by Lindsay Shelton
By one vote, the Wellington City Council today gave up its fight against Transport Agency plans to build a flyover at the Basin Reserve. Justin Lester had moved an amendment that the council “not support the flyover.” The vote was tied, seven for and seven against. Then Andy Foster used his casting vote to kill the opposition. Observers said the concrete bridge across Kent and Cambridge Terraces will become known as “Foster’s Flyover.”
“I have the joy of introducing this,” said Councillor Foster at 11am this morning when the council’s strategy and policy committee began debating a staff report on the flyover. “I expect quite a significant discussion … The subject is divisive… The debate is about urban design. There’s a big group of people who are antagonistic to the flyover.”
Most people believed that the big group included Andy, the Karori councillor who heads the council’s transport portfolio. In December, he successfully moved a resolution which seemed to confirm council opposition to the flyover. But since then, there’ve been indications that he was changing his mind. And today – he did. When he used his casting vote as chair of the meeting to stop the opposition, you could feel a shockwave in the crowded committee room.
The reason he gave for his change of stance was also a surprise. “It [not supporting the flyover] wouldn’t put us in a credible position in terms of the work we have to do.” He seemed to be harking back to the Transport Agency’s record of threatening the council. He also said he wanted a decision that neither supported nor opposed the flyover because “that’s what we told the Transport Agency.”
If onlookers were surprised to learn that he’d been discussing council decisions in advance with the Agency, there was much more to be surprised about. He admitted that he had talked to the Agency to seek their opinion of the move to oppose the flyover.
“I had a chat with the Transport Agency during the lunch break,” he told councillors at the end of a long and heated debate. “[If we oppose the flyover] there would be a disappointment about working with Wellington city. My preference therefore is to say nothing, so that’s why I’ll vote against.” However he sounded less than certain about his decision. “I’m not a supporter of the flyover but … we have to go with the arrangements that we have. To me, the focus has to be on mitigation.”
Councillor Helene Ritchie responded: “Andy, you’ll be seen as a fan of the flyover if you oppose the amendment.”
And Justin Lester: “If we don’t state our opinion either way, it’ll be a cop out, a flip flop. We will be known as the flip-flop council.” He had received 368 emails opposing the flyover, and only seven supporting it.
At the start of the debate it had sounded as if Andy Foster (“we’ve said twice we’re not keen on it”) was still one of the eight councillors who opposed the flyover in December. But it seems that he now sees things differently: “We’ve never opposed or supported it.” Which was a surprise to those who had taken his December resolution at face value when it stated “the council’s continuing preference to seek an alternative option to the flyover.”
Today it turned out that Andy still agrees with the council preference for an underground solution of roads alongside the Basin Reserve, but he accepts that this is not affordable. He also accepts the staff criticism of Option X and Option RR, and isn’t willing for either of them to be developed any further. “We have to have something that works for all moves. I don’t particularly like the solution, but it works better.” Words which indicated he would no longer be opposing the flyover.
He was less than convincing when he said “the city council has yet to make a final call on whether to support or oppose the resource consent” for the flyover. Because of his vote, the council has made a clear decision. It’s not willing to oppose the flyover. It’s planning to draft a submission “to be based on mitigation.” When everyone knows there’s nothing you can do to hide a 300-metre-long concrete bridge across two city streets.
Read more on the debate
“If the answer is a flyover, then we’ve asked the wrong question.”