Board of inquiry says 'NO' to Basin flyover
MICHAEL FORBES AND ANDREA O'NEIL
Resource consent being denied for the Basin flyover is:
Millions of dollars of investment in Wellington is now in doubt - potentially setting the capital back a decade - after plans for a Basin Reserve flyover fell over.
In a move that stunned many city officials yesterday, a board of inquiry voted 3-1 to provisionally decline resource consent for the New Zealand Transport Agency's controversial $90 million project.
The agency had wanted to build a 265-metre elevated highway 20 metres north of the historic cricket ground, but those plans are now all but dead in the water.
It is the first time since boards of inquiry were introduced in 2009 that an application has been rejected in full.
>> LIVE WEB CHAT: Jo Newman, of Save The Basin, and Fran Wilde, of the Greater Wellington Regional Council. At 12 noon at dompost.co.nz
The potential ramifications for the city were a serious concern, city councillor Andy Foster said.
If NZTA decided not to come up with a flyover alternative, then future projects such as a $375m second tunnel through Mt Victoria would disappear, and plans to build a $268m bus rapid transit network between the CBD and southern suburbs would be stymied.
Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde echoed that concern, saying the new bus network depended on separating local and highway traffic at the Basin.
"It's a big blow for our whole transport network. It won't be very rapid going round the Basin Reserve, let's put it that way . . . I don't know what the answer is."
Foster said conversations he had held with government officials suggested the capital could be set back 10 years in terms of development. "I hope like hell the board of inquiry understands what this decision means. The flyover feels like a relatively small piece of road, but it has a huge domino effect."
The biggest blow could be to Wellington's reputation, he said. The Government might take the flyover decision as a sign the capital was too hard to invest in. "They may just pack up their bags and walk away . . . it's a concern of that magnitude."
Rod James, NZTA's Wellington state highways manager, was saying little yesterday. "We will be taking the time to closely consider this decision before determining our next steps."
But the agency has been outspoken in the past about what it would mean if the flyover did not go ahead. Chief executive Geoff Dangerfield warned the city council in 2012 that not supporting it could see future transport projects scrapped and ultimately hurt the "growth and prosperity" of the capital.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee was playing down the drama yesterday, saying the Government would let the appeal process play out before deciding its next step.
But he did not hide from the fact that the flyover decision was a blow to its plans. "That's our preference, that's what we wanted to do, that's what we thought would be good for the region."
Doing nothing to address the Basin's congestion woes was not an option, he said.
At the Basin Reserve, Champagne corks were popping as the flyover's main opposition group, Save the Basin, celebrated the project's likely demise.
Describing her reaction to the decision, spokeswoman Joanna Newman said she was jubilant.
"We're delighted the board has said no to what would have been an unnecessary, expensive, ugly and hugely damaging project."
The Transport Agency had conducted a biased and incomplete evaluation of alternatives to the flyover and ignored all of the improvements under way in the adjoining War Memorial Park development, she said. "We feel it's a real victory for common sense - for the future, for Wellington."
DAMAGE TO HERITAGE AREA TOO MUCH
transport benefits of the Basin Reserve flyover were not spectacular enough to outweigh the damage it would do to the surrounding heritage area, a board of inquiry has found.
The board released a 632-page decision yesterday, outlining why it turned down resource consent for the New Zealand Transport Agency's proposed two-lane flyover, 20 metres north of the Basin.
Its decision follows New Zealand's longest resource consent hearing, held earlier this year, at which the board heard arguments for and against the $90 million project from 69 technical experts and 74 members of the public.
After four months of debate, the board decided the benefits for motorists were "substantially less" than those suggested in the agency's application documents.
"The Basin Bridge would be around for over 100 years," the draft decision says. "It would thus have an enduring, and significant permanent adverse effect on this sensitive urban landscape and surrounding streets.
"It would have adverse effects on the important symbol of Government House and the other historical and cultural values in the area."
NZTA had championed a 7.5-minute time saving westbound across Wellington during the morning peak, once the flyover was linked up to a second Mt Victoria Tunnel and the Buckle St underpass.
But it was revealed during the hearings that the flyover would contribute only 90 seconds of that. Meanwhile, local north-south traffic circling the Basin would benefit by only two minutes at best.
The board said it received no evidence of how the flyover would encourage more people to walk, cycle and use public transport, which was a stated aim of the project.
When it came to the surrounding heritage area, two issues stood out for the board. One was the risk to the Basin Reserve's test cricket status if the flyover was visible within the ground.
The other was the "dominance and severance" effect the flyover and a proposed new players' pavilion would have between the Basin and the rest of the historic area.
Another issue was the large number of people living near the proposed site of the flyover - particularly in the Grandstand Apartments just a few metres away - who would lose much of their view.
The board also found that, even though the agency had looked at 73 different solutions to the Basin's congestion problems since 2001, the process had lacked transparency and consistency.
That was not the view of all four board members, however. Commissioner David McMahon disagreed with his three colleagues and voted to approve the flyover's resource consent.
He believed the project should have also been viewed as a key to unlocking the benefits of other roading projects that will eventually link up to improve the journey across Wellington via State Highway 1.
McMahon also felt the flyover was reasonably necessary to unclog the Basin and pave the way for Wellington's bus rapid transit network to move around the ground.
"Unfortunately, I have a different perspective to the board's majority view on these . . . critical matters. If my view . . . had prevailed, then the outcome of the board's substantive decision would have been different."
APARTMENT OWNERS TO CELEBRATE
decision to reject the Basin Reserve flyover has been hailed as a great day for democracy by one of the residents' groups that fought it.
"A strong message has been sent to the regional and city councillors. Their duty is to protect our beautiful city and not to destroy it," Mt Victoria Residents' Association spokesman Victor Davie said.
At the Grandstand Apartments, 20 metres from where the flyover would have gone, festivities are expected to overtake a planned body corporate meeting on Monday.
"I think we'll just have a glass of wine and celebrate," resident Christine Cummins said.
Apartment owners had collectively spent $30,000 on lawyers' fees trying to negotiate ways to reduce the effects of the flyover.
Cummins' main concern had been disruption from three years of construction, but owners of south-facing units had been concerned about the effect on their views, and on the value of their apartments.
Several owners had found the process so stressful they had moved out and, unable to sell, had let them to tenants, Cummins said.
Christine McCarthy, of the Architectural Centre, which designed a flyover alternative known as Option X, said she was thrilled.
"The process has not been an easy one, and we acknowledge the hard work of all the parties involved. It has definitely been a collaborative effort."
Wellington City councillor Iona Pannett, who helped form the flyover opposition group Save the Basin, said she hoped the council would not appeal against the board of inquiry's draft ruling.
"We've spent so many years on this ludicrous plan . . . putting a big concrete flyover in a historical area like that just doesn't make sense."
However, Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett criticised those politicians celebrating what he called a "backwards" decision.
Porirua, Kapiti Coast and Hutt Valley residents needed a faster route to the airport and hospital, he said.
"What worries me is, unless there is a fast, agreed and affordable solution to separate local and regional traffic at the Basin, the business case for the Wellington Airport extension could well fall short, and this would be another disaster for us."
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said from overseas that the city council would analyse the board's decision and its potential impacts on the future of the Wellington's transport.
"The flyover proposal presented . . . a complex issue of urban design and transport, including public transport," she said. "It is now time to get on and make the best of our role in improving all aspects of traffic to reduce congestion, including better walking, cycling, and public transport."
A new $12 million pavilion had been promised to the Basin Reserve Trust by the Transport Agency to hide the flyover. That deal now lies in tatters, but trust member Don Neely held no fears for the future of test match cricket at the venue.
Without the flyover, the stand was simply unnecessary, he said. "It's not a heartbreak for cricket. If [the pavilion] is not going to be there, cricket will continue."
WHAT WAS THE PROJECT? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Affected parties have 20 days to comment on the board's draft decision before its final decision is announced on August 30. After that, appeals can be made to the High Court, but only on the grounds that the board did not follow the correct legal process.
If appeals are unsuccessful, the New Zealand Transport Agency will have to go back to the drawing board if it wants to find a solution to the Basin's traffic woes.
Part of a $2.6 billion package of roading projects for the Wellington region, announced in 2009, known as the Wellington Northern Corridor.
Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway are other components of the package, designed to form a four-lane, 110km-long expressway between Wellington Airport and Levin.
NZTA argued that it needed to build a flyover before its proposed second Mt Victoria tunnel, so the roundabout could handle the increase in traffic.
HOW THE BOARD VOTED
Judge Gordon Whiting, chairman
Retired Environment and District Court judge who has chaired boards of inquiry for NZ King Salmon, Te Mihi and Tauhara II geothermal power station applications.
Has 31 years' experience as a practising consultant and researcher in the social policy field. Experience with environmental noise effects, social assessment of CBD development and structure planning.
Principal of Collins Consulting since 2000 and a hearing commissioner for more than 20 years. Has particular expertise in roading designations and developing transportation models.
Accredited independent hearing commissioner and resource management consultant; expertise in statutory planning. Commissioner on hearings for the Overseas Passenger Terminal, and West Wind and Mill Creek wind farms.
‘Jubilant. It's probably an old-fashioned word, but a good one.' Save the Basin spokeswoman Joanna Newman
‘We will be taking the time to closely consider this decision before determining our next steps.' NZTA Wellington state highways manager Rod James
‘Ecstatic is not too strong a word from my point of view . . . we've spent so many years on this ludicrous plan.' Wellington City councillor Iona Pannett
‘It was a David versus Goliath fight, and we know how that one ended.' Cycle Aware Wellington spokesman Patrick Morgan
‘Just as the council has found, the flyover proposal presented the board of inquiry with a complex issue of urban design and transport, including public transport.' Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown
‘A massive concrete motorway flyover was an invitation for future urban decay and crime. It is the exact opposite of smart transport planning.' Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter
‘The proposal exaggerated the benefits of the flyover and failed to recognise the damage it would do to an historic part of the city.' Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson
‘It's a big blow for our whole transport network. I don't know what the answer is.' Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde
‘A strong message has been sent to the regional and city councillors. Their duty is to protect our beautiful city and not to destroy it.' Mt Victoria Residents' Association spokesman Victor Davie.
>> LIVE WEB CHAT: Jo Newman, of Save The Basin, and Fran Wilde, of the Greater Wellington Regional Council. At 12 noon at dompost.co.nz
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