The Transport Agency’s threatening tactics

by Lindsay Shelton
Geoff Dangerfield’s letter given to city councillors this week is not the first time that the Transport Agency has threatened Wellington. It’s done it before, but last time it did it anonymously.

Same tactic on Wednesday, except that the threat was made in a letter signed by the chief executive. He’s annoyed that our elected councillors have an opinion which is different from his Agency.

“We are particularly concerned about the council taking a position to oppose the construction of a bridge at the Basin Reserve. This would have serious implications for future transport investments in Wellington City that rely on fixing the traffic woes at the Basin … If the council changes its stance … we will also need to reconsider our support for a range of other transport network projects with Wellington city that rely on the efficiency gains to be delivered by the bridge… Withdrawal of support for the bridge proposal at this late stage may have significant implications for investment in Wellington’s wider transport network and ultimately on the growth and prosperity of the city.”

The letter implies (“at this late stage”) that the council has supported the flyover till now. Not true. The council first told the Agency it didn’t want the flyover in October last year. Councillors resolved that a flyover, and an at-grade road through Memorial Park, “would rob Wellington of the opportunity to turn this area of national significance into something of which the Capital City could be justifiably proud.” Since then, of course, half of what the council wanted has been approved – the government over-ruled the Agency’s plan for a road through the park and told it to move eastbound traffic into a tunnel. But the flyover remains on the Agency’s list.

And a majority of city councillors don’t want it. “It has serious urban design issues,” said Councillor Lester on Wednesday. “The location is not appropriate for a flyover.” But the Agency doesn’t agree. And one of its employees is telling councillors that if they don’t fall into line then Wellington’s growth and prosperity could be threatened.

Mr Dangerfield is repeating tactics which are deplorable and anti-democratic. They were first used in April last year, when an anonymous Agency source told the Dominion Post that unless the council supported its roading plans the Transport Agency could ditch Wellington roading projects and use the money somewhere else. The statement resulted in a headline “$2b for capital’s roads at risk.” The source of the threat turned out to be Alick Shaw, a former Wellington deputy mayor who is a board member of the Transport Agency.

The Agency did not want to release its plans without council backing (said Alick Shaw anonymously), fearing it may “walk into an ambush because politicians are playing silly buggers” by playing with words to “advance personal views when they know perfectly well what the majority view around the council table is.” It was a crude attack on his former colleague Celia Wade-Brown, who supported the roading plans only as options, and who had successfully campaigned against the flyover. His attack proved to be not only misguided but also misinformed, as the majority view around the council table has twice resulted in a vote against the flyover, contrary to the expectations of Mr Shaw.

The day his anonymous attack was printed, we commented:

The Transport Agency’s tactics sank to a low level this morning … The Agency seems to be telling the city that it’s all or nothing at all. Do what the bullying Agency wants, or it will take its money somewhere else. Which is not a constructive way to begin community consultation.

As events have shown, the Transport Agency has continued on the same path. Its community consultation was a sham, offering the city a choice between a flyover or a flyover, and attempting to exclude discussion of other more popular options. Its refusal to reconsider Option X since the game-changing Memorial Park tunnel decision shows a dubious stubbornness. And now there is the Dangerfield letter.

The Agency is living in a world of its own. The real world was accurately described by Andy Foster at Wednesday’s meeting. Referring to the vote in October last year, he said: “We said we didn’t like the flyover, the public said the same.”


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