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No place for pro-flyover councillors in next round of Basin planning

It’s wrong that flyover supporters have chosen themselves as the “transport leaders” to decide what needs to be done to the roads around the Basin Reserve. Their preferred project has twice been rejected through legal processes. They should stand down in favour of people with a clean slate and an un-blinkered vision.

For more than seven years, Fran Wilde insisted that a flyover was the only choice for the Basin. With such a record, there’s no way that she should continue to be in the governance group. [1]

In 2008, when local people first met to oppose the flyover, [2] they were told that under her leadership the regional council had already voted to support it, in spite of a public opinion survey showing 79 per cent public opposition. It was evident, even then, that she wasn’t listening to the community.

In 2011, her regional council’s “economic wellbeing committee” accepted the Option A flyover without a full discussion of the issues. At the subsequent full council meeting, the committee’s decision was questioned by a significant number of councillors as well as members of the public who spoke against it. But chairman Fran refused to allow a new vote. This brought allegations of a lack of democracy [3]in the way she was running the meeting.

In August 2012 her rhetoric reached dubious heights, when she claimed a flyover was necessary [4] “because people are delayed [at the Basin] constantly, whatever the time of day.” It was “essential for the future of Wellington city and the region,” she insisted. And after the board of inquiry rejected the flyover, she said the decision was hugely disappointing. [5]

Her colleague Paul Swain (who runs the regional council’s transport portfolio) followed her lead as a pro-flyover supporter. Even when she lost the confidence of her council, he stayed on her side. He was one of only three regional councillors who didn’t sign the no confidence letter [6] which this year resulted in her resignation as chair.

In 2012 there was a brief possibility that his flyover enthusiasm might be waning. He was one of eight regional councillors who voted for the plan to be reconsidered. [7] But the resulting workshop was dominated by a two-hour presentation from the Transport Agency, in favour of the flyover. Councillors were told that the two alternatives were not feasible. Richard Reid was given a hostile reception when he described his BRREO proposal [8]. So reconsideration quickly lapsed. Fran Wilde and Paul Swain ensured that the council stayed in support of building a 300-metre concrete bridge. Which gives no reason for them to claim that they should be decision-makers for a non-flyover future.

Then there’s Andy Foster, who chairs the city council’s transport committee. For five years he voted against the flyover, till in 2013 he changed sides. [9] When he tried to explain his switch, he said he’d been talking to the Transport Agency, and he wasn’t willing for the Architectural Centre’s Option X or Richard Reid’s BRREO option to be developed any further. That’s sufficient evidence to disqualify him from the new round of planning, when both of these plans must be brought back for serious consideration.

On the other hand, Celia Wade-Brown has remained consistent in voting against the flyover. Not only consistent, but also constructive – in 2010 she came up with her own convincing at-grade plan [10] to solve traffic problems at the Basin, without the need for a flyover. Which means she should stay in the new planning group. But replacements for Fran, Paul and Andy should be found.

Then there’s the Transport Agency. In Friday’s announcement [1], its Regional Director Central Raewyn Bleakley (who was previously chief executive of the pro-flyover Chamber of Commerce) says the Agency and its partners will welcome the local community and wider region participation in the development of future transport plans.

“We need to solve these issues together, and we’re committed to that.”

She has a credibility problem. Such togetherness is not something that the Agency has demonstrated in the past. Notoriously, when it “consulted” the Mt Victoria community on what it wanted for the Basin Reserve, it gave them only two choices. Both choices were the flyover. More recently, Takapu Valley residents counted all 1400 public submissions on the Petone to Grenada Road and the plans to put a highway through their valley. They found that a majority of the submissions were opposing the plans, yet the Transport Agency was claiming ‘strong support’.

No doubt there’s no way of excluding Transport Agency representatives from the next round of road planning for the Basin. But the Agency should consider its past bad behaviour and find some new faces who have the ability to listen, rather than to threaten or dictate or just misrepresent.

Dave Armstrong: The inexpensive solution for Basin traffic [11]