Council 'totally incompetent'

ANGRY: Dame Margaret Bazley fires a salvo at Mayor Bob Parker slamming city council staff as incompetent liars.
ANGRY: Dame Margaret Bazley fires a salvo at Mayor Bob Parker slamming city council staff as incompetent liars.

Environment Canterbury boss Dame Margaret Bazley has launched a blistering attack on the Christchurch City Council, slamming "staff who tell lies and... a totally incompetent organisation".

The stinging rebuke prompted a handwritten apology from Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker for the "unacceptable delays" on public transport upgrades.

The city council-ECan relationship has been strained of late, but the criticism is an unprecedented attack from one of New Zealand's most respected public servants.

The city council has accepted responsibility for the public transport delays, with Parker laying the blame on a former staff member who "misled" them.

Documents obtained by The Press under the Official Information Act show the tension between the two councils over the delivery of transport infrastructure, particularly the city council's delay in building a bus "superstop" at Northlands mall.

ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield wrote to his city council counterpart Tony Marryatt on December 10 last year saying it was "extremely disappointing" the superstop was not ready for a December 3 deadline.

The city council's "inadequate provision of infrastructure" was undoing his staff's work, Bayfield said.

A council staff member replied, accepting responsibility for the Northlands problems, saying: "Rather than offer excuses, I can confirm that the new infrastructure will be in place in Northlands by the end of February 2013."

When this deadline was also missed, Dame Margaret weighed into the debate: "I have monitored the performance of the Christchurch City Council on the provision of these facilities... and have built up a picture of staff who tell lies, and of a totally incompetent organisation," she wrote to Parker on April 16.

"Our staff have at all times worked collaboratively with your officers and have been given assurances that everything was in order, and progress was on track, when this was obviously not true."

It was a "sad reflection on our supposed partnership" that even building a bus stop on time seemed beyond the city council, she said, and asked Parker to intervene.

Parker replied to Bazley, offering his apologies for "our unacceptable performance on this" and an assurance there would be "no further slippage" from the end-of-June delivery date. The reply also included a handwritten apology.

Parker told The Press a staff member in charge of the superstop project had led them to believe everything was on track. However, when the employee left the council, their replacement discovered the problems.

"It was of great concern to me, and of great concern to our organisation, and when we were aware of it, steps were immediately taken.

"We had been misled, and we have taken some pretty aggressive steps to get things back on track."

A programme manager had been appointed and more resources provided to speed up the job, he said.

"It's disappointing that it happened. Sometimes these things happen, and it's very difficult to bring somebody to account when they are no longer with the organisation."

Parker described the relationship between the organisations as "really good" now, but understood why ECan had been frustrated with the city council.

ECan acting chairman David Caygill confirmed the improvement.

"The relationship with the city council regarding passenger transport infrastructure has improved considerably since the correspondence took place."

Read Mayor Bob Parker's letter in full.

The Press