An unreleased letter penned by Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter points to a Labour Greens tussle behind the scenes of Let's Get Wellington Moving, a local MP says.
The $6.4b transport package has put mass rapid transit front and centre but shoved a second Mt Victoria tunnel on the back burner. Meanwhile doubling The Terrace tunnel and trenching Karo Drive didn't make the cut at all.
The priorities of the Government-endorsed plan has created speculation over just how much muscle the Greens flexed during negotiations.
Wellington based National list MP Nicola Willis thinks a letter Genter sent to Transport Minister Phil Twyford on March 26 this year could reveal the influence the Greens had on the final package.
The confusion in getting to the bottom of whether that letter or any other correspondence actually existed, let alone finding out what its contents is, has only added fuel to the fire.
The paper trail
In a written parliamentary question Willis asked Genter what correspondence she'd had with her ministerial colleagues about transport plans for the Wellington region. She replied there was none.
In another question, Twyford was asked what correspondence he'd received from Genter about transport plans in the region. He replied there was none.
But when Genter was asked under the Official Information Act for copies of any letters she had sent to other ministers about proposals for transport investment in Wellington, it was a different story.
Actually, there was one piece of correspondence. It was a letter Genter sent to Twyford on March 26 2019 about the Let's Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) indicative package.
"At best it's sloppy and at worst it's evasive", Willis said.
Documents proactively released by the Government show on the same day Twyford received the letter he also received advice on whether an existing pilot tunnel adjacent to the Mt Victoria tunnel could be repurposed as a dedicated cycling and walking connection, and whether the phasing of projects allowed public transport, walking and cycling ones to happen first.
The advice said the indicative schedule suggested the construction of rapid transit from the Railway Station to Newtown would commence around the same time as the Mt Victoria and Basin Reserve projects.
"The two State Highway projects will be needed to mitigate the significant disruption that rapid transit construction and operation will have on the network south of the central city, especially on Adelaide Rd and Riddiford St."
The following week Twyford received advice on the potential downsides of delaying or removing a second Mt Victoria tunnel.
"There's real vagueness around when the Mt Victoria tunnel will be started and whether or not cars will be able to use it and it seems that got very murky following this letter from Minister Genter", Willis said.
In the Cabinet paper for LGWM Twyford said he expected the extra Mt Victoria tunnel would proceed late in the first decade of the transport plan once earlier components including public transport, walking and cycling and mass rapid transit had been delivered or were underway.
He also said there should be a detailed business case and updated demand modelling to confirm it would not undermine mode shift to public and active transport.
The most open and transparent government
Genter has declined to release the letter she penned to Twyford, citing reasons including "to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions between Ministers of the Crown".
But Willis said the public had a right to know what's in the letter.
"Minister Genter should release this letter and make her views known to the public. There is no good reason why she should be hiding those views. The Government should be upfront about what decisions it made and why."
Both answers to the written parliamentary questions posed by Willis have been corrected to acknowledge the existence of the letter.
Willis has filed an appeal with the Ombudsman for Genter to release it.
Cue the flyover reference
Twyford said the Government had managed to land a LGWM package that integrated modern mass transit, walking and cycling upgrades, and better public transport with the city's motorways and roads.
"The last government failed to do anything and all they suggested for Wellington was a massive concrete flyover at the Basin Reserve while starving the city of transport infrastructure.
"We've put together a package that will ease congestion and unlock the potential of our capital city, and this includes a second Mt Victoria tunnel."
Genter said Willis was talking nonsense for saying the Greens have a bias against roading projects and undermined official advice about the way LGWM should be prioritised.
"Our Government is spending more than the previous one on roads through the National Land Transport Programme. LGWM will make Wellington a much more liveable city that's easier to get around by making our streets more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, and improving public transport."