‘Plan B’ for Transmission Gully

The New Zealand Transport Agency appears to be planning for a future where Transmission Gully could go ahead with a different set of builders

NZTA has quietly approached several contractors to see if they would be able to take over sections of Transmission Gully if negotiations fall flat. 

The $1 billion roading project is being constructed by a public-private partnership between NZTA and the Wellington Gateway Partnership.

It has been beset by delays despite having been scheduled to open in April 2020. Sources close to the project have alleged issues with the road base and subsoil of the project that mean it may not open until 2022.

Several sources have confirmed contractors in the Wellington region have been approached by NZTA to complete different sections of the road. The agency wouldn't comment on the allegations:

"As we are involved in active commercial negotiations with WGP and the CPB HEB Joint Venture, it is not appropriate for Waka Kotahi [NZTA] to make any comment on these issues until the negotiations are completed," a spokeswoman said.

"We understand the high level of public interest in Transmission Gully and we will provide further information when negotiations are complete."

The move would be unusual because Wellington Gateway Partnership and the 80-20 joint venture of construction firms CPB and HEB are solely responsible for building the road and hiring the contractors for it.

Author of Government for the Public Good, and a critic of PPPs, Max Rashbrooke said NZTA directly approaching other contracting firms outside a PPP would be "quite extraordinary" in terms of how such agreements were supposed to operate.

Outside firms were normally only brought in after a PPP had collapsed.

"It's surely contrary to the point of a PPP which is that you've contracted a consortium to do the work itself.

"I've covered dozens of these schemes in the UK. I've never heard of a public agency trying to separately contract bits of the contract while the PPP contract is in operation". 

Twyford denies 'Plan B'

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the Government was not working on any "Plan B" for the project that would involve a different set of builders. 

"There's only Plan A and that's to get the thing built and to work through the current negotiations between NZTA and the builders and get the job done as soon as possible."

Amalgamated Workers Union national secretary Maurice Davis represents some workers employed by the project and said if the Government weren't working on a Plan B for Transmission Gully then it probably should be.

"I would have thought in my head that they would have actually had to have a Plan B now.

"And that Plan B would involve strong New Zealand-based companies with a credible record to say 'Look, if it all goes bad would you do this work?'."

NZTA would have to absolve new "Plan B" firms of any liabilities associated with the finished product. 

"No constructor in his right mind would take that job on unless they had two things: one is that it's a 'cost-plus job' because you don't know what you'll find until you start digging.

"And the other is that the warranty is picked up by the Government."

Cost-plus jobs are where contractors are paid their expenses and a fee on top of that. 

Davis said if such plans were put in place, his message to the new firms contracted to do the job would be: "You've got a ready-made workforce here you just need to take them over and get them cracking on the job.

"Don't blame the workforce for the ills of the project .. the workers are not at fault here."

Workers he represents have received notices indicating redundancies were on the way. They hadn't been rescinded even after NZTA announced a $14m top-up for the PPP last week.

"I sent an email saying 'Where are we?' ... and they haven't got back to me.

"This is a taxpayer-funded job and NZTA, I don't believe has the right to be silent on it."

While many workers hadn't returned to the site, a fresh workforce from the Philippines had arrived, according to sources who spoke to Newsroom.

Davis said this group of workers had arrived before lockdown, but weren't the more experienced foreign workers who had a lot of knowledge and had worked on the site for years.

"This crop of Filipinos are working massive hours on this project .. it's causing a bit of a tension about New Zealanders not being back."

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