Hard News by Russell Brown

76

When the fast track seems a good track

What do the Waterview Connection, the presumably doomed Basin Reserve flyover and Auckland Transport's decision last week  to pull the plug on the weird flyover plan for Reeves Road, Pakuranga, have in common? Answer: they're all good outcomes of the government's legislative move to fast-track the regulatory process on certain major projects.

In the case of Waterview, the Environmental Protection Agency board of inquiry deputised by the government (after the lurching to-and-fro described in yesterday's post) is widely acknowledged as having done an excellent job of listening to and upholding the interests of residents. This brilliant minute and direction of the board to NZTA, which was trying to wriggle out of its mitigation obligations, illustrates the inqury's no-nonsense approach.

In the case of the Basin, of course, a similar EPA board of inquiry listened to the evidence of submitters and actually declined consent for the project to proceed. The idea that what NZTA wants, it will eventually get turned out to be incorrect.

But what of Reeves Road, which was not a project of "national significance" and has not been subject to a board of inquiry? Well, that's really interesting. As Matt has pointed out on Transportblog, Auckland Transport specifically referenced the Basin Reserve decision in its announcement that the Reeves Road flyover project was being cancelled. To quote:

The recent decision on the Basin Reserve flyover in Wellington shows the challenges of consenting a flyover that has impacts on an urban area and the potential for long delays.

With the flyover off its books, Auckland Transport will now bring forward public transport improvements, including dedicated bus lanes, as part of the Auckland Manukau Transport Initiative (AMETI). Matt concludes by noting that the decision adds considerable momentum to a shift in AMETI from its origin as "a road fest designed to try and replicate as much of the Eastern Motorway proposal as possible. Over the years it’s slowly morphed into almost exclusively a PT project, which is what was needed."

I'm not well-informed on the fortunes of other EPA boards of inquiry (Transmission Gully, for instance) but I'd be interested in your thoughts on those. For now, it seems fair to say that the two inquiries noted above not, as had been justifiably feared, deprived the public of a voice. And the Wellington decision actually drove what seems like an important philosphical shift in Auckland.

I said as much in my recent Twitter conversation with Steven Joyce. I might have added that I'm surprised the government hasn't made more of it in plugging its second round of RMA reforms. It would be a shame if that's because the government doesn't entirely like the results of its own reform. Because those results are worth talking about.

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