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Communities, the council, and the appeal

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The Transport Agency says it wants “certainty” from its appeal against the rejection of its Basin flyover plan. But community groups see things differently. For them it’s not just a legal issue. More importantly it’s the issue of a government organisation trying to impose its will on a city and its communities.

Community groups were the only organisations who fought the plan to build a concrete flyover across Kent and Cambridge Terraces alongside the Basin Reserve. They succeeded with very limited resources. The Transport Agency spent more than a hundred times as much – a total of more than $10 million which included $3.4 million on Resource Management Act submissions, $2.3 million on legal fees, and $2.8 million that was the cost of staff attending the hearings and 35 experts who were paid to support the flyover.

Thirty-five (paid) experts. Expenditure of more than $10million. And yet the proposal was rejected because of the strength of the case put forward by the community groups and their volunteer workers.

The Wellington City Council gave no support to the community groups. In fact, it opposed them. On top of the Transport Agency’s $10 million, the city council spent $500,000 to support the flyover plan at the board of inquiry. Things could have been different. Councillors had opposed the flyover till March last year, when Andy Foster changed sides and there was an eight-to-seven vote to support it.

Since last October’s elections, the numbers have changed again. There’s now a majority of councillors opposed to the flyover. But does this mean that the council will now support the community groups who are continuing the fight? Apparently not. The council is even participating in the appeal process, though its chief executive says it is not supporting the appeal.

Iona Pannett is the only councillor who has spoken against the flyover since the appeal was announced. Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and deputy Mayor Justin Lester, who have consistently voted against it, are saying nothing more against it. Everyone else is silent too.

It’s ironic that the strength of community involvement was responsible for the flyover being rejected. Back in 2011, the Civic Trust highlighted the fact that community involvement had been sought – unsuccessfully – during the years that the project was being developed. Here’s what the Civic Trust said in a submission to the NZTA in August 2011:

A basic tenet of the Trust’s work is that decisions affecting our city and our citizens must involve those affected. There have to be ways whereby they not only have their say, but have a real chance to affect outcomes … The Trust convened a seminar on engineering projects in the Basin Reserve area (Round about the Basin, August 2009). It brought together a wide range of experts, including those who had expert experience of living in the communities likely to be affected. The major outcome was a request to the authorities “…to establish a joint working group, which would include community representatives, which would have access to all relevant information concerning options for the development of the transport spine.”

NZTA was asked following the seminar to establish structures and procedures to enable community representatives to have full access to options for the project. On 22 September 2009 the Trust was advised by NZTA that they intended to establish a Community Connect Group and that engagement would begin in early October that year. The group was not established. What has now emerged is not the result of such engagement. Faith in the process and support for the outcome has suffered and a weary cynicism is growing.

And as for the flyover, the Trust said that it would

…violate the urban design qualities of the area… We cannot conceive that an obtrusive overbridge cutting through the structured sightlines of the two terraces (identified for enhancement under Smart Green Wellington) could ever improve the presentation of this part of the cityscape.