The announcement of new road-building priorities by the National Government, which favor moving people in Auckland over freight in Hawke’s Bay, seems to have taken local officials by surprise.
Mayor Arnott in recent remarks stops just a step shy of “betrayal” in characterising NZ Transport Agency’s “hold” on the four-laning of Prebensen Drive (an $8 million project with a 58% NZTA subsidy) and abandonment of the Prebensen Drive/Hyderabad intersection (a $26 million with 100% NZTA subsidy). Effectively, because they must be integrated, both projects are stopped. Here are the gory details if you’re a dedicated roadie.
Said Mayor Arnott: “No longer can our Hawke’s Bay Regional Land Transport Committee assess and set priorities with the knowledge that the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) will partner with us (even though they sit at the same table). New priorities have been set by the government, and Hawke’s Bay do not align with them.”
She continued: “Regional autonomy and joint decision making goes out the window as the government focuses on “Routes of National Significance”. Hawke’s Bay thinks it is significant that our region’s businesses can get their produce and product to our main export link – the Port – and through our cities without rumbling beside residential houses.”
In a recent BayBuzz interview, Jim Scotland (Chairman) and Garth Cowie (CEO) of the Port of Napier, underscored the importance of the road network that feeds freight into the port. In recent years, about 85% of freight moving into the port has arrived by truck (15% by rail). This year, the ratio has shifted somewhat towards rail, with now about 75% arriving by truck, but roads are still the lifeline. The two Napier projects that NZTA has abandoned would have improved flow from the Expressway into the port.
Port executives also mentioned the southern extension to the Expressway as a key piece of the roading network, as the Port seeks more goods to ship from points south of Hastings, including the produce or dairy product from a potential 30,000 hectares of irrigated farmland in CHB if HBRC water harvesting plans proceed . The southern extension has survived NZTA’s funding reallocations.
By all accounts, the Regional Land Transport Committee has been a “success story” in terms of showing how our various local bodies can collaboratively approach planning for essential regional infrastructure. Unfortunately, central government has re-arranged the deck chairs.
So at the moment, central government is the villain in the plot. But sentiments will likely shift again if Wellington coughs up money for the Hastings sports park or the Napier museum. Funny how fickle local affections can be for the keeper of the Treasury.
Roads … velodromes … museums … who cares, as long as the money flows in.
Of course, Wellington largesse for sport and culture won’t help much to get apples and squash to the Port. But, there have got to be losers at budget crunch time … and this time it’s provincial roads.