Conflict of interest – Transport chair withdraws from Basin flyover planning

by Lindsay Shelton
In a sudden development five days before Christmas, the NZ Transport Agency has admitted that its chairman Chris Moller has a conflict of interest with regard to planning roading at the Basin Reserve.

The news of the conflict of interest comes in a letter to Mayor Celia Wade-Brown from the Agency’s chief executive Geoff Dangerfield. He writes:

“As you are aware, board chairman Chris Moller has a conflict of interest with respect to the Basin Reserve. Chris will not be present for any discussions relating to this matter, and Patsy Reddy, NZTA deputy chair, will take his place.”

The letter is dated 21 December, eight days after Wellington.Scoop discovered what few people seemed to be aware of – that Chris Moller held two jobs, not only the chair of the Transport Agency but also the chair of NZ Cricket. At the Basin on the 12th, he had apologised for mis-handling the issue of the Black Caps captaincy. A critic referred to a grotesque conflict of interest being all too common in the world of NZ cricket. Which led us, one day later, to raise the conflict of interest issue on a broader stage.

It’s time to ask questions about Chris Moller’s stance towards the Basin Reserve Trust’s controversial demands to be given a new grandstand to hide the flyover from cricketers. As chairman of both the roading and cricket organisations, has he had to declare a conflict of interest when this subject has been discussed? And how can it be possible for government roading funds to be used for a grandstand?

The Agency didn’t respond to any of our questions. But the letter to the mayor is public confirmation that a conflict of interest does exist, though it doesn’t say whether or not the Transport chair has participated in the long process of developing the Basin flyover and the prolonged negotiations with the Basin Reserve Trust who want roading money to build a new grandstand for cricket.

The letter to the mayor is much more conciliatory than the one which was given to city councillors before they started their debate last week on the flyover.

“We accept your council’s desire to take a last look at options before we proceed to the next stage,” writes Mr Dangerfield, who has calmed down since his earlier letter said there would be serious implications if the council voted against the flyover. As it did. He also seems to have taken notice of Andy Foster’s remarks that the council’s relationship with the Agency no longer felt like a partnership.

“Wellington City Council, NZTA and Greater Wellington Regional Council are … partners in delivering this [Basin Reserve] solution and need to make progress on this matter for the city and for the wider region.”

Then comes an olive branch.

“To this end, we would like to extend an invitation to you to meet with the Board of the NZTA at its scheduled meeting on 1 March. This would be to discuss the outcome of your exploration of alternative transport solutions around the Basin Reserve. This discussion will be greatly assisted if you can share your analysis with my staff sufficiently well in advance of this meeting. After considering your views, the Board will be in a position to determine whether or not there is another option that will deliver the grade separation, traffic flow efficiencies and modal integration that are required and is affordable.”

Which doesn’t sound like one partner speaking to another. But it’s better than a threat. Though the sentence which follows sounds like an ultimatum.

“If no effective and affordable options are identified, the Board would look forward to your support for the Basin Reserve bridge in the Board of inquiry processes that lie ahead.”

 

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