Justin Lester is Wellington’s 35th mayor. He served his apprenticeship as deputy mayor for one term and has been a northern ward councillor since 2010. Wellington is his adopted home and he’s quick to champion its cause.
Justin Lester’s first couple of months as mayor of Wellington were not exactly from the textbook. He learned he was the successful Mayor-elect last October while sneaking in a quick haircut in the barber’s chair; one month into his term and the capital was rocked by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake centred near Kaikoura, and then early-2017 he was involved in a head-on car accident while on Council business. While emerging from all three incidents pretty much unscathed and more media-savvy, Lester is pumped at the challenges coming his way and thankful that the city he now leads is so resilient – in more ways than one. “People have to realise that earthquakes can occur anywhere in New Zealand however, the strong seismic awareness that residents have is reflected in our building stock which coped well with the November event,” says Lester.
“I think Wellingtonians are a pragmatic lot who recognise that they need to be prepared for whatever comes their way.”
Like many of the capital’s residents, Lester is an import. Hailing from Invercargill, and having lived and studied overseas, Lester is a convert to the Wellington way of life.
“There’s an open-mindedness in the capital that I believe stems from the fact that around two-thirds of the population were not born in Wellington.
“People are welcoming, hospitable and generous and I’d go as far as to say it’s the most wonderful city in New Zealand.”
Naturally the mayor can be forgiven for being biased, but he intends backing up that assertion with action and positivity – for the benefit of everyone who calls Wellington home.
“We’re starting from a very sound sociographic base so let’s leverage off the credentials of our people,” muses Lester, who has a Masters degree in Law, has worked in commercial property and asset management and started a food business from scratch.
“Wellingtonians are the most highly educated in New Zealand, we have a very talented workforce, average incomes are the highest in the country and tertiary student numbers are growing,”
“Coupled with that is the compact urban environment, the huge strides the capital is making to mitigate carbon emissions, and the positive uptake of smart transport options.
“It’s also exciting to be working alongside the private sector which is elevating the appeal of the city through innovative thinking and significant investment.” - Justin Lester, mayor of WellingtonLester says the fundamentals are all there to build upon further.
“It’s inspiring to look at the knowledge sector and the creative/digital sector and we can learn from them,” he says.
“Bold thinking, a fearless attitude and clear vision are vital to progress.”
A family man with two young daughters, Lester and his wife, Liz, live in Johnsonville. He says suburban Wellington will be invigorated by Council initiatives in coming years.
“Having a resilient and energetic CBD is only part of the Wellington story. Creating strong suburban centres is crucial to a well-functioning region,” says Lester.
“There’s big investment planned for Tawa, private investors are redeveloping the Johnsonville shopping centre, and the likes of Kilbirnie, Miramar and Karori will also be getting a boost.
“Council’s role will be to back this investment up with improvements to roads and amenities in order to make these suburban town centres relevant to their wider communities and to minimise any barriers to their economic growth.”
Lester campaigned on the back of a commitment to strengthen relationships with central government to ensure that Wellington remains a progressive and thriving region.
“I think the respect is there between council and government – respect goes both ways. I have pledged to push Wellington’s barrow assertively and will do so particularly around earthquake resilience, roading infrastructure, urban development, housing and transport,” he says.
“Knowing what we are working towards is half the battle – unlocking investment funding and getting across the line is always a work in progress.”