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Friday, 19 April 2019 02:26 pm

Pannett juggles environment and development

IONA PANNETT: City Councillor who cares about the environment.

IONA PANNETT: City Councillor who cares about the environment.

HIGH PROFILE, energetic, outspoken and above all, principled, Wellington City Councillor and mother of two Iona Pannett balances fronting the most challenging development issues facing the city with staying true to her Green values.

As chair of the environment committee, Ms Pannett has oversight of the controversial proposal to extend the airport runway and is also dealing with climate change issues.

At the same time, she is buildings portfolio leader of the transport and urban development committee, which has oversight of enforcing the earthquake strengthening of at-risk buildings.

She is also deputy chair of the district licensing committee, a member of the environmental reference group, the Wellington water committee and others.

Her commitment to creating and maintaining a sustainable environment within the framework of a consultative democratic process underpins what she does.

Ms Pannett has been involved in progressive politics since her teens, although that was always likely to happen, given the environment she grew up in.


 A dyed-in-the-wool Wellingtonian, she was born in in Newtown, grew up in the inner city and has always lived here.

“My parents are Christian and quite political, so we grew up in the context of a concern for social justice. My parents are now members of the Green Party too, so we’re a Green Party family,” says Ms Pannett.

She describes her family as reasonably political and very public service focused, like many in Wellington.

Her parents’ faith had an influence, although she is not religious.

She became involved in rape crisis as a 19-year-old student and stayed with the organisation for three-and-a-half years.

“I abhor violence and violence against women and children in particular, it’s a great injustice for me,” she says.

The group was based on participation and consensus, organising principles that have stayed with Ms Pannett.

“That is a mode of working which I like,” she says.

In 1997, while studying environmental philosophy, she attended an environmental camp for activists, where she heard people talk about a range of environmental issues, including opposition to the (at that stage) proposed inner city bypass.

“It just made sense to me, against the background of a concern for social justice,” she says.

She ended up working on the anti Wellington city bypass campaign for five years.

“That was about looking at ways that cities should work better from an environmental and people point of view. It was very formative because I worked with some great people and learnt a lot,” she says.

In 2001 she ran a successful campaign for a single transferable vote in Wellington for the Greens.

After that, she became more formally involved with the Greens and ran the Wellington central campaign in 2002.

She was elected to Wellington City Council for the first time in 2007 and has been on the council ever since.

“For me, it’s a huge privilege,” she says of her current role.

“We basically get to run a city and we get to implement our ideas around sustainability and that’s a wonderful position to be in.”

“The dialogue in local government has changed far more towards thinking about the environment in terms of transport, waste and water,” she says.

Ms Pannett is clear about her alignment with the Green Party, although she is quick to add that the party doesn’t tell her what to do.

“I am driven to work for change because I see so much injustice and it bothers me,” she says.

Personal choices

 It’s all very well to have lofty ideals, but does Ms Pannett walk the talk?

Difficult though it is, she makes a real effort to be an ethical consumer and shop with sustainability in mind.

“I do adhere to the personal is political,” says Ms Pannett, referring to the 1970’s catchphrase about the broader impact of individual choices.

“I do believe you have to live your principles.”

And she certainly does, having been vegetarian since 2001, she has no driver’s licence, neither she nor her partner own a car and they live in the central city so need to travel less.

She seldom travels by air and limits overseas travel.

She also buys many clothes off Trade Me.

At the same time, she acknowledges that compromises are necessary especially being the mother of two small children and dogs (she confesses to being an animal lover).

For example, she doesn’t grow her own vegetables and prefers buying them from the market, although she buys local where possible.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like gardening or cooking,” she laughs, adding that it’s a choice about where to put time and energy.

Instead, she makes her contribution to organic and sustainable farming through being a trustee of the Hill Street Farmers market.

“I do try hard, but I don’t beat myself up about everything. I try to do the right thing through my work, whatever that happens to be,” she says.

She realises that “doing the right thing” is expensive for many people and not everyone can afford organic food.

“There is an affordability issue there,” she says.

Dealing with dissent

 Taking a stand on environmental issues isn’t always easy, and Ms Pannett has on occasion been vocal about controversial issues, at times ruffling feathers.

“Politics is a tough environment.

“I have not decided to be popular.

“I say the things that I think need to be said around the environment.”

For example, she does not support the development of Transmission Gully although she accepts it is a “done deal”.

“In terms of the science about what’s happening with global warming, this is not the sort of thing we should be doing, and it’s very expensive,” she says.

The airport extension is a similarly controversial issue.

Ms Pannett has supported an initiative by the council to prepare an environmental impact statement on the proposed new runway and wants to have a proper understanding about the likely effects on the surrounding area before making a decision.

“It’s interesting to explore how we connect Wellington to the world, because we are so isolated geographically,” she says.

Another major issue for the council is the number of ordinary people facing unknown expenses because their inner-city apartment blocks have been designated earthquake prone.

“Some owners are under huge pressure,” she concedes.

“It’s a very difficult problem and we’re well aware of it.”

“We have been consistent in saying that the government needs to come to the party. The government wants to regulate, but there hasn’t been enough consideration given to how it will be paid for,” she says.

“We’re trying to see how we can support owners.”

Where to next?

 Where does she see her future?

“I’ve done a lot of stuff at the local level. I will probably in the future do some stuff at a national level and an international level,” she says.

As to what that stuff might be, she isn’t giving much away.

“I’ve got kids to raise, that’s my first priority, and I’m committed here for another two years,” she says.

In the meantime, she’s happy with where she’s at.

“It’s a good place to be at the moment because I feel like I’m part of an organisation which is trying to achieve a lot. It’s a privilege to be involved in all of that.”

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