17 Dec 2015

Buller council backs road through national park

7:15 am on 17 December 2015

Buller District Council is to push ahead in its bid to get government support for an investigation into a new road from the coast to the Nelson-Tasman region.

Councillors agreed unanimously to the idea at a meeting in Westport last night, and that the project be given a high priority in the coast's regional action plan.

The council is keen on a road from the coast to the Nelson-Tasman region.

Buller District Council has agreed to push ahead with a road linking the coast to the Nelson-Tasman region. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Buller mayor Garry Howard said the proposed Wangapeka link, which would cross parts of the Kahurangi National Park, would be a long-term vision for the region.

He told councillors last night it would need "a lot of advocacy and time" to ensure it was not forgotten.

"It's a long term vision for Buller and the West Coast, and we can't underestimate how much effort it's going to take over the next 18 months to pursue this and try and make it happen," Mr Howard said.

The plan drew criticism from environmental groups, who said it could never happen.

Forest & Bird described it as "nuts", and that the money for any study would be best spent on improving existing infrastructure.

West Coast Tasman Labour MP Damien O'Connor did not dismiss the idea but said it had downsides, including likely cost.

He said he did not have a problem with roads in national parks, but roads did not guarantee benefits.

Many people spoken to in Westport told RNZ News they supported the idea.

Robyn Cairns said it was something that had been needed for a long time, and that people from outside should not judge.

"People need to give us a break and realise that every Coaster is a greenie at heart and we don't want to see the place as a mess but we also need to survive," she said.

Mr Howard said the district was a serious casualty of the mining downturn and, by June next year, 600 jobs and $50 million in annual wages would have been slashed from its economy in just two years.

He said the road would create closer links between Westport, Nelson and Karamea, as well as provide much-needed jobs and boost tourist numbers.

Councillor Phil Rutherford asked if the council was confident it was the best option among other potential business development opportunities on the horizon.

Inangahua Ward councillor Dave Hawes, a long-time conservation advocate, said any proposal for access through a national park was going to be controversial. He supported the idea because he saw the potential for trade offs.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing to access to these areas - it's a good thing for conservation to have people aware of what's involved in conserving nature. That's why I would support it.

"The two biggest issues in New Zealand are water quality and predation and species loss. My support would rely on a commitment to undertake improvement in these areas," Mr Hawes said.

Deputy mayor Graeme Neylon was supportive, but concerned that timeframes discussed of five to seven years were unrealistic. He said it was unlikely that anything would get underway inside 10 years, and that was too long for many.

"I just think in terms of people we are representing, most are worrying what's going to happen in six months, 12 months or 18 months and this 7-10 year timeframe is too far out," Mr Neylon said.

Councillor Lynn Brooks said it fitted the strategy for growth on the coast.

"We said we'd look for opportunities when they arose and push for them and try and put our energy into things like this.

"I attended the opening of the Old Ghost Road (walkway/cycleway) last weekend and saw how proud everyone was of our big back yard. I agree it's not always a bad thing to open up these areas, so we should investigate it fully and when we have the facts we can make a good decision.

"There's no other option but to go with this," Ms Brooks said.