Crs deny spat related to election ambitions

Lee Vandervis.
Lee Vandervis.
Election? What election?

So say Crs Lee Vandervis and Andrew Whiley, who deny a public spat with Cr David Benson-Pope over a public playground has anything to do with ambitions for public office.

But Cr Benson-Pope has hit back, saying the political pot-shots show the starter's gun has already sounded for next year's local body elections.

"I think it started a wee while ago. You've only got to look at some of the grandstanding that's gone on," he said.

The spat began after Cr Benson-Pope, in an opinion piece published by the ODT on Monday, suggested a Margaret Mahy-style family playground could be built on 

Dunedin's waterfront.

Andrew Whiley
Andrew Whiley

On Tuesday, after being contacted by the ODT, he expanded on the idea in a front-page news story, while noting waterfront plans were yet to be confirmed.

Later that afternoon, Cr Whiley and council chief executive Sue Bidrose were spotted having an animated discussion about the coverage before the start of the full council meeting.

And yesterday morning, all three councillors began trading barbed emails - all of them copied to the ODT.

Cr Vandervis began by sending in a letter to the editor, copied to all councillors, questioning the lack of consultation and costings underpinning Cr Benson-Pope's idea.

He said it would require the "catastrophic destruction" of a vital Jetty St overbridge on-ramp, which was worthy of an April Fool's joke, before concluding: "The next election is October 2019."

Cr Benson-Pope hit back with a one-line email to Cr Vandervis: "Suggest you pay more attention to the information and documents available to you."

David Benson-Pope.
David Benson-Pope.

Cr Whiley then weighed in, emailing to ask Cr Benson-Pope if he could "for clarity" point to where the concept had previously been discussed.

"It's amazing what I learnt reading the front page of the ODT on Tuesday morning."

Cr Benson-Pope sent back another one-line zinger: "You could make a start with the information sheet available in the display site on the ground floor of the Civic Centre."

Contacted later, Cr Whiley said he had "no issue" with an opinion piece, or ideas being discussed in public, but wanted more input from councillors before it was presented as a fait accompli.

"My frustration is the fact he has all the information. It would be nice if he shared some of it with the rest of us, before sharing it with the ODT."

Cr Benson-Pope - who is the council's planning and environment committee chairman, and a council representative on the waterfront development stakeholders' group - scoffed at the criticism.

A playground had been discussed before, in public and private, and the criticism was "absolute nonsense".

Asked if the election campaign had started, Cr Benson-Pope said: "Surprise, surprise. That's all it is, I'm afraid."

Cr Vandervis said Cr Benson-Pope's comments showed he "desperately needs a diversion, because of what he's foolishly done".

He denied his own comments were politically motivated.

"Benson-Pope suggested that to me this morning, and I reminded him that I had almost double his vote last time."

Crs Whiley and Vandervis both said they were yet to decide if they would run for mayor, but both would seek re-election as councillors.

Cr Benson-Pope ruled out standing for mayor, but was undecided on seeking re-election as a councillor.

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