Wellington Scoop

Unaffordable? Yeah, right

by Lindsay Shelton
The Transport Agency and the like-minded analysts at the city council are telling us that anything other than a flyover is unaffordable at the Basin Reserve.

Which is a reminder that the Agency insisted for years it couldn’t afford to put State Highway 1 into a tunnel under the National War Memorial Park.

Then came a political decision, instructing the agency to move the highway underground.

What had been unaffordable became affordable, in a flash.

The same could happen with ground-level alternatives to the flyover, if there were government MPs with concern about the urban design of Wellington. But only Labour MPs are willing to acknowledge the damaging consequences of building a 300-metre-long concrete flyover across Kent and Cambridge Terraces. Chris Finlayson, so closely involved in the decision to put the highway under the Memorial Park, has gone as far as refusing even to talk with a Save the Basin group (including myself).

But back to affordability and the report released on Friday from the city council’s two-month assessment of Basin Reserve roading options. Guess which option the report is describing:

This option has the potential to reduce congestion and improve journey times. It would also improve north-south and east-west connections within the city, provide opportunities for public transport, and contribute to potential future development along the ‘growth spine.’

That’s the council staff assessment of the Architectural Centre’s ground-level Option X. But it’s followed by a condemnation:

However similar or greater transport improvements could be achieved at lower cost.

Now guess which option the report is describing:

This option has the potential to reduce congestion, improve journey times and improve safety for all modes of transport. It would also improve north-south and east-west connections within the city, provide opportunities for public transport, and contribute to potential future development along the ‘growth spine.’

That’s the council staff assessment of the Transport Agency’s flyover plan. Almost identical. And it’s followed by the money sentence:

… provides greater benefits and greater value for money than option X.

The report indicates that more design work is needed on Option X – which is not surprising, when it was prepared by a small group of professional volunteers, in contrast to the unlimited staffing resources and funding of the government’s Transport Agency. The cost difference between the flyover and Option X seems to be somewhere between $35m and $55m. Nothing much, you could say, when the Agency is spending $3billion on Transmission Gully, where urban design isn’t an issue.

Nevertheless the council report enthuses about the flyover, and marks it much higher than Option X. But its enthusiasm is not total. Scattered through the 140 pages, you can find cautious, guarded descriptions which show why the flyover will be so damaging for the city, in terms of urban design. Here are some of them.

The bridge, as a large-scale piece of roading infrastructure, does not have a strong relationship with Mt Victoria.
The character of views at the southern end of Kent and Cambridge Terraces will be impacted.
The character of Ellis Street is compromised at the intersection of Dufferin Street…
The introduction of an elevated highway in this location may not encourage … development that is consistent with the existing (sic) in nearby parts of Mt Victoria.
The proposal reduces the quality of open space under the structure.
The presence of the elevated structure makes it difficult to improve the quality of the public domain under …
The addition of an elevated bridge has a major negative effect on adjacent properties.
Negative impact on the view from Ellice Street across the Wellington valley.
It is unlikely that there will be an increase in pedestrian activities under the bridge due to the constraint of the elevated structure (one of many under-statements in the report)
The bridge impedes the view north/south from and to the Basin Reserve.
The visual prominence of the Basin Reserve is impacted in mainly close range views along from Kent and Cambridge Terraces.
It is difficult to assess whether the promise of quality (buttresses to reduce potential for tagging etc) will be retained through the detailed design

Towards the end of the report, there’s a tellingly sad admission:

From an urban design perspective, the preference would be for an at-grade solution – that is, a solution that did not require any elevated structures. However it may not be possible to achieve the required transport benefits with an at-grade option.

In other words, traffic is more important than the wellbeing of people.

And finally, it’s not unfair to note that the council report predicts the flyover will result in shorter travelling times for buses around the Basin Reserve (up to a 41 per cent decrease in travelling time, it claims). The same promise, of course, was made for the revamped Manners Street. And everyone knows what happened to that promise.

Unexpected? Council announces results of investigation


  1. Elaine, 4. March 2013, 20:31

    Great analysis. I hope that you will send copies of this article to the city council and maybe even to NZTA. It is incredible to believe that in this day and age an enormous flyover like this one would even be considered in a city that prides itself on its coolness and livability.

  2. BD, 4. March 2013, 23:24

    The NZTA is trying to rush the fly-over through as fast as possible at the National Party’s request. I’m surprised that it thinks $55million is a lot of money, given that the KapitiiExpressway will cost $650million alone and the price of Transmission Gully is a whopping $3billion and rising!.

  3. insider, 5. March 2013, 21:57

    Lindsay in his selectivity fails to mention that option x was utterly panned for many of the things it was touted as being much better for.

    ‘Severance’ – buzz word of the year – was one. The flyover is ironically also much better for pedestrians and cyclists, is safer, was rated better for urban structure and quality of space – a bit of an eyebrow-raiser given architects’ skills – and was worse for light rail because the bridge was too low (indeed the bridge was really unpopular with the assessors).

    Sure a lot of this is subjective – one man’s art and all that – but it was a major shellacking for the X. The kind of thing I’m more used to seeing when nz is playing next door.

    Perhaps the AC was hindered by lack of development, in which case I wish the option x people had got the money Richard Reid got. They at least showed more than a passing interest in the issue. Council should be ashamed.

  4. Driver, 8. March 2013, 9:22

    The two lane flyover looks like it will feed directly into two of the three lanes in the new tunnel under Buckle Street. The tunnel’s third lane will have to take all of the traffic coming from Kent Terrace, and Adelaide Road. These two lanes of traffic will have to merge very quickly in a very short space. Losing lanes on busy roads I think is one of the principle causes of traffic jams.

  5. lindsay, 16. March 2013, 11:09

    I need to update my statement that “only Labour MPs acknowledge the damaging consequences of a flyover.” Green MPs are all opposed to a flyover as well. And now they’ve been joined by NZ First, which says it would be an “outdated concrete and steel monstrosity unsuited to the area.”

  6. Mike Mellor, 17. March 2013, 18:55

    WCC’s position on the flyover is on the agenda for this coming Thursday’s Strategy & Policy Committee meeting – http://wellington.govt.nz/your-council/meetings/committees/strategy-and-policy/2013/03/21 – and at the pre-meeting at 0915 on Tuesday.

  7. lindsay, 17. March 2013, 20:06

    Mike. With respect, the paper for Thursday’s meeting represents a staff view based on the flawed report (complete with absurd claims about mitigation) and is yet to be voted on by councillors.