Wellington Scoop

The consultants who prefer asphalt to a green park

by Kent Duston
If you’ve noticed a strange whirring noise in Wellington recently, it’s the sound of George Orwell rotating at high speed in his grave.

His novel of a dystopian future – 1984 – gave us the concept of “Newspeak”, where common or garden words are reinterpreted to mean the opposite of their normal intent. And in an example of life imitating art, Orwell would have had no trouble recognizing the use of Newspeak in the Opus Consulting report (commissioned by the NZ Transport Agency) on the Architectural Centre’s innovative Option X solution for the Basin Reserve.

Apparently green space – one of the key benefits of Option X – is a socially-undesirable menace that needs to be stamped out before it blights our society.

Option X proposes a park running from Government House across to the Basin Reserve in front of the local schools, as part of the improved urban design for this iconic part of Wellington. But the Opus consultants seem to think that public green spaces are a massive step backwards from the acres of asphalt they’d prefer to see in the area. Here’s their analysis of the proposed new park:

Urban Design Element:
Connectivity with the community in the south eastern Basin Reserve.
Advantages: Potential for a park-like front door for the schools/Government house as well as providing additional amenity for the area.
Isolation and disconnection for existing or potential new inhabitants of the east basin – including schools, church, Government House, residential and commercial built edge adjacent;
Compromise to functionality, accessibility and legibility of critical social and capital city functions (Schools/ Government House);
Risk of under-utilised, dis-functional, potentially unsafe public space in this zone due to reduced/ unviable edge activity with mixed use occupation 24/7;
Compromise to perceived and physical integration of Basin to city, removing and/or compromising the outer residential and commercial edge of the Basin Square.

Yes, you read that right – Opus could think of only one reason why green space stretching from Government House, in front of local schools and across to the Basin Reserve would be a good idea. But they could think of four reasons why the green space would be a bad idea. And one of those is that a park would be “under-utilised, dis-functional [and] potentially unsafe” – presumably in contrast to the highly utilized, attractive and cosmopolitan urban environments in the shadows underneath their preferred flyover.

It does make you wonder what drugs these transport planners have been smoking. Most of the negatives they claim – to boil it down, the inability to drive to the door because of the presence of a beautiful park – would be regarded as a huge benefit in practically any capital city in the world. Which is why we should be trusting the architects and urban planners from the Architectural Centre, rather than the traffic engineers from Opus Consulting or the NZ Transport Agency.

Kent Duston is convener of the Save The Basin Reserve Campaign


  1. Maximus, 10. October 2011, 13:37

    Scoop / Kent – thanks for bringing that to the attention of the public – that statement from the NZTA really is quite extraordinary. For anyone to argue that the retention of 3-5 lanes of asphalt around the perimeter of the Basin Reserve is preferable to a green swathe of grass / planted parkland, is, to me anyway, quite barmy. I am, for once, lost for words.

  2. Save The Basin, 10. October 2011, 14:54

    Maximus – Reading the entire report is a surreal experience, given how thoroughly disconnected the conclusions are from reality.

    For instance, the report claims that a huge number of properties along Sussex St will have to be purchased – at a cost of $10-$30 million – because the Option X design won’t allow enough space for three lanes of traffic. Yet a casual inspection of Sussex St shows that it’s currently carrying … three lanes of traffic.

    The report doesn’t look like the “robust and unbiased” advice you’d expect from a public sector agency briefing independent consultants – it looks like Opus colluding with NZTA to produce a hatchet-job on Option X.

  3. Maximus, 10. October 2011, 17:38

    Yeah, the maths is pretty simple to do, on the width of a street, and the buildings on Sussex Street simply do not need to be purchased – although they are pretty ugly, and I wouldn’t cry if they had to go away. The street is about 12m wide at present, which could take 4 lanes at 3m each. It’s not a motorway so the road doesn’t need to meet motorway standards. Looks like NZTA are clutching at straws if they are having to make up stories like this.

  4. insder, 11. October 2011, 10:50

    C’mon maximus even the Arch Centre people said it would be ‘tight’ using their measurements, and that the minimum width allowed in Wellington is 3.2m, so your measurements are looking even less doable.

    It’s pretty revealing that even the council couldn’t bring itself to vote for Option X as its second best option – they realised that it just doesn’t work in its primary purpose – which is a roading system.

  5. Maximus, 11. October 2011, 16:13

    Actually Insider, I think you are wrong there. While the current WCC standard for new roads is a recommended minimum of 3.2m, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of roads already existing in Wellington that have a width less than that already. Adelaide Road, where it goes up and over the hill to Island Bay, is one of those roads – 2 lanes of parked cars, and 2 lanes of traffic, and all of it a major traffic artery, and all of it way, way less than Council minimums.