A review of Wellington's $6.4 billion transport plan has found it's at risk of failing to deliver a cohesive package, has a detrimental culture - and is inadequately resourced, the Herald can reveal.
Let's Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) was put under the microscope in September and October last year during an internal review, or "health check".
The project's partners have now publicly released the review's findings.
However, the Herald earlier learned the report said LGWM, in its current state, is at risk of failing to deliver an integrated, cohesive, prioritised, and outcomes-driven package of investments.
Transport Minister Michael Wood has written to the LGWM Partnership Board, saying the issues outlined in the review are unacceptable.
"Wellingtonians have been waiting too long on progress to unlock our capital city's potential."
The review said the programme has been led with a bottom-up approach and was process-driven rather than outcomes-driven.
"Capability gaps and under-resourcing have exacerbated the problem. There is no single point of failure, but critical improvements must be made across several areas".
The report issued a stark warning that there was only one politically and publicly tolerable chance for the programme to refresh and refocus.
"The time is now, while intervention can add value to the current phase of the programme, rather than put it completely off track."
LGWM is a joint venture between Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
The plan includes doubling the Mt Victoria Tunnel, mass rapid transit from the city to the airport, bus priority, and better walking and cycling.
The review also identified resourcing issues, noting several key roles remained vacant or filled on a temporary basis.
"The programme's current brand value in the market has meant that attracting and retaining talent is challenging."
It found a lack of proven experience and expertise within the team in delivering complex and large scale projects within an integrated programme environment.
The review said there was a "strategic leadership vacuum".
This is on top of a culture that was described as "detrimental" to a collaborative and productive working environment within the programme.
"LGWM has not evolved its own identity, people feel isolated and have a growing sense of frustration due to the work environment, a perceived lack of delivery and uncertainty of partner commitment."
The review's recommendations at a glance:
• The programme's governance should be flattened, sharpened, and empowered with the possibility of bringing in independent members for impartiality
• To take a "pause" to enable the programme to resource itself properly and for discipline to be designed and implemented
• Undertake a strategic evaluation of its people capacity and capability
• Implement an improvement plan from the Institute for Collaborative Working New Zealand to create a stronger "one team" environment
• The Partnership Board should request a coherent and complete risk profile for the programme
The Transport Minister said in his letter the only way to restore public confidence was to make progress.
Wood stressed they had to "get on" with smaller scale projects like bus priority measures and improving walking and cycling.
He instructed the board to work with the Governance Reference Group to come up with a plan within the next fortnight to sort out issues highlighted in the review.
In a statement, the LGWM Board said significant progress has already been made to assess the findings and implement improvements.
The board has asked the programme team to review and prioritise the vision, programme objectives, and funding.
"The programme team has been working to develop this detail, with a strong focus on the planning, engineering and consultation outcomes. The team will build on work which has already been undertaken to create a strong set of options for the next steps, using existing technical information and modelling wherever possible."
That work is expected to be completed in March.
Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Daran Ponter said the report was honest.
"It's perhaps a little bit brutal in New Zealand review report terms, but it's refreshing to see a report that just lays out the issues."
He noted the review was dated December 2020 and any "pause" in the project has effectively already taken place in the final quarter of last year.
Asked whether heads needed to roll, Ponter said partners would need to consider the report in greater detail, but he wasn't sure that sort of action was the right thing to do at this point.
"I would be concerned to lose critical staff at a time when we need all hands on deck."
The board said current staff were continuing their work.
"They have an important role to play in building on existing technical information and modelling to ensure that the scenarios presented to the minister and partner organisations include robust information around cost, sequencing and delivery."
Wellington mayor Andy Foster said it's clear LGWM was not set up in a way that could effectively deliver what the city needed and he was pleased the review had addressed that and other issues.
He noted the Transport Minister and all partners remained committed to the programme.
"The vision, the need and the commitment remain."
He said the community wanted LGWM to deliver on the ground projects expected of a world class capital.
"What is most important is that, there has been a lot of great technical work done on actual project packages, which I look forward to being able to us put before the public soon."
Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said NZTA has a lot to answer for, since it was providing governance at a central government level in the partnership.
A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said NZTA would not be providing separate comment on the health check today.
Genter said Wellingtonians wanted a city that was people-friendly, safe for walking and cycling, and had fast and reliable public transport.
"Those outcomes need to drive the prioritisation of the projects. I also think there's probably been too much of a focus on big projects rather than just getting on and improving things like bus priority."
National's transport spokesman Michael Woodhouse said locals would be "rightly disappointed" at the recommendation to go back to the drawing board.
The review's recommendation was a "damning critique of one of the Government's most important transport programmes", he said, adding the two-week timeframe from the Transport Minister to come up with a new plan was reckless.
"While we want to see Wellington moving quickly, two weeks is hardly enough time to work out the best way to spend $6 billion of taxpayer money."
Yesterday the Herald reported the review was scheduled to be publicly released this month, following what has been described as a frustrating hold-up.
In September last year LGWM programme director Andrew Body confirmed the project was undertaking an internal review.
Conducted by three independent reviewers, it was set to focus on governance, a gap assessment, people and culture, the baseline programme, and systems and processes.
The draft findings were due to be provided to the partnership board in October with a final report due in early November.
But come December it was clear no report had been finalised and the information was being tightly held.
It's understood there's frustration at a local government level that the report wasn't released before Christmas, so issues could have been exposed, dealt with, and parties could move on before the start of the New Year.
A spokesperson for the LGWM partners provided no explanation for why it had taken so long to finalise the review.