10 Oct 2016

Deadlock broken on controversial Nelson roading project

11:02 am on 10 October 2016

A controversial Nelson roading project now has majority council support after this weekend's local government election results.

Rocks Rd in Nelson.

The Southern Link would shift State Highway 6 from Nelson waterfront to a new route planned through the city outskirts. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The government is considering the project's feasibility under its programme for regional state highway projects. It is one of many attempts to revive the project since it was first floated about 50 years ago, with the last serious effort turned down by the Environment Court in 2004.

Nelson City councillor Mike Rutledge.

Nelson City councillor Mike Rutledge. Photo: Supplied

Debate over the Southern Link road, which would connect the state highway north and south of the city, turned the election into a single issue fight when candidates were asked by lobby groups to declare their stance on it.

Supporters believed it was vital to the city's future and opponents said it was time to think smarter about transport options.

The council does not have authority to decide on it, but it was less likely to go ahead without a supportive council.

Nelson elected five newcomers who all declared a preference for the road and four of the seven returned councillors also support it.

Newly elected Mike Rutledge, a 32 year-old marketing executive, supported the road and considered himself an environmentalist but said being green had a different meaning today than it once did.

"I see a real shift in people of my generation, in that a lot of things that were maybe traditionally considered green are now considered 'normal', and the right thing to do."

Southern Link viable - mayor

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

One of the road's supporters, Mayor Rachel Reese, has been re-elected for a second term, and said there was nothing wrong with candidates being asked their view.

"It is perfectly reasonable for the community to seek a view on preferences from candidates on a significant issue for the city. No council candidate was targeted for not supporting; the public then decide as to all sorts of reasons as to why they vote," she said.

Ms Reese said a study showed the new arterial link was a viable option, but any road would go hand in hand with development of the affected community.

"If we are going to have a roading connection that goes through Nelson south it is going to be have to be very well designed, it is going to have to require an investment in good urban spaces for the Victory community," she said.

Road link needs public consultation - opposition lobby group

But the head of an opposition lobby group, architect Peter Olorenshaw, said it was a sign that city had gone backwards.

"People have gone to using tired, old slogans from last century rather than a truly progressive council, so that's very disappointing."

Mr Olorenshaw urged the community to have some perspective on the Southern Link debate.

"I don't know that this council will be able to say, 'yeah, we're all on favour of the link' because they haven't actually consulted on it.

"Sure, they've been voted in and clearly in support of the link but they haven't tested people's opinion on it," he said.

The New Zealand Transport Agency was part way through the investigation and expects to finish a programme business case by the end of the year.

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