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Councillors (all but 3 of them) vote for more Movie Museum secrecy

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Studio Pacific Architecture

Wellington.Scoop report by Lindsay Shelton
It took Wellington city councillors less than 30 minutes this morning to decide that today’s decision-making about the $150m building for the Movie Museum and Convention Centre should be held in secret. They were told that the commercial interests of Willis Bond and Peter Jackson’s Movie Museum Ltd had to be protected.

The issue of secrecy was debated after a 20-minute discussion on dog policies, from which the public didn’t have to be kept out.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown then said she would move that the public should be excluded from discussion of the $150m building, with Cr Coughlan seconding her.

A council staff member explained:

“There are two main reasons to exclude the public. First: negotiations are ongoing and we haven’t actually signed an agreement yet. In addition, some of the terms include sensitive financial information which needs to be kept in confidence for the council and Movie Museum Ltd.”

Cr Pannett was the first to question the secrecy.

“It’s public money,” she said. “Why should we be holding back information? There’s only one player in the game. There’s legitimate public interest in how much the developer and the Movie Museum will be earning.”

Council staff member Derek Fry disagreed.

“It’s absolutely essential we maintain confidentiality,” he said. “Councillors are privy to it because they are the decision makers. But this is a trust and confidence relationship. The council has a variety of agreements with private sector partners which have been subjected to similar restrictions.”

He said the council’s relationship with Peter Jackson and the movie museum project had existed for ten years.

Iona asked why details of the agreement couldn’t be released once the deal was done.

Derek Fry: “If we did that we’d breach the basis of the deal. I can’t imagine the reaction of the World of Wearable Arts if we released details of their arrangement with the council.” (Another secret agreement?)

Andy Foster said the council had already released a redacted paper, in March, about the building. He said 95 per cent of what was in the latest documents was already in the public realm. “We need to publically debate whether this should be an iconic or non-iconic building – not the financial details,” he said. “At the least, we should release today’s resolutions. As public representatives, we need to make our opinions clear on a $150million project.”

Derek Fry was unmoved. “A redacted version is not available at the moment. The numbers are an inextricable part.”

Andy persisted. “Is there anything in the resolutions that is difficult in terms of confidentiality?”

Derek: “Timeframes are an issue. November has been mentioned for signing the agreement but there is some way to go with our partners before an agreement is reached.”

Andy: “Today’s resolutions should be made public.”

Derek: “The financials – both Willis Bond’s and the Movie Museum’s documentation – are inextricably linked and need to be fully redacted.”

Sarah Free raised a new issue:

“Given that so much is under negotiation, why are we bringing it to the council now?”

The mayor refused to allow this question to be answered. “That’s not within the topic that we are discussing.”

And then, Jo Coughlan also strayed from the topic of confidentiality. “Is there a hue and cry now? Was there a public outcry last time?” Before the mayor could intervene, Derek Fry responded: “I don’t think there was rioting in the streets.”

Justin Lester, who released some details of the building project last week, said the Movie Museum Ltd “are a wholly critical partner. They don’t release any details of their private business into the public arena.”

Which enabled Derek Fry to repeat: “It’s an issue of trust and confidence. It’s a critical stage of a ten-year relationship.”

With a dutiful response from Justin: “We want to respect the wishes of our partners.”

Then came Helene Ritchie:

“My strong view is that this should be debated in public. Partial information has already been leaked by two councillors – including a cost which was only a partial cost. And including a start date which was incorrect. This project must be able to stand up to public scrutiny. It includes convention centre losses over 25 years which were not included in the leak.”

And more from Iona Pannett: “I often think it’s valid to exclude the public. But this is not like any of the other projects. It’s being fully financed by the council. It’s public money… There’s no competition between different parties. What is there to hide?”

Andy Foster: “The issue is how to have the wider conversation in public. There should be an opportunity to do that. It’s a good news story for Wellington. There’s nothing secret about the fact that we are building a building. The (confidentiality) issue is around the tenant.”

Cr Peck compared the council with the Cabinet. “It takes decisions in private and then announces the decisions. Then every document is discoverable. (Unless something is personal-specific.”

Celia Wade-Brown sounded less than convinced about discoverability. “It’s a matter of getting the best deal. With the Town Hall, would we want the public to see all the different numbers that have been submitted? This would not be acceptable.”

Raising many more questions, to be answered at some later time. The mayor then gave her summary of the issue, “The Movie Museum has been consulted on. No issue about that …We’ve already decided to go ahead with the building. This is another step in the process.”

With that, the issue of shutting out the public was put to a vote. Only three councillors voted to allow the public to stay: Andy Foster, Helene Ritchie, Iona Pannett.

After the vote, a presentation about the $150million building was ready to begin. But not till live-streaming had been turned off, and all members of the public had been shut out of the meeting room.

And after the closed-door debate, the council announced its decision: it’ll spend more and the building will have a more elaborate facade.

Andy Foster: Why the decision should have been made in public
Helene Ritchie: Why the vote should have been postponed till after the election

6 comments:

  1. Andrew, 17. August 2016, 12:34

    So it was consulted on, and only THEN did some kind of imagery emerge as to the design of the building (facade only, by the way). Is this back to front?

     
  2. KB, 17. August 2016, 14:51

    What is wrong with these people – this is a building that will be owned by Wellington ratepayers. Are they saying we will never know the annual operating cost of this building? It will all be hidden from view? How is this information not subject to OIA requests?

     
  3. Cr Helene Ritchie, 17. August 2016, 15:49

    For your information: the annual operating costs are/will be public in the annual and long term plans.

     
  4. Traveller, 17. August 2016, 16:05

    Peter Jackson has always had the very best lawyers. It sounds as if they are winning, in the prolonged negotiations with the city council. (“There is some way to go … before an agreement is reached…’)

     
  5. Trevor, 17. August 2016, 17:21

    Once again councillors show their contempt for ratepayers. Remember this in October.

     
  6. CC, 18. August 2016, 9:21

    Why the secrecy about rates money? Anyone getting the impression that residential ratepayers are probably being screwed for another vanity project?

     

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