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Will the council act in the best interests of the communities which it represents?

by Peter Brooks
The Wellington Civic Trust is not too concerned about the attitude taken by the NZ Transport Agency in the matter of the highway from Ngauranga to the airport. Central government always leans on its smaller and weaker partner in government.

Moreover, the Transport Agency’s bloodline goes back to the Ministry of Works, an organisation with many qualities, but not, unfortunately, any related to engagement with the public. We expect better of that arm of government which is community based. This issue will be a true test of whether or not our city council can, despite the lure of central government cash, approach this matter determined to act in the best interests of the communities it represents.

The Trust agrees that the Council should confirm that it supports the Ngauranga to airport plan and consequently a multi-modal approach, containing a state highway component. But the nature of that component has only been agreed in broad terms. The problem areas have been identified, but the solutions have not. Those that have been discussed have drawn significant public criticism and the Council may find that there is no acceptable solution involving major construction. The Trust agrees that we should be a supportive partner, but the purpose of this partnership is to find solutions which do not sacrifice the welfare and values of our communities to satisfy a growth strategy that may seem increasingly irrelevant as this century advances into a low carbon future.

We would expect the Council to evaluate options in the light of studies associated with the 2040 project and its commitment to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. Those studies and commitments do not sit easily with a major further investment in roading.

The Trust agrees with the officer’s report at para 5.2 as to the role of the Council in assisting the Transport Agency to design a fair and open consultative process and facilitate its implementation. But it should be made clear that the options are Agency proposals and not the Council’s.

In August 2009 the Trust convened a seminar focused on the threat to the area around the basin reserve. In a letter we sent to Hon Stephen Joyce following the seminar we said:

“The community groups represented at the meeting expressed their concern that they were not being involved at a stage where they were able to influence a decision . They believed that they had the knowledge and ability to make a positive contribution to a search for a solution . They considered that it was not necessary to sacrifice community interests to satisfy the wider public interest”

On 22 September 2009 the Trust was advised by Transport Agency that they intended to establish a Community Connect Group and that they would begin preliminary engagement with community groups in early October 2009. Eighteen months later, we are still waiting for the first meeting. And this is the organisation which imposes a three week deadline on this council!

The Council should facilitate public discussion of the options presented by the Agency but it should not commit to any one solution. Indeed in the light of feedback it may decide that none of the options presented is in the best interests of the city.

The Transport Agency wants the council to commit to both investigations and to construction. How can this Council commit to works without the benefit of a report on environmental impacts and without seeking and evaluating the views of those likely to be affected? That point has to be made clear in the Council’s response to the Agency and the Civic Trust would expect all councillors, including the nine who sought this well-named extraordinary meeting, to support such a response.

This submission was presented to the Wellington City Council, on behalf of the Civic Trust, at last night’s extraordinary meeting to debate roading issues.

1 comment:

  1. Brent Efford, 23. April 2011, 12:57

    Excellent submission, Peter. I wasn’t there, but I have heard from several who were at last Wednesday’s special Council meeting that it was most impressive. Unfortunately it didn’t impress two-thirds of the councillors, by the look of it. The “communities” they represent seem to be the boy racer / petrolhead communities, in denial about a carbon-constrained future and keen to get behind the wheel and try out the new “free” roads that NZTA has on offer.

    I am very nervous about NZTA being a “partner” in the Public Transport Spine study. In its new aggressive and intimidating roads-first mode I can see that the Agency’s main interest will be in managing down expectations of any real improvement in public transport (for which a rail extension is the only sensible option) lest it be in competition with the plans for sub-economic SH1 widening.