25 Jul 2013

Mayors say local roads neglected

8:39 pm on 25 July 2013

The mayors of some of New Zealand's largest provinces say their roads could fall into disrepair because of the Government's focus on Roads of National Significance.

The Government is promising to spend $3.4 billion during the next three years on seven roads near the country's largest centres - money the mayors say is badly needed for their ageing roads.

Official figures made public on Wednesday show councils' operating deficit for roading in the last financial year had risen to $501 million, an increase of 50% on the year before.

Lawrence Yule.

Lawrence Yule. Photo: RNZ

Provincial mayors say the Government's road funding policy is forcing rural roading onto the verges of disrepair.

Lawrence Yule, the president of Local Government New Zealand and mayor of Hastings, says the focus on Roads of National Significance is putting the squeeze on local road funding - even though that has increased.

"It's gone up 14 percent in a three-year period and maintenance renewals have gone up by seven percent, but what we wanted and asked for was substantially higher than that. So what we're facing is effectively a squeeze that's been put on by the Roads of National Significance - which absolutely the country needs .

"What we're saying is, if you keep doing this though, there is going to be a loss of service in the roads of the rest of New Zealand. We've been lobbying the Government and NZTA to make sure that is addressed in the future if they can't do it now. And so far we've had no real assurance that that's going to occur."

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne says the Government has made it clear that spending on the Roads of National Significance is now the priority. Mr Kempthorne says his council has been working hard to keep costs within the limited budget the Government now provides and, rather than take on debt, his council will reduce road maintenance.

Far North mayor Wayne Brown says he's had to reduce maintenance as well and has already closed two roads to logging trucks because they weren't able to cope.

Westland's mayor says there is more than 700km of roading to look after and it's getting increasingly difficult to maintain them. Maureen Pugh says it's virtually impossible to get approval for some projects because there's no money for it. She says says the roads don't meet the criteria to get funding, so can't be upgraded - and that's a result of funding ear-marked for the key projects.

"We've just made a call in our latest annual plan that we're actually going to have to reduce the level of service that we provide. So where we may provide grading to a gravel road three or four times a year, that's going to be halved.

"You have to measure the value of that to the country as well - a lot of our rural roads service the farming sector which is a big dairy industry here on the West Coast, and also the tourism sector because 87 percent of my patch is the DoC estate."

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) says money for local roads has increased by 7% and the councils are simply being asked to prioritise their work. Manager Dave Brash says the agency is working with them to see if money can be saved by placing a single contractor in charge of maintenance across a number of regions.

The Labour Party's transport spokesperson, Iain Lees-Galloway, says National's Roads of National Significance are about buying votes, not building the integrated transport network New Zealand needs. He says local roads are of huge importance to the economy, and should be prioritised.