North Taranaki Midweek
Bells and whistles can wait
Councillor calls for basic Coastal Walkway extension, within existing budget
With inflation surging and construction costs rising, a Waitara councillor has called for a basic walkway extension to his town to forge ahead on its existing budget, with the expensive bells and whistles added down the track.
Tony Bedford said there was a need to ‘‘anchor costs’’ already tagged to council projects to avoid any escalation, which put them at risk of becoming future ‘‘political footballs’’.
For the walkway extension project, Bedford said this meant sticking to the $25 million funds already allocated and getting the job done to buy the land and establish the basic track, with any ‘‘enhancements’’ added as the council could afford them.
The cost for the walkway extension, which has been in the pipeline for years, is expected to be shared between the New Plymouth District Council and Waka Kotahi, with $12m on the table from the agency, subject to it approving a business case.
The project is just one of 28 large strategic projects and work programmes the council included in its 2021-31 Long Term Plan, including the $25m allocated to extend the Coastal Walkway from Bell Block to Waitara.
The plan to build the 10km walkway was recently namechecked by mayoral hopeful and sitting councillor Murray Chong as one to scale back as a means to develop his idea for a Waitara-New Plymouth-Inglewood passenger rail link.
Bedford, who is standing for re-election in the north ward, said he was ‘‘absolutely concerned’’ about cost pressures on current council projects.
He said the with the current state of the economy and high inflation, the council and its ratepayers were equally impacted by spiralling costs.
‘‘They’re hit in the pocket, but so are all these projects.’’
New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom said both Waka Kotahi and central government were already being lobbied for more money for the extension of the hugely popular walkway.
‘‘At one point during discussions with Waka Kotahi we were advised NPDC may be eligible for up to 75% in Waka Kotahi subsidies given the Government’s commitment to building more cycleways and walkways and encouraging active transport, however at this point in time they have yet to commit to that,’’ Holdom said.
He said the council would continue to argue for more money, as the project had ‘‘clear benefits’’ for the people of Waitara,
Bell Block and the wider district.
Holdom said ‘‘stepping up with a significant additional investment’’ seemed a prudent move, and one that also aligned to the ‘‘government’s muchtouted focus on decarbonisation and cycleways’’.
But Bedford described the hope of getting more money from Waka Kotahi for the walkway project as a ‘‘dream’’. ‘‘I think that would be pennies from heaven that won’t fall’’.
He said any extra funding for the district from the transport agency should be used to fix roads, a subject Holdom had also long championed.
Waka Kotahi confirmed it had earmarked $12m for the walkway extension. Of that, $339,000 had been ‘‘committed to date’’ for the development of a business case.
Once approved, the agency would confirm the exact funding allocation.
New Plymouth MP Glen Bennett, of Labour, said he was currently exploring funding streams that could assist.
’’My challenge is to see if there are funding options that don’t take anything from any existing projects and have longterm sustainability targets.’’