Basin showdown puts brakes on transport projects
Wellington's big transport projects are in limbo as the NZ Transport Agency and Wellington City Council face off over plans for the Basin Reserve.
The agency is committed to a flyover north of the historic cricket ground as a key part of its transport plans for the city, which include the possibility of a light rail system.
It warned the council on Wednesday not to reconsider its backing for the flyover. But the council ignored the warning at a meeting that night, agreeing instead to spend $50,000 exploring fresh alternatives.
The agency responded yesterday by repeating its warning, and saying it would spend the next few weeks considering the implications of the council's new position.
It is due to lodge consent applications for the flyover project early next year.
"Without the Basin Bridge, the other projects simply wouldn't work as effectively, and this makes it hard to justify funding them," NZTA chief executive Geoff Dangerfield said.
But the council's transport portfolio leader, Andy Foster - who moved that support for the flyover be withdrawn while other options were assessed - defended the move, saying it was simply a decision to take a "last look" at the options.
Councillors narrowly agreed by 8 votes to 7 to "further explore alternative transport solutions around the Basin Reserve". They requested that NZTA "not proceed . . . without Wellington City Council support for the flyover".
Wednesday night's extraordinary meeting was called after Auckland architect Richard Reid drafted an alternative plan to reduce congestion around the cricket ground, arguing that a second tunnel combined with the Buckle St trenching and slight alterations to the road would reduce congestion by as much as NZTA claimed the $90 million flyover would.
He has not revealed details of the plan, but councillors agreed to hold the unscheduled council meeting to reconsider its position on the flyover, which it had previously supported.
Mr Dangerfield sent a letter to the council before the meeting, expressing concern about the impact of it withdrawing support.
He reiterated that yesterday, saying thorough investigations of alternatives had already been done, and other projects that were dependent on the Basin plans - such as the Public Transport Spine Study, which could include light rail - were now at risk.
"We want to work in partnership with the council, but . . . we need to be confident that they will stand by their agreements. Commissioning further work . . . is not consistent with their earlier position and generates uncertainty and unnecessary and costly delay."
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who supported the decision to look at further alternatives, refused to comment on it yesterday.
Mr Foster said the council had always had other options to the flyover, and the latest move was about ensuring the right option was chosen
The council's decision drew mixed responses yesterday. Fran Wilde, chairwoman of Greater Wellington regional council, a partner in the transport spine study, said she was disappointed the city council had changed its position when so much work had already been done.
Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce chief executive David Kiddey said the move was a narrow-minded step that failed to take regional interests into account, given that everyone in the region had to travel through the Basin Reserve area to either the airport or the hospital.
Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said: "This procrastination . . . undermines government funding that is vital to Wellington's economic growth."
Airport passenger numbers were expected to double to 10 million by 2030. "Reducing congestion along this route and providing capacity for growth is crucial - this move puts $1.4b of regional GDP from this growth at risk."
But Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson welcomed the move, and congratulated the city council "for putting its money where its mouth is in funding work on alternatives".
"With the trenching of Buckle St it is possible to create significant improvements to traffic flow . . . at a fraction of the cost of the flyover, and without destroying the amenity value of the Basin."
If the council changes its stance on the flyover, NZTA may reconsider other projects.
Current projects involving the council and NZTA include:
- Public Transport Spine Study evaluating light rail and bus options from the railway station to Wellington Airport.
- Airport to Mt Victoria Tunnel, including widening Ruahine St and installing traffic signals.
- Terrace Tunnel upgrade.
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown: "What we're saying here is that we don't want to leave any stone unturned in the search for a win-win solution that will reduce some of the congestion."
Stephanie Cook: "Do we want Wellington to end up like Los Angeles with its spaghetti junctions, flyovers and intersections all over the place?"
Paul Eagle: "There has been a chorus from the community saying, ‘We do not want a flyover'."
Andy Foster: "In some ways we're doing NZTA a favour. We've learnt through bitter experience that when you think you're right and you've got a winner, sometimes you don't."
Justin Lester: "We think [the flyover] is butt ugly and want something better for the city."
Iona Pannett: "I'm appalled at the behaviour of NZTA. They've threatened us as elected representatives and acted in a political manner, when they should have been providing advice as public servants."
Bryan Pepperell: "It is absolutely necessary that we do not accept last century's solution to our transport problems."
Helene Ritchie: "These roading projects are seriously [on] impacting the town belt."
Ray Ahipene-Mercer: "This was a deliberate act of political sabotage by the mayor and seven councillors."
Ngaire Best: "What I see before me is actually a proposition to delay, delay, delay."
Jo Coughlan: "Wellington needs to future-proof itself for growth, and investment in roading infrastructure is critical."
Leonie Gill: "I just don't know what this decision is going to achieve when alternative options can be taken through the RMA process."
Ian McKinnon: "Presumably the solution is to do nothing. One can't but help wondering if that's what some councillors want."
Simon Marsh: "By continually frustrating NZTA and the Government, the Government might say, ‘Wellington, you are too difficult to work with.' "
John Morrison: "It appears this council has finally become a Green Party protest rally."
The Dominion Post