Northern Corridor Improvements – design and consenting engagement
The decision to genuinely empower, collaborate and involve mana whenua, key stakeholders and the community was seen as critical during the design and consenting phase of the $NZ700 million Northern Corridor Improvements project, due to its highly complex impact on a massive population base.
This nationally significant transport project in Auckland, New Zealand is a truly transformative, with investment planned in the full range of travel choices across all modes - vehicles, buses, cyclists and pedestrians. Success would therefore rely on the community supporting and taking up these options. It would also have a significant impact on a huge number of community facilities, reserves, special environmental areas and private properties, due to the heavily urbanised and tightly constrained corridor in which it had to be built.
The NZ Transport Agency and Aurecon NZ team responded to these opportunities and risks by committing to putting public interests “at the heart of all decision-making”, and formalised an engagement strategy and public participation process across all workstreams to help shape the design. This meant all managers were responsible for genuinely consulting with their stakeholders and the community, rather than it only being the role of the Community Engagement team.
The aim was to co-create a sustainable design that would best meet the community’s needs and achieve great environmental outcomes. All planning documents submitted to the project’s national Board of Inquiry (BOI) consent process had to demonstrate public participation outcomes had been considered in their Multi-Criteria Assessment (MCA) tools. Key stakeholder and community challenges were identified upfront, and discipline, extra resource and working groups were put in place to work through them. A rigorous process proposed levels on the IAP2 spectrum for all affected parties, brainstormed ways to engage with them, and asked the participants the best way they’d like to be involved. The goal was to agree resolutions ahead of the consent application, rather than leaving items to be raised in a submission during the official public notification period.
Success was to be measured by the ability to point to evidence of mana whenua, stakeholder and public participation influencing or changing decision making; and satisfaction with the proposed design. By the time of the consent application, the project team was able to proudly say they’d achieved both. Despite its size and the huge population base, there was an incredibly low number of submissions – only 33 in total. Comparable projects in New Zealand normally receive hundreds of submissions. And of those received, approximately 70% of all submissions were in support or partially in support. Only 2 submitters raised issues relating to the public consultation process.
Notably, key stakeholders including local government, road user groups, public transport and cycling groups were all in support. Unanimous support was also received from mana whenua. In the final BOI decision report in late 2017, the independent commissioners who oversaw the process noted:
“...overall the Transport Agency deserves credit for the way in which its consultation programme was designed and implemented. It has gone to considerable effort to engage with the public of Auckland generally and the key stakeholders in particular to inform them of what is proposed. There have been a great many opportunities offered to those potentially affected by the Project to engage with the Transport Agency to discuss matters of concern and, in some cases, to negotiate alterations to the Project. This can be seen particularly with reference to the fact that agreement has been reached with organisations such as Waste Management, Auckland Transport, Bike Auckland, Watercare, Vector, Transpower and Harbour Hockey Charitable Trust, and that the matters which were of concern to the Council are now reduced to one only.”