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The Transport Agency shows how not to make friends

by Lindsay Shelton
Judging from two reports last week, the government’s Transport Agency isn’t likely to win any popularity contests.

First, there was the report about the Kapiti man whose garden centre business and home were bulldozed to the ground by the Transport Agency, before there’d been any agreement on compensation. He’s been left in limbo. ”We don’t own the land (which has been taken under the Public Words Act for the Kapiti Expressway) and they haven’t paid for it.”

Then there was the news that the Agency wants to take more of Wellington’s green belt for its expressway to the airport. Last week’s report was a reminder of plans for an expressway through Hataitai, which have been causing concern for residents since the news became known in 2011. The streets to be widened into an expressway are Ruahine Street and Wellington Road. And the Agency has indicated it wants more than four lanes. Six? Eight?

The Agency is also gearing up for a formal fight with Wellingtonians over its plan to build a flyover alongside the Basin Reserve. As preparations continue for the Board of Inquiry which starts its fast-tracked hearings in a fortnight, details are emerging of an extraordinarily wide range of issues in contention. A draft list of contested issues is being finalised. Those of us who are giving evidence as opponents of the flyover have been sent a copy of the draft list. It’s huge.

Evidence from expert witnesses opposed to the flyover is now on line. The government-appointed commissioners will have to give specially serious consideration to evidence from a former senior staff member of the Transport Agency (when it was known as Transit NZ). He says there is a low-cost option for solving Basin traffic problems without a flyover. He asks why the Agency failed to allow Wellingtonians the choice of this non-flyover option. Had it been been identified and included in the consultation process, he says, it is likely that it would have been preferred by affected parties “and would, or at least should, have been selected by the Transport Agency.”

This expert witness also says the “grossly uneconomic” flyover will cause significant adverse environmental effects and he asks why the Agency is understating environmental issues related to the flyover.

And a new concern about the board of inquiry process has been identified by the Save the Basin campaigners:

The Basin flyover Board of Inquiry process has been rendered dangerously close to farce by the nine-month timetable imposed by the Government. However, the latest move by the Kerry Prendergast-chaired Environmental Protection Authority, which administers the Board, has plumbed new depths in its apparent contempt for submitters on the project.

At 5.35pm on Friday, the EPA sent submitters the Draft Hearing Schedule a complex document that requires careful consideration – even making it legible is a challenge. Each submitter needs to check the time(s) that they are meant to appear and respond to the EPA if any changes are needed.

And how long have submitters been given to respond? One working day. The EPA has imposed a deadline of 5pm on Tuesday, and Monday is a public holiday in Wellington – so it’s Tuesday or bust, especially if you’re away from Wellington for the weekend.

Is this fair or reasonable? Absolutely not. Whether this is a deliberate attempt by the EPA to make it impossible for submitters to appear before the Board, or whether it is merely the product of incompetence, we will leave for the reader to decide. But such absurd and unrealistic deadlines raise serious questions about any notion of this Board of Inquiry conducting a fair, unbiased and objective hearing process.

The EPA should be ashamed of setting such an unfair deadline. The tight timeframe for the hearing has been criticised by Ohariu MP Peter Dunne, who said it was being “railroaded unnecessarily.” And the EPA has been criticised for other Boards of Inquiry which it has organised – Kent Duston wrote that its hearings on the Peka Peka to Otaki expressway were badly organised and arrogantly run; : the Environmental Defence Society stated “serious and compelling concerns” about the fairness of EPA hearings into damming the TukiTuki River.

With such a background, the EPA should have ensured that its Basin flyover hearings were beyond criticism.

Leaving it to the locals to fight the flyover

2 comments:

  1. Kay, 20. January 2014, 14:00

    NZTA want to spend $90 million from taxpayers to build a flyover to bring cars and trucks from Wellington Airport and the eastern suburbs into Wellington city two to three minutes quicker. The one-way traffic flow won’t solve any congestion problems. Once cars get to the CBD, the proposed speed restriction of 30km per hour will kick in as the drivers slowly hunt for a park. In the meantime there will be less money available for public transport improvements which could actually take cars off the road.

    The next proposed NZTA projects of a second tunnel through Mt Victoria (costing $365 million) and then a second flyover out from the city to the airport (cost not yet known) would have the same drawbacks. There would be no decrease in traffic, instead it would increase until more traffic congestion reached another plateau. More traffic means more greenhouse gas emissions, more contributions to climate change, and less likelihood of creating the type of efficient and sustainable systems we need for Wellington to be a liveable vibrant city to work, live and visit.

     
  2. Guy, 21. January 2014, 7:05

    Well blow me down, it’s there in black and white. David Young, this respected planner for the NZTA, and therefore someone that the NZTA can’t ignore or waive away as a local nutter, clearly says in 3.1 b) that “No improvements to the existing roundabout are required until the duplication of the Mt Victoria tunnel.” Simple as that. It’s only what people have been saying for months, if not years.

    Richard Reid, who has been trying to explain to people, including the WCC and the NZTA, had it absolutely right when he said that the cause of the congestion is the pinch point either side of the Basin, not the Basin itself. One pinch point is the existing tunnel, which pinches in both directions, and inevitably causes congestion. The tunnel is old, dangerous, substandard, and needs to be widened / replaced / duplicated, and this needs to be done first, before any flyover is built.

    If this Board of Inquiry process had any shred of integrity, instead of being the costly sham that it is, they would just shelve the flyover until they build the second tunnel.