RiverLink Project Interview

We interviewed Paki Maaka, Urban Design Manager at Hutt City Council and Martin White, RiverLink Project Director who are working on a very exciting partnership project which will turn the Lower Hutt CBD into a river-facing city, which will connect cycleways and walkways. The RiverLink project will also deliver a new interchange to help with traffic issues which have been compounded with population growth in the Lower Hutt area as well as help overcome the issues facing the current Melling bridge which is a flood hazard and was built before climate change considerations.

Paki Maaka – Urban Design Manager

What’s the background to the RiverLink project – how did it come about?

The RiverLink project has a very long genesis. I can find council strategies that have been written and approved going back to 1987/88 – so there’s been a long desire to achieve some of the things that the RiverLink project is able to achieve.

The RiverLink project is a partnership project between three agencies: Hutt City Council, NZTA and Wellington Regional Council. Each of the three agencies have all had long term goals to achieve their own projects, Wellington Regional Council of course looks after the river and they also manage the protection from floods. They’ve got a long term plan that date back for more than 10 years to upgrade the river stock banks. And of course, NZTA are always investing in roads of national significance. A lot of their projects have origins that go back decades.

The unusual thing is that we’ve realised that there are three separate projects from the three agencies and that if we all worked together as one project, the outcomes would be far greater than if we worked on each project individually.  For over 30 years, our city (Lower Hutt) has wanted to build a connection between our CBD and the river. Our ability to build onto the stock banks is very limited. We don’t manage the stock banks but regional council manages them so we need to work with regional council to build a riverside CBD. By partnering up it enables to do things we couldn’t do on our own.

The proposed Melling interchange would enable state highway traffic to maintain 100kph without impeded flow. By not having to slow down this would remove a road safety problem. The advantage of NZTA working with Hutt City Council and Regional Council, is that we can demonstrate a whole range of advantages beyond just upgrading a road. The new Melling bridge will also take into account climate change and issues with flood hazard which have been a concern for some time.

The RiverLink project as a partnership project fulfils a number of criteria the current government are looking for when deciding whether to approve a project. It’s unusual for a roading project to be able to show social and economic growth and by showing this it makes the project more appealing to the government’s roading priorities. So there is an advantage for the NZTA in being able to show a project that models the criteria that the current government is implementing.  It also means that all three projects can be consented together which makes the case much stronger than if we tried to get all the projects consented individually. It also means we are pooling funding and expertise together which is a much more efficient way of working.

What have been some of the challenges of this project?

Trying to pull three projects into one and getting all the people involved to think of RiverLink as more than just their one project. So joining the project together and keeping it together has been challenging, especially as we each have different reporting lines.

What have you enjoyed most about working on the project?

Building good relationships across other agencies. One of the kicks I get out of this project is a lot of the community are supportive of the project. The enjoyment is seeing the buzz other people feel about the project.

Martin White – RiverLink Project Director

What have been some of the challenges of the project?

RiverLink is a very exciting and innovative project, but like all projects, it is not without its challenges.

By their very nature partnership projects are complex and challenging - not least managing the politics at a local, regional and national level. Funding can be a challenge, but on this project the partners have made a significant funding commitment, via their Long Term plans for the two councils.  NZTA will consider funding the transport element of the RiverLink project in the period after 2028.

An important element of RiverLink is the placemaking potential in making the Hutt CBD more appealing to potential investors. That’s an area that we’ll need to work more closely with land owners, investors, local business owners and others, when we have the consents in place. 

What have you enjoyed most about working on the RiverLink project?

I started in April this year, as Project Director and since then I’ve been establishing the project office so that we have the resources we need. For me, it’s about looking beyond the remits of each of the organisation and seeing what the similar parts are and how we can all pull together on the one project to deliver added value.

With the partnership project comes a lot of complexities but also a huge opportunity to work together on a really exciting project which will rejuvenate the Lower Hutt CBD so that has been enjoyable.

What advice do you have for others in local government who are working on a project of this magnitude?

One is to get the political commitments at the highest level from the word go. After that, secure the funding commitment because without that, there is no project. It’s also important to understand what each of the partners want from the project, so that you can work together to deliver value.

Partnership work is messy, complicated, hard work and emotionally draining, so you need to understand that landscape. Understanding what makes each of the organisations tick and then building on that to understand where each of the partners are coming from and getting them to understand that they’ll get more for their money if they work together.