MaximusJune 5, 2014
Green Screens and the Presence of the Void
So the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry has finally reached the end of the hearing, after 71 days of mind-numbingly tedious detail. The judges on the panel deserve every cent they earn, for having to sit through and listen to the veritable mountain of documentation from NZTA and the various experts for or against it. There is not much doubt about what the eventual outcome will be, so in one sense the whole thing is a gigantic waste of time and money, but on the other hand some interesting legal points of contention have been teased out into the open. The relevance of the King Salmon case to the Basin Reserve is one such important point that the Board will be getting their minds around – and yes, despite the almost complete absence of fish in the Basin Reserve, apparently there are important legal principles at play here.
With some 8500 pages of transcripts and at about a maximum of 416 words per page, the Inquiry transcripts alone equal a massive potential 3,536,000 words just recording what was said; without even taking into account the thousands of pages of written documentation also submitted. Wikipedia tells me that James Joyce’s doorstopper Ulysses is about 265,000 words long, so that puts the Basin Bridge transcripts in their place: indeed, Ulysses is a tiddler by comparison, a mere 7.5% of the size of the Transcripts. Seeing as most of the population lie about having bothered to have read Ulysses, and seeing as the info on the EPA website is some 13 times larger, then I think that we can safely say that very few people will ever wade their way through the treacle of learned opinion, and for that we should all be very thankful.
Wikipedia also tells me that “Since publication, the book has attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from early obscenity trials to protracted textual “Joyce Wars.” Ulysses’ stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—full of puns, parodies, and allusions, as well as its rich characterisations and broad humour, made the book a highly regarded novel in the Modernist pantheon.” Much the same could be said for the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry, although with somewhat more dry humour I fear that it is not going to be such a Modernist must-read. It is however interesting that it is carrying on the fine tradition of the Joyce Wars, although in this case more Stephen than James.
But there are some interesting gems amongst the somewhat dry, existentialist legal discussions. My favourites amongst these were having people argue the benefits of the “green screen” which surely has to be one of the more ill-thought through pieces of architectural mitigation ever devised, and the wonderful spectacle of having legal counsel arguing the pros and cons of the validity of the Presence of the Void, which as an architectural concept is understandable, but as a legal precedent is as wily as a taniwha hiding in a swamp under the roadway. Do you have to physically see the absence of space to be aware of an apparent presence of a void? If you hide the presence of a void behind a bridge, then what happens when the bridge is hidden by a building pretending to be a grandstand? What happens if you look the other way? Why are the views of 22 cricketers who play on the pitch 3 times a year more important than the 30,000 Wellingtonians who go past the presence of a bridge twice a day? Does having a bridge across a valley bring up the same legal precedents as having a flyover across a roadway, or are those all just semantics? Is the existing environment comparable with the effects of the comparison to the baseline, or is Hawkins vs Bandersnatch more relevant to matters of Section 7 or Section 8? What about poor old Section 5? And why isn’t more relevance being attached to Section 2? Is there anything more pointless than building a screen of stainless steel scaffolding, at presumed large expense, and then hoping that foliage will cover all 5 stories of it over the years, and cover the ugly building from the flyover, or cover the ugly flyover from the building – or is it more likely that the tecomanthe species selected will opt to spurn the cold, sunless south side of the building and seek to grow somewhere else more comfortable instead? How many plants do you know that grow like this? Not many, if any. Is there any point proposing this as a means of mitigation if the people in the apartment building would prefer just to have some decent double glazing and a view of the Basin in preference to seeing the inside of a metallic spaceframe beset with withered vines? Shouldn’t they have asked them first? Or do we just admit that its real purpose is a giant parkour playground for the youth of this city, who will be up the screen hanging banners off it as quick as Lucy Lawless up the mast of the Shell Oil explorer vessel Noble Discoverer? I know which wall I’m going to be climbing to hang my banner proclaiming “No Second Flyover!”
But mostly, is there any point in having an inquiry into a road bridge, if they are not allowed to consider the alternatives? The Board has no power to say “We like A, or B, or D, or RR, or X” instead, all they have the power to do is to agree (or not) whether (or not) the alternatives to A have been properly considered (or not). They do get to say that they believe a cycle / pedestrian bridge at the side should be 3m wide, or possibly 4.5m wide with a pinchpoint at St Joseph’s church, or possibly will another 0.2m width of footpath do instead? (ummm, no). They do get to say whether the Northern Gateway building, also known as Morrison’s Last Stand, should be constructed at 45m long, 65m long, or – shock horror, could it be, the radical 55m long version? Woo hoo! I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it… They also get to say whether the Building Under the Bridge should be built, which (as it’s sole purpose is to provide further blocking out of the ugly flyover, and urban design mitigation for that god-awful present planting on Bogart’s corner), is a foregone conclusion of yes, build it, whether they even build the flyover or not. Why is Bogart’s corner even still called Bogart’s corner, seeing as Bogart served the worst late night burgers in town and they’ve been gone for years anyway? And of course the Board get to rule on the legality of whether NZTA were allowed to / meant to move the Creche and stick it on an adjoining site, or whether they should get a slap on the hand for moving it without asking, or do they get a slap on the hand for even thinking of not moving it? Bizarrely, NZTA were arguing that it was precisely because the moving of the Creche was not mentioned in the Act, that they would be in breach of something if they had in fact not moved it. Frankly, I don’t know how that would stand up in Court… And finally the Board also get to say whether the Green Screen is a worthy item for the tax-payer to fork out for. I think the evidence of the submitters on the Green Screen spoke volumes, and there was a definite presence of a void of interest in that as a solution.
But sadly, despite all the many pages of guff, they never managed to get to the bottom of some of the basic questions: why was the issue of school-children drop-offs not explored, as it is clear that there is only congestion during term time? That is one clear advantage of the Option X scheme, that allowed children to walk home through a park, instead of being picked up on the side of a major highway, blocking the traffic with buses and 4WDs. It is a problem that hasn’t be solved – hasn’t even been addressed by the Board. What a waste of time…. Instead, expert urban designers merely dismissed the park as a cul-de-sac, which is against current urban design suburban design principles, and therefore somehow applicable to a wholly different situation in the centre of a city. Where were the engineers of the bridge, and why were only the architects sent out to bat on that question? What sort of an Engineer would not want to talk about their bridge, and why on earth was a 2m deep box-beam bridge continually described as slimline and elegant? I know you can get a slimline doorjamb at only about 20mm thick, but there is no way that a 2m thick bridge can be described as thin! If thinness was important, why was the concept not explored of more columns, and thinner bridge?
How can it be that we are assured that all the options were considered on a level playing field, and that all apples were being considered against other apples, when clearly Option A is presented by 34 highly paid expert witnesses and months of deliberation of appropriate mitigation, and yet Option X was apparently not presented to the Board at all, without a shred of mitigation for that scheme even being considered at all? How the heck is that equitable? Don’t try and spin a line that the alleged urban design experts adequately and fairly evaluated alternative schemes despite apparently never actually having any discussion or presentation at all! The Board never got to the bottom of the issue of costs – which to the average taxpayer would seem to be a key issue that the whole case rests upon – with even the most basic arithmetic never being explored. How can a $100m bridge, a $11m grandstand, a $5m clip-on bridge, a $90m underpass and a $30m Memorial Park be viewed as being cheaper than a scheme which needs no bridge, no grandstand, no clip-on bridge, and already included most of the underpass in the costings?
Why was the cost of Option X and Option RR not explored, especially as NZTA have been massively misrepresenting the costs all along. How can it be that we have a scheme in BRREO that will cost about 0.1% of the cost of the Basin Bridge – probably even less than a half the cost of the Inquiry itself – and yet that is not seen as a good thing, even if only short term? Why is NZTA not ordered to trial the Richard Reid option of adding in an extra lane around key parts of the Basin, as this will ease up on the congestion currently caused by clearly inadequate present road markings? Is there not some sense of irony from advocates for NZTA (sorry, I meant to say “independent expert witnesses for the Inquiry”) who say – “Look at this brilliant result in Auckland where NZTA moved the Rob Roy pub (the Birdcage) and its all so much better now” – when in fact that scheme was driven completely by Richard Reid, the very man whose work they are trying so hard to dismiss? It is pretty clear that Richard Reid is right when he says that a lot of the issues around the Basin could be fixed pretty quickly, as the current lane markings are badly laid out – and so if the NZTA aren’t going to do anything here for the next few years until they build the bridge or dig some tunnels, then it would greatly relieve Wellingtonian’s stress levels if the road markings were corrected anyway while we wait. What is the point of another five years of congestion every term time if this can be largely relieved by some more sensible planning of the bus-parking in front of the schools?
What is the point of a Board of Inquiry if some of these most basic of points are just swept under the expensive legal carpet of the 71 day-long waste of time? Otherwise, it is all just pre-ordained whitewash. Your Honour: I rest my case.