26 Jul 2014

Highway 'lacks economic analysis'

11:06 pm on 26 July 2014

A transport lobby group said it is considering legal action over consent given to a highway connecting Auckland to Northland.

The Puhoi to Warkworth highway, costing $760 million, has been given resource consent in a draft report.

Opposition parties have condemned a decision to build a new highway between Auckland and Northland.

Opposition parties have condemned a decision to build a new highway between Auckland and Northland. Photo: PHOTO NZ

A proposal for the Pūhoi to Warkworth section of Ara Tūhono - the Pūhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance - was directed by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Conservation to an independent Board of Inquiry.

The board was set up in November 2013 to assess the project, partly because it would mean significant changes to the environment. Two public meetings were held in April and June this year, with 187 submissions received.

In its draft decision released on Friday afternoon, the board granted the 15 resource consents sought by the New Zealand Transport Agency for the project. However, the draft consents come with an 86-page report of conditions that must also be met.

The board has confirmed two notices of requirement and granted the 15 resource consents requested by the NZ Transport Agency, subject to conditions.

The applicant and other parties now have 20 working days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report.

Reactions mixed

Advocates say the highway - popularly known as the Holiday Highway - will be a boon to locals and freight drivers who have to travel the existing stretch of State Highway 1 every day.

But the Campaign for Better Transport said the project has had no economic analysis and the money would be better spent fixing the existing road.

Convenor Cameron Pitches said his group will look at whether it can change the outcome through court action.

"The decision would set a precedent whereby the NZTA no longer has to provide economic business cases, so for this decision to be accepted would be a retrograde step for the planning of transport in New Zealand."

And a residents' action group said the highway could be catastrophic for the Mahurangi harbour.

The project will have to abide by a long list of conditions to protect the environment, including limiting pollution and sediment levels and monitoring water quality in Mahurangi harbour.

But secretary of Mahurangi Action, Cimino Cole, said that may not be enough to save the harbour.

Mr Cole said a better solution for Northland's economy and environment would be to make the existing road safer at a fraction of the cost, upgrade the railway and build a cycle path.

Highway 'a waste of money'

The Labour and Green parties have also condemned the granting of consents for the new highway, saying it's a waste of money.

Labour's transport spokesperson, Phil Twyford, said the board didn't consider any alternatives and simply took the Government's word a new road was the best option.

He said just because the project's been given draft consent, doesn't make it a good idea.

Greens transport spokesperson, Julie Anne Genter, said the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Ms Genter said the Government should instead be upgrading the existing stretch of State Highway 1 and improving local roads in Northland.

The board was set up in November 2013 to assess the project, partly because it would mean significant changes to the environment. Two public meetings were held in April and June this year, with 187 submissions received.

In its draft decision released on Friday afternoon, the board granted the 15 resource consents sought by the New Zealand Transport Agency for the project. However, the draft consents come with an 86-page report of conditions that must also be met.

NZTA's acting highway manager Steve Mutton said on Friday the decision is great news, and an exciting and important step forward.

Subject to conditions being met, construction could start in 2016 and take five years. The first part involves a four-lane, 18.5km stretch of motorway from the Johnstone's Hill tunnels to a roundabout near the Warkworth town centre.

The applicant and other parties now have 20 working days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report before the board releases its final decision on 4 September.

The Board will provide its final decision to the Environmental Protection Agency by 4 September 2014.