A draft decision of the Board of Inquiry into the Waterview Connection project has been released today, confirming reports from a couple of weeks ago that the Board has imposed some reasonably significant changes. These include requiring the relocation of the tunnel’s southern portal building, the shifting of the northern ventilation stack to the other side of Great North Road and the requirement that NZTA contribute $8 million to the construction of a cycleway between SH20 and SH16.
I have kept a reasonably close eye on this project over the past few months, being particularly interested to see how the EPA and Board if Inquiry process would work for a large-scale motorway project. In effect, the Waterview Connection hearings process has been a test of some of the 2009 amendments to the RMA: which allowed large-scale projects to be ‘fast-tracked’ to a far greater extent than was possible before. In general, the process seems to have worked out OK, and the Board’s decision (which runs to nearly 400 pages) is a comprehensive analysis of the project.
I am pleased with many of the changes they have suggested, in particular the requirement that NZTA contribute to the construction cost of the cycleway. I also think the changes to locations of the portals, associated buildings and/or ventilation stacks will ensure the project’s effects are minimised to a greater extent than before.
The Campaign for Better Transport’s criticism of the project gets an interesting analysis around pages 64-66 of the decision. In effect the Board is saying that it cannot determine the appropriateness of the government’s decision making process when it comes to prioritising transport projects and that requiring a post-construction audit of the project’s benefits seem outside the scope of what the Board can do.
Overall, while I still have some lingering issues with the Waterview Connection project, in terms of whether it’s the best immediate way of spending $2 billion and whether we really need to widen the Northwest Motorway, I at least feel satisfied that the hard work of many community activists in pushing for better mitigation of the project’s pretty significant adverse effects has been worthwhile.