Unanimous vote to roll ahead with cycleway


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Waihi Leader, front page, Tuesday June 1, 2010

Unanimous vote to roll ahead with cycleway

By Sally Gibbs

More council dollars will be needed – but Hauraki District councillors last week voted to push ahead with establishing a $10.2 million cycle and walkway link between Waihi, Paeroa, Thames and Kaiaua, as part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail network. Most riders would pedal the proposed 108 km route over three days.

Last July, Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism John Key announced that the Hauraki Plains Rail Trail, supported in principle by the council, was one of seven "quick start" projects nationally selected for feasibility assessment. The council successfully applied for government funding to undertake the study, and the draft assessment prepared by technical services business manager Adrian Laborde was considered by councillors at their meeting on Wednesday.

Construction of the Waihi to Paeroa leg, merging with the Karangahake Walkways and the planned Waihi to Te Aroha Hauraki Rail Trail is estimated to cost $2.6m. The price tag for the Paeroa to Thames section would be just under $3.8m and the Thames to Kaiaua section just over $3.8m. An additional $120,000 would be necessary to establish a council-controlled charitable trust (expected to run at a loss for at least the first few years) to manage the cycleway.

However the Ministry of Tourism advised in February that its funding for each quick start project would be capped at $4m, said council chief executive Langley Cavers. Under a suggested funding model with the Department of Conservation contributing $1.3m, the New Zealand Transport Authority $1.1m, and councils (including Thames Coromandel) $463,000, that would leave a $3.5m shortfall.

Mr Cavers said this could possibly be covered with an extra government contribution of $1.5m, $1m from the councils, and $500,000 each from business/corporate sponsorship and grants.

Councillors unanimously agreed (though two were absent from the meeting) that even under the most conservative "pessimistic" scenario forecast in the draft feasibility study, the benefits of the cycle and walking trail justified continued support for the project.

By its fifth year, the cycleway is anticipated to attract 35,000 to 60,000 users per annum, bringing at least $9m in annual economic benefits. The trail would also be an asset for local use, and provide jobs during the construction phase. But to justify the investment, all three sections would need to be substantially completed as one project, to attract staying visitors rather than day-trippers.

Waihi ward councillor and Hauraki Rail Trail Trust chairman Mike Hayden said that prospective cycleway links to the Western Bay of Plenty and Waikato make the Hauraki Plains Trail even more attractive; and it would have health as well a economic benefits.

"However it is extremely important that we hold discussions with iwi, whose main issue appears to be Treaty claims."

Councillor Colin Francis believed the Government would be unlikely to contribute more money unless the council is willing to chip in. "We should give it our full blast, and move on to the next stage," he said.

Councillor Sel Baker said that while establishment of the trail is proving to be a lot more expensive than anticipated, it’s important to the district.

Mayor John Tregidga noted that the Hauraki trail is predicted to be New Zealand’s "premier cycleway" in terms of user numbers, due to its proximity to Auckland, Waikato and Tauranga.

Councillors supported the completion of a detailed feasibility study and a report to the Minister of Tourism on funding options; and appointed a subcommittee of councillors Hayden, Greg Harris and James Thorp to work with council staff and present a funding proposal to Mr Key.

Mr Cavers said initial consultation with landowners has been held as part of the feasibility assessment.

Agreement in principle has been obtained from major owners OnTrack and DOC, and other key stakeholders NZTA, Environment Waikato, and Thames Coromandel District Council.

"There are some very short sections where the preferred route is over private land. But there are alternatives. Consultation with iwi is ongoing, especially over the use of the rail corridor."

Some strong opposition from owners or leaseholders of land adjacent to the proposed trail was noted. In February, a 170-signature petition opposing the Hauraki Rail Trail’s Karangahake to Paeroa section was presented to the council – though not to the Hauraki Rail Trail Trust, which administers the project without influence by the council, said Mr Tregidga.

Concerns outlined in the petition include loss of privacy for adjacent land owners; security and vandalism concerns; the potential for disruption by trail users seeking toilets, directions, first aid or bicycle repairs; risk to farmers whose property would be divided by the trail; and risk of traffic hold-ups and accidents at road access points.

Petition coordinators and trail "neighbours" Carol and Dave Yells of Karangahake, who attended last week’s council meeting as observers, told the Waihi Leader nothing has changed since the signatures were collected last year – except that the Hauraki Rail Trail project has now grown into a full-blown national cycleway link. Adjacent property owners and iwi have been inadequately consulted or not consulted at all, said Mrs Yells.

However, trail supporters such as Waihi recreational cyclists Roger and Val Wainwright and Paul and Jill Davenport, aged from 69 to 74 years young, can’t wait to see the Hauraki cycle trail rolling. The two couples have recently ridden the Otago Central Rail Trail – for the second and third time respectively. Mrs Davenport said they spent $200 per person per day along the route and are already planning to return in 2011; but given the chance they would welcome a local alternative.


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