QLDC managers heavily edited 'independent' review of roading alliance

by Kim Bowden - Jun 11, 2024

An independent review of a controversial alliance delivering a series of roading projects in Queenstown was heavily edited by senior managers at the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

Documents released to Crux after a request for official information reveal a draft of the 'lessons learnt' review was provided to council chief executive Mike Theelen, then five additional versions of the document were thrown back and forth between the author and other senior council staff before the final version was delivered.

Contractor Dave Brash delivered his first draft of the review to Mr Theelen on February 19, asking in an email for feedback and fact checking on it.

Between then and the end of April, emails circulated between Mr Brash, Mr Theelen, council infrastructure and property boss Tony Avery and procurement manager Geoff Mayman.

The documents show changes were also made by the author after feedback to a supplied draft was invited from the alliance's programme manager Edward Husband, of Fulton Hogan.

Crux has been supplied with the email chain between Mr Brash, Mr Theelen, Mr Avery and Mr Mayman, although one email, and sections of others have been redacted.

Despite requesting it, Crux has not been given a copy of the first, original draft supplied by Mr Brash to council staff.

Without seeing the starting point, it is impossible to know what exact changes were made by Mr Brash in response to the commentary he received, but a council spokesperson says they include correcting facts, identifying errors, identifying relevant areas of enquiry to be completed, providing additional information and formatting.

"Such 'to and fro' feedback is a natural and ordinary part of the process of report writing," the spokesperson says.

"Any editorial decisions to update and complete the report were made by Mr Brash and not based solely on feedback from Mr Theelen or other officers."

The emails handed over to Crux provide limited information on the nature of the changes.

"Kia ora Dave", Mr Avery writes in an email to Mr Brash on March 27, for example.

"Thanks for version four of the report! I think it's starting to look much better. I've made some comments on the attached including some minor edits. I've tried to incorporate Mike's comments after discussing it with him but I don't have Geoff's input as he's been on leave. So there may be some further comments to come."

Meanwhile some of the replies from Mr Theelen himself are close to nonsensical, riddled with typos and grammatical errors.

Some correspondence from QLDC chief executive Mike Theelen is riddled with errors (Images: Supplied under LGOIMA/QLDC).

Crux is told information was withheld as allowed for by legislation to "maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions by or between or to members or officers or employees of any local authority".

"In this case the email and few draft attachments contained a discussion between internal staff and other professional contractors employed by the QLDC for this project. We considered it free and frank expression of opinion by staff."

Other information was withheld because the council deemed it "could prejudice future negotiations with the external contractors".

Finally, the privacy of reviewer Mr Brash is also given as a reason for some information being redacted.

In the email chain Mr Brash discusses an upcoming personal holiday to attend the wedding of a family member.

He has been open about his relationship to Mr Theelen and Mr Avery, both of whom he says he has worked closely with at various stages of his career.

Mr Brash was paid close to $51,700 to conduct the review.

The review of Whakatipu Transport Programme Alliance - more recently referred to as Kā Huanui a Tāhuna - was requested by elected members of the council in April 2023, when they were asked to, and approved, the first of two budget top ups for the alliance's Queenstown arterial road stage one project.

The budget for the roading upgrade to link Frankton Road to Gorge Road via Melbourne and Henry Streets is now $128 million.

The ratepayer contribution to the cost began at $36.5 million in 2021 when construction started, but that increased by $20.6 million last year, and a further $17.7 million in February.

The project is flagged for completion at the end of the year.

The lessons learnt report was discussed at a meeting today of the council's Audit, Finance and Risk committee.

Read more: Arterial road whistleblower: cover ups, incompetence and QLDC tantrums

Main image (file photo): Work underway on the Whakatipu Transport Programme Alliance's arterial road project.


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