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Who, or what, changed his mind?

by Lindsay Shelton
The night before Thursday’s council meeting, seven of Andy Foster’s colleagues believed he would be voting to oppose a flyover at the Basin Reserve. There’d been a lot of back-room discussion. They went into the meeting confident that he would be one of the group of eight who would continue to oppose the flyover – as he’d done in December.

The first alarm came when they found that he had removed words to “not support” the flyover from the order paper of the meeting, which he was chairing. Yet as he introduced the debate, it sounded as if his position was unchanged.

He spoke about “two world views which sadly tend not to talk to each other about the best solution.” He talked about the flyover debate having “become more antagonistic than it needs to be.” He said the debate was about urban design. He acknowledged that there is a “big group of people” who oppose the flyover and that the council has “twice said we’re not keen on the flyover.” But then came a clue to his change of heart: “We have never opposed it or supported it.”

He confirmed that the council review of options had found that Option X had a “cost difference which is really significant.” But in his view “more work could bring down the cost.” He also acknowledged that the council’s preference was for an underground solution “but it costs more.” He pointed to the government having chosen to pay for “extraordinarily costly proposals” for regional roads – $650m for the Kapiti expressway was his example. The implication clearly being that the government could decide to spend more on the best solution for roading round the Basin.

Councillor Justin Lester quickly dealt with the removal of the “not support” words. He got them back into the debate by moving an amendment that the council “not support the flyover”. Paul Eagle seconded the amendment, saying it was important to send a strong signal of opposition.

By lunchtime, there was still confidence that there’d be eight votes for not supporting the flyover. But as we ate the (last?) free lunch, we noticed that Andy Foster was not in the room. Where had he gone? It turned out that he’d left the building to talk with the Transport Agency about what the council should be saying.

“The original motion neither supports nor opposes the flyover, and that’s what we told the Transport Agency,” he told councillors after lunch. They were surprised to learn that he had been discussing council decisions with the government’s bureaucrats. He said he “had a chat with the Transport Agency at the lunch break” and Agency staff had told him they would be disappointed if the council voted not to support the flyover. The Agency wanted the council to be neither for nor against – therefore he would be voting against the amendment.

Embarrassingly, he went on to say “I’m not a supporter of the flyover but … we have to go with the arrangements that we have.” Not a supporter of the flyover. But he wouldn’t vote to oppose it.

The eight votes from December were thereby cut to seven. The vote was tied – seven for and seven against. Then Andy used his casting vote to stop the council resolving that it didn’t support the flyover. Which was the result that staff of the Transport Agency had wanted.

There’s been much speculation about Andy Foster’s lunchtime conversation. Some have suggested it was as if he was taking orders from the Agency. Others have speculated that his change of heart was in response to a continuation of the Agency’s threatening tactics which have been applied twice before when councillors were discussing why they didn’t want a flyover at the Basin.

In December, the Agency’s Geoff Dangerfield sent a threatening letter to all councillors saying

“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.”

And in April 2011 the Agency made a similar threat, anonymously. It said Wellington could lose $2billion in roading funds unless it supported the flyover and other roading projects. The source of the anonymous threat (“the councillors are playing silly buggers”) turned out to be former deputy mayor Alick Shaw, who is a member of the Transport Agency’s board. The Agency has never contradicted his threat. Did they repeat it, in their lunchtime conversation?

We may never know. But in comments on eyeofthefish, Andy gets defensive: “Having unfortunately come to the conclusion through the review that we could not find an alternative that stacked up, it seemed the best thing we could do was focus on mitigation, and that is what the resolutions do.” Leaving a big (lipstick on a gorilla) problem: no one believes it’s possible to mitigate a 300-metre-long concrete flyover.

Read also
How Andy’s casting vote stopped opposition to the flyover

8 comments:

  1. Trish, 23. March 2013, 14:31

    The council debate before their vote was the worst collections of rambles about preconceived notions that I have ever heard. Not one councillor took the time to reflect on the findings of their $50,000 study.

    But claiming, as some councillors did, that flyovers can’t be bad because we have lots of them crossing the motorway from Tawa, and that no-one is suggesting they should be removed – or that homeless people don’t sleep under them – was simply fatuous. The closest comparison is the flyover across Bowen St – but it is below the surrounding land, not jutting into the view. And the road beneath crosses at right angles unlike what is proposed at the Basin. And I don’t see people choosing to eat their lunch in its shadow.

     
  2. Ellie, 23. March 2013, 15:43

    Is Andy Foster going to use his transport credentials to follow Alick Shaw into the NZTA ?

     
  3. Iona Pannett, 23. March 2013, 20:21

    Thanks for your comment Trish but please note that during the debate I specifically referred to the Study we commissioned, suggesting that it unfortunately had a number of limitations. The Urban Design Assessment of the flyover was particularly limited in terms of talking about the benefits to pedestrians and cyclists, the visual impact and its integration into a valuable heritage area.

     
  4. Driver, 24. March 2013, 10:37

    Perhaps Andy’s vote succeeded in stopping the council from voting to support the flyover?

     
  5. KB, 24. March 2013, 15:10

    If the Wellington city councillors & Mayor can’t do something as simple as protecting one of the most historical places of the city from the flyover monstrosity, then I see no point in retaining them as an independent entity.

    All arguments against a super city fail when what should be a simple and obvious choice of protecting local heritage can’t be achieved by the supposedly locally focused council.

    The Council has proved themselves worthless. Time for them to be merged if they can’t protect their ratepayers’ interests anyway. At least we would save some of the ratepayers’ money by not paying them to do apparently nothing except rubber stamping the wishes of national entities.

     
  6. Maximus, 24. March 2013, 18:41

    Driver: aaaah, No. The other way round, actually. There was never a motion specifically TO support the flyover, but from what has been reported, there was certainly a motion put to NOT support a flyover. This was the motion put down by Foster.

     
  7. Trish, 24. March 2013, 20:00

    Good point KB. But the problem seems to be that around the council table we have representatives from the old Karori, Khandallah, Johnsonville and Tawa Borough Council districts that have amalgamated with the city over the years.

    With apologies to good-guy Justin Lester, the problem seems to be that these country folk, together with councillors from the far Eastern Suburbs, have been given a say in what happens in the central city. Can you imagine what it will be like if we have people from Upper Hutt to Kapiti, in whose election we will have had no say, making decisions about our city?

     
  8. Sridhar, 27. March 2013, 11:21

    I don’t agree with Trish! How many times would the councillors from central city have had a say in what happens in J’Ville or Khandallah? At that time, it didn’t seem to matter. Besides, the councillors who oppose or support the flyover are not concentrated to one of the areas. On both sides, councillors are spread throughout the central city and suburbs.

    Is Trish trying to say the council should be only for central city, and the suburbs should have their own council? Because they are perceived to have different priorities?