Wellington Scoop

Will $3.1billion get us moving?

map nzta

by Lindsay Shelton
When the NZTA announced yesterday that it wants to spend a “forecast investment” of $3.1billion over the next three years to get Wellington moving, it may have been acknowledging the immobility of the six-year-old “Let’s Get Wellington Moving” group (with the unfortunate name), which has had the same aim, without success.

Much of yesterday’s billion dollar announcement includes projects that are already happening outside the city, such as Transmission Gully, Mackays Crossing to PekaPeka, PekaPeka to Otaki, the Ngauranga to Petone walking and cycling path, as well as metro rail upgrades and the improvements at Melling.

But what of the city itself? The NZTA tells us it will be writing a business case for the long-awaited mass rapid transit in Wellington.

“Almost $94 million will be invested in developing the detailed business case through to implementation for mass rapid transit that will connect the railway station with the hospital, Newtown, Miramar and the Wellington Airport. Mass rapid transit will improve travel choice and help shape a compact, sustainable city.”

But how many business cases does it need? A quick check shows that LGWM had been trying to write one last year, but had failed to deliver it by the deadline of October. Will NZTA use the unfinished document as a first draft of what it wants to do. Or will it be starting from scratch, and doing all the research over and over again?

There’s another problem. After six years of LGWM, there’s no decision on what Wellington’s mass rapid transit should be. Which should cause problems in writing a business case.

Yesterday’s NZTA announcement included another expensive business case for another problem that has been analysed for years, without any decision:

“…$81 million will be provided for the detailed business case through to implementation phases for proposed investments in State Highway 1, including improvements to the Basin Reserve, and the construction of a second tunnel through Mt Victoria. Both projects will provide improvements for all transport modes, including pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.”

Is that a definite “yes” for a second Mt Victoria Tunnel? If so, why don’t they move to designing it? Or are they worried that the business case might not support it? And why do they need another business case? What’s wrong with the business case that LGWM was writing last year?

As for the strange plan for making “improvements to the Basin Reserve,” it’s an easy guess that the NZTA doesn’t intend to claim the right to re-design the world-famous cricket ground. But if it’s still thinking about changing the roads around the Basin, how can it start writing a business case when there’s no decision on what changes should be made?

Since the double defeat of the NZTA’s dismal plan to build a flyover alongside the Basin, there’ve been plenty of suggestions for more acceptable changes. But NZTA and its colleagues at LGWM have never been able to make a decision. (What happened to the “optimisation improvements in the short term,” that they announced in 2015 but never carried out?)

There are many other examples of the inability to make decisions.

Last November, LGWM announced that public feedback from 2000 people on changes to Wellington’s Golden Mile had overwhelmingly backed the “transform” option. Did this mean a decision would follow? Well, no: “The next step … is to identify a preferred option.”

Having asked us last year what we wanted for the Golden Mile, LGWM admitted that it had also asked us the year before, when “… Wellingtonians [also] told us what they wanted to see on the mile that runs from Lambton Quay to Courtenay Place.”

We told them in 2020. We told them in 2019. And it was the same in 2018 – after prolonged public consultation in 2017, the LGWM programme director announced that

“we’ll use the feedback to help guide our work as we develop a recommended programme of investment.”

We didn’t get a programme of investment. Instead: more consultations asking the same questions, again. And getting the same answers, again.

In one of the findings from 2018, we told them: “It is time to act, while being mindful of cost.” But LGWM was giving no sign that it was able or willing to act.

In September 2019, mayoral candidate Conor Hill wrote:

We’ve waited almost 5 years for an announcement that lacked the sort of detail you would expect after that time frame. Something as simple as a mass transit route and technology is not a clear part of the package. Long awaited changes to the Golden Mile are still awaiting a business case and another round of consultation… We could argue about this forever …

In an unfortunately named ‘progress report’ in February 2017, LGWM summarised consultation that it had carried out in 2016:

In April and May 2016, we invited people across the region to share what they love about Wellington City and what frustrates them most about getting around it. More than 10,000 people joined the conversation. This provided Let’s Get Wellington Moving with 2,500 ideas, suggestions and options for improvements. It helped us understand the problems people face day to day as they walk, cycle, use public transport or drive around the city. Insights we’ve gained from the feedback so far have been used to help develop a set of 12 urban design and transport principles

They understood our problems. They gained insights. They developed principles. There was more:

We’ve collected a wealth of data from different sources on where, when and how people travel around Wellington City. Additional information has been gathered on the reliability of journey times. This has built an excellent evidence base to inform decisions about possible improvements.

And the decisions and the improvements? Six years later, we’re still waiting.

So the ball is now in the court of NZTA, with its $3.1billion spend. Can they make a difference in the city, when LGWM has failed?

November 2019: A never ending story


  1. Mickey Mouse, 8. September 2021, 16:14

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein. Another $94 million for another LGWM business case and another $81 million for another. Who is the governance group? What/who are they governing?

  2. luke, 8. September 2021, 23:54

    Delay delay delay until they get permission from a more compliant regime to build a motorway to the airport. Everything else is just spin

  3. Claire1, 9. September 2021, 8:50

    Luke: there is definitely a game being played … otherwise there is a degree of incompetence.

  4. Ralf, 9. September 2021, 10:12

    There is an easy explanation for this. The mission of LGWM (and NZTA who are of course just road builders) is to delay anything other than road building. Until someone makes the decision for them to go ahead with a four lane superhighway through the city centre, the green belt and Kilbirnie to the airport, they are in a waiting pattern. So they spend some money on consultants, so that the superhighway can be kept on the books until it goes ahead. And spend some other money on their marketing department which releases press releases saying what they think Wellingtonians want to hear (which from the feedback seems to be good alternatives to driving – Wellingtonians are way more aligned with NZ’s declared policy to do something about climate change than the government (national, regional and local) and their departments and organizations).

    I don’t really blame NZTA for this though, they are a road-building organization and unless there is clear change coming top down this won’t change. Wellington is unlikely to elect a road-building regime, but there is a good chance that when National comes to power at some point nationally they will “unblock” this by announcing the four-lane superhighway as a PPP. Doesn’t mean it will be built of course. It will then be back into the courts.

  5. greenwelly, 9. September 2021, 11:30

    But they don’t have $3.1 billion to spend to make a difference. By and large pretty much all of this funding is already allocated to announced programmes (and the LGWM portion is pretty tiny).
    NZTA are spending roughly $1 billion of it on the completion of Peka Peka to Otaki and the ongoing cost of TG + regular SH maintenance (there is also external NZUP funding for Melling).
    Big chunks are also pre committed to running the existing public transport network over the next 3 years as well as proving funding to councils for 50% of the regular road maintenance. This is at least 90% BAU …

  6. Darko Petrovic, 9. September 2021, 14:17

    I’d like to see a decision finally made on mass transit above all else (incl. cycling and a second mt vic tunnel) because this is what will get the most people travelling using the least number of vehicles on the road which is the ultimate goal. Get the corridors sorted already in line with the new urban development plan and move on.
    Afterwards, plan the required cycling and state highway improvement investments – and yes, both are needed (cycling infrastructure in Wellington is severely lacking but so are good SH connections between major points of interest – a four lane road or a road reconfiguration will eventually be needed).

  7. Peter B, 13. September 2021, 13:23

    Wellington needs to do what Auckland has done for years. Give all of those with a Gold card (generally those 65+) free bus/ train travel from 9 am Monday to Friday. This will get motor vehicles out of the city. The same tax is paid in AKL and Welly so why are the benefits to the community not on a equal basis in both locations? [Wellington gives SuperGold Card holders free travel on buses, trains, ferries and the cable car from 9 till 3 and after 6.30 on weekdays, and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.]

  8. Claire, 13. September 2021, 14:18

    Good thinking Peter. The over 65s generally have cars, and go to concerts, movies etc. Make it all day seven days a week.

  9. Mike Mellor, 13. September 2021, 15:44

    Peter B: agreed that it would be good if the SuperGold card was available between 3 and 6.30 on weekdays, as it is in Auckland (but nowhere else). According to Auckland Transport that’s funded by Auckland Council, so if it were to happen here it would have to come out of our rates bills.

  10. Dave B, 13. September 2021, 19:40

    Mike Mellor, an extra impost on rates would depend on the uptake of “free” Gold-card travel if it was allowed during the p.m. peak. If demand was small such that no extra services needed to be provided then the cost would be minimal. If demand was large and extra services were required then yes, that would have to be paid for.
    However, if a significant amount of that demand turned out to be mode-shift from journeys currently made by car, one could argue that there ought to be an offsetting reduction in car-imposed costs on the city. This may mean that such a policy could more-than pay for itself.
    Only if the “free” public transport attracted a significant number of new journeys that were not previously made at all, or for whatever reason failed to reduce road traffic, would there be a real net cost.

  11. Traveller, 13. September 2021, 19:56

    Peak afternoon buses are already overfull. No room for free rides.