Follow us on Twitter

Mahurangi Matters on the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry

To date there has been limited media coverage on the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry.

Fortunately Karyn Scherer, from the local Warkworth newspaper Mahurangi Matters, is one of the few reporters attending the BoI.  She writes in her opinion piece:

As someone who lives not too far north of where the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway is likely to terminate (or originate), I should be eagerly awaiting its completion.  I travel to Auckland fairly regularly and I have to confess I rather enjoy slipping my sedan into cruise control once I hit the Northern Gateway, and cranking up the stereo.

This is the thinking of most of the general public I think.  Perhaps it explains why there hasn’t been much media coverage – the promise of the freedom of the open road, unimpeded by others means that few are able to conceive the construction of the toll road will be anything but a good thing.  Others may buy into the NZTA argument that this is “lead infrastructure”, and even though the capacity isn’t required now, there will come a time when it is. Ms Scherer continues:

But even before this month’s public hearing into the motorway extension began, I was starting to have doubts about whether it was a good idea.

Meeting some of the people whose lives have already been destroyed by the proposal because they live along the route was more than just food for thought. Sure, you need to crack a few eggs in order to make an omelette, but shouldn’t we also consider whether too many omelettes will give us a heart attack one day?

The most sense I have heard so far in the hearing was from the Campaign for Better Transport, a voluntary organisation of about 50 people that has won some important battles over transport issues. The elephant in the room at the country lodge in Silverdale where the hearing is taking place is the economic rationale for the project. Basically, there isn’t one. It’s a political decision, driven largely, I suspect, by the Government’s desire to spend up on infrastructure to help stimulate the economy in the wake of the GFC.

Bingo! Ms Scherer is a former business reporter at the Herald.

The problem with such Keynesian responses is that there is a long-term price to be paid.

I’m well aware that most people in this area want the new motorway – but few seem to have given much thought as to who will pay for it, and whether it is worth it. There is no such thing as a free motorway, so ultimately it will be taxpayers who fit the bill, and those who pay the tolls.

Those who can’t afford the tolls will miss out on its benefits. Ironically, they are likely to be commuters who travel to Auckland for work, and could do with a decent motorway. For much less than $760 million, says the CBT, we could upgrade the existing highway and everyone would benefit.

Read what the CBT has to say in this transcript. It starts at page 382.

At last, some commentary on the fact that this will be a toll road, and the fact that there is no economic business case behind it.  Because the northern junction of the project is almost two kilometres to the north of Warkworth’s main intersection, there is a high probability that many Warkworth and Matakana residents aren’t actually going to use the new route, especially if it is tolled.

The transcript linked to in the editorial relates to the presentation I gave to the Board on the 9th of April. My appearance was supposed to be at 11:00am, however I wasn’t called until 4:30pm by which time any media had gone home.

The following day I was sworn in and cross-examined by the NZTA and the Board for 40 minutes. I think this transcript (from page 412) is more revealing of the Board’s thinking.  I’ve put the highlights below the fold to stop this post from getting too lengthy.

On tolling:

MR HINCHEY (NZTA): In your presentation yesterday you made a statement that an empty motorway is not a good outcome and that related to the matter of tolling. Now, were you here on day two when Mr Parker gave his evidence? 

MR PITCHES: No.

MR HINCHEY: Mr Parker said the agency would like to reserve the right to toll the road and they’ve been clear in that in their correspondence with community, we are not yet at a position to be able to say what level of tolling that would be putting on this road. What we would be looking to do is considerably more work from here on to achieve a toll that allows us to fund the cost of the road partly through tolls while not getting unnecessary deviation from the road. We want the road to be used to its optimum amount and as I’m sure you are aware, there is an optimum toll that will attract the most users and still give us revenue to pay off the debt of this road.

So having heard that statement, do you accept that it is the Transport Agency’s position that it will seek to optimise the use of the road when it comes to any decisions on tolling?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

On economic growth:

MR HINCHEY: I’m going to another topic, and that is the objectives of the project. In your presentation yesterday you discussed the objectives of the project, so you are aware of the objectives of the project, aren’t you?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

MR HINCHEY: Those objectives do not require the project to achieve the economic growth in Northland, do they?

MR PITCHES: If it isn’t explicitly stated in there then I would have to agree.

On environmental impacts:

MR HINCHEY: In your evidence presentation yesterday you also made, on a number of occasions, a statement that there would be a huge environmental impact of the project, didn’t you?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

MR HINCHEY: Now, can you take me to your evidence where you provide your analysis of that huge environmental impact?

MR PITCHES: That’s in the application documents by the applicant.

MR HINCHEY: Well, can you take me to the place in the applicant’s documentation which refers to this huge environmental impact?

MR PITCHES: I could, it would take me some time to find it right now.

MR HINCHEY: Well, could you tell me just where exactly that you would be able to find that?

MR PITCHES: I’d have to look up the index, but generally speaking I think everyone agrees that there is a – well, on contention that there’s a large environmental impact that’s based on the fact that there’s huge volumes of dirt that will need to be moved, the impacts of sedimentation on the estuaries of Maharangi and Puhoi.

MR HINCHEY: I put it to you – – –

CHAIRPERSON: I’m not sure, in fairness to the witness, whether he said that one of NZTA’s objectives was to create a huge environmental impact, which is the way you – the basis on which you put your question, I think what he was saying is that when he looks at the environmental impact, he thinks it’s huge. I mean I would be very surprised if there’s somewhere in the documents where NZTA is seeking the various consents, they are saying we accept this environmental impact is huge, because if they were to say that mitigation would become quite difficult I would have thought. It’s a bit of a (INDISTINCT) point, isn’t it, you’re making?

MR HINCHEY: Yes, well, I don’t believe that there is a statement anywhere in the agency’s application which says there will be huge environmental impact, I just wanted to understand where Mr Pitches had found that.

CHAIRPERSON: Well, a much simpler way, Mr Pitches do you accept that it is unlikely, and you can’t recall having seen anywhere in the objectives of NZTA, the statement that they were going to create a huge environmental impact?

MR PITCHES: That’s correct.

MR HINCHEY: My apologies, sir, I wasn’t talking about the objectives in the context of that question, I was talking about – sorry, I had moved onto another topic.

CHAIRPERSON: Well, you do it your way. You have created some confusion in my mind and the witnesses as to what you were trying to do.

MR HINCHEY: I am simply seeking to find the provenance of his statement about the huge environmental impact and I will move onto another topic.

CHAIRPERSON: Again, we can’t leave it dangling like that. Your view, Mr Pitches, is that the environmental impact is huge or at least considerable, is that right?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

CHAIRPERSON: Right, okay.

MR HINCHEY: You haven’t presented any expert evidence to that extent, have you, Mr Pitches?

MR PITCHES: No, I base my judgement on the evidence put forward by the applicant.

On traffic projections :

MR HINCHEY: I am going to move to another topic, and that relates to your evidence that you’ve provided, and in particular section two, where you refer to projected traffic volumes, do you have that in front of you?

MR PITCHES: I have it now.

MR HINCHEY: Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON: Now, what was the question?

MR HINCHEY: The question relates to the statement in here relating to the NZTA’s traffic forecasting, Mr Pitches, you have relied in making your statement that, projected traffic volumes had been overstated, you’ve relied on the NZTA State Highway Traffic Data Booklet 2012, is that correct?

MR PITCHES: What I’m saying the actual volumes don’t back up what the model is projecting, yeah, is that what I said.

MR HINCHEY: Have you read the evidence and rebuttal of Mr Andrew Bell?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

MR HINCHEY: Now if I take you to paragraph 55 of Mr Bell’s evidence, you’ll see there that Mr Bell has indicated that his traffic forecasting is based on some other information, and I’ll just get you to accept that Mr Bell thinks – has based his traffic forecasting on future land use growth, his projections there, do you agree with that?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

MR HINCHEY: And he’s also mentioned the result of the global financial crisis, in terms of the current trends in terms of transport, do you accept that he’s looked at that?

MR PITCHES: Well it’s his assertion that the GFC had an impact on economic growth and traffic volume growth. However, the reality is that, that traffic volumes have been plateauing for a number of years
before the GFC and they continue to do so.

MR HINCHEY: But you would accept, in a forecasting exercise, that you not only looked at the past but also look for the future, wouldn’t you?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

On consideration of alternatives:

MR HINCHEY: Going to move to another topic and it relates to your presentation on “alternatives”, and in particular section 4 of your evidence relating to the consideration of alternatives.

MR HINCHEY: Now your proposition is that there is a more cost-effective solution and that is to upgrade the existing State Highway 1, is that a fair summary?

MR PITCHES: Yes, and the important thing in the Environment Court context, is it has less environmental impact.

MR HINCHEY: Can I just ask you to scan through that and confirm that you have read that section of Mr Edmonds evidence?

MR PITCHES: Yes, I have read this.

MR HINCHEY: So you will agree that the Transport Agency’s expert Mr Edmonds has considered the option that you presented, that being the upgrade to State Highway 1 has he not?

MR PITCHES: No, because if you read further it was the upgrade of the existing State Highway 1 to a four lane expressway standards and that is not what we were proposing.

MR HINCHEY: That is not what you are proposing but Mr Edmonds has considered an upgrade to the existing State Highway 1 has he not?

MR PITCHES: Yes, to a four lane expressway standard is not considered our option.

MR HINCHEY: You do not have any particular traffic engineering expertise
do you Mr Pitches?

MR PITCHES: No, I do not.

MR HINCHEY: You do not have any engineering qualifications as a more general concept?

MR PITCHES: The author of the original report did have considerable expertise, but personally I do not.

MR HINCHEY: Thank you, I have no further questions.

Questions from the Chair on the traffic modelling:

CHAIRPERSON: Now, your fundamental approach I think is that the economics of this proposed highway are problematic, do you agree?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

CHAIRPERSON: And also you’re not convinced that future traffic projections necessarily justify it, in fact you think putting it colloquially that some of these traffic projection figures are a bit shonky, is that right?

MR PITCHES: Coming from – – –

CHAIRPERSON: Well you can use a nicer word – – –

MR PITCHES: I don’t want to use the word shonky but – – –

CHAIRPERSON: Problematic.

MR PITCHES: It’s a reflection of the “garbage in/garbage out”, that can happen with computer applications.

CHAIRPERSON: That is shonky, but go on, yeah.

MR PITCHES: Yep.

CHAIRPERSON: So in other words, modelling and results are ultimately dependent on the integrity and accuracy of the information put in?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

Questions from the Chair on alternatives:

CHAIRPERSON: All right. And quite apart from this project which is all we can concern ourselves, as you move further it’s a highway with problems which are arguably even greater, and you got Dome Valley?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

CHAIRPERSON: You got the Brynderwyns?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

CHAIRPERSON: And you’ve got that area north of Waipu which everybody thinks a wonderful fast straight road which has huge potentially fatal ditches on either side, so if you drive off the road you’re going to be killed, you aware of all this?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

CHAIRPERSON: Yeah.

MR PITCHES: And indeed, and can I say, if we weren’t building such an expensive option, spending 760 million dollars on this project, there would be half a billion dollars to improve the safety on those stretches of road you’ve just described.

CHAIRPERSON: Right, now thinking into the future, you know possibly when you and I are no longer here, but over the next 30 or 40 years, would you agree that there are a whole cluster of economic and strategic reasons as to why the highway north should be improved?

MR PITCHES: Um – – –

CHAIRPERSON: I’ve already touched on several of them, but as a general proposition?

MR PITCHES: It should be improved in line with the expected traffic growth, so a lot of our State Highway network currently is just a single lane each way and that is sufficient for the traffic growth that we have. My own personal preference is, there’s far more focus on safety elements.

CHAIRPERSON: All right. But I guess I’ve asked you this question to test your proposition if, if you accept is an objective that eventually the State Highway has to be approved, subject to your caveat about traffic growth, do you really think that two lane highway, say in a half centuries time, 30 years’ time, is going to be adequate, given all these pinch points and other problems we’ve been talking about, you and me.

MR PITCHES: Well the reality is the section between Warkworth and Wellsford is not likely to be upgraded beyond a single lane each way anyway during that time, so it probably really doesn’t matter.

CHAIRPERSON: You’re pessimistic about that. You and I will go to our graves knowing that it is (INDISTINCT 00.32) still there.

MR PITCHES: Yes.

CHAIRPERSON: All right.

From the Chair on strategic reasons:

CHAIRPERSON: Right. Two final questions. First one you may think is a bit of a patsy, but I’d like to hear your thought on it. If it is accepted and there is quite a lot of evidence that ultimately there should be a good road for strategic and economic reasons from Auckland all the way to Whangarei or even beyond, and that a good road and in part that should be four lanes, isn’t there sense in making a start on it or extending it out, which is the way these motorways seem to develop?

MR PITCHES: You could argue that, but my argument is that this road will terminate at a junction to the north of Warkworth, there will be three lanes merging into one, and the trip from Warkworth to Wellsford and beyond will be a single lane each way for the foreseeable future.

CHAIRPERSON: Mm’hm.

From Commissioner Chandler on benefit cost ratios:

MR CHANDLER: Perhaps I’ll just mention, Mr Pitches, talking about cost benefit ratios, the Board of course cannot take cost benefit ratios into 45 account in its decision making.

MR PITCHES: All right. So just to respond to that. Benefit cost ratios generally are an indicator of the economic worth of the project, which is why I included it in my presentation. I still stand by my statement that the Resource Management Act place weight upon the economic value of the proposed project and should be considered.

In conclusion:

CHAIRPERSON: Well, thank you very much for coming to assist us with that evidence of yours. It’s quite hard, I know, Mr Pitches, to re-examine yourself, but if there’s anything arising out of the cross-examination which you’ve been subjected to today or questions from the Board where you feel you haven’t acquitted yourself clearly or want to clarify something, you have the opportunity to do so, do you want to?

MR PITCHES: Yes.

CHAIRPERSON: Off you go.

MR PITCHES: So during this cross-examination process I believe there’s nothing that’s made me change my mind about the presentation I’ve given you. I sincerely believe that we need to look again at the traffic modelling, and I’d urge the Board to appoint an independent assessment of the traffic model that’s been put forward by the applicant. As I said, it’s vital that we have a realistic handle on traffic volumes, and in particularly impacts of the toll.

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Well Mr Pitches, thank you for giving evidence, and the Board’s mindful the fact that yours is – Campaign for Better Transport is a voluntary organisation, of people who have both the time and the interest to give careful consideration to projects or proposals such as this, and I’m also mindful that fact that you’ve had to sit here for a day and a half listening to other people, and we’re really grateful to you for the careful and considered way in which you’ve given evidence, so many thanks indeed.

MR PITCHES: Thank you.

19 comments to Mahurangi Matters on the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry

  • George D

    If I didn’t know the NZTA so well, I would be amazed at their behaviour. No attempt to engage the evidence, every attempt to attack the witness.

    We will be so much better off without the NZTA.

  • Yes, regardless of anyone’s views on Keynsian stimulus it still matters enormously what it is spent on. The higher the underlying value of the investment then clearly the better the economic effect. Investments that enable structural rather than incremental shifts are clearly to be favoured. The government’s argument that the RoNS enable small increases in fuel efficiency and slight decreases in emissions are totally undone by the overall increases in driving and the double down on auto dependency that they enforce. And then particularly in the lost opportunity to invest in transformational shifts for the whole sector and the far greater return on targeted fixes to this route that after all will still be needed with or without this behemoth duplicate road.

    Then of course there is the question of whether the government should be in stimulus mode now that there are capacity constraints in the construction sector, and therefore cost rises; it is no longer 2008. This big duplicate road is decades early by any measure.

    Cam has shown in his reports and evidence at the hearing that NZTA’s economic case for this road is nothing other than a post hoc justification, not the result of objective analysis leading to the best solution to the problems here. Nor can it possibly justified as a good investment for the country as a whole.

    The scheme as proposed is not so much using a sledgehammer to crack a nut; it’s more like swinging a gold plated one to completely miss it!

    Fiscal responsibility? What happened to that?

    • Luke C

      If this was a Keynsian project, then it is a terrible one. Best Keynsian projects are ones which are ‘shovel ready’, i.e. planning and design has already been done on the route. However this project came from know where, hence has taken 6 years to get to consenting, and probably at least 8 before comes to construction. What really would have been Keynsian is bringing forward the safety projects along the route that had already been planned by the NZTA. This is proper Keynsianism, not building useless projects or make work schemes, but bringing forward useful projects by a few years.

      • conan

        They are also best when they benefit the area they are supposed to help. I imagine a group of Northland leaders would probably come up with a different project or set of projects to help Northland if offered the chance at having $750m spent (they might even find a way to spend it within Northland).

        Great work Cameron.

  • Glen

    You would almost think that Cameron Pitches was on trial, and not simply presenting an alternative viewpoint to the NZTA’s.

    Thanks from us out here for standing up for common sense, and here’s hoping your efforts will pay dividends.

  • Bryce P

    Of course this has all come about as they’ve been told to build this motorway not necessarily because they want to.

  • Greg N

    This behaviour is the same for the Flyover BOI as well in Wellington if you read the transcripts there you see the same pattern.
    In adversarial law you have to attack the witness to discredit them and their evidence. Nothing personal you understand :-)

    That so-called Traffic expert Andrew Bell mentioned was the same loon who came up with wacky traffic modelling predictions to the old ACC and then to the environment Court for the Stonefields development traffic flows.

    Traffic modelling is only as good as the input data and assumptions made both as to what data is given to the model as inputs, and assumptions made by the traffic model designer when building it.
    Many of those assumptions are simply never documented and at best when you examine them in depth are little more than finger in the air guesses.
    No wonder we get such poor traffic modelling outcomes where reality and predictions just don’t tally up.

    We know that some of these traffic models are ones AT uses and they are deeply flawed (e.g. don’t factor in PT usage or mode switching), yet people present these modelling results like they’re commandments written on tablets of stone.

    • Ease up on Mr Bell. Dude has to make a living somehow, and it is the NZTA that pays the bill. He probably isn’t responsible for the input assumptions so, like I say, garbage in / garbage out.

      • Vera

        I don’t agree Cameron. If he is an expert and he is preparing the report he is professionally and ethically bound to ensure that the report is fit for purpose regardless who is paying for it. You may be right that he is not responsible for the garbage that he is given, however, if he thinks it is garbage and would result in a garbage output he should reflect on that in his analysis/discussion and certainly point out the risks regarding reliance on the data as part of the review. I would not expect my geotechnical engineer to dismiss some of his site investigation results just because they don’t fit his preferred report output.

        I agree with your comment that there should be an independent assessment of the traffic report as this would put most of the issues to bed but I am not sure how much of the overall project relies on the traffic. notwithstanding I am surprised that one hasn’t been carried out already.

      • tuktuk

        Nice work Cameron Pitches. Although we are still some way off infiltrating TV-land “middle New Zealand”, it is good that increasingly it would seem, commentators from the left and the right are going to question the economic credibility of this road and others like it.

      • Greg N

        I agree with Vera, its a key part of Bells job to ensure that all the limitations of the modelling are made very clear in his report along with his conclusions.

        As I recall with Stonefields, Bell did not do that, nor did this time, by the sound of it – otherwise you would have questioned it right?
        .
        Not doing that is dereliction of duty as I see it.

        As for modelling without considering tolls – that makes the whole model worthless when its commonly acknowedged the route will be tolled, the free alternative will stay open and therefore a large portion of users of the new road will not eventuate due to the toll. This kind of willful ignoring of reality is why we get road based PPPs going bust left right an centre.

        The only way I can see this road not being a problem if its tolled is if the existing toll to use the Northern Gateway is extended to cover all the route to Warkworth.
        Then modelling would be consistent with likely usage as you could take the data at the Northern Gateway and simply run it north the whole way.

        I also noted the Chairmans questioning on the need to build a 4 lanes road to Whangarei with the obvious thought of “well if you think you need this road you’ve got to start that road somewhere so why not here”? Don’t know if he is playing devils advocate here or simply asking a valid question. 4 lanes? Not so sure why other safety issues are outstanding everywhere on this road.

        As for independent modelling – maybe – depends on whether they use the same models Bell did – if so then the results there will be similar not really validating things much.
        I think the BOI needs to require that traffic analysis should be fully Peer Reviewed not just “independently assessed”.

  • Christopher Owen

    Michael Pickford wrote an interesting article on the Board of Inquiry process for the Mackays to Peka Peka expressway in the February issue of the New Zealand Law Journal. Michael represented the Save Kapiti group, and felt the BoI process was definitely tilted in favour of approving the proposed projects. The blog editors might be interested in contacting Michael to submit a guest post on the subject.

  • Bob Scott

    Karyn Scherer is the relatively recently appointed editor of Mahurangi Matters, a local Warkworth and District newspaper that has improved considerably since she assumed the editorship. It is a free newspaper with a very good distribution in the area and is widely read and respected. Karyn has a very good understanding of local matters despite being a recent arrival in the area and she is very well informed on the issue of Puhoi to Wellsford and the problem of the Hill Street junction. She has interviewed me and wrote a very good article for an issue last year. She also attended a facilitated meeting with the EPA and NZTA which was convened for the benefit of those submitters who specifically mentioned delays to solving the Hill Street problem because of the P2W project. As a result, I think that she gained a very good insight into the bullying tactics that NZTA employ when faced with anyone who dares to question their actions and this resulted in her opinion piece in the latest edition.

    Karyn also reported on the outcome of the facilitated meeting at which it was agreed that some limited improvements would be carried out to Hill Street. Although they will not solve the problem, the measures discussed will help to alleviate it for a number of local residents who have to use the junction daily and NZTA have promised to get the work underway within 12 months. Interestingly, this meeting (at which I was present along with a number of other concerned local residents) seemed to achieve far more than any previous meetings involving the local National MP, Councillor Penny Webster and all the Local Board members. A link to the article about this is here. http://www.localmatters.co.nz/Features/Puhoi+to+Wellsford+Project/Hill+Street+improvements+could+begin+this+year.html

  • Dave B (Wellington)

    Same thing happened with the Public Transport Spine Study in Wellington. Was done by professional transport consultants but was very much “garbage out”. I don’t know how the consultants felt able to put their name to it.

  • Dave B (Wellington)

    Nah, never appears where you want it! Was meant to be a reply to Vera above.

  • Jon Reeves

    Excellent work Cam. I do hope this is not a NZTA / National party Govt whitewash.

    So looking forward to September 20!

Leave a Reply