25 Sep 2014

Basin flyover plan heads to court

7:46 pm on 25 September 2014

Councils in the Wellington region are applauding a New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) appeal against a decision to decline resource consent for the Basin Reserve flyover.

A flyover was supposed to be part of a radical upgrade of transport through Wellington which would include widened roads and a new tunnel, but was it was rejected by a board of inquiry in a lengthy hearing in Wellington earlier this year.

An artist's impression of the external view of the Basin Reserve's Northern Gateway building looking up Ellice Street.

A board of inquiry rejected the flyover plan earlier this year. Photo: NZTA

In its final decision released last month, the board said NZTA failed to adequately consider alternative options, and its mitigation measures against adverse cultural and heritage effects were not good enough.

The Transport Agency has now lodged an appeal with the High Court against the decision, saying it thought for a long time before deciding to continue to fight for the project because of the amount of money already spent.

The agency believes the board of inquiry made substantial errors in the way it interpreted the Resource Management Act. NZTA acting chief executive Dave Brash said it did not consider wider benefits of the flyover closely enough.

"The discounted the wider network benefits, they looked at the Basin bridge in isolation. The second issue is around how they dealt with the District Plan and the heritage provisions. The board of inquiry substituted their views into their rather than the District Plan.

Mr Brash said the agency is able to appeal only on law, and the appeal had implications not just for the Basin Reserve decision but for other infrastructure projects as well. He said $11 million of taxpayers' money has already been spent on the project.

Wayne Guppy, mayor of Upper Hutt and chairman of the Wellington Mayoral Forum, is pleased with this move.

"It's the right decision they've made to appeal it and certainly we'll be giving them all the support that they need.

"That's a vital part of the whole network .. and it's crucial that we get it sorted out.

"We can't afford, as a region, to be arguing and wasting time because it has a huge effect, negative effect, on our economy."

Wellington's Basin Reserve

Wellington's Basin Reserve Photo: PHOTO NZ

His comments are echoed by the Porirua City Council and Kapiti Mayor Ross Church.

"To appeal the decision at least will give some surety so we can find a way forward given that the Basin Reserve is a huge bottleneck in that road of national significance," Mr Church said.

Their views contrast with those of Wellington's mayor and deputy mayor, who have never liked the flyover and are calling for a renewed search for better transport systems than a flyover.

Wellington City Councillor Iona Pannett said the NZTA should accept the flyover was not going to happen.

"They lost, they were told they didn't do a good job, they're going to come back and try and argue some of the things that they think might swing their case."

During the hearing, Wellington City Council did not support the flyover outright, instead calling for the agency to mitigate its effects if it gained approval.

Deputy mayor Justin Lester said he would would oppose the council participating in the appeal, because of how much it would cost ratepayers.

Mr Lester said the council had already stated categorically it will not re-litigate the Basin Reserve decision.

Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said the court challenge was hugely disappointing as it would delay Wellington getting on with finding alternative solutions to the traffic bottleneck in the area.

"Not only have they over-estimated the benefits of the flyover, they hadn't properly looked at the alternatives and they hadn't understood the heritage value of the area," he said.

"None of those things will change on appeal, and the NZTA are doing are delaying getting a solution for Wellington's transport issues."

Mr Robertson said he did not believe the Government's proposed changes to the Resource Management Act would help the agency's case.

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