Wellington Scoop

The flyover: whose side is the council on?

Wellington city councillors don’t seem to have had any involvement with the council’s decision that it will participate in the High Court appeal against the rejection of the Basin Reserve flyover.

In Friday’s announcement that the council would be participating, chief executive Kevin Lavery didn’t mention any council debate or vote. He said only that

“I have advised the Mayor and Councillors that we need to present our position on the District Plan.”

No indication that councillors had debated the “need” that he was speaking about, though some of them may be unhappy that he used words which seemed to align the city council with the Transport Agency’s appeal.

The council … intends to be heard [at the appeal] and to help clarify matters relating specifically to the District Plan.

The need for clarification was a key message from Dave Brash of the Transport Agency when he announced the appeal:

…. a number of significant points of law … need to be considered and clarified in order to provide direction for the future planning of infrastructure, both around the Basin and throughout New Zealand.

Mr Brash also said the Agency was appealing because the rejection of the flyover had resulted in “uncertainties” …

“These uncertainties have the potential to create legal precedents that would constrain progress, not just on roading projects but on future … non-transport infrastructure.”

And the council’s chief executive echoed the subject of uncertainty:

“The decision of the Board raises some significant questions around the standing of the District Plan … This aspect of the Board’s decision creates uncertainty and has potential to undermine robust processes the Council has gone through with the public to recognise significant areas, buildings, objects and viewshafts.”

Kevin Lavery says the city council will not be an appellant in the appeal, although it will be participating. But his choice of words appears to support the Transport Agency’s explanation of the reasons for its appeal against the rejection of its controversial plan.

Seven councillors are opposed to the flyover when the council last voted on the issue. (The number was eight, till Andy Foster switched sides.) The anti-flyover councillors may not be happy to learn that the council is becoming involved in the appeal. Councillor Iona Pannett, who consistently voted against the flyover, is a strong critic of the appeal:

“The appeal decision is an irresponsible use of taxpayer money. The Agency has already spent well over $11m on the application. An appeal will eat up further resources which could be better utilised elsewhere. The grounds for appeal are spurious; the decision in no way jeopardises other roading and non roading infrastructure projects around the country.”

So it’s not likely that she’ll be supporting the Lavery decision to become involved or his claims that there’s uncertainty. Mayor Wade-Brown has been another consistent anti-flyover voter. She made several well-argued speeches against the project during council debates. But since the board of inquiry decision she hasn’t stated any more opinions about it. Unlike Christine McCarthy of the Architectural Centre, who’s been specific in not accepting criticism of the decision to reject the flyover:

Our understanding, from the expert evidence presented at the Basin hearing, is that saying no to the Basin Bridge will not have the negative impacts which are being claimed by supporters of the flyover.

During the lengthy board of inquiry hearing, the city council did nothing to help the community groups who successfully fought the flyover, though they were using many of the arguments that had first been advanced by Celia Wade-Brown and the anti-flyover councillors. The council maintained an uncomfortable neutrality when the flyover was rejected, when many thought it should have congratulated the community groups on their success. By repeating the arguments of the Transport Agency, Kevin Lavery now seems to be moving the council away from this neutral position.

Since his announcement, there’s been silence from the anti-flyover councillors. They should end their silence and speak out in support of the decision of the board of inquiry. They should be seeking a debate on their chief executive’s decision for council participation in the Transport Agency’s appeal. They should also be aware of reports that the “joint governance group” may be considering a Plan B that could include a second attempt to get approval for a flyover. Mayor Wade-Brown – as a member of the group – must feel less than comfortable about being out-numbered by flyover supporters who include mayors from out of town as well as Fran Wilde representing the pro-flyover regional council.

It could, therefore, be time to re-test the numbers at the city council. On the last vote, the flyover was supported by eight votes to seven. But it seems likely that the numbers have now changed and there’s again a majority who don’t want a flyover at the Basin Reserve. There’s no reason for them to be staying silent.