Patrick’s post last week on the Western Springs Pohutukawas has easily been our most read post of the year so far and highlighted what seems to be a deeply held sense of outrage over Auckland Transport’s plans to remove these trees. Many people, including ourselves to an extent, who normally wouldn’t feel so passionate about the loss of six trees (after all there are a whole heap more of them a bit further along Great North Road) are up in arms over the plans. While Auckland Transport continue to argue the removal is necessary, it feels like only a matter of time before they change their mind and try to find a compromise.
So what gives here? What is it about this particular issue that has struck a nerve so deeply?Part of the issue of course, is that the trees are pretty amazing:
However, I think as much of the angst has come about because of the way in which Auckland Transport has gone about this project and some of the broader issues with the project itself.
Looking first at process, a few months back Public Address carried a post by Jolisa Gracewood that outlined the absolute clusterf*ck that had come about through the consenting process – with most people who made submissions being very unfairly denied the right to have those submissions taken into account. Here’s an extract:
It has come to the commissioners attention from the hearing today that your submission has been lodged on the wrong process (there were two for this hearing – A resource consent and a notice of requirement) and the Commissioners will be unable to take it into account when making their decisions. This is addressed in the Council’s report on the applications which was included in the agenda circulated before the hearing.
The Commissioners think it’s fair to advise each of the submitters concerned in advance of their attendance so they can elect whether to attend or not given that they will have to travel into the city and pay for parking etc. They are happy to hear from you, however it is not legally possible to switch a submission from one of the processes to the other.
The commissioners will be happy to explain this more tomorrow if it doesn’t quite make sense as this effects a number of submitters, they just feel it’s fair to let you know before showing up.
This didn’t make sense to me, so I asked for more information. I was told that the mistake had been mentioned in the Hearing Agenda. Sure enough, there on page 921:
It is also noted that a number of submissions have been incorrectly lodged against resource consent application ref R/VCC/2013/4724/1 (which is the s127 variation to conditions of the regional consent for Stormwater Management – Quality, pursuant to Rule H.188.8.131.52 of the PAUP). All submissions should have been lodged referencing the Notice of Requirement for Alternation to Designation Plan Modification PA371. In any case, all submissions have been reviewed and reported on the project jointly.
In other words, a number of submissions had mistakenly used the reference number for a stormwater issue (specifically, how to handle the stormwater issues from the extra 762m2 of impervious area created if the trees are removed), instead of the reference number notifying intent to remove the trees. Moreover, “Resource Consent” was the wrong phrase, “Notice of Requirement” the correct one.
The post outlines how it was completely clear which application submitters were intending to comment on, yet nothing was changed to fix the matter and therefore most people were not able to have their opinions heard on the application. Really really dodgy.
The second issue is that the project itself is a dog. Even if there weren’t any trees being removed, what Auckland Transport is proposing to do here it terrible, dangerous and belongs a 1960s traffic engineering handbook, rather than a redesigned intersection of the 21st century. If you are walking between the St Lukes overbridge and MOTAT/Western Springs Park, you will potentially have not one, not two but three “beg buttons” you’ll have to push to get across:
Obviously the intersection needs another pedestrian leg across Great North Road on its city side. Why haven’t we got that in the design? Who knows – more lazy engineering from Auckland Transport seems like the only plausible answer here.
Lazy engineering comes to mind when Auckland Transport start to describe why the trees can’t be saved. Back to the recent press release:
Auckland Transport would not have supported the application to remove six Pohutukawa trees from Great North Road, if there had been any other viable option, but all engineering experts agreed that there was not.
No other viable option? As Patrick pointed out in his post, what about sending the walking/cycling path behind the trees? Speaking of cycling, AT still continue the absolute lie that this is all about providing cycle lanes to the St Lukes Rd bridge. Perhaps I’m going blind because I can’t see a single cycle lane being added on Gt North Rd – because in my book a shared path doesn’t count. In fact why go to all the bother to removal the trees and not install best practice separated cycle lanes.
Carrying on, what about only having two citybound lanes on Great North Road instead of three (after all, only two lanes will ever feed into it at one time)? What about having only a single left-turn lane from Great North Road into St Lukes Road? Of course there would be trade-offs with all these options, but none of this analysis has been made public – aside from a few seconds in the PM peak hour at some point in the future that apparently will be saved by having a squillion lanes through here. AT should be confident enough in their analysis that they should release it all to the public tomorrow so we can see exactly what they’ve considered and why it’s been ruled out.
So I actually think it’s these wider issues which sit behind much of the passion over this issue. And frustration with Auckland Transport’s absolute shoddiness. Running a shoddy consenting process, undertaking a shoddy assessment of alternatives, proposing a shoddy outcome for pedestrians in a very busy pedestrian area.
It’s just shoddy, and that pisses us off.