24 May 2016

DoC bridges, boardwalks, jetties 'substandard'

6:14 pm on 24 May 2016

More than a thousand Department of Conservation (DoC) bridges, boardwalks, jetties and viewing platforms are not up to standard, the department says.

Hopuruahine swing bridge.

Hopuruahine swing bridge on the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk. Photo: SUPPLIED / kiwiontheat

According to DoC figures obtained by the Green Party, 1085 structures do not meet the required service standard.

But Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said some of those were trifling problems, and the department was on top of its work.

The information given by the Department showed 38 structures had serious work tasks outstanding; 85 failed the barrier assessment; 168 failed the load capacity assessment; and another 85 were closed.

Hundreds were yet to be inspected.

Last September, a cable on the Hopuruahine suspension bridge near Lake Waikaremoana failed, flinging four French trampers into the river nearly 10 metres below.

DoC said those statistics provided only a snapshot of its ever changing work programme.

In Parliament, Ms Barry explained.

"The data shows that about 13 of 944 huts which DoC manages had some serious work that was outstanding," she said. "Something as small as a missing hearth brush is enough to mean that a hut does not meet its service standards.

"The number needing serious work equates to just 1.3 percent of DoC's extensive network of often remotely located huts."

She said that served to reinforce the thoroughness of DoC's inspection and maintenance regime.

Of the 38 structures with serious work tasks outstanding, the minister said about a third had had the work done in the past month.

"DoC takes its responsibilities very seriously," she said. "I will not, and do not confirm, that the repair that is needed is of a substantial nature."

"If it was dangerous, if our inspectors who go through regularly and inspect it thoroughly felt that there was any risk to public safety those structures would be closed down."

Green Party's conservation spokesperson Kevin Hague said it was symptomatic of the DoC's underfunding.

"In this week's budget, will the government increase conservation funding to enable the DoC to ensure the 142 species that have become closer to extinction do not become extinct; that people do not put their lives at risk on DoC viewing platforms or bridges, and that our huts and tracks meet the expectations that New Zealanders have for them," he said.

Ms Barry said the Green Party was misrepresenting the issue, and said DoC was adequately funded at the moment.

Forest and Bird advocate Debs Martin said DoC needed more money, and that was highlighted by its maintenance delays.

"When I'm talking with the Department of Conservation about moving funding on quite significant issues, I just hear them saying 'our operations budget is shrinking, not expanding'," she said.

"What I have seen is structures pulled out because they can't maintain them."

Ms Martin said because tourism was now the country's largest export earner, there was a reputational risk if DoC could not afford to maintain the bridges, viewing platforms, and other structures which were in use.

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