In a startling decision the Northern Arterial Route (NAR) has been declined by independent commissioners. As usual the Hastings Council’s defeat has been cleverly spun. If the press is to be believed, it’s all down to those ‘bloody Maoris’ and their cultural sensitivity, mumbo jumbo.
The Mayor would have us believe two things. Firstly, “The project has a number of economic, environmental and neighbourhood safety benefits.”
That is true, if you rely on a myopic analysis. It reminds me of BERL’s recent, damning alcohol report that looked at the costs of alcohol in our communities, without considering the benefits. These benefits include our billion dollar wine industry – more than just a minor oversight. Similarly, the economic analysis of the Regional Sports Park cycling velodrome considered the benefits, but not the costs. How can any sound decision be made without examining both sides of an argument? Yet this is a strategy that abounds in the political sphere, and it’s all too easy for the public to be manipulated.
Naturally the NAR independent commissioners were charged with weighing up the pros and cons of the road and, for the record, they clearly disagreed with the Mayor. The commissioners concluded that the NAR would not serve the community in terms of their “social, economic, and cultural well-being and for their health and safety.”
Secondly Mayor Yule stated: “Decisions like these are partly subjective in nature – different people put weight on different issues, just as the commissioners have done.”
Yet again, the commissioners could not disagree more strongly. “In all the circumstances relating to the NAR proposal, we are unable to find that it is consistent with the purpose and principles of the RMA,” they concluded.
In fact, there are four key grounds on which the NAR was defeated:
Traffic Benefits – Commissioner Terry Brown was the guru on these matters. After a career as a traffic engineer, he is naturally enthusiastic about roads and has ticked off plenty in his more recent role as Commissioner. But Commissioner Brown lived up to his ‘independent’ moniker. To his credit, he went away and undertook further analysis of the traffic data and reached his own conclusions.
The decision found that the NAR forecasts only showed traffic reductions on 3 of the 10 major roads considered. The Council’s own work indicated that it dramatically increased traffic on parts of Karamu Road. The Commissioners indicated that “upgrading works on Karamu Road and Pakowhai Road and various intersections will be required” in order to deal with the negative effects of the NAR. The NAR is not the traffic panacea Council would have us believe.
The Environment – Commissioners considered many environmental matters, but were particularly concerned about the loss of valuable soils – something that a great deal is made of in the District Plan. In their language of barbed euphemisms, they described “shortcomings in the evidence.” What they meant was that planning reports worked from the assumption that the NAR would have benefits that outweighed the costs. “Give us the road and we’ll sort out any problems later,” seemed to be the Council’s approach. Commissioners found that Council failed to adequately evaluate the environmental costs and did not demonstrate how they would be remedied or mitigated.
They concluded: “we are unable to conclude that the proposal would represent the efficient use and development of the natural and physical resources of this land…”
Tangata Whenua – How can I mention the Treaty of Waitangi and still keep you reading? Sadly, so many people are so frustrated and confused about the Treaty that they switch off whenever it is mentioned.
The key thing everyone needs to know is that the Treaty of Waitangi was primarily for the benefit of Pakeha. Simplistically, the Crown said “We’ll run the show and set up our laws and systems. In exchange we promise we’ll protect your land (and taonga) as long as you wish to hold onto them.” Almost 170 years later that looks to have been an exceptionally good deal for Pakeha. It’s Pakeha who should gleefully celebrate the Treaty. It was the constitutional basis on which the British Empire got their mitts on New Zealand. What a score!
Maori were guaranteed their lands as that was what they held most dear. Taking of land from one’s enemies has the power to destabilise communities and has always been the ultimate mark of victory. It was true of Alexander the Great, Napoleon and Hitler. It was equally true of Maori, who fought many battles over land. The principle is also relevant to that insidious, Marxist concept, of “death duties.” Here the enemy was the “wealthy landowner” and for the good of society their land should be removed from their heirs. Maori suffered terribly from the application of death duties and we showed little regard for their values. Maori were never the bourgeoisie.
A very few Maori have managed to retain their land in spite of death duties, councils, developers, family wrangles, bad business deals or whatever. Some have been offered millions for their land – but they are not interested. Their connection to the land is critical to them in a way Pakeha struggle to understand. We only really need to know one thing – a Maori with a connection to their ancestral land is a better, more complete Maori. They have a wholeness, an identity, a balance, that they struggle to find in any other way. OK, so it’s still mumbo jumbo to some of you. This you can understand … if someone took 99% of what is precious to you, how determined would you be to hold onto the last 1%?
Once, Maori controlled all of the Heretaunga Plains. Now they have but a few hundred acres left, and they are determined to hold onto it. Local Maori fought the NAR as if their lives depended on it. That is because their lives do depend on it. Without that connection to the land you can see many Maori in our communities, lost, confused and resentful; as if cast adrift in an unfamiliar ocean.
The Commissioners examined the facts, including the needs of the wider community but still rejected the NAR. They concluded strongly that the NAR “does not sufficiently recognise and provide for the relationship of the Maori…”
NAR Objectives – Most shocking of all, the NAR seems to have been flawed in its very foundations. Opponents argued that the Council had narrowed the objective of the NAR, in such a way as to justify the “preferred alignment.” The commissioners responded to that accusation with their shortest sentence: “We agree.”
This was a remarkable defeat for the Council. Purportedly $1.9M worth of reports in support of the NAR was shot down by a bunch of Maoris, some peasant fruit growers and a handful of “old folk” from Kennilworth Road. The commissioners acted with clarity and courage in turning down reams of evidence that sought to justify the NAR. Moreover, their decision was so emphatic that an appeal to the Environment Court seems to have been quickly dismissed.
How could Council have got it so badly wrong? To some extent it’s a reflection of the system for road funding. In Wellington there are two “pots of money” for roading projects — a National Fund and a Regional Fund.
For councils to get their hands on big chunks of this money, they must do two key things. Firstly, the road needs to be of national or regional importance. Secondly, the road needs to meet a minimum Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR). Simplistically, these rules mean councils are inclined to “big roads” and “efficient roads.” That sounds sensible, but sometimes, in chasing the central government funding, errors of judgment can be made.
If you complain to an Aucklander about the Hastings traffic, they will stare at you in disbelief. From both political and funding perspectives, “big roads” seem the way to go. But a series of incremental roading improvements can often relieve traffic pressures and make roads safer. Similarly, roads that are less efficient from a traffic perspective may preserve productive rural soils, or avoid Maori ancestral land. The Council also has ideas on walking, cycling and public transport, all of which could go some way to improving the situation.
Our problems are modest and it’s time to look at a raft of modest solutions.