Editorial: Waterview a testament to act's efficiency

An artist's visualisation of the waterview connection. Photo / Supplied
An artist's visualisation of the waterview connection. Photo / Supplied

When the Resource Management Act was overhauled in 2009, there was considerable alarm that the streamlining and simplifying would be at the expense of community participation in decision-making.

This criticism tended to overlook the requirement for a better-balanced law, not least to stop frivolous and vexatious objections. The need was especially apparent for projects of national significance, for which a fast-track process with a nine-month deadline was introduced.

The first such project "called in" by the Government was Auckland's $1.85 billion Waterview motorways connection. It has been an acid test for the new legislation.

By virtually any yardstick, the process has proved successful. As much is underlined by the acclaim for the work of the Government-appointed board of inquiry by most of those originally strongly opposed to the project.

Its final approval for the connection, released yesterday, should placate those who feared the new act would lead to the interests of communities and environmental protection groups being overpowered. And, at the same time, the board has offered a fine example of efficient decision-making. After a decade in gestation, work will finally start on the project before Christmas. Completion is due in late 2016.

The enormity of the board's task should not be underestimated. As might have been expected with the country's biggest transport project, it was inundated with paperwork. In all, the views of more than 250 submitters and dozens of technical experts were heard during 16 days of public hearings.

Encouragingly, the chairman, Environment Court Judge Laurie Newhook, spoke of a "highly constructive atmosphere". The interested parties seem to have recognised the importance of bringing the debate to a conclusion and making a start on the final link in a network that will give Auckland two complete motorways through the city and provide, at last, a non-stop link from the inner city to the airport.

The board of inquiry has met the concerns of communities in the path of the project in several ways. It accepted their submissions on where vehicle emission towers should be erected at each end of a pair of motorway tunnels.

It has also directed the Transport Agency to pay $8 million towards a cycleway between Owairaka and Waterview. The impact of the motorway will be further offset by more open space for the likes of BMX tracks, sports fields, playgrounds and parks.

In the main, this has pleased the local communities. Margi Watson, the deputy chairwoman of the Albert-Eden Local Board, which was, originally, an opponent, described the final verdict as "all about big wins for small communities". Other community groups have called it fair and said it largely met their concerns.

The Transport Agency, for its part, has accepted the finding, saying the new fast-track process meant it could only mount challenges on issues of law. It can, in fact, afford to take a fairly benign view of the up to $50 million of environmental enhancements prescribed by the board, given the enormity of the project.

The Government has not been slow to exploit such ringing endorsement of its new procedure. The Transport Minister has spoken of a balance "pretty nearly being struck" between the costs of such a project and environmental protection for the communities along its route. Such enthusiasm appears well merited.

Not so long ago, major roading projects could be bogged down by the consents process for as long as 15 years. The Waterview connection has been spared that fate. The task now is to meet the construction deadline.

- NZ Herald

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