Tuesday, 20 September 2016

"Wellington is on a Roll" - My Candidate Statement

Voting Papers went out this Week!

Here is my candidate statement that went out with the voting papers:

Wellington Regional Council Wellington Constituency Electing 5 Regional Councillors



My principal place of residence is in the Wellington Constituency area.

Wellington region is on a roll. More and more people are choosing to live in this special place. To keep moving ahead we need 20/20 vision, inspired policies and strong regional cooperation.

This means electing people with a proven record of achievement. I have been a leading surgeon and medical school teacher for 40 years and bring pragmatism and experience - not just talk. 

I'll fight for cheap, reliable transport, including light rail to hospital and airport, and safe, pleasant routes for pedestrians and cyclists. I am committed to a low-carbon future; clean swimmable waterways; green space and protection of our natural environment. 

I've been actively involved in Waterfront Watch, Great Harbour Way Trust, Fair Intelligent Transport Wellington, Ciclovia cycle days, NZ Climate and Health Council, Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, and Wellington Rugby Union's medical team. I am a volunteer guide at Zealandia and an Orpheus Choir member. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

A beautiful and functional Golden Mile

In the current mayoral race, there is talk of pedestrianising Lambton Quay. Opponents have mainly come from the business world who believe that their businesses would suffer keeping the cars out. But, there are relatively few car-parks on the Golden Mile, and as a recent letter to the DomPost (Patrick Morgan) stated  "people shop, not cars". Research from elsewhere shows that seldom is shopping made worse by removing cars, and usually it is improved as slow foot traffic increases past shops.
But there may be a problem if no public transport is allowed in the Golden Mile. Commuters would benefit from quick access to their place of work if such were provided--that is as long as the mode was fast. So what do other similar cities do? I visit my grandchildren in Zurich. This is the city that nzta research paper 396 proposes as that which more than others resembles Wellington in the form of its CBD. The researchers predict much greater public transport use for our capital city if we adopt Zurich as our model:there the main street ( Bahnhofstrasse) has light rail running through it, beautiful with trees and without polluting cars and buses thundering along --such a people-friendly and inviting space, and so practical. And light rail is so successful throughout Zurich city --per-capita trip-making rates on public transport are more than five times higher than Wellington because of it.
We need to quickly put light rail onto our public transport agenda.
This is the letter I have just had published in the DomPost on this subject ( the editor slightly shortened it)-

Dear editor,
Your editorial wisely promotes a “compromise on Lambton Quay” between attractive pedestrian access and better public transport. It just doesn’t name the solution-- light rail. 
A landscaped, bus and car-free Golden Mile with clean congestion-free electric light rail would boost public transport --recently introduced light rail on the Gold Coast increased public transport use by 25% in the first year. At the same time it would provide an escape from the unhealthy fossil-fuel pollution provided by the current dirty, low-capacity diesel buses jamming up the heart of our city. 
And as part of a light rail spine from railway station to airport via the hospital it will be cheaper than the planned multi-lane motorways and tunnels.
Canberra is building it now, joining the rapid uptake in Europe and North American cities. Why not us? Our compact city being narrow excludes any effective rapid bus scheme but is ideal for rail.
We mustn’t be left behind.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Zealandia--an oasis of calm and beauty.

This is a photo of a beautiful native plant named Poataniwha (Melicope simplex). It has been put up on the Zealandia web-site. Zealandia is a treasure-trove of native plants, birds reptiles and fish within walking distance of Parliament in our vibrant capital city, Wellington.

How lucky are we to have a mainland island of protection of our critically-endangered wild-life so easily accessible to all residents and visitors to Wellington?

I love volunteer guiding in this oasis of calm
( literally--it is much protected from Wellington's rather brisk breezes).

We all need rest and relaxation from the stress of our artificial urban environment. Enjoying our natural heritage in a place which aims to re-establish a remnant of our once forested land, full of unique birds and plants, restores my spirit.
I think many others have the same experience in Zealandia.

Historic climate action from NZ's Youth

Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation, was founded with the central purpose of providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities & independence from fossil fuels.

I have had the privilege of working closely with Wellington GenZero members in supporting their campaigns for climate action.

They have now initiated an exciting initiative to write a Zero Carbon Act to fill the gap created by our government's inaction on climate change. Although the world's climate scientists and many world leaders are calling for reductions in greenhouse emissions, New Zealand's emissions are still growing. GenZero also want a UK-like independent Climate Commission which will advise the Government on Climate and ensure targets are achieved.The UK commission has been established since 2008 and is working well.
I am a Wise Response Society member--we have also been promoting the idea of a Climate Commission. We are endorsing GenZero's far-reaching proposal with enthusiasm.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Safe cycleways--build them and they’ll come.

Some motorists see cyclists as a nuisance. Thirty years ago, I was one of them. I was irritated if I had to slow down behind cyclists when they moved slowly on the hills, or when they ‘claimed the lane’ on a narrow road. But I didn’t ever have to feel the real death-threat posed by a ton or more of steel and plastic which protected me, but greatly threatened them, as I hurtled close-by. My ignorance made me intolerant.
But then a friend encouraged me to bike. What fun. It brought back childhood pleasures when my bike was my favourite toy. Later, as my aged joints deteriorated, I could feel the joy of regular bike-riding as well as knowing that I was benefitting my health with non-impact, joint-friendly and pain-free exercise. Soon I was persuading my patients after their  operations of the benefits to their joints and general health as they rehabilitated. And a common response to my advice? “I’d love to do more cycling, doctor, particularly to and fro work, but it’s too dangerous out there on the roads”.
We now know that an epidemic of modern diseases are associated with a lack of exercise. Also, recent research shows the major financial cost-benefit of creating cycling infrastructure compared with more road-building. And of overwhelming importance, we now know that we have to stop burning fossil carbon to counter our deteriorating climate and to reduce urban pollution from exhaust fumes.
As I’ve learnt more about the benefits of cycling, I now strongly reject my own previous attitude So, this week, when I saw a letter to the DomPost describing cyclists as ‘a minority holding the rest of the population to ransom', I needed to respond. I want to encourage more Wellingtonians to commute by bike. The advent of electric bikes makes the impact of hills and wind much less while exercising. It will be a game-changer for some in our compact city. Distances are small in our CBD:  this makes cycling a potential winner in Wellington. But we've got to persuade our car-obsessedgovernment and their road authorities( NZTA)
to stop their urban motorway plans and spend generously on public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure

Here is my letter published on 23 June under the heading “The benefits of cycling” --

Dear Editor,

Ellie Quigley ( letters 21 June) says that “the rest of the population is being held to ransom by a minority” ( ie cyclists). She correctly identifies health as a major benefit of cycling—it does this by encouraging more exercise thus saving public health dollars. Commuting to work by bike saves people time otherwise put aside for exercise. Cyclists take cars off the road reducing congestion for all.  Also, global population health benefits from emission-free and less polluting transport.. Is all this “holding the population to ransom”?
Yes, cyclists are a minority: this explains the thrust by modern urban planners to create separate cycleways to correct the imbalance with car numbers. Surveys show many more people would cycle given the improved safety that they provide. 

Build them and they will come.

Yours sincerely, 
 Russell Tregonning.

The picture ( thanks to hospital photographer Louise Goossens) is of me cycling on Riddiford St., outside my previous work place ( Wellington Hospital). There is no safe cycleway there despite recent upgrades to the road layout. I am not smiling. That's a grimace. I'm hoping I won't end up on the wrong side of the operating table.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

LetsGetWellyMoving in plain English

Bill English bad-mouths Wellington  for its "lack of 'progressive attitude' to transport solutions"
( DomPost 3 June). But then he appears to offer an olive branch saying "Lack of money is not a problem for the bottlenecks in Wellington's city infrastructure".
But Wellingtonians beware: what he means, of course, is ' Hurry up and make the decision to bore another Mt Victoria tunnel, bulldoze a huge swathe through your town belt along Ruahine St, destroy your citizens' homes along Wellington Rd so we can put a huge motorway through to the airport'. Because this is this government's and its NZ Transport Agency's (NZTA) agenda.

NZTA are such slow learners—first they muck up the Basin flyover plan at huge cost to taxpayers, appealing the decision to cancel it made by independent Commissioners after a long and expensive enquiry. And now they are still pigheadedly refusing to see alternatives to more roads--the obvious one for Wellington's constrained geography being light rail which can be installed for a fraction of the cost of the $1billion plus for their roading plans.

Besides cost, there are two other compelling reasons to cancel these motorways: climate change and health. The first is the greatest threat to the second. Also, more roads threaten health further by encouraging more private transport which promote air pollution, crashes and a sedentary lifestyle. And road congestion returns soon after building them (just look at Auckland).

We dodged a bullet cancelling NZTA's Basin flyover plans. Let’s bring this government and NZTA's thinking into the 21st century. GetWellymoving is our chance to stop this planned motorway madness.

The Minister of Finance says there's plenty of money. Both our City and Regional Councils have climate change action plans which are to encourage people out of their cars and create a low-carbon capital--these plans are completely at odds with the government's transport agenda for Wellington.

Our local politicians must now get Bill English's funds currently projected for destructive roads transferred to pay for all-electric, high capacity, congestion-free light rail from railway station via the hospital to the airport. If Mayor Brown can get the Government to cough up towards Auckland's recently-started light rail construction why can't we?

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Ten things you didn't know about climate change

Climate change is upon us. The global temperatures in 2016 are breaking all records. But we can act now to prevent the worst effects in the future.

Professors Tim Naish and James Renwick are touring New Zealand on behalf of The Royal Society of NZ . They will be presenting lectures on climate change entitled TEN BY TEN 2016: CLIMATE CHANGE  They say "Climate change is already redefining coastlines and the weather, both here in New Zealand and around the world. They ask--will it affect you, and what can you do about it?"

These two highly-respected climate scientists from Victoria University will give their take on this the biggest of issues – from the very local to the global.

I've heard them speak at the launch of this important initiative in Wellington last month. I can highly recommend their presentation. The link gives the towns and days when they speak.

My advice--Go & hear them.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Regional Council hard-nosed about killing hard-wired Wellington

I made an oral submission to Wellington's regional Council last Wednesday ( 25 May) I congratulated the Council on its decision that all future papers and policies include a statement as to their effect on climate change. This is essential to address and act on the climate crisis happening right now which the climate scientists are warning us about. But they also say we have the means to avoid the worst--given the right political leadership.
There are very good Council transport plans afoot like the plans for The Great Harbour Way safe walking & cycling track. But their handling of the most rapidly expanding source of greenhouse gases--fossil-fuelled transport--is foundering. Currently their bus fleet, apart from the trolleys, runs on diesel which has serious health and climate problems.
I pointed to the flawed  Public Transport Spine Study of 2013 which concluded that Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) should exclude light rail transport from Wellington's public transport agenda. This was based on over-emphasising costs and under-estimating the benefits of light rail while over-estimating the benefits of BRT. Many transport experts point to Wellington's narrow CBD streets so that 'Rapid' will not happen with a bus solution.And buses won't carry enough people to gain the real low emission and low pollution benefits inherent in light rail.
Another  major backward step has also been to plan the expensive destruction of the city's wiring for the popular clean green trolley buses. I have had a Wellington Scoop article printed on my views on this.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

We are wrecking our rivers

I've been a trout fisherman scouring the nations waterways since childhood. Over the decades I have seen the deterioration of our rivers, streams, and lakes. There are increasing numbers of cattle in our streams and I now increasingly have to to pick my way across grossly polluted stream edges-- bogs full of urine & faeces. The water itself is often green with weeds, and algal mats darken the stream beds. Some rivers, particularly in the South Island have been abstracted to a trickle in summer. Some water is undrinkable.
All this has coincided with the intensification of farming, and latterly to conversions of dry country to irrigated dairying .
As a kid, like all NZers of that time, I used to swim in any river, stream or lake. Now increasingly, we are told of the high proportion of these waterways are unsafe, and there are health risks. The current aims for water quality are to be safe for paddling & boating only.
We have to change this --for our health, for our recreation and for our economy. Our clean green image is suffering. Our economy must suffer too as we depend so much on agriculture and tourism--both very sensitive to the cleanliness of our environment.
We need strong regulation to protect our water standards, then real enforcement measures to put these into effect. We can raise money from charging farmers for industrial irrigation water , and bottling tom fund schemes to help farmers fence-off and plant around our waterways--this will reduce the ability for animals to overwhelm the ability of the ground to absorb nutrients and pathogens. Planting trees will also help reduce sediment loss to our fresh water from erosion.
Here is a letter to the Otago Daily Times I had published in February 2016--

Dear Editor,

Your photo of a cow fouling a pristine river ( ODT, 28 January) graphically highlights the increasing pollution of our national waterways by cattle. I and my fellow fishers see the widespread effects of unrestrained cattle compressing and pugging waterway edges into excreta-soaked bogs. Mr Hunt of Federated Farmers Otago makes the point that intensive dairy farming is different, but says “cows walking through waterways in the Matukituki Valley is a legitimate farming operation”.

Dairying clearly needs more restrictions. But high country beef farmers should not be allowed to pollute without restriction either. They need more monitoring, and given their private profits should bear most financial responsibility for fencing off their waterways. But, given the difficulties of fencing on their terrain, should they not be given some financial incentives from local or central government? I’d approve of my tax money subsidising our precious environment in this way. ( 148 words)

 Yours sincerely etc

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Zealandia--one of the jewels in Wellington's crown

This photo of a magnificent Kaka was taken by Tom Lynch, a prime visionary in the creation of Zealandia: an 'on-shore island' of conservation in Wellington, within a few minutes trip from the Beehive. Zealandia has been constructed for the protection of our greatly endangered small remnant of a once-prolific bird paradise. These birds, along with other unique animals, once thrived on an isolated, mainly mammalian-free group of islands called New Zealand. Representatives of these rare birds, reptiles and fish now have safe sanctuary in the middle of the capital city.

The kakas were screaming overhead as I walked to my post in the valley early today. Uplifting. I was privileged to be part of a gang of volunteer helpers to run the 'open day' at Zealandia.  A gold coin donation was enough to visit and experience the growing attractions. When I knocked off in the middle of the day, 1400 visitors had already been admitted on a fine, calm day.

I support Zealandia as a superb conservation effort--a place of education for our own people & those visitors from afar. It needs our whole-hearted support.We among all the mammals have been paramount in the downfall of these wonderful creatures, destroying their habitat and introducing other predators. The kaka are being bad-mouthed for some damage they cause to trees in residents' gardens in the halo zone around the sanctuary. But do they threaten us the way we do them? --even their very existence? I say, leave them be, and celebrate their revival--after all, who were here first?

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Hey you cyclists--Give Way!

So, Wellington City Council has decided to scale back its original wide safe cycling and walking trail along Hutt road after businesses along the route prevailed. And some of these businesses park or demonstrate their vehicles for sale on Council road reserve ( see above right).

 If the Council can't remove cars from their own land, how are  they going to abide by their promises to the community made in their Wellington Cycling Framework 2015 document? Here's some of their very sensible promises--

"On-street parking will be removed in some locations to make space for the proposed cycle network. The loss of on-street parking is a common occurrence when new walking and cycling facilities are built. When determining how to use a transport corridor, the Wellington City Council gives priority to safety, pedestrians, cycling facilities, bus stops, bus lanes and traffic flow over other uses"
Note this is about on-street parking--and these vehicle are on the footpath!

Here's some more promises--

"We will prioritise moving vehicles and active modes of transport (such as walking and cycling) over parking".  And--

"The priority for limited public space must be for the movement of people and goods rather than car parkingChoosing active transport makes it easier to include exercise as a part of your daily routine ...to increase your quality of life and your sense of wellbeing".

The Council has listed all the right reasons to promote cycling lanes in their introduction--

"We’re building a cycling network because smart cities cycle. Cycling is a cheap and healthy transport choice and it helps to reduce traffic congestion. Being able to get around by bike makes our city a more attractive place to live, work and visit". 

And WCC knows about the research which shows that businesses seldom lose, and most often win  when more cyclists are attracted in front of their premises on new cycle lanes--

"Following the installation of cycleways in San Francisco, 60 percent of retailers reported seeing more residents shopping locally and 40 percent experienced an increase in sales as a result".

Wouldn't be nice if cyclists didn't have to give way to businesses who still see only disadvantage and mistakenly, a diminished bottom line when cyclists come near them in their numbers?

WCC--Is it not possible to stand firm on the commitments to your public?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Transport bosses admit motorways don't solve congestion--but build them anyway

I have today ( 12 May 2016) had myletter to the 'Wellingtonian' printed (see below) In addition to the motorway building mentioned in the letter, NZTA is planning to spend billions more on its 'tunnel-to-tunnel' Roads of National Significance motorway build through the town belt. This route will be well away from Newtown, a major centre of population and the site of Wellington Hospital and the zoo.

I believe these new roads should not be built. They are the wrong choice going on the wrong route--last century's solution. And even the transport bosses admit they will not solve congestion. Instead,  modern, all-electric, high-capacity and frequently running light rail linking the railway station with the hospital and airport should be planned for now: just like cities in Australia , Europe , North America and elsewhere are doing. This is the mass public transport option most suitable for Wellington's cramped CBD and beyond. Buses just won't do it on the spine--not enough capacity required to facilitate the major mode shift required from harmful private car dominance with its emissions, pollution, encouragement of physical inactivity and crashes--all major health threats.  High frequency smaller electric buses feeding the central rail spine will complete an urban renewal plan for Wellington--fit for the 21st century.

Image of LRT in Wellington with kind permission of Brent Efford

My letter follows--

Dear Editor, 

 Paul Swain, Wellington Regional Council’s transport leader announces that Wellington is about to get its biggest ever transport programme –estimated at $2.5 billion on highways over the next 6 years ( Wellingtonian 28 April). But on RNZ ( 9 September, 2015) in discussing congestion charging, he stated “ You can’t motorway your way out of problems”. Also, NZ Transport Agency’s Southern regional boss, Jim Harland ( youtube, May 2016) states “ We can’t just assume that motorways, even with more lanes, will solve congestion”. What they both agree on is the place of public transport.

Am I missing something here? We tax-payers get to pay eye-wateringly large sums on motorways, which even the transport bosses say won’t solve congestion, but they say public transport will.

So it’s obvious. The money should go on more linked buses and trains. This should  include high-capacity light rail to the airport in Wellington city which would then be easily affordable. Let’s stop banging our head on the brick wall of so-called Roads of National Significance: they need to be stopped right now.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Airport runway extension a bad idea for Wellington

On 10 May 2016, my OraTaiao www.orataiao.org.nz/ ( NZ Climate & Health Council) colleague Liz Springford and I presented on the annual plan for Wellington City Council. We had the chance speak on behalf  of our group of 500 NZ health professionals  opposing the runway extension proposal on climate and health grounds. Here is the letter to the DomPost published recently from our executive board--

Dear Editor,

 An independent emissions assessment of Wellington Airport’s runway proposals is urgently needed. At the moment Wellington is flying blind as neither the airport nor the Council know how much the extension will increase emissions. And they are predicting passenger numbers to double by 2030.

What we do know is that that climate change is the greatest threat to global health and our economy. Also known is that aviation is a significant source of climate-damaging emissions: of the average Wellingtonian's footprint of 5.3 CO2eq tonnes annually almost 20% is from domestic flights. Overseas travel contributes much more. For example, one person flying return to Hong Kong adds 4.0 tonnes, and London return 7.9 tonnes.

The world has agreed on a pathway towards zero net global emissions this century. Successful, thriving cities will act accordingly, but the runway extension takes Wellington in exactly the wrong direction - for our economy and for our health.

The airport runway extension plans need to pass an emissions climate health check right now.

Dr Russell Tregonning, for the  Executive Board OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council

Monday, 9 May 2016

Bikes on buses

Bikes on public transport vehicles will be essential to link healthy cycling with public transport, particularly in our hilly inner city. So, we ( those fit enough) will bike to work downhill and get taken back home up-hill. Or if it's too far to do both legs, even on the flat, just do one--either to or fro work.
This is the way we will have to go as we wean ourselves off unhealthy private car transport to mass public and active transport. This to counter the deteriorating climate, reduce our fossil fuel burning and inactivity-related diseases ( cardiac, respiratory, obesity, diabetes, some cancers etc).

Worries about taking bikes on buses in the crowded inner CBD can be solved if we rid our city of  the diesel-polluting large buses in favour of all-electric transport along the spine ( railway station to hospital and airport). Light rail will do the trick there--all cycles on-board. Easy. Done overseas ( I've taken my bike on light rail in Vancouver and seen how easy). Smaller buses and all-electric trolleys serving the suburbs-to-spine won't be crammed up along Lambton Quay in their long lines at peak hours. They can be fitted with external bike racks which overseas don't seem to  pose danger to pedestrians ( see photo below of bike rack on Vancouver which I've used. Worries about delays in getting bikes on didn't seem to be a problem there--passengers were more the cause of any delay.

We need to put light rail back on the agenda for Wellington City to benefit all in our whole region--not only the cyclists. High-capacity, quick, frequent, reliable and clean; taking private cars, necessary for some, off our crowded roads. Good for people and the economy.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Press release announcing GW candidacy

For immediate release


A leading Wellington surgeon with a strong environmental agenda is to be a candidate for the Regional Council in the October elections.

Dr Russell Tregonning, a local orthopaedic surgeon for 37 years and past president of the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association, says he will campaign to make the Wellington city and its environment more healthy for all its citizens including improvement in water quality with exclusion of stock from all waterways, swimmable rivers and clean beaches.

“I will fight for fast, efficient public transport with low or no emissions, more pedestrianised streets and safe cycling routes, and an increase in city parks and green open spaces.” Among his priorities, he says, is for the Regional Council to put light rail back on its transport agenda, and to retain trolley buses meantime. “Diesel buses are dinosaurs. Their emissions pollute the environment, and also our lungs.”

He wants Wellington to become a world leader in combating climate change. He says the Regional Council should base all its decisions on moving forward to a low carbon future. “Such policies would be good for people, good for business, and good for future generations.”

Dr Tregonning says the Wellington region – like the whole country – is facing unprecedented threats to its fragile environment, brought on by climate change and backward-looking policies. “Our model has tended to be America, instead of the enlightened and progressive European countries that have introduced a raft of measures to reduce carbon emissions, enhance the liveability of their cities, and improve the health of their citizens.”

Russell Tregonning has an impressive record in local and national affairs playing a leading role in many environmental and public health bodies. Locally, in Waterfront Watch, the Great Harbour Way Trust, and Chaffers Park – Make It Happen which was responsible for the creation of Waitangi Park. He is a founding member of FIT – Fair Intelligent Transport Wellington and Wellington Ciclovia, He is a guide at Zealandia, a member of Cycle Aware Wellington, the Wellington FlyFishing Club, and he was a medical officer for the Wellington Rugby Union. At national level he is an executive member of OraTaiao: the New Zealand Climate and Health Council, a member of Fish and Game NZ, Forest and Bird, and Wise Response, a broad coalition of New Zealanders asking the government to assess imminent risks to New Zealand.

5 Anne St., Wadestown, Wellington.  Phone 027 444 6805


Saturday, 30 April 2016

Kicking off my campaign

After a successful career as a surgeon I am now offering my experience and skills as a new face on Greater Wellington. I've lived and worked in Wellington for nearly 40 years. During that time I've seen it grow into a creative, vibrant city with huge potential. Let's move ahead with modern transport policies. We must get rid of polluting diesel transport which currently powers most of our our bus fleet. Let's clean up our increasingly polluted waterways. And let's bring in really effective policies to mitigate climate change - acknowledged by world health leaders as the greatest threat to health of this and future generations.

I support both current GW councillors Paul Bruce and Sue Kedgley who have similar aims for the transformation of Wellington's transport system by way of all-electric and congestion-free public transport. We support light rail from railway station to airport via the hospital, and a fully electric bus system including retention of the overhead wires and trolleys meantime--essential for the economy, health and resilience of our region.

I'm standing as an Independent. Therefore I have no organised assistance. If you want to help ( e.g. with leaflet drops in the Wellington area, or in other ways),  please contact me--
rutrego@gmail.com  or

Find out about my vision for Wellington and how it can be achieved: