What on earth is going on with Newtown Connections and The Parade Upgrade?
This is an updated version of a blog written in August 2019: Time to deliver
The Island Bay Cycleway has been caught up in the excruciating delays to the Newtown Connections project
The latest update from Wellington City Council about the Newtown Connections project tells us nothing new. It simply confirms that "the Council’s Parking Policy and Planning for Growth will be out for consultation in March/April and we expect these to be adopted by the Council in June. It’s important for this process to happen first before we can seek feedback on changes for safer and easier biking routes through the wider Newtown area".
The update doesn't even mention a date for the next round of consultation on Newtown Connections - we're left to assume that it will still happen in "mid-2020" as per updates from the council last year, but the way this project is limping along who knows?
Don't forget that even mid-2020 will be a full three years since the current round of Newtown Connections consultation started in August 2017 and nearly two years since the council last consulted publicly on the project in November 2018. I understand that it's complicated and I get that there are dependencies but this is still painfully slow progress, especially when the council recently declared a climate emergency. If nothing else it deserves much better and more frequent communication than we've been getting.
Climate emergency anyone?
It gets worse. In October 2018 the council absorbed The Parade Upgrade into the Newtown Connections project. At the time this seemed like a pragmatic decision in order to maximise the amount of funding available from NZTA. The expectation was that consultation on a preferred package of changes for Berhampore, Newtown and Mt Cook would happen in March 2019 and the council would make a decision in May/June 2019. Construction of the already approved re-design of The Parade would then commence in late 2019.
Just prior to Christmas last year the Dominion Post reported frustration over lack of progress on Island Bay cycleway. A routine council report updating progress on various cycleway projects throughout the city noted The Parade section in Island Bay had "major risks" and required intervention. Here's the relevant section from the report [Note 1]:
The situation is actually much worse than the Dom Post picked up. The update says that "NZTA will consider co-investing in The Parade once the Newtown and Berhampore cycling facilities are constructed". What? That shifts the start date for The Parade Upgrade out to after the completion of Newtown Connections, which will be a date in 2022 at the earliest but probably later than that. That's at least five years since since The Parade Upgrade was approved 13-1 by council back in September 2017.
Five years or more to start a piece of work that is already approved and essentially "shovel ready" is ridiculous. Aside from the funding the only plausible reason the council had to delay The Parade Upgrade was the Island Bay Residents Association's judicial review of the decision, which failed spectacularly but cost the council $80,000 in legal expenses to defend (which they chose not to recover from IBRA). It's actually disgraceful that the council appears to have known about this latest issue for at least the last four months and is yet to communicate anything formally about it to the local community, especially the part of the community that has stuck solidly by them on this through thick and thin. Pro tip: when even the people who are on your side start getting pissed off you’ve really got a problem.
I get the sense that some councillors might feel that The Parade Upgrade was the previous Mayor’s project but that’s garbage. It was dubbed the ‘Mayor’s compromise solution’ at the time, which was a cute bit of PR but nothing more. In reality the solution chosen was straight from the options that were consulted on with the community. Here’s what the High Court had to say when IBRA tried to make the same flaky claim: "to the extent that the ultimate option chosen was a hybrid of Options C and D, it arose out of the proposal that had been consulted upon" [IBRA v WCC para 129].
The fact is the previous council voted 13-1 in favour of The Parade Upgrade and seven of those votes are still on the council, including the current Mayor. They own this decision.
It's time to unhitch The Parade Upgrade from Newtown Connections and just get on with it. Yes, funding is a factor but there's also the cost related to destroying the public's trust and confidence in the council to ever deliver on its promises. This is a decision that was made at the end of a very long, expensive (~$240k) and public consultation process (Love the Bay), which the council then went to court to defend. It's not a new initiative jostling for budget among others and shouldn't be treated as one.
What the council actually agreed to in October 2018 was: "Through our LTP the Council has approved $8 million in ratepayer funding to improve connections in the south of the city before 2021, including the agreed redesign of the Island Bay cycleway [which was allocated $6m]. With the new direction and changes set out in the GPS, we can potentially leverage the committed $8.0 million of ratepayer funding to gain $32 million worth of changes in these areas by 2021, with the Government picking up 75 percent of the cost." It’s now obvious that nothing is going to happen in the south of the city before 2021 so the entire capital budget needs to be re-visited anyway. The council needs to be honest that a well-intentioned plan to fund The Parade Upgrade via Newtown Connections is a dead-end and find a new way forward.
Five years (or more) is too long to wait. It's time to get The Parade Upgrade underway
It’s my understanding that councillors will soon be receiving a briefing from council officers on Newtown Connections. In an effort to be constructive about this here's what I think the council should be investigating regarding the Island Bay component:
One thing for sure is that if the council don’t want the Island Bay Cycleway blowing up in their faces again soon they need to do something to get the project moving.
If you think The Parade Upgrade and Newtown Connections is taking far too long now is a really good time to let the council know about it. You can find the mayor and all councillors email addresses here, or you can email new WCC Chief Executive: email@example.com.
Note 1: The Quarterly report being presented to the WCC Strategy & Policy Committee on 5 March 2020 has mysteriously shifted the status of The Parade Upgrade back to Green but with no explanation of why
Note 2: The Quarterly report being presented to the WCC Strategy & Policy Committee on 5 March 2020 shows a capital underspend of $15m for the first 6 months of 2019/20, and a forecast full-year capital underspend of $42m