Wellington Scoop

More than five years’ opposition to a flyover at the Basin Reserve

by Lindsay Shelton
Since Wellington.Scoop was established five and a half years ago, we have published more than 250 reports and articles about plans for a flyover alongside the Basin Reserve, and the substantial community concerns about these plans.

You can access every one of these articles – in our flyover archive.

In one of the first reports which I wrote and published, on November 27 2008, I described a meeting of a hundred people who gathered in St Josephs Church to launch the campaign to oppose the flyover.

The meeting was told that public consultation showing 79 per cent opposition to the flyover plan had been ignored by the Transport Agency. Then-councillor Councillor Celia Wade-Brown spoke of the joys of walking and cycling, and how the Basin Reserve was an oasis for pedestrians and cyclists heading into the city. An oasis which would be destroyed if the flyover was built.

One month later, in December 2008, Scoop published a press release from the then mayor of Wellington Kerry Prendergast who said a flyover (which she first referred to as a raised road) was the only answer to traffic problems at the Basin Reserve.

It was evident from this report that decisions had already been made: the mayor said the flyover would carry westbound traffic from the Mt Victoria tunnel over the traffic heading to and from Adelaide Road and the southern suburbs. And she mentioned the intention to build a third grandstand on the north side of the ground – to block any view of a raised roadway.

I am mentioning these two reports to show that since 2008 the Transport Agency has been single-minded in terms of having decided that its preference was a flyover.

Since then, the reports and articles published on Wellington.Scoop have reflected the considerable unease of the Wellington community about the plan; including the long period when the Agency’s “public consultation” was seen to be biased because the only options were flyovers. In spite of this, public opposition continued to come through clearly.

Rather than attempt the impossible task of summarising everything that’s been written on Wellington.Scoop, I would like to quote from an article by Mt Cook resident Dave Shea which we published in October 2011.

The damage to our city’s sight-lines caused by either of the raised-road options will be irreparable. A raised road would dominate our environment. For those of us who live and walk through this area, a raised road will be the worst solution to traffic problems. Once built, it will always be there 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, peak traffic or no peak traffic. The problem of peak traffic flows does not justify such a road.

The wonderful view of Mount Victoria from the Adelaide Road side of the Basin Reserve is a very special element of Wellington and one most enjoyed by the non-motor vehicle traffic that passes through the Basin Reserve to and from work. Construction of a raised road would destroy this vista. The nonsensical suggestion of building an additional stand at the Basin, simply to block out the road and its noise, has caused this whole issue to descend into farce.

This city already has a so-called by-pass which locks traffic into stop-start jams because it crosses several major arteries. A raised road would do nothing but shave seconds from a journey at a very high cost, and then only serve to drive the traffic to the end of the next traffic jam.

He concluded by writing

Building flyovers may look like someone is doing something. But all they would do is ruin our lovely city environment. I have lived in cities outside New Zealand and I have seen how badly they can be disfigured by knee-jerk reactions to roading. I’ve also seen how local communities can be marginalised by “big-road” schemes. I chose to live in Wellington 25 years ago and I would be very reluctant for it to go down the path of those other cities becoming visually and environmentally dominated by the motor vehicle.

Like Mr Shea, I am opposed to the flyover proposal. I stated ten reasons in my written submission last August. I shall briefly summarise them now.

1. I believe that if the concrete flyover is built it will have a significant negative effect on the area of the Basin Reserve. I agree with Martin Snedden’s statement that it will look hideous. But this hideousness will not only affect occasional games of cricket, but will also permanently change its open and iconic neighbourhood.

2. The negative effects will impact on ecology, archaeology, air quality, noise, built heritage … and most of all on urban design. These are not my opinions they are the recorded opinions of the Transport Agency’s specialist experts – are detailed in page 6 of a Transport Agency report that was published in August 2012 though I didn’t discover it till January last year when I published the information on Wellington.Scoop. You can access it here, with a link to the original document.

3. The structure will degrade the environment around New Zealand’s oldest and most historic cricket ground. An area which of course is not only a cricket ground but which is more importantly an iconic area of green open space. I support the evidence on this subject given by Australian architect Jan McCredie.

4. The flyover and the associated pavilion will block the southern viewshaft from the Kent and Cambridge Terrace boulevard. (I note that other people have also warned about this result.) The flyover would be a repeat of the dreadful decision that led to the harbour view at the northern end of the boulevard being blocked by the New World supermarket.

5. The flyover will not solve east-west traffic problems. It will merely move them to the traffic lights at Taranaki Street, where’ll there be the same stop-start delays as now.

6. The flyover was planned before the undergrounding of Buckle Street was approved. Till then, the Transport Agency insisted there was no money to put the highway underground. Now this claim has been disproved, an extension of the Buckle Street tunnel towards the Basin Reserve would give the best result for the city.

7. I have published reports which claim that undergrounding the road would be less expensive than building a flyover. It would certainly be less obtrusive.

8. There are other consequences of building the flyover which are clearly identified in official reports:
a. The flyover will increase traffic flows in adjacent streets (Basin Alternatives report page 86)
b. The flyover will increase traffic congestion in the CBD (Opus report for Greater Wellington Regional Council December 2012)

9. A flyover is completely out of character with this part of the central city.

10. International cities are demolishing flyovers instead of building them – in order to gain improvements to urban landscapes and quality of life.

And finally:

We are all placing great faith in the ability of members of the board of inquiry to maintain independent and inquiring minds in the unenviable task of determining whether or not a massive concrete flyover should be built alongside the Basin Reserve.

Submitters to this process have been overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork, most notably the huge amount from the Transport Agency. Someone referred to a snowstorm of documents, with no map. This underscores the importance of the board’s rigorous scrutiny – both in terms of the legal aspects and the factual aspects.

The board of inquiry is the only safeguard that Wellington can rely on to fully test and scrutinise the project that the Transport Agency has been planning for so long, and on which so much public money has already been spent. (It seems as if the Transport Agency has access to limitless funds …)

The proposal has the potential to change an important part of Wellington for generations.

I note the unabashed enthusiasm of all the experts who have been paid by the Transport Agency to support the flyover. I agree with the comment that this is very much a “David and Goliath” situation, with the Transport Agency calling on seemingly unlimited resources, and the opponents having to work with very small amounts of money.

I am aware that what is proposed for this historically significant and open part of the city will have much more than minor effects. And I believe that the adverse effects of the “hideous” flyover will in no way be balanced by any real or imagined benefits.

This is an edited version of the evidence given by Lindsay Shelton to the Basin Flyover board of inquiry this morning.