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Andy Foster: CEOs’ reasons for Takapu Valley road “unconvincing, undesirable”

by Andy Foster
There is clearly a very high level of interest in the planned Petone – Grenada (P2G) road, and particularly the Transport Agency’s proposal to augment roading capacity north of P2G’s junction with State Highway One.

Proposals to either widen SH1 at Tawa or build a new two lane connection through Takapu Valley to the Transmission Gully Motorway (TGM) were unveiled by the Transport Agency early last year to the considerable surprise of Councils and residents. The argument for them is that traffic growth generated in considerable part through the construction of TGM would lead to congestion on SH1 by 2031.

Unsurprisingly many Tawa and Takapu Valley residents were horrified. 1400 submissions flooded in, nearly all of them saying they opposed or were very concerned by these northern add-ons.

Through the Regional Transport Committee, the six affected / interested Councils (Wellington, Porirua, the two Hutts, Kapiti and Greater Wellington) tasked our CEOs to review the options and report back. On Monday we received their report which included recommending a Takapu Valley road, the reasons including that it would:

 Reduce congestion
 Be less disruptive to the community than widening the motorway at Tawa
 Open up additional land for development
 Provide resilience benefits (alternate route)
 Reduce environmental impacts through reducing fuel use (less going up and down hills for trucks)

The report argued that funding now was assured if it is part of the P2G package, where it might not be in the future if considered for funding as a stand-alone project. I have to say that the report was disappointingly thin on the evidence behind the recommendations. I find those reasons unconvincing at this stage and in the case of opening up more rural land for subdivision, actually undesirable in retaining and enhancing a compact urban form, let alone the damaging effect it would have on the rural landscape.

The Regional Transport Committee did agree with CEOs’ recommendation that we support an integrated package of projects , including the Hutt Valley – Wellington walkway-cycleway (Great Harbour Way), a significant safety upgrade of SH58, an upgrade of SH2 intersections, and the Hutt City Cross Valley Link.

We also supported an amendment from Regional Councillor Paul Swain, seconded by myself, to make explicit that we support P2G, add potential for a new bus service(s) using P2G to link Porirua – Tawa to Hutt City, and importantly to encourage NZTA, WCC, GWRC, HCC and KiwiRail to ‘work urgently to agree a detailed proposal, funding package and delivery timetable for the Great Harbour
Way’.

I am really pleased that we are getting closer and closer to making decisions on the Great Harbour Way ‘gap’ between Hutt City and Wellington City. I have no doubt that it will be transformative and an enormous asset to the region, and will certainly continue to do all I can to get it signed and sealed – so it can be delivered as soon as possible.

Back to the Takapu/Tawa end of P2G. Importantly we also replaced the CEOs’ recommendation to support a road through Takapu Valley with a request for a more detailed report on the options north of Tawa. This report is to come back to the Regional Transport Committee in April or June.

Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett’s further amendment that we support the Takapu option ‘in principle’ was lost on a 4-4 split vote. I can’t see how it would have made sense when we’d just asked for that report on the options.

To be clear: we have not ruled any option in or out. We do want better quality analysis, including modelling of future traffic projections, and the degree of adverse effects of the two route options. I will aim to arrange a site visit for councillors too. We also need a formal position from Councils, not just the views of CEOs or single elected representatives. Wellington City Council does not yet have a formal position and I have asked the Mayor to put it on a Council agenda shortly. She has agreed to that.

I think this extra consideration is perfectly reasonable and indeed something we should make no apologies for doing, given it is an up to $60million investment proposal which has only relatively recently been put in front of the Councils, and has potentially significant effects on communities,
landscapes and ecosystems.

We have three options and two locations to consider. Options are to do nothing; to designate land and wait until a project is needed; or to build something. Obviously the two locations are Tawa (widening SH1) and Takapu (new road).

It’s worth explaining the designation option. If after more analysis more roading capacity is deemed necessary but only in the future (as population and traffic growth justifies it), then it could make sense to give certainty now to the two communities by clearly agreeing on and designating a preferred option so that one community at least is ‘off the hook.’

So a decision will need to be made, and soon, to be part of the Regional Transport Plan. But the Regional Transport Committee has been clear that we need more information before making that decision, whatever it may be. The residents of Tawa and Takapu and indeed of the wider region deserve that we make these important decisions on the basis of good quality information. ‘Just do it’ doesn’t cut it. This doesn’t for a moment mean that everyone will be happy with whatever the final decision is, but at least I hope people will know it is being done at least reasonably robustly.

Councillor Andy Foster is chair of the Wellington City Council’s transport and urban development committee. He represented the city council at Monday’s meeting of the Regional Transport Committee.