Red faces over black blunder over footpath

By Bernard Orsman

The Auckland City Council has been forced to admit paving 17 streets in black concrete that were due for red-chip, only days after chief executive David Rankin denied this had happened.

Mr Rankin told the Herald five days ago that "careful" inquiries by his transport general manager, Stephen Rainbow, showed no streets earmarked for red-chip had been paved in black.

He said officers decided in November 2004 to suspend work on red-chip paving pending a review by councillors. The work programme was shuffled to pave only streets earmarked for black concrete and "we have ceased work in areas where red was contemplated".

The Herald asked Mr Rankin to go back and check the council's records of what roads had been paved in what material. The checks came back with 17 streets in eight suburbs paved in black when they should have had red-chip.

The blunder is an embarrassment to Mr Rankin, who told Dr Rainbow in November that the footpath issue could be perceived in the same way as Vulcan Lane, that is "council officers overriding the wishes of 'the people'."

Council sources said Mr Rankin was furious about the latest mistake involving senior officers.

It is the fourth scandal since he became chief executive in July where officers have been accused of running roughshod over the public: the Vulcan Lane fiasco over red-pebble pavers, the suffragette memorial in Khartoum Place, plans to cut down exotic trees in Queen St and now footpaths.

This time, officers changed the council's footpath policy - formed after public consultation - without telling councillors. Documents obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act show Jill McPherson took a leading role in halting red-chip, with another director at the time, Paul Sonderer. He has since left the council.

The documents show that when asked by the group manager of community planning, Mark Vinall, how she would explain the new policy to the politicians, Dr McPherson replied: "Could it be a contractor mistake?"

Mr Rankin is on leave but a council spokesman said he expected the chief executive would ask Dr Rainbow to investigate how the 17 streets came to be paved in black.

Mr Rankin has stopped Dr McPherson and other officers involved in the footpath scandal from talking to the Herald.

The Eastern Bays and Western Bays Community Boards are angry with council officers for changing the footpath policy without consulting the public, community boards or councillors.

Eastern Bays chairman Brian Slater said: "They knew what the policy was arrived at and agreed to, and without notification to anybody, let alone us and councillors, have just overridden the policy and gone on their merry way."

Western Bays chairman Graeme Easte said the first he knew about the black paving of designated red-chip streets was complaints by residents.

Mr Easte said some issues with the policy needed addressing but it was a pity officers did not discuss the matter with the board sooner and "decided to subvert the policy".

The issue is due to go to next month's transport committee - 15 months after officers stopped the red-chip programme.

Colour switch

Streets due for red-chip but paved black include:
* St Heliers: Benbow, Devore, Gifford, Goldie and Kaimata Sts.
* Kohimarama: Commins Cres, Kohimarama Rd, Selwyn Ave.
* Remuera: Westbourne and Bassett Rds.
* Epsom: Mountain Rd.
* Herne Bay: Jervois Rd.
* Pt Chevalier: Katoa St.
* Blockhouse Bay: Busby St.
* Avondale: Wairau Ave.

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