26 May 2016

Legal costs mount in battle over Southland cycleway

6:29 am on 26 May 2016

A million dollar legal battle is delaying completion of the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail in Southland, on top of costs which have already taken the project almost $6 million over budget.


Photo: 123RF

Fish and Game is opposed to the trail as it will go through the Oreti Valley, which is a world famous trout fishing location.

The organisation says cyclists will spoil the wilderness, which is a key characteristic of the river valley. Stage One of the trail, between Kingston and Mossburn, was opened in November 2014.

Fish and Game are challenging the Southland District Council in the Environment Court over the plans and have now brought in Sir Alan Mark to support their argument that unique scrubland will be damaged by the cycle trail.

But even Sir Alan believes that battle has gone on too long.

"I think both sides have just dug in here and it's just going to continue to escalate in terms of cost," he told RNZ News.

He said the outcome would eventually affect the way that cycle trails were planned and built in New Zealand.

"This is going to be a lesson for cycle ways in the future. Just because cycle ways are popular does not mean we can take them any place we want to."

The Southland Manager for Fish and Game, Zane Moss, argued that the stretch of the Oreti River was a global destination for trout anglers, some of whom had even had ashes scattered there.

"It really is an international icon in the fishing world. Building what is, in effect, a single lane gravel road will change that wilderness setting."

Southland mayor Garry Tong

Southland mayor Garry Tong Photo: RNZ / Peter Newport

The battle is something of a nightmare for Southland Mayor Garry Tong, who took office believing he was supporting an $8 million project that would cost the local ratepayers nothing at all.

Now the project is two years behind schedule and currently estimated to cost at least $14 million.

"It is giving me sleepless nights" Mr Tong told RNZ News. "This battle, and it is a battle, is disappointing, that's all" he said.

The case will continue in the Environment Court with at least another expensive week of hearings to run.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs