Cam has been doing a great job in fighting to save the Mangere Inlet from the East-West Link. Last week a surprising and unexpected ally emerged in that fight thanks to a bizarre and bumbling hearing by Infrastructure New Zealand (INZ). They are the lobby group representing the construction and finance industries and have been one of the projects most enthusiastic cheerleaders.
The transcript of the exchange is available here from page 101 (listed as page 5908). If you’ve got a spare few minutes I’d recommend reading it to get the full context. I also get the impression the Board of Inquiry (BOI) had quite a bit of fun with it.
The hearing starts off with a short presentation from INZ. They make it clear they do actually support the project before proceeding to undermine it. This starts with a map of modelled congestion in 2046, on which the East-West Link is not congested. They’re recorded in the transcript as saying:
As per that previous bullet point, the East West Link is still performing well within its capacity
It shows that the East West Link provides significant capacity indefinitely
In other words, it’s overbuilt, and remember this modelling doesn’t include any impact from road pricing so if the models say it’ll be empty in 2046 then with road pricing there’ll be tumbleweeds rolling down it. The capacity argument is worth remembering for later in the post.
The discussion then moves onto a bizarre back and forth between Hamish Glenn from INZ and the BOI. In essence Glenn is arguing that because it’s a big project the government likes, the BOI should have to ignore other submitters and should lower the amount of mitigation needed. It includes this exchange:
MR GLENN: We think it is a nationally significant project. Obviously the fact you guys have been directed to hear it on the basis that it is a nationally significant project, is important. So if this is a nationally significant project, we think that the objections to it must be nationally significant. In our view, they are not nationally significant. When we think of some of the key objections, for example around Anns Creek, we observe that Anns Creek is not a national park, it’s a local park. There might be very significant local objections but we are not convinced that they are of national significance. When we think of some of the concerns —
DR PRIESTLEY: Can we test the logic of that proposition? If something is of national significance, any objections to it must be of national significance? Effectively, regardless of what any legal framework one was operating in, that would really give central government, or anyone who declares something to be of national significance, an overriding right.
They could say, “I think this is of national significance, but the fact that we are going to reclaim and entire …” this is hypothetical, “… inlet or have huge noises going along within 200 or 300 metres of a residential area, that’s of only local significance, so too bad”. We’d end up with a Stalinist state, if we allowed that proposition through
MR GLENN: Well, no, we wouldn’t end up with a Stalinist state because that government wouldn’t last very long.
DR PRIESTLEY: What, there’d be a revolution and somebody would execute them?
MR GLENN: No. They would be voted —
DR PRIESTLEY: That might include you.
Glenn then brings it back around to the capacity issue from earlier with the claim that because it’s not predicted to be congested, it’s a sign that the project isn’t big enough and therefore needs to be bigger.
MR GLENN: The fact that there is no congestion showing up on that map in a morning peak 30 years from now, suggests that it is not being used to connect up those networks; it is being used as a local project, albeit one of great size. So we think there must be better provision made for through traffic, which probably means some of the intersections need to be grade-separated. There may need to be expansion of the road corridor, if not now, then in the future, but other means to make these outcomes that it delivers, nationally significant.
That includes, of course, potentially extending it further east. At the moment the project stops, gives partial access to State Highway 1, but stops, does not travel further east. Initial descriptions of the project were that it would connect up to other very, very significant employment areas across the Tāmaki estuary and even extending up to Pakuranga. We would like to keep those options open in the future, so we would expect that any East West Link had the potential to move further east should that be required in the future.
The extension across the Tamaki estuary was never part of the project, just something pushed by the business and infrastructure lobbies to make the project even bigger.
Next, Glenn makes one of the most baffling comparisons, one even the BOI couldn’t quite believe he made. He compares the cost of the East-West Link to a road in Russia that was considered the most expensive in the world, in large part due to being plagued with corruption.
Here’s one good exchange between Glenn and Priestly about this.
MR GLENN: Let me just touch on something. I want to really convey this because this is quite a significant issue. You’ll see up on the slide there a road. I wanted to emphasise this point, so I Googled the world’s most expensive road and I got some good hits because the US media really jumped on to this Russian road that was built a couple of years ago as part of the Sochi Winter Games. It’s the Sochi to Krasnaya Polyana 40-kilometre handwritten tunnel bridge project. The US media had some fun with that and they called it the most expensive project in history because it cost $9.4 billion. For a country like Russia it’s a staggering amount of money for its 40 kilometres. That works out to a per-kilometre cost of $235 million.
Our East West Link may cost up to $1.8 billion or $1.9 billion, potentially more, depending what requirements may be placed on it. It’s going to be 5½ kilometres between State Highway 1 and State Highway 20. That doesn’t necessarily include some of the other aspects of the project, but that works out at $327 million per kilometre, exactly the same price as a road which found considerable amusement to much of the world’s media as the most expensive.
DR PRIESTLEY: This is quite a good argument for refusing the application. Is that where you want us to go?
Lastly, I want to highlight this exchange. It’s a bit long but I’ve included most of it for context as Priestley is like a cat playing with its prey.
DR PRIESTLEY: This is page 12 of your submissions. Well, let’s knock those off, shall we? The first thing you say is we should ask NZ Transport Agency – you say EPA but you’re talking about us, I think, we’re not EPA they are the service – to provide a 30-year plan for Auckland strategic network.
MR GLENN: Yes.
DR PRIESTLEY: We have no jurisdiction to do that. So the next thing you want us to do is that where relevant EPA should provide – we – for this plan for notices of requirement for resource consents for the East West Link. In other words, we going to be drawing notices of requirement all over the place for the next 30 years. Is that what you would like us to do?
MR GLENN: No, we would like —
DR PRIESTLEY: Who is going to do it?
MR GLENN: What we are asking through that, and if we didn’t word it properly, we want to be convinced that this project suitably serves Auckland and New Zealand and fits within the long-term timeframe.
DR PRIESTLEY: But you’re not convinced, are you?
MR GLENN: Not in its current form and so we think that there needs to be sufficient scope given to it that it can become that.
DR PRIESTLEY: You’re almost comparing it to some oligarchy driven prestige highway in the southern Russia. Same cost and a joke. That’s the comparator you gave us.
MR GLENN: Yes, I am comparing it in terms of its cost as a globally expensive project.
DR PRIESTLEY: And you are far from convinced, you already accepted to me, that that cost is justified. Bang for bucks you think they can do better?
MR GLENN: Bang for bucks we think they could do better.
DR PRIESTLEY: Okay, well take it from me we can’t go drawing notices of requirement for the future. Then you say this:
“Corridors to the east of State Highway 1 to expand the East West Link from four to six lanes and full grade separation of the corridor.” In other words, you want us to cast our territorial eyes to the east of State Highway 1 and look to the future to expand this thing into Glen Innes and down the Tamaki estuary and, god forbid, even in Orākei, is that right?
MR GLENN: Well, potentially.
DR PRIESTLEY: We can’t do that either because no one’s proposed it. Do you accept that?
MR GLENN: The point is that this project needs to be able to be — in order for it to be, I guess, of national significance it needs to provide enduring capacity for the Auckland and New Zealand economy.
DR PRIESTLEY: Does it do that?
MR GLENN: In its current form, we think it provides probably regional significance.
DR PRIESTLEY: Like kindergarten does to secondary school, perhaps?
MR GLENN: Maybe. Maybe something along those lines. But obviously with a project you have the ability to expand it in the future and so we would like the ability or the scope given within your jurisdiction —
DR PRIESTLEY: But it’s not within our jurisdiction. We can’t sit down here and say, “Oh, Ministers, present and future, we think that NZ Transport Agency is not working hard enough, there’s not enough capacity here and we think you should be planning for the future”. That is a political exaltation which, with respect, is far better coming from groups like you and other like-minded groups to go down to Wellington and lobby the relevant Ministers and successive administrations, which you have probably done.
MR GLENN: We have, indeed.
DR PRIESTLEY: And it’s not worked so far, has it?
MR GLENN: Well, no, it’s working pretty well. We’re kind of hoping that there’s going to be a significant rethink of how the Resource Management Act deals with infrastructure and urban environments because at the moment it is very close to impossible – not quite – to get a major project like this consented.
DR PRIESTLEY: Now, in case you haven’t realised what I’ve done, Mr Glenn, I’ve been like a sheepdog running around and I’ve driven you into a pen. Now, I want you to tell me what you want us to do. I have told you there are all sorts of things you can’t do and why, what would you like us to do?
There were a few other good exchanges but this post is already very long.
As a final summary, INZ seem to think that because the road isn’t expected to be congested that it’s not built big enough and therefore needs to be bigger, they compare the cost of it to a corruption ridden project. Given this you could almost be mistaken for thinking INZ were opposing the project.