Last month, the New Zealand Transport Agency was denied resource consent to build a flyover in front of Wellington’s Basin Reserve. Will they appeal this decision, and for what reasons? Renee Gerlich investigates the real motives behind this contentious ‘Road of National Significance’. Photography by Mark Tantrum.

Transport: For Truck’s sake

Save the Basin Reserve: Tim Jones, 2 July 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum |

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine

Save the Basin Reserve: Tim Jones, 2 July 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum |

Save the Basin Reserve: Tim Jones, 2 July 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comMotor­ways are hideous things. Need­less to say they are not built for their aes­thet­ics. Nor are they built for the acous­tics, the aroma or the vista, or their pos­it­ive impacts on land, health, hous­ing or her­it­age, or their desirab­il­ity to live near or walk along. They are not built to relieve traffic con­ges­tion: accord­ing to cur­rent inter­na­tion­al con­sensus, more roads simply invite more vehicles. And des­pite what the New Zea­l­and Trans­port Agency (NZTA) will tell you, there is also no clear evid­ence sug­gest­ing that motor­ways gen­er­ate eco­nom­ic growth,* unless you hap­pen to own Fulton Hogan or Bur­ger King. No, motor­ways have no intrins­ic value, and as destruct­ive, irre­vers­ible mon­stros­it­ies, they should be built only when no trans­port option bet­ter suited to the pub­lic interest is available.

So there is much aside from the dies­el fumes and tar that reeks about NZTA’s $12 bil­lion Roads of Nation­al Sig­ni­fic­ance (RoNS) pro­ject, one of New Zealand’s biggest infra­struc­ture invest­ments yet. The stated aim behind con­struct­ing this series of road links between Puhoi and Christ­ch­urch is to make the move­ment of freight and busi­ness traffic between ports, air­ports and mar­kets in the five major pop­u­la­tion centres more effi­cient. Yet there is little evid­ence to sug­gest that the install­a­tion of a nation­wide freight bypass without any genu­ine, loc­al­ised urb­an plan­ning of note will gen­er­ate sweep­ing nation­wide eco­nom­ic growth.

What is proven inter­na­tion­ally is that motor­ways encour­age people to live fur­ther from city centres and com­mute longer dis­tances, lead­ing to more urb­an sprawl and less effi­cient cit­ies.* What is also proven is that large-scale ‘eco­nom­ic growth’ of the nature prom­ised by gov­ern­ment is unlikely to cause golden money showers to rain down on the tax­pay­ers and road users foot­ing the bill for the roads. Pet­rol tax, how­ever, increased in July for the pur­pose, and any­one in busi­ness or retail may have noticed the instant increase in cour­i­er and goods sup­pli­er charges to keep up.

Accord­ing to NZTA, 92 per­cent of freight is cur­rently moved by road, and the total freight bur­den is fore­cast to increase. Yet even Main­freight wants to see freight car­ried by rail, not least because trucks emit 4.6 times more CO2 per tonne per kilo­metre car­ried than trains. The auto industry, too, is see­ing a sig­ni­fic­ant decrease in sales, as repor­ted by Time magazine in 2013. Young­er gen­er­a­tions are pur­chas­ing few­er cars, per­haps because they are liv­ing urb­an, envir­on­ment­ally aware, digit­ised life­styles, or per­haps because they can’t afford them, or both. In any case, we may have passed the point of peak car usage.

Con­sider this along­side the fact that man­aging traffic con­ges­tion and the move­ment of freight both require sound plan­ning and pub­lic trans­port, and that motor­ways do not guar­an­tee eco­nom­ic growth but do lead to increased car use and urb­an sprawl. So why has NZTA been so vehe­ment about their spe­cif­ic road­ing plans, includ­ing the fly­over? What were the objec­tions heard by the board? Import­antly, will NZTA make an appeal in the High Court, and if so for what reas­ons, and to whose benefit?


Board of Inquiry

The Wel­ling­ton North­ern Cor­ridor is the sec­tion of the RoNS pro­ject span­ning the 110 kilo­metres from Wel­ling­ton Air­port to Lev­in. The highly con­ten­tious $90 mil­lion fly­over (which NZTA insists on call­ing the ‘Basin Bridge’, since fly­overs are now inter­na­tion­ally out­moded) rep­res­en­ted one out of the sev­en Wel­ling­ton North­ern Cor­ridor RoNSs. The plan called for a 10-metre-high, one-way bridge to take vehicles from the Mt Vic­tor­ia tun­nel to just above the south end of Cam­bridge Ter­race, passing in front of the Basin Reserve. Expec­ted com­ple­tion was 2017.

At the begin­ning of pub­lic con­sulta­tion in 2008, Scoop repor­ted that 79 per­cent of sub­mis­sions were opposed to the fly­over. May­or Celia Wade-Brown has con­sist­ently opposed it, yet NZTA’s determ­in­a­tion to real­ise gov­ern­ment plans has been reflec­ted in their rela­tion­ship with loc­al coun­cil. Last year, anoth­er Scoop report revealed that NZTA board mem­ber (and former Wel­ling­ton deputy may­or) Alick Shaw and chief exec­ut­ive Geoff Danger­field both presen­ted Wel­ling­ton Coun­cil with ulti­mat­ums, in a 2011 state­ment in the Domin­ion Post and a 2012 let­ter to coun­cil, respect­ively. These sent a clear mes­sage to coun­cil: no fly­over, no fund­ing for any region­al road­ing con­struc­tion. The major turn­ing point in the council’s pos­i­tion, how­ever, came in 2013 when coun­cil­lor Andy Foster changed his pre­vi­ously anti-fly­over vote. From then on, coun­cil was offi­cially in favour and oppos­i­tion was left to residents.

Per­haps in light of this, NZTA pro­ceeded to pre-empt­ively move the his­tor­ic Home of Com­pas­sion crèche build­ing out of the path of the still uncon­sen­ted fly­over earli­er this year. NZTA has con­sist­ently insisted that the build­ing was moved in aid of the Nation­al War Memori­al (NWM) Park pro­ject. How­ever, on review­ing the evid­ence, the board decision states that “the only infer­ence that can be drawn is that the crèche was moved to facil­it­ate the build­ing of the Basin Bridge… [and] the relo­ca­tion… was not required for the com­ple­tion of the NWM Park”.

NZTA was also already rar­ing to go before Save Kapiti’s appeal against the Kapiti Express­way (detailed below) was com­plete. “We had [equip­ment] on site in pre­par­a­tion for con­struc­tion, we were pre­par­ing the site,” media man­ager Anthony Frith says, cla­ri­fy­ing that “there was no actu­al con­struc­tion before that [Supreme Court] decision”.

The gov­ern­ment-appoin­ted board (retired Envir­on­ment Court and Dis­trict Court judge Gor­don Whit­ing, social policy research­er James Baines, trans­port­a­tion con­sult­ant Dav­id Collins and resource man­age­ment con­sult­ant Dav­id McMa­hon) con­sidered over 350 sub­mis­sions and state­ments from wit­nesses. Save the Basin cam­paign­er Tim Jones believes the board may be put under pres­sure by NZTA to change their final decision, due 30 August, but have so far have been genu­inely thor­ough in their investigations.

Still, the dice have been “loaded against oppon­ents,” Jones says. “It is a highly asym­met­ric pro­cess… [in which] the gov­ern­ment, for prac­tic­al pur­poses, is a bot­tom­less pit of fund­ing.” On the oth­er hand, Save the Basin received a $15,000 Envir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Author­ity grant that only part-fun­ded four months of leg­al fees and expert­ise. Like the Archi­tec­tur­al Centre and New­town Res­id­ents Asso­ci­ation, they could not afford to fund their hard­work­ing law­yers (Tom Ben­nion and Philip Mil­ne, respect­ively) for the entire four-month peri­od, so some­times res­id­ents have taken on those roles. This has taken a heavy toll on loc­als, many of whom have suffered exhaus­tion and huge pres­sure on their work and fam­ily lives.

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine


For Whom the Road Tolls

The urgency and lack of demo­crat­ic pro­cess with which NZTA has been approach­ing the RoNS pro­ject is more under­stand­able in light of the fact that the Road Trans­port For­um (RTF) donated almost $100,000 to the elec­tion cam­paign pre­ced­ing National’s first term in 2008. The friendly rela­tions between the Nation­al Party and the roads lobby seems to have made ensu­ing land trans­port policy a fore­gone con­clu­sion, with the fly­over a not­able exception.

Former Green Party co-con­ven­or Roland Sapsford explains how, between 2000 and 2002, Labour and the Greens cooper­ated to increase pub­lic trans­port fund­ing by 250 per­cent. The asso­ci­ated New Zea­l­and Trans­port Strategy was launched in 2002, and included a com­mit­ment to vehicle emis­sions test­ing, cent­ral fund­ing for walk­ing and cyc­ling, and a major over­haul of land trans­port legis­la­tion. The Land Trans­port Man­age­ment Act came into effect in 2003 and aimed to achieve an “integ­rated, safe, respons­ive and sus­tain­able” land trans­port system.

These move­ments appear to have made the likes of the Busi­ness Roundtable, Auck­land Cham­ber of Com­merce and the roads lobby a wee bit nervous. “Cri­ti­cism of the new policies began to appear in industry and trade magazines,” says Sapsford, “espe­cially the busi­ness press, and a sub­stan­tial lob­by­ing cam­paign began at a loc­al and region­al gov­ern­ment level. This was medi­ated through loc­al cham­bers of com­merce, as well as Auto­mobile Asso­ci­ation (AA) and RTF rep­res­ent­at­ives on region­al land trans­port com­mit­tees.” In 2002, a con­fer­ence titled The Case for Roads was held, from which an extract has been clipped on pages xx.

By 2004, the Allen Report had been com­mis­sioned by the AA with fund­ing from the Auck­land Cham­ber of Com­merce, Infra­struc­ture Auck­land, Busi­ness­NZ, Great­er Wel­ling­ton Region­al Coun­cil and the RTF. It advoc­ated for the expan­sion of road­ing invest­ment with the rationale that this leads to eco­nom­ic growth. A 2006 report by the freshly estab­lished New Zea­l­and Coun­cil for Infra­struc­ture Devel­op­ment, partnered by Deutsche Bank, Fulton Hogan, Busi­ness­NZ, New Zea­l­and Con­tract­ors’ Fed­er­a­tion and Mul­ti­plex Engin­eer­ing, focused on trans­port infra­struc­ture to 2025. This report advoc­ated stable, long-term fund­ing for heavy invest­ment in state high­ways. Togeth­er with RTF reports in 2006 and 2007, it laid the found­a­tion for the idea that future growth in freight move­ment by trucks means we need massive road­ing invest­ment now.

Fol­low­ing the RTF’s $100,000 cam­paign dona­tion, the suc­cess­fully elec­ted Nation­al Party sprung into gear. It cre­ated NZTA by mer­ging Trans­it New Zea­l­and — which used to research and pro­pose road­ing pro­jects — with Trans­fund, which assessed, ranked and fun­ded them accord­ing to bene­fit-cost ratios and urgency. Nation­al also intro­duced the require­ment that road­ing pro­jects “give effect to” the Gov­ern­ment Policy State­ment on roads. This policy state­ment reflects the pro-road­ing agenda that had been gain­ing sig­ni­fic­ant trac­tion over the pre­vi­ous decade.


The Fly­over

Save the Basin Reserve: Tim Jones, 2 July 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comAccord­ing to NZTA’s Anthony Frith, the exist­ing road into the city from the Mt Vic­tor­ia tun­nel “does not serve the pur­poses of Wel­ling­to­ni­ans — it’s clogged up every day”. Frith claims a sev­en-minute sav­ing on travel times with the fly­over, though this fig­ure also relies on the com­ple­tion of the Mt Vic­tor­ia tun­nel duplic­a­tion pro­ject, for which no budget or sched­ule has been released. So the estim­ated saved time is in fact only 90 seconds (for a $90 mil­lion pro­ject, that’s $1 mil­lion per second saved!).

As stated, cur­rent traffic expert­ise inter­na­tion­ally says that the con­ges­tion to which Frith refers can­not simply be built out of: it must be man­aged through pub­lic trans­port and urb­an design.* NZTA itself estim­ates that Trans­mis­sion Gully will see 25 per­cent of com­muters who would have taken the train on the road by 2026. Express­way plans also indic­ate that NZTA’s con­ges­tion man­age­ment hasn’t been very thor­ough: these include a new major inter­change on Kapiti Road, which already gets highly con­ges­ted and has a traffic count very sim­il­ar — if not great­er — than State High­way 1.

The fly­over plans included a 3‑metre-wide ped­es­tri­an-cycle­way. Save the Basin’s Tim Jones’s response to the prom­ised ped­es­tri­an-cycle­way is telling: “Sarah Pal­in might not have done a lot for the world, but she did pop­ular­ise the phrase, ‘you can’t put lip­stick on a pig’.” He says that with wind speed increas­ing at elev­a­tion, the shared, nar­row lane will make for unsafe jour­neys, par­tic­u­larly for children.

The cost of NZTA’s pro­jec­ted time sav­ing also includes severe dam­age to res­id­en­tial areas and her­it­age sites. In a 2012 report, NZTA itself lists far more objec­tions than bene­fits to the fly­over, includ­ing neg­at­ive impacts on eco­logy, her­it­age, sound and air qual­ity, and urb­an design. Motor­way pol­lu­tion in res­id­en­tial areas is known to affect lung capa­city and exacer­bate lung, sleep, heart and hear­ing prob­lems, as well as prop­erty val­ues. One neigh­bour­ing Grand­stand Apart­ment has reduced in value by $100,000. Dur­ing the con­struc­tion peri­od, NZTA has fur­ther warned that res­id­ents may have to be relo­cated for as many as 200 nights so that noisy work can be undertaken.

Former Black Cap and New Zea­l­and Crick­et chief exec­ut­ive Mar­tin Sned­den wrote in Scoop that the fly­over may spell the death of test match crick­et and threaten the inter­na­tion­al status of the 148-year-old Basin Reserve, des­pite NZTA’s plans to con­struct a 12-metre-high ‘North­ern Gate­way Build­ing’ to block the view of the road. These objec­tions can be found among the (over) 150 oth­ers spe­cif­ic to the fly­over that have been heard by the board and lis­ted on the Envir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Author­ity website.

The most alarm­ing objec­tion was per­haps that revealed in the Domin­ion Post last Novem­ber. The board of inquiry reques­ted a peer review from Abley Trans­port­a­tion Con­sult­ants of NZTA’s evid­ence for fly­over plans. Abley found 49 issues, the most wor­ry­ing being NZTA’s dis­missive response to oth­er road­ing options before seek­ing the public’s view on two fly­over designs in 2011, with Abley itself find­ing two altern­at­ives with equal mer­it. The Archi­tec­ture Centre and oppos­i­tion parties’ pre­ferred solu­tion (“Option X”) con­sists of a tun­nel between Sus­sex Street and Tarana­ki Street that is safer and allows for bet­ter qual­ity urb­an design than NZTA’s bridge. The tun­nel also allows for the same des­ig­nated bus lanes that NZTA claim as an advant­age to their own plans.

[quote by=“Clint East­wood and The Case for Roads”]

And it does seem to me that one of the great mis-labellings of recent his­tory is that the train was called the iron horse, but of course that’s wrong. The car was the iron horse. You see, when Clint East­wood decides he has to clean up the town, he doesn’t go off to the car­riage stock and get into the car­riage and then go in and find anoth­er horse to go to where the bar is and shoot up the bad­die. He goes out to his stable, climbs on to his horse, rides down, does his busi­ness, gets back on his horse, rides back home and has a scotch. The horse was private, point-to-point trans­port and that is how trans­port has been for most of his­tory. And that is why the word for equal­ity and equity has the same root as horse — equus. The horse was the great equal­iser. So you can see that Clint in his west­ern movies has power­ful sym­bol­ic con­tent. There are two equal­isers at work.”[/quote]

The Express­way


Also heav­ily con­tested has been the $650 mil­lion, 16-kilo­metre Kapiti Express­way route from Rau­mati to Peka Peka, which boasts four lanes, three bridges, a four- to five-year con­struc­tion peri­od and the per­man­ent defa­cing of nation­ally sig­ni­fic­ant wet­lands. The express­way was first designed in the 1950s: this was a dec­ade in which motor­ways were con­sidered good for eco­nom­ies (and in which the term ‘roads lobby’ was first coined).

The stated aims of the Kapiti Express­way were to alle­vi­ate traffic con­ges­tion and provide an emer­gency altern­at­ive route to State High­way 1. How­ever, by the 1990s the express­way had still not been con­struc­ted and the designs were later deemed unne­ces­sary, out­dated, socially divis­ive and “poor urb­an plan­ning” by NZTA itself. So in the 1990s an altern­at­ive was designed by world-class urb­an plan­ner James Lunday, called the West­ern Link Road (WLR).

Lunday based his work on the prin­ciple that roads are to be designed around com­munit­ies, not vice versa. So the WLR included few­er lanes, lower speed lim­its, cycle­ways, bri­dle­ways, walk­ways, and space for loc­al busi­ness and activ­it­ies. It was not a straight bypass designed for freight. Fol­low­ing sev­er­al rounds of leg­al action, Lunday’s WLR was con­sen­ted and entered Kapiti Council’s Dis­trict Plan, which is of course leg­ally bind­ing. Much of the land was bought.

Then in 2009, then Min­is­ter of Trans­port, Steven Joyce over­rode the council’s plans with a rein­state­ment of the old express­way designs, now part of the integ­rated RoNS pro­ject. Unsur­pris­ingly, when ‘con­sulta­tion’ begun that year regard­ing Kapiti’s pre­ferred road­ing option for a State High­way 1 altern­at­ive, the pro­cess was biased. Save Kapiti’s Mark Har­ris recounts how the express­way option was sud­denly and ambigu­ously rein­tro­duced, heav­ily mar­keted, and cos­ted without loc­al road­ing ele­ments factored in. The anti-express­way vote was then split between two options that both appeared rel­at­ively expens­ive due to their inclu­sion of costs for loc­al road ele­ments. The express­way was then set to get underway.

In Kapiti, pre­vi­ous may­or Jenny Row­an once pas­sion­ately opposed the express­way, fam­ously dub­bing it the “high­way from hell”. By 2013, she was stat­ing that “it’s now time to let NZTA get on with the job, and for us to focus on get­ting the very best we can out of the pro­ject”. This meant nego­ti­at­ing over 300 con­di­tions — from envir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion to noise mit­ig­a­tion and cycleways.

Save Kapiti con­tin­ued to appeal, how­ever, on the grounds of NZTA not hav­ing suf­fi­ciently assessed James Lunday’s more socially and envir­on­ment­ally respons­ible WLR, and hav­ing illeg­ally over­rid­den dis­trict plans to build it. Last August, how­ever, the Supreme Court decided in favour of NZTA. “In one of the most tor­tu­ous pieces of logic I have ever read,” says Har­ris, “…they said that as the exist­ing pro­pos­al had yet to be built, and it and the new pro­pos­al couldn’t co-exist, the exist­ing pro­pos­al was irrel­ev­ant and needn’t be considered.”

NZTA’s Frith says that the express­way route is safer “because it’s four lanes. It’s a more resi­li­ent route.” He adds, “It bet­ter provides for the traffic capa­city. The WLR would have served a dif­fer­ent pur­pose, it would have worked as a loc­al arter­i­al but what we’re look­ing at is some­thing dif­fer­ent. [The WLR] does not ful­fil the needs of the project.”

For the sake of the express­way, many res­id­ents have been ous­ted from their homes per­man­ently, with oth­ers see­ing their com­munity and liv­ing area sig­ni­fic­antly trans­formed and deval­ued. NZTA also ini­tially planned to bull­doze through ances­tral land in Waik­an­ae that has belonged to des­cend­ants of Wi Para­ta since before 1840. Thanks to protests made by cur­rent own­er Patri­cia Grace, that land is now being set aside as a Māori reservation.

The express­way prom­ises 500 FTE jobs over the four- to five-year con­struc­tion peri­od and the kind of ‘big box’ devel­op­ment motor­ways bring (like the chain of fast-food out­lets Par­a­pa­raumu already sports along State High­way 1). Accord­ing to Save Kapiti, the 4,000 jobs the WLR offered included ongo­ing and loc­al jobs. Even by the NZTA’s own cal­cu­la­tions, the express­way achieves a bene­fit-cost ratio of only 0.23, where a rat­ing of 1 would have been too low to war­rant the con­struc­tion of a pro­ject before National’s first term.


It is clear that NZTA is hell-bent on build­ing the RoNS, and that there is more than pub­lic interest at stake. It seems they are still pre­par­ing for a future of road usage as though it were the 1950s — as though trains can’t move freight, traffic con­ges­tion can be built out of, and dies­el fumes rain money and prosper­ity on tax­pay­ers and com­munit­ies. In a rare moment of cyn­icism, Tim Jones also sug­gests that here in New Zea­l­and, “policy is cheap”. Yet July saw a hard won vic­tory for Jones, fel­low fly­over oppos­i­tion groups — and, in fact, any Wel­ling­to­ni­an in favour of sound and demo­crat­ic urb­an design and trans­port planning.


*Inform­a­tion provided by a traffic expert who wished to remain anonymous.

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine



1950s                Ini­tial designs for the Kapiti Express­way are made.

1990s                 West­ern Link Road designed by James Lunday.

2000-02         Labour and the Greens cooper­ate to increase pub­lic trans­port fund­ing by 250 percent.

2002                  New Zea­l­and Trans­port Strategy launched.

2003                  Land Trans­port Man­age­ment Act comes into effect.

2002                  Case for Roads conference.

2004                  AA com­mis­sions the Allen Report, which advoc­ates for expan­sion of road­ing investment.

2006-07          New Zea­l­and Coun­cil for Infra­struc­ture Devel­op­ment releases reports advoc­at­ing for stable, long-term fund­ing for heavy invest­ment in state highways.

2008                  Road Trans­port For­um donates almost $100,000 to Nation­al elec­tion campaign.

Nation­al merges Trans­it New Zea­l­and and Trans­fund into one entity, the New Zea­l­and Trans­port Agency (NZTA), and intro­duces the require­ment that road­ing pro­jects also “give effect to” the Gov­ern­ment Policy State­ment on roads.

Roads of Nation­al Sig­ni­fic­ance (RoNS) plan kicks into action under then trans­port min­is­ter Steven Joyce.

Fly­over con­sulta­tion begins, with 79 per­cent sub­mis­sions oppos­ing the plan.

2009                 Nation­al over­rides Kapiti Council’s Dis­trict Plan to build the West­ern Link Road by rein­tro­du­cing the Kapiti Express­way, which fits into the RoNS plan.

2011                   Pub­lic con­sulta­tion on fly­over takes place.

2013                  Save Kapiti take their appeal through the High Court and into the Supreme Court, but NZTA prevails.

Coun­cil­lor Andy Foster changes his vote on the fly­over, mean­ing the coun­cil is in favour and oppos­i­tion is left to residents.

2014                  Patri­cia Grace’s appeal to have the Kapiti Express­way rerouted to avoid Māori land is successful.

22 July             The board announces draft decision to decline resource con­sent for the flyover.

15 August        Dead­line for com­ment on draft decision.

30 August       Final decision and report due. Assum­ing the final decision is unchanged, this will likely be fol­lowed by an appeal in the High Court from NZTA.[/info]

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine

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