Wellington Scoop

Saving money on children, but not on roads

For a moment, it might have been possible to think that Bill English was talking this morning about why his government can’t afford the Basin Reserve flyover and the Kapiti Expressway. But no. His statement about the need for financial caution was all on the subject of child poverty.

Net core Crown debt has risen from $10 billion four years ago to more than $50 billion today and, in difficult financial times, the public expects policies to be costed and evidence-based. New programmes are worth funding only if they change people’s lives for the better. Too often, governments have, for political reasons, persisted with programmes that have been ineffective and expensive.

That’s his explanation why the government can’t afford to pay for all the recommendations in the report on child poverty from the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group. But the government should now be applying the same judgements to the millions being spent by its Transport Agency.

For example, let’s apply the “expensive” argument to the Agency’s insistence that it must build a flyover at the Basin Reserve. Here’s what Christine McCarthy of the Architecture Centre wrote in September:

Option X will be approximately $10 million less … because it will maximise the benefit of the Memorial Park tunnel. This saving does not take into account the additional … cost of including an $11million grandstand for the Basin Trust, which would increase the cost advantage of Option X to more than $20 million. Not only is … Option X cheaper, it will also provide better green connections across the city from Memorial Park through to the town belt. It will provide more recreational spaces and safer routes for the children going to the many schools in this area.

Save the Basin convenor Kent Duston is another who has pointed out that savings could be made if the Transport Agency would stop being stubborn about the flyover. In August he detailed the extraordinary inflation that has been involved with the project.

In 2007, Wellingtonians were promised an iconic design for a crucial heritage precinct, at a cost of $27 million. Instead we’ve been handed an ugly motorway on-ramp for $90 million that will destroy much of what our city values at the Basin Reserve. The flyover is on track to be the most expensive road in New Zealand’s history. The Transport Agency is intending to spend $90 million to build just 400 metres of road, plus the inevitable cost over-runs. It’s clearly a lousy investment for the country, and represents a degree of fiscal irresponsibility that hasn’t been seen since the Think Big era.

Another way the Transport Agency spends the government’s money is by hiring consultants to support its plans. It has paid for 24 reports supporting the flyover. It also commissioned a report which attacked Option X. As Kent Duston wrote last year, the report found four reasons to oppose the green spaces in the plan:

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… 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

Saving money. Changing people’s lives for the better. There are many more reasons why the government should be reconsidering the need for a flyover. Christmas should be a time for it to re-set its priorities.


  1. Sridhar, 11. December 2012, 14:04

    So Labour left the country with 10 billion in debts (accumulated over 9 yrs), and National manages to multiply that by 5 in 4 years. And rather than cut down billions of dollars on wasteful things like RONS, they are cutting down on essentials like child welfare, education. And they reckon it is all the previous govt’s fault. and if they can’t blame the previous govt, they blame the world economy.
    One needs to learn to take responsibility for his/her actions.

  2. Elaine Hampton, 12. December 2012, 11:06

    Not the previous government’s fault, they left this Government fiscally sound. We could negate the tax cuts to the rich and wipe the RONS projects and fix child poverty.
    Question is: WHY NOT ?

  3. Liz S, 12. December 2012, 15:57

    I went to the Child Poverty Action Group gathering outside parliament this afternoon, where Dr Nicky Jones spoke eloquently and movingly about relative child poverty in this relatively wealthy country of ours. I don’t get why we needed tax cuts whilst 270,000 children are missing out. Nor why on earth construct an ugly flyover and massive motorways. Surely we need a hierarchy of spending – kids first because every day in their early lives matters.

    Feels more and more these days as if all our myths are crumpling…
    – 100% pure, yeah right
    – a great place to raise kids…no, only some kids
    – a principled country on the world stage…so we’re trying to get more countries onboard by jumping off the Kyoto bus and onto TPPA yeah right…

    This government had the support of just one-third of voting age NZers, that doesn’t feel like a big enough mandate to do the incredible longterm damage they are inflicting on our society, economy and environment.

  4. Trish, 12. December 2012, 20:11

    You people just don’t get it. This morning when I drove into town from Seatoun, the traffic was so bad that I actually had to stop. It took at least 4 minutes to crawl through the tunnel. What ever it costs, this inconvenience needs to be fixed. The country voted in John Key to stop all your PC nonsense.

  5. Lindsay, 13. December 2012, 8:18

    Trish: no one wants to stop you getting into town as quickly as possible. But an obtrusive and destructive flyover isn’t the answer. There are two other options which are better for Wellington (and for the Basin) and which don’t require an overhead road. One of them is Option X which would cost less than the flyover and would create new green parkland. It would also help to ensure that you don’t get stuck in the old tunnel.

  6. Ruz, 13. December 2012, 13:20

    My gosh Trish. Imagine what you could have done with those lost four minutes.

  7. Liz S, 13. December 2012, 13:58

    Given three-quarters of cars around Mt Victoria tunnel were observed as being single occupant, there’s an even simpler solution than massive motorway expenditure. Share your car with neighbours and friends also travelling in from Seatoun, or catch a bus, or jump on a bike – or a combination of those. Even if some of the single occupant travellers shared a car for a day or two a week, that four minutes’ delay would disappear.

    I guess too, I just don’t see a few minutes’ delay in traffic as on the same scale as NZ children having inadequate clothing, skimping on food, getting sick from cold damp housing, missing out on school trips and having a parent or parents stressing about whether to pay the rent or power bill first.

    I’d like to pay more tax to reverse the growing gap between rich and poor in this country. At one stage in our history in this country, the Arbitration Court set a minimum wage so that a man could adequately support his partner and three children (and she in turn supported him by caring for the children and running the household). We try to share work more these days, but our minimum wage is inadequate for basic living demands, ditto benefit levels.

    Again, how about a hierarchy of spending so that children, like the elderly currently with a universal benefit, come ahead of motorways? And public and active transport – which also reduce private car congestion – is prioritised ahead of think big motorways.

  8. Nora, 13. December 2012, 14:58

    Poor Trish, at least in your 4 minutes in the tunnel you were warm. Think of the families who cannot afford to heat their homes and their children who sometimes have no shoes or go to school without breakfast……

    I was on a bus yesterday from Lambton to Courtenay Place and the driver hit every red light and told me he was currently 3 minutes late on his timetable but agreed a tunnel/flyover was not going to make any difference.

  9. Geoff, 13. December 2012, 19:41

    Life is about choices, some people make bad ones.

  10. Sridhar, 17. December 2012, 20:13

    Trish! are you able to think outside the metal box that you travel in?

  11. Effie, 19. December 2012, 17:58

    Yeah right, some people make bad choices……like taking the car this morning and not taking the bus. If Trish had chosen the bus she would not have taken four minutes to crawl through the tunnel.