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Pushing World Cup deadline a bridge too far
Wednesday February 28, 2007
By Brian Rudman

Those pro-road lobbyists at the Employers and Manufacturers Association never give up. Their latest ploy is to pump out misleading advertisements claiming the second Manukau Harbour crossing to the airport "has to be ready in time for the [rugby] World Cup". Their solution: fast-tracked resource management hearings.

What they don't explain is why this bridge has to be open for the 2011 tournament.

Surely the only extra infrastructure that "has to be ready" is an adequately upgraded stadium. Can a new road bridge, half a city away from the venue, really be a requirement? Agreed, there are all sort of reasons for improving this bottleneck, but a few rugby games aren't among them.

That's unless the association knows something the rest of us don't. That, for instance, overseas rugby fans are to be kept at special enclosures at Auckland International Airport, or alongside Watercare's former sewage ponds, and let out a only few hours before a match, sober and mean, ready to cross the Manukau en masse on their way to Eden Park.

More probably, they will arrive in manageable numbers by the jet load and make their way as passengers do, in 300-plus people groups, to downtown Auckland, where most visitor accommodation is. At the speed passengers are processed and the ungodly hour most long-distance flights seem to arrive, I suspect most fans will experience no hold-ups, unless Transit New Zealand has chosen that time to repair lanes or install road tolling gantries.

Admittedly, the association is not the only one to latch on to 2011 as a deadline. Contact Energy wants resource management processes fast-tracked so it can upgrade or replace the Wairakei geothermal power station by that magic year, and then there's Auckland City councillor Dr Cathy Casey who wants the city's homeless off the streets and receiving all the services they need by World Cup time.

But getting back to my old sparring partners at the Employers and Manufacturers Association. They've been pumping out radio advertisements claiming "seven city councillors are holding up a critical transport project needed for the Rugby World Cup". Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson claims "seven city councillors got themselves the job" of being planning commissioners and delayed things for months while they arranged a hearing time they could all agree to. He calls for one independent commissioner to hear the application instead.

The facts are rather different. The panel will have four independent commissioners - one appointed by the Minister of Conservation, two by Manukau City and one by Auckland City. Auckland City has also nominated local councillor Leila Boyle. The Auckland regional council has appointed councillors Dianne Glenn, who will chair the panel, and local councillor Bill Burrill.

That makes a majority of independent commissioners. Which is what the association seems to want with bells on.

Once again the roading lobby has created a crisis to try to bully politicians into rushing a project through. Local community board chairwoman Bridget Graham put the case for playing it by the rules well. This project has serious social and environmental impacts which could last up to 100 years.

Onehunga, she said, would not be held to ransom by short-term considerations like the Rugby World Cup. "We have only one chance to get this right."

By steady nagging, the ARC finally persuaded Transit NZ to investigate incorporating a rail link to Auckland Airport as part of the bridge structure. What a breakthrough that has been. The good citizens of Onehunga want further discussions on the route of the fly-overs and access lanes crossing their neighbourhood. They want shoreline power pylons undergrounded.

Then there's the Volcanic Cones Society, fighting to save a tuff ring from further destruction.

All the above need further debate and resolution at their own speed to achieve the best possible outcome for the whole community. What we don't need is a fast-track solution designed for and by the lorry lobby and its friends.