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Concrete jungle … naked concrete flyover

by Lindsay Shelton
On the same day that an overseas expert condemned Auckland for building a “concrete jungle” in its CBD, the Wellington City Council was told that it couldn’t do anything to stop the Transport Agency building a “naked concrete” flyover across a historic part of the city.

“The Basin Reserve and Kent/Cambridge Terraces must not be blighted by a naked block of concrete,” said Mayor Wade-Brown when the council yesterday announced the result of a two-month investigation [1] into alternative roading plans. But such a blight is becoming more likely, because the investigation has found that the benefits of the alternatives “do not surpass” those of the concrete flyover.

The mayor and a majority of her councillors will have been surprised and disappointed that the report fails to support anything better. Though there are brave words in yesterday’s announcement of the results, the findings aren’t even mentioned till the ninth paragraph:

alternative options, while providing distinct benefits, did not surpass those presented in NZTA’s Option A flyover

(For Wellington.Scoop, I wasn’t so evasive – I rearranged the paragraphs so the result was near the top of the report.)

But there’s no reason to expect that either the mayor or the transport portfolio leader Andy Foster will change their opposition to the flyover and the damage that it’ll cause to central Wellington. The same goes for the other six councillors who spoke against it and voted against it in December. Justin Lester has a set of photographs which convincingly show the visual damage done by flyovers in less important parts of the city. Iona Pannett has said the flyover will be a scar on the city. Each of the others has given strong reasons for their opposition. And even the Transport Agency’s experts have reservations about the flyover [2]. In January they gave it a negative mark in seven out of nine categories.

It’s becoming a battle about what’s best for traffic versus what’s best for the city’s urban design. Traffic seems to be winning. Urban design will be the loser if the flyover is built. It’s also a battle between the Transport Agency with unlimited funds and a development process that’s taken years, and the city council which allocated $50,000 for a roading investigation that was limited to two months, a deadline enforced by the Agency. Unlimited funds – the Transport Agency is spending more than $3billion (and rising) on Transmission Gully, yet all indications are that it wants to rearrange Basin Reserve traffic at the cheapest cost. Regardless of the consequences for Wellington.

What happens next? The council is to debate the report [3] on March 21. It will then have to decide what stance to take at the board of inquiry. There’s going to be a lot of debate before the 21st.

And I hope that no one accepts the myth that there’s any possibility of “mitigating” the flyover. Patsy Reddy of the NZTA repeated this impossible dream in her statement welcoming the council report. [4] But planting trees will do nothing to hide a concrete bridge that’s 9 metres high and 380 metres long.