By Bernard Hickey
With 59 days left until the September 20 election, here's my daily round-up of political news from in and around Wellington on Wednesday July 23, including reaction to the surprise rejection of the Basin Reserve flyover in Wellington and talk there is more to come in the Claudette Hauiti expenses story.
The Environmental Protection Authority's Board of Inquiry into the NZ$90 million Basin Reserve motorway flyover issued a draft decision declining applications for resource consents for the project.
The news hit like a bombshell in Wellington and among politicians focused on transport. It appeared a blow for the Government's country-wide push for Roads of National Significance, where projects with lower-than-usual benefit to cost ratios are pushed through.
The Board of Inquiry decided the 90 seconds of travel time saved was not worth the disruption of the blot on the landscape around the Basin Reserve. Proponents labelled it as a major blow for the Wellington economy, while opponents were thrilled and argued again the money would be better spent on public transport and cycling.
Labour's Wellington MPs Annette King and Grant Robinson said the decision should be seen as an opportunity to properly fund transport in Wellington, rather than an excuse to take resources away from the capital.
“The Board of Inquiry has found quite clearly that the flyover simply did not deliver the benefits it promised, while at the same time seriously compromising the environment and heritage of our city,” Grant Robertson said.
“The Board of Inquiry has done a thorough job and has highlighted some serious shortcomings in the NZTA proposal,” King said.
“Now is not the time to throw our collective hands in the air in despair. It is an opportunity to get this project right for decades to come. Labour is committed to doing just that," she said.
Green Transport Spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter welcomed the decision.
"Both popular and expert opinion opposed the flyover. The proposal was expensive, unnecessary and would have undermined the Basin's heritage value," Genter said.
"Every day the Government says we can't afford wasteful public spending, yet the Basin Reserve flyover had a poor cost benefit analysis and is more costly than other options. NZTA's own data shows declining traffic volumes on the propose route. The flyover was a solution looking for a problem," she said.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said NZTA would now look at its options, although he still thought the Flyover was the best option for the region.
"That's our preference, that's what we wanted to do, that's what we thought would be good for the region," Brownlee was quoted as saying.
Brownlee said while there was a huge commitment to public transport in Wellington, New Zealanders still used cars as their primary transport.
"New car ownership - It's now up as high as it was in 1981. So the idea that we're going to not need roads in the future I think is the wrong one," he said.
Brownlee later told reporters before Parliamentary Question Time that the Flyover route was chosen by engineers after 11 or 12 years of consideration.
"I guess the court knows more than all those engineers that came up with that solution. Wellington misses out eventually," he said.
"But that's what Wellington wants, that what I guess happens. It's disappointing, incredibly disappointing. Because I don't believe that the decision is representative of what people want for the Wellington region," he said.
Brownlee dismissed a Labour idea for a second Mt Victoria tunnel without a Flyover.
"The second outlet tunnel just sees you funnel twice the traffic into the same place so the idea that you can build a second tunnel without any sort of interruption is incredible. The prospect of getting a consent through a process like this for a tunnel has got to be a heck of a lot harder than getting to for a flyover," he said.
"You'll put twice the volume of traffic into exactly the same space and the idea that you can do that without the same consenting issues and without the same engineering challenges is utter nonsense."
More problems for Hauiti?
Meanwhile, in the wake of National List MP Claudette Hauiti announcing her retirement at the next election after 14 months in the job, there may be more problems for her.
The Dominion Post (not online) reported sources saying there were further questions to be answered about her spending on a Parliamentary expenses card.
I'll keep updating this through the day.
(Updated with comments from Brownlee)
See all my previous election diaries here.