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The pro-roading gang of nine

Kerry Prendergast supported a flyover near the Basin Reserve. She lost the election. Celia Wade-Brown opposed the flyover. She won.

There can’t be anyone on Mt Victoria who supports a flyover. [1] If it was built, it would be the most visible and the most damaging of all the secret roading plans that are being developed for Wellington by the government’s Transport Agency. It’s our city, but they aren’t telling us what they’re planning. Councilors may have been given special treatment, with occasional briefings behind closed doors. But not the public. And so no dialogue has been possible on some of the great alternative ideas which have been offered and apparently ignored.

And now the Agency is pushing city councilors into agreeing with everything that it wants to do – before the public has been allowed to see the plans. After more than three years of development, there are rumours that consultation may start next month. But residents of Mt Victoria and Hataitai are also discovering that the consultation period is likely to be disproportionately short.

None of this seems to concern nine city councilors who are acting as if their prime responsibility is to the Transport Agency. In response to Mayor Wade-Brown’s reasonable proposal of scheduling a debate on transport issues once reports were prepared, they have demanded a meeting next Wednesday – and it’s been scheduled without any agenda being published on the council’s website.

The head of the council’s transport portfolio, Andy Foster (who is also president of the New Zealand Traffic Institute) is not one of the councilors who are forcing the rushed meeting. He summarised his caution about the Transport Agency plans when he spoke to last week’s meeting of Hataitai residents [2] who are concerned about having a four-lane highway pushed through their suburb. He acknowledged that traffic growth is decreasing while energy prices are peaking and alternative technologies are being developed. And he warned: “The risk is that we are planning for business as it’s been for the last sixty years. What if it’s not the same?”

The nine councilors – branded as “pro-roading” in yesterday’s DomPost – have obviously been able to ignore the evidence and to persuade themselves that nothing is changing. It’s curious that the list of nine includes Councilor John Morrison (the DomPost says he has “come out of the shadows” for the current controversy) who is on record as being less than whole-hearted in his support for the Agency’s roading plans because he is against a flyover [3]. His comments yesterday suggest he may have given up trying to protect the Basin.

Two other pro-roading councilors (one of whom began attacking the mayor 24 hours after her election [4]) were notable for leaving last week’s Hataitai meeting before the official presentations had been completed, so they didn’t hear ratepayers talking about their concerns and they didn’t hear Kapiti residents speaking sadly about their treatment by the Transport Agency.

Then there’s deputy mayor Ian McKinnon, again voting against the mayor who nominated him for his job. He shouldn’t be surprised that the mayor is unhappy [5] about his performance.

Mind you, the situation may not be as grim as the DomPost suggested with its “rebel councilors” [6] angle. The Transport Agency wants the council to confirm that it supports the overall roading plan rather than endorsing each of the secret designs. “We appreciate that the council will have views on the specific design details once they are available, and we will welcome their feedback as part of the consultation process,” said the Agency’s central regional director. Mayor Wade-Brown, who has several times committed to the consultation process, had also committed to scheduling a meeting to discuss the overall plan. But the nine rebel councilors weren’t willing to accept her timetable. With their successful demand for a council meeting next Wednesday, they appear to want to give the Agency a free hand before the public has any information to consider. “We have got to have the guts to send a clear message of support,” says Councilor Morrison. What does this mean for the Basin Reserve?

Two great ideas to avoid a flyover:
Solving the problems by changing traffic flows [7]
Putting traffic underground and creating a park [8]