Major transport plan suffers from poor leadership, lack of trust, review finds

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A scathing review into Wellington’s $6.4b transport programme has found it’s at risk of failure, has a detrimental culture and was under-resourced from the outset.

Cyclist in Wellington traffic.

Let’s Get Wellington Moving has several aims including delivering better public transport options and cycleways for Welingtonians. (file pic) Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The internal report, titled a Health Check looked into Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) and its plans to develop a better transport system for the city.

The LGWM’s aim is to ease the capital’s congestion woes by building rapid transit from the city to the airport, improving public transport and cycleways and easing traffic choke points on arterial routes.

However, a review into its current state found it’s at risk of failing to deliver an integrated, cohesive, prioritised and outcomes-driven package.

It described the programme as “being process-driven” with a “bottom up approach”.

“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.”

It said the team was never adequately resourced and key roles have remained vacant or are only filled on a temporary basis.

“Our principal finding from a people perspective is that the programme was not set up for success from the outset.

“The programme’s current brand value in the market has meant that attracting and retaining talent is challenging.”

The report said LGWM’s brand is currently diminished due to perceived lack of delivery and future uncertainty.

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The report also noted there was a proven lack of experience within the team which had no expertise in delivering a complex, large scale programme and a “strategic leadership vacuum”.

The Health Check described the current culture as “detrimental to a collaborative and productive working environment” between the partners involved in LGWM.

It said people working on projects had an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality and described the culture as combative where they were wary of putting their views forward.

One of the new buses being rolled out in Wellington.

An ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality among several agencies is hampering a plan to improve transport options in the capital, a report says. (file pic) Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The report found LGWM needed to pause to enable proper discipline to be implemented, and to be better resourced.

“We note that the recommendations in this report will lead to an adjusted LGWM programme in terms of timeframes, scope and cost. However, we consider this is preferable to the risk of failure to deliver the desired outcomes under the current approach.”

The review said the programme, which is a joint initiative between the government, Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Waka Kotahi, lacked trust.

“A consistent finding across the interviews is that trust and confidence in the programme governance function is low. There is a universal view that there are too many layers; the structure is confusing; and the decision-making is fragmented.”

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It said LGWM needed to act now if it wanted to succeed.

“There is 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.”

Transport Minister Michael Wood has told Let’s Get Wellington Moving’s board members any further delays to the project were “unacceptable”.

He said Wellingtonians had waited too long for progress on the city and further delaying the project would not restore public confidence.

“It is my view that pausing to reconsider those objectives will only cause further delay in the programme,” he said.

“The only way we will restore public confidence is by making progress.”

The minister has given officials two weeks to come up with a plan to address the problems outlined in the report.

“My expectation is that Waka Kotahi will work with Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington to support delivery on a timetable that helps to build public confidence and a sense of momentum.”

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster was not surprised by the concerns raised in the report.

“It is clear LGWM was not set up in a way that could effectively deliver what our city needs, and I was therefore pleased with the leadership by my CEO and the LGWM Board in commissioning this Health Check which addresses this and other issues.”

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However, Foster said the city council remained “fully committed” to the vision and delivery of the programme.

Actions had already been taken to address many of the concerns the report raised, he said.

“I know our community wants to see Let’s Get Wellington Moving providing the vision expected of a world-class capital city,” Foster said.

“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 … put before the public soon.”

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