The Board of Inquiry for the $1.8bn East West Link project announced its draft decision yesterday,  confirming the Notices of Requirement  and granting the necessary resource consents for the project to proceed.

I had thought that it would be a 50-50 decision.  After all, the East West link was opposed by the majority of individual and business submitters.  It was opposed by Mercury Energy because it cut through the mothballed Southdown power station.  It was opposed by Ngati Whatua and other iwi on cultural grounds. It was opposed by the Campaign for Better Transport because the economic assessment wasn’t transparent.

With regard to alternatives and economics, which is the main focus of this post, the Board’s decision starts off promisingly enough under the heading of “Contested Issues to be Determined:

Submissions were received from various submitters to the effect that NZTA’s choice of route for the EWL and/or its assessment of alternative routes were inadequate. These critical issues must be considered and weighed by the Board in its assessment of NZTA’s notices and applications.

However, the Campaign for Better Transport’s arguments are summarised in the following paragraph on page 331:

Draft Decision Para 1322

If you’ve been following the story so far, you will know that this summary is almost entirely erroneous. In evidence, the CBT’s economic expert Donal Curtin made the following key points, as noted in this post:

  • NZTA’s chosen Option F, from a purely economic perspective, was not the best option.  The greatest quantum of benefits comes from Option B.
  • On a Benefit Cost Ratio, or “bang for buck” basis, Option F is again not the clear preference.
  • None of the options were highly effective projects when assessed against the NZTA’s own classification system of effectiveness.

Far from asserting that the benefit-cost ratio is a decisive criterion, Donal pointed out that the economic perspective is not “society’s last word on the right projects to undertake.”  He examined the NZTA’s Multi-Criteria Analysis, and noted the MCA did not spit out any obvious overall winner either.  Donal was also critical of how the NZTA weighed up the alternatives:

But the paragraph does not explain, as it should have, exactly how the “challenges” of option F were weighed against its positives. It also does not say how the other options fared under whatever implicit weighing-up exercise was used, which in my view is a significant omission, given that, going into the exercise, either option A or option C looked to have the better overall characteristics.

This was reinforced during cross examination, with Donal under oath saying:

The best I could answer that with is to say that I thought, based on the published documents that I read at the time, that the NZ Transport Agency had done a jolly good job of bringing different perspectives into the calculation, including environmental perspectives. As I say, I could not see my way to how they quite got to the option they could, based on that very good information they’d collected.

and:

What left me wondering, though, and as I said in my evidence, was it wasn’t clear to me when they’d gathered all that information how they made the decision they did. Having gathered all that good stuff about the degree of environmental damage or the degree of cultural heritage that might be threatened and then the degree of economical payoff and the construction costs, when you’ve done all that good stuff and you’ve gone into a room to make a decision, how exactly were all those things traded off? On my reading, just on the formal reading of the documents, I couldn’t quite see how the NZ Transport Agency got to the option they chose based on the information they had.

So the statement that Mr Curtin made no criticism of NZTA’s assessment of alternatives is clearly false.  Mr Curtin never asserted that the benefit-to-cost ration was a decisive criterion for the NZTA either.  In evidence, it was also shown that the “enduring benefits” of options B, C and F were all relatively close. Similarly the Board was unmoved by the CBT’s closing argument on page 4914 of this transcript:

Of course, the Resource Management Act also has provisions in relation to the consideration of alternatives. Section 171(1)(b) requires the Board consider whether adequate consideration has been given to alternative routes. In the Basin Bridge decision which was upheld by High Court, it was found that the consideration of alternatives had been inadequate. On page 367 of that decision the Board found there was a lack of transparency and replicability of the option evaluation and a failure to adequately assess non-suppositious options, particularly those with potentially reduced environmental effects.

It is our contention that the same shortcomings can be found in the proposal before this Board today. Under cross-examination, Mr Williamson insists that the assessment of alternatives for this project has been logical, transparent and replicable. He stated that was true in an economic sense as well, on page 4090 of the transcript. But Mr Williamson also stated that the economic evaluation tool was in, in his opinion, the most well-developed economic assessment tool within the public sector in New Zealand by a long way. For instance, we know it already includes factors for improved safety and decongestion benefits, which is what you were referring to before.

It is difficult to understand, therefore, how the recommendation of this economic evaluation tool, which was not option F but option B, has been ignored by the NZ Transport Agency. The NZ Transport Agency talk about the enduring benefits of option F. Enduring benefits are defined in the indicative business case as the change in daily mean travel time from 2026 to 2036, but this time period is already included in the 40-year timeframe of the standard economic evaluation methodology.

The NZ Transport Agency claim the multi-criteria analysis also supports option F, but this is by no means clear when we look at the study. Mr Curtin in his evidence states that the NZ Transport Agency should have made clear how it weighed those alternatives against each other, and we support this view. The decision-making process that led to the selection of option F is opaque…

…declining the application will not lead to an adverse outcome for the economy or the environment. It will give the NZ Transport Agency an opportunity to present an option that local individuals and businesses actually support, an option that makes better use of public transport options and active modes, like walking and cycling, an option that doesn’t make rail to the airport from Onehunga more difficult, an option that doesn’t sever Onehunga from the foreshore or involve one of the largest reclamations in New Zealand’s history, an option that will cost less and so leave money available for more worthwhile projects.

What Now?

Putting aside the feeling that the Board of Inquiry process has been a total jack-up from the outset, where does this leave us now?   Well, perhaps due in part to the negative publicity surrounding the East West Link the BOI generated, the current Labour / Green / NZ First Government does not support the newly approved plan. The consents will eventually lapse (I’m unclear exactly when but a range of 10 – 35 years are listed on page 342)  but parts of the designation could well be used in any new proposal.

Hopefully the stakeholders, landowners and Panuku, the property arm of Auckland Council, can meaningfully engage with the NZTA early in the new year. With the Government announcing support for light rail, perhaps this is a good time to look at the plans for the replacement Mangere Bridge and see if a light rail crossing could be included in the design.  With persistence and a bit of luck we’ll end up with a far better solution to the transport issues around Onehunga than what has been consented.  What do you think?

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61 comments

  1. Or perhaps Greater Auckland could call on its contacts, Phil Twyford and Julie Ann Genter, to have the enquiry reviewed in an attempt to have its decision revoked, thus removing the possibility of the next Govt pushing ahead with the EWL?

    1. The decision cannot be revoked, but the Government could apply to surrender the consents and cancel the designations under the RMA.

      However, I would expect some aspects of the decision would be useful for consenting the more efficient option B.

      1. The (draft) NORs as they stand now will conflict with the Labour and the Greens campaign platform – the lower budget EWL and the Light Rail.

        These NORs will need to be released in order for any of these projects to get started.

  2. What a joke of a process – the only people happy with this are the consultants and lawyers working for NZTA – Huge ‘delay’ in their process, but they still all get paid regardless. The longer the time frame, the more money.
    How much has this ‘east west link’ proposal cost the taxpayer so far?

    1. I’m unsure what the total is but at one point someone worked out that all the parties were spending over a million a week based on the lawyers and consultants in the room.

      Naively, in para 246 of the decision the Board state:

      “The Board is satisfied by this evidence and does not consider the fact that the above witnesses were employed or engaged by NZTA has resulted in them embellishing or overstating their evidence.”

    1. And surely under the current government a shake-up of NZTA will occur. The comparison of alternatives was entirely fictional and based on flawed and debunked science – eg that regional traffic will increase the same amount regardless of which option you choose. Genter understands this well; maybe the Minister does too – so with such a poor decision from the BOI on this, the necessity of throwing out their biased models is both apparent and significant.

      1. The problem in this case wasn’t so much the models but that the outputs were ignored. The BCR analysis showed that option F wasn’t the best alternative. The MCA analysis didn’t throw up option F as a clear winner either. I’m still none the wiser as to why NZTA chose the option they did, because looking at the modelling they did Option F wasn’t the logical choice on a number of measures, not just BCR. I can only assume someone high up said to make it so.

        1. Yes but if the models weren’t so flawed the do-minimum and do-less options would have looked far better than they did and Option F would have come out as the worst. Not to say it wouldn’t still have been chosen. 🙂

  3. Quickly put $ into the waterfront along there and bring it up to a nice standard and used by lots of people. That’ll make any decisions in the future that much more difficult – consent or not. 🙂

  4. there is no benefit to surrendering the consents, as anything of lesser impacts is effectively within the envelope what what has been approved, e.g. the walking and cycling components on a much scaled back reclamation. Not all of the consents were granted either, particularly those relating to effects on the Manukau harbour eg dredging and some of the headlands.

    The most interesting thing is the reasoning for the decision (vs rejection to enbel some alternative) being about ‘this option providing ”an enduring transport solution” when the NZTAs evidence didn’t actually show this as pointed out by Donal (and others).

    Certainly will be enduring when considered in other ways however, if this project went ahead, if measured in missed opportunities, everlasting monuments to monumentalism over logic, and being able to repent at our leisure!

    1. That’s only very partially true. For example, some options include Neilson / Church Street inprovments as an alternative – and many of the areas where those would have to occur arent even in the same designation area.

      1. ’tis true, but you are referring to an alternative option altogether that was not part of the NZTA’s application because , and might not even need resource consent.

        Use the consented one (not withdrawing it) as a baseline (if thats ok then this must be fine too…) to undertake some of the PT and greenwash proposed as mitigation for the motorway, when they do something more in line with what you refer to regarding the real traffic issues.in that area. Ie do the cheaper, better and more logical fix for the actual traffic problem and use the consented envelope to put in the walking and cycle paths on a smaller reclamation that also fixes the historic leaching issues NZTA wanted to resolve from the goodness of their hearts

      1. Interestingly, the Basin Flyover was the only BOI I’ve read in which someone directly challenged the modelling using the Sierra Club vs US Dept of Transport case which utterly ridicules the notion that the road wouldn’t induce traffic.

        1. The Basin Bridge decision was based on the extraordinary hard work of the legal team opposing NZTA, which exposed the arguments of NZTA’s associated proponents as being, essentially, inadequately researched and in some cases, a load of bunkum. I think that the commissioners on that case could see through NZTA’s presumption that they would always win, and so they refused the project – and justifiably so too, as it was a terrible scheme that was completely unnecessary.

          What is not so amazing here is that the NZTA has won. As has been pointed out here, the Board of Inquiry process is (intentionally designed?) a rubber-stamping process – and the Basin Bridge enquiry was the only one which refused to do government’s bidding and rubber stamp the “experts” decision. The commissioners for the East-West link will have been very very carefully selected to make sure that they are the type of people who will get the result that the NZTA want.

          1. It’s also not surprising that the timing of the process was engineered to make it harder to oppose any decision. 22 December for the final decision with appeals due around 31 Jan. Not much time.

          2. “The commissioners for the East-West link will have been very very carefully selected to make sure that they are the type of people who will get the result that the NZTA want.”

            Hence my suggestion they get no further access to such decision-making roles, yes.

  5. Obviously a disappointing outcome but it doesn’t mean that it has to be built. The government has stated that they will stop the motorway which is good. For me, it shows that the criteria for determining these things is poor rather than the BOI per se. If such uneconomic projects as this can get consented then I think it shows that criteria is poor and includes things that shouldn’t be included and doesn’t include things that should be included. Now, with a new government, to redesign the whole criteria for NZTA and, hopefully, get better outcomes.

    1. +1 A consent only allows, it doesn’t require. The public will have seen new transport possibilities by the time National is in again.

      1. And hopefully National will have woken up to transport realities by then, and ditched those members who fail to move with the times.

        1. You’re joking, right ? National are so firmly in the same pocket as the Roads lobby that they are inseparable. National is the party of:
          the farmer
          the cow
          the road
          the “free market”.

          They can’t ditch those members. They ARE those members.

          1. Farmers are an educated bunch. There’s a revolution in the making and if farmers aren’t at the forefront of it, it won’t be sufficient. They can bring National along with them.

            Yes I’m being optimistic, but I hope this is how the carbon situation will pan out. We need the farmers, as they have the solution. We need to work together.

          2. This is probably why a lot of farmers I know voted for Winston as they see paying for Auckland motorways as pissing tax dollars away

          3. Heidi, I’m not saying farmers are dumb. They may well have a B Ag Sci, or even an MBA, but fundamentally, they can’t stand cities, don’t like cities, don’t get cities, and so, effectively, pretty much don’t want cities. They’re into the farm, and what they want is to be left alone to farm the way they want, without government interference, and they want to be able to get product (sheep/cattle/dairy/feed) to and from their farm gate as quickly and simply as possible.

            That means, to them, that roads are important, and so they are, as a group, very supportive of the large carriers and their pro-road stance. They’ll also vote National till they die.

          4. If you look at National’s history they are actually a status quo party, do what ever is needed to stay in power, which generally means what ever is popular and generally what the last government did.

            If the current government stay in power for more than three years I think National would find it very hard to put the PT genie back in it’s bottle. I think you overstate the influence of farmers as they are a relatively small part of the voting population, much more of National’s support comes from the urban middle class.

            I see you have wisely used quotes around ‘free market’, National wouldn’t know a free market if it bit them in the arse.

  6. One thing annoying in the decision was the minimisation in the language.

    [413] “… NZTA had in good faith embarked on a very lengthy and probably expensive consultation process with Mana Whenua.”

    For example this seems is a put down statement – the only “expensive” in ALL of Vol 1.

    I’m surprised that Sheena Tepania agreed to that paragraph.

  7. So the RMA that makes it difficult and costly to build houses in this city allows a motorway to be built right next to the sea. What a stupid pointless piece of legislation.

    1. +1
      The decision appears to give very little weight to environmental quality, either natural or built. Both were compromised for the sake of some presumed industry benefit. Yet there is almost no evidence presented that such “benefits” existed. Some day Nationals will be back in power and this legislation and/or board composition needs to be changed before then.

  8. Not surprising. I presented at BoI and it did not feel like a reasonably objective process weighing pros and cons neutrally; they appeared to me as a group of people ideologically in support of the kind of economic, social, environmental and urbanistic thinking that prevailed (and that’s not surprising either: with the chairman politically affiliated with the National Party–for a very long time–and a fairly conservative judge, I am going to assume that he was selected for this kind of conservative outlook.)

    1. That because the legislation setting out the process doesn’t actually require weighing pros and cons neutrally. “Positive effects” can be considered but are essentially useless when coming to an actual decision under the RMA. All the RMA essentially requires is that you can demonstrate that any adverse effects arising from a development can be avoided, remedied or mitigated. The RMA is not fit for purpose in assessing development in an urban environment and a heavy emphasis of Cost Benefit Ratios of various options was not a particularly compelling argument under the RMA framework (i’m not saying that this is necessarily a good approach). One only has to enable economic wellbeing, not deliver best value for money – this is a separate issue from the consenting process with more relevance to the LTMA and LGA. The CBR argument is much more useful when considering s20(2) of the LTMA – in this instance the arguments put forward by opponents would raise queries as to whether the NZTA could legitimately fund the scheme from the National Land Transport Fund.

      1. Except the only way you could challenge the Land Transport Management Act would be through a judicial review, which would be expensive and time consuming.

        I did challenge the Board to consider if the LTMA provisions had been upheld (the consequence of them not would be the Board would be approving a potentially illegal project), but the didn’t want to go there obviously.

        The upshot of all this is that it is far to late to rely on the RMA / BOI process to ensure we have better environmental and economic outcomes. That has to come in the project selection phase right up front.

        1. Yeah, unfortunate the a JR would be the only way to challenge that – how much different would the cost be between participating in a BoI process though?

          The way the RMA is set up is that in practice projects only get submitted once all issues are resolved (or being close to resolved) and therefore it is just a rubber stamping exercise – the latest MfE stats I can find show that in the 14/15 year only 0.2% of consent applications were declined – I think this shows what an absolute ‘mare NZTA and their consultants had with the Basin Flyover. Lobbying and hammering government agencies as early as possible would probably be the best way but then you’d have to have access to what projects are being considered or planned, or be identified in the selected group of “key stakeholders” who might have access to a scheme very early doors.

  9. Get on with the upgrade of Neilson & Church Streets, and pushing rail across the harbour. These will delay any need for a 4 lane motorway. It should also mean rail could be built cheaper, as it wouldn’t have to cross a motorway.
    I’d favour extending the heavy rail line from Onehunga to Mangere Bridge right now. The land is all there and reserved, it only needs to be single track.

    1. That area is inside the NoR. So the NoR needs to be cancelled first.

      Send a message to the Greens/Labour – EWL was part of their agreement – and ask for them to do that.

      RE: HR
      1. part of the problem is capacity on the HR network. The LR is a separate network, but good alignment will mean that LR closing over the harbour at Onehunga will equally serve the HR network via Onehunga or the Puhinui end.

      2. LR has the option to go right close to the Mangere Bridge town center. In fact that would be a great way to build links between the two townships that people have been asking for since the SH20 bridge was built.

  10. Not surprised they rubber stamped it, if you read some of the comments from the BOI Chair via the transcripts, it became quite clear from his comments and lines of questions that the board considered that there was [in essence] “no alternative” to be considered. It had to be built, ‘cos NZTA said so.

    And once you start down that track, then the only outcome is more or less full approval.

    While NZTA “consulted” way back in late 2015 on options A-F it became clear to me even way back then, that in all the sessions I attended that NZTA had a [unstated] firm vision of the outcome & design they wanted and they were going to get it even if they didn’t actually say that publicly. You could certainly see it plain as day.

    All that the BOI process did was short cut that part of the long drawn out public hearing and appeals phase.

    So now its been canned by the Government, at least now the long suffering folks in Onehunga and surrounds can get some real and lasting congestion solutions delivered, in a much faster timeframe than any outcomes this behemoth would have delivered anything in.

    And all for at least $1B less than the $1.8B cost NZTA said it would be.

    Just hope they don’t leave the “designation” lying around for 30+ years to further stifle the redevelopment of that end of Onehunga away from low value-add industries and let it grow into the true waterside suburb it can and should be.

    1. ..however with this rubber stamp does it mean if a National Govt reappear in 2020, that the E-W link, as proposed, resurrects then construction proceeds?
      What stops Nat from cancelling all the LRT and refunding the $2bn E-W link?

      1. I’d suggest if they have the same set of cabinet ministers and campaign on things like the EW link they have no chance of being back in government in 2020. Not necessarily because of direct opposition to the EW link, but because it will make it clear to the public that they haven’t changed, which is generally not the way to win elections – see National in 2002 and Labour in 2011.

      2. Nothing. In the mean will everyone inside the NOR can’t do anything. No consent that impact the NOR would be granted.

        ie. LR project. Or the alternative EWL designs.

        So it’s important to ask and talk about NZTA releasing the NORs and cancelling the consents.

        Not just because of some possibility of a government change in 3 years. But because stuff like the central LRT line would never get built.

  11. Any chance this could be the final post ever on this blog about the East-West link?

    It’s the favourite whipping boy and I’m tired of reading about it. I’m sure many other readers feel the same way.

      1. +1. If this blog didn’t keep on investigating and writing about it, I’m not sure that the political parties that came to oppose this ill-conceived project would have done so. Not to mention that it’s a matter of crucial importance to us who live around (and care for) Manukau Harbour.

      1. You all said on here that waterview tunnel was going to fail,its been awesome,more motorways please rail sux,on strike,expensive,don’t go over North shore,useless.

        1. There are already indications that the volume of traffic south of Waterview are higher. The problem with “seeing” a problem with the tunnel section of Waterview, is that South bound you would have get problems at the next two off ramps, etc.

          Instead you need to look further down the network – like the fact that the SH1/SH20 southbound afternoon tail is usually at the SH20A fork sometimes as far back as Onehunga.

          Here is another way to look at the system. My constant point is we NOW need PT and not roads. At the moment the bulk of people decided to drive from point A to point B as there is no alternative. So if people only use cars – as there is no alternative for all of their transport decisions – then at some point the number of cars exceed the area of land in the center of Auckland.

          Building public infrastructure is about making financial decisions involving billions of dollars and years of work.

          Focusing on transit now is not anti-car. It’s being logical.

        2. There isn’t rail to the Shore therefore we need to build more motorways. Care to explain your logic?

          I assume you would also agree that since there isn’t a motorway to Howick we need to build more railways?

  12. Very sad that the Supreme Court states that planning documents are to be implemented, without broad recourse to Part 2 to grant proposals that clearly aren’t worthy of approval, and then subservient bodies like the Environment Court and this Board find ways to weasel out of that directive. Thank god for the more intelligent heads on the High Court and above.

    Just appeal this stupid decision.

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