The Basin Flyover Board of Inquiry Decision Was Clear. Why Are Councils and NZTA Ignoring It?

One of the most interesting (and I wish I could say surprising) things about reaction to the Board of Inquiry decision to decline resource consent for a Basin Reserve flyover is how reluctant the New Zealand Transport Agency, many local councils, and flyover cheerleaders in the business community have been to examine what the Board actually said.

Such organisations appear to regard the Board decision as a toxic document that can be handled only with tongs. The idea of paying serious attention to the Board’s conclusions appears not to have occurred to them.

So I was very struck by the following letter, which Kate Zwartz wrote in response to a report in the Petone Herald of Poririua Mayor Nick Leggett and Kapiti Mayor Ross Church applauding NZTA’s plan to appeal the Board’s decision, and asked her for permission to republish it. Over to you, Kate:

How extraordinary that mayors and council executives can applaud the decision of New Zealand Transport Agency, a government body, to throw more public money after bad.

The decision of the Board of Inquiry, which heard months of detailed evidence from both sides, was crystal clear.  Here are a few direct quotes from the Board’s Final Report and Decision, August 2014:

“… the quantum of transportation benefits is substantially less than originally claimed by the Transport Agency.”  [1317]

“… we do not consider the Project can be credited with being a long term solution.”   [504]

“… we have found that there would be significant adverse effects.”  [1182]

“… it is our view that it is impracticable to avoid this structure dominating this sensitive environment.”  [985]

Why is NZTA reluctant to accept this decision?  Let’s get on with designing proper, fit-for-purpose solutions and drop the failed flyover.

Save the Basin Campaign to respond to NZTA’s Basin Reserve flyover appeal

The Save the Basin Campaign has announced that it will be contesting the New Zealand Transport Agency’s appeal against the Board of Inquiry decision to decline resource consent for a Basin Reserve flyover.

“Along with a number of other community groups, we have indicated our intention to be heard as an interested party in this appeal when it is heard in the High Court”, says spokesperson Joanna Newman.  “That doesn’t mean we’re not extremely disappointed and frustrated.  NZTA appears to have no interest in accepting a decision reached by a robust and democratic process established by this government to make good decisions on such projects.  They seem to be perfectly happy to throw more taxpayer money down the drain in pursuit of their flyover obsession.”

The opposing community groups aim to work together, but taking such action has not been considered lightly, because of the costs involved.  “We haven’t come so far only to sit back and allow NZTA to appeal the decision unopposed.”

Another source of disappointment to Save the Basin Campaign is that NZTA has not even allowed time to evaluate the impact of the recent opening of the Arras Tunnel under Buckle Street on Basin Reserve traffic flows.  “It really does seem fixated on a flyover solution.  The opinion of transport experts who gave evidence at the Board of Inquiry was that, with the introduction of three through lanes in Buckle Street and the removal of the Tory St intersection with Buckle St, the flow of traffic around the Basin Reserve would be greatly improved.”

“Evidence was also provided of opportunities to improve lane markings to optimise the existing roads around the Basin Reserve. NZTA, however, seems reluctant to explore these low cost opportunities, preferring instead to waste more money on legal fees to appeal the Board of Inquiry decision.”

Basin Flyover Appeal: NZ Transport Agency Refuses To Learn From Past Mistakes

The Save the Basin Campaign has described the decision by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to appeal the Board of Inquiry decision declining consent for its proposed Basin Reserve flyover as an indictment of the Agency’s refusal to learn from its mistakes.

“The Board of Inquiry delivered a comprehensive report giving clear reasons for declining the New Zealand Transport Agency’s poorly conceived and badly put together proposal to build a flyover at the Basin Reserve,” Save the Basin Campaign spokesperson Tim Jones said. “The Board’s decision made it clear that a flyover was not an appropriate structure to build at the Basin Reserve.”

“Instead of accepting this decision, acknowledging the failure of its flyover plans and moving on to develop a better proposal in partnership with the people of Wellington and with community groups, the NZTA has chosen to continue pursuing its flyover plan through the courts,” Mr Jones said. “It seems that the NZTA’s wounded pride is more important to it than developing good transport solutions.”

On Radio New Zealand this week, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said in reference to the Basin flyover Board of Inquiry that “good process should not be stalled to save costs”. Clearly, he regards the Board of Inquiry as a good process, but the New Zealand Transport Agency does not. The Save the Basin Campaign thinks that the Minister should have instructed NZTA to stop obsessing over its failed flyover project,  accept the decision and start working on an alternative solution that works for Wellington, rather than wasting more taxpayer dollars on an appeal.

“Wellington is a modern capital city that deserves sustainable, modern transport solutions that take account of a unique urban environment,” Mr Jones said. “It’s time that the NZ Transport Agency recognised that and stopped flogging a dead horse.”

Mr Jones said that Save the Basin would be carefully considering its detailed response to NZTA’s appeal once it had received the appeal documents.

General Election 2014: A Clear Choice on Wellington Transport

Most transport policy discussions this election have focused on Auckland. So it was great to see that the Green Party has today released its Wellington transport policy.

As reported in the Dominion Post, the Greens’ plan is centred on a light rail system for Wellington, including light rail to the airport by 2025, and includes the retention of trolleybuses and the provision of new electric buses. There’s also money for cycleways and footpaths, and the funding comes from money National has earmarked for motorways. The plan is based on Generation Zero’s Fast Forward Wellington plan – another big tick for the effectiveness of Generation Zero’s transport lobbying.

greens_transport_plan

New Zealand First also supports a light rail link to Wellington airport, and the centrepiece of its transport policy is a Railways of National Importance programme.

Labour’s Phil Twyford is reported in today’s Dominion Post as saying that Labour will concentrate on funding public transport, specifically bus rapid transit. Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson, who like the Green’s Julie Anne Genter, has been a strong opponent of plans to build a Basin Reserve flyover, has said that “Labour is committed to building a 21st Century integrated public transport network for Wellington” and that “Labour will support evidence based solutions that reduce traffic congestion and integrate public transport improvements.”

The Mana Movement makes a strong commitment to public transport in the nation’s cities: “Develop free and frequent integrated public transport systems in all major population centres, including buses, rail, ferries, walkways, and cycle lanes, to increase the use of public transport, eliminate gridlock problems.”

I couldn’t find the Internet Party’s transport policy as a separate document, but in their environment policy they have expressed support for smart and sustainable transport solutions.

United Future’s transport policy calls for the completion of the Roads of National Significance, but Peter Dunne has frequently expressed his opposition to a Basin Reserve flyover.

So those are the transport polices from the parties that oppose a Basin Reserve flyover. In contrast, apart from some welcome money for cycleways, National is still fixated on its Roads of National Significance – even ACT, with its call for benefit-cost ratios to be strictly applied, is arguably better. (I was unable to find transport policies for the Maori and Conservative parties.)

This may have been a murky election campaign, but on transport, there are clear choices between parties that support sustainable transport options, and those – primarily National – that want a future of more motorways and continued adherence to failed and outdated transport solutions.

 

Time to move on from failed flyover plan

The Save the Basin Campaign is telling local and national politicians it’s “time to move on” from the NZ Transport Agency’s failed plan to build a flyover at the Basin Reserve in central Wellington.

The call comes in the wake of today’s final decision by the basin Bridge Board of Inquiry to decline the NZTA’s resource consent application for its proposed flyover.

Save the Basin Campaign spokesperson Tim Jones says, “The Board’s decision confirms what Save the Basin and many other submitters have said all along. It’s completely inappropriate to build a flyover at the Basin Reserve, and the NZTA, Greater Wellington and Wellington City Council got it wrong when they refused to seriously consider alternative proposals.”

“So now it’s time to move on from the failed flyover plan and come up with a better solution. That doesn’t mean, as some local politicians have suggested, attempting to bundle a flyover proposal up with other transport proposals and trying to sneak it through as part of a package. It does mean developing a solution informed by genuine community engagement and participation – because, as the Board of Inquiry acknowledged, there are genuine non-flyover options that would avoid ruining the environment of the Basin Reserve.”

“New Zealanders’ transport behaviour is changing rapidly. Evidence shows that young urban New Zealanders are increasingly choosing not to drive. This means that old transport assumptions and outdated transport models can’t be trusted when considering future transport needs. So a low-cost interim solution that could later be made permanent is one approach that deserves serious consideration,” Tim Jones concluded.

Save the Basin Campaign Media Release: Greater Wellington and the NZ Transport Agency need to learn from their mistakes

The Save the Basin Campaign has criticised the paper that Greater Wellington will be considering on Tuesday about the implications of the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry’s draft decision to decline consent for a Basin Reserve flyover.

The paper calls for the establishment of a joint governance group between the NZ Transport Agency, Greater Wellington and the Wellington City Council to accelerate planning on local transit projects ‘to enable them to facilitate and support a solution to the Basin Reserve’.

It’s a concern that, despite the Board’s decision, the parties believe ‘the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan is still fit for purpose and forms and appropriate basis for developing the transport network of this key corridor’.

Save the Basin Campaign spokesperson Tim Jones said “The NZ Transport Agency, Greater Wellington and Wellington City Council have already had one go at coming up with a so-called ‘solution to the Basin Reserve’. The end result was their proposal for an outdated, ugly, inappropriate and unnecessary flyover. Rightly, the Board of Inquiry rejected this proposal in its draft decision.”

“Rather than looking at the fundamental flaws in their flyover proposal, it appears that Greater Wellington and the NZ Transport Agency may try to bundle a Basin flyover up with some other transport projects in an attempt to make it more palatable,” Tim Jones said. “But however it is packaged, a flyover is still completely inappropriate for the Basin Reserve and the surrounding environment – as the Board of Inquiry found.”

“It’s time for Greater Wellington and the NZ Transport Agency to recognise that they have been barking up the wrong tree,” Tim Jones said. “It’s time for them to pay attention to what flyover opponents argued and the Board has found: that there are non-flyover transport options worth serious consideration.”

“It’s also time for the Wellington City Council to stand up for Wellington, its heritage, and our iconic Basin Reserve,” Tim Jones concluded. “We need a genuine solution based on Wellington’s needs, not a failed ‘solution’ imposed from above.”

Political Parties, The General Election, And The Basin Reserve Flyover Decision

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How you vote is up to you. But political reaction in the wake of the Board of Inquiry’s draft decision to decline resource consent for a Basin Reserve flyover suggests that you have a very clear choice when considering the view of political parties on the Basin flyover issue.

Politicians’ reactions on social media

As word of the draft decision spread, Save the Basin’s Twitter account got a large number of congratulatory and supportive messages, including these:

Julie Anne Genter ‏@JulieAnneGenter  Jul 22

Reason prevails!!! We won. I am SO thrilled right now. #noflyover http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx … @save_the_basin

Gareth Hughes ‏@GarethMP  Jul 22

Basin Reserve decision a victory for common sense & the community! http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx … awesome work @save_the_basin

Grant Robertson @grantrobertson1 · Jul 22

Basin Flyover decision damning on NZTA- didn’t properly consider alternatives, sig destruction of heritage +amenity, big ?s over time saving

(My apologies to Peter Dunne, @PeterDunneMP – try as I might, I can no longer find his tweet – I should have saved it at the time! But he has been a consistent opponent of a Basin Reserve flyover.)

Press statements

Political parties, including NZ First, also released press releases supporting the Board’s draft decision:

Labour Party: Basin Flyover Decision An Opportunity For Capital: http://campaign.labour.org.nz/basin_flyover_decision_an_opportunity_for_capital

Green Party: Basin Reserve Decision Victory for Common Sense: https://www.greens.org.nz/press-releases/basin-flyover-decision-victory-common-sense

NZ First: Opportunity Knocks for Wellington with Light Rail Link: http://nzfirst.org.nz/news/opportunity-knocks-wellington-light-rail-link

I haven’t seen a statement from Internet Mana on the issue, but the Mana Movement had previously expressed opposition to the proposed flyover.

The Government Reaction: Gerry Brownlee

In stark contrast, the Government expressed dismay and mystification over the decision, as exemplified by Gerry Brownlee:

http://money.msn.co.nz/businessnews/national/8879103/brownlee-disappointed-by-basin-decision

So, as we approach the General Election, voters have a clear choice. Four parties – Labour, the Greens, United Future and NZ First – have expressed clear and consistent opposition to a Basin Reserve flyover, while the Mana Movement has previously expressed opposition.

In contrast, the National Party appears unable to conceive that the NZTA might have got it wrong, or that any other solution than a flyover is possible. The return of a National Government will increase the risk that a flyover is pushed through outside the normal RMA processes, such as by empowering legislation.

Chicken Little versus Reality: Reactions to the Draft Flyover Decision

As you probably know, the Basin Bridge (i.e. flyover) Board of Inquiry released its draft decision on Tuesday 22 July. In its draft decision, the Board:

Cancelled the Notice of Requirement (NoR) for the construction, operation, and maintenance of State Highway 1 in Wellington City between Paterson Street and Buckle Street/Taranaki Street, and to construct (and where necessary operate and maintain) work that avoids, remedies or mitigates adverse effects.

Declined the resource consent applications.

In other words, they turned down the flyover proposed to them by the New Zealand Transport Agency. Parties (including the applicant and submitters) now have until 19 August to submit comments on any factual errors they find within the draft report, and the Board will release its final decision by Saturday 30 August. Parties then have the opportunity to consider making an appeal on matters of law.

You can download the draft decision from the EPA website (PDF, 6MB)

Media reaction

Not surprisingly, there was a flurry of media reaction when the decision was announced – far too much, in fact, to link all of it here. You can get a good flavour by following the flyover coverage categories in Wellington Scoop and in the Dominion Post. Patrick McCombs’ article Pain, Cost and Embarrassment … Because the Transport Agency Didn’t Listen does a great job of highlighting the many deficiencies of NZTA’s case, and the sloppy arrogance with which the Transport Agency approached the Board hearing.

This pair of posts from Wellington’s Eye of the Fish blog – one before and one after the decision – reflect the surprise many pundits felt about the Board’s decision:

There were also a number of congratulatory messages and supportive statements from political parties including Labour, the Greens, United Future and NZ First, which I’ll cover in a subsequent post. (If I’ve missed any parties out from that list, please let me know!)

The sky isn’t falling, and there is a Plan B

Given previous Boards’ track record of approving Government proposals, it’s understandable that many people were surprised at the decision. What’s less understandable is the failure of a number of local business and civic leaders to either accept or adapt to the situation.

Plainly, many flyover supporters had proceeded on the assumption that the project would be rubber-stamped. The weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth extended from Kirkcaldie and Stains to certain inhabitants of various Council chambers.

Well, here’s some news for the Chicken Littles of Wellington: the sky isn’t falling, and contrary to what a number of local and national politicians have said, there is a plan B – in fact, several other options are on the table and were taken seriously by the Board in its report.

For example, here’s what the draft Board decision says about the Basin Reserve Roundabout Enhancement Option (BRREO) developed by Richard Reid & Associates for the Mount Victoria Residents Association, and presented to the Board hearing:

We concluded that the BRREO concept was not suppositional and was at least worthy of consideration. While not delivering equal transportation benefits to the Project, we found that it may nonetheless deliver measurable transport benefits at considerably less cost and considerably less adverse effects on the environment. We bear in mind that BRREO is still at a provisional or indicative stage and could be subject to further adjustment by further analysis. (pp. 438-9)

So. Options are on the table. Pending the final decision, a flyover isn’t one of them. It’s time for an open, reality-based discussion about what happens next.

 

 

http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx

 

Save the Basin Campaign congratulates Basin Reserve flyover Board of Inquiry on making the right decision

The Save the Basin Campaign today congratulated the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry for declining approvals for the proposed Basin Reserve flyover.

Save the Basin Campaign spokesperson Joanna Newman said that the Board of Inquiry had made the only logical decision based on the evidence that emerged during the four-month enquiry hearings. “During the hearing,” said Ms Newman, “it became evident that the proposal would have a profound impact on the historic heritage of the Basin Reserve cricket ground and surrounding area, for very little transport gain, and NZ Transport Agency had conducted a biased and incomplete evaluation of alternatives to their flyover plan and ignored all of the improvements already underway in the adjoining War Memorial Park tunnel development.”

The Board seems to have listened to the many residents, cyclists, walkers and motorists who explained the unique character of the area and its value to Wellington and the nation, which would have been destroyed by the project. “We’re delighted that the Board has said no to what would have been an unnecessary, expensive, ugly and hugely damaging project,” said Ms Newman. “The Board heard from a number of experts that there are major changes underway in how people use transport systems. This decision represents a great opportunity for Wellington to move away from the outdated motorway-and-flyover model of transport planning and towards the sustainable methods of providing access and mobility that are appropriate to a modern capital city in the 21st century.”

“We hope that the NZTA and the Government have seen sense and will not attempt to overturn this decision,” Ms Newman concluded. “However, if they do try to overturn it, the community will certainly be ready for them.”

Save the Basin Campaign criticises retrospective approval for War Memorial Park creche move

The Save the Basin Campaign and the Mt Victoria Historical Society have jointly written to the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry to criticise the Government’s granting of retrospective consent to the move of the Home of Compassion Creche. The groups contend that the creche has not been legally moved under the War Memorial Park Act, and that the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry should consider the Basin Bridge proposal as if the Creche remained in its original position. The Board is currently considering whether to grant resource consent approval to the proposed Basin Reserve flyover.

Commenting on the Government’s move to grant retrospective resource consent to the move via Order in Council, Save the Basin Campaign spokesperson Tim Jones said “This is yet another abuse of power and due process by the current Government. In Christchurch, the Government tried to use the laws passed to deal with the Canterbury Earthquake to make larger zoning changes, until the High Court stopped them. Here, the Government is using the construction of a War Memorial Park which is meant to be a solemn commemoration of war and the fallen as a cynical ploy to try to improve its chances of gaining approval for a pet roading project.”

Mr Jones continued “During the Board hearing, lawyers for opposing groups demonstrated that the New Zealand Transport Agency had badly messed up the process with respect to its planned movement of the Creche, which it wants out of the way so that the proposed flyover can go through and over the creche’s former site. Instead of rethinking the ugly, expensive and unnecessary flyover project, the Government has chosen to circumvent the democratic process by pushing through a retrospective Order in Council.”

“We believe this is an abuse of due process and the rule of law. This Government acts as if it believes that it is above the law. It needs to be brought back down to Earth,” Mr Jones concluded.

 

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