Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Inner City Bypass Part One

In this series I will trace the history of this project, although for now I wont be doing it in chronological order. The first part actually considers the project from 1999 when Labour got elected, through till 2003 - when the decision was about to be made on whether or not to fund it. The second part will trace that decision, how the Greens were demanding Labour halt funding of the project and how the Greens failed miserably in their objective of drafting legislation that would stop it - fundamentally objective analysis showed the inner city bypass to be consistent with the government's transport strategy and the legislation as passed. The third part will be what COULD have been - the long history starting with the De Leuw Cather report in the early 1960s which included a transport strategy for Wellington including very grand motorway and railway plans, and how politics saw much of that ignored.
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PART ONE - ACCOMMODATING THE GREENS BY CHANGING THE SYSTEM
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One of the more significant reforms in transport funding in the late 1980s, and built upon in the 1990s was to remove politics from decisions around what road projects would get funding approval from central government. There was a good reason for this. For many years (and you can see it writ large in the USA and Australia for example), MPs in government would pull strings to get roads built in their electorates to help attract votes. It is no coincidence that Taranaki got some of its greatest road improvements when New Plymouth was a marginal National seat in the Muldoon government. The Minister of Works once chaired the National Roads Board. The result, of course, was that areas without such political patronage would be neglected, and money would be wasted on poorer projects in other areas. In short it meant that the best value was not gained for the motorists taxes.
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As well as dedicated a portion of fuel taxes, and all road user charges to the National Roads Fund (unlike road taxes in Australia and the UK), in two steps the decisions for funding particular projects would be up to a statutorily independent board, which Ministers could not legally direct to fund (or not fund) particular projects. This board still exists, and Ministers can still not direct it on particular projects – the organisation today is Land Transport New Zealand (which succeeded Transfund New Zealand). However when you’re a political party obsessed with stopping one project, that doesn’t matter – and in 1999 the Greens had the Inner City Bypass in their sights, with their front organisation – Campaign for a Better City (led by Green party Parliamentary advisor Roland Sapsford, more about him later) having just lost its Environment Court case against Transit.
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In 1999 Labour needed both the Alliance and Greens to govern, so with a confidence and supply agreement in place the Greens demanded something be done about “major urban motorway projects” which to the Greens meant four projects they wanted stopped:

- Auckland’s Eastern Motorway;
- Auckland’s Mt Roskill extension to SH20;
- Auckland’s Waiouru peninsula link road;
- Wellington Inner City Bypass.
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Now the Eastern Motorway (backed subsequently by John Banks) died because it had been goldplated, so became a hugely expensive project with benefits that didn’t justify the expense. Tolls wouldn’t come close to paying for it (although a scaled down scheme may have worked). The Mt. Roskill extension (which will take SH20 from Hillsborough Rd to Richardson Rd) after some delays (more on that later) finally got funding approved in 2003 and is now under construction. The Waiouru peninsula link road is also under construction, having been supported loudly by Manukau City Council and indeed Judith Tizard, MP for Auckland Central.
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However the Wellington Inner City Bypass was in a different league. While Keith Locke meekly opposed the Auckland projects, the Wellington one was personal. Sue Kedgley almost maniacally went on about it being a big motorway which would see the destruction of much of central Wellington, not far short of a complete lie. A 400 metre 2-lane street along an old designated motorway corridor, with all the land owned by central/local government (bought as it became available), is hardly the behemoth. However, Roland Sapsford as one of the Green’s chief negotiators and advisors took this personally. As far as he was concerned the bypass wasn’t just a road he didn’t like, it was something that viscerally cut at the heart of his being. Sapsford takes a radical view of urban transport. He was heard at public meetings saying that people simply should drive far far less and then there would be no congestion and plenty of room on the roads for vehicles with a “legitimate” reason to be there – buses, delivery trucks, disabled drivers and that’s just about it. He doesn’t believe people should own a car with more than a 1.3 litre engine, otherwise they are “evil”.
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The Greens demanded the newly elected Labour government do all it could to stop the project. As (newly elected as Wellington Central) MP Marian Hobbs was also against the project, and other Labour Wellington MPs were quiet on it, the process began.
At this point the project was ready for design funding (which follows investigation and precedes construction).
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The Transit New Zealand Act 1989, which then governed the land transport funding system explicitly stated that the Minister of Transport could not direct the Transfund New Zealand board on the funding of specific projects. This meant that even if he had wanted to, the first Labour transport Minister after 1999 – Mark Gosche – could not tell Transfund to delay or accelerate the Inner City Bypass. The Greens wanted him to direct Transfund in specific ways that would have effectively have done the same, but this would have likely broken the law as well. So, unless the Greens could change the law – Ministerial direction would not work.
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However, one thing was offered up – after all, despite legislative independence, Crown entities do respond to political pressure, however indirectly it is expressed, so as an act of goodwill Transfund got Transit’s project evaluation of the bypass independently peer reviewed, hardly a radical step (in fact this sort of review was not unknown). However, unlike other reviews, which were purely inhouse, Campaign for a Better City was allowed to comment, and did extensively. The independent peer review raised a few minor issues, but did not question the fundamental analysis, the Greens were unhappy – but then Transfund was following what was then the law.
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The inner city bypass got the tick, and was granted design funding. While that proceeded, there were some other funding issues. The was partly because the then benefit/cost ratio was between 3 and 4, whereas the funding cutoff was hovering between those levels. The Greens hoped it would come below the cutoff of 4 (which was how things were looking in 2004), but this would soon not be an issue.
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You see, the Labour government backed by the Greens were embarking on radical reform of the land transport funding framework. The Land Transport Management Bill was at first at attempt by Labour to have more political control over funding allocations, as well as allow tolling and private investment in roads (under rather tight conditions), but with the confidence and supply agreement with the Greens, Labour had to closely involve the Greens in every aspect of policy surrounding the legislation. In effect, officials had to negotiate with the Greens, with very close involvement from the Prime Minister’s office, as a Bill that was acceptable to Labour and the Greens was presented to Parliament. The Greens supported all measures to loosen up transport funding, and were concerned that as few barriers as possible would exist to funding public transport. By contrast, the Greens wanted new barriers against road funding – carefully calculated to kill off the Wellington inner city bypass. The chief negotiator on this was Roland Sapsford – and Sapsford is savvy.
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Without going into the detail, the Bill was crafted in order to prevent the bypass from being funded. The Greens wanted on the one hand the removal of anything that would restrict the ability of public transport projects to be funded, and on the other hand wanted the ability of “local communities” to block road projects. The negotiations and the Bill went over the 2002 election, after which United Future played a crucial role – Peter Dunne wanted Transmission Gully, but was so poorly advised that he thought that simply allowing tolling and private investment in roads would allow his piglet project to proceed. Of course, he didn’t realise it is such a dog that neither the private sector, nor tolls could ever pay for it without massive subsidies.
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Anyway, after the election the tensions increased, as Labour accommodated the desire by United Future to be as open as possible about private investment in roads and tolling, while there was still a post election agreement with the Greens to work closely on transport issues.
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Jeanette Fitzsimons echoed the rhetoric of Sapsford when the Bill finally passed its third reading saying:
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“It means freeing up the roads for those who really need them – short haul goods traffic, emergency vehicles, car pools and individual cars where circumstances make that necessary. The ‘more motorways’ crowd are really the ‘more congestion’ crowd – only those cities with a balanced approach have come anywhere near tackling congestion.”
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“Those who really need them”, doesn’t mean you. It’s actually quite a fascist approach, the idea that it might not be necessary for you to use the car and you shouldn’t if it isn’t – but the government will decide.
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This was in November 2003, and the Greens thought they had won. The Land Transport Management Act after all was intended, with the New Zealand Transport Strategy, to put a stop to building major urban roads – or so they thought. Certainly this was not the objective of Labour, which was more concerned about mitigating negative effects, allowing more flexibility to fund the types of projects they wanted, rather than have funding dictated by economic efficiency (which it largely had been before). However I have moved too fast.... and for the Greens, the Bill had moved too slow.
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You see by mid 2003 the inner city bypass detailed design work was coming to a close, and the Greens had used all other available legal tactics to delay the project. One was to oppose the application to the Historic Places Trust for the shifting of archaeologically significant (in Wellington!) objects in the way of the bypass. Campaign for a Better City tried to appeal the case, but the Environment Court rejected it on the grounds that it had insufficient interest in it. So having lost the Environment Court case against the resource consent, having lost the review of the project appraisal, having lost the Historic Places Trust appeal, and with the Land Transport Management Bill still in the House and finally with Wellington City Council extending the resource consent as an administrative act (after all Transit couldn’t use the resource consent because of all of these appeals), there was one final act. The Greens wanted the Inner City Bypass stalled until the Land Transport Management Bill was law. (Meanwhile don’t forget that when the Environment Court had found against Campaign for a Better City it also demanded that it pay half of the court costs faced by Transit – Campaign for a Better City dissolved because it couldn’t afford to pay – even though it was, in effect, backed by the Greens who are very capable of fundraising when they want to – clearly not so interested when their supporters are found to have wasted taxpayers’ money and time).

1 comment:

sean14 said...

Looking forward to the next installment on this LS. Cheers, Sean.