Wellington Scoop

Sir Jerry and the historic creche

There’s controversy over the intervention by the Governor-General to approve the shifting of the historic Home of Compassion creche from its original position alongside the Basin Reserve.

The official explanation is that completion of the War Memorial Park in nearby Buckle Street would be delayed unless the creche was moved. But critics have pointed out that the creche is outside the official boundaries of the park. Some feel its relocation is more to do with plans for the Basin Reserve flyover, a project which does not yet have resource consent. And today two city organisations are saying that the approval was illegal.

News of the Governor-General’s involvement was first revealed on July 1 when the Ministry for Culture and Heritage wrote to the chair of the Basin flyover board of inquiry, Judge Gordon Whiting, telling him that

the Governor General has by order in council granted the necessary resource consents to the Ministry … to relocate the former Home of Compassion creche. This has been carried out under the National War Memorial Park (Pukeahu) Empowering Act 2012 … As required under section 28 of the Act, the draft order has been considered by the National War Memorial Park Review Panel which has recommended the Order be made without change … The reasons for the Order in council being sought are set out in the Ministry’s briefing to the Review Panel.

One day later, Judge Whiting copied the letter to all the groups who are participating in the hearing. He asked for their response by July 3.

The intervention became public when Michael Forbes wrote about it yesterday in the DomPost. He wrote that the governor-general was forced to use his special powers to avoid the embarrassment of the War Memorial Park not being completed on time. Construction of the park had been threatened by controversy surrounding the creche.

The Government wants to shift the former Home of Compassion Creche in Buckle Street 15 metres west so it can be part of the new park. It began moving the heritage building in May but stopped a few days later after suggestions it may have broken the law in doing so. The lack of action eventually threatened the park’s completion to the point where the Queen’s representative, Sir Jerry Mateparae, last week had to rubber-stamp a resource consent to get the ball rolling again and save the Government’s blushes….

Before the park could be built, the NZ Transport Agency had to convert State Highway 1 outside the National War Memorial into an underpass so the park could be built overhead. The Government also needed to pass special legislation under urgency so both projects could be completed within the tight timeframe. The creche became controversial because it sits in the path of the proposed Basin Reserve flyover. By moving it, the Government is arguably improving the chances of getting resource consent for the $90 million elevated highway. Flyover critics have questioned the legality of the creche move, claiming the legislation only granted powers to move it if the underpass was going to harm it, and this was not the case.
The Transport Agency believed that it was always the intention of the legislation to move the creche.

Christine McCarthy, president of The Architectural Centre, said the group would be surprised if the governor-general’s ruling was legal. The DomPost quotes her as saying: “Our view is that the Transport Agency look to be moving the creche more for the flyover than the park.”

Today things have got more serious. The Save the Basin group and the Mt Victoria Historical Society have written to the Judge contending that the creche has not been legally moved under the War Memorial Park Act, and that the Board of Inquiry should consider the Basin Bridge proposal as if the Creche remained in its original position. Save the Basin spokesperson Tim Jones says

“This is yet another abuse of power and due process by the current Government. In Christchurch, the Government tried to use the laws passed to deal with the Canterbury Earthquake to make larger zoning changes, until the High Court stopped them. Here, the Government is using the construction of a War Memorial Park which is meant to be a solemn commemoration of war and the fallen as a cynical ploy to try to improve its chances of gaining approval for a pet roading project.”

“The Transport Agency … wants the creche out of the way so that the proposed flyover can go through and over the creche’s former site. Instead of rethinking the ugly, expensive and unnecessary flyover project, the Government has chosen to circumvent the democratic process by pushing through a retrospective Order in Council.”

A response from the Judge is awaited.

The draft flyover decision from the Board of Inquiry is due at the end of next week.