Mandy Hager’s Column

The Road to Ruin(ed) Lives

By Mandy Hager

Whichever side of the debate you’re on in regards to the need for the Expressway, it shouldn’t mean that you lose empathy for the people who’ve lived with this Sword of Damocles hanging over them every day for the last two years.

It infuriates me when I read vitriolic letters to the papers talking about those protesting the expressway as if it was pure selfish nimby-ism. Clearly these letter writers have no idea of the day to day impact.Since I’ve moved to Kapiti, I’ve met many wonderful people whose lives have been thrown into total turmoil since the Expressway announcement. These people could be anyone – could be you — they weren’t selected because they were trouble-makers, they are good honest people who were quietly going about their lives when suddenly their homes, their retirement plans, their mental and physical health are stolen from them.

Imagine!

Imagine, for a moment you are one of these people. Imagine you’ve lived in the same property for 10, 20, maybe even 30 years, spending numerous hours developing your dream garden, renovating or building your dream house, raising your family and celebrating all the important milestones there (your children’s births, their marriages, your marriage!)

You’ve come to understand the cycle of the seasons. You grow your own fruit and veges. You’ve come to love the abundance of bird life. You have worked your butt off making sure that in your retirement you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labours here, in the place you love, with your familiar community around you.

Now, imagine, overnight, you’re told all is this going to be taken away. At best, NZTA will want your whole property and buy you out, so at least you can move on and try to start again.

But for many, many people it’s so much worse. Your sanctuary is going to be next to a bloody great motorway designed for the trucking lobby, possibly raised metres in the air above you, with lights blaring all night, traffic noise and fumes contaminating your vegetables, fruit and body.

If you have any pre-existing health conditions, particularly heart, respiratory, stress or mental health, God help you, because credible organisations like the World Health Organisation have written guidelines saying you’re now many times more at risk. You cannot move because your house no longer has any value. You’re stuck there — an expressway refugee hung out to dry.

NZTA ‘Experts’ at work

Now imagine the additional stress of knowing this for the last two years. And the enormous emotional energy you’ve put into submitting your case, only to discover that so-called ‘experts’ — paid by NZTA — have combed through your submission and dismissed everything you know to be true and hold dear.

These ‘experts’, like the specialists paid to shift people off ACC and sickness benefits, have only one agenda – to give the answers their masters want to hear. They don’t give a damn about your health, your home, your family ties — they just pocket the money and move on, after they’ve forced you into stressful cross-examination at the hearing first.

Perhaps if you can remember this — put yourself in these people’s shoes — it might encourage you to support them rather than make them feel like pariahs in their own community. Maybe you can talk to them and really listen to what they have to say — because they’re fighting on your behalf, and your children and grandchildren’s behalf as well.

Roads are not the solution to our country’s problems. Lack of empathy (for both other people and for our environment) is the problem here. Be a good neighbour. Stop the road.