The meetings are compulsory, but they can’t resolve concerns about the flyover

by Lindsay Shelton
Like all 215 people who wrote submissions about the proposal for a flyover alongside the Basin Reserve, I’ve been told I must attend a “facilitated pre-hearing meeting” with the Transport Agency. I’ve signed up for a meeting on Wednesday, and I’m hoping it will be more satisfactory than the experience of several people who went to one of the first meetings last week.

The Environmental Protection Authority’s board of inquiry is making it compulsory for every submitter to attend one of the meetings.

The organisers first said that their aims were to

“resolve your concerns with the proposal and the issues outlined in your submission; or at least clarify and narrow concerns to enable the Board to focus on critical issues during the hearing.”

But a few days later, they’d recognised that “resolving” concerns was an unrealistic aim. So they changed their emphasis:

[The] aims are to clarify issues to enable the Board to focus on critical issues during the hearing; to facilitate joint presentation of submissions, evidence or cross examination on common topics; and to resolve specific issues.

Submitters who participated in one of last week’s meetings weren’t convinced that it was helpful for them. Here’s what one of them told me.

All 12 submitters at the meeting were opposed to the proposed flyover, but it was clear this opposition was outside the brief of the meeting. So it was hard to see how the meeting could add any value to the process. The only people who spoke in favour of the flyover were either Transport Agency staff or their contractors. All the submitters expressed scepticism about the process and some reported feeling threatened by the emails telling them to attend.

And another participant:

The meeting provided a window into the Transport Agency’s thinking, which is firmly rooted in the ’60s. There’s a huge problem in that they’re dealing only with State Highway One and have no real concern for other traffic solutions. When I said most of the traffic problems from eastern suburbs to city (such as they are – and they’re very minor) could be sorted with better, cheaper, more frequent bus services (or even better of course light rail) they seemed uninterested.

As someone at the meeting said, if Wellingtonians were asked what they’d like to do transport-wise with $100million, they wouldn’t choose the flyover. Most interestingly, the Transport Agency admitted that only 30 per cent of east-west traffic would go on the flyover; the rest will still go around the Basin. The whole thing is mad beyond belief.

When the Environmental Protection Authority counted the public’s 215 submissions about the flyover, it found that 82 per cent were opposed.

This opposition has not, of course, persuaded the Transport Agency to give up its flyover plans, which were first described and supported by Kerry Prendergast almost five years ago.

Ms Prendergast was the mayor when she said the flyover was the best option. But now she is the chair of the Environmental Protection Authority which is responsible for the board of inquiry which is being asked to approve the flyover. The board is described as independent. But its four members were chosen by the government. And one of them has resigned over conflict of interest issues. No one has suggested that there could be a conflict of interest relating to Kerry Prendergast’s support for the flyover in 2008. But now that she’s in charge of the EPA she is probably wishing that she’d kept her views to herself.

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