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: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx
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.
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.
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.
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.