Phil Pirie: Civic Award winner 2020

Published on 28 October 2020

Photo of 2020 Civic Award winner Phil Pirie

For the past 20 years, Phil Pirie has devoted time, his skills and knowledge to ensure the safety and protection of thousands of people competing or undertaking sporting and community events.

In 2001, the death of a competing cyclist during Christchurch road cycling event Le Race had far-reaching ramifications. The fatal accident led to charges eventually being laid against the race organiser, who was found guilty of criminal nuisance by a jury and fined $10,000.

While the conviction was later overturned by the Court of Appeal, the tragic event-related death and resulting drawn-out court case had a chilling effect – and not just on events that made use of the roading network. Due to the wider legal implications, it had a profoundly inhibiting impact on every sporting, recreational and cultural event in the country.

Many scheduled events, including the 2001 Tour de Manawatū, were subsequently cancelled because organisers feared they would be held liable for any accidents or injuries.

Phil Pirie’s reaction to the South Island fatality was to quickly convene a small committee with the aim of safeguarding the interests of event organisers, participants and members of the public making use of the roading network during races, parades, fundraisers and festivals.

Already a long-serving member of the Manawatū Striders’ event committee, Phil says no one wanted to see competitive events halted because of the liability threat, or because of the costs associated with traffic management. And so the Manawatū Events Equipment Trust (MEET) was born.

Up to that time, event organisers wanting to stake out courses or close affected streets and roads had to rely on the goodwill of roading contractors to lend out road safety gear, signs and equipment – or on sponsorship deals to meet equipment hire charges. The costs for community organisations and clubs to fund, store, transport and maintain their own traffic management paraphernalia for use once or twice a year, were prohibitive.

In Phil’s model, the Trust took responsibility for acquiring all the necessary gear, signs, cones and clothing. It did this courtesy of charity providers, through sponsorships and via donations from local companies and then lent out the items to those who needed it. Schools, clubs and charities could register to borrow what they needed for the duration of an event and even take advantage of Phil’s traffic management expertise.

To give sports clubs the opportunity to learn about the regulative environment, the Trust also instigated accredited Code of Practice for Temporary Traffic Management safety courses for events personnel through the Manawatū Sports Foundation and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.

Phil, who has headed the Trust from 2001, even built a shed at his home to house the more than $200,000 worth of traffic management equipment and the two custom-built transportation trailers.

A registered consulting surveyor, Phil can also measure courses, certify distances, and lay out the race routes. On top of this he takes the bookings, submits Traffic Management Plans for approval by local roading authorities, makes himself available as Site Traffic Management Supervisor when required by Waka Kotahi, and completes the pack-up when the event is over.

All this is provided at an annual cost to registered organisers of around $100. That makes the Manawatū Events & Equipment Trust the events equivalent of a lending library and the envy of other regions without a similar set-up. With 120 registered users from Whanganui across to Dannevirke and from Taihape down to Levin regularly making use of the service, it’s a huge and gratefully appreciated undertaking.

Organisers see MEET as absolutely essential to the smooth and sustainable operation of any event that requires the use of public roads.

Earlier this month the Trust equipped the 72km Athletics NZ road relay championship course around Feilding. During Covid levels 4, 3 & 2, Phil supplied Palmerston North’s Kauri Health with cones, hi-viz gear, directional signs and ‘bubble bee barriers’ at no cost. The gear is also available to Civil Defence in time of civic emergency.