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What’s the reason for the delay?

by Lindsay Shelton
A year ago the NZ Transport Agency employed 24 technical experts from 23 consultancy companies to write reports supporting its plan to build a flyover at the Basin Reserve. At the same time, the Agency set a timetable for the project. It planned to lodge its resource consent applications “at the end of 2012 or early in 2013.” But the applications have not been lodged.

The intended timetable was sent to the Environmental Protection Authority in April last year, and was obtained via an Official Information Act request. There’s now some speculation about reasons for the delay.

In its letter a year ago, the Agency promised that the flyover would

form a critical component to reducing existing congestion problems on State Highway 1, improving access to key regional and inter-regional destinations, improving safety, and encouraging inter-regional and national economic growth.

It was quite a discovery to read the claim that a concrete bridge in central Wellington was expected to do so much for the national economy. Choosing not to mention public opposition to the flyover, the Agency also told the EPA

There has been very significant public and media interest in the project over the past 3 years which … includes how the project might affect the Basin Reserve historic area and the site of the former Home of Compassion creche.

Has the public opposition been a factor in the application being delayed? Has there been some disagreement in terms of board approval? Or have costs become an issue – in 2009 the Agency said it would build the flyover for $50m, but last year the price had risen to $90m, and there’s every expectation that the final figure will be higher.

By May last year, various consultants (including Opus, Athfield Architects and Wraight and Associates) had prepared 60 pages of draft plans for the flyover and the Transport Agency was workshopping them with the city council, the Historic Places Trust, a local iwi, and a range of advisors and planners. One of the workshop topics was the impossible challenge of “mitigation” for the concrete structure.

The Agency’s experts were having to defend the flyover against a huge list of regulations set by national, regional and local authorities. These rules are detailed in a 62-page document prepared by the Transport Agency and released by the Environmental Protection Authority, also as a result of an Official Information request. Some of the requirements made it seem impossible for a flyover to even be considered, let alone built. Some (selective) examples:

historic heritage has to be identified and protected from inappropriate modification, use and development.

and

plans shall include … rules that protect or enhance the amenity values of neighbouring areas from discharges of odour, smoke and dust, and protect people’s health from discharges of dust, smoke and fine particulate matter

and

objectives and policies [should] promote a reduction in the consumption of non-renewable transport fuels and the emission of carbon dioxide from transportation … and protect the significant historic values associated with places, sites and areas … from inappropriate subdivision, use and development

(There’s a lot about protecting historic heritage values from loss, damage or destruction). There’s also a requirement for the

provision of safe and attractive environments for walking and cycling

and the plans are expected to

maintain and enhance natural areas and protect those places, features or buildings with significant heritage, ecological, cultural or landscape values

Then there are requirements to

to recognise and enhance those characteristics, features and areas of the residential area that contribute positively to the city’s distinctive physical character and sense of place

and to

maintain the character of Wellington’s inner city suburbs

and to

ensure that new development within residential areas is of a character and scale that is appropriate for the area and neighbourhood in which it is located

and to

ensure that new … structures do not compromise the context, setting and streetscape value of adjacent listed heritage items

You’d think the planners would have given up by the time they reached that one. But there’s something even tougher. They have to

maintain and enhance the streetscape by controlling the siting and design of structures on or over roads …

With the unexplained delay in lodging the applications for resource consent, can we guess that the 24 experts have been having trouble finding words to defend a 380-metre-long concrete bridge. Most of us cannot believe that it will maintain or enhance the streetscape around the Basin, and it seems beyond debate that it will compromise the context and setting of the area.

Save the Basin rally on Saturday