Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Mockery and waste rule in independent inquiry game

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Mr Brownlee conveniently ignores the fact that his ministry officials were closely involved in the design and writing of this commissioned Sinclair Knight Merz report.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Mr Brownlee conveniently ignores the fact that his ministry officials were closely involved in the design and writing of this commissioned Sinclair Knight Merz report. Photo / Greg Bowker

Some people get their thrills pulling wings off flies. National Cabinet ministers engage in more drawn-out torture.

Instead of rejecting an unpalatable project outright, they sadistically delay the inevitable, by first dangling the promise of an "independent" inquiry into its merits. Then they damn the project anyway, after enjoying the additional sport of mocking the independent report.

Last week, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Justice Minister Judith Collins had a jolly old time, ripping wings off a former Canadian Supreme Court judge, a man falsely imprisoned and labelled mass murderer, and Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Ho bloody ho.

To be fair, the rail tunnel report - officially The City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) - was the brainchild of Mr Brownlee's predecessor as minister, but he has grabbed the baton in this government team sport with great gusto.

The waste of public money devoted to these delaying tactics is spectacular. The Bain report plus extras cost around $500,000 and there are suggestions Mrs Collins is going to do it all over again - that is if she can find another judge willing to be to humiliated.

The cost of the CCFAS report has not been disclosed, but it will come out of Auckland ratepayer pockets.

In rubbishing both the report and the preferred rail tunnel solution it backed, Mr Brownlee has taken a swipe not only at the independent consultants, but also the central and local government experts involved.

He has also revealed no solutions of his own. All he promises is the airy-fairy commitment that "the Ministry of Transport and the Government's NZ Transport Agency will continue to work on the best and most cost-effective solutions for freeing up central Auckland congestion now and into the future".

Mr Brownlee conveniently ignores the fact that his ministry officials were closely involved in the design and writing of this commissioned Sinclair Knight Merz report.

Dragging 50 years of road-centric baggage in his wake, he and the petrol-intoxicated advisers who penned his response desperately claim the SKM report "underplays" how improvements to both SH1 and SH16 "might impact central-city traffic" and how the "completion of the western ring route in 2017 will also draw many thousands of traffic movements away from the CBD".

He's like the 17th century Pope, so wedded to the tradition that the sun went round the Earth that he couldn't believe Galileo's expert advice.

True, the CBD rail tunnel is not suddenly going to change the world. Or even freeze rush-hour road congestion at current levels. Like global warming, the best to hope for is to try and slow the process.

The SKM report says that within 10 years, morning rush-hour speeds in the city centre will have dropped from 16 km/h to between 5 and 8 km/h. The worst option, congestion-wise, is to continue with Mr Brownlee's apparent no-change model and rely on the existing public transport option of surface bus public transport.

The best option was the underground rail loop, which would put rush-hour road speeds at around 8 km/h.

However, by 2021 the existing rail network will have reached capacity, and the overflow will be forced on to increasingly crowded roads. By 2041, without a rail tunnel, average morning peak road speeds in the city centre will be down to 5 km/h - walking speed. Major inner roads like Symonds St will become exclusive four-lane bus corridors.

Mr Brownlee says that study "falls some way short of convincing the Government it should provide financial support to any fast-tracking of the proposed City Rail Link". An optimist might say that at least he isn't ruling out slow-track support.

Auckland has been waiting for Government backing for an underground line from the city centre to the northern/western line for just under 90 years. Historian Graham Bush, in his city council history, reminds us that in October 1923 Minister of Railways Gordon Coates endorsed the idea of an underground line from Morningside to the CBD. The line, priced at $1.23 million, had a Town Hall station. We're still waiting.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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