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  • Grant McLachlan - New Zealand Herald - Column

Planning disasters - there's been a few


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Among the buzz words to be thrown around in 2009, one will be "infrastructure". While words like "economic meltdown" and "recession" will make our shoulders sink, "infrastructure" will be to our Government what "change" is to Barack Obama.

But it shouldn't be seen as the cure for everything.

It would be a prudent to learn from our mistakes.

So here are what I consider to be the biggest planning disasters in New Zealand's history. They are disasters because they are irreversible due to costs. As one mayor once said to a developer: "The only thing that will improve this town are 12 bulldozers side by side heading down the main street."

Auckland is not included in this list because, technically, Auckland was not a "planned city" and, fortunately, there have been no major mistakes yet - it's just it's taken forever to get any infrastructure built. It's now time for Auckland to learn from the rest of the country.

1. The Resource Management Act 1991

Hot on the heels of merging councils in the 1980s came a "simpler, more consistent, less regulated, effects-based regime" focused on sustaining natural and physical resources.

Ironically, the act resulted in the opposite of its intentions.

Development has been sporadic and opportunist as the deregulated void was filled by bureaucrats and consultants. No matter how effective the Government's proposed changes are, it will take decades to fix the damage done.

2. Wellington

Wellington is a disaster waiting to happen. If an earthquake or tsunami doesn't cripple the capital, the weather will have a go. The airport runway has wind shears at either end, the ferry navigates treacherous waters and the road and rail arteries are straddled by erosion-prone slopes.

The politicians who chose Wellington as our capital in 1865 must have been sadists.

3. American Army Engineers

We had a few hundred thousand American engineers here during World War II and they needed something to do. So they offered to build a motorway between Auckland and Wellington, upgrade the Napier- Taihape Road, build a Manawatu Gorge flyover and a few highways out of Wellington.

Sorry, we said, that won't be necessary - but thanks for the offer.

4. State Highway 1

Whoever chose the route for State Highway 1 through the central North Island must have been a pragmatist.

"OK, the railway went that way, we'll build the road another way."

The route they chose closes many times a year due to snow and getting to Wellington from Auckland is much quicker through Taumarunui and Otorohanga.

Instead of building a bypass around Taupo, they should change a few signs and reroute State Highway 1 around the back of the lake.

5. Hastings

Planners in Hastings ripped up orchards to build state houses. It was only after the city took off from the growth in horticulture that someone realised the town was on the most fertile soil in the country.

They then chose a satellite suburb site on some marginal grazing stony soil and called it Flaxmere. Wrong again: Flaxmere is now surrounded by the largest grape-growing area in the country.

More extraordinary is the road network connecting Hastings and Napier. Hastings was originally built on a bypass of Havelock North. Since then, two bypasses have been built around Hastings.

Now there are four main roads between Napier and Hastings, all single carriageways. The newest road - the "Expressway" - is only as fast as the slowest car on it. One dual carriageway (two lanes in each direction) would suffice.

6. Department of Conservation

No single group of environmental activists has been responsible for achieving the opposite of their intentions more than DoC. Not satisfied with the DoC estate, it has interfered with every other piece of land with "conservation value".

Any hunter or high-country farmer will tell you how DoC would prefer to waste taxpayer money on poisoning everything but its target when hunters and the fashion industry are willing to pay to do the job well.

North Island farmers are increasingly required to fence off native trees that provide shelter for stock. The weeds take over, pests move in and kill the native flora and fauna and the stock die from disease from the pests, the pest poison or exposure to the elements.

DoC is starting to take over South Island high-country stations. Watch the merino industry take a hammering, not to mention the taxpayer.

7. Karori

Some bright spark back whenever decided to build New Zealand's largest suburb with only a two-lane tunnel connecting it to the city.

Alternative routes are just as annoying to use.

Karori is the Maori word for snare - appropriate for trapped valley residents.

8. Carterton

Back in 1957, the design for Carterton was pretty simple - build a boulevard between the main road and the railway and the town would grow along it.

Few people took notice as the town grew along the main road through the Wairarapa. For a town of only 4000, the 50km/h zone is almost 4km long.

9. Dunedin Airport

Come on, 30km from the town centre? What were you thinking? Auckland's airport is only 20km from the centre.

Obviously, Dunedin has a powerful taxi lobby as public transport is pathetic.

10. Queenstown

Ever notice that postcards of Queenstown are either of the mountains or the town from a distance? That's because the town is ugly.

If you've visited the place recently, you'll notice a mix of inappropriate architectural styles competing to attract the tacky American tourist.

All the camouflage in M*A*S*H won't hide the damage that's been done to the once-idyllic town.

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