t get anywhere in politics without building some degree of consensus. This means being clear about the case for and against a proposal; and being able to explain this to others, while understanding their point of view and being prepared to compromise if necessary.

Examples of initiatives I have bought to the table and won a majority for over the last two years include:
WCC joining with other Councils to pass a resolution expressing potential concerns around the TPPA
More money ( $100,000 annually) to operate our community centres. This has enabled us to support the St Christopher’s Community Hall when it was saved for the community, and to pay for a specialised person to staff our drop in centre at the Kilbirnie Community Centre once the DHB closed theirs.
Moving an amendment to tighten up on the allowable increase in pokie machines in various areas of Wellington. I was on a subcommittee listening to submissions and heard many heartbreaking stories. It seems to me we already have more than enough pokie machines in some parts of our community, and I am loath to see more.
More money ($ 200,000 annually) to be spent on pedestrian safety, with much of that money going to eastern suburbs safety improvements. I am well aware that pedestrian safety is a major concern for many in our communities.

I’m also very proud of having seen the need for the Leonie Gill Pathway, and convincing other colleagues to bring the funding for it forward to the 2014/2015 annual plan. It was a highlight of the year for me when it opened in April 2015. I really enjoy going there and seeing all sorts of people (and dogs!) using it. The latest feedback from the community is that it is such a great resource, it would be even more used if it had lights to make it safer at night…


I’m also pleased we still had the budget to do some further upgrades in the Kilbirnie shopping centre, and I enjoyed networking with the business community and residents to make sure we delivered what they wanted. The new seats, flags, murals, bike maintenance kit and vastly improved footpath have been well received. I am also proud to have met with walking and disability advocates and to have lobbied for easier kerb crossings for our Rita Angus residents and for the new disability carpark which has gone in outside the Westpac in Onepu Road.

I’ve been a strong advocate for more affordable and user-friendly public transport, and I’ve consistently asked Greater Wellington to consider cheaper off peak fares for everyone, not just Gold Card holders, and to bring forward their integrated ticketing proposals. Public transport is a difficult issue with the responsibilities for it spread across WCC, GW and NZTA.
In the meantime, I did succeed in my request for a bus shelter outside the ANZ, ( people previously had to wait in all weathers), and it is extremely well used. There are at least three more bus shelters for the Eastern Suburbs currently in the pipeline. I don’t quite understand why they are taking so long, but I have come to realise persistence is a must- have quality in a Councillor!

These are some of the things that I  have been involved with; others include the planning for the new Johnsonville library, lobbying for an innovation/activation space  in the Central library, more drinking fountains near our beaches and waterfront, and  making sure we are doing sufficient planning and have the funding for our roading and water infrastructure and coastal resilience. And of course, the vexed question  of the airport runway extension and how best  to spend the Eastern suburbs $6million share of the cycling budget.

I’ll sign off for now, but as always  happy to be contacted, either through this site, or my contact details are on the WCC website.



Newtown Library opens again




After being closed for some weeks, Newtown Library opened again today to a waiting group of enthusiastic library users.

The library has had the old (leaky) skylights replaced, new heating and ventilation installed, new paint, and the collection has been refreshed with a whole section of new books. The photo below shows some of our lovely Newtown Library staff in front of a stand of new books.

As Libraries and Community Facilities portfolio leader, I’m proud of our Wellington Libraries. We have 12 libraries in our network, including the Central Library.Physical visits to libraries are holding steady at around 2.3 million annually, and online visits have surpassed all expectations at 3.6 million. We issue 3 million items annually.

Since I have been on Council, four libraries have had upgrades; Mervyn Kemp Tawa Library, Brooklyn Library, Karori Library and now Newtown Library.

The two big projects coming up in the future are of course, the new Johnsonville Library, and a refurbishment of the Central Library, which will include modern features such as RFID (radio frequency identification), which will allow better tracking of library resources, and faster issuing.

We are making sensible investments in the collections, the libraries are great spaces to be in, we are adding to our online resources all the time including our great Facebook page, Wellington City Libraries, and resident surveys report a high level of satisfaction with the service offered.

However, I’m always interested in feedback, so let me know what you think!




Sale of St Christopher’s- Open Letter to Presbyterian Council

To the Moderator, Presbyterian Council,

I have now attended two community meetings in regard to the proposed sale of the church and hall at 27 Ventnor Street, Seatoun, and write to you now in my capacity as an Eastern Ward Councillor to express my concern at what I have heard about the process.

Firstly, as a person with a Christian faith myself, it seems sad that a functioning parish, albeit small, should be disbanded, and I do wonder if there were other options in this regard. I have heard that some parishioners turned up for the regular Sunday service to find the church locked and a note on the door, which seems very sad.

Secondly, there seem to be legitimate concerns around bequests made in the past which were specifically for use in the Seatoun parish/community. I believe there was a substantial bequest made by a Seatoun lady, as well as large sums raised by the community to build the hall for the benefit of the local community.

In addition, the church itself may have been largely built with funds sourced from local churchgoers? And local residents’ efforts must surely have contributed much to servicing and maintaining the buildings over all these years.

Suffice to say that residents have a very real attachment to this church and hall, which have been part of the fabric of the community for generations. Their hearts are heavy, and people feel stunned by the decision to simply sell this heritage ( physical, spiritual, social and emotional) simply to get the highest dollars.

There is also sadness at the loss of memorial windows and other special features of the church installed to commemorate past residents and important occasions.

It is worth noting that Council does have some ability to support communities with funding towards the running costs of community spaces and Seatoun has been identified as a community that is short of community space.

We also have some funding to assist with earthquake strengthening of heritage buildings.

In summary, I do ask you to give favourable consideration to the community’s bid to purchase the church and hall for continued use by the Seatoun community, both church-goers and others.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Free

WCC Councillor, Eastern Ward

Community Facilities Portfolio Leader

Saving St Christopher’s

Around 100 people turned up at a community meeting on Sunday to discuss the future of St Christopher’s Presbyterian Church in Seatoun. The church, which was built in 1932 in a mid 20th century  Romanesque style, is listed on the WCC heritage list. However, due to a declining congregation, the Presbyterian Property Council considers the church surplus to requirements and plans to sell it along with the adjacent church hall. The situation is complicated by the heritage listing which restricts any changes to the external appearance, and to the fact that it has been yellow stickered; ie needs earthquake strengthening.

Seatoun doesn’t have a lot of community space, with the loss of the Scout Hall due to fire and the relocation of the RSA to the bowling club.

This church is a lovely building, and it would be fantastic to see it kept for the community. The challenge now is to buy some time, to see what the community commitment might be in terms of fundraising, to get a good assessment of the costs of strengthening, and to explore all the options for its future.

Council is moving more to a model of supporting communities with grants to run their own community centres rather than purchasing community facilities outright. However, of course as a local Councillor I will be doing what I can to stand with this community as we seek the best solutions.


Massey Design Projects at Central Library

massey design, student group massey design


Great collaborative work between Massey University and Wellington City Council has lead to the showcasing of Massey School of Design student project work.

The theme is  “Unpacking Sustainability” and there are some really innovative ideas.

I am very pleased that we have been able to use spare library space to let the public know more about our fantastic Wellington Universities and hardworking, talented students.

Did you know more people come through the doors of the Central library in Wellington than visit Te Papa?

The exhibition is on till the end of the week so come in and have a look if you haven’t already done so.

Its on the Mezzanine walkway next to Clarke’s cafe.


Cheaper off-peak bus fares, have your say

Campbell Live featured Wellington bus prices tonight, and has invited the public to comment on whether half price off -peak bus fares would be a good idea.

Of course, I have long been advocating for this.

If you would like to show your support, please feel free to comment on

After hearing submitters today ( I was one),  the Regional Council released a press statement tonight saying they had decided not to increase fares, which is good; however in my view, we still need the off-peak discounts, and capped daily fares or free transfers.

Public opinion does count, so have your say!


WCC puts strong submission on city buses

Yesterday the urban design and transport committee, along with some other interested Councillors such as Nicola Young and myself,  discussed WCC’s submission on the Regional Council’s draft public transport plan.


I am heartened to say that I believe we will be putting in a strong submission for  reductions in bus fares and fast tracking of integrated ticketing among other things.

The Councils media release on the submission is below.



14 May 2014

Capital’s Council calls for fairer deal on fares

Wellington City Council will continue to push for cheaper bus fares, faster development of a smart integrated ticketing system and the best possible low emission buses.


The high costs of maintaining and operating trolley buses and other issues such as resilience may mean they are not the best choice for a future service. A far more thorough analysis of the costs and options by the Greater Wellington Regional Council is necessary rather than premature exclusion.


It also wants the Regional Council to reconsider the bus fare rise planned later this year, particularly the  zone one fare, and invest any future cost savings in bringing public transport fares down.


Greater Wellington is suggesting future off-peak discounts of 25 percent. The City Council’s position is that Greater Wellington should be halving off-peak bus fares with the aim of increasing public transport patronage across the region by 10 percent, and peak fares should also be reduced.


The requests form part of the City Council’s submission to Greater Wellington on its draft Wellington Regional Public Transport Plan, which was considered by the city’s Transport and Urban Development Committee today.


Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says public transport patronage across the region is flat. “We want to see a fairer deal on fares to get more people using public transport. Cuts in fares could pay for themselves with increased patronage.”


In general, the Council thinks the new bus routes proposed are very good but will ask the Regional Council to re-examine a couple – Khandallah and the #18 servicing the universities.


The Committee today also considered the work that needs to be done next to develop a bus rapid transit network through the central city as far as the hospital and a second branch to Kilbirnie. The routes and rapid transit system were agreed following the completion of the two-year Public Transport Spine Study, which was jointly funded by the NZ Transport Agency, Greater Wellington and the City Council.

Council also agreed to protect a route from Newtown to Kilbirnie to future-proof the city for light rail one day.


Councillor Andy Foster, who chairs the Committee, says a joint project team involving all three organisations is now being set up to do detailed design and planning and in a way, the hard work is just beginning.


“We need to work out what a bus rapid transit system will look like in this city – what’s possible, how we fit it through the various streets, what any changes will cost, how they will be funded and what the trade-offs are,” he says.


“The next generation of vehicles must be high-quality, low-emission and preferably electric. We are keen to see some options trialled. Our immediate task is measuring exact curve radii and height restrictions to identify “choke” points so we establish maximum physical dimensions of the new vehicles.”


Cr Foster says the City Council strongly supports the need to reduce the number of buses using the Golden Mile to reduce the congestion and journey time delays, but doesn’t want buses stopping or having priority on alternative routes like Featherston Street or the Quays.


“That means using a smaller number of longer and higher vehicles. I’m told modern double-deckers should fit through most of our tunnels, these are the sorts of things we need to know for sure.


“We also need to look at where the buses should run on wider roads like Kent and Cambridge terraces and Adelaide Road – down the outside as they do at the moment or in the centre. We plan to significantly improve these areas but can’t get on with detailed design until these things are decided.”


Cr Foster says the Council also plans to work with NZTA and Greater Wellington to assess whether there is any real need or public transport gains to be had from developing future dedicated bus lanes on Ruahine Street.


“As guardians of the Town Belt, we don’t want to see this road widened beyond its existing designation of four lanes.”


For more information, please contact:

Cr Andy Foster, Transport and Urban Development Committee Chair, phone 476 9220 or 021 227 8537

Lyn Murphy, Council Communications, phone 801 4003 or 021 227 8119.

Lets get our buses working

Both Councillor Nicola Young (Lambton Ward) and I made independent submissions to Greater Wellington’s draft annual plan in regard to their proposal to raise bus fares yet again.

If they go ahead, it will be the second year in a row that there have been bus fare increases; this at a time when bus patronage is actually falling, and the Regional Council’s rhetoric is all about the need to get more people out of private cars and into public transport.

In summary, my submission asked for three things:

No fare increases;

Prompt introduction of off-peak fare discounts with an immediate trial this winter;

Capped daily fares.

There may be other  solutions to address pricing, and to make public transport appealing and affordable.

However, I couldn’t let this issue pass without at least submitting something.

I will put a link to my full submission once it is published on the GW website.






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