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Aside from mad motorway a reasonable plan

by 20 Jul 2011Cartoons, Local board0 comments

BAU Kenworth cartoon

Unpopular Push: Despite 53.6% support for the city rail loop against only 21.2% for a new Pūhoi–Wellsford highway, local board members feel the latter to be ‘a key advocacy area’ for them. The draft plan also claims ‘we value our relaxed pace of life’. cartoon Majorlook Productions

The draft local board plan is mostly Mahurangi-friendly.

Mahurangi is mentioned six times, and the Mahurangi Action Plan twice. Even Mahurangi River dredging gets mentioned, which is right and proper considering how well canvassed the need is, including being included in the Mahurangi Action Plan.

The Rodney Local Board has a vast geographic spread—its territory stretches some 80‍ ‍kilometres north–south. This is the inevitable outcome of the dispiritingly unimaginative decision to structure the Auckland region into areas of roughly equal population. Doing justice to the Mahurangi, the catchment of which is a mere 5% of the local board area, was always going to be a balancing act by the planners and their political masters.

The northern hinterland of Auckland however does share many common priorities, a very obvious one being the need to:

Actively manage growth and retain coastal and rural character.

Appropriately, ‘retaining clearly defined greenbelts’, a Vision Rodney goal, appears early on in the text. However, the charming photograph of the Pūhoi General Store illustrating the page will remind older readers of how once the village did enjoy a totally uncompromised green belt; how the shrine beside the road was the first and only hint of the town’s location, as it revealed itself after that bend. Sadly, the greenbelt horse has bolted in respect to the Mahurangi Harbour’s two prime scenic ridge-top roads. At Mahurangi West a relatively few houses have transformed a rural road with outstanding vistas into something that now has a distinctly residential look and feel. And at Mahurangi East, a road that deserved to retain its rural look and feel has long-since become a dispiriting suburban experience. Even a dwelling-free half-kilometre of road would have been sufficient to create a pleasing and natural separation between Snells beach and Algies Bay. Instead, the developers ensured that every bit of road frontage yielded a section.

Warkworth has also squandered its natural greenbelt, with planners allowing various businesses to predate at will upon highway users.

What will surprise many is that local board members have used the local board plan to advocate for the planned Pūhoi–Wellsford motorway. Advocating for continued motorway access at Pūhoi would be forgivable, given the very vocal reaction to the New Zealand Transport Agency’s preference for there being none. But given how deeply divided the community is on the wisdom of business-as-usual motorway building, the draft local board plan should have confined its advocacy to the goals of making road transport safer and more efficient, rather than endorse the agency’s seriously outmoded response of building another traffic-generating highway. If the new highway were ever built, it would be Mangawhai (immediately north of the Auckland Council boundary) that would reap the whirlwind of development pressure—Auckland’s growth exported to what should be, in broad terms, a greenbelt between Auckland and Whangārei.

Advocacy for the planned highway is justified, in the draft local board plan, as:

…supporting the economic development of our neighbours in the North.

The bald fact is that no robust cost–benefit case exists detailing exactly how Northland would benefit. Whereas, it is highly likely that $1.65 billion spent on rail with trail, including to Marsden Point would transform Northland’s tourist industry (and that of Rodney) and sharply reduce transport costs.

And $1.65‍ ‍billion might have been overly optimistic. The transport agency’s engineers are discovering that the geology of Dome Valley is even more unfavourable for motorway construction than they’d allowed for, and a route is yet to be confirmed.

Meantime, a programme of safety upgrades with a high cost–benefit ratio has been designed by the Campaign for Better Transport. This would address much sooner the local board members’ expressed concerns for safety, as well as improve traffic flows. And the works involved would have a much lower potential to generate sediment, the mortal enemy of the Mahurangi Harbour.

Aside from the $1.65‍ ‍billion highway, an entirely reasonable plan.

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