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Forest & Bird fights plans for East-West highway

Forest & Bird is trying to stop the NZ Transport Agency ploughing ahead with an Auckland highway that poses a threat to rare native birds and special places.

The long-fought East West Link is back on the cards, after the Transport Agency announced it wants to keep the consents for the four lane highway in east Auckland.

Forest & Bird is now pressing ahead with its appeal to the High Court against the consents for the highway, which would cross Anns Creek near Southdown, an area with unique lava shrublands that provide habitat for endangered native birds.

The new highway would set a dangerous precedent for destroying the last remnants of Auckland’s natural environment, says Forest & Bird Auckland regional manager Nick Beveridge.

The road, which would connect State Highway 20 at Onehunga with State Highway 1 at Mt Wellington, would destroy habitat for rare birds that live around Mangere Inlet and Anns Creek, he says.

“This highway would be built through an area that is home for incredibly special birds, including critically endangered Australasian bitterns, banded rails and wrybills – and there are only 5,000 wrybills left in the world,” Mr Beveridge says.

Native freshwater fish, such as inanga spawn in the creek.

“The wetlands provide a feeding area for migrating birds, which are facing increasing threats around the world,” Mr Beveridge says.

The lava flow vegetation at the creek is the last remaining area of this ecosystem type in Auckland. The creek and lava shrublands have been identified as a significant ecological area in the Auckland Unitary Plan.

“The volcanic plants that grow there are so rare in the region – places like this are their last stronghold.”

“There’s no way they should get away with destroying any of this unique habitat,” Mr Beveridge says.

The highway was first proposed by the previous National government as a “road of national significance” that would cost $1.85 billion.

The Transport Agency applied for consent for the road in 2016. At this time, Forest & Bird, Ngati Whatua Orakei, Te Kawerau a Maki, Makaurau Marae, and other community groups made submissions against the highway, saying it would have harmful environmental or cultural effects.

A Board of Inquiry gave consent for the East-West Link, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Auckland Mayor Phil called a halt to the plans in November 2017, based on the price tag.

The Transport Agency has now re-evaluated the project and decided to “preserve its approval package” and to defend the appeals against the highway.

The agency has confirmed the plans include a new arterial road from Neilson Street to Sylvia Park Road, through Angle Street and Miami Parade, that is likely to cross Anns Creek.

The road designs have not yet been finalised and the agency’s re-evaluation report has not yet been made public.

Mr Beveridge says it’s unlikely the highway can be re-designed to meet the new budget, which the government has slashed to about $800 million - less than half the original $1.85 billion.

"The environmental cost is just too high anyway," he says.

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