The final decision from the Board of Inquiry confirming the Puhoi to Warkworth toll road was published on 12th September but, what with one thing and another, I’m only now getting round to writing about it. The final report is largely unchanged from the draft version.
Here’s a reminder of the route, which runs from Puhoi to a point 2km north of Warkworth:
The toll road will be just 700m shorter than the existing SH1 and reduce travel time to the north of Warkworth by just three minutes compared to the current journey time. Most Warkworth residents will find the new toll road won’t be quicker (and in some cases slower) than the existing SH1.
Probably the most perplexing thing about the BOI Report is the complete absence of any consideration of the economic impacts on the community.
Section 8.5 of the report is headed “Economics” and starts off promisingly, but it is only three paragraphs and really just sets the scene for the Board’s consideration of economic impacts:
 It is necessary to consider the economic impacts of the Project in the context of the Act. These impacts are particularly relevant to the Part 2 assessment that the Board conducts later in this Report.
 The purpose of the Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in a manner which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing (s 5). Under s 7 of the Act it is necessary to have particular regard to certain matters
including the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources.
 A number of representations and submissions questioned the adequacy of NZTA’s consideration of alternatives. Also questioned were the wisdom of the use of public monies on the motorway Project and whether or not there had been an adequate cost-benefit analysis. These issues are dealt with in another section of this Report.
Regular readers will recall that the toll road hasn’t been subject to any economic analysis (even the standard Economic Evaluation Manual), however the Board discusses this in section 10.5, para 374:
 One of the difficulties with which these submissions posed the Board is that no expert evidence was called to challenge the economic and cost benefit assumptions on which NZTA’s applications were based. Nonetheless, the submissions generally, and the statutory status of “alternatives” in particular, require the Board to deal briefly with these issues.
In comments to the Board, CBT responded by pointing out that “no economic evidence in chief was supplied by the applicant in support of the project, so there was no evidence to challenge.” CBT sought an amendment to the report, asking for some commentary from the Board as to why it considers an economic analysis of the Project’s impact on the community is not necessary, but none was forthcoming in the final version of the report.
Further on, the Board states in paragraph 379:
…Section 7 “alternatives” in the AEE sets out in detail the process whereby NZTA considered the various options and alternatives open to it.The Board is satisfied that the consideration of alternatives to the proposed route and designations by NZTA was conscientious and comprehensive. Many evaluation criteria were deployed, including a “value for money” criterion.
Again, in comments to the Board, the CBT pointed out the “value for money” criterion on p.144 of the AEE refers to the “ability of the option to be tolled”. In this context, “value for money” refers to value for money for the applicant, and not to the value to the community. Value to the community, alongside possible negative economic impacts to the community should be the primary consideration of the Board.
Neither of these and other comments resulted in any changes to the draft report. Instead, in a separate document, the Board notes the following with regard to the CBT and Generation Zero’s comments on the draft report in section 1.6
 There may, in respect of any proposal, be positive or adverse economic effects. These positive or negative economic effects may impact on entire communities or on individuals. It is also clear law that the financial viability of a proposal is not an appropriate matter for a consent authority to consider.
 It was against that background that the Board’s Draft Decision contained the various passages which the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero seek to be further justified. But it is not for the Board to scrutinise the economic viability of the Project (regardless of whether the proposed highway is a toll highway or not).
 There were many representations from territorial authorities in Northland and transport groups that the Project would bring significant regional economic benefits and cost savings.
 Consent authorities and Boards established under the Act are required to make planning judgments which inevitably (as is the case with all decision makers) engage the common sense and life-experience of Board members. The effects of a heavy truck and trailer unit moving slowly up a steep hill, with other traffic stretching out behind it, on fuel consumption and journey times is self evident and need not be a matter for direct evidence.
 Whether or not improved highways designed for vehicular transport of goods and private motorists, with the resulting consumption of fuel, is desirable (economically, socially, or otherwise), or whether motor vehicle use should be discouraged and public transport enhanced, are indeed “high policy” matters and cannot properly be dictated or influenced by this Board.
 The Board accepts that Mr Pitches’ cross-examination of NZTA’s Traffic Report as it related to traffic flows in and around Warkworth5 indeed challenged some of the information provided by NZTA. But it was not, in the circumstances, necessary for the Board to make further factual findings beyond those which it did relating to Warkworth traffic generally and the Hill Street intersection in particular.
 As stated, the Board has noted the comments of the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero. It is unnecessary, however, for the Board to do anything further. The economic concerns of both organisations were, to the extent that they can be, carefully considered. Those concerns certainly cannot be described as minor or technical.
And that’s it. So the Board hasn’t considered any evidence about the economic impacts on the community at all, as they set out to do in section 8.5. Instead they conflate the economic viability of the project (which they don’t have to consider) with the economic impact on the community (which they do). It is also worth pointing out that the representations referred to in para 20 didn’t contain any economic evidence either. The Northland territorial authorities simply asserted that the toll road would be good for Northland’s economy.
So, all in all, a disappointing decision that doesn’t really address economic impacts on the community, other than accepting the assertions of the applicant which aren’t based on any hard economic studies. I’m not an RMA lawyer, but potentially I see this as setting a precedent for all future infrastructure projects whereby economic benefit cost studies need not be supplied at all.
The decision is also in stark contrast to the Basin Bridge decision, which declined the Basin Reserve flyover. In that decision, the Board carefully discusses economic effects in the context of a cost benefit framework. In the consideration of alternatives, the Board appointed its own peer reviewer and found that consideration had been inadequate.
NB: Any appeal would need to be lodged by the 3rd October, however the CBT decided at its last Committee meeting that we will not be pursing this option. The cost and effort would be prohibitive and the result of an appeal would simply direct the Board to reconsider their decision.