The view from Buckle Street, the future of Kapiti

by Elaine Engman
My partner’s Wellington apartment has an outstanding, unobstructed view of construction work on the Buckle Street tunnel. The noise from traffic on State Highway 1 is already awful. To placate me, my partner had double glazing installed. This helped. But the windows could not be left open at night if I was to get any sleep. Construction of the tunnel under Buckle Street will make the noise much worse, but hopefully the expressway will be less intrusive when it’s underground.

The War Memorial Park was dedicated in 2007 and scheduled to be completed by the end of 2008. But the tunnel approved by the Labour government was cancelled by the National-led government as being too expensive. The Transport Agency also insisted it was too expensive. But the Government became sufficiently ashamed of the trashy eyesore this vacant land had become that they had the area in front of the War Memorial leveled and covered with gravel with large areas of purchased turf placed on either side. Many good sized trees with wrought iron protective cages were planted.

The Transport Agency then took over the area between our apartment and the Te Papa annex. After removing all the broken asphalt, concrete and trash left by skateboarders, they built a large working and storage area which was graded and paved, with a number of offices. The area was fenced with a substantial metal fence over 2 meters high.

Last August, National changed their mind and decided it would be embarrassing to mark the centenary of the First World War with a motorway running through the center of the ceremony. So all the work that had been done, paid for by taxpayers, needed to be removed along with Transport Agency’s staging area.

Now there are time pressures. There will be lots of overtime work, at greater expense. Mistakes are more likely to be made when work is rushed. (For example there was a very impressive geyser when the water main was hit a few weeks ago.) So that the new park will provide good photo opportunities, I was told that large and expensive trees will be planted (again). If the park had been built when planned, landscaping would have been quite mature after seven years. Of course NZTA’s next goal is to build an ugly, inefficient, unnecessary, unwanted, not to mention expensive flyover next to the Basin Reserve.

It is a real possibility that areas near the Kapiti Expressway could become nearly as desolate as Memorial Park has been for years. The deterioration of neighborhoods after 80 families have been forced to move is bound to happen. Though there are plans to rent some of these homes, tenants will have no interest in keeping up properties that will be torn down. And owners of nearby properties that have lost a lot of value may not have the resources or the energy to keep up their unsaleable properties either. Result = instant slum.

NZTA has already bought most of the properties in Kapiti where the expressway is planned and is insisting that the other property owners have only a couple of months to negotiate before their properties are taken. What will happen if the motorway costs escalate even more, since they have already doubled from the original estimates? This is almost guaranteed due to the difficulty of the terrain and all of the “mitigations” that will need to be made because of the high social costs such as a new hospital/clinic. Asset sales are looking increasingly unlikely to happen. My own worse case scenario is that even more properties will be bought, construction will start but that due to lack of money, another earthquake etc. the Kapiti Expressway project will be left in an unfinished state for years.

The Western Link Road and improvements to State Highway 1 would make Kapiti a much better place in which to live. This type of environment would be very attractive to knowledge based industries which could give Kapiti some of the higher waged, environmentally friendly jobs the area needs.

Sir Noel Robinson, a strong supporter of the expressway, has been hailed as a hero for building a so-called business park by the airport in Paraparaumu. So far all that has been built is another shopping center duplicating existing stores that provides mostly low wage sales clerk jobs. Sir Noel stated that Kapiti could become another Gold Coast if there was good motorway access. Not likely with NZ’s unpredictable weather. How many Kapiti coastal residents would like to see their homes replaced with glitsy high rise hotels – with terrible occupancy rates? For most Kapiti residents the small town feel, the closeness to nature and the unhurried life style are why we live here.

The rationale for the Kapiti Motorway is all about increased speed and so called economic growth. But the BCR estimates range from NZTA’s official .93 to as low as .2 according to a leaked study done by BECA who was hired by NZTA. How much is the pain and suffering of hundreds of families already caused by this motorway worth? The stress has caused illnesses, alcohol abuse, and even divorces and the road has not even been started.

The size and enormous footprint of the Kapiti Expressway are totally out of scale for our coastal communities – not to mention the huge cost. While roading improvements in Kapiti are long overdue, please let there be an affordable – both in monetary, social and environmental costs – solution. A Kiwi – Kapiti solution not a Los Angeles – Auckland solution.

Elaine Engman lives in Waikanae and shares an apartment in Mt Cook. Before moving to New Zealand, she had lived in Southern California and the Netherlands. This article is the second extract from her submission to the Board of Inquiry into the Kapiti Expressway. The first extract was published last week.


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