Dame Fran Wilde honours supporters of 'less popular issues'

  • 31/12/2016

Fran Wilde says being named a Dame in the New Year Honours has caused her to reflect on how fortunate she was to be born in New Zealand where it's possible to facilitate change.

The former Labour MP and first female mayor of Wellington is probably best known for homosexual law reform 30 years ago, but she trots through a raft of issues as she reflects on her career, and even makes infrastructure sound interesting.

She said she didn't have any particular privilege as a child.

"It was just a normal middle-class suburban upbringing but here you can go on and make change if you want to and I think that's a really important thing for New Zealanders to understand," she said.

The 68-year-old said her life has been a series of projects.

"It's interesting a number of the issues I've been involved with weren't very popular at the time".

She added that it wasn't just one person who "makes it happen".

"It requires many, many people so [the honour is] really a vindication for all of those people who have worked on, shall we say, some of the less popular issues of the day.

"We came through and we achieved some change that's been beneficial for New Zealand."

That was the case for homosexual law reform but also in the local government area.

Dame Fran said "people work their butts off in local government" and get a lot of criticism.

"To me this is also a recognition of local government which is really important in New Zealand."

Dame Fran wasn't able to push through council amalgamation in the Wellington region and said the model available currently under law needed a tweak.

Councils should be able to oversee many issues but they need to combine to sort out infrastructure, she said.

"All councils have got infrastructure challenges now and frankly the best way to address those is by doing it together.

"That is really what it's about," she said.

She thinks Wellington is not playing to its full potential and those in local government need to find a way to work together.

She wasn't on trend when she left parliament to be the first female mayor of Wellington.

"It was as seen as quite extraordinary at the time, people just didn't do that in those days."

She's well known for the development of Westpac Stadium but didn't want to be remembered for just that.

westpac stadium wellington fran wilde
The main entrance to Westpac Stadium was named the Fran Wilde Walkway (Newshub.)

She cited the sewage plant at Moa Point, the start of work on pipes in Wellington and supporting the fibre optic cable network in inner Wellington as well as Zealandia, the redevelopment of the St James Theatre and the development of the Absolutely Positively Wellington slogan.

She said Wellington really fires on its intellectual capital and the fibre optic network had changed the city.

The rebranding of the city was really about giving Wellingtonians permission to feel good about themselves.

The tourism sector was an embarrassment when she became mayor and now it's a big earner.

Dame Fran said she was always thinking about what the next project will be.

She's currently deputy chair on Capital Coast District Health Board and is involved in a project to make Wellington's infrastructure more resilient.

The latter has become pressing after this year's earthquake and she hints strongly it's an area to watch developments in.