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.

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    1. How about this, after complaining that RMA processes and thinking about locals, environment etc adds too much cost

      MR GLENN: It matters a great deal because it’s taking money out of other projects.
      MR BICKERS: I understood that point. But we built other roads in New Zealand that don’t show a benefit cost ratio that is in excess of one.

    2. Another one, again after arguing that the board should ignore all local/environmental issues

      MR BICKERS: Mr Glenn, I just want to come back to his Honour’s question. Have you read our terms of reference?

      MR GLENN: Yes, some time ago.

      MR BICKERS: The relevant ministers say in that:
      “We consider the matters [the matters] are a proposal of national significance because of the proposal.”
      And it talks about the road. But then it says:
      “Is likely to result and contribute to irreversible changes in the environment, particularly the loss of bird-feeding areas in the Mangere Inlet; involves relocating infrastructure; is likely to arouse widespread public concern; relates to matters that may be of national interest to Māori.”
      And so on. I have a great deal of difficulty reconciling our terms of reference that we have to consider under the Resource Management Act with that statement that the effects must somehow be of the national significance

  1. The cost is not entirely the worse part of this joke. Both INZ and a few other groups have also talked about maintain provisions for another two lanes at some future date.

    As if 8 lanes of traffic in Onehunga is not enough, then they want to round it up too 10 lanes.

    Insane.

  2. I quite liked (my emphasis):

    DR PRIESTLEY: Mr Glenn, can I just take you to your written submissions which you filed on 22 March, and I’m looking at page 8 right in the middle, you say:
    “While we strongly agree that solutions to congestion in such a productive area are urgently required, we are challenged to agree that limited national resources will be optimally allocated under the current proposal.”

    Now, what that says to me is we need a solution but we’re far from convinced that this $1.8 billion is justified.

    Talk about taking firm aim at one’s feet. The entire exchange is glorious. I was most amused by Dr Priestly’s comparison of himself to a sheep dog. I doubt Mr Glenn felt terribly sheepish after that effort, though; he seems not to have the necessary self-appreciation of irony.

  3. “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.”

    This man is pure gold!

    “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.”

    Some pretty sick burns, there!

    1. Indeed, pure gold… he even alludes to who will be against the wall when the revolution comes.
      This is all so very entertaining but yet sad that fools and looney tunes (INZ) can seriously influence $bn of expenditure on crackpot roading schemes.

  4. Hamish Glenn, Policy Director, Infrastructure New Zealand

    Hamish leads policy development at Infrastructure New Zealand.

    He has an extensive understanding of infrastructure planning, funding and delivery models, Auckland growth management and national regulatory frameworks

    He will release Infrastructure New Zealand’s latest report, the Innovation City, which will propose a radical shift in growth management to address the city’s housing, transport and affordability challenges.

    hmmmm

  5. That photo of the road in Sochi – the most expensive boondoggle ever, until now. Looks exactly like a visual from the Transmission Gully project to me !

  6. I would love to know who really is behind “Infrastructure NZ” and who has interests in it. Reeks of the Taxpayer Union type of lobby group thing that is closely linked to this government.

    In any case it seems like a nice little conduit to profits paid for by the taxpayer.

    1. I wonder whether the various organisations that are part of INZ took the time to see what was in the submission or if they were just satisfied that it was in support and read no further. Perhaps – given the limited time for submission writing – they were not actually given sufficient time to contribute ideas.

      Alternatively this Mr Glenn is a quaxing coastal ecologist resident of Onehunga with financial interests in light rail technology, and he has had his own little joke.

  7. And here’s another example of a prominent person trying to put both feet in their mouth. It’s Jonathan Coleman as reported in the North Shore Times of 14/9. The Sky Path will bring 8000 visitors a day a peak times “which would destroy the suburb.” (This comment is unsurprising given the fear and loathing that Northcote Point seems to have of the project). So will this destruction be that the cyclists wear the roads out? or that the spending in the dairies means that the shop owners earn more than their MP? or that the ferry operates on a more regular basis and locals don’t have time for a chardonnay before they catch the next boat?

    But if this all seems rather silly then it gets way worse. Coleman wants to bring forward the second harbour crossing. If this operates with the same measure of efficiency as the current one then this will mean 80,000 vehicles per day -at peak – flooding the lower shore. If Coleman has a view that 8000 bikes will destroy Northcote Pt then does he view 80,000 cars as cataclysmic?

    It is little wonder with his seeming inability to think things through that the public hospitals are in such poor shape. And again not surprising that he is in denial of their being in this condition.

  8. I noticed this exchange with Dr Priestly and Mr Glen in the transcript:

    DR PRIESTLEY:
    What do you want us to do? We have NZ Transport Agency’s
    application before us, we can’t jiggle around with it and say, “Well, we
    think this is in the wrong place” and we can’t go redrawing the
    alignment. We can’t say to them [i.e. NZTA], unless we think they have been totally
    and utterly slack – and there’s no evidence of that – well you haven’t
    done a proper cost benefit ratio.

    We can’t say, “Well, we don’t think
    you need all this reclamation and highway and chop it down to size”,
    our hands are limited. It’s almost Sydney or the bush. We either
    approve it with various conditions and some minor modifications or
    else we decline it. What do you want us to do?”

    The comments re: NZTA rigourous analysis is interesting – it indicates that the Board apparently don’t seem to think NZTA has been misleading with their BCRs being based on out of date costs [or wildly inflated benefits].

    A little worrisome there I think. As the [lack of rigorous] economic analysis argument is one leg of the stool that the East-West objectors are standing on. If that is kicked out from under them then the project will be approved with minor conditions [or outright declined] as Dr Priestly said was all they could do.

    Still the other legs of the objectors stool is the lack of consideration of proper alternatives – especially around the reclamation aspect. That would appear to be in play.

    Maybe the next Government will see sense and scale it back down if the Board approves it as-is.

    1. Someone estimated to me that the BOI process has been costing 1 million per week.

      Ultimately the board is limited by their terms of reference and I think it’s NZTA’s fault for submitting such a poor design.

    2. My understanding was that economic benefits/cost is NOT a cause for rejecting a project according to Board of Inquiry rules. Basically, whether its a waste of money is not for them to decide – only whether the negatives are properly mitigated (and whether alternatives have been properly reviewed).

  9. Labour will definitely shoot down this waste of taxpayer and rate payer money if they are voted in. ATAP would have shot it down if they were allowed to evaluate it, The Council should be shooting it down as a ridiculously expensive piece of infrastructure where the money is desparately needed elsewhere. Perhaps a NW motorway Busway and stations would be money better spent than this turkey – apologies for insulting your intelligence by pointing out the bleeding obvious.

    The problem is NZTA love spending money on their precious motorway and this is another link they can put into akl motorway ladder system and keep themselves occupied for the next 5-10 years but worst of all the project is obviously politically motivated because of some back room deals and NZTA won’t stand up to their political masters and do their statutory job of acting in the countries best interests. Hello RONS2 – waste of $10Billion, NZTA….remove the shitty BC’s for RONS2 from their website so the public can’t see how misguided the policies are. If National get in again AKL is f*cked.

    1. Last night Michael Wood said that Labour would absolute cancel the EWL as it currently stands. Take six months and an inclusive approach. Mostly focused on improving Neilson St.

      He also made some comments about a spatial plan for the harbour.

      One of the comments I heard is that if this BOI process works, National intend smash though the other 10 billion dollars of road work using a similar methods.

      It’s pretty clear in this election that voting for National is voting for roads first.

  10. I know the link is way over engineered and the same effect can probably be done for much less, but using peak hour figures is just gerrymandering the books to make a point of view look valid. Peak hour traffic is not the problem, it is the rest of the day. But, hey, I am paid by the hour, and being stuck in traffic is actually very beneficial to me, but spending anything up to two hours to get from the Southern Motorway at Sylvia Park to the Onehunga interchange via the Sylvia Park Road and the Great South Road does get on your wick occasionally. Lately I have but trying Clemow Drive and Carbine Road to avoid the jam on Great South Road. It actually works, although I don’t know that shoppers trying to enter and exist Sylvia Park via gate 5 have the same positive feelings

    1. This is a clear example of why adding capacity doesn’t really work. Braess Paradox and game theory.

      At any given point drivers make a decision to optimise their own routes independently. The perception of faster routes or more capacity actually can lead to increased travel times as everyone chooses to take these “faster” routes. Including jump off onto local roads.

  11. I just hope the next bizarre event isn’t “by pointing out our idiocy and praising our opponents for their sense you have clearly prejudged this hearing and I demand that you recuse yourself”

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