Wellington Scoop

Vision, or fantasy?

by Conor Hill
At the Chamber of Commerce this week, National MP Chris Bishop outlined his party’s high level vision for Wellington (and NZ) transport. Frightened that the intellectual rigor mortis that afflicts that organisation might be contagious, I did not attend. And after reading reports on the speech (here, and here, and here), it sounds like it was either a bit of absurdist comedy or utter fantasy.

The first thing to note about National’s plans for Wellington City is that they failed to deliver anything at all in their last nine years in charge. On top of this, in a 56 page transport policy document that Chris Bishop released late last year, Wellington does not get a look in. There shouldn’t be any surprises here – the rural hinterland is National’s base, and is why he highlighted roads in Katikati and Tirau in those 56 pages.

Like the rest of his party, Bishop sounds very keen on a second Mt Victoria tunnel. Wherever you land on the value of this project, the likelihood of it ever being built are in essence zero. It involves bulldozing a tunnel through character homes in iconic suburbs, destroying a kindergarten, and confiscating land protected by its own act of Parliament. After which the good people of Mt Victoria and Hataitai will have a four lane motorway next to them.

Is this something they want?

The people who live in these suburbs are about 10 times more likely to be senior public servants or lawyers than the rest of us. With that deep knowledge of the RMA, the arcane levers or power, and a desire not to have a motorway next door, at least some of these people will mobilise against this, and will almost definitely win. As Bishop knows, they have done it before.

While this seems to be about the only concrete commitment for Wellington City at this point, Bishop’s other promise was to spend more than Labour. Let’s be clear about something. It is totally possible to spend more money and achieve less. All you have to do is pay roading contractors more. What a ridiculous promise.

In amongst the other dross – hints at spending exorbitant amounts to remove a couple of traffic lights along Karo Drive and mentions of new synonyms for bus – there was one subject that in other hands would be precious, but here was more like Fool’s Gold. Like Andy Foster, Chris Bishop is a theoretical fan of Congestion Charging. Like Andy Foster he doesn’t want to provide concrete examples of how this could work. So I will for him:

A commuter driving from Lower Hutt into Wellington in the 7am to 9 am peak would pay say $5 for the privilege. Your average Lower Hutt commuting motorist would face an annual charge of around $1300. And given National’s priorities outlined in their 56 page policy document, that money would then go on rural roads in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

The chances of Chris Bishop campaigning on this in his Hutt South electorate? Zero.

He knows all of this.

He knows that the Mt Vic/Hataitai tunnel motorway will never happen due to well organised and smart locals.

He can probably guess that while everyone wants to see Karo Drive trenched, the bill would in all likelihood be horrendous.

He knows Congestion Charging is a great idea that no National Party leader will ever have the stomach to campaign on in concrete form.

Conor Hill was a candidate for the Wellington mayoralty in the recent elections.


  1. David Mackenzie, 13. February 2020, 9:35

    By “the arcane levers or power” did you mean “lovers of power” or “levers of power”?

  2. Patrick Morgan, 13. February 2020, 15:59

    Question for Mr Bishop: Where would all those extra cars fit?
    Is he aware of induced traffic?

  3. TrevorH, 13. February 2020, 16:31

    Why didn’t you attend the meeting and maybe ask a few questions? That might have been more interesting. As to Mt Victoria, we are well aware of the power of Nimbyism which is a major constraint on Wellington’s future prosperity.

  4. 60 years a Wellingtonian, 13. February 2020, 18:18

    Typical comment from those who think that Wellington’s struggling economy can survive without building the rest of a roading structure that was planned between 30 and 50 years ago but partly deferred. Meanwhile we have seen thousands of good jobs leave the CBD and inner suburbs for elsewhere, and more are going. The government sector is starting to erode as its financial Departments re-base on Auckland, and most additional (increased) flights from secondary centres are to Auckland not Wellington. New Zealand needs to balance growth by growing all main centres, but Wellington can’t or won’t see that. Connect the western suburbs and airport properly to the CBD and SH1, or watch us die.

  5. Benny, 13. February 2020, 19:21

    Don’t know where you live TrevorH, but just hope you never get a highway built at the back of your lounge or in front of your bedroom window. You’d then understand that there is no such thing as NIMBY, only people who have settled somewhere, created a lifestyle for themselves, and don’t want it destroyed. Labelling people, in general, is a bad idea, and it pays to understand people’s concerns in the first place.

    Now, what you call future prosperity simply won’t happen if it’s not backed by a solid strategy to address GHG emissions. At this point in time, National has only talked about building more roads. When asked about EV adoption, for example, the response from Nicola Willis is “I’m confident EV take-up will increase as prices drop.” . Confidence is not a strategy, it is basically hoping things will happen, and surrender again to the free market. The free market is what has led to this situation and it is therefore healthy, if not mandatory, to expect politicians to come with a plan. If the only plan is to build more roads, or dig a second tunnel, then it’s missing a big chunk of the equation and can only be pushed back to the drawing board.

  6. steve doole, 14. February 2020, 0:23

    Benny, NZ transport has not been a free market.
    Government policy and funding has led to the current unhealthy situation. For many years government agencies – Roads Boards, Transfund, and NZ Transport Authority – evaluated transport proposals without considering pollution, severance, or health consequences, and massaged financial numbers were used. Their Cost-Benefit ratios were skewed to make building more roads look much better (than anything else) economically. The value of your time if walking kids to school for example, is well less than half the value if you drive them to school, even if your walking takes longer, because the cost of the vehicle is added into time driving. And as drive time is forecast to be reduced by a new road – as though the road will be empty of other vehicles – the time saving ‘benefits’ of driving on the new road are high. Compounding this claim is projecting rise in number of vehicles using the road, way into the future. These fictional values for people who aren’t born yet using vehicles that are not made yet are added together and compared to the cost of building the road as Cost-Benefit ratio.
    Anyone walking hardly registers as walking is far too economical, so NZ has poor or no footpaths along plenty of roads. Chris Bishop and many others appear to have fallen for these tricks.
    Including all costs in Cost-Benefit calculations, and valuing everyone’s time the same, would be a better approach for prioritising transport infrastructure than pork-barrel choice by government ministers.

  7. Kerry, 14. February 2020, 9:07

    60 years: Wellington’s problems have nothing to do with 50 year-old proposals, and everything to do with looming climate disaster. Cars use road use space very inefficiently, and kill too many people. The only way to make more cars work is massive and damaging road-building. Even that will only work for a short time. The benefits of Auckland’s Waterview tunnels, with three lanes each way, have already vanished, and both Auckland and the NZTA are taking a far more sensible approach.
    In case you hadn’t noticed, so is Wellington, with its LGWM proposals. One example is quadrupling the capacity of Taranaki Street, from 2500 people/hr to 13,000, most of them on light rail, cycles, buses or feet.

  8. Geoff, 14. February 2020, 11:07

    Check out Braess’ Paradox: “the observation that adding one or more roads to a road network can slow down overall traffic flow through it.” It was first observed in 1968 and has been known to traffic planners since the ’70s.

  9. Tony Jansen, 16. February 2020, 16:39

    Unfortunately for many of us, we have already experienced the unrestrained laissez faire touch of the National Party. We now have a polluted natural environment, a lack of sensible infrastructure, a failing health system, a failing education system…the list is (almost) endless. Mr Bishop’s party have nothing of interest to offer to anyone who is capable of thinking about the common good as opposed to self aggrandisement.
    And all that is not saying the current government are much different, so please do not confuse this as an anti National v pro Labour post. For the last 40 years neither party has managed this country particularly well. What many of us want is some political courage and some brave decisions.

  10. Pseudopanax, 16. February 2020, 18:18

    The Nats are going for votes of those in the regions (incl Bishop’s own seat) who would like to drive to the airport without stopping, having calculated that they have already lost those in Wellington Central and Rongotai. ‘Weaponising’ the roads issue panders to the petrolhead vote but must risk losing what’s left for them in the under 35s. If they had any sense of a vision for the 21st Century they would be backing Light Rail for Wellington. Their ‘Roads of National Significance’ programme has already laid waste to Te Aro. God Help Us if they and their Road Freight/Chamber of Commerce backers return us to ‘Four Lanes To The Planes’. Enough Asphalt Already!

  11. Dave B, 20. February 2020, 22:10

    Some of us could see the problems of excessive car-dependency, excessive road-building, and inadequate PT provision becoming obvious back in the 1960s.
    Others of us still have their eyes closed, in the 2020s.

  12. luke, 20. February 2020, 22:40

    Roads roads roads, typical National monomodal.