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.”

 

8 comments:

  1. Michael Gibson, 25. December 2012, 15:33

    The same conflict-of-interest situation arises at the Council, e.g. with Cr Justin Lester voting as a Councillor for the commercial “betterment” of a company of which he is a paid director, Wellington Waterfront Ltd.
    It is tragic that his Committee Chair, Cr Andy Foster, has supported him in this seemingly because he needs the vote to get more buildings onto open space on the precious Wellington waterfront..
    It would have been good if they had had better or firmer legal advice about the conflict but they should be able to make up their own minds on this – after all they were voted in to do exactly that (i.e. make up their own minds when they were independent, that is!)

     
  2. Tim Jones, 27. December 2012, 16:26

    Wellington Scoop is doing a great job at exposing the cronyism that underlies so many of these projects. Chris Moller’s conflict of interest over the Basin Reserve flyover is, I suspect, only the tip of the iceberg. One wonders what Mr Moller’s future is as a board chair.

     
  3. Alana, 27. December 2012, 17:47

    Requiring Moller to step out of the room just isn’t enough to ensure that the Basin Reserve Cricket Ground is receiving protection from the NZTA’s determination to push a flyover. And NZTA is a government agency, not a government body itself, and it should receive instructions, not issue them.

     
  4. Liz S, 28. December 2012, 18:37

    Given NZTA’s belated recognition of Chris Moller’s conflict of interest, what actions are now needed to sort out the impact of his conflicted interests on basin flyover work so far?

    Removal prevents future harm, but what about harm already caused? What are NZTA’s plans to sort out this mess?

     
  5. Polly, 29. December 2012, 15:54

    I remind Cr Morrison of his comments in the DomPost on September 13, 2008 re an extra stand planned at the Basin. He said the stand would totally obscure the flyover (quoted then as costing $33million) and funding would come from the city council, the regional council and the NZTA. He is also quoted as saying that the stand would be lower than the top of the pohutakawa trees that ring the ground. However, in the last four years the growth of pohutakawas has been incredible and they may have to be trimmed or even removed if the the flyover is built. Finally he talked about the rickety gates being replaced with an eye catching entrance under the new stand, with access along a tree lined boulevard between Kent and Cambridge Terraces. He fails to say that this boulevard would be ruined by the flyover overhead, with noise and pollution, not to say graffiti.

     
  6. Effie, 30. December 2012, 8:54

    And the new entrance would be ruined because you would have to walk under the flyover to get to the Basin.

     
  7. Guy, 30. December 2012, 9:41

    Seems to me that Clr Morrison’s expectations and NZTA planned mitigation are very much miles apart, despite an alleged letter of intent. Councilor implies a guaranteed new grandstand, extending from the Vance stand right down to the corner, with new WCs to replace the soviet ablution block. Whereas NZTA plans for a new screen just at one end, above the entry gate. That’s quite different. You might think that Chris Moller would have been able to get that cleared up, seeing as he was on both boards, even if he was declaring a conflict at the time.

     
  8. traveller, 30. December 2012, 9:56

    A new screen would be just as dreadful as a new grandstand, in terms of destroying the viewshaft and the open ambience of the neighbourhood around the Basin. How twisted for the NZTA to be planning big structures to block the flyover from being seen by cricketers during occasional matches, when everyone else will be seeing the flyover 24 hours a day seven days a week, 365 days every year. (If it’s built…)

     

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