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Conflict of interest: the Agency says more

by Lindsay Shelton
The pre-Christmas letter to Mayor Wade-Brown was not the only time that the NZ Transport Agency has gone public about its chair’s conflict of interest. On the same day that the letter was written, the Agency updated its website with similar but differently-worded information.

The update, on the board section of the website, is a message from deputy chair Patsy Reddy. Her message says that Transport Agency chair Chris Moller is also chair of NZ Cricket Inc and a member of the Board of the Wellington Regional Stadium Trust. She goes on:

In respect of NZTA decisions that affect the Basin Reserve, from the time of his appointment Mr Moller declared that he had an interest because of these roles. To ensure there is no perception of conflict of interest, Mr Moller always declares his interests and these are documented. Mr Moller takes no part in any Board or Committee deliberations regarding the inner city improvements affecting the Basin Reserve, and the role of Chairing the Board is taken by me or another member.

The unstated reason for this message is the widely-reported demand from the Basin Reserve Trust for the Agency to give it a new grandstand for cricket tests, in return for it supporting the flyover. Ms Reddy’s words however are different from the situation described by the Agency’s chief executive on the same day. In his letter to the mayor [1], he seems to acknowledge the existence of a perception of conflict of interest:

“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 flurry of revelations (first revealed by Wellington.Scoop on December 13 [2]) is enough to send researchers back into the minutes of NZTA board meetings, all published on its website. [3]

The minutes of the 12 June meeting seem to be relevant. They show that the Board adopted a resolution (“Resolution 10”) moved by Alick Shaw stating that the Option A flyover with westbound traffic was the preferred option for the Basin Reserve, that it would pass approximately 20 metres north of the Basin gates, would be 380 metres long, 12 metres high, and a maximum of eight metres above the ground.

But … there’s nothing to indicate that the chair withdrew from the process by which this resolution was approved, except that the minutes state “the schedule of board members interests was noted as tabled.”

At the 26 July meeting, however, when the Board approved $94.2m “for the Wellington inner city improvements” the minutes state that Chris Moller “will not chair or take part in the discussion.”

When you start reading minutes, other issues emerge of course. At neither of the two meetings was there any discussion or decision about the demand from the Basin Reserve Trust. And neither of the minutes mentions anything about consideration of urban design – which is central to Wellingtonians’ growing opposition to the flyover plan.

It’s also salutary to discover that the flyover was approved in June and July, but the Agency didn’t announce it till August 17. This was ten days after the Government over-ruled it and said that Buckle Street traffic would go into into a tunnel under the Memorial Park, a decision which the Board learnt about in July. Surprisingly, there’s no record of any request to revise the flyover design because of the changed plans, though they’ll take traffic into a tunnel rather than keeping it at ground level. Perhaps Board members don’t have to concern themselves with such matters. Or about urban design.

December 26: Transport Agency chair withdraws from Basin discussions [1]