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Opus and the flyover

It’s evident that the Wellington consulting company Opus is being employed to give substantial support to the Transport Agency’s plan for a flyover alongside the Basin Reserve.

This is shown by the fact that of the 21 technical reports commissioned by the Agency in favour of the flyover, ten of them were written by Opus.

And now the chairman of the Board of Inquiry, Retired Judge Whiting, has pointed out another connection: one of the members of the Board [1] (which is described as independent though its members are chosen by the government) has an involvement with other work being done by Opus for the Transport Agency. The board member is Christine Foster, a Resource Management Consultant who has more than 25 years’ experience as a resource management planner, working in local and central government and as a consultant to a range of private sector clients.

The chairman’s official memorandum about “possible and potential conflicts of interest” states:

Board member Christine Foster is contracted to provide peer review of selected aspects of Opus International Consultants Limited’s work on scheme investigations for the Petone-to-Grenada route. That role has required comment on an early project component (completed some time ago and there are no residual tasks arising from that) and would require input at a later stage of investigations commenting on the RMA planning content of the assessment of scheme alternatives. That would potentially be some time in 2014 – but the precise time frame has not yet been confirmed and may post-date the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry.

When he announced this information at the end of last month, Retired Judge Whiting invited responses but allowed a very short timeframe. He has however now reconsidered:

In the 26 August Memorandum relating to conflicts of interest … the Board gave 10 working days to respond, which is until Tuesday 10 September. On reflection, and having regard to the closing date for filing submissions (6 September) the Board considers the time to be too tight. The time for objection is accordingly extended to Friday 20 September. This gives two full working weeks from the date that submissions close.

Is he expecting objections? With Opus so significantly aligned with the wishes of the Transport Agency, should the decision-making Board involve someone who has even an an indirect connection with Opus? And should a Board member, with responsibility for making an independent decision on a Transport Agency project, also have a continuing contract with the Transport Agency? The issue has been raised by the chairman. He is no doubt aware of the need for the board to be seen as having independence. The next instalment will come once his deadline of Friday week has been reached.