Scrap pro­ject says Goff

Rodney Times - - FRONT PAGE - By DELWYN DICKEY

IT WAS used for po­lit­i­cal lever­age at the last elec­tion but this time the Puhoi to Wells­ford high­way ex­ten­sion is be­ing taken to with a sledge ham­mer.

The Na­tional Party un­veiled plans to speed up the high­way’s de­vel­op­ment in 2008 by clas­si­fy­ing it as a ‘‘road of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance’’. Three years later, af­ter sur­veys, geotech­ni­cal re­ports and pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion, Labour leader Phil Goff says his party will scrap the pro­ject. He’s ex­pected to elab­o­rate when he vis­its Wark­worth to­mor­row to ad­dress the Grey Power As­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing in the Hex­ham St Methodist Church Hall at 11am. The pub­lic is wel­come to at­tend.

Trans­port firm Neville Brothers man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Kelvin Neville is unim­pressed with Mr Goff’s com­ments.

‘‘My first thought was ‘ are there any Labour seats up north?’ The an­swer is no. So it doesn’t af­fect him. It’s go­ing to be a shamoz­zal if it doesn’t get done.’’

Mr Neville says his Dairy Flat­based firm uses the high­way north con­stantly and the pro­posed PuhoiWells­ford ex­ten­sion would be wel­come. But he is not ex­pect­ing it to go ahead any time soon.

‘‘That’s the trou­ble with New Zealand. In other coun­tries, they get their A into G, make a plan to do some­thing, then they do it.’’

Labour has long been op­posed to early de­vel­op­ment of the new high­way.

‘‘There is no way Labour has ever ac­cepted that this stretch of high­way is a road of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance,’’ party trans­port spokesman Shane Jones said in March. ‘‘It falls into the nice-but-not-nec­es­sary cat­e­gory, and there is ab­so­lutely no doubt that the $ 1.3 bil­lion es­ti­mated cost of the high­way could be put to far bet­ter use on other in­fra­struc­ture projects.

‘‘Ev­ery­one who uses the ex­ist­ing road reg­u­larly agrees that im­prove­ments are needed but there are ways to cre­ate a bet­ter road that won’t cost any­where near that. Our ur­gent pri­or­i­ties around in­fra­struc­ture projects in the fu­ture must be mov­ing freight and peo­ple around Auck­land.

‘‘In terms of cre­at­ing a strong econ­omy that gen­er­ates jobs, the hol­i­day high­way would have neg­li­gi­ble long-term im­pact.

‘‘Work­able rail freight and pub­lic trans­port so­lu­tions in Auck­land are vi­tal, how­ever, to get­ting our ma­jor city mov­ing.’’

Mr Goff’s lat­est com­ments have brought a strong re­ac­tion and some say North­land’s econ­omy is at stake if the ex­ten­sion doesn’t go ahead.

‘‘The up­grade of State High­way 1 from Puhoi to Wells­ford is key to un­lock­ing the eco­nomic po­ten­tial of the North­land re­gion which cur­rently ranks as the most eco­nom­i­cally de­prived re­gion in the coun­try,’’ New Zealand Coun­cil for In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment chief ex­ec­u­tive Stephen Sel­wood says.

‘‘The sim­ple fact is that North­land will re­main the poor­est re­gion if con­nec­tiv­ity to and from New Zealand’s largest city con­tin­ues to be throt­tled.’’

The coun­cil has on its board Ful­ton Ho­gan’s New Zealand and Aus­tralia op­er­a­tions man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Nick Miller and Robert Jones who was pro­ject di­rec­tor for the $360 mil­lion North­ern Gateway Al­liance.

The use of the term ‘‘hol­i­day high­way’’ by Mr Goff, which was ini­tially coined by for­mer Auck­land Re­gional Coun­cil chair­man Mike Lee, is also crit­i­cised. Mr Sel­wood de­scribes it as ‘‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’’.

‘‘The route car­ries over 16,500 ve­hi­cles on an av­er­age day, but has dra­mat­i­cally higher vol­umes in the hol­i­day sea­son. By 2026, traf­fic vol­umes are ex­pected to rise by 30 per­cent with a high con­cen­tra­tion of heavy traf­fic and tourist trips. Fig­ures from the Na­tional Freight De­mands Study sug­gest road freight traf­fic be­tween North­land and Auck­land will in­crease by over 250 per­cent over the 25-year pe­riod from 2006 to 2031.

‘‘The an­swer to these prob­lems is not con­tin­u­ing to de­fer projects that are clearly needed. Rather we need to find new and more in­no­va­tive ways to fund in­vest­ment that will lift New Zealand’s eco­nomic per­for­mance, im­prove the safety of our road net­works and im­prove so­cial out­comes for the re­gions that need it most.

‘‘In the last five years, 19 peo­ple have lost their lives on the PuhoiWells­ford road and hun­dreds se­ri­ously in­jured.

‘‘This will con­tinue to get worse if timely in­vest­ment is not made,’’ he says.

The coun­cil be­lieves tolling may be the an­swer to the is­sue.

A low-level toll on Auck­land mo­tor­ways and on the new 38km Puhoi-Wells­ford high­way would raise suf­fi­cient cap­i­tal to en­able the pro­ject to pro­ceed along with other key trans­port ini­tia­tives in the re­gion such as the in­ner city rail loop, key ar­te­rial up­grades, and an ad­di­tional har­bour cross­ing, Mr Sel­wood says.

Po­lit­i­cal foot­ball: Labour wants to scrap the Puhoi-Wells­ford na­tional road of sig­nif­i­cance, say­ing the $1.3 bil­lion fore­cast cost could be bet­ter spent on other in­fra­struc­ture. Party leader Phil Goff, in­set, is in Wark­worth to­mor­row and is likely to face ques­tions about Labour’s ‘‘hol­i­day high­way’’ stand.

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