Will heads roll over flyover rejection?

The Board of Inquiry’s decision to decline consent for the Transport Agency flyover at the Basin Reserve has caused ripples of rejoicing and recrimination to spread across Wellington. Some are overjoyed, whilst others are predicting doom for us all. According to the losing faction, the concrete abutments of the flyover were carrying not just the cars, but also the weight of Wellington’s entire future as a capital.

Given so much seemed to have been riding on the Board’s decision, the question of responsibility needs to be addressed. The written report is quite clear that the Transport Agency failed to make a compelling case for the flyover and that the alternatives were not properly investigated. In the words of the Board, “It was not a careful evaluation of options in light of the decision by the government to underground Buckle Street. … At most it could be called nothing but a cursory review of the situation.” To the casual observer, the Agency’s mistakes seemed to be entirely of their own making. Should heads roll as a result?

In an effort to answer these questions we’ve rounded up the most likely candidates for the failure and consulted the wellington.scoop Magic 8-Ball as to their likely fates.

Gerry Brownlee, Minister of Transport
The buck always stops with the Minister, so if anyone is ultimately accountable for the Transport Agency’s inability to mount a successful case to the Board, it’s Brownlee. Since picking up the reins of RoNS from Steven Joyce, he’s continued the “damn the torpedoes” approach to pushing major roading projects into communities that don’t seem to want them. But ultimately, Ministers set directions and drive policies – they’re not responsible for the tactical errors made by Agency staff. And given the current government’s lack of inclination to take responsibility for the mistakes of officials (see also: Murray McCully) a resignation seems unlikely.
Magic 8-Ball says: No resignation for the Minister.

Rod James, National Highways Manager, NZ Transport Agency
The elusive Mr James seems to exist solely as a set of press releases, but it’s clear that the RoNS projects are his department. Whenever there’s been a victory for the Agency he’s been the first to rush, Max Headroom-like, into the public relations arena, so it’s reasonable to expect that he should be expected to carry the can for the failures as much as the successes. However as flyover opponents have noted, he’s been careful to distance himself from actual involvement in the project and has hidden behind an army of consultants. So his fate may well depend on the strength and thickness of the Teflon coating he’s woven around himself.
Magic 8-Ball says: Outlook uncertain, ask again later.

Selwyn Blackmore, Programme Manager, NZ Transport Agency
As the person with the greatest day to day responsibility for planning and directing NZTA’s flyover project, Mr Blackmore clearly bears most responsibility for the result. Other Boards have managed to be convinced by Agency arguments, so it was either bad preparation or faulty arguments that caused the loss this time around – and it’s hard to see how he can avoid culpability for what looks like a series of unforced errors. However Mr Blackmore will likely claim that he was merely following orders – a defence which was notably unsuccessful at Nuremberg, but which may suffice in the hazy accountability-free environment of the Transport Agency.
Magic 8-Ball says: Start polishing the CV.

Fran Wilde, Chair, Greater Wellington Regional Council
Ms Wilde has been a staunch supporter of the flyover, against both the objective evidence and the clear wishes of her constituency. In one notable example early in the process, more than 80% of submitters to GWRC opposed the flyover, but with compliant patsies such as Judith Aitken and Chris Laidlaw around the council table she was able to force through her pro-roading agenda anyway. This agenda is now clearly in tatters, but it’s hard to see Ms Wilde changing her usual tactics of ignoring opposition from ratepayers and bludgeoning Councillors into submission. Where other players have attempted to cover themselves in Teflon, Ms Wilde comes equipped with Kevlar and a hide thicker than a rhinoceros, but even so her tactics and objectives are looking increasingly out of touch with the zeitgeist.
Magic 8-Ball says: Ask Kerry Prendergast how this turns out in the long run.

Andy Foster, Transport Portfolio Leader, Wellington City Council
Mr Foster has attempted to be the chameleon-like man to please all people on transport issues, right up until he was forced to nail his true colours to the mast and provide the swing vote to ram support for the flyover through the Council. This seemed to be regarded as a betrayal by both colleagues around the council table and his constituency, but it’s not apparent whether he even cares – given his 25-odd years as a councillor, he seems to have been thoroughly captured by the bureaucracy, siding much more with officers than ratepayers. The same effect can be seen over the increasingly disputatious Island Bay cycle way. The sensible political manoeuvre might be for Mayor Celia Wade-Brown to strip him of the transport portfolio and minimise the damage, but given her preference for consensus rather than performance, this probably won’t happen.
Magic 8-Ball says: Dead man walking.

So will heads roll? Or will Wellington somehow stumble forward with the same people who made the last mistakes still at the helm?



  1. Trish, 24. July 2014, 17:38

    When I heard the radio news headline today that Gerry Brownlee had offered to resign as Transport Minister I thought that, finally, the buck had stopped on the right desk. I was disappointed when it turned out not to relate to the Wellington flyover debacle.

    Perhaps a direct measure of who cocked up would be find out how NZTA got the estimate of the time required for the Inquiry Board hearing wrong by over 100%. And that was after they had been “engaging” with all the “stakeholders”, and so should have known what issues were going to come up.

  2. Maximus, 25. July 2014, 8:14

    PCGM – Best. Article. Ever.
    Should be compulsory reading for all those named, please email them a link to make sure they read it. Magic 8-Ball never lies.

  3. Ian Apperley, 25. July 2014, 8:15

    Nice article.

    I don’t think we are going to stumble forward, I think we’ve hit some kind of stalemate and we’re unlikely to see any action for quite some time, probably a year, given that we’ve got elections coming up and whomever gets in won’t be much interested in doing much for the first few months.

    One of the things that we can expect from Fran Wilde is some kind of lash back. She’s already pretty sore over the WCC (Nicola Young) publicity around bus fares and the like. She has hinted that this will harm the bus rapid transit work, so watch out for that, we may see the GWRC put that work down the list or claim it can’t go ahead now.

    As for Foster, his problem is that he is trying to please everyone and is pleasing no one. You have to judge a person by their outcomes. Andy is the transport person for Council and we’re really going nowhere whether it is cycle lanes, cars, public transport, walking, or flying cars. I think your Magic 8 Ball Analysis is correct.

    However the underlying issue is that this Council is very fractured. The idea is that they vote together to progress together by working together. They can’t seem to do that despite a couple trying hard to lead that charge. That responsibility must lie with the Mayor, as leader. The Mayor is failing in that area in my opinion.

    Whatever the answer is, the Council is in my opinion, mostly, under performing. This is hurting us despite their protestations.

  4. Trish, 25. July 2014, 8:53

    My pick is that the government will say and do nothing until the election, despite being sore at loosing 3 proposals in a row – the Hawkes Bay dam, seabed phosphate mining and now the flyover. Including the two Fiordland schemes, this must really piss off people who worship development, especially after National did their best to help by setting up the EPA process to rubber stamp such ideas.

    However, after the election National will make the changes to the RMA that even shocked Peter Dunne, changing the purpose of the Act from protecting the environment to promoting development. They will probably not even recognise that the flyover decision made little reference to policies set down in RMA but was due to shortcomings in the case put forward by NZTA.

    But it would not surprise me if the government saw how easy it was to organise approval for the Memorial Park and simply decide to approve the flyover and second tunnel in one hit by special legislation, and maybe the airport extension too while they are at it.

  5. Trish, 25. July 2014, 9:57

    Ian – You are right to say that the Wellington City Council is fractured, and you correctly identified the cause of the problem as Nicola Young. At the last election voters chucked out the 3 members who were not team players on the previous council. Let’s hope that Nicola makes an effort to change her ways soon, or she will have only 2 more years as a councillor.

  6. Wellington Commuter, 25. July 2014, 11:20

    Trish, the WCC joining Hutt City Council to oppose the bus fare increases was, IMO, key to the GWRC deciding to ditch the fare increases.

    Ironically, it was Nicola Young (with the active support of Sarah Free) that led WCC councilors unite in their opposition on this issue. This is actually an example of Nicola being both a team player and a team leader . . . perhaps you should find another example to support your claim that she is not.

  7. Rosamund., 25. July 2014, 13:40

    Excellent articles.

    Regardless it is we that pay and it will be we who pay for any appeal.

    As it is we, the people, bear all of the costs with the supreme irony that we pay for those that oppose the wishes of the electors/ratepayers to oppose us whilst we pay everyones costs.

    Congratulations and many thanks to all of those who made submissions to prevent the erection of this unwanted eyesore and to all of those who contributed directly or indirectly..

    I think it is time that the Env. Court sequestered all witnesses to ensure that there is impartial evidence provided to any panel, board of commissioners or appellant.


  8. Sridhar, 25. July 2014, 15:03

    @Wellington Commuter. How about the Island Bay cycleway project as an example.

  9. Ian Apperley, 25. July 2014, 17:04

    Sridhar, what about it and so what about Nicola? Paul Eagle led that charge after the community complained about what was an obvious screw up in the consultation process.

    It’s not about the cycle way to nowhere, it’s about the fact that the Council Transport Committee under Andy Foster obviously blew the consultation.

    THEY are the ones at fault for the outcry, not Paul, who is representing his residents against a tonne of active, militant, and noisy lobby groups.

    Oh wait, the flyover is the same…

  10. Mike, 27. July 2014, 12:54

    Ian Apperley: “Oh wait, the flyover is the same…” – it’s a shame that so many people (including the man from Kirks) don’t understand that it’s actually entirely different. Read the BoI report!

  11. deepred, 30. July 2014, 3:00

    Too many people are missing the point that the real issue is about smart development vs dumb development, rather than development or no development. Somehow I don’t see ‘set bulldozers to autopilot’ as a tenable strategy, which the big cheese at the NZTA and the Beehive still don’t get. And is grade separation at the Basin Reserve really essential to the SH1 link? If so, I’d have thought a cut-and-cover method didn’t cost as much as it used to.

    Still, there’s a point to be made about seat-warmers who don’t know when to quit.


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