by Lindsay Shelton
The threats from the Transport Agency to the Wellington City Council were raised again last week at the board of inquiry on the Basin flyover proposal.
Questioned by a lawyer for the Architectural Centre, a council representative denied that the council supported the flyover because the Agency “had a gun at its head.” But the threats were undeniable – and there were two of them.
The most notorious threat was made anonymously by Alick Shaw, a former city councillor and deputy mayor who is a board member of the Transport Agency. His identity was revealed by an Official Information request, six months after the DomPost published his statements.
He was reported (anonymously) in April 2011 as saying that without council support for the flyover, the Transport Agency could ditch Wellington roading projects to use the money somewhere else. This statement gave the newspaper its headline that “$2b was at risk.” We said that the remarks were “bullying and threatening.” Here’s what he told the newspaper:
“To think you can pick and choose what parts to go ahead with simply because you don’t like roads … would mean we would be making worthless or questionable investments.”
And then came a threat which panicked the council into calling a special meeting: “It’s not that these things won’t happen but they will be put on the backburner and of course that whole question of confidence of delivery becomes a question mark again.”
The following year, as the council continued to investigate alternatives to the flyover, the Transport Agency continued its threatening tactics. This time, they were contained in a letter signed by the chief executive Geoff Dangerfield, who wrote:
“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.”
It was this letter that was raised at the board of inquiry last Friday. The Architectural Centre’s lawyer Philip Milne said it was clear from the letter that the agency “had a gun to the council’s head.” The council’s Geoff Swainson had a different description: “I would have phrased it as the council being left very clear as to the agency’s views, rather than threatening.”
Remembering how the two threats caused serious concerns among councillors, I would prefer the lawyer’s description.
And, of course, last year the Transport Agency got what it wanted when Andy Foster reversed his position on the flyover. He had always been an opponent, but at a council meeting last March he unexpectedly refused to continue opposing it. There was much speculation about the fact that during a break in the meeting he left the room to have a conversation with the Transport Agency. Some suggested it was as if he was taking orders. Others speculated that his change of heart was in response to a continuation of the Agency’s threatening tactics.