I attended the extraordinary Wellington City Council meeting that voted last night to support the Government’s $2.4 billion roading plans.
Essentially the Council has written a blank cheque to the NZTA. It is preposterous that the Council could vote on a project when no one, not even the council officers, has seen the final plans. Wellingtonians haven’t even seen sketches of what the proposed fly-over around the Basin Reserve will look like, and we don’t know how many lanes are proposed on the motorway through Hataitai.
The Government, through the NZTA, used the $2.4 billion as an ultimatum to the Council, threatening to send the funds elsewhere in New Zealand if the package wasn’t supported in full. So the Government got to push through its vision of more roads for Wellington and Wellingtonians never got the chance to look at alternatives.
It really is the height of folly for the Government, who is borrowing $300 million a week, to throw so much money at uneconomic roads that have low business cases and will increase our dependence on oil, and vulnerability to price fluctuation and rises.
Mayor Wade-Brown rightly pointed out Wellington’s commitment to an 80% greenhouse gas reducation target by 2050, yet this package is likely to increase emissions and also congestion on the roads. The Dominion Post is describing her support as ‘the mother of all U-turns’ after campaigning strongly for better public transport and walking and cycling.
I am not sure why the mayor changed her position. I suspect she would have come under enormous pressure from the bullying tactics of the NZTA and the Government, and also from the hostile reporting on the issue in the Dominion Post. That said, I think political leaders need to stick to their principles, most importantly in tough times.
One silver lining is the $1 million advance for the light rail feasibility study; however, with the Government’s fixation on motorways, it may be a long time before funding is committed.