At Wellington City Council's Long Term Planning meeting on Thursday they finally showed their hand and tried to kill off Island Bay's long overdue Parade Upgrade for good.
As foreshadowed in last week's blog Mayor Andy Foster's draft Long Term Plan (LTP) removed funding for The Parade Upgrade entirely, breaking a 3 year old promise to the Island Bay community. However, during a long and chaotic meeting a couple of amendments were made to the draft plan for consultation that offer a small glimmer of hope.
So what happened at the meeting?
Councillors were voting on what will be included in the draft LTP that goes out for public consultation. The Mayor's initial draft proposed removing funding for The Parade Upgrade entirely, along with reducing funding for cycleways across the board. The recommended option would cut WCC's funding for cycleways (outside the scope of Let's Get Wellington Moving) from $75m across 10 years in the 2018-28 LTP to $67m across 10 years in the 2021-31 LTP.
In order to follow this you need to remember that first councillors vote on any amendments they want to make to a proposal (the substantive motion). If the amendments pass they become part of the substantive motion and then councillors vote on that.
An amendment was moved by Councillor Tamatha Paul to "make Option 4 (Full connection) the preferred option for cycleway infrastructure". This would triple the cycling budget to between $170-200m over 10 years, including The Parade Upgrade. The vote on this amendment was lost narrowly 7-8. Bizarrely, the deciding vote against it came from the Green Party's Sarah Free who also currently holds the cycling portfolio. Also voting against it were Mayor Foster and Councillors Calvert, Condie, Rush, Sparrow, Woolf & Young.
As a compromise Councillor Laurie Foon then moved an amendment to "increase spending for cycleways by $45 million over years 4-10 which will keep us under the debt to revenue ratio". This would increase the cycling budget over 10 years to about $110m but also back-end much of it into another LTP consultation (which happens every 3 years). It also means that by 2031 Wellington still won't have a connected city-wide cycling network. This amendment passed 10-5 with Mayor Foster and Councillors Calvert, Rush, Woolf and Young voting against it (in the substantive vote it then passed 11-4 with Councillors Calvert, Rush, Woolf and Young voting against it).
There was confusion over whether that amendment included The Parade Upgrade or not so Councillor Foon moved another amendment to "request officers to advise us how the Island Bay project can be included within that programme". This amendment passed 12-3 with Councillors Calvert, Sparrow and Woolf voting against it (in the substantive vote it passed 12-3 with the same three councillors voting against it).
Finally, the substantive vote also included a motion to "instruct officers to bring forward the resealing of the Island Bay Parade and simultaneously remove ghost markings, complete minor safety improvements and install buffers between the cycleway and parking lanes". This passed 15-0.
Where does that leave us?
It's hard to tell without more detail because councillors and council officers really did seem to be making a lot of this up on the fly. One thing for sure is that the draft LTP that goes out for consultation will not include the promised Parade Upgrade anytime soon (not until 2024 at the earliest). That means there's currently no chance of the upgrade being delivered within the 7 years after council voted 13-1 to do it back in September 2017. That is an absolute disgrace, especially after they went to court in 2019 to defend their right to do it, and won!
The full upgrade may yet appear in the LTP after 2024 but that will depend on council officer's advice back to councillors. In the meantime bringing forward the next re-seal of The Parade (from when to when is not yet clear) and the instruction to "install buffers between the cycleway and parking lanes" does provide some hope of one of the key elements of the upgrade being delivered but that's going to be pretty tight to do within a re-seal budget. Of course, it does make perfect sense to do as much work as possible at the same time. We'll have to wait for more detail on that.
All in all, what happened on Thursday was a big downgrade of the upgrade. Although the upgrade is not yet dead it's definitely on life-support.
According to WCC this is just fine
Why have the council been stalling on doing The Parade Upgrade anyway?
It's a long story but put simply, they have been trying to get a bit too clever with the funding and as a result of delaying have then seen the costs go up.
When council made the decision to upgrade The Parade in 2017 they put $6m of WCC's own money in the following LTP to do it. Then they got a bit greedy. In order to extract as big a contribution as possible from Waka Kotahi to improve cycling in South Wellington in general they rolled The Parade Upgrade and Newtown Connections into one project. Unfortunately that had two damaging effects on The Parade Upgrade:
While all this was going the council have also seen the estimated cost of the upgrade slowly increasing. Partly because they discovered they would have to dig up a lot more drains than they thought in order to deliver the raised Copenhagen style lanes they had promised, and partly because if you faff around endlessly the cost of things does tend to go up.
Is the upgrade really going to cost $14m?
Nope. The $14m figure popped up last year when WCC threw a Hail Mary pass and put an application in to fund The Parade Upgrade as a shovel ready COVID-19 recovery project. Let's be clear - that is the absolute top end of what it could cost to deliver what was always a pretty over-engineered solution. If money is now tight and some unforeseen cost pressures have genuinely emerged around this project there are definitely other options.
The "Mayor's compromise option" that they settled on for The Parade Upgrade was a nice bit of PR but really just a combination of two of the options they consulted on in 2017 - Option C's raised Copenhagen style bike lanes in the residential areas and Option D's angle parking for cars at the shops. This was actually confirmed by the High Court during the judicial review.
This is only my opinion but if money is now an issue here's what I think should happen in order of priority:
What's proposed above is really just a combination of Option B in the residential sections (instead of Option C) and Option D at the shops (as originally agreed). One of the helpful things that the judicial review established was that as long as the decision the council made was within the broad parameters of what was consulted on then they were free to mix and match options in making a decision.
In summary, with or without a contribution from Waka Kotahi I think WCC have plenty of flexibility available to them to deliver a cost effective upgrade within the parameters of the original consultation and the decision already made. If they really want to get the cost down and significantly improve safety & comfort then they should remove on-street parking. This would be in line with the Parking Policy but might require more consultation (possibly through the traffic resolution process).
Whatever the amount would the money now be better spent elsewhere?
I've heard the argument that the current cycleway is ok and the money could be better spent elsewhere but I'd argue against that primarily for two reasons:
We shouldn't allow the council to use their own negligence as a bargaining chip in a re-negotiation of the scraps of funding that active transport gets in the first place. Once the bar is lowered to that point it will never be raised again.
So what should we do?
More detail about what is now proposed is needed and hopefully that will be included when the LTP goes out for public consultation. In the meantime keeping emailing councillors about how unhappy you are with The Parade Upgrade not being delivered yet and the reduction in funding for cycling in the LTP generally. Some of you have already done that and it is having an impact.
When the LTP goes out for consultation we will also need to make submissions. More guidance on that will come out closer to the time.