Govt & NZ: “reduce emissions”. Also govt: “yeah but BUILDING THINGS, and VOTES”

Some influential voices are pointing out the climate weaknesses of Let’s Get Wellington Moving big-ticket programme. Will anyone listen?

What’s new?

Te Waihanga, the NZ Infrastructure Commission (lots of big brains, but no powers to compel the government to do anything) has just released some analysis. It’s here and here, and LGWM’s response is here.

LGWM has been sitting on the analysis for quite a few weeks. It speaks to the whole programme, both the big-ticket stuff you can open with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and The Other Stuff (which we don’t hear much about).

Big Ticket Stuff

The big-ticket programme is the stuff that’s getting all the attention, not least because it costs the most. Mass Transit and Strategic Highway building-works, in some combination. New tunnel or not to tunnel; what’ll go in a new tunnel and what we suspect will end up in the tunnel. All that money and work is… surely… delivering the king-hit we need on emissions from transport, which do the lion’s share of our climate-heating dirty work?

LGWM has always been far too slow at doing what we need, but its emissions-reducing power has been a high-profile part of its purpose since the whole thing was reconfigured and emissions reduction got a 40% weighting in its objectives.

from the freshly-released Te Waihanga review into LGWM’s emissions performance

Limp on emissions reduction

The Commision analysis has re-emphasised just how feeble the high-profile bits of LGWM are for emissions reduction, and the stupidness of keeping travel demand management (the unsexy, unpopular and most effective emissions-reducer) languishing undeveloped in the shadows.

The government’s selection of option 1 doubles down on that weakness, alas. While it’s exciting for everyone that SOMETHING is happening, we’re now looking at spending a helluva lot of public money on something that’s going to pump a lot more emissions into the sky for… some pretty dubious sounding reasons.

from here

Be roughly right, not precisely wrong

Another thing that struck us was the section about uncertainty.

The uncertainty of doing stuff in cities is real, but it’s better to be roughly right than precisely wrong with your big investments. And even using the best precision we have, Te Waihanga find that Option 4 is still the most right option. The government is rebutting, saying “hey option 1 will perform better than that, if Wellington City council get heaps of intensification happening”. The regional council have been eyeballing the city council hard, probably sharing our concern that WCC might weaken on how much intensification they support. (Because as we see, NIMBYism wields a lot of political power.)

Given how expensive and risky it is to do development at the best of times, let alone in a COVID-y world where we’ve been underinvesting in poo pipes, there’s a lot riding on WCC (and Wellington Water AKA New Water Entity) being as enabling as possible of good development near stuff people want to do.

…and realistically roughly right please

But in this vein, another odd thing is being pointed out right now: Option 1 includes mass transit through the tunnel and all the way out to the Eastern suburbs, where, as we’ve noted, one of the few certainties is the layer-cake of natural hazards under most of it. Even if the council was super enabling, would you invest millions in developing (or even tens of thousands, as a “mum and dad developer” doing 3 storeys on your quarter-acre) where there’s not one but three big natural hazards lurking?

So why, again, are we not doing option 4 and strong travel demand management, given this is what makes most sense, and will maximise the odds we’re roughly right?

Here’s hoping the Infrastructure Commission will get listened to and we can get a sensible, roughly right approach to LGWM investments: the right big visible stuff, and lots of robust invisible stuff – that travel demand management – which’ll actually give us the king-hits to our emissions.

Refresh yourself on our comprehensive analysis of the four options and their context… and have a read of the Commission and LGWM papers yourself (here and here, LGWM’s response here) – what do you think?

Are we headed for roughly right or precisely wrong?

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