Wellington Scoop

The war memorial motorway

Everyone supported the concept of lowering State Highway One into a cut-and-covered tunnel under Buckle Street. The alternative – to have a main road running through the National War Memorial Park – was stupid. No one liked the stupid idea except the NZ Transport Agency. And the Agency intends to overrule the wishes of Wellingtonians.

Its decision: “Buckle Street will remain at street level.”

Its brief explanation: “It [the tunnel] would have been expensive to build and provided minimal transport benefits.”

Its blinkered focus only on transport benefits explains the disconnect which is emerging between the Agency and Wellington.

The official description of the government-owned memorial park: “a destination for all New Zealanders and international visitors wanting to pay their respects, as well as a real asset for Wellington city.” The park is to be the centerpiece of New Zealand’s commemorations of the centenary of the First World War beginning in August 2014.

Some centrepiece, with three lanes of traffic running through it.

Arts and Culture Minister Chris Finlayson favoured putting the road underground. So did Mayor Wade-Brown. So did the principal of the nearby Mt Cook School. And the local residents’ organisation too. But it seems the Minister and the Mayor and the local people have been overuled by Transport Agency bureaucrats.

Their concern about expense seems pretty dubious, since they’ve announced their ability to find $11m to build a new grandstand at the Basin Reserve, to protect occasional cricketers (but no one else) from the unwanted flyover.

The cut-and-covered Buckle Street could have continued under Tory Street, to solve peak-hour delays at this intersection where the traffic lights satisfy no one. A bit more creative thinking and the undergrounded road could also have gone under Taranaki Street, solving another set of traffic problems. And undergrounding at the Basin Reserve, as everyone knows, would have saved this key area from the ugliness of a flyover.

The Architectural Centre correctly describes the Agency’s plan for the memorial park as a sad affair, a sorry beast:

A sad looking affair, that has the State Highway running through the Park at ground level in much the same way that it does now. The Park is thus completely sliced in two, with the NZ War Memorial on the south side, and the other countries’ war memorials marooned on the other side of the 30,000 cars that this road carries. As time goes by, if you believe the NZTA figures, the amount of traffic on this road will increase by up to 80% as well, so this is a permanent barrier cutting through the park like a dagger to the heart. This sliced-up Park is what the NZTA have convinced the Ministry of Culture and Heritage that it is all that can be afforded, and somehow the city and the community is lumbered with the prospect of this sorry beast.

We agree with the Architectural Centre that this design should be rejected. It will result in a $10m park which is forlorn, unvisited, unappreciated, unloved, and unused.

A highway runs through the park

The park mustn’t be split in two


  1. Elaine Hampton, 26. July 2011, 10:50

    It was stated at the NZTA workshop on Saturday by Selwyn Blackmore – Chief Planning Project Director of the Wellington project for NZTA – that the trenching of the Buckle Street portion of the road was not an option because the Ministry of Culture and Heritage could not pay for it.
    An important small point.

  2. Lindsay, 26. July 2011, 11:31

    Two questions follow from the statement at the workshop:
    1. When was the Ministry of Culture and Heritage given the responsibility to pay for highways?
    2. When was the Transport Agency given authority to pay for grandstands?

  3. Jenny, 26. July 2011, 11:33

    My walk to work involves crossing all those main roads, and cars are given priority. NZTA are going to destroy the best features of Wellington, its heart will be bisected by motorways. Many European cities are realising how wrong this is, and taking measures to keep cars out of their city centres. Why are we heading in the other direction?

  4. Sridhar, 26. July 2011, 12:19

    @ Jenny! That is because NZTA is 25 (sorry 50) years behind the rest of the world (that is if they know the world is beyond the borders of New Zealand)

  5. vryn evans, 26. July 2011, 16:58

    If my memory is correct it was Roland Sapsford and his rent-objectors who put the kybosh on the original tunnel concept for the stupid bypass. So we again have to live with short term decisions in Wellington’s roading which will have long term problems.
    We have a Mayor who has quite strange views on these matters.

  6. Nick, 26. July 2011, 19:41

    Reading through the nzta’s own information (http://www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/basin-reserve/docs/war-memorial-tunnel-scoping-report-part-11.pdf), the tunnel is affordable. Their cost estimate for a War Memorial Tunnel option is $75 million, while they price the work around the Basin Reserve (including flyover) at $90 million. To make the Tunnel Option work all they would need to do is rise the north/south traffic road up and over the tunnel, which in total would bring it to a similar price as the flyover, probably cheaper. We’re being lied to about affordability.

  7. Lindsay, 26. July 2011, 20:54

    The material which Nick refers to contains much evidence in support of the tunnel which the Agency has rejected.
    For example:
    “The project team were able to confirm that it is feasible to construct the War Memorial Tunnel, allowing Memorial Park to be built on top of it.”
    “The key benefit of the War Memorial Tunnel is improved amenity for park users, reducing severance and making the park sufficiently quiet to enable park users to talk, reflect and meditate. It will avoid the need for SH1 road closures during formal events held on Anzac Day and during other ceremonies.”
    And, most incriminating:
    “Leaving Buckle Street at grade would … reduce the land available for the Memorial Park, generate noise levels that would make conversation difficult, and not create an environment that would be conducive to reflection or meditation.”
    It’s evident that the Transport Agency has refused to consider any of the arguments that would save the integrity of the Memorial Park.

  8. Nick, 26. July 2011, 23:19

    The flyover becomes even more unaffordable when related neighbouring projects will only be used for 1 day a year. For example the $10m Memorial Park will only be able to used properly on Anzac day morning each year, when the road is closed. The $11 m new Basin grandstand is probably only necessary for the first day of a Boxing Day test where the ground might reach capacity, the rest of the time the Basin is not full, or even used.

  9. Libertyscott, 27. July 2011, 1:31

    Vryn Evans is right. People have short memories. What was then Transit New Zealand in 1994 proposed a cut and cover tunnel for the entire highway from the Basin Reserve to Vivian St, just short of the Terrace Tunnel, to take all of the traffic off of the inner city streets. Yes it would have included a flyover at the Basin Reserve (been plans and land bought for that since the 60s), but would have returned Vivian Street to be a local street, and what is now Buckle Street and Karo Drive would have been narrow local access ways.

    This was vehemently opposed by the Green Party.

    Now the Green Mayor wants a subset of this plan. Now it should be built, as a trench to bypass Tory Street and eventually Taranaki, Cuba, Victoria and Willis Streets. Then it would be a proper inner city bypass.

  10. Sridhar, 27. July 2011, 12:39

    @ Vryn Evans & Libertyscott. Didn’t you read the article? Read para 6. It is not just mayor Celia, but also minister Chris Finlayson, Mt Cook school and the local residents association who were in favour of the tunnel concept. Only the Transport Agency is still against this option.

    Don’t know what makes you think the mayor alone has strange ideas; you seem to have stranger understanding ability.

  11. Guy, 28. July 2011, 0:53

    Libby Scott – you’re wrong about Buckle Street etc being thin roads. I was looking at the plans from the 1980 scheme just yesterday, and the amount of damage and destruction caused was quite severe. The roads being proposed were wide, extensive, multi-lanes and would have caused major havoc with the urban fabric. Buckle Street was to have been in a giant open trench, there were several flyovers. I’m not surprised that the scheme got thrown out.
    The Architectural Centre has produced an alternative scheme, which we believe has major advantages. Please do check it out.

  12. vryn evans, 28. July 2011, 15:51

    My deepest apologies Sridhar that my understanding is so shallow. Did you not read my comments ? Somehow I think you’re confused. Let me clarify. Many decades ago when Todd built the new Kirk Motors building, the southern side of that new building had to be available for the Buckle Street extension through to the Mt Victoria Tunnel which was decreed by the then Government roading bureaucracy. It never happened did it ?
    So what we’ve ended up with is a total mess which is becoming harder to resolve every day. Just like the Transmission Gully alternate state highway route, we’ll never see that for decades if ever !! And Sridhar I’m not getting into debate on the latter.

  13. Sridhar, 28. July 2011, 18:24

    @ Vryn. The main point I raised was regarding your comment that “the mayor has strange ideas.” I pointed out that there were several others who shared the same ideas.
    Is the reason you don’t want to debate Transmission Gully because you want it to go ahead or because you don’t want it to go ahead? If it is the latter, no need to debate since I will be on the same page.

  14. Trevor FitzJohn, 13. August 2011, 17:33

    Go trench the motorway under the Buckle Street Memorial. Why a) it lowers the height to a level that opens options at the Basin Reserve that work without building ugly flyovers.
    b) Also it creates a park that truly celebrates those who died saving this country from foreign threats. That is priceless. We would not be here debating this if not for their ultimate sacrifice.