Ambiguous wording by Wellington's incoming chief executive has triggered a circus today over a controversial housing development at Shelly Bay.

Sir Peter Jackson was back on social media about the issue, a legal letter was penned and a petition launched.

It was all over a Wellington City Council vote back in 2017 to sell and lease its land at Shelly Bay, leaving chief executive Kevin Lavery with the authority to make the final transaction.

But ahead of local body elections last year Lavery said the matter would instead go back to council for reconsideration due to the high level of public interest.


So when Wellington City Council recently updated its website with a note from incoming chief executive Barbara McKerrow saying "work will progress in line with the Council's 27 September 2017 resolution", all hell broke loose.

It was read by some as McKerrow making no commitment to revisit the council's decision on the lease and sale of its land.

A petition was launched over the weekend to demand a re-vote.

"Wellington is about to hurtle headlong into a TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE that is going to cost ratepayers millions and will last for years and years and years to come," the petition stated.

Jackson shared the link on Facebook and urged people to sign the petition.

Furthermore, a legal letter written on behalf of Jackson and his partner Dame Fran Walsh was sent to McKerrow. All councillors were also copied in.

It wanted confirmation by 5pm this Friday that the sale and lease matter would "promptly" be referred back to council for a re-vote and no further action would be taken in the meantime, including negotiations over terms and conditions.

Wellington mayor Andy Foster, left, and Sir Peter Jackson have both been vocal critics of the controversial Shelly Bay housing development. Photo / Georgina Campbell
Wellington mayor Andy Foster, left, and Sir Peter Jackson have both been vocal critics of the controversial Shelly Bay housing development. Photo / Georgina Campbell

"In the absence of confirmation, we will recommend applying to the High Court urgently for orders preserving the status quo and that any steps taken after this letter are void."


This afternoon mayor Andy Foster issued a statement over the situation clarifying there was no change and the matter would come back to council in due course, but that would likely be several months away.

Senior council officers were working on the terms and conditions of the sale and lease of the land, he said.

That was so councillors have all relevant information before them when it lands back on their table for a final decision, he said.

It's understood Foster's statement was endorsed by McKerrow.

Foster told the Herald he accepted some information on the council's website could be read in different ways.

"I think we'll need to correct that."


He also noted the importance of being specific.

"Sometimes you need to mean what you say and say what you mean … if you do something in a way which can be interpreted in a number of different ways, especially given the intensity of interest that there is and the diversity of views around Shelly Bay, people are going to interpret it the way they probably fear the most."

Foster said McKerrow was progressing work with the council's full knowledge and support and he rejected any suggestion she was acting improperly.

There was no need for McKerrow to apologise over her wording, Foster said.

"There's always lessons learned about maybe being a bit more explicit about some of these things we correct those and hopefully then we can move on."