by Lindsay Shelton
“No one in Mount Victoria wants the flyover,” said Councillor Iona Pannett. “No one.” And no one at yesterday’s meeting of the Wellington City Council dared to disagree with her. Not even seven councillors who kept insisting that the flyover would be a good idea.
“It is our job to represent the interests of our constituents,” she went on. “Three residents’ associations say a flyover is unacceptable and a tunnel is the only way.”
Amazingly, almost all councillors agreed that they should support the need to put State Highway 1 into a tunnel under the War Memorial Park.
But there were dissenters when Mayor Celia Wade-Brown moved that the council’s preference should be for the road to be put underground all the way from Buckle Street to the Mt Victoria Tunnel “to preserve the integrity of the park, the Basin Reserve and Government House.”
The deputy mayor, Ian McKinnon: “I support tunnelling under Buckle Street. But I don’t support a tunnel all the way to Mt Victoria …Therefore I shall have to vote against the mayor, which is a pity.”
Ray Ahipene-Mercer: “I agree with Councillor McKinnon about the impossibility of this. It’s not going to happen.”
Simon Marsh: “I want an option that works. The flyover works.”
John Morrison: “The mayor’s plan shows a head in the sand. I won’t support it because it’s not going to happen. But I will support tunnelling under the Memorial Park because it would be nice for the centenary of Anzac Day.”
The mayor’s response: “It’s excellent that we have strong support for putting the road under the Memorial Park. But if tunnelling would be good for the park, it should also be good for other parts of our city.” She talked about Option X as an inspirational idea which captured the public imagination. She said councillors should be speaking up for the people of Wellington. She described hopes for “mitigation” of the flyover as being akin to putting lipstick on a gorilla.
And she prevailed. The nay-sayers were outvoted. By eight votes (Wade-Brown, Foster, Cook, Eagle, Lester, Pannett, Pepperell, and Ritchie) to seven (Ahipene-Mercer, Best, Coughlan, Gill, Marsh, McKinnon and Morrison), the council agreed to tell the government that cut-and-covering the road from the Memorial Park in Buckle Street all the way to the Mt Victoria Tunnel would produce a better outcome for the city than a flyover.
Justin Lester: “Our duty is to say what Wellingtonians want. Wellingtonians want a tunnel.”
Andy Foster: “Everyone’s first preference is for the road to go underground. Why wouldn’t we want to fight to get the best outcome for our city? If we don’t, the corridor will be blighted for decades.”
Paul Eagle: “We shouldn’t be giving up. The mayor’s plan reflects the people I represent. They want a park, a green precinct, a tunnel.”
Bryan Pepperell: “The distinctive character of our city is coming under challenge. We don’t want to leave the legacy of a flyover.”
So the tunnel debate was over by lunchtime, leaving the afternoon for councillors to revise the wording of their submission to the Transport Agency. Which will now say the council doesn’t want a flyover at the Basin Reserve, and does want State Highway 1 to be put into a cut-and-covered trench, as moved by the mayor.
City Council’s report on the tunnel decision