In stunning news yesterday the Board of Inquiry hearing the case for the Basin Bridge bowled out the NZTA by declined consent for the project.  This is what it would have looked like had it been approved:

All up the bridge would have been 265m long and carved a slice out of Wellington’s urban fabric at a time when other cities around the world are starting to pull these kinds of structures down – and finding it doesn’t cause traffic chaos.

The independent Board of Inquiry delegated to hear and decide the Basin Bridge Proposal of National Significance has released its draft report and decision.

The Board by majority decision (3 to 1), has cancelled the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Notice of Requirement and declined its resource consent applications for the construction, operation and maintenance of State Highway 1 in Wellington City between Paterson Street and Buckle Street/Taranaki Street.

The draft report and decision is available on the EPA website here:

A total of 215 submissions were received, and evidence was heard from 69 witnesses and representations by a further 74 submitters.

The applicant and other parties now have 20 days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report.

The Board will provide its final decision to the EPA by 30 August 2014.

Basin Bridge Image 1

This is quite a setback for both the NZTA and the government as the project is a key part of the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) programme and the Board of Inquiry (BoI) process was specifically set up to try and streamline the consent process for large projects. One of the key changes the government made in creating the BoI process was that appeals against can be made to the High Court on points of law only, and any decision cannot be overturned by the Minister. The outcome of this is that it’s meant agencies have had to do much more work upfront as there’s no second chance if they get it wrong. This led to the process taking longer to ensure all I’s were dotted and all T’s crossed and that extra length of time along with the risk of getting it wrong is one of the reasons Auckland Transport went with the traditional consenting method for the CRL.

But the NZTA clearly got this one wrong and have paid the price by not getting consent. This has effectively sent them back to square one and a flyover option is now off the table.

Basin Bridge Image 2

The report on the BoI’s findings runs to almost 600 pages so naturally I haven’t had time to go through it all yet however I here are some points I picked up on about their decision which starts from page 444 (page 453 of the PDF).

  • That while the project would improve the cities transport system that it would do so at the expense of heritage, landscape, visual amenity, open space and overall amenity.
  • They are uncertain how the plan would have actually accommodated for Bus Rapid Transit as proposed in the Spine Study.
  • That the quantum of transport benefits were substantially less than what the NZTA originally said in lodging the NoR as they included transport benefits from other projects.
  • That while North/South buses would be sped up, that the modelling doesn’t show any impact effect of this on modal change.
  • That while there are some improvements for cyclists it’s mostly in the form of shared paths which will introduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists.
  • That the dominance of the bridge would cause severe adverse affects on the local area and the mitigation measures proposed would do little to reduce that. They also found the new building proposed for the Basin Reserve would exacerbate this.

Perhaps some of the most damming criticism is in relation to the consideration of alternatives. The board say that despite there having been 73 different options considered since 2001 that the methodology wasn’t transparent and replicable. They say that weightings were applied to some criteria at different stages of the process but that it wasn’t clear how criteria were weighted and the reason for any weighting. They say that in their view it was incumbent on the NZTA to ensure it adequately considered alternative options, particularly those with potentially reduced adverse effects. This simply was not done. Of course you may remember that the issue around alternatives was one of the critical issues highlighted in the independent review the BoI arranged.

I think the issue of the inadequacy of the assessment of alternatives is particularly important as that has been a key criticism of the Puhoi to Warkworth route, a decision on which is due back shortly.

Basin Bridge Image 4

Interestingly not all of the commissioners on the panel believed that the consent should be declined. Commissioner David McMahon voted to the project saying that in his mind the benefits outweighed the impacts of the project will have. His reasoning for doing so are also in the report.

The big question now is what next. The NZTA has to go back to the drawing board to find or progress some alternative options but how will the government react. As of the time of writing this post I still hadn’t seen any response from the government despite this putting a huge dent in the RoNS programme.

Overall this is a fantastic result for Wellington and congratulations to all those like Save the Basin who put huge amounts effort in to fighting this project.

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  1. There is going to be mixed reactions to this decision down here in Wellington. Those that hadn’t followed the BoI process, and think that the flyover would solve all their traffic problems, will complain loudly. The immediate response from the Wellington City Council was telling, with Mayor Celia Wade Brown tweeting about no “ugly flyover blot”, while another Councilor, Andy Foster, was heard observing in a rather stunned fashion that they didn’t have another solution up there sleeve – “there is no plan B.”

    There is a viewpoint held by many however, that the option A bridge across the north of the Basin was not just the wrong answer, but was not even the right question. While NZTA kept dogmatically saying that grade separation was the only way to resolve the twice daily traffic snarls, they never actually said why a $100million concrete bridge 265m long was necessary to cross one relatively small arterial road only 13m wide. The NZTA bridge as designed runs parallel and above the existing State Highway, twisting awkwardly to avoid clashing with neighbouring buildings, and necessitating the moving of a grade 1 listed building “Crèche of Compassion”. A simpler option could surely have been found to provide grade separation, and at far lesser cost.

    NZTA were repeatedly warned that an aerial bridge 9m up in the air was not going to be acceptable, but they continued to advance only the one option, and then throw millions of dollars in terms of expert witnesses at the problem, instead of actually sitting down and looking for real alternatives. The tragedy of it all is that there are real alternatives on the table, such as Richard Reid’s scheme or the Architectural Centre’s scheme, which were not engaged with. Consultation with the public was strongly against the flyover proposal, but again, was ignored. Hopefully NZTA will now seriously engage in discussion.

    1. The problem remains that the travel experience from Wellington airport to the city is an embarrassment when compared to any other capital city. Any effective transport network solution is likely to involve the separation of carriageway. In a confined space, if elevation is rejected, the time for serious (radical) creativity has indeed arrived.

      1. Meh, another short-distance perspective here, Don. If you want good airport access, a high-quality, high-speed PT link is the thing, not trying to grade-separate an effective motorway through all the way to downtown…

      2. I’ve been to Wellington 3 times lately, using the airport bus to get into town. It has always been an excellent service, as far as I am concerned.

  2. I think this campaign was the best coordinated, most sustained quality, and most passionate local input I have seen in a campaign. The victory is well deserved and hopefully will go down in NZ history, as a major turning point.

    best regards

    Cr Paul Bruce

      1. Stopped, or merely delayed? Until Gerry’s hands are off the controls of the tarmac laying machine, it’s only decisions such as this which are actually close to final (Gerry could always change the law).

        1. Yesterday’s victory should be celebrated by the Green Party and the media time used well, up there in “campaign-land”.

          Earlier this week, in response to Green Party MP Metiria Turei’s announcement of 20 hours of free early childhood education, the comment was nice idea, but “show me the money”. Well, the axing of the Basin Reserve Flyover and other economically dubious RoNS projects would handsomely fund this sort of education initiative and others in the education sector. These will have a far superior economic rate of return than the RoNS “duds”.

      2. I went to the consultation meeting last night about the East-West link run by NZTA and AT. I can happily report that the business community and assorted others still REALLY REALLY want their motorway. In addition, now that the prospect of a motorway direct to airport has been dangled in front of them the residents of the far-flung eastern suburbs have also now decided it is the most pressing priority for the region’s transport network.

        It continues to amaze me that the business sector can’t understand that the way to ease congestion on the roads is to get people out of cars and onto other forms of transport. And as for who they expect to pay for it? Someone Else.

  3. Now that the NZTA have been told they cannot proceed they will find an alternative (and probably a good one). I just wish they were a bit more opened minded from the start as they always reach for the “no alternative” excuse. For example,
    – they said they _had_ to use cut and cover for the waterview tunnel.
    – they said they _had_ to go through Waikanae ancestral land.
    and I dare say they said they had to cut down those trees at St Lukes/Western Springs interchange. If they’d been told no, they’d have found an alternative.

    1. Yes, and for Puhoi Warkworth they are saying it *has* to be a four lane motorway and it *has* to be tolled, with no reason given. Really looking forward to the BOI decision now.

      1. Certainly can’t help but hope that the P2W BoI will pay heed to this decision’s criticism of NZTA’s TINA approach. If they do, P2W may yet die its richly-deserved, ignominious, unlamented death.

      2. It will be interesting to see. I do wonder if they will gain some courage from it or if it will see some kind of behind the scenes threats from the govt to approve it.

      3. I don’t think you’re giving credit to the alternatives that were explored for P2W here Cameron. While they might of reached a different conclusion than you were of preferred you have to admit that due process was followed here. There is no way the scheme will be denied consent.

        The criticism around the lack of optioneering for the Basin Reserve was an interesting one. Ironically, one of the main criticism of the CRL was a lack of exploration of alternatives.

        1. The only options considered were ones that were a 4 lane motorway. That is not exploring all options. Due process is far from being having been followed.

          Funny then that the CRL has consent and none of the appeals are about the route.

        2. In particular the CRL process made huge exploration of the bus tunnel and surface bus options.

        3. As Cameron has said above, the alternatives that didn’t offer 4 lanes of motorway standard road were not explored for the reason that they didn’t offer 4 lanes of motorway standard road. Whether this is valid reason not to explore them I guess we will find out in a few weeks.

          “one of the main criticism of the CRL was a lack of exploration of alternatives.”

          Seriously? I’m guessing from this comment you have not taken the time to read even a summary of the CCFAS? Who is making this ‘main criticism’?

  4. Watching the TV3 story on this yesterday did leave me questioning any need for anything at all there. At a live cross at around 6.10pm there was free flowing traffic. Maybe peak travel is over earlier in the capital?

    1. It has about a 45 minute peak period in the evening rush hour according to a co-worker who uses it every day for his commute.

      I cycled round it at around 4.45 and it was busy but flowing. The biggest issue was the north bound bus on Kent Terrace trying to access the right hand land to get to Newtown from the bus lane on the far left hand side.

  5. Now the challenge is on Wellington to show how beautiful that area can be, with the Basin Reserve and the National War Memorial, etc. I find downtown Wellington to, in general, look very run down and incoherent but especially that part.

    1. I’ve always thought downtown Wellington was quite well-maintained, although I agree the area around the Basin Reserve (and the ground itself) could definitely use a makeover.

      Great win for the city though…

  6. There does not seem to be a creative culture at NZTA Wellington, or it seems, HNO at head office. Where are the clever problem solving skills that the great engineers through history have always shown? Smashing a nut with sledgehammer scale solutions should be laughed away by team leaders before they even see the light of day. Come on NZTA you are letting the noble engineering profession down with these undergraduate and clumsy proposals.

    That you then circle the wagons and claim that ‘there is no alternative’ is even more damning as over-defensiveness on top of poor performance is a sure sign of professional incompetence.

    Prove me wrong: come back with a better, cheaper, and way less destructive and invasive solution.

    Or let’s start a campaign to get some heads rolling…..

    1. NZTA in Wellington seem to outsource a lot (most? all?) of their work to consultants – in the case of the Basin Bridge project, it was Opus. In particular, Wayne Stewart, who ‘master-minded’ the assessing of Alternatives on the project, ie the presentation of only certain options ie in the case of the Basin Bridge, only one: a flyover. Since then, he’s gone on to head up the choosing of Options for the Petone to Grenada link road as well – and again, has reduced the options down to almost nothing. I’d say Mr Stewart’s modus operandi needs reviewing for a start.

    1. Patrick there needs to be provision for bus priority and proper cycling, and ideally separation of east-west and north-south traffic (currently they have to merge/cross over into each other). Option ‘D’ provided by the NZTA would have far less impact than the flyover:

      It doesn’t provided grade-separated priority to state highway traffic (shock-horror!) but the two streams only need to cross over at two traffic light controlled intersections (currently the SH traffic has two traffic light controlled intersections plus a pedestrian intersection plus having to merge in and out of the north-south traffic).

      Provision for pedestrians and cyclists in this solution does seem to be limited/non-existent but the design could be developed further to accommodate this.

      Let’s hope the affected parties now move ahead with a good design rather than increase their falling out.

  7. Will the Reeves Road flyover project be put in front of the BoI? That is another Basin Bridge-style blot on the landscape that should not go ahead.

  8. I followed the Board hearings closely, and made a submission against the dumb proposal. Am not surprised at the decision. NZTA’s case was weak and unconvincing, despite their access to unlimited resources. How could they get it so wrong?
    Board members asked the right questions and made the right call.
    Opponents were organised and convincing. In particular, they had access to experts who could unpick NZTA’s ‘black box’ transport models, and show the transport benefits were massively overstated. They also covered off heritage, landscape, amenity, walking and cycling issues. This will make a revealing case study for planning and transport engineering students.
    Now let’s get out a fresh sheet of paper and come up with a 21st century plan.

  9. “In stunning news yesterday…” It is stunning that a Board tested the evidence and made a good decision. Usually these “independent” Boards and commissioners are made up of people who know that getting the next gig depends on approving everything the government or the Council asks for. And normally NZTA writes their own consent through the Notice of Requirement process like some sort of legal bastard child of the divine right of kings.

    1. Yes, shows quite some bias of the reporter in that opening sentence…. Almost like they’re writing a sensationalist editorial, rather than doing their actual job of just reporting the news…

    2. I think the EPA has been a real step forward, on the evidence coming out of NZTA applications. The carrot of the EPA process was fast-tracking; what was demanded in return was that proposals were well considered, robust and well prepared. Waterview and now basin reserve both showed NZTA proposals to be poorly equipped on several fronts.

      Sadly I think this will be the last NZTA application through the EPA fast-track route. NZTA will return to the ‘traditional’ consent route as it has allowed them to cajole authorities, get away with poorly considered urban integration, and to generally horse-trade their way to a solution that many are unhappy with.

  10. Already the doom-sayers are coming out saying that stopping this proposal will deter anyone from investing in Wellington every again.

    1. The investment talked about seems to be the tunnel duplication and the rather far fetched plan to extend the runway at the airport. Not actual investment designed to provide income and jobs.

  11. Is this really the end of the hideous proposal or just a spanner in the works, what options does nzta/brownlee actually have?

    1. They will be in their offices today licking their wounds. I expect that they will move on to other things and try and forget it ever happened.

  12. Now that this sideshow is out of the way, perhaps there can be a re-look at a rail-based alternative for the Levin-Airport corridor.
    A fitting moment indeed to usher in the era of “Railways of National Significance”.

    1. Dave B the alternative should be the Palmerston North Airport to Wellington Airport corridor.

      The Achilles heel of Wellington Airport is the weather. The airport at Rongotai can never be set up for Cat III landings in fog as the locations required for radio beacons are deep water and there is no answer to high winds. Usually a plane can land at Palmerston North when Wellington is closed.

      Connecting the two airports with a scheduled electric commuter level train service would make travelling throughout New Zealand far more reliable than the present set-up where passengers can literally wait days to fly out of Wellington. That is less common but far more frustrating and probably more economically significant than short peak-hour delays around the Basin Reserve.

      Rail from the present railway station via cut n cover to Courtenay Place, a tunnel thrust under Mt Victoria, elevated line along Cobham Drive and a tunnel thrust under the stump of Rongotai Hill to a terminal at the Miramar School/Airport vicinity with stations at Courtenay Place, Haitaitai, and the ASB Sports Centre IS definitely an alternative traffic route investment that would reduce traffic around the Basin Reserve AND what’s more, would get Gerry Brownlee to his Christchurch flight from Parliament Building faster than a Government BMW.

      A short extension of the railway line to a station at Palmerston North would be the fastest way to get Gerry to Christchurch on those days when Wellington airport is invisible in fog or shaking with a polar blast.

      I would definitely call such a railway extension a railway of National Importance!! Cheap at twice the price!!

  13. I like the point on potential cyclist/pedestrian conflict. There’s some tiny changes they could make right now which would avoid some of the current conflict.

    At the moment the basin is used as a pedestrian/cycling path, one of the few places in town where you can feel safe. Only once inside, though. It’s getting there that’s hard. For some reason, they only open one narrow (ticket) gate to enter. Because of the walls around you it’s impossible to tell if anyone’s coming from the other direction. At the moment I go very slow on entry and shout “COMING THROUGH” and hope that there’s no cyclists or pedestrians entering the tiny entrance from the other direction.

    Once inside the Basin it can be perilous: it’s often unlit so you have to listen very hard to avoid colliding with pedestrians – cyclists have lights so it’s a bit easier.

  14. In the current Government’s eyes the route for Crown limos between WLG airport and Parliament will forever remain a RONS, so the fight isn’t over.

    Savings for canning the flyover could be used for the proposed bus priority/ BRT to create the congestion free option between the airport and CBD that’s needed.

    Is it any wonder we continue to have some of the world’s most expensive airport taxis?

    1. Yes, and they’ve allowed the airport to gerry the buses so that there is no quick and reliable bus service. The airport bus is a high priced all-stops suburban bus rather than a limited-stops commuter.

      1. Also stops running at a ridiculous hour which means if you are on the last flight of the day or experience a delay you have to taxi.

      2. I think you are confusing the Seatoun bus, which is offered as an option, with the dedicated Airport Flyer. This offers a limited stop direct service to the CBD.

        1. No, I’ve had to catch that bus many times. It stops and takes passengers all along the way. It’s not like an airport bus I’ve taken anywhere else in the world, and I think this is deliberately so.

        2. > according to the map of the route there are only 2 stops between the CBD and the Airport

          That map only shows the major stops. The bus does stop (on request) at any regular bus stop along the route, every couple of hundred metres.

        3. Of course you do know the Wellington “Airporter” is unsubsidised and provided as a commercial service by Go Wellington (hence the higher prices) . . . I also understand it is profitable.

        4. > the airport, the 91 bus stops just twice en route, at Hataitai and Kilbirnie; from the airport, “Airport Flyer drivers may, at their discretion, drop passengers from Wellington Airport at stops other than those specified on the timetable”

          I haven’t caught that bus in nearly a year now, and that was to the airport, not from it. But it stopped at many other stops, other than those on the map, to pick people up going to the airport.

          I don’t think that’s much of a problem, in the same way it’s not a problem that Auckland’s Airbus Express stops along Dominion and Mount Eden Roads. The slowness with the Airport Flyer, like most Wellington buses, is the insufferably slow crawl along the Golden Mile. My humble suggestion is:

          * Fully pedestrianise the Golden Mile (Lambton Quay, Willis, and Manners as far as Victoria Street).
          * Also pedestrianise the “shared space” northmost block of Cuba Street, Mercer Street, and Wakefield Street west of Cuba.
          * Buses would run both ways along Featherston / Hunter / Victoria / Manners / Courtenay. This would be a completely bus-only route with signal priority, except for short segments for local access (e.g. Bond Street). These streets have room for buses to pass each other at stops, particularly Victoria and Courtenay which would be fine with the cars out of the way.
          * Main flows of cars would be restricted to along the Quays and SH1.
          * The Basin: put a north-south bus tunnel under it.

        5. Steve D: sounds like you (and perhaps George D) last used the 91 Airport Flyer when it went through the back streets of Rongotai. That bit is now covered by the 14, and the 91 goes direct, non-stop (with the exception noted above) between the airport and Kilbirnie.

        6. > That bit is now covered by the 14, and the 91 goes direct, non-stop (with the exception noted above) between the airport and Kilbirnie

          Ah, that’s good news.

        7. The Airport Flyer may miss out a few bus stops but it sure seems to stop at every traffic light in the CBD. Problem is, someone has misguidedly decreed that all buses must go down the “Golden Mile” (a.k.a. Slowdown Mile). Nothing can run “express” via this route.

          And when idling (presumably with “Drive” selected), these vehicles produce the most horribly uncomfortable vibration. If any Flyer drivers are reading this, PLEASE select neutral whenever you stop for more than a few seconds.

  15. The Wellingtons will simply be written off after this flummoxing over several years, and the Government will be in no hurry to assist with Wellington Traffic issues around the Basin Reserve again in a hurry.The Green Party and supporters will be set now as they all hop on their Bicycles every day and show how to solve Wellingtons Traffic issues by example. Well done the NZ Greens you’ve done it again!

    1. @Tusitala – absolute rubbish. “The Wellingtons will simply be written off after this flummoxing” ? Do you live in Wellington? Do you even know what you’re talking about? Or are you just trolling?

    2. Lol, yeah – those nasty Greens in the government-appointed Board of Inquiry panel!!!

      Gosh, close your eyes to reality of you want, but don’t try to make us believe your delusions.

  16. We all know that Wellington is dying and it is no wonder when plans to increase the accessibility of the public are shelved for dubious reasons.

    The flyover was a common sense solution to an age old problem. The rejection of this proposal is a missed opportunity for Wellington and the city will remain as a backwater whilst Auckland continues to surge ahead with a mix of roading developments and public transport additions.

    It is sad to see the anti-progress Greens denying the people of Wellington the opportunity to move their city forward.

    1. “The Real Matthew”: Provide reasons and rationale as to why this was a “common sense solution to an age old problem”.

      As, on the face of it, it’s clearly not common sense (thus was rejected) and also isn’t an age old problem!

      I’m guessing you have none.

    2. A Flyover was a cheap, nasty, temporary at best and barely-Ok-60-years-ago-but-definitely-not-now solution to a problem.

      Simple fact is NZTA got their ass caned for simply not doing their homework like they were supposed to (the whole point of the BOI is that due to lack of appeals process all work is to be done up front).

      Big deal, everyone can get over it and come out of it with a better solution all round. Personally if they need a proper job done then build a second tunnel and extend the existing undergrounding.

      Yes it will cost more than the flyover, but it will look, and work, a shit lot better and won’t ruin the crap out of Wellington as a liveable city or destination.

      And truth is Wellington has had way more than a fair lick of the gravy spoon for many, many decades with regards Government spending – so its not unreasonable for other regions to get a look in once in a while is it?

      Example: Wellington has had 3 lots of electric trains over the last 70 years – everywhere else? Not so much as even one lot, and for most, none at all.

      1. @ Greg N: “Wellington has had 3 lots of electric trains over the last 70 years – ”
        Most places are reliant on buses which need replacing every 10 years. I’m not sure this is the cheaper option.

    3. The Real Matthew should note that Wellington has only been dying since the Nats began asset stripping the staff of government departments to the point where the lack of government officials becomes dangerous to the stability of the country, and therefore encouraging the exodus of company head offices from Wellington and therefore increasing the pressures on accommodation, both residential and office, in Auckland.

      We should all be happy for this decision, remember congested cities are productive cities.

  17. Honestly, I scorn at any Wellingtonian who thinks the traffic there is bad. The traffic there on an accident free day, even at peak hour, has nothing on Chch and Auckland.

    1. +1

      Even comparing routes within Wellington, the Basin and Mount Vic tunnel aren’t particularly congested.

  18. I tend to agree, and a few more buslanes, pedestrian priority & cycleways would go a long way to alleviating what ‘congestion’ there is.

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