Prime Minister John Key this week confirmed plans to enhance the National War Memorial in Wellington with a $12 million park adjacent to State Highway 1 and built across the top of a small stretch of it. A bigger sum (around $70-75m) will be spent on diverting some of the highway underground as part of a project to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landing on Anzac Day in 2015.
This memorial to more than 300,000 New Zealanders who have served their country will finally accord the country's foremost commemorative site the status it warrants, the Dominion-Post commented. The significance of the existing war memorial, it went on, “has long been underplayed”.
That's fair comment. Open seven days a week, the memorial is not as well-known as, say, Te Papa. Nor does it pull the same crowds. But its history is longer: it was opened with a dedication ceremony on Anzac Day 1932 and now features a carillon, Hall of Memories and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
At first blush, it is hard to see why anyone might quibble with Mr Key's announcement, and Labour smartly declared it would work with the Government to ensure the project was completed on time. The Green Party supports the park, too, but expressed reservations about the cost of the tunnel.
That's to be expected from a party programmed to grumble (often churlishly) about anything favourable to road traffic, and in this case the Greens oppose plans for a nearby flyover, saying it will be expensive, unsightly, and worsen city traffic. Another ground for Green objections has more substance. It's Mr Key's call on Parliament to support enabling legislation to get work under way in October by bypassing the resource consent process normally required for big road projects. Why the rush? Plans for a park were unveiled by Helen Clark, as Labour prime minister, in 2004. The Key Government cut off funding in its 2009 Budget.
Moreover, while the Government secured support from local people before making its announcement this week, this is a project of national significance involving large sums of taxpayers' money. An autocratic process for building the park seems an indelicate way of honouring those who have fallen in the service of their country and its democracy.