by Kent Duston
The Environmental Protection Authority is currently running the hearings for the Peka Peka to Otaki expressway, one of the Roads of National Significance that have done so little to lift New Zealand’s economic performance. It’s a Board of Inquiry to decide the fate of a white elephant, run by the rules of farce.
For starters, the hearing is being held at the Southwards Car Museum just north of Paraparaumu, a place that is almost perfectly inaccessible by public transport, walking or cycling. It’s far enough out of Wellington to be difficult for the city attendees to reach, yet far enough from Otaki and Te Horo – the affected communities – that you can’t easily come and go from the hearings. And you can’t come and go at all if you don’t have a car and the very limited shuttle buses offered don’t fit with the rest of your life; the morning shuttle leaves before school start times, making it unworkable for parents with small children.
If you’re in Wellington and need to provide evidence, but you can’t drive for health reasons – as is the case with one of the expert witnesses for the Rational Transport Society – your only choice offered was an Intercity bus to Otaki, then a shuttle back to the venue, a multi-hour round trip. If the EPA wanted to deliberately exclude everyone but car drivers from the hearing about the expressway, they’ve succeeded admirably.
I attended the hearing for nearly six hours on Wednesday, in an effort to give a 20 minute submission, and the level of disorganisation would have made the old Soviet Union’s bureaucracy blush with embarrassment.
For starters, the EPA refuses to provide an accurate schedule. This means every submitter is expected to hang around for hours on end, waiting for their allocated turn. It’s beyond the organisational capabilities of the EPA to even let you know if you’ll be heard in the morning or afternoon, which means entire days wasted. If you have children to collect, a business to run or a doctor’s appointment to keep, you’re out of luck – the Board expects that you will rearrange your life to suit their whim.
And the EPA can’t even stick to its nominated hearing days. In the case of the Rational Transport Society, our expert witnesses are expected to change the days on which they appear with a mere 48 hours notice. For those who have arranged plane flights, a leave of absence from work or convoluted transport arrangements to the inaccessible venue, it’s a slap in the face. The message from the EPA seems clear – the Board’s time is valuable, but a submitter’s time is worthless.
When you find yourself waiting endlessly for the pleasure of the Board at Southwards, you’ll also discover that there’s nowhere to buy lunch, that the EPA has made no provision for Internet access for submitters, that you won’t be kept informed of progress, and that the EPA will not show the slightest interest in your attendance. It’s a display of open contempt from an arrogant agency.
Our members have attended a number of Environment Court and Board of Inquiry hearings over the years, ranging from the Waitaki water hearings to the Transmission Gully inquiry – and this one is by far the worst. It’s badly organised, arrogantly run, and is making a mockery of the hearing process. If the intention of the EPA was to hold two fingers up the communities whose homes will be demolished and land taken, they have entirely succeeded.
Kent Duston is the Secretary of the Rational Transport Society